Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Sodomy vs divorce: lesser of two evils?

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-by Rev Dominic Legge, OP

“Thomas Reese, writing about gay marriage in the National Catholic Reporter, argues that the Catholic bishops of the United States should “admit defeat and move on.” They’ve done this before, he claims: Think of “their predecessors who opposed legalizing divorce but lost,” and who then “accepted divorce” in practice if not in theory—for example, by hiring divorcées. “Today, Catholic institutions rarely fire people when they get divorced and remarried,” and the divorced and remarried “get spousal benefits.” “No one is scandalized by this,” he writes.

This is like saying: “The patient has been taking this poison for years, getting sicker and weaker—so let’s triple the dose.” The argument is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Further, there are manifold reasons why gay marriage is a different and greater threat than divorce, and why acquiescing in it would gravely damage the Church. Here are four.

1.  First, virtually no one celebrates divorce or regards it as a positive good. There is no “Divorced Pride” parade. At most, some think of it like abortion rights: a tragedy and an evil when it happens, but a necessary escape hatch. No one is clamoring for prelates to praise divorce. In contrast, gay marriage is trumpeted as a positive good, and the Church will be shown no mercy by its advocates until bishops, too, march in the parade. We should have no illusions about the way cultural forces (and, soon, legal coercion) will aim to compel the Church not only to be silent on gay marriage, but to praise it and to integrate it into the Church’s life—or else.

2.  Second, while divorce negates an important element of marriage, it doesn’t change the kind of relationship we’re speaking about. With divorce, we recognize that the old bond should have endured, but didn’t. A new legal act is needed to sunder what was joined. But even in this, we still grasp the nature of the bond itself: between a man and a woman, of a kind that generates children, implying permanence, if only for the good of the kids. Gay marriage undermines true marriage in a different and much more dangerous way: It hollows out its very essence, applying the word to something else entirely, a relationship that itself has no potential to generate children, and so cannot itself (without help from the law or from outsiders) form a family. Gay marriage makes it increasingly hard even to talk about what is essential to true marriage. To accept gay marriage as a genuine expression of marriage—and to treat it as such in the parish office, even if we could then keep it out of the parish church—would be vastly more destructive than accepting divorce (which has been bad). It changes the very essence of the institution.

3.  Third, divorce and remarriage is often hidden from view. One often doesn’t know if someone was divorced years ago—and it’s even more rare to know whether there was an annulment. Gay marriage is obviously different, and the threat of scandal is much greater.

4.  Fourth, it is not true that no one is scandalized when church institutions hire divorced and remarried people. Reese’s argument implies that no one will be shocked if we have divorced sacristans (or gay-married parish receptionists), since everyone understands that it’s just the world we live in. But scandal, as Jesus spoke about it, is not a psychological shock. It is rather a skandalon, a stumbling block to others who will then be tempted to sin. “It is impossible that stumbling blocks should not come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck . . .” (Luke 17:1–2). Is it plausible to claim that widespread acceptance of divorce has not contributed to more divorce? The effect will be even more powerful with gay marriage. If the Church accepts the new cultural and legal norms on gay marriage in its institutional life, even if not in its worship, it will say (especially to the “little ones” Jesus was talking about) that gay marriage is no big deal. Even today, it is a grave scandal when a Catholic teacher gets divorced and shows up at school with a new last name. Every kid in the school knows it. It teaches a lesson more powerful than any textbook. Accepting gay marriage would do much more damage.  (Ed.  I realize Fr Legge is speaking in hypotheticals as a form of intellectual charity as if the option were real for Catholics.  It is not.)

Yes, we may have lost the battle in civil law about the civil definition of marriage. That is all the more reason that the Church must now speak ever more clearly and firmly about the truth of marriage, or her “little ones” will soon weaken and fall. That would be the true scandal.”

Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious Word!

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Love,
Matthew

Coming Out as Catholic

“TOO MANY CHRISTIANS, NOT ENOUGH LIONS!” -the (In)Tolerati

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AdWeek, a widely-read secular industry journal slammed the video with an article entitled “Gay Marriage Opponents Act Like an Oppressed Minority in Catholic Group’s Despicable Ad.”

In the midst of vile, hate-filled comments (ironically tagged #LoveWins) many readers rose up in defense of the ad, accusing AdWeek of the very intolerance the video warns against. Once their hypocrisy was revealed, AdWeek removed “Despicable” from the title and changed much of the copy.

See below for a running list of sites that have posted the video:

MSNBC wrote about the viral ad with commendable neutrality, saying “Many point to last year’s ouster of Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich as a sign of an increasingly intolerant climate for those with traditional views about marriage.” “Same-sex marriage opponents ‘come out’ in new video.

Slate writes: “Here are some Catholics who feel oppressed by same-sex marriage

GQ Magazine reports: “Absurd Catholic Video Presents Bigots as the Victims of Marriage Equality

BuzzFeed contacted CV President Brian Burch for comments, says: “This Video is Letting Catholics Know That It Gets Better Now That the US Has Marriage Equality

PerezHilton.com says: “These Brave Souls Came Out As Anti-Gay ON VIDEO — You Won’t Believe What Brings Tears To Their Eyes!

Legal Insurrection comes to the ad’s defense: Ad Week has “a hilariously self-awareless fit….Without realizing it Ad Week proved Catholic Vote’s point. Well done, Ad Week. Well done.”

Fast Company reports: “Least Creative Thing of the Day: Catholic Group Plays the Victim in Anti-Gay Marriage Ad

Blue Nation Review writes: “Ridiculous Video Shows Americans ‘Coming Out’ As Anti-Gay

Chicks on the Right blog exposes the hypocrisy in the comments posted on the video: “The Love In #LoveWins Doesn’t Extend To Christians Voicing Their Religious Beliefs. As If We Thought It Would.

