Category Archives: New Evangelization


“Before retiring to bed on a Tuesday night in the Vatican, Saint John Paul II prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, meditating upon the following words from Saint Peter: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1

Long after others in the papal apartment were asleep, a noise awoke his secretary, Monsignor Stanisław Dziwisz, who left his room to investigate. His room was adjacent to the Holy Father’s, but he noticed that the sounds were not coming from the Pope’s room, but from his chapel. Although late-night prayer was not uncommon for John Paul, Dziwisz peered in to be certain that everything was all right.

The sight was typical: John Paul immersed in contemplation alone before the tabernacle. The Pope usually spoke to God with very simple words, and often prayed during adoration like Jesus did in Gethsemane, talking with his Father. 2 This night, Dziwisz noticed that John Paul indeed seemed troubled. The disturbance he overheard was the Pope speaking aloud to God, asking repeatedly, “Dlaczego? Dlaczego?” (“ Why? Why?”). Out of reverence, the monsignor backed away from the chapel and returned to his room for the night.

John Paul celebrated Mass the next morning, but was unusually reserved during breakfast afterward. The Pope’s typical jovial and engaging demeanor toward the sisters and guests was subdued. Instead of asking questions and conversing about an endless variety of topics, he was recollected and withdrawn. He ate no breakfast, and drank a cup of tea. 3

That afternoon would be an important one: During his Wednesday audience, John Paul was preparing to announce the establishment of two ministries in the Church that would address the problems facing families in the modern world. 4 One of these, the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, would become the main teaching arm of the Theology of the Body. 5

On his way to deliver his message, the Holy Father rode in the Popemobile across Saint Peter’s Square. As he was blessing children and greeting the crowds, gunshots from a Turkish assassin rang out. An ambulance rushed the Pope in his bloodstained cassock to the hospital, where he narrowly escaped death.

Had God given him a premonition of his suffering the night before? The answer to that question will likely remain a mystery known only to John Paul.

Was there a link between his suffering and his efforts to build up marriage and the family? This he affirmed, saying, “Perhaps there was a need for that blood to be spilled in Saint Peter’s Square.” 6 He added, “Precisely because the family is threatened, the family is being attacked. So the Pope must be attacked. The Pope must suffer, so that the world may see that there is a higher gospel, as it were, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared, the third millennium of families. . . .” 7

…While camping at the World Youth Day vigil in Kraków, I spoke with a young woman who was preparing to enter her first year of college at a prestigious university in California. She pulled her phone out of her backpack and showed me where her online college application required her to check the appropriate box to indicate her gender.

There were eighteen boxes to choose from.

I read through the litany of genders, and noticed that two were missing: male and female. (Facebook— which invites its users to identify as one of more than fifty genders— at least offers them the possibility of choosing to be male or female.) The university application, however, did allow the incoming students to choose “cis-male” or “cis-female,” which means that the biological sex one was “assigned” at birth aligns with the gender one chooses for one’s identity.

While some seek to expand upon the number of genders and create a spectrum of options, the ultimate goal of gender theory is not diversity. After all, diversity requires objective differences. The goal is to erase the sexual difference, and thus to eliminate the meaning of the body.

Where is this coming from? The Second Vatican Council prophesied our culture’s sexual identity crisis by stating, “When God is forgotten . . . the creature itself grows unintelligible.” 8 Although the Theology of the Body was written before many of the modern ideas of gender theory became popular, it was ahead of its time in offering a clear answer for them— and for many other key issues about sexuality and the body.

What is the Theology of the Body?

The Theology of the Body is the popular title given to 135 reflections written by Saint John Paul II. As a cardinal in Poland, he (Karol Wojtyła) planned to publish them as a book titled Man and Woman He Created Them. 9 Before this could happen, he was elected pope, and instead delivered the content in 129 Wednesday Audiences during the first five years of his pontificate.

The thousands of vacationers and pilgrims who gathered to see the Holy Father at these audiences had no idea that the Pope’s biographer would later describe the Theology of the Body as a “theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” 10

What could be so explosive about a Polish bishop’s theological reflections on the body? To answer this, consider how the human body has been viewed throughout history. Thousands of years ago, Gnostics and Platonists believed that a person’s true self was different from his or her body. One Gnostic sect, the Manicheans, believed that man’s destiny was to set his spiritual essence free from the pollution of matter. Because the body was material, it was not only inferior, but evil. In fact, it was considered a sin for a woman to give birth because she was bringing more matter into existence! Centuries later, puritanism considered the body to be a threat to one’s soul. Meanwhile, the philosopher René Descartes proposed that the soul is like a ghost trapped in a machine.

All these views about the body have one element of truth in common: Our bodies and souls aren’t in harmony. However, the body is not unimportant compared to the soul. Nor is the body something we “have,” or something that encumbers our soul. We are our bodies, and our bodies reveal us. However, our current state is not the way God created us in the beginning. The discord that exists within man is the result of original sin. 11

While some individuals devalued the body and cared only for the soul, others fell into the opposite mistake. Atheists and materialist philosophers argued that the human person is nothing more than his or her body: There is no soul, and the body has no meaning.

Although these ideas might seem like debates reserved for philosophers and theologians, consider what happens when entire cultures accept these misguided notions of what it means to be human. If man has a body but no spiritual dimension, what distinguishes him from other animals? Why should he act differently or be treated differently? On the other hand, if a person’s true identity is found in his spirit alone, then man’s view of himself becomes uprooted from any objective reality. Truth would then be defined by a person’s feelings. As a result, masculinity and femininity would be viewed as social constructs, not realities created by God. But if masculinity and femininity don’t exist, then what becomes of marriage and the family?

