Category Archives: Virtue

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 5, The Theological Virtue of Hope, Everlasting Life!!!

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Q. Why did God make us?
A. God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.

-Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 1: On the End of Man

“(Viktor) Frankl observed that the death-camp prisoners could tell when another prisoner had abandoned hope. When a prisoner lost hope, the despair could be seen in his eyes, in his face, in the way that he walked. The change was so noticeable that the prisoners had a name for such persons, which roughly translates as “the walking dead.” Inevitably, before long, this “walking dead” prisoner would be selected for extermination, or he would fall back in formation and be shot, or he would stop eating or drinking. When the will to meaning was abandoned — when all hope was lost — the person was literally doomed. Man cannot live without hope.

Yet this truth can be stated conversely: even in the cruelest, the most atrocious, the most miserable of circumstances, if man has hope, he has life. If this is true on the natural level, it is much more true on the supernatural level. If a man has Christian hope, he has everlasting life. We are indeed, in St. Paul’s words, spe salvi — “saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24).

Hope is a virtue that changes everything. It changes the way we think, the way we act, the way we live. In his encyclical letter on hope, Pope Benedict XVI puts it simply, “The one who has hope lives differently.”76 Even if he should be sent to the gas chamber, a man with Christian hope is a man who has been saved. St. Maximilian Kolbe understood this, which is why he sang songs of praise to our Lord even as the Nazis starved him to death.

Returning to Frankl’s observations of his fellow death-camp prisoners: in order to face their horrifying present situation, the prisoners needed some sense that a future might await them, a future that promised something better than the present. This insight is congruent with these words of Pope Benedict on hope: “We have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.”77

Pope Benedict goes on to say that “a distinguishing mark of Christians [is] the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.”78 This can be applied analogously even to those who are not baptized: although the theological virtue of hope is the ultimate safeguard of human happiness on this earth, natural human hope is the starting point for theological hope and is itself ennobled by the presence of Christian hope in the world.

The sense of a foreshortened future, of a future that appears only dark, which many experience in the depressed state, is not our true reality; it is merely a trick of the diseased mind. Without hope in the present, man cannot live toward the future. Why, for example, do we see rising rates of depression, as well as rising rates of drug and alcohol abuse, among teenagers today? Because many of them do not sense that they have a future. The present feels unbearable to them, and they have no hope to orient them.

In an address to the bishops of Japan, Pope Benedict remarked: “Young people especially are at risk of being deceived by the glamour of modern secular culture. Yet, like all the greater and lesser hopes that appear on first sight to promise so much (cf. Spe Salvi, 30), this turns out to be a false hope — and tragically, disillusion not infrequently leads to depression and despair, even to suicide. If their youthful energy and enthusiasm can be directed towards the things of God, which alone are sufficient to satisfy their deepest longings, more young people will be inspired to commit their lives to Christ.”79

Hope cannot be merely a nice theoretical idea. It is a virtue that has very practical, everyday consequences for our life. Cultivating and sustaining hope is a central task in the process of recovery from depression, and perhaps the most demanding and challenging. Regarding the practical consequences of living in hope, Pope Benedict teaches that the Christian message of hope does not just tell us something: it is not just informative; it also changes the way we live. It is performative: “That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known — it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing.”80

Finding hope need not be complicated; it can be remarkably simple. Consider the case of a young father who was struggling with depression because of a debilitating physical condition that kept him from working. As a result he was at home with his youngest daughter. He related later that just seeing the face and constant smile of his joyful girl was enough to instill in him sufficient hope for the day. Our reasons for hope may be right there in front of us, if only we have eyes to see.

While many of us can rattle off the three theological virtues, hope is often the forgotten middle of the three. We hear much preached about faith and about love, but we hear less about the virtue of hope. What exactly is hope? The Compendium of the Catechism defines it succinctly: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and await from God eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit to merit it and to persevere to the end of our earthly life.”81

Let us unpack this definition. First, hope involves desiring happiness. This, of course, is not hard for us. In fact, it is impossible not to desire happiness, as we know from our own experience. Aristotle maintains that the desire for happiness lies at the foundation of every human action. The person suffering from depression, of course, wants nothing more than to recover the capacity for happiness, for spiritual joy. But this happiness consists ultimately in only one thing: eternal life with God. Every person, whether he knows it or not, is seeking God, because everyone is seeking perfect happiness and fulfillment, which can be found ultimately in God alone. Our search for happiness can go astray when we mistakenly place our hope in something that cannot deliver. But this fundamental desire for happiness — this desire for God — remains, even when we go astray. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

Hope, according to the definition just cited, involves placing our trust in Christ, relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit, and persevering to the end of our life — all for the sake of eternal life, which only God can grant. What are we to make of these words, eternal life? Many of our contemporaries wonder: Is eternal life something worth hoping for? The depressed person may have difficulty with the idea of looking for his happiness beyond the present world and placing his definitive hope in the next life. Perhaps this very thought has crossed our minds, especially in times of difficulty or temptation, or during periods of depression or despair: Is the effort toward holiness worthwhile? Is the goal of eternal life worth the sacrifices made in this life? Drawing on the writings of St. Augustine, Pope Benedict responds to this question: “Ultimately we want only one thing . . . the life which is simply ‘happiness’ . . . In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for.”82

The very fact that in this life the human heart remains restless — that it is vulnerable to anxiety, depression, demoralization, and despair — is a clue to the human need for hope and a clue to our ultimate destiny in God. All we can experience in this life falls short of this restless yearning. The man knocking at the brothel door will not find there what his restless heart truly desires. The man downing another bottle of gin will not find at the bottom what his heart thirsts for. The man popping another narcotic pill will not experience what his heart hungers for. God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest finally in Him.