Next Magazine reports: “Don’t Feel Sorry for These Anti-Gay Douches

Patheos’ Friendly Atheist channel posted: “A Hilarious Response to CatholicVote’s Anti-Gay Marriage Video

Refinery 29 described video: “Insane Anti-Marriage-Equality Ad Parodies Coming-Out Videos

The Young Turks devoted an entire segment of their show to mocking the ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFt9WuseoJo&feature=youtu.be

Gawker struggled to find a creative way to bash the ad, but they tried anyway with article and hokey video entitled “We Fixed That Awful Homophobic Coming Out Video.”

Huffington Post covered the ad under the crude title: “B*got vs. F@ggot

Huffington Post thought it so egregious, they tried another article: “Why I Can’t Stop Watching that Absurd Anti-Gay Marriage PSA.

Love,
Matthew

eMANgelize!!!!!! – Male Catholic Spirituality

Before the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council, Catholics received the Eucharist by approaching and kneeling at the Communion rail. This photo was taken during Mass at the Paulist Center in Boston in 1955. (CNS photo from The Pilot) (Oct. 17, 2005) See VATICANII-OVERVIEW Oct. 12, 2005. (b/w only)

In You, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
I trust in You;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in You
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
Show me Your ways, Lord,
teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me,
for You are God my Savior,
and my hope is in You all day long.
Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to Your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
-Psalm 25: 1-7

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-by Tim Drake

“Is it true that men generally don’t like to attend religious services and don’t get involved in church? Consider the evidence:

— Citing dismal statistics, researcher David Morrow’s book Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson, 2005) concludes that men “are the world’s largest unreached people group.”

— A 2011 Christian Century article, “Why Do Men Stay Away?” notes how men are “famously outnumbered” by women at worship and “often are not particularly happy about it” when they do attend.

— A Barna study published that same year found that over the preceding two decades church attendance had declined by six percentage points among men, that the percentage of men who had volunteered at church had suffered a similar statistical drop over the same period, and that an estimated 39 percent of all men could be considered “unchurched” — meaning that they haven’t attended a church event (outside of an event such as a wedding or funeral) in the previous six months.

— A December Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article on men’s participation at church cited a statistic that 64 percent of parish life is comprised of women. The perception — or misperception rather — is that men are less involved in church than women.

The reality, however, is that there also is evidence of a resurgence in male involvement in church, at least as far as Catholic men in the United States are concerned. For the past two decades, a Catholic men’s movement has been steadily expanding in size and strength to the point where it is having a huge impact on male spirituality and involvement in Catholic communities. On both a national and local level, the Catholic men’s movement has come of age, as an increasing number of Catholic men are seriously embracing the faith and their roles as husbands and fathers in leading their families to Christ.

Many may recall the multi-denominational Promise Keepers movement of the mid-1990s that held large stadium events across the country. The Catholic men’s movement is not like that: It’s less flashy, more consistent, and growing.

“Promise Keepers conferences were designed to be spectacles,” writes John P. Bartkowski, sociology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio in his book about the movement. “And the problem with a spectacle is it needs to be outdone by something more spectacular and more stimulating the next time around.”

My own diocese hosted its annual Catholic men’s conference during the second weekend of Lent. The first of these conferences, held 17 years ago, was attended by approximately 300 men. Over the past five years, the event has consistently drawn more than 500.

Chris Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the Diocese of St. Cloud, said that she’s seen a growth in the younger base among attendees.

“From the evaluations from the men, they want good solid Catholic speakers that challenge them and give them ‘meat and potatoes,’ not ‘fluff,’ ” said Codden.

Many other dioceses also sponsor annual Catholic men’s conferences. In 2002, there were just 16 Catholic men’s conferences. According to Dan Spencer, executive director for the National Fellowship of Catholic Men, there are now approximately 75 diocesan-sponsored Catholic men’s conferences each year.

“There have been six or seven new conferences just within the last eighteen months, in places such as Omaha and Des Moines,” said Spencer. New York is currently organizing a conference, he added.

Typically, men’s conferences feature a prominent priest or Catholic leader who provides one or two inspiring talks, the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, prayer, and the celebration of Mass. They also often feature workshop or breakout sessions focused on topics of particular interest to men, or small-group sessions where men spend time with one another talking about issues that face them and their families.

What’s more startling, however, is what comes out of such conferences. Men often are inspired to meet more regularly to hold each other accountable and for support in living out their faith in daily life. As a result, thousands of men across the country remain active in local men’s groups that meet quite regularly.

Here I can speak from experience. Nearly 10 years ago, three other men and I began a morning men’s prayer and book-discussion group. Once a week, we gathered for prayer, support, dialogue, and accountability. I told the men at our first meeting that I had no intention of the group lasting forever. I said that we would work through a couple of books, and that would be it.

Yet here we are, 10 years later, having read and discussed countless books. We have expanded our group, and about a dozen of us continue to gather every Tuesday morning at a local restaurant. Over the years, more than 100 different men, including priests and seminarians, have participated. Some have driven more than 90 miles to see what we’re doing.

Not only that, but God has multiplied the effort. Some men who originally were part of our group have moved and started men’s groups elsewhere. At least four men have established separate weekly men’s groups within their own local parishes. We’ve also been told stories about the impact our gatherings have had on other restaurant patrons who have seen our group joined in prayer.