Because there has been so much confusion about the meaning of the human body, John Paul set out to present a total vision of man that would include man’s origin, history, and destiny. Instead of arguing from the outside in, offering people a litany of rules, he invited them to seek the truth about reality by reflecting on their own human experience. The writings of Saint John of the Cross played a key role in shaping John Paul’s style of thinking. His philosophical studies on of Max Scheler and other phenomenologists further sharpened his ability to observe human experience. John Paul doesn’t begin by explaining what man ought to do, but by explaining who man is. In the Pope’s mind, people will know how to live if they know who they are.

It has been said that rules without a relationship creates rebellion. This is true with parents and children, and it’s especially true with the relationship between God and humanity. John Paul knew that laws don’t change hearts. When people view morality as a rigid list of imposed regulations, they might temporarily behave themselves out of guilt or fear, but they often abandon the faith. The Pope understood the futility of this approach, and knew that a fresh re-presentation of the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics was overdue.

What the modern world needed was not just a defense of the Church’s teachings, but rather an unveiling of God’s original plan for the beauty of human love. Culture needed something that wasn’t simply intellectually convincing or morally upright, but rather something that corresponded to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

Unfortunately, many have grown deaf to these yearnings and hear only the urges of the body. But no matter how numb one might be to the deepest aspirations of the soul, everyone can relate to the ache of solitude, the experience of shame, and the desire for communion. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul explored these experiences and more, to reveal how God’s plan for humanity is stamped not only into our hearts, but also into our bodies.

When people discover the Theology of the Body, they often exclaim that they’ve never heard anything like it before. This is because many people learned about sexuality in a religious framework that focused only on what is forbidden and permitted. Others learned about it through the lens of modern sex education, which reduces one’s sexuality to biology and sensuality. This might count as “sex ed,” but it’s not a true education in human sexuality. 12

Properly speaking, “sex” is not something people do. Sex is who we are as male and female persons. The Theology of the Body reminds us of this broader meaning and offers compelling answers to questions such as: Who am I? What does it mean to be human? How should I live? It delves into delicate questions regarding marriage and sexual ethics, but does so while inviting people to rediscover the meaning of life. Through it, one realizes that modern man’s sexual confusion is not caused because the world glorifies sexuality, but because the world fails to see its glory.

For those who have disregarded the Church’s teaching on human sexuality because it seems out of touch with the modern world, the Theology of the Body offers a fresh perspective. Its insights are not pious reflections offered by a theologian who was isolated from the daily struggles of married life. On the contrary, they are the result of decades of personal interactions between a remarkable saint and the countless young adults and married couples that he accompanied through their vocations. These couples attest that although John Paul had a great ability to preach, he had an even greater ability to listen.

The Theology of the Body comes from the heart of a saint who listened intently not only to others but also to the God who could provide meaning to their lives. He was no stranger to suffering, living under Nazi and Communist regimes and having lost his family by the age of twenty. While such trials might lead some to abandon their faith, John Paul’s was forged by them, as he sought answers to the deepest questions about life’s meaning.

John Paul also possessed a staggering intellect, and according to his secretary, spent three hours each day reading. 13 Although he was dedicated to the intellectual life, John Paul’s prayer life took priority. His colleagues attest that he seemed to be continually absorbed in prayer, as can be seen from the fact that he considered the busy Paris Metro to be “a superb place for contemplation.” 14

His greatest devotion, however, was to the Blessed Sacrament. He never omitted his Holy Hour on Thursdays, even while traveling internationally. If the organizers of his trips didn’t make room for it in his schedule, he would make time and simply arrive an hour late to their program. When his assistants attempted to convince him to decrease the amount of time spent in this devotion, he refused, saying, “No, it keeps me.” 15 He knew that apostolic mission derives its strength from life in God. 16 It is from this man’s heart, mind, and soul that the Church has been given a tremendous gift: the Theology of the Body.


The Theology of the Body is comprised of two parts. The first focuses on three passages from Scripture, or “words” of Christ. In it, John Paul examined the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding marriage and divorce. 17 Then he reflects upon the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount, in particular those concerning committing adultery in one’s heart. 18 Finally, he turns to Christ’s words regarding the resurrection of the body. 19 By means of these reflections, he explains the redemption of the body. If fact, in his final catechesis, he describes the content of the whole work as “the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.” 20

The Theology of the Body is thoroughly biblical— as can be seen by the fact that the Pope draws from forty-six books and more than a thousand Scripture citations. However, among all of the passages he quotes, the three mentioned above are his focus. He compares them to the panels of a triptych, which is a work of sacred art consisting of three panels, or parts. When the three images are displayed together, they present a fuller understanding of a topic of theology (in this case, the human person).

The three parts of John Paul’s triptych are original, historical, and eschatological man. Original man is who God created man to be in the beginning, before the dawn of sin. Historical man refers to the current state of humanity, burdened by original sin but redeemed by Christ. “Eschatological” has its roots in the Greek word for “end,” eschaton, and refers to the glorified state of man in heaven. Together, these three epochs of human history form what John Paul called an “adequate anthropology”— an understanding of what it means to be a human person.

In the first part of the Theology of the Body, John Paul used the above three “words” of Christ to explain man’s call to live out “the spousal meaning of the body.” This phrase is the heart of the Theology of the Body. It means that the human body has “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and— through this gift— fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.” 21 (This gift of self can be expressed not only through marriage, but also through celibacy for the kingdom of God.)

