Category Archives: Gospel

Who’s to blame? Considering Cardinal McCarrick, clerical sex abuse, and complicity

mccarrick

Cardinal McCarrick smiling (source)

This is my own poorly formed, and somewhat indirect, take on the Cardinal McCarrick story. I would like to know if I am way off base or on target, or somewhere in between. Insights, challenges, and comments welcome. My question in the title is intended to be an honest question.

A sentence caught my eye in Matthew Walther’s article, The Catholic Church is a cesspool:

When James tried to tell his parents about the things his “uncle” forced him to do, he was told that he must be lying.

I believe this sentence contains more than most Catholics want to think about or are willing to admit.

And it’s one of the saddest and most heartbreaking sentences in this whole sordid affair. And that sentence (as I have come to understand about other abuse stories) has repeated itself again and again in Catholic homes, between parents and their sons and their daughters, mostly their sons in these cases.

At every level the sex abuse scandal is horrible. Christ spoke of a small amount of leaven leavening the whole lump; in other words, a small amount of yeast spreads throughout the entire lump of dough. This is how sin works in one’s life. It is also how sin works in the Church. A little infection gets in and soon there is rot everywhere. A little smoke of Satan finds an open window or door and…

We are right to condemn Cardinal McCarrick for his wickedness. We are right to condemn the cardinals and bishops who have participated directly and indirectly in this grave scandal. We are even right to criticize the popes for being so blind and so slow to act. It is also right for us to condemn the priests who have done terrible things. But what about the laity? What about us?

When there is widespread sin, widespread covering up of that sin, and a corresponding widespread blindness or ignorance of that sin, one should expect a pervasive cultural willfulness underlying it all — a kind of unspoken subconscious “if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.” It is corruption, and it is often so subtle, that produces its own self-protecting blindness. We are all too quick to call out “good bishops” and “bad bishops.” Are we being honest? What has the laity gained by choosing to side with their priests and bishops over their own children until proven wrong? That, I believe, is a HUGE question of enormous implications.

Perhaps… perhaps there was a time for that kind of blind trust. But not for a very long time, if ever. I cannot blame Catholics for leaving the Church over this disgusting tragedy. It’s a steady and vile stench hanging over the Church, and it goes back a long ways. I don’t think they should, but I understand.

Have we not become a Church too easily given over to our precious self-images? Are we not a people wrapped up in supporting a kind of Catholic doppelgänger that has more to do with telling us what we want to believe about ourselves rather the truth? If we are to condemn bad bishops, shouldn’t we also condemn bad parents who are so in need of believing that the bishop is pleased with them that they will betray their own children. Do we need to condemn ourselves and the “Catholic” culture we have created? Perhaps I’m going too far, but I know something about the human heart because I know my own heart.

[As an aside: Someone very dear to me was repeatedly sexually abused by her father from age five until high school. Her mother was subconsciously but willfully complicit in the abuse. Once the abuse became public, her mother supported her father. Her grandmother said she was the one who enticed the abuser. She was only five when it started. Only five. He was the abuser, the adult, but the other adults were complicit. She was the child. He got away with it because he knew the world in which he lived would let him. He had power in that world and controlled it because he had willing accomplices because it was easier to not know than to open their eyes. They were all in good standing in their church community. They all saw themselves as good Christians who would never willing do or support evil. They all got what they wanted, expect the victim. Perhaps this makes me rather sensitive to cultures of complicity.]

The question is not primarily whether James’ parents knew about the cardinal, or that any parent knows about the abuse happening to their child by a priest. I believe most of them don’t actually, truly know, at least at first. (I want to believe that if any parents do find out they would actually do something about it. Perhaps I’m naive) The fundamental question is whether or not the parents (or any of us) are willing to believe. Another way of putting this is do they believe the truth of the gospel and of the Church’s teaching, or know why there is a crucifix above the altar. Do they fully embrace the Church’s teaching on sin? Can it be that many Catholics are so fundamentally unbelieving in the story of salvation that they would rather believe there are men walking around as sinless as Christ and impervious to temptation merely because they have been ordained? Do they suppose a clerical costume makes a man a sinless superhero? Can they read Christ’s condemnations of the religious leaders of His day and still not suppose our own religious leaders are just as likely to fall prey to sin and the devil? Sure, the millstone goes around the bishop’s neck, but too often the parents, and the culture they have helped to create, are complicit.