We are reaching here beyond what words can adequately express. Benedict XVI observes: The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown.” Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.83

To appreciate fully the meaning of eternal life, we have to try to get outside our usual ways of thinking and our usual experiences. Pope Benedict says: “To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality — this we can only attempt.

We simply cannot extrapolate to a vision of eternal life from our typical earthly existence, even on the best of days. Reaching beyond our words and concepts, Pope Benedict takes a stab at expressing what the term eternal life might actually signify: “It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of God, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”84

77 Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Spe salvi, no. 1.
78 Ibid., no. 2.
79 Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of Japan on their “Ad limina” Visit, December 17, 2007.
80 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 2.
81 Compendium of the Catechism, no. 387.
82 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 12.
83 Ibid., no. 12.
84 Ibid.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 210-216). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 3, The Theological Virtue of Hope

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Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” -Dante Alighieri’s inscription on the entrance to Hell, and maybe, just maybe, if “Our Hope is in the Lord, who made Heaven & Earth!” (Ps 124:8), that is EXACTLY what Hell is?

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” -1 Cor 13:13

I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” relating his experiences and personal, formative revelations while a prisoner of conscience in Auschwitz while I was in high school. Not because it was assigned, but because I just wanted to. The most astonishing revelation to the reader of this powerful work is Dr. Frankl watching who did and did not survive, among those not killed directly by the Nazis through their various and hideous means.

He concluded that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had it right: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. ” (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in 1963, p. 121) He saw that people who had hopes of being reunited with loved ones, or who had projects they felt a need to complete, had a great talent they still needed to express, or who had great faith, tended to have better chances than those who had lost all hope.

But “…meaning must be found and cannot be given.” (1, p. 112) Meaning is like laughter, he says: You cannot force someone to laugh, you must tell him a joke! The same applies to faith, hope, and love — they cannot be be brought forth by an act of will, our own or someone else’s.

So we attempt to fill our existential vacuums with “stuff” that, because it provides some satisfaction, we hope will provide ultimate satisfaction as well: We might try to fill our lives with pleasure, eating beyond all necessity, having promiscuous sex, living “the high life;” or we might seek power, especially the power represented by monetary success; or we might fill our lives with “busy-ness,” conformity, conventionality; or we might fill the vacuum with anger and hatred and spend our days attempting to destroy what we think is hurting us.

We might also fill our lives with certain neurotic “vicious cycles,” such as obsession with germs and cleanliness, or fear-driven obsession with a phobic object. Or, we self-medicate through alcohol, drugs, etc., just to numb the pain of our emptiness. Perhaps this is Hell as it truly is, without hope, forever, for eternity, outside the dimension of time? The defining quality of these vicious cycles is that, whatever we do, it is never enough. ONLY JESUS satisfies. ONLY JESUS. ONLY JESUS. Thank you, Lord! Thank YOU!!!

Martin Luther, while an Augustinian monk, began to lose hope in penance and good works as having any efficacy for the baptized, literally in God’s great mercy. Rather, he adopted the view, obsessively, that all of mankind were hopeless and wretched sinners before the sight of God, unworthy of salvation – literally, the “steaming pile of dung”, if you are familiar with that phrasing. Covered like snow by Christ’s redemption, hidden from God, having no worthwhile quality unto it’s own self. He carried everything to such an extreme that his superiors were worried about him. He wore out his confessor with marathon sessions of confessing, going over every thought in detail, then starting again from the beginning. His confessor, Father Staupitz, told him: “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive- parricide, blasphemy, adultery -instead of all these peccadilloes.” Fr. Staupitz also, further insisted with Martin: “We are commanded to hope!”

Catholicism differs in this perspective holding fast to the ancient understanding that God’s creation is GOOD!!!! Wounded by Original Sin, but, still, inherently GOOD!!! And, God LOVES His Creation, because it is HIS, and He declared/declares it GOOD!! (Gen 1:31) In the present tense, because to the Catholic mind, ALL Creation continues to be held in existence by the mind of God. If God stopped thinking about Creation, it would disappear – poof!!! 🙂

We are commanded to hope by the first part of the Greatest Commandment, namely, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with ALL your heart! ALL your mind! ALL your soul!” You cannot, truly, love the Lord your God with everything you have, and then turn around and say, “There is NO hope!” No. Truly. Our hope is in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!!! Amen. Amen. Counter-pointedly, if there is no God Who loves you, what exactly IS the point of ALL of this? There is none.