This phenomenon is being replicated across the country. Spencer said that parish-based groups have “exploded.” He cites that Milwaukee has approximately 130 men’s groups, Cincinnati has 75, and Kansas City has 60.

“Some are Bible-study groups, others are accountability groups, some study the weekly Sunday Scripture readings,” explained Spencer. “Some involve the Knights of Columbus. Others begin with a study or a book, while others create their own materials. Approximately 105 dioceses participate in the three-year ‘That Man is You’ program.”

The local efforts bear fruit for parishes and beyond. Some parish-based men’s groups have mentorship programs for boys in high schools. Others have started parish retreat-based programs like Christ Renews His Parish or Cursillo, weekend experiences of spiritual renewal that lead directly to the formation of ongoing small faith-sharing groups. The fruit of many of these efforts is that it motivates men to be more involved at all levels within the parish — in liturgical ministries, in religious education, in volunteerism, in charitable works, and much more. As examples, Spencer noted that men in Kansas City have been working on an anti-pornography initiative, and a group in Columbus, Ohio, recently participated in promoting Home Enthronement to the Sacred Heart.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that men’s participation in such groups strengthens their families and marriages, deepens their faith, and leads them to a greater participation in the sacraments. According to a Gallup Poll study of “That Man is You,” men entering the program tended to place in the bottom 25 percent of Gallup’s Spiritual Commitment Index, but finished the program in the top 25 percent.

Jesus Christ continues to call men — as he did the Twelve — to follow Him, and they are responding.

If we are to be conformed to Christ, then we need to conform ourselves “to the Gospel precept of fraternal love,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (#2488). Christ and the apostles demonstrate properly ordered fraternal love among men. It stands in stark contrast to the disordered love that our contemporary culture tends to celebrate and model.

Just as men on the battlefield band together under the leadership of their general to protect freedom, so evangelical Catholic men are being arrayed in a spiritual formation as a band of spiritual brothers centered around Christ to do battle against the cultural forces set on destroying our families.

Make no mistake. We are on a battlefield, and the choice is stark. Either we are for Christ or we are against Him. There is no middle ground.

“There is a hunger,” Kevin O’Brien, former professional football player and co-founder of the Catholic men’s conference Men of Christ, told me. “Men feel an emptiness inside and want to see faith presented in a masculine modality. They want to be challenged. When faith is presented in its proper form, men are attracted to it.”

Many of our brethren have been seriously wounded through the bullets and the shrapnel that the culture is hurling at us. Men’s groups offer a tremendous opportunity to strengthen men in virtue. Iron sharpens iron, the saying goes. As men, we must avail ourselves frequently of the life-giving and grace-giving Sacraments the Church offers us. We must find ways to strengthen and embolden one another for the task ahead. The time is now. Are you spiritually ready?”

Love,
Matthew

Back to the Catholic ghetto we go…

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It was nice to be thought of as “mainstream”, if only for fifty years.  An Irish-Catholic President, etc., no, really, it was nice, for a while.

http://www.uscatholic.org/blog/201506/catholic-culture-30152

-by Stephen Schneck, PhD

“I’m grateful to the editors of US Catholic for inviting me to contribute to a weekly blog. As a professor at The Catholic University of America and head of an institute that considers public policy from a Catholic perspective, my engagement in public life takes place at the intersection of religion, policy, and politics. Since this is my first blog, I thought I’d use it to introduce myself a bit by offering my take on the big topic of Catholic culture.

I grew up in a Catholic cultural bubble. It was the 1950s and ‘60s in Clinton, Iowa, a smallish town of what was then about 25,000 that lies along the Mississippi River south of Dubuque. The culture I grew up in—the culture of millions of other American Catholics—is now gone for good. This has both welcome and worrisome implications; for the future of the Church in America, the question of Catholic culture may be more important than ever.

Clinton, in my boyhood, had five parishes, each with its own grade school, all pretty neatly divided between Catholics of German and Irish heritage—St. Boniface, St. Patrick’s, and so on. The Germans had come in the 19th century to farm and the Irish a bit later for the railroads and to work in a milling industry that had closed shop before I was born. There were three Catholic high schools; two were girls’ schools and the other coed.

The town was split between Catholics and mainline Protestants (mostly Lutherans and Presbyterians) and we tended to stay with our own. As kids we played with other Catholics, had our own Catholic scouting troops, CYO athletics and mixers, and even our own 4-H groups. Our parishes forbade us from joining the YMCA and the like so as not to mingle too much with the Protestants. We were encouraged to avoid the public schools. Our parents, likewise, tended to socialize within the faith. One of the VFW posts was Catholic and the other Protestant. A “mixed marriage” was one between German and Irish parishes. We marched around the block for the feast of Christ the King and for May crowning, surrounded by a thick and comforting Catholic culture that offered us identity and place.

Over the course of my growing up, much of that changed. Clinton’s five parishes were merged into one (much drama ensued). The high schools closed and only a single, much smaller, Catholic high school remains. The grade schools all merged, too. Our white Catholic ethnicities pretty much melted away with the march of assimilation. The little things that once mattered—probably way too much—about being Catholic and distinct from other Americans seemed over time not to matter so much. The Catholic cultural bubble of my boyhood gradually faded into the American societal landscape.

Clinton’s experience was pretty typical. Similar changes occurred in other Catholic communities of the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the northern Plains. In big cities like Chicago, New York, and so on it was a little different, with waves of new Catholic immigrants arriving. Likewise, it was a little different in West Coast Catholic communities that also experienced new immigration. But for white Catholics nationwide, the changes seemed profound. There was a feeling that our cultural identity had disappeared. Catholicism that was for us a way of life and a culture faded—leaving only Catholicism, the religion. Arguably, that shift is a very important one for understanding Catholicism in America today and its future.