Keep in mind that even our saints do this. In her 2005 book John Paul The Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father, Peggy Noonan tried to explain why the pope didn’t take seriously enough the reports of sexual abuse by priests. In a 2014 article she reiterated the same argument. She writes:

[I]t would have been almost impossible for John Paul to understand the depth and breadth of the scandal because of his history. He had come of age under Nazism and Communism. They hated the church. Priests who fought them—John Paul was one—were heroic. Nazis and communists constantly attempted to undermine the church by falsely accusing its priests of mis- and malfeasance, including sexual impropriety. That was his context when John Paul was told of recent charges of child abuse. The idea they were true would have seemed impossible to him.

It would have been almost impossible for him to understand. It would have seemed impossible to him. I tend to agree with her assessment. It’s a plausible explanation that rings true. When St. JP2 looked at a priest he saw a hero. How could a hero abuse a child? But even if Noonan’s take is true, it still doesn’t get him off the hook. It just makes it easier to understand why he did what he did, and it’s a lot like why we tend to do what we do. He was blinded by his experiences and his desires. We are too.

I say this and yet Saint John Paul the Great is still a hero to me. But I also know he was a man.

Let’s be clear: The parents are in no way directly at fault for the abuse. Cardinal McCarrick is the one who abused. He is the one with the millstone around his neck. The bishops who knew the open secret of McCarrick probably also have millstones around their necks. And there are probably many others. The issue I’m trying to understand (and I know I’m doing a poor job of it) is about parents turning against the words of their own children (“he was told that he must be lying”) and refusing to even consider they are hearing the truth because to do so would contradict the precious image of they have of the wonderful cardinal, or the parish, or of the Church itself, or how a good Catholic should act towards the clergy, or even one’s image of the pope. But this is a form of idolatry. Some of this is certainly generational. Younger Catholics today, sadly, have become more informed, and consequently more cynical, about these things than their grandparents were. But all of us are potentially the unbelieving parent or friend.

However, I have great hope for the laity. As I witness the responses of cardinals and bishops to sex abuse revelations, and as I again and again see a group of men protecting their clericalism and bureaucratic comforts instead of, it would seem, having faith in God, I am also witnessing the rising up of the laity. Too often the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acts like their primary job is all about program administration and publishing official statements, and not about the gospel. They put out statements about needing to have “clearer procedures” in place to handle abuse cases, etc. etc. The “good” bishops (and sometimes “bad” bishops) put out platitudinous statements condemning the abuse, but then do nothing. They risk nothing.

Are we now like sheep without a shepherd? Who will lead us?

Perhaps some of these “good” bishops should publicly identify and shame the “bad” bishops. Perhaps they should not let Rome whisk the abusers back to Rome for rehabilitation and retirement. Perhaps some of these “good” bishops should literally start punching the “bad” bishops in their faces (like St. Nicholas slapping Arius at the first council at Nicaea). Honestly, that might make for one of the best bishops conferences ever.

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Here’s a face. Cardinal Farrell: The face of the moment for clericalism.

But I am seeing the laity standing up more and more, calling false shepherds what they are, pointing out the wolves in sheeps clothing, and being less afraid to say what needs to be said because they have come to trust first in God rather than the hierarchy. And perhaps because they have social media at their fingertips. I have hope. I think we are going to hear less and less about parents refusing to listen to their children’s cries for help. I hope we hear less and less about abuse too. I am all for a massive house cleaning.

Finally, if the whole Cardinal McCarrick affair is a prime example of the “open secret everyone knows,” potentially implicating numerous bishops in a vast coverup, what about Catholic media? How many stories were not written, stories buried, leads not followed, questions not asked, and reporters told to back off? How complicit is the media? And how complicit is the Catholic media? How much did those at EWTN, Catholic News Service, National Catholic Reporter, etc., etc. know? Who knew what and when did they know it?

It was an open secret. Everybody knew, or heard stories. Are not Catholic news reporters trained in investigative reporting? Or are they merely mouthpieces for the hierarchy?

Here’s something to consider. Read some of the last lines from the film SPOTLIGHT. Remember that this award winning film is about the 2002 Boston Globe (a secular news agency of course) investigation and reporting on the story of predatory sexual activities by Catholic priests in the Boston area, and the subsequent and systematic coverup by the Church hierarchy, specifically by the revered Cardinal Law. Read this carefully:

SACHA
We’ve nailed down multiple stories on seventy priests.

MARTY
All seventy?

SACHA
Yeah. And with the confirmation from Robby’s source, we’re ready to go. We can have a draft next week.