In the second part of the Theology of the Body, the Pope analyzed “The Sacrament” which is the “great sign” of Christ’s love for the Church and the love between a husband and wife. He explained what the gift of self means in terms of the “language of the body,” and how men and women are called to live it out, especially as it relates to building their families.”

-Evert, Jason (2017-12-06). Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 63-102, 109-239). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, His will is perfect,

1 Peter 5: 8.
2 Mieczysław Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference, Krakow, Poland, July 27, 2016.
3 Interview with Father Andrew Swietochowski, July 31, 2017.
4 The Pontifical Council for the Family and the International Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family.
5 Diane Montagna, “Online Exclusive: What John Paul II Intended to Say the Day He Was Shot,” Aleteia, May 7, 2016.
6 Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), 164.
7 Pope John Paul II, Angelus message, May 29, 1994.
8 Gaudium et Spes, 36.
9 Other proposed titles included “Human Love in the Divine Plan” or “The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage.”
10 George Weigel, Witness to Hope (New York: Harper, 2001), 343.
11 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2516 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994).
12 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 11 (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
13 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
14 George Weigel, City of Saints (New York: Image, 2015), 232.
15 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
16 Pope John Paul II, Master in the Faith 2, Rome: December 14, 1990.
17 Matt. 19: 8; Mark 10: 6– 9.
18 Matt. 5: 28.
19 Matt. 22: 30; Mark 12: 25; Luke
20: 35– 36. 20 TOB 133: 2.
21 Theology of the Body 15: 1; 32: 1, 3.

The Old Evangelization

Q. Before we get into the “Old Evangelization,” could you give us a definition of the New Evangelization?

A. Pope St. John Paul II called for a “New Evangelization” because he recognized that we are in a new era in the Church’s history: we have millions of baptized Catholics who have not been evangelized. Instead of traveling to a foreign country to evangelize, now we need only look next to us in the pews. This new reality presents new challenges for spreading the gospel.

Q. So what is your definition of the “Old Evangelization”?

A. The Old Evangelization is a return to the basic principles of evangelization that originated with Jesus himself. Too many things labeled “New Evangelization” today are neither new nor evangelization. The term has been co-opted. Popular techniques and programs are often just reruns of corporate marketing tricks or Protestant megachurch methods. The Old Evangelization focuses on the bold proclamation of the gospel, based on the model of Jesus Christ, and primarily through one-on-one relationships.

Q. What was your motivation behind writing this book?

A. I’ve been involved in Catholic evangelization for twenty-five years. In that time I’ve seen “evangelization” go from being practically taboo in Catholic circles to a buzzword attached to every parish program and outreach. Yet we still see a massive number of people leaving the Church. So I asked myself, “What if we don’t really understand what evangelization is?”

The most common misunderstandings I’ve seen are a result of two traps. First, many Catholics see evangelization primarily as a job for other people—those who are professionals, or maybe the people who run the programs at their parish. [Ed. too, too tragically, those professionals or even volunteers given responsibility are possessive, obsessive, territorial, and NO ONE but the officially sanctioned may proclaim.  The preaching office belongs to ALL the faithful. (Canon 766) Clericalism has NOTHING to do with males, celibate, clergy. It is ALL too common a Catholic universal malady. Tragic. Jesus weeps.] Or, second, they misunderstand what evangelization entails, figuring it can be summed up as being nice to others. Yet true Catholic evangelization—as Jesus and his first followers practiced it—means every Catholic boldly proclaiming the truths of our Faith to those around us. I wrote The Old Evangelization to remind Catholics of that fact and to show them how to do it.

Q. You call this “a practical guide.” How so?

A. Laced throughout the book are practical examples of evangelization. First and foremost are examples from the life of Jesus himself, unpacking his encounters with people like the Samaritan woman at the well and the rich young man. The book also includes examples from the lives of the saints over the past two millennia. Finally, I include many examples of evangelization—both successes and failures—I’ve encountered myself over the past quarter century of evangelization work. The book draws lessons from each of these examples that equip and encourage the reader to evangelize.

Q. I notice the book has study aids at the end of each chapter: examination, exercise, and exploration. Was the book designed for group as well as individual study?

A. I’m a firm believer that evangelization is best done one on one. But learning about evangelization can be a group affair. The Old Evangelization can be read as an individually or as part of a group, with the purpose of encouraging each Catholic to go out and proclaim his or her Faith without fear.

Q. Give us an example of how you would use The Old Evangelization in practice.

A. Let’s say you have a close relative who has fallen away from the Church. This book will give you practical advice—as well as encouragement—to talk to that person and help him or her back to the practice of the Faith.

Q. What is the greatest lesson you hope people learn from reading your book?

A. That they should not be scared to evangelize. Some are intimidated because they don’t think they know enough theology or doctrine. Others are intimidated because they fear social rejection if they talk about some of the Church’s more controversial teachings. In both cases, it is the devil who is working to keep Catholics quiet, but our Lord wants us spreading the Faith as he did!


Lacordaire, OP, (1802-1861) – a model for the New Evangelization (terminer)

“So what happened to Lacordaire? His conferences at Notre Dame were well received despite thinly veiled threats against his life by the King, and his fame steadily grew throughout France. After the revolution of 1848, without his campaigning, he was even elected to the French parliament. However, in his attempt to rise above political parties, and, in his words, “preach the great truths of the Gospel to all factions,” he was rather unsuccessful. He resigned two weeks after taking office. Furthermore, his efforts in the Dominican Order encountered numerous setbacks, both from within and without. Yet, by the time of his death the Catholic Church and the Dominican Order in France were flourishing again.