Many studies of the state of the Catholic Church in the United States seem to overlook this fact. Consider the studies of the many who have left or are leaving the church. The Pew Research Center recently reported that 13% of Americans are former Catholics and that for every new convert, there are six Catholics leaving the faith. Those are sobering numbers. No denomination in America is losing more adherents than Catholics.

Pundits tend to approach such issues by focusing on the religion side, talking about doctrine and liturgy. So some blame the post-Vatican II changes in religious practice that, to their mind, compromised orthodoxy (Rod Dreher, for example). Some, on the other hand, blame our religion for not adapting to mainstream norms of American society regarding things like abortion, same-sex marriage, and so forth (Damon Linker, for example). These approaches miss something. Despite what former and lapsed Catholics often rationalize to pollsters, there’s much to suspect that the erosion has less to do with doctrine or liturgy and more to do with what’s happened to Catholic culture.

Even when culture does get mentioned, the focus is usually wrong. The talk too often is about Catholicism versus American culture—with some wanting to change American culture to accommodate religion and some wanting to change religion to accommodate American culture. But both groups overlook the problem of our own Catholic culture, as distinct from Catholic religion.

Yes, of course Catholicism is a religion. Doctrine, liturgy, scripture—of course! Of course our religion should be something intentionally chosen, something open to our reason and knowledge. It ought not be reduced to a pastiche of folkways, social customs, lifestyles, and communal attitudes. But, what’s become clear to me is that however much religion must be intentional, it still depends on an underlying culture, and for many American Catholics that dimension is increasingly wanting.

What can be done? Well, don’t be misled by rosy memories to wallow in nostalgia. There was very much not to admire about that closed Catholic culture of my youth. Just ask those who didn’t fit in. And, cultures cannot be artificially recreated. Nothing is phonier than manufactured culture. Going back now to meatless Fridays, CYO mixers, and women with doilies over their hair would be about as authentic as sword-toting reenactors at a Renaissance Fair.

In fact, culture is authentic when it is not a task for itself. It grows only in fresh solidarity. It works when it speaks to its historical moment. It flourishes in communities that open outward rather than retreat inward. It is brightest when not defensive, when its mode is inclusion more than seclusion, bridges not walls, when its message is an exuberant “Yes” and not a parsimonious “No.”

Now for a spoiler alert…something that will be evident in many future posts. I’m a HUGE fan of Pope Francis. The culture issue is one reason why.

In part, I’m a huge fan of Pope Francis because of what I see for the possibilities of a new and authentic Catholic culture. It won’t be the one of my Iowa boyhood, nor should it be. But a fresh Catholic solidarity is growing in this age of Francis that addresses the faith’s need to be more than doctrine and liturgy. If I’m right that many of the problems dogging the church in the United States over the course of my lifetime have roots in a fading Catholic culture, and if I’m right—thanks to Pope Francis—that there is hope again for Catholicism being a way of life and a distinctive culture, then maybe the outlook is brighter for today’s Catholics than it has been over the course of much of my life.”

Love,
Matthew

Lay Preaching

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All of God’s faithful people are called to preach!!!  It is only during Mass, and technically a homily, that this office is restricted to the ordained.

http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/canon-law/complementary-norms/canon-766-lay-preaching.cfm

http://www.uscatholic.org/laypreachers

Maybe it is time we gave priests a break from giving homilies so we can hear what the rest of the church has to say.

-By Karen Dix, a religious educator and a retired director of faith formation from Addison, Illinois.

[Sounding Boards are one person’s take on a many-sided subject and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.]

“Here I am once again, listening to a boring homily. “God is merciful. And, you know, you can seek God’s mercy whenever you need it. Because God always forgives you if you are really sorry. As I said, God is full of mercy…”  (Ed. Fathers, forgive me.  You only make it look easy, I realize.  I am about to be snarky….My version is “Give us your money!”) 🙂 Still friends?  🙂 Please? 🙂  Pretty? 🙂

I want to stand up and ask: “Have you had any experience with God’s mercy? Do you know anyone who has? Do you at least know a story about it, or are you just going to read from the Catechism?”

The homilies I hear aren’t always boring. Some are just bizarre. One year during Advent I heard this at daily Mass: “Did you see the movie, The Nativity? Well, Hollywood is wrong. Mary did not have any pain when Jesus was born. We know she didn’t because the Bible says she wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Now if she had a regular delivery she couldn’t do that, she’d be too weak.”

I looked around and thought, “Are these other people really listening? Have billions of mothers been so weak after childbirth they could not wrap their baby in a blanket?” I didn’t see anyone rolling their eyes though, so I guess they were just thinking about what they needed to get at the store.

Yes, I have at times been frustrated with poor preaching. I have also been fortunate to hear hundreds of really good homilies in my home parish. But by limiting preaching only to those who are ordained, we’re missing an important ingredient that could make homilies much more relevant to the people in the pews.

Once I was invited to give a reflection at Sunday Mass on Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Life. I spoke of the pope’s concern for women as he declared that they too were victims in cases of abortion, something I had never before heard anyone actually say in church. I echoed the unique role of mothers and women to build a world that values life in all its dimensions, and people later told me they were touched that I had spoken of the bond I had with my babies before they were born. They had never before heard someone speak from the pulpit who had actually been pregnant.

While it seems most Catholics are supportive of their priests, regardless of the quality of their preaching, if you get them talking many will say they wish the homilies they hear on Sundays would be better. The main comment I hear from Catholics is that the homily should relate to our real lives. Many say that the bar is set low, and the most they hope for is a short sermon. They would like to see one central message, inspired by the scriptures and illustrated by real life stories.