“The third, and most important, protective factor conferred by Christian faith is the indispensable theological virtue of hope, bestowed in Baptism and subsequently developed in the life of faith. Christianity offers hope in the midst of difficulties and pain. Through our faith, in hope, we can find redemptive value even in and through suffering. The psychiatrist Aaron Beck…did a long-term prospective study of eight hundred suicidal patients to determine which risk factors were most closely linked to suicide. He studied individuals who had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt or for suicidal thinking.

Beck managed to follow these patients for the next ten years to see who survived and who eventually completed suicide. In trying to find the key differences between the survivors and those who died by suicide, Beck examined the patients’ diagnoses, the number and type of mental and medical symptoms, the degree of physical pain a person was in, social and economic factors, and so on. The results surprised some behavioral scientists.

The one factor most predictive of suicide was not how sick the person was, or how many symptoms he exhibited, or how much pain he was in. The most dangerous factor was a person’s sense of hopelessness. The patients who believed their situation was utterly without hope were the most likely candidates for completing suicide. There is no prescription or medical procedure for instilling hope. This is the domain of the revelation of God’s loving goodness and baptismal efficacy. We can have a natural sort of hope when things clearly appear hopeful. But when our situation appears or feels hopeless, the only hope that can sustain us is supernatural — the theological virtue of hope, which can be infused only by God’s grace.“2

1. Frankl, V. E. (1975). The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Originally published in 1948 as Der unbewusste Gott. Republished in 1997 as Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.)

2. Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 98-99). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, hope, and prayers for you, and those you love. Pray for me, and mine, please. Let us ALL put ALL our hope and trust in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!
Matthew

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

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-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.

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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.

Love,
Matthew

The temptation we face to come down from/put down our Crosses…

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Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. – JC

As life goes along, rather light-of-foot/quickly/ too quickly, if you ask anyone with a few years under the belt, this temptation grows stronger as we grow weaker, more feeble, more tired, more infirm.

An elderly woman in a wheelchair once commented, respectfully, to a much younger priest, when the priest reminded her of the Passion of Our Lord in regards to her own troubles, “Yes, but He was only thirty-three.” I, myself, have harbored such thoughts, and I am only middle-aged.

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-by Msgr Charles Pope

“One of the most remarkable aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus is the humble reserve He displayed. As God, He had the power to end His suffering and humiliation in an instant. He had already reminded Peter, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt26:52-54)

And now, as Jesus hung on the Cross, Satan and the crowds give Him one final temptation: the call to come down from the Cross:

Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You Who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if You are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him. (Matt 27:39-44)

The temptation is to pride and power, comfort and ease, to anything but the Cross. They seem to taunt Him by saying, “Since God is powerful, if You were God, You would have the power to come down and not be overpowered by Your enemy.”

The temptation is very crafty and very worldly. To the worldly-minded, the demand makes sense. In effect, they are saying, “If it’s faith You want from me, You can have it if You’ll just come down from the cross. Then I’ll be impressed; then I’ll believe.” In effect and truth, the tempters want to be saved on their own terms.

Why does Jesus stay on the Cross? For three reasons, at least:

1. Humility – Jesus is out to overcome Satan. In the world, we seek to overpower our foes. Does it work? No. Usually the cycle of violence just continues and in fact often gets worse. We think, “If I can just yell louder and outwit or outgun my opponent, I’ll win the day.” Yes, but there’s more to life than one day. The next day your opponent returns with louder and wittier arguments and bigger guns. And the cycle of violence goes on. It is an endless power struggle.

But as was once said, Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that. And I would add that here at the Cross, pride cannot drive out pride, only humility can do that.

And therefore, although the crowd and Satan try to coax Jesus into a power struggle, the Lord chooses the only weapon that is truly effective against pride: humility. Humility is like kryptonite to the Devil!

To our eyes, it seems that the Lord is defeated. But in His humility, the Lord is doing more damage to Satan than we could ever imagine. He stays on the Cross to defeat Satan’s pride by His own profound humility. Jesus does this despite Satan’s desperate attempts to engage His pride, and entice Him into a power struggle.

2. ObedienceIt was disobedience that got us into trouble in the first place. And it will be obedience that restores us. Adam said, “No.” Jesus, the New Adam, says “Yes.” It is not essentially the suffering of Jesus that saves us; rather, it is his obedience. And Jesus’ suffering is part of that obedience.

Jesus decides to obey his Father, no matter the cost. Isaiah says of Jesus, “He suffered because he willed it.” (Is 53:7) St. Thomas says that if Jesus had suffered and gone to the cross, but not willed it, we would not be saved. Jesus himself said, “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down freely. (Jn 10:18) Cassian says, “We are saved by the human decision of a divine person.”

Jesus went to the Cross and decided to stay on the Cross in obedience. And it is by his obedience, by his will to obey and to save us, that we are saved.  AMEN!!!  AMEN!!! AMEN!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!

3. To save ME!!! – On a more personal level, we can also see (based on what has already been said), that Jesus decided to stay on the Cross to save ME. No, really, ME!! If He had come down, I WOULD NOT be saved; you WOULD NOT be saved. We might have been impressed; we might have even had a kind of faith. But it would not be a SAVING FAITH.