I think Lacordaire’s example here is of great value in two ways. First, no matter how bad we think things may be, Christ still comes to redeem us. Lacordaire was given the grace to help bring the Faith back to a country that had been massacring nuns in the streets. It can be tempting to view one’s own era as being unique, but just look to history. The Church has always been persecuted, (Ed. and Christians have always frustrated, annoyed, and betrayed other Christians and Jesus, just like Judas. ‘Put no trust in princes, [or princesses, for that matter.]’ cf Ps 146:3) but rather the faithful Christian is called to proclaim that the world has an authority greater than any human government (Ed. or human leaders, even Church leaders). And that authority became man 2,000 years ago in order that we might have true life and freedom in His saving power. (Kyrie Eleison)

Second, Lacordaire gives us an example of what the New Evangelization should look like. His talks are not heavily theological, but more inviting and apologetic. With regard to his conferences at Notre Dame he stated: “It seemed to me that we should not go to metaphysics, nor history, but set foot on the soil of the living reality and seek traces of God.” He re-presented a good that had been rejected. People could see all around them how efforts to organize society without God always end with dissatisfaction and craziness. Lacordaire was able to show them, on their own terms, how to find what they were truly after.

On a personal note, I first became interested in Lacordaire when I was in France several years ago. In the Louvre, in the wing containing many of the most famous pieces from the time of the Revolution, is a portrait of Lacordaire. He was placed at the end, at the far side of the hall. He is portrayed standing upright, arms folded, wearing his outlawed Dominican habit, and looking out confidently. It is almost as if he is placed to watch over the rest of the excesses of the revolutionary age. He came calling his people back to the truth of the Gospel and faith in Christ Jesus. It seems fitting to give him the last word:

‘Let us all stand together, whoever we may be, believers and unbelievers. Let us stand up, believers, with feelings of respect, admiration, faith, love, for a God who has revealed Himself to us with so much evidence, and Who has chosen us among men to be the depositaries of that splendid manifestation of His truth! And you who do not believe, stand up also, but with fear and trembling, as men who are but as nothing with their power and their reasoning, before facts which fill all ages, and which are in themselves so full of the power and majesty of God!’“(1)

-postal commemoratives of Pere Lacordaire’s centenary of his death

Faith, Hope, Love,

(1) Br Constantius Sanders, OP

Lacordaire, OP, (1802-1861) – revert & apologist (partie trois)

“In Book 1 of the Summa contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the mode of inquiry taken up in theological study. He distinguishes two types of truth which the theologian seeks to understand. The first is that which unaided reason can know on its own. These arguments have demonstrable proof, and demand assent from all who understand them. Arguments like these, such as the (Ed. cosmological, if you subscribe to that type) proofs for the existence of God, or that 2+2=4, can be carried out without the light of faith. The second type of truth is that which surpasses reason and is only known by faith. These truths are above our natural capacities of understanding and we rely upon God’s revelation to know them.

There can be a temptation then to believe that truth is somehow divided and separate: that there is a truth of reason and a truth of faith. These two truths propose different ideas and are accepted variously. Faith becomes opposed to reason, and thus becomes the enemy of a supposedly rational people. Only a generation before Lacordaire, the Cathedral of Notre Dame had been desecrated by the revolutionaries and turned into the “Temple of Reason.” The scene must have been striking. It represented the supposed fall of religion, having been overcome by pure and unfettered reason.

Yet, for St. Thomas, this presents us with a false dichotomy. Faith and reason are not fundamentally opposed, but rather two sources to gain true knowledge. Both come from one source, God. Truth is twofold only for us, by our manner of coming to know it. Yet truth is fundamentally one, for it has one source, God. God is the source for all truth, whether we come to know it by natural abilities or as inspired by Faith. As truth has one source, no two truths can ever contradict each other. A truth of faith can never be contradicted by a truth gained through reason, nor vice versa.

Thus, Voltaire’s critique of the unreasonableness of Christians is itself against truth. Faith elevates what we can know. St. Thomas argues further in the Summa contra Gentiles that it is most unreasonable to assert that we cannot assent to truths which are above reason. We are not the arbiters of Faith, but trust in the inner coherence of the unity of the created world. While some Christians have certainly been guilty of denying rational truths, the real task remains to show the compatibility between Faith and reason. Lacordaire presents us with an example of how this should be done.

In an age not unlike ours, where men seek first to be free, Lacordaire came proclaiming that it was only in God that one could achieve real freedom. This is attained in being released from real bondage. The world was, and remains, captive to sin. What the Incarnation brought was redemption, merited by the blood of Christ. In order to have true freedom, the dream of the Enlightened world, one first needs salvation. Lacordaire showed that only in Christ would the modern ideals, correctly understood and moderated, ever be achieved.

While apologetics as a subject might not be particularly popular today, it still has a place in Catholic theology. Lacordaire provides us an example of how this can be carried out. There are some foundational principles which we can learn from him.

First, good apologetics address the questions that people are really asking in a mode that they understand. In an age like ours, where men seek first to be free, Lacordaire came proclaiming that it was only in God that one found true freedom. It was not “a law of bondage” that some had claimed. He also used numerous external references to history, psychology, philosophy, poetry, and literature to illustrate his points to his own particular audience. A good apologist has to meet people where they are, speaking in a way they can understand, answering the questions people are asking. Dominicans seem uniquely qualified to respond to such questions. A life lived both in prayer and study, as well as in an apostolate, allowed Lacordaire to best confront the issues of his time.