MARTY
Robby, that source of yours, is this someone we could revisit?

ROBBY
Might be tough.

BEN
But he has no problem helping the church protect dozens of dirty priests. Guy’s a scumbag.

Matt glances at Robby. Who’s looking at Ben.

MATT
He’s a lawyer, he’s doing his job.

MIKE
He a shill for the Church.

BEN
He knew and did nothing.

MIKE
He coulda said something about this years ago. Maybe saved some lives.

ROBBY
What about us?

BEN
What’s that supposed to mean?

ROBBY
We had all the pieces. Why didn’t we get it sooner?

BEN
We didn’t have all the pieces.

ROBBY
We had Saviano, we had Barrett, we had Geoghan. We had the directories in the basement.

BEN
You know what? We got it now.

MIKE
Robby, this story needed Spotlight.

ROBBY
Spotlight’s been around since 1970.

BEN
So what? We didn’t know the scope of this. No one did. This started with one goddamn priest, Robby.

Robby looks at Sacha.

ROBBY
MacLeish sent us a letter on 20 priests, years ago. Sacha found the clip.

MIKE
Are you freaking kidding me? 20 priests?

BEN
When?

SACHA
Just after Porter. December of ‘93.

ROBBY
We buried the story in Metro. No folo. Sacha found the clip.

BEN
That was you. You were Metro.

ROBBY
Yeah, that was me. I’d just taken over. I don’t remember it at all. But yeah.

The room quiets. Gut punch. Ben shakes his head.

MARTY
Uh, can I say something?

They turn to him.

MARTY
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly a light gets turned on, and there’s fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived but all of you have done some very good reporting here, reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.

The team takes this in.

MARTY
Having said that, Cardinal Law and the Catholic community are going to have a very strong response to this. So if you need to take a moment, you’ve earned it. But I will need you back here Monday morning focused and ready to do your job.

Here’s what I believe you should notice: Marty appeals to the precious self-image of the reporters to support their own coverup. Yes, we all “spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark,” but they weren’t in the dark except that they wanted to be. They had the information. They had the evidence. They chose to burry it. Marty’s words lets them get themselves off the hook. Yes, we all have to keep moving forward, and yes their reporting eventually was good and necessary, but Marty has just helped them clear their consciences. They are now “absolved” because, while everyone else is stumbling, “you have done some very good reporting here, reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.”

Precious self-image.

I see the bishops doing the same thing — giving themselves a pass again and again. They set up commissions, appoint overseers, establish new processes because the old ones didn’t work, and then walk away self-congratulated and self-absolved. No risk. No sackcloth and ashes. A brood of vipers.

But remember, we all do this in one way or another, and we support each other in our games. We’ve all got our own precious self-images. And we will protect them fiercely. We’ve all got some viper in us, so let’s be careful in our judgments. But still…

‘When James tried to tell his parents about the things his “uncle” forced him to do, he was told that he must be lying.’

Pray for one another.

Lord have mercy.

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A Commandment You Can Keep or, it would seem, God vs. Some Bishops

Pray for the Church. Pray for the bishops.

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The Babylonians ransack Jerusalem

We are given commandments by God and are expected to keep them. We hear Jesus Himself say things like:

“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

And the Apostle John writing:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. (1 John 2:3)

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. (Revelation 14:2)

We can feel the weightiness of the word “commandments.” For many it seems like an unusually heavy word, a word out of place in today’s world, altogether too severe, to draconian — certainly not American. I sometimes sense that many Christians have a “you can’t be serious” attitude towards the objective seriousness and absoluteness of commandments. Did not Jesus, after all, save us from all that? He took up His cross so we don’t have to, right? Of course He didn’t. Reference the quotes above.

Often these days we hear of a so-called “pastoral approach,” being pushed hard by a number of bishops, that seems to offer comfort and compassion to sinners without also calling for repentance. The argument for this seems to hinge on the idea that the call to holiness (including the call to a marriage that does not end in divorce, or the call that one should not get remarried without a proper annulment, or the call to chastity or even celibacy) is an ideal rather than an expectation with actual consequences.

This seems to be the idea some bishops see the biblical definition of marriage, and even the Gospel itself — as an ideal that inspires. Writing on Amoris Laetitia, the German bishops published a statement on pastoral care of marriage and the family. The bishops wrote:

People see themselves faced by the shattered remains of their life plans that were based on a partnership. They suffer from having failed and having been unable to do justice to their ideal of life-long love and partnership.