Of course, being a good homilist requires effort and talent. I don’t have to work too hard to make the case that not everyone is gifted with public speaking skills. Some speak too low, repeat pet phrases too often, or are just really uncomfortable in front of an audience. While most seminaries require classes in preaching, they do not guarantee success.

As a public speaker, I know that the shorter the time I have for the talk, the greater the challenge. It would be easy to just start talking, rambling at will, giving lots of information without filtering it. But to deliver an effective message in a limited time requires editing and proper organization of the material. Before I give a speech, I prepare it and give it aloud to myself beforehand.

That kind of preparation takes time. These days many parishes in the United States only have one priest, and being the pastor, he must attend and plan meetings, counsel people, prepare liturgies, meet with couples to be married, celebrate sacraments–all by himself. While I sympathize with these demands, they can lead to subpar preaching. Many priests just lack the time to plan a good homily.

That’s why it is time for the church to allow lay Catholics to preach. I propose that there be a program within dioceses to train non-ordained preachers. Candidates would need to be gifted in public speaking and have a solid background in scripture. They would be people well known to their pastors, who would assign them to speak on occasional weekends. They would be approved by the local bishop and have his stamp of approval: I can be trusted, I am trained, I will teach in the name of the bishop.

As was the case with my own “reflection” at Sunday Mass (technically, a layperson cannot give a “homily”), many pastors do currently allow people other than priests and deacons to speak at Mass. It may be directly about the readings for that Mass, or it could be on a different topic that is relevant to the parish community. Occasionally it is just a talk by a member of the parish finance committee.

When I served as director of faith formation at a parish, I spoke each year around Catechetical Sunday on the importance of lifelong learning and spiritual growth in the midst of raising kids. My friend Jill, who now attends my parish in St. Charles, Illinois, recalls that her former parish in New Jersey invited laypeople to speak on special occasions, including Mothers Day. She remembers the powerful witness the mothers would give of how God was present in their lives.

In such cases the celebrating priest often gives a short homily or just makes a few comments before turning it over to the layperson. Pastors have mentioned to me that they often have to fend off criticism from a few folks for allowing laypeople to speak at Mass, but they make these exceptions in cases where there is an important message best delivered by someone with an expertise.

In some parishes, a religious sister on the staff regularly preaches. Deacons, who can often add the perspective of people with wives, children, and careers outside the church, usually have the faculty for preaching but are still not often given this role. I know that many priests love the preaching part of their ministry. Others are less enthusiastic and may welcome occasional relief from this obligation.

Canon law does make clear that the person who should preach is the priest celebrating the Mass but there is a narrow opening for the necessity of others taking on this role. The General Instruction for the Roman Missal states that a priest celebrant “may entrust the homily to a concelebrating priest or occasionally to a deacon but never to a layperson.”

The U.S. bishops in 2001 addressed the role of lay preachers, saying “if necessity requires it in certain circumstances or it seems useful in particular cases, the diocesan bishop can admit lay faithful to preach… when he judges it to be to the spiritual advantage of the faithful.” The bishops clarified, however, that the homily is always reserved for ordained ministers and that no bishop can authorize a layperson to preach at this time during the Mass.

It is suggested that laypersons may speak at other types of events, outside of Mass. In certain circumstances, they can speak during Mass, but this should never be confused with a homily. In light of our current situation of priest shortages and the growing role of laypeople in parish life, the church should give serious attention to changing this thinking. If the bishops have already recognized the value of lay preaching, why not take the extra step of allowing laypeople to give the homily?

The Catholic faithful have a lot to gain from listening to non-ordained preachers. They can offer expertise in catechesis, medical ethics, social justice, or family life. They can bring a different perspective–one of being married, or a parent, or a woman, or someone in a workplace facing the challenges of living the gospel. Many lay people lead retreats, teach in diocesan programs, are theology professors, or write books. But their audiences would ordinarily be small compared to the Sunday assembly.

Why not give the folks in the pews a chance to hear some of these different voices? I have found that many Catholics are open to this idea. Imagine the insights that would be possible if preaching in the church were opened to the gifts so many laypeople have.

As St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” He goes on to list the many different types of gifts that the believers may share. Surely, we as a church so many years later can still be open to hear the wisdom of those who have a different calling than the priesthood. After all, Paul himself was a great preacher, called by our Lord into service of the word—even if he wasn’t ordained.”

Love,
Matthew

Self-Righteous Catholics: Jesus prefers sinners to hypocrites & “fake saints”

2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea Closing Mass for Asian Youth Day August 17, 2014 Haemi Castle, Seosan-si, Chungcheongnam-do Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Korean Culture and Information Service Korea.net (www.korea.net) Official Photographer : Jeon Han This official Republic of Korea photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way. Also, it may not be used in any type of commercial, advertisement, product or promotion that in any way suggests approval or endorsement from the government of the Republic of Korea. If you require a photograph without a watermark, please contact us via Flickr e-mail. --------------------------------------------------------------- 교황 프란치스코 방한 제6회 아시아 청년대회 폐막미사 2014-08-17 충청남도 서산시 해미읍성 문화체육관광부 해외문화홍보원 코리아넷 전한

Have mercy on me, Lord. For I am a sinful man! Lk 5:8

-by THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.  4 Mar 2015

“The Pope had strong words Tuesday for the self-righteous, calling them “fake saints.” Their heart does not belong to the Lord, he said. “It belongs to Satan, the father of all lies, and this is fake holiness.”  (Ed. you can always detect Satan reliably.  He may resemble the Lord in every way, except suffering.)