Next, apologetics done rightly show that answers to life’s deepest questions can only be found in the Catholic Church. This is what we preach to a world looking for redemption. Lacordaire gave his orations with expressiveness and enthusiasm, emphasizing that values familiar to his own day and age: liberty, equality, fraternity, patriotism, self-giving, and a sense of sacrifice, could only be truly achieved within the Catholic Church. As he argued, “The Church had the words reason and liberty on her lips when the inalienable rights of the human race were threatened with shipwreck.” Finally, perform apologetics from a position of charity and humility. Nothing is more off-putting to modern man than a position of assumed authority. Again, Lacordaire: “Real excellence and humility are not incompatible one with the other, on the contrary they are twin sisters.” We have to show that we too are pursuing truth, like all people, and that we want to find it with them. The Catholic Church has provided us with answers, and we merely want to share them.”(1)

Faith, Hope, Love,

(1) Br Constantius Sanders, OP

Lacordaire, OP, (1802-1861): a great idea extinct? (deuxième partie)

-Lacordaire preaching his Lenten Conferences from the elevated pulpit at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, 1845.

“In Advent of 1843, Lacordaire ascended the winding steps of the pulpit at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. About eight years earlier, he had given a series of conferences there which, by all accounts, were a roaring success—reports state that they averaged over 6,000 attendees per conference. The conferences were aimed at teaching the Faith again to a country that had lost it in the Revolution. But this time was different. In 1836 Lacordaire had left France in order to further his education in Rome. While there, he had met the Dominican Order and joined their number. After formation, he returned to France with the expressed aim of restoring the Order in his home country. And did the Dominicans ever need restoring—they had gone from over 20,000 friars in 1789 to less than 5,000 a generation later. Around this time, one John Henry Newman became interested in religious life. Finding the Order much diminished in Europe, he wondered if it was not “a great idea extinct.”

-“Henri Lacordaire At Sorreze” by Anne-Francois-Louis Janmot, oil on canvas, 1847, Chateau de Versailles, Paris, France.

Yet, Lacordaire did not seek to resurrect a nearly extinct religious order simply for the novelty of it. Nor was he against the liberal egalitarian ideals of the revolutionaries. He too was a self-avowed proponent of liberté, égalité, et fraternité. It is reported that shortly before his death he told a confrere: “I die a repentant religious, but an unrepentant liberal.” Lacordaire believed that the desires for true freedom were fundamentally good, but that they could only be fulfilled in Christ. Figures like Voltaire were not the enemy, but misguided and a source for confusion. Faith did not destroy the rational capacities of the believer, but could be a source for greater insight into reality. He sought to show the modern world that Christianity was both true and in accord with what they sought.”(1)

In January 1834, at the encouragement of the young Frédéric Ozanam, the founder the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (a charitable organization,) Father Lacordaire started a series of lectures at the Collège Stanislas. This met with great success, even beyond his students. His thematic emphasis on freedom provoked his critics, who charged him with perverting the youth. Lacordaire was reputed to be the greatest pulpit orator of the nineteenth century. Lacordaire’s preaching was not so much penitential as an exercise in apologetics. He demonstrated that one could be a French citizen and a Catholic. The lectures were a great success.

Monseigneur de Quélen, the Archbishop of Paris, asked Lacordaire to preach a Lenten series in 1835 at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, as part of the Notre-Dame Lectures specially aimed at the catechesis of Christian youth, which had been inaugurated at the behest of his friend Ozanam. Lacordaire’s first lecture took place on 8 March 1835, and was met with wide acclaim. The social event of its day, 6,000 attended. Because of this immediate success, he was asked to preach again the following year. According to Thomas Bokenkotter, Lacordaire’s Notre Dame Conferences, “…proved to be one of the most dramatic events of nineteenth century church history.” Today the Lacordaire Notre-Dame Lectures, which mixed theology, philosophy and poetry, are still acclaimed as a sublime modern re-invigoration of traditional homiletics.

Among those who attended his Lenten sermons in 1836 was Marie-Eugénie de Jésus de Milleret. The encounter with Lacordaire marked a turning point in her life and the beginning of a spiritual journey that would eventually lead her to found the Religious of the Assumption. In a letter written to Lacordaire years later, she recalled, “Your words gave me a faith which henceforth nothing could shake.”

But in 1836 after such considerable success, he was still the object of mounting attacks on his theological stance. Suddenly his mother died. Lacordaire, aware of the need to continue his theological studies, retreated to Rome to study with the Jesuits. There, he published his “Letter on the Holy See” in which he reaffirmed with vigor his ultramontane positions, insisting on the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, “the one and permanent trustee, supreme organ of the Gospel, and the sacred source of the universal communion.” This text ran afoul of the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Quélen, who was a sincere Gallican.

Faith, Hope, Love,

(1)  Br Constantius Sanders, OP

Lacordaire, OP (1802-1861) – losing the faith (partie un)

-Henri-Dominique Lacordaire at the convent of Sainte-Sabine in Rome, by Théodore Chassériau (1840), Musée du Louvre

“If the Catholic Church, and the Dominican Order, ever looked dead, it was at the turn of the 19th Century. In the wake of the French Revolution, the Church had been banned in many parts of Western Europe, thousands of Catholics had been martyred for their faith, religious orders had been outlawed, and the Pope had recently died in captivity under Napoleon. Swept up with the ideals of the Enlightenment, the Western world had declared herself to have progressed beyond the supposed naïveté and superstition of Christianity. Nowhere was this more dominantly witnessed than in France, where only a generation before Voltaire had stated, “The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.”(1)

The son of a doctor in the French navy, Henri Lacordaire was born on 12 May 1802 at Recey-sur-Ource (Côte-d’Or) and raised in Dijon by his mother, Anne Dugied, the daughter of a lawyer at the Parliament of Bourgogne who was widowed at an early age, when her husband died in 1806. Henri had three brothers, one of whom was the entomologist Jean Théodore Lacordaire. Although raised a Catholic, his faith lapsed during his studies at the Dijon Lycée.