Pure and simple, Jesus decided to stay on the Cross and to endure mockery, shame, pain, and death, in order to save a poor sinner like me. An old gospel song says:

When Jesus hung on Calvary, people came from miles to see
They said, If you be the Christ, come down and save your life

But Jesus, sweet Jesus, never answered them
For He knew that Satan was tempting

If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost
If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost

He would not come down from the cross just to save Himself
He decided to die just to save me.”

“I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?”
—2 Corinthians 11:23-29

Love,
Matthew

“…and lead us not into temptation”?

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-“Last Judgment”, fresco, 1535-1541, 45′ 0″ x 40′ 0″, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, (please click on the image for more detail)

Why would God LEAD us into temptation?  Would He?  Rather, this petition is asking for strength to face God’s judgment of the world at the end of time.

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-by Joel Schorn

“You can find the short answer in the New Testament Letter of James: “No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (1:13). Don’t try to shift responsibility, James is saying; God does not tempt, and God cannot lead people into evil. But that answer only produces another question: So why ask for something that’s not only contrary to what Christians believe about God but also impossible?

Of course believers make this odd petition so often because it is part of that most famous of prayers, the Lord’s Prayer. Different versions of the prayer appear in Matthew 6 as part of the Sermon on the Mount and in Luke 11 as Jesus’ example of how the disciples are to pray. This context—along with the fact that by the prayer’s opening address “Our Father [abba],” Jesus invited the disciples into his own special relationship with God—makes the prayer and its words important.

“Lead us not into temptation” comes in the second set of the prayer’s petitions. The first set asks for the complete coming of the reign of God on earth, when the divine name will be known by the whole world and all will follow the divine will just as it is already obeyed in heaven. The second addresses the needs of the community of disciples: asking for a day’s sustenance, realizing one’s own forgiveness lies in forgiving others, and—here it is—asking for help in facing “temptation.” But that’s the word the liturgy uses; the Bible passage says “do not subject us to the final test,” or, in another translation, “do not bring us to the time of trial.”

The final test, the time of trial: This petition is asking for strength to face God’s judgment of the world at the end of time. Like the whole prayer, though, it has a present-time dimension as well. Just as to ask for the coming of God’s kingdom is to hasten its arrival now, to pray for courage at the end of the world is to ask for it in this moment.

Admittedly “lead us not into temptation” is a strange way to put it, but the phrase acknowledges that tests and trials of faith which call for strength—and that is what God provides. And it gets better: God offers deliverance and rescue from evil as well, as the closing words of the Lord’s Prayer say.

So there is hope. “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength,” St. Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “but with the trial He will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (10:13).”

Love, and praying for God’s strength for you and yours. Please pray for me and mine, too.
Matthew

Love vs kindness

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-by Msgr Charles Pope

“Kindness is a very great thing and has an important place in our relationships. Kindness is evidenced by goodness and charitable behavior, a pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others. According to Aristotle, kindness is an emotion manifesting itself by the desire to help somebody in need, without expecting anything in return. Peter Kreeft defines kindness as “sympathy, with the desire to relieve another’s suffering.” [Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20]

However, as Kreeft himself notes, it is a very great mistake to equate kindness with love. Kindness is an aspect of love, but it is necessarily distinct from love. For is sometimes happens that love, which wills what is best for the other, may deem it best not to remove all suffering. A father, in fact may impose punishment on a child out of love. Kindness generally seeks to alleviate suffering and negativity. Love understands that suffering often has a salvific role. My parents disciplined me out of love. Had they been merely kind to me, I would likely have been spoiled, undisciplined and ill-equipped for life.

Paradoxically the more we love the more we will often see mere kindness diminish. Consider how kind we can be to strangers. We may sometimes give money to strangers with little questions asked. But if a son or daughter asks for money we may often want to know why and, even if we give it, we will frequently lecture them about being more responsible with their money. The interaction may be less kind, but it may also be more loving for it seeks to end the problem rather than merely relieve the symptom of the problem.

The good eclipses the best – And herein lies the danger of reducing love to kindness. In simply seeking to alleviate the suffering of the moment or to give people what they want, many deeper issues go unresolved and worsen. Welfare has created a slavish dependence for many in our culture. And it is not just the poor in our cities. There is corporate welfare, and many other subsidies and entitlements that too many can no longer go without. Rather than addressing the root causes of poverty, dependence or poor economic conditions and bad business models, kindness interrupts love’s deeper role and treats only the suffering of the moment. In this sense the merely good (kindness) replaces the truly best (Love). True love gives what is best, not merely what is immediately preferred.

Further, many false expectations are centered in the exaltation of kindness over love. Generally this is manifest in the fact that suffering of any kind is seen as obnoxious and even the cause for legal action. It has also led to our demands for comfort to go on steroids. Demand for euthanasia flow from this sort of thinking as well.