“All of us are clever enough to find a way to seem more righteous than we are.” The Pope said. “This is the path of hypocrisy.” These sort of people “say the right things, but do the opposite.” Hypocrisy, he said, is the great “snare” of Christians.

The Pope offered these reflections during his homily at morning Mass at the Saint Martha residence in the Vatican on Tuesday morning.

He said that Jesus preferred sinners “a thousand times” to hypocrites, because “sinners were telling the truth about themselves,” while hypocrites are liars. He recalled the meeting between Jesus and Peter, where Peter exclaimed: “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

The Pope also said that Christians often have a mistaken idea of conversion, thinking that what they need is just to wash the stains off their conscience.

“The dirt of the heart is not removed as you remove a stain,” Francis said. “It is removed by ‘doing,’ by taking another path, a different road from that of evil. ‘Learn to do right!’ That is the way of doing good,” he said.

He recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah, which he called an “imperative” that comes directly from God: “Cease doing evil, learn to do good.” This, he said, is a change of life, a change of actions. And doing good, he said, means “defending orphans and widows,” and taking care of “those who no one remembers,” such as the abandoned, the elderly, children and those outside the faith. These are the “wounds of humanity,” said the Pope, where there is so much pain.

“By doing good,” Francis said, “you wash your heart.”

“The promise of a clean heart, one that is forgiven, comes from God Himself,” Francis said. “He does not keep an account of the sins of those who love their neighbor.”

“The words—‘though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’—seem like an exaggeration,” Francis said, “but it is the truth!”

“The Lord gives us the gift of His forgiveness,” he said. “But if you want to be forgiven, you have to start on the path of doing good. This is the gift!”

Love,
Matthew

Self-Righteous Catholics: Pope Francis says self-righteous doomed…

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I’m sure you have had the misfortune, as have had I, of encountering the stifling scrupulosity of the Catholic self-righteous.  Lord, have mercy.

-by Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, Dec. 16, 2014

VATICAN CITY  “Only the repentant heart that is humble, open to correction and trusts completely in God will be saved, Pope Francis said.

Those whose hearts are proud, self-righteous and deaf to God’s voice and correction are doomed, the pope said Tuesday at his morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives.

“The people who are humble, lowly and trust in the Lord, they are the ones who are saved, and this is the way of the church, right? It has to go down this path, not the other one, which doesn’t listen to the voice [of God], doesn’t accept correction and doesn’t trust in the Lord,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.

The pope’s homily focused on the day’s readings, first from the Book of Zephaniah (3:1-2, 9-13), in which the Lord condemns the “rebellious and polluted” city, which does not hear or trust in God and accepts no correction. God will remove “the proud braggarts” and leave behind “a people humble and lowly,” the reading says. The Gospel reading from St. Matthew (21:28-32) shows Jesus asking the chief priests and elders to decide who is more obedient to God’s will: the son who refuses, but then repents and goes as commanded to work in the vineyard, or the son who agrees right away but does not go.

The two readings, the pope said, talk about judgment, salvation and condemnation.

“When we see a holy people of God that is humble, whose wealth is in its faith in the Lord, in its trust in the Lord,” he said, “they are the ones who are saved.”

The Gospel account of the two sons, he said, can be seen today with Christians who declare that they are “pure” just because they go to Mass and receive Communion.

But God wants something more, the pope said. He wants them to honestly open their hearts and courageously lay bare all of their sins.

Even people who generously give their lives in service to others, who work with the poor, help the church, there is still something missing that God wants: a list of their sins, the pope said.

“When we are able to tell the Lord, ‘Lord these are my sins, not the sins of that one or the other, these are mine. They are mine. You take them and that way I will be saved’ — when we are able to do this we will be that beautiful people, a humble and lowly people, who trust in the Lord,” the pope said.

Among those invited to attend the morning Mass were the three women religious from the United States who were in Rome for the presentation of a final report ending a Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. communities of women religious.

Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the apostolic visitor appointed by the Vatican, told reporters during a news conference about the report that the pope’s morning homily was “an awesome experience.”

She said the pope’s final comments about Jesus asking everyone to “give me your sins; I was very struck by that because we all have our shortcomings, all of our congregations, we’ve all come up short on many aspects in living our fidelity, and I thought that was a beautiful message to all of us.”

The Vatican’s final report calling on the women to discern how best to live the Gospel in fidelity to their orders’ founding ideals was “very pastoral,” she said.

“It challenges each of us, every one of our congregations, to turn all of that over to Jesus so that he can work great things through us, and I think that was the message I received from the Holy Father this morning,” she said.”

Love & peace,
Matthew

Vincible Ignorance – Ignorance is NOT a synonym for stupid

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There’s a joke that goes:  a missionary has just catechized a native, and the native asks, “‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ Priest: ‘No, not if you did not know.’ Native: ‘Then why did you tell me?’

There is a good answer to this. I hope the priest responded, “For the sake of the JOY of the Gospel!!!!”

CCC 1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

CCC 1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

CCC 1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

CCC 846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; He is present to us in His body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

Vincible ignorance is imputable because it could be overcome by a reasonable effort, but, for some cause attributable to the agent, that effort is not made.  The ignorance is therefore due to a culpable negligence or a deliberate bad choice on the part of the agent. This may come about in several ways.