He went on to study law. He distinguished himself in oratory at the Society of Studies in Dijon, a political and literary circle of the town’s royalist youth. There he discovered the ultramontane theories of Bonald, de Maistre, and Félicité de Lamennais. Under their influence he slowly lost his enthusiasm for the encyclopedists and Rousseau, though he maintained an attachment to Classical Liberalism and the revolutionary ideals of 1789.

In 1822 he left for Paris to complete his legal training. Although legally too young to plead cases, he was allowed to do so and he successfully argued several in the Court of Assizes, attracting the interest of the great liberal lawyer Berryer. However, he became bored and felt isolated in Paris and in 1824 he re-embraced Catholicism and soon decided to become a priest.

Thanks to the support of Monseigneur de Quélen, the Archbishop of Paris, who granted him a scholarship, he began studying at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Issy in 1824 over the objections of his mother and friends. In 1826, he continued this education in Paris, which was generally mediocre. He wrote later that: “Those who remember having observed me at the seminary know that they have several times had the temptation of calling me mad.” His seminary experience inspired Sainte-Beuve’s novel Volupté.

At Saint-Sulpice, he met with Cardinal Rohan-Chabot, later archbishop of Besançon, who advised him to join the Society of Jesus. Nevertheless, after long hesitations by his superiors, he succeeded in being ordained a priest of the archdiocese of Paris on 22 September 1827. He was appointed to a modest position as chaplain of a convent of nuns of the Order of the Visitation. In the following year, he was named second chaplain of the Lycée Henri-IV. This experience convinced him of the inevitable de-Christianization of French youth educated in public institutions.

“Yet, within another generation, the French people had begun to return en masse to the Catholic Faith. So what changed? While the short answer would be “grace,” the details are varied and complex. Yet one figure who possibly best represents the reconversion of France is the Dominican preacher, Père Henri-Dominique Lacordaire. Lacordaire sought to reintroduce to France the Faith that had been dismissed in revolutionary fervor. In a society that claimed it wanted to be based on reason and freedom, Lacordaire preached that not only was the Christian Faith eminently reasonable, it was the only way to find the true freedom that man longs for in every age.

He was born Jean-Baptiste Lacordaire in 1802, two years before Napoleon became “Emperor of the French” and was formed in the liberal ideals of his age. As a child he was noted for his aptitude in studies and eventually became a lawyer. Disillusioned with some aspects of his contemporary society, however, he reconverted to the Catholic Faith in 1824 which he had abandoned as a youth. Shortly thereafter he entered seminary and was ordained a priest in 1827. While he longed to go to America to serve the rapidly expanding immigrant Catholic population, Providence had other plans for him. Introduced to different Catholic intellectual movements which had sprung up in the wake of the Revolution, he began to associate himself with some of the brightest Catholic luminaries of his time. Eventually, Lacordaire became a famed preacher and writer in his own right, destined to become the most widely regarded orator of his generation.

In 1830, he became a writer for the French Catholic periodical, L’Avenir, which advocated for a place for Catholicism within the post-Revolutionary world. They argued for universal freedom of religion and the freedom of Catholic presses to distribute their material. Yet these ideals did not have the grand success many hoped they would. French bishops eventually became suspicious of some aspects of their work–including asserting the strong primacy of the Roman Pontiff over the French Church—and recommended their condemnation. Pope Gregory XVI himself eventually condemned some of their more innovative positions. While some of Lacordaire’s associates refused to submit and eventually left the Church, he was quick to acknowledge his error. After this, his stature continued to grow throughout France as an example of the possible return of Catholic vibrancy after a generation of oppression.”(2)

Faith, Hope, Love,

(1) Br. Constantius Sanders, OP
(2) Br. Constantius Sanders, OP

“Chreasters”, C&Es, CEO=Christmas/Easter Only, Holiday Catholics, The Third Commandment, & Easter Duty

Mara just, by requirement of the Diocese of Madison for all her age in Catholic schools in the diocese, had an examination on the Ten Commandments. Kelly & I tutored. She got a perfect score. There are standards in this household. There are standards.

-by Noble Kuriakose, Pew Research Center

“Priests and ministers have long noted a sharp increase in church attendance around the two most significant Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter. Some have given those who attend services only at those times of year a name — “Chreasters” — and churches have launched campaigns to get them to attend more regularly.

Google searches for “church” spike during Easter and Christmas seasons. More Americans search for “church” around Easter than at any other time, with the Christmas season usually ranking second, according to Google Trends data between 2004 and 2013. Google’s Trends tool measures the popularity of a search term relative to all searches in the United States. Data are reported on a scale from 0 to 100.

Easter is Christianity’s oldest and most important holiday, during which Christians celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection three days after he was crucified. In liturgical terms, Easter Sunday is a moveable feast. Its observance, which comes at the end of a 40-day period of penance, fasting and self-examination called Lent, changes within a range of time each spring. Between 2004 and 2013, Easter was in March three times and April seven times.