Notice that “life-long love and partnership” is presented as an ideal. I suppose holiness is an ideal too. Right? The use of the word ideal in this instance, I would argue, comes from the desire to view holiness as an inspirational concept that can help us in our individuals pursuits of “the best version of ourselves.” But we are called to pursue holiness without compromise. Holiness is both an ideal and an objective. Is the Gospel itself an ideal too? If by ideal we mean something not truly attainable, or not something we should expect people to attain, then that would seem to contradict both Holy Scripture and Catholic Tradition. But, of course, the German bishops are not writing without precedent. Here is a key sentence from Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, as quoted by the German bishops in their letter:

“The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements.” (AL No. 308)

Given the continuing issues with the German bishops desiring to water down both the Gospel and Tradition, it would seem they see “ideal” as being a mostly unattainable goal primarily reserved for those who have the faith and goodwill of saints, but not anything more than an an example and a slim hope for most Christians.

Naturally, we often hold up ideals as inspirations for motivation, but not as something we can have any hope of attaining. However, many see ideals as only that and no more. Is this how God sees ideals? Or, perhaps a better question, does God see His commandments as ideals at all, or as requirements? Are we called to try to be holy while believing it’s actually impossible to do so, and also that God doesn’t really care all that much anyway, nor will He truly hold us accountable? Or are we to be holy?

Consider this passage from Deuteronomy 30: 11-20

11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Did the Israelites keep these commandments? No. Again and again no. Did God know they would break them? Yes. Of course He did. Did they break the commandments because of sin, weakness, outside pressures, temptations, foolishness, and folly upon folly? Yes. Did they always have some “reasonable” justification in their own eyes for doing so? Probably. They must have.

And yet, God says: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you.” In light of this cannot the German bishops, and all bishops for that matter, hold Catholics to the actual standards God has given us, offering council, forgiveness, and mercy as is appropriate, but never ceasing to call us all to Christ without compromise? But the way of the German bishops, and too many others as well, seems to imply preaching the Gospel itself is, in fact, too difficult any more.

The evidence before us, declared from headlines and testimonies, says many bishops refuse to hold themselves accountable to God’s demands for holiness. Naturally, therefore, they might want to change the “rules” a bit, tweak the definitions of words, and shift the focus to the environment and refugees rather than ask anyone to truly keep God’s commandments. Perhaps their only integrity is refusing to ask others to do what they themselves refuse.

What was God’s “pastoral” care for His people? God says: “But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.”

Was God too harsh, too draconian on the Israelites? Was the Babylonian captivity God showing a lack of charity? Was the Father sending His Son to die on a cross to much? Some bishops of the Church, it would seem, must think so.

Thank God that we also have many good bishops. Pray for them. And pray for the rest too.

[Final thought: Sometimes it seems that criticisms aimed at traditionalists come from a place that prefers an easier, less judgmental faith than Catholic orthodoxy. Thus, criticisms of the Traditional Latin Mass, or Catholic traditions in general, though often couched in terms of the need for the Church to be less stuffy and get with the times, may actually be expressions of the desire to avoid the call to holiness–at least the kind of holiness demanded by God and sought after by the saints. Traditional Catholicism does not see holiness as merely a nice or inspirational ideal, but as a requirement, and as possible with God’s grace, and requiring God’s mercy when we fail. And traditionalists, as I have observed, tend to seek out the Church’s traditions as a means to help in the striving for holiness, not because of a “holier than thou” attitude. Is it not true that the person of faith longs for holiness and its demands, and the person without faith seeks to avoid the demands of holiness? Is this not fundamental? If so, what might this say about a significant number of Catholics, including all too many bishops?]

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The Message of Fatima and the Latin Mass

This lecture is worth the entire two and half hours. And it is a packed two and a half hours. Every bishop should watch it. Every priest too. It is profound and filled with riches to ponder and meditate upon. It is also filled with many challenges. Share it with others. Discuss it.