For example, from deliberate negligence when a man refuses to find out the truth, so that he may be at liberty to go on as he is going, or when, because of pleasures and other distractions, he cannot be bothered to find out. Or it may come about from a deliberate will to indulge a particular passion, which later, in its heat and fury, clouds and obscures the mind, and so brings about a state of ignorance. Or again, ignorance may be the result of an evil habit, which has so blunted the conscience that the sinner is, or thinks that he is, ignorant of the wickedness of his actions. Lastly, ignorance may be caused by a refusal to stop and consider further, although a doubt has arisen; this is characteristic of hotheaded and impetuous people who are impatient of reflection.

This vincible ignorance admits of three degrees of seriousness, dependent on the way in which it has been brought about:

  1. First, it may be “simple“. That is, it is caused by a simple, not gravely culpable negligence. For example, a clerk misreads a price.  In Church terms, he is given bad theology or catechesis, or is not guided by qualified instructors.  This is not a case of total negligence – he looked for and – saw a nearby price/a heretical or inferior theology.  He made an honest mistake.  How was he to know?
  2. Secondly, this vincible ignorance may be “crass” or “supine“.  Here the negligence is total or relatively so, in a matter in which care was a clear duty and easy of fulfillment.  The clerk, too lazy to care, is content with a mere guess. He makes up his own theology.  He disregards Apostolic Tradition, of any kind.  The gravity of the blame due to “crass” ignorance depends on the gravity of the matter at stake.
  3. Thirdly, such ignorance may be “affected” or deliberate.  That is, it is the result of a direct conscious act of will.  The agent deliberately keeps himself in ignorance, lest by finding out the truth he should be prevented by his conscience from doing what he wants to do.  He doesn’t care what the Truth is.  He doesn’t want to find out, because he fears its implications.  He is willfully ignorant, deliberately.  He doesn’t want to listen.  He doesn’t want to hear.  He doesn’t care.  This is the worst, most blameworthy, form of vincible ignorance.

-by Greg Witherow, Holy Trinity Parish, Gainesville, VA

“To begin with, the teaching that “there is no salvation outside of the Church”1 is a “de fide” (what must be believed) dogma2. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated, “The universal Church of the faithful is one outside of which none is saved”. This was the teaching also of the Union Council of Florence (1438-1445), Pope Innocent III, Clement VI, Benedict XIV, Pope Boniface VIII in the papal bull Unam Sanctum, Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius XII in the Encyclical Mystici Corporis3. But does the Magisterium address exceptions to formal membership to the Church?

This question is answered by reviewing the excommunication of Father Leonard Feeney, Feeneyism, in 1953, a recent yet pre-Vatican II4 case that illustrates the Church’s teaching. Father Feeney was excommunicated because he rejected the teaching of baptism of desire, either explicit or implicit. As baptism is the gate into the Catholic Church, he held all the unbaptized are undoubtedly lost. This was in direct conflict with the teaching of the
Church. It has always been held that salvation is possible for the unbaptized, assuming the person has either an explicit or implicit desire for Christ and his Church. Such people are mystically (not formally) attached to the Church, if indeed they are in a state of
grace5. The Feeney case illustrates two things. First, there are exceptions to formal membership and secondly, such exceptions are not a post Vatican II invention.”

“Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ.”
St. Athanasius

“Turn your thoughts away from a non-Catholic, turn away your ears, so that you may have strength to grasp life everlasting through the one, true and holy Catholic Church. Our Lord warns all the faithful: they must not put any faith in heretics or schismatics. “
-St. Augustine

Love,
Matthew

  1. Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed this in the papal bull Unam Sanctum in 1302.
  2. The Fundamentals of the Catholic Faith, page 312.
  3. Taken from The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (by Dr. Ludwig Ott) on page 312.
  4. I will use as many pre-Vatican II examples as possible as some are suspicious of the post-Vatican II era.
  5. The story of Cornelius in Acts 10 depicts a non-Christian who was a true follower of God. In the story we see Cornelius is neither a Christian (he hadn’t heard the Gospel yet) nor a Jew (he was considered by Peter to be a Gentile). Yet he was in a state of grace before he received the Gospel or was baptized. We know this because his prayers were heard and his alms were accepted as pleasing to God, as Hebrews 11:6 states, “without faith it is impossible to please God”. This means Cornelius must have had faith, which can only be obtained by the work of the Holy Spirit on someone’s soul. Cornelius had the Holy Spirit in the same manner pre-Pentecost believers had Him. With baptism he received a post-Pentecost portion of the Holy Spirit. Characteristics Cornelius had marking him as a man of God included prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the fear of the Lord, righteousness AND upon hearing the Gospel, he did not reject it – i.e. it was not because he was “a good person”. Baptism brought him into a full, formal communion with the Church.

SBNR: “I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this I will build…politically neutral universally nice feelings!” :) Look, Ma! No Cross!!!!

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“I can love Jesus without going to Church.”  -any wishy-washy, spineless, pseudo-Christian teenager, adult, etc.


-by Fr. Dwight Longnecker, a former Evangelical Protestant, graduate of Bob Jones University, turned Anglican priest, turned Catholic priest.

Fr. Dwight enjoys movies, blogging, books, riding his motorcycle and visiting Benedictine monasteries. He’s married to Alison. They have four children, named Benedict, Madeleine, Theodore and Elias. They live in Greenville, South Carolina with a black Labrador named Anna, a chocolate Lab named Felicity, a cat named James and various other pets.

No. Because the Lord Jesus Christ–the only begotten Son of the Father–took human flesh He therefore sanctified the physical realm. Because He took human flesh; human flesh matters. Because He took on physical matter; matter matters. My body matters for it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. My Church matters. The physical church building matters. The One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church–the Catholic Church with all her institutions and history and paperwork and bureacracy and canon law and dogma–all of it matters. The incense and the candles and the books and the bells. They all matter.