In 2013, the highest share of searches for “church” are on the week of Easter Sunday, followed by the week of Christmas and the week of Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of Lent; Mother’s Day is next, and Father’s Day is near the bottom.

The lowest share of searches occur on the week of Thanksgiving in November each year, and the summer months have consistently low levels of interest in web searches for “church.” Sociologists also have previously reported low levels of church attendance during the summer months. Laurence Iannaccone and Sean Everton analyzed weekly attendance records from churches and argued that people are less likely to attend church when the weather outside is just right in a journal article titled “Never on Sunny Days.”

The Precepts of the Church – Catechism of the Catholic Church

Before going further, it is important to note what the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us about Catholic Mass attendance.

The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the Mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.

The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy. (CCC 2042)

The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”

The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin. (CCC. 2180 and 2181)

The Code of Canon Law, the legal code of Christ’s Church, states:

On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body.

The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic rite either on a holy day itself or on the evening of the previous day. (Can 1247, 1248)

Both the code of Canon Law and the Catechism clearly state the obligation. There was some general teaching prior to Vatican II that one had to be present for the offertory through reception of Holy Communion to fulfill the obligation. However this is not a part of the canon and the faithful are to participate in the complete Mass in order to fulfill the Sunday obligation.

Praying for strength for you & I, when we least feel like going to Mass. It happens. Offer it up, as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. (Phil 2:12)


More Dominican answers

-more Eastern Province Dominicans who reside at the House of Studies, Wash, DC, please click on image for greater detail.

-by C.C. Pecknoldassociate professor of systematic theology at Catholic University of America.

“Recently I attended a seminar on religious liberty at Villanova School of Law. I wanted to learn how the law could help protect the Church as we advance into increasingly difficult cultural waters. Instead, the legal eagles offered a much more pessimistic prognosis: legal protections are eroding fast, and law follows culture, so don’t count on the law to protect the Church for long. While I did not walk away entirely hopeless about what the law can do to protect the Church, it did heighten my sense that we are rapidly running out of options. Christians can no longer rely on a cultural consensus and its legal expression in favor of religious belief, especially religious belief that insists on having a place in the public square. After meeting with the lawyers, I had to ask: Now what?

I thought about this question when reading Dale Coulter and Bianca Czaderna’s responses to my “The Dominican Option.” For a number of years I have followed Alasdair MacIntyre and his famous call for “a very different St. Benedict.” As a result, I have often heard MacIntyre’s vision described as “an ethic of withdrawal.” It’s an old canard. It’s not true. But there you have it. I’ve heard it over and over again, not only about the Catholic MacIntyre, but also about Lutherans like George Lindbeck, who embraced a “sociologically sectarian” view of Christian community, and most frequently about the Methodist Stanley Hauerwas. To get beyond these tired disputes about withdrawal and cultural engagement, I proposed the ancient Vita Mixta that St. Augustine recommended: evangelistic witness flowing from cloistered monastic formation. Perhaps the most controversial thing about this was that I suggested that the Dominicans offer us the most visible image of this mixed pattern today.

Dale Coulter responded that the “Options for Cultural Engagement” were much wider than the Benedictine or Dominican options allowed, and he rightly pointed to the diversity of the Body of Christ. Building on Coulter’s critique, Bianca Czaderna argued that there were “Lots of Options,” so many options that even to suggest one “paradigmatic example” was a useless and invidious enterprise. These critiques would have been spot-on if I had argued that the Dominicans provide the one way of being the Body of Christ in the world. But I did not make such a claim. My point in arguing for the Dominican Option was not to pit religious orders against one another, but to raise up a visible model to help us to think about how lay Christians (Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic) can meet the new challenges for Christian witness in America by committing ourselves to a more intensive formation ordered to the conversion of souls that make up American culture.

Christians do indeed have “lots of options” for living as the Body of Christ. But the culture is giving us a rather different set of options: accommodate or it’ll cost you. Our current legal-cultural regime is effectively saying: “Those are nice stained windows you have there; It’d be a shame if anything happened to them.” That threat is a prelude to a cultural concordat, and many Christians will be all too eager to be accommodating in order to be accepted.

Our families are going to need to live according to a rule if we are to endure—very much as religious orders do—with daily habits of prayer, confession, adoration, ingesting the Scriptures, emulating the great saints, learning to think with the doctors of the Church. We will need to find ourselves more habitually engaged in works of charity and mercy, corporal and spiritual. The words of St. Catherine of Siena OP come to mind: “If you are what you should be, you will set all of Italy (the world) ablaze.”

The Dominican Option is meant to challenge us to double down on communal formation, and double up on our missionary endeavor. It’s precisely this mixed pattern of life that must be wholly devoted to forming saints, and must also preach in the public square, in word and deed, about the charity and truth which lead souls to Christ. That’s really our only option.”


Dominican answers

Eastern Province Dominicans who reside at the House of Studies, Wash, DC, please click on image for greater detail.

-by C. C. Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at Catholic University of America.

“There’s been a long conversation in America about the degree to which Catholic Christianity is compatible with liberalism. From the beginning of the American founding, bishops and theologians claimed that for all the flaws of liberal political philosophy, the American founders “built better than they knew.” And yet Pope Leo XIII could warn Cardinal Gibbons to avoid the errors of an “Americanism,” which would distort the teaching of the Church on the proper relationship between politics and the church.