A final and very terrible effect often flows from mistaking mere kindness for love is that it disposes many towards atheism. Here I simply want to quote Peter Kreeft because he says it so well:

It is painfully obvious that God is not mere kindness, for He does not remove all suffering, though He has the power to do so. Indeed, this very fact — that the God Who is Omnipotent and can, at any instant, miraculously erase all suffering from the world, deliberately chooses not to do so — is the commonest argument that unbelievers use against Him. The number one argument for atheism stems from the confusion between love and kindness. [Peter Kreeft, Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20]

Kindness is a very great attribute and it surely has its place. But we must carefully distinguish it from love. Exalting kindness over love amounts to a denial of the wisdom of the Cross. Kindness focuses on comfort and alleviating suffering and this is a very great thing. But love is greater thing for it wills what is best, not what is merely desired.”

Love,
Matthew

Holiness is more than being nice

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-by Msgr. Charles Pope

“We live in a time that has tended to reduce holiness to merely being nice and agreeable. In this manner of thinking holiness tends to be variously thought of as: getting along well with everyone, being kind, agreeable, helpful, likable, generous, pleasant, mild mannered, amiable, good humored, middle of the road, even tempered, placid, benevolent, friendly, forbearing, tolerant, thoughtful, and the like. It can all be summed up by saying that “so-and-so” is “basically a nice person.” And thus the goal seems more to be nice than holy.

If you think this isn’t so, listen to how people talk at funerals. “Wow, Joe was a great guy!….We’re all gonna miss his jokes….Joe liked everybody! Joe would do anything for you!” Now all this is fine. But did Joe pray? Did Joe raise his kids in the fear of the Lord? Did Joe set a moral example that summoned others to holiness? Maybe he did but people don’t usually talk about that at the wake service. All that seems to matter is that Joe was a “great guy.” But the goal in life is not just to be a great guy, it is to be holy.

Now, none of the qualities listed above the previous paragraphs are wrong or bad. But the problem is that we have largely reduced holiness to these sorts of qualities, to being “basically a nice person.” Oh sure, holy people will be known to pray and that sort of stuff but God forbid that some one might exhibit righteous anger or rebuke sin. No, that wouldn’t be nice at all! It’s wrong to upset people isn’t it? And thus we tend to limit what holiness should be like.

But true holiness, while it does not seek a fight, does not easily fit into this world’s schemes and categories. It tends to run against the grain and upset the status quo. Jesus could surely be kind, merciful and forgiving. But he was also holy. And true holiness does not compromise the truth, does not go along to get along. It does not remain silent just so everyone can be happy and unoffended. Jesus did not end up on the Cross because he was “basically a nice person.” He spoke the truth in love. He prophetically denounced hypocrisy, duplicity, sin and injustice. It is true He also blessed children and repentant sinners found refuge in Him and a strong advocate. But Jesus was no fool, and He didn’t just go around slapping every one’s back and being nice. Jesus was holy. And holiness is hot to the touch. It is not easily endured by the tepid and worldly minded. They killed Him for it.

Too many Christians have substituted niceness for holiness and hence endure almost no hostility from the world. Too many Christians think that getting along and being popular is their main task. Having enemies is somehow “unchristian.” Never mind that Jesus told us to love our enemies (which presupposes we have some). No, having enemies is surely a sign that we are not getting along with people and that is not very nice (err….”holy”).

Now this attitude is deadly to living a prophetic Christian witness. Of course the word “witness” is Biblically tied to the word “martyr.” Martyrs do not end up dead by being nice. They usually end up dead or at least persecuted by running afoul of the world’s norms and priorities. And when told to be nice and go along to get along, they declined and continued as an irritant to a world that demands compromise with evil, approval of sin, and silence about faith. But this is our call, not to be nice, to be holy. Holy means “set apart,” “distinct from what is around it.”

There is a place for niceness and ordinary human kindness. But the point is that holiness cannot be reduced to this. There are times where holiness demands that we speak out strongly and unambiguously. True holiness will lead us increasingly to live in a way that others will often find an irritant. Perhaps our radical simplicity and generosity will prick their conscience. Perhaps our deep devotion to God will cause them to feel uneasy. Perhaps our moral positions will offend their politics or worldly ethics. Our mentioning of a day of judgment that looms may incite their anger. And so forth…. We do not seek conflict, but conflict finds us. The world demands that we back down and be nice, that we get along better.

Holiness is not of this world. True holiness brings an increasingly radical transformation that makes the recipient seem to be a foreigner in this world who speaks with a strange accent and has foreign ways. He does not fit into simple political distinctions, does not conform to worldly categories. True holiness ignites a fire in the recipient and fire changes everything it touches. In the end no one remains neutral to a truly holy person. Either they complain of the heat or draw warmth, but no one is neutral.

Holiness is a lot more than being nice.”

Love,
Matthew

Be a Man!!! Live the Life of Virtue/the Virtuous Life

vices expelled from the garden of virtue
-Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo, circa 1431 – Mantua, 1506)
Minerva Expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue, circa 1500-1502, oil on canvas; H. 1.59 m; W. 1.92 m, Paris, Musée du Louvre, dép. des Peintures, inv. 371 (please click on the image for greater detail)
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sam_guzman_wife
-by Sam Guzman, “The Catholic Gentleman”

“Virtue isn’t often associated with manliness these days. In fact, the exact opposite is true—many believe you aren’t a real man unless you are a “bad boy” or a rebel. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the word “virtue: comes from the Latin word vir, meaning man. Virtue literally means manliness. In ancient times, philosophers like Aristotle encouraged men to cultivate virtue to reach their full potential.