The saints and their suffering matters. My rosary and my books of theology and my Infant of Prague and my plaster St Therese and my Our Lady of Lourdes–soiled and with a hole in her head because a nun from the convent where I got her dropped her once–that matters, and so does my starving neighbor and my friend with a headache and my child who needs a hug and a listening ear. They matter.

And so does the Blessed Sacrament which is the focus of the presence of God in the physical.

…and because of this I kneel to adore.”

To connect and correct

Servant of God, Fr. Isaac Hecker, CSP, was a 19th-century convert to Catholicism who became a priest and founded the American religious order known as the Paulists.  He summed it up best. Religion, said Hecker, helps you to “connect and correct.” You are invited into a community to connect with one another and with a tradition. At the same time, you are corrected when you need to be. And you may be called to correct your own community — though a special kind of discernment and humility is required in those cases.

Endurance: A Hecker Reflection

“Jesus our Saviour fell oftentimes with the excessive weight of His cross, in order to show us that He has not called us to enjoy success but to support adversity; to show us that as long as our cross does not exceed our strength, self-centeredness will always find room to conceal itself and live. It is in the death of our self-centeredness that gives rise to God’s love in our hearts. As Blessed John of Avila writes, “for it is its (love-of-self’s) life that has given death to the love of God.”

Jesus Christ not only enjoined upon us to sell all that we have and give it to the poor, if we would be His disciples, but He said also, “take up your cross and follow Me.” Everyone is therefore supposed to have a cross. To get rid of it is not what the Saviour asks, but to take it up and follow Him. Ah My Lord, it is not the work of a moment, not that of a child to take up your cross the weight of which surpasses our strength; to bear it and fall under it, and bear it again, and finally to be mercifully crucified on it. This is what God asks us to do, for this is what Jesus did and to follow Jesus is to accept God’s invitation to do the same. It requires much more courage to follow Jesus Christ to the conquest of heaven than to follow Caesar to the conquest of the entire universe.”

Our crosses MUST exceed our own strength.  It is God’s will.  To show us how utterly dependent we are on Him.  Yes, Lord, yes.  Thank you for my sweet crushing crosses.  They that show me how much I NEED YOU!!!!  Amen.  Amen.  Praise Him!!!!

Love,
Matthew

Credo – Act of Faith

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-by Br John Dominic Bouck, OP

“If you asked someone on the street which doctrine of the Catholic Church is the hardest to believe in, you might hear “the Church’s teaching on gay marriage” or “contraception” or “the historical reality of the Virgin Birth” or “the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist” or some other difficult teaching. However, I think one is harder than all of these.

This Easter Vigil, tens of thousands of men and women around the world, as they seek entrance into full communion with the Catholic Church, will say:

“I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

This is, I think, the hardest doctrine of them all. I, as a fully rational and free person, am asked to assent fully to a body of teachings—all of them. One must believe and profess all the Church teaches, and in addition, the teaching that all her dogmas are unchanging. This difficult doctrine of doctrines did not dissolve with Vatican II; it was, in fact, strongly reinforced. In Lumen Gentium, the document on the Church from that Council, we read:

This infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded…and the faithful are to accept this teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.

At the First Vatican Council, in the 19th century, the following articulation showed the unchangeability of doctrine:

If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.

All this seems pretty intimidating. It almost seems like I should pick one teaching to disagree with just to assert my independence and freedom of thought. Isn’t this the “thought police” telling me what to think, and me, just exercising doublethink, blandly assenting to a lot of teachings simply because someone more powerful than me said so?

I don’t believe so. Rather, I, Br. John Dominic Bouck, believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God—not because I think Pope Francis is a nice guy, or that Thomas Aquinas was really smart, or that two thousand years is a long time, and that that really gives a lot of street-cred to those teachings.

I believe most of all because I have been given the supernatural gift of Faith by God Himself, through the Church, and through my family and teachers. I have not earned it. God knows I don’t deserve to believe. I could come to a reasonable knowledge that there is one supreme being who created and rules. But I would not come to know that that Creator actually loves me as a Father, and that when I disobey Him, He is not an angry bully, but a lover who wants me back, just as He said in Hosea,

She went after her lovers,
and forgot me, says the Lord.
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her. (Hosea 2:13-14)

I believe because of the blood of the martyrs, especially of that truly great generation of men and women who knew Jesus while He was on earth. They were utterly convinced that Jesus was God, that Jesus was man, that Jesus died, and that Jesus rose—yes, rose from the dead. So convinced that they lived lives of self-forgetful charity, and died deaths of unspeakable torture. Martyrs not of a political cause, nor suicidal, but lovers slain testifying for their beloved.

If I should through my powers of reason and intellect find a contradiction, a real contradiction in the history of Church teaching, or a system of thought more comprehensive and more coherent and more satisfying than the Catholic Church–established by Jesus Christ–then yes, I would look into that seriously. But so far, nothing. And, indeed, I don’t think any real contradiction is possible. Jesus founded His Catholic Church as an agent of truth, and Jesus and His Church do not and cannot lie.

I believe because as St. Peter said to the Lord, “To whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Even amidst doubts, what good would it do me to worship a god of my own creation? He can’t save me. In God alone is my salvation. And if there is no God, no salvation. That seems pretty clear to me. And if God is unchanging, and He wants to help us, it makes sense that He would make known to us what we need to know about Him and ourselves. And this He tells us through His Church.

That’s why I believe in all of it; Lord, help my unbelief.

An Act of Faith:

O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that the divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because You have revealed them, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

Amen.

God have mercy on my soul, I do.
Love,
Matthew