First Things’s default position derives from this “built better” argument. Yet the incompatibility side has always been there as well, and now is coming to the fore. The cultural and political landscape has changed. If the “built-better” argument made sense for nearly two centuries, it has become clear that evidence in its favor is currently in short supply. Without necessarily saying that the “built-better” argument is always wrong, we need to face up to the growing discord between Catholic Christianity and the new world liberalism that is building in America.

What is to be done about this discord? I have always been drawn to Alasdair MacIntyre’s prediction that we need “a new, doubtless very different Saint Benedict” that enables the great Christian tradition to be passed on, preserving the seeds for a new civilization to emerge after the moral poverty of today’s liberalism leads us into dark, chaotic valleys. Rod Dreher has popularized MacIntyre by formulating this hope as the Benedict Option. It refers to our need for small communities of virtue, a new localist movement, and a return to the land or the place of one’s birth. The Benedict Option means cultivating a new counterculture that can resist the barbarian onslaught.

On one level, the Benedict Option is deeply attractive. Its greatest strength is that it sees that Christians need to attend to their communal formation as a whole. It is not enough to simply go to church on Sundays, for the religion of lifestyle liberalism is working on us the rest of the week. Rather, we need an all-embracing form of life coordinated and ordered to the love of God and neighbor. We can look to the very real Christian witness of cloistered, vowed religious life and say, “see, it can be done.” That should give all of us enormous hope.

On another level, however, “the Benedict Option” has a serious flaw. It can be summed up in one word withdrawal. Neither MacIntyre nor Dreher have intended anything like withdrawal from the common good, or even from a commitment to political institutions. But I must confess that the image of withdrawal is powerfully associated with the Benedictine monastery, and so appeals to the Benedict Option miss something.

Better, therefore, to speak of the Dominican Option. When I see them in the white habits at prayer, or giving lectures, or playing guitars and banjos on the subway, I have a plausible image of a “contrast society” that is very much engaged with the world—an evangelistic witness which is joyful, intellectually serious, expansive, and charitable.

St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers after a long contemplative season which, in the words of one biographer “burst into flame” when he encountered Albigensians (ancient Manichean dualists) on travels through southern France. Dominic stayed up all night arguing with one Albigensian, and by morning the man turned away from his heresy and turned towards the Catholic faith. Dominic’s missionary zeal flowed directly out of cloistered contemplation, but it convinced him of the need for a new evangelistic order.

Dominic told his men to go into the world without fear. They should study, they should pray, and they should preach. His Order harmonized the life of a contemplative with the activity of an evangelist. This meant intellectual training. One only needs to think of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris to understand the impact this had. Dominicans studied other languages, and other religions, in order to preach more effectively. Aquinas himself wrote the Summa Contra Gentiles precisely to assist the brothers’ preaching to Muslims.

This is what we need today as well: the right pattern of formation and evangelistic witness. Not every Christian will be a Dominican, of course. But we all have something fundamental to learn from the Dominican pattern of life.”


“We are saved by those we despise.” -Pope St Gregory the Great


-by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, PhD

Saint Gregory the Great taught that God uses the people we despise to save us. This does not necessarily mean people that we hate, but people we think little of or that we see as impure. Those who we see as steeped in sin today often surpass us in holiness tomorrow. His example of such a person was St. Paul, who participated in the brutal murder of St. Stephen before becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles. In the Forty Gospel Homilies, Gregory preached that God places these people in the Church so that we are forced to recognize our own imperfection. They highlight the contrast between the richness of God’s mercy and the littleness of our own judgments.

Humble Christians, who have a sense of their imperfection, are able to be sympathetic to the struggles of sinners. Humility breaks through the walls of the self and allows the Christian to love others. For Gregory, love always involves an extension or gift of self to another, which is not really possible for people who feel self-satisfied and self-sufficient. This type of love, which he called the bond of charity, can only be learned in a community and can only be achieved through humility.

The bond of charity is central to Gregory’s spirituality and his understanding of the Church. He believed Christ’s perfect and solid uprightness (soliditas standi) is not given to His followers through the grace of redemption; instead, Christians are justified through the firmness of love (soliditas caritatis) found in the Church. Since God only accepts the humble and contrite heart, and since God rejects the proud, the effort to extend ourselves to those we despise is an integral part of the process of sanctification. In fact, the Church purifies us by demanding this extension of patience, love, and mercy to those we despise.

This dynamic is also why there are so many irritating people in the Church. We need people who are irritating, offensive, and even wicked, in order to exercise patience, mercy, and forgiveness. The Church brings us all together so that we can learn to be like God. It is a mixed community: good fish and bad fish, sheep and goats, wheat and tares. If I am irritating you, I might be serving as an opportunity to grow in holiness. You’re welcome.


The fact that God frequently moves the people we may see as sinful to great holiness also inspires hope. It shows us that we should not ever give up on anyone. If your son or daughter, aunt or uncle, mother or father, friend or spouse has fallen away and seems steeped in sin, realize that they may yet excel in holiness.

Because we are saved by those we despise, we must welcome people to our communion and avoid attitudes and actions that discourage them from entering or returning to our community, which is what Pope Francis has been emphasizing. The challenge, of course, is to stop despising anyone, which I must confess I have not quite mastered.

If you are comfortable with despising people and wish to exclude the impure, you may have fallen into the sin of Donatism, a heresy that seeks a pure Church on Earth. The new Donatism is growing increasingly evident.

Lord, save & protect us, help us love one another, especially when that is most inconceivable. We shall receive mercy from You in proportion as we offer it to those we despise. Help us love one another, for our own sake. Be merciful to us, Lord, for we have done what is evil in Your sight.