What is Virtue?

It is hard to live a virtuous life if we don’t first know what virtue it is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue in the following way:

“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” -CCC 1803

In other words, virtue is the habit of choosing what is good and right, despite our own inclinations.

Getting still more specific, the Catholic Church teaches that we should cultivate seven different virtues—four cardinal (or natural) virtues and three theological (or supernatural) virtues. The cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, and the theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity. I’ll save the definition of these virtues for another post.

Why Does Virtue Matter?

For the Catholic man, virtue isn’t an option. We have to cultivate virtue, both natural and supernatural, if we want to live a holy life and get to heaven. But why?

Virtue is essential because we all are filled with disordered passions. Anger, gluttony, lust, laziness, envy, pride, and greed—these sins are churning about in our souls constantly due to our fallen nature. If we don’t tame them, they will kill us spiritually. That’s why the Church calls them the seven deadly sins. Virtue helps us to tame these passions and overcome them, building the foundation for a holy life.

St. Paul talks about this very fact in his letter to the Romans. He says,

“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
Romans 8:13

In other words, if you are living a supernaturally virtuous life, empowered by grace, you are on the road to heaven. If you aren’t, however, and your life is characterized by the seven deadly sins, you are probably on the road to hell.

This may sound harsh, but it is true. Virtue is that important.

Choose the Virtuous Life

Many men coast through life without a thought to where they are going. They don’t really worry about things like temperance, prudence, or fortitude—let alone faith, hope or charity. But no one gets to heaven on cruise control. If you’ve been living aimlessly, decide today to pursue virtue with all your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit for the graces you need to be a virtuous man.”

Love, & please pray for me to always be a Catholic GENTLE-MAN!!, a man who practices Virtue,
Matthew

Mass without Communion, single-life, obedience, etc.

communion

We are easily confused and forgetful.  Simple creatures, simple used here in its most derogatory sense.  Knuckle-draggers.  How quickly did Adam & Eve given THE Garden of Eden, think it was theirs to do with as they wish?  To abuse?  Unthinkingly?  Unknowingly?  Ingrates!!!!  Morons!!!!  Idiots!!!!  Imbeciles!!!!

How easily no longer a gift with very livable stipulations?   How quickly?  We still do.  We feel we are God made, an oxymoron, all the theists in the audience just shuddered at those words, in the image and likeness of ourselves.  Self-referential is always bad logic, etc.

I AM ALWAYS, HAVE ALWAYS BEEN terrified of a vow of obedience.  I still am.  Given twenty-five years of corporate human authority relationships, THAT HAS DEFINITELY NOT LESSENED, ITS GOTTEN WORSE!!!  SO MUCH EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY, ST DILBERT CORPORATE, ORA PRO NOBIS!!! MUCH, MUCH WORSE!!!  I am most willful.  My own way is one of, if not THE greatest pleasure I derive in life, free will, my own.  In the Order of Preachers, there is ONLY ONE VOW:  OBEDIENCE.  There is no need for any other with that ONE.

The funny thing is…pssst, it’s secret…marriage IS a vow of obedience!!!!  DAMN!!!!  Low-blow!!!  Sneak-attack!!!  Don’t tell anyone!!  No one will ever get married, again!  An implicit, ableit profoundly strong vow to the good of the family, NOT one’s own agenda, preferences, will, willfulness, etc.; the obedience of love.  The obedience of Christ to the Father, of the creature to the Creator simply for the gift of being.  SUM, ERGO AGAPE!!! It makes no conditions!!!  It does not negotiate!!!  Love is NOT reasonable!!!  It wants what it wants, and will never settle for less!!!  It is very demanding/immature that way!!!  Shhhhh…..misery loves company.  We need more marrieds!!!!  (Maniacal laugh, Ha, ha, ha, ha…..!!  Join us!!!  Resistance is futile!!!)

From divorced and remarried, to excommunicated, to conscious of mortal sin, what is Mass without Communion?  Really?

matthew_schneider_lc

-by Rev. Matthew P. Schneider, LC

“Mass is not just so you get Communion! For hundreds of years, the majority of Catholics did not receive Communion most Sundays of the year but were expected at Mass. The Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Communion perfects this by uniting us to Jesus, but the Mass has value even if you don’t receive Communion. Being present at the death and resurrection is one of the most wonderful things we can do.

Before we even consider Communion for the divorced and remarried, we have to reflect on the value of Mass without Communion – both as a whole Church and with each individual couple.

Many people, at least in Canada and the USA, think that they cannot participate in Mass without receiving Communion. This is false. Communion perfects one’s participation in the Mass, but one can participate without receiving Communion.

I remember the difficulty of explaining to a non-Catholic child at a Catholic high school what value there was for him to show up at Mass with his class. I understood the reasons, but I still had  difficulty in communicating it clearly. A reflection by the Church on this point would help us all be able to explain this aspect of our faith better.