I am not a conspiracy nut, nor am I a staunch traditionalist, nor am I prone to sectarianism or division, etc, etc, but…

Given the connection between the message of Fatima and the Mass, and given a number of connections and observations Mr. Rodríguez makes, it makes sense that the third secret of Fatima has not been fully revealed. It seems rather clear that the message is very likely a direct challenge to the spirit of Vatican II and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. And given that the third secret was to be revealed in 1960 and wasn’t, and also by that time the pope and other key individuals in the Church were intent on changing the Mass and bringing about a glorious revolution, no one in leadership (including popes St. John XXIII, B. Paul VI, John Paul I, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis) has wanted to open that can of worms — whether to cancel the council, or redirect its purpose, or not promulgate a new rite of the Mass, or call all of it into question after the fact. Perhaps they would all feel (or have felt) like they would need to officially abandon the Novus Ordo Mass altogether and they just can’t handle admitting that Vatican II was not the work of the Holy Spirit but of man alone. If this is true, then certainly what we have seen in the Church over the past fifty years are the profound and terrible results of God’s judgement — the list of troubles is staggering. Of course, I cannot say all this is true for I know almost nothing about it, but I wonder, I really wonder. Certainly it is deeply sobering to consider. (And the only “arguments” against this that I’ve come across consists of eye rolling. Thin arguments indeed.)

I worry that a great many cardinals, bishops, priests, and perhaps some popes, from the last half century or more, will end up in Hell because of the destruction they have brought about.

What?!

the-inferno-canto-19

Am I way off? Is Mr. Rodríguez wrong? What am I missing?

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Considering a Catholic Counter-Revolution

There is a lot of talk about the post-Vatican II Church. Some praise the openness and engagement with the world, saying the Church is no longer stuffy, no longer turned in on itself, no longer disengaged. Others decry the staggering decline in numbers of priests, religious, and faithful as signs that the council, and especially the post-council era, was a terrible turn. In that latter camp one will find many different opinions. Some say the council was entirely the work of the Devil, and that we actually have no pope, and have not had one for some time. Others accept the existence of the pope, but stand in clear opposition to much of what he does and says, and they decry the modernist church, pointing to the council as the key event in the Church’s profound decline. Others are not so strident, they stand with the pope, but they struggle with the council and its modernist tendencies, and they call for a return to authentic reverence at Mass, and think returning to the great traditions of the Church is a good idea, including the traditional Latin Mass of the pre-conciliar  Church, but do not think the Church must “go back” to the past in a complete sense.

As I continue to work through these ideas I find myself somewhat in that last camp (and perhaps a bit in the second camp). Pope Francis is my pope. I have written about my struggles with some of what he has said and done, but I still stand with him. He is my pope and I pray for him every day. However, I think it would be wonderful if the great traditions of the Church experienced a world-wide renaissance. And I pray every day that the beautiful and rich traditions of the Church would once again be the norm throughout the world. In a sense, I see the need for a kind of Catholic counter-revolution against the modernist forces that have harmed and are still harming the Church and the world today. What that could or should look like I do not know. But I find these two lectures below to offer some perspective and possible ideas — especially in light of the terrible revelations we are experiencing today. Needless to say, these lectures come from a very “conservative” place, a place I mostly find appealing (however I don’t consider myself either conservative or liberal) but some might find the lectures leaning too far in that direction and the examples used too extreme. I will leave that up to you to decide.

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The narrow gate

gate

I regularly get chills from certain passages in the Bible. This is one of them:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7: 13-14)

I often believe, with not a little worry, that while I ascent to Christ’s teaching and to the narrow gate metaphor I am, in truth, on the wide path to destruction. I also look around me and I am convinced the Church is filled mostly with people who are not on the narrow path, are not getting through the narrow gate and, in fact, have decided the narrow gate either does not apply to them, or that the wide gate is, in actuality, the narrow gate.

In fact, it seems there is a “the wide gate is the way to go” attitude in much of popular Christianity. It goes under the name of tolerance = love = “see how loving I am.” It is so easy for us to feel self-righteous and not see it.

In fact, I do not believe modern American  Christianity embraces the narrow gate. I believe the Church in the west has largely rejected the narrow gate. I believe our affluence and our love of modernism has encouraged us to believe the narrow gate does not apply anymore. This is really serious.

We have adopted what I call the “funny inner feeling” form of Christianity. I am not the first person to use that phrase. It arises from a distinctively Protestant form of Christianity naturally and inevitably born out of the sola fide mindset, but embraced by Catholics too, especially in the post-Vatican II world. Just like our modern concept of love, we are given over to a emotional definition of faith. With this feeling in place we can do all kinds of things, such as

  1. be spiritual but not religious
  2. presume ourselves forgiven
  3. presume ourselves saved
  4. believe we are no longer called to be martyrs
  5. believe holiness is merely a “lifestyle” of no eternal consequence
  6. choose our own forms of worship
  7. conjure more feelings of faith for a spiritual high
  8. denigrate piety as old fashioned
  9. denigrate traditions as being only for “rigid” people
  10. denigrate “works”
  11. denigrate Christendom
  12. promote “bumper-sticker” forms of encouragement
  13. ignore the sacraments

…and the list goes on and on.