A deeper reflection on single life, especially those called to non-consecrated chastity

We have told single people clearly that they need to live the chaste life. However, there is more than chastity. How can their friendships have meaning? How can they serve? What are they called to as single people? What gifts can they offer the Church?

We need to reflect on those who don’t choose singleness, at least directly or initially. We have had a lot of reflection in the Church on those who consecrate their singleness to God — priests, religious and the like — but not much on other single people.

A single layperson can do a lot to build up Christ’s kingdom in ways married people can’t. There is a pragmatic level I think most can agree on: since single people don’t have kids to raise, they generally have more free time. However, I have a sense of a deeper spiritual significance. Unfortunately, I can’t concisely and clearly indicate what this is. I hope that some reflection on this, either inside the synod or outside of it, can help us all express the significance better.

The ones who’ve gotten the most press regarding this reflection are those with same-sex-attraction, but I think it also applies to many others. For example, someone might dedicate themselves so fully to a cause – anything from the pro-life movement to extending our knowledge in some scientific field – that they don’t have much time to date. Another might simply have bad luck in trying to find the right person. Spiritual Friendship has started to pursue this reflection, at least for those with same-sex-attraction, although I’m not sure of every reflection they make. Reflecting more on non-consecrated singleness will help these people be stronger members of the Church.

Supporting Francis’s initiative to improve the marriage annulment process

Last month, Pope Francis published some norms to simplify the annulment process. I hope these changes help people in this difficult situation and that the synod fathers concur. The rules put forward by Pope Francis might have seemed technical but some of them will have positive impact quite quickly. For example, a friend was telling me about someone who has been waiting 11 years for an annulment because their ex-spouse lives in Russia and the Russian tribunal won’t act. With the new norms, the tribunal here can act without the Russian tribunal because one of the parties currently lives here (before these norms, a tribunal would need to certify other tribunals that could have jurisdiction didn’t want the case before proceeding).

I think we can point to some positive points of the annulment process. For example, John W. Miller wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “The annulment … involves facing what happened, not denying it, and the process includes helping you avoid failing relationship patterns in the future… In my entire experience of getting divorced, the church dissolution was the only time someone asked me that raw and caring question: What really happened?” For him, the annulment process helped resolve issues from his marriage and divorce.

Support faith-filled families

Cardinal Dolan blogged about the need for us to support “those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity.” He also referred to those who give up careers to take care of their kids. These families may not be perfect but represent the ideal we hope that other families strive for. If we want to strengthen families, we need to support these families. At times we can fall into the danger of reaching out to each marginalized group that we forget those in the center. Once we support these families we can often use them as an example for other families that the ideal is possible.

Centering on such families helps us also show that divorce can be avoided and having more than two kids doesn’t make you certifiably crazy. Without witnesses to the Church’s teaching on marriage, few people today will accept that teaching.

Explain the value of commitment to young people

Today, the percentage of young people getting married is dropping more and more. Our culture has stopped valuing commitment at all. This can also be seen from a drop in religious life and commitment to the priesthood. I think it would be great to reflect on the value of committing your life to another: whether that other is another person or God himself. Hopefully the synod can help us get away from a temporary culture.

Lack of commitment destroys the family. A family is made by a stable couple that is  fully committing to each other in marriage. Even long-term cohabitation is not stable because at any moment, either one can leave.

The questions dealt with here will be almost prerequisite questions: Why commit? What value does commitment add? Can commitment last a lifetime? Why commit to another person or to God in a vocation? In the past, these questions were presupposed, but they are often not today. The younger generation has certain values it can teach us but it struggles in this area.

Conclusion

This list is obviously not exhaustive. To a certain extent I’ve presented areas I know we can reflect on and improve without certainty on the best route for improvement. I felt that the proposals getting most media airtime either change doctrine or dangerously bordered on doing so. Instead these are five areas that the Church has a general teaching on, but where there is still a large area open for further reflection. All of these improvements begin in reflection and theory but have a concrete and practical application to help the family or those around the family (such as single people). Whether the synod talks about these or not, each of us can reflect on them more deeply and hopefully improve the Church’s pastoral practice.”

Love,
Matthew

Obedience & Informed Conscience

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Rev. Thomas Petri, OP
Vice President and Academic Dean
Instructor of Moral Theology and Pastoral Studies
Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception
Dominican House of Studies, Wash, DC

from Interfaith Voices, 2/12/15

Listen here:

Moderator:   

“One of the oldest spiritual struggles experienced by serious Catholics is the struggle between following Church teaching and following one’s conscience when they’re in conflict. Earlier, we heard from Father Tony Flannery, an Irish priest who was recently silenced by the Vatican for openly questioning Church teachings on the origins of the priesthood, women’s ordination and homosexuality. The Irish hierarchy said he had broken his vow of obedience, but Father Flannery believed he had to follow a higher authority, his conscience.

For another view, we turned to another priest named Father Thomas Petri, OP. He’s an instructor in moral theology and pastoral studies at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. When we presented him with Father Flannery’s dilemma, he had a very different answer.”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, to put it very succinctly, priests take a vow of obedience or make a promise of obedience because they’re public representatives of the Church. They’re public persons. So when a man is ordained, he can no longer claim to be a private person. He may still have elements of his life that the faithful don’t see, but he still is in some ways representing the Church publicly.