But Christ will separate Christian from Christian. Some will go into glory forever with Him. And others will go to eternal destruction and fire. Does that not scare you? It does me. Dante was right to place some popes, bishops, priests, and religious in Hell. Will you and I be in Hell too? Or will we choose the narrow gate?

Verses like the ones above challenge me. I hope they challenge you too. Let us pray for each other. God is good and trustworthy.

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The Early Church and the Real Presence

Worshiping-the-Real-Presence

When I was a Protestant I didn’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (I didn’t even know that was an option), and I also believed the Church very quickly became corrupted after the apostles died. That’s why I “knew” our Baptist church was Christian and Catholics were probably going to Hell — nearly two thousand years of corruption until we Baptists came along finally with the true faith of the apostles. In other words, the Eucharist (we called it communion because Eucharist was too “Catholic”) was only a symbol and, of course, any authentic Christian church had to look like the church of the first generation of Christians (whatever we imagined that to be) if it looked like anything at all. I now know this is a lot of foolish bunk, but still popular in many Protestant circles — although those circles seem to be getting smaller and smaller.

One important piece of evidence for a Church of continuity through the ages is the simple fact that a mere few years beyond the first apostles others made statements about the Eucharist that confirm the Catholic teaching, and those others, lo and behold, where connected directly with the apostles. In other words, the Catholic understand of the Eucharist came directly from the apostles, who got it directly from our Lord.

First some quotes. Consider also the names of the authors and the dates:

On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: “In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.” (Didache, c. 90)

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. (St. Justin Martyr, c. 100)

They [Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 110)

[Christ] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own Blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own Body, from which he gives increase to our bodies. (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 140)

The Word is everything to a child: both Father and Mother, both Instructor and Nurse. “Eat My Flesh,” He says, “and drink My Blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery! (St. Clement of Alexandria, c. 150)

Now consider this handy flowchart* I made:

Early Church Fathers.001

Notice the relationships, see the connections.

Now consider Christ’s words: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) Even Hell will not prevail.

It seems to me that the Church has always been a Church of sinners, of struggles, of setbacks, of divisions, but also of healing, reconciliation, and of saints. It has also been a Church of the Eucharist. To think the Church got off course as soon as the apostles died is truly silly. To think the Catholic concept of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a made-up doctrine that came centuries later is also silly.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman)


*FYI: if I redo this chart I would make the lines between Paul, Peter, and John dotted, or something other than solid lines.

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Will you be saved?

Will you be saved? This is a profound and fundamental question. Fr. Anthony Mary, C.Ss.R pushes hard on this question and its implications. His talk is powerful, and its content will be almost entirely foreign to Protestant ears.

If I could summarize this talk in the least number of words, I would say it is a warning against the sin of presumption. However, to Protestants it will sound like Fr. Anthony is promoting salvation by works. But we see in Holy Scripture that we are to “work out our salvation,” and that “faith without works is dead,” and that we should “run the race as to win,” etc. It is precisely because we are saved by God’s grace alone that we can work, strive, run, hold fast, put on armor, be holy, and seek perfection with all our might. If we do not care to do this, or if we always have a quick reason at hand declaring we don’t need to, then how badly do we want salvation?

Modern Christianity, certainly born out of the Protestant rebellion, but also part of so much modern Catholicism as well, downplays the seriousness of all this because: 1) Christianity should be about being happy, and thinking of judgement makes us uncomfortable and unhappy; 2) sola fide, a heresy on its own, has morphed into the the “funny inner feeling” that allows oneself to forgive oneself and to declared oneself saved based on one’s feelings about oneself; and 3) we fear that it’s true that faith is actually hard work, and that we are in fact called to holiness and perfection, and that we cannot truly know who will be saved, so we create a Christianity of convenient excuses and social conformity that supports our excuses, which lay the foundation for the sin of presumption. I admit this is an indictment of much of my life.

So… are the examples of the saints mentioned in Fr. Anthony’s talk good pictures of how we should consider our own salvation? I cannot say for certain, but I would rather err leaning towards them than towards modern Christianity’s mostly saintless example.

And how am I doing with this? Terrible. God help me. Queen of Heaven pray for me.

fatima

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