So the vow of obedience and the promise of obedience to say Church teachings or to what the Church believes and teaches, helps him to live that way and to authentically then witness to what the Church puts forth as the Gospel and teaching of Jesus Christ.”

Moderator: 

“So if you were Tony Flannery and you disagreed on some of the things that he does, what would you do?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t broadcast it to begin with. I wouldn’t broadcast it. I would take it to prayer. I would take it to spiritual direction. I would take it to my superiors. I would want to study it. I know a very prominent, for example, sister who is now on the International Theological Commission who was once in favor of women’s ordination. She studied herself out of that position. She was, for the longest time, one of the few nuns in America who had a PhD in theology in the late 70s and early 80s, because her mind was open to looking this up and trying to figure out why the Church teaches what it does. That’s what I hope I would do if I ever were to come across this bridge.”

Moderator:

“And of course I don’t know who that nun is but I know an awful lot of people who work on that issue. I don’t know anybody that’s argued themselves out of it.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Well, Sister Sarah Butler would be the one you’d want to look up.”

Moderator: 

“Yes, okay. That’s a name that I’ve heard, I must admit. Now, as we mentioned in the introduction, there are many Catholics over many centuries who have come into conflict between this idea of obedience and the idea of conscience. The conscience tells them something other than what the Church teaching is. So how do they relate to each other in Catholic teaching? What’s the official word on that?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, when we talk about conscience, so often it’s used as a substitute for personal opinion. It’s my personal opinion that this is true or that is true. So we have to mean something different about the word conscience than we do personal opinion, and the Church’s position, down through the century, has always been faithful living in conscience, that their conscience is formed by living the life of the faith, living life with Jesus Christ. Living life in worship of God day in and day out, Sunday after Sunday, going to Mass, preaching, studying the word, being docile to what the saints and the fathers have said, that this forms their conscience.

So that’s what we mean when we talk about conscience in a certain sense. When we talk about a priest’s obedience and his relationship to conscience, well, we’re talking about a priest who in good conscience made a public commitment to the Church and to be faithful to the Church. And certainly there can be times in a priest’s life when those do come into conflict in his own existential experience, his own living the life. Absolutely. But how do you handle that, that’s a different question.”

Moderator:

“And Father Tony Flannery did what – certainly he’s not the first, he went public –”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Sure.”

Moderator:                  “– with some of the struggles that he was having with various teachings of the Church, but a Catholic I believe is supposed to have something called an informed conscience, what does that mean?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Well, it means just those things I was talking about. To have an informed conscience is simply to not walk around blindly. Well, whatever I think is right that must be right. That’s not an informed conscience. It doesn’t mean not questioning, it doesn’t mean being a robot and just taking everything in blindly and without question, but it does mean giving the Church the benefit of the doubt and allowing it to sink in so that it informs my life.”

Moderator:                  “So Church teaching and someone’s conscience might not always coincide or else conscience would be totally redundant, wouldn’t it?”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Well, that’s right. Also, a person’s conscience cannot simply be the blind guide either because culture –”

Moderator:                  “No, no, I’m talking about an informed conscience, somebody who knows what the Church teaches, has reflected on it, maybe prayed about it, all that sort of stuff. I know plenty of people who have done that and still have conflicts.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Well, still have conflicts. So the question would be when you have a conflict, how are you going about living your life within that conflict? Right. And the Church’s traditional teaching has always been that Catholics who have difficulty in conscience should be docile to the wisdom of the centuries and the wisdom of the Church, of the wisdom of the Church, and then to try to work through their difficulties with their pastors, with the Saints, with the (writings of the historical) Fathers of the Church.”

Moderator:      

“Let me quote you something from the official teaching of the Church. This is from the document on religious liberty at the Second Vatican Council and we all know that official councils of the Church are the highest teaching authority. It says, and I’m quoting, “The individual must not be forced to act against conscience nor be prevented from acting according to conscience, especially in religious matters.” And in another place, it says, “It is therefore fully in accordance with the nature of faith that in religious matters that every form of human coercion should be excluded.” So it seems to me that be excluded.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Absolutely.”

Moderator:                  “So it seems to me that what I always learned as the primacy of conscience, is in fact primary if a person is informed and has reflected on it.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Well, I guess it goes to what we mean by informed here but I would say that the document, the Vatican II document on religious liberty is primary concerned with forcing conversions which you know in the Catholic tradition, as in other traditions, that was a sad part of our history. What we’re talking about is Catholics who are baptized and baptized into the faith of the Catholic Church and presumably baptized and have at some point in their life accepted the Catholic Church as the granter of truth as revealed by Jesus Christ.

Then having a difficulty or some sort of conflict and then following that, publically dissenting from the Catholic Church and what the Catholic Church teaches as you say. That’s a completely different question than coercion. Because then the question is, is this baptized person, has this baptized person really embraced and fully lived the teaching of Jesus Christ as it is communicated to us by the Church?”

Moderator:   

“I’m thinking in terms of Father Tony Flannery’s case, and he’s not alone on this. There are certainly a number of people in recent Church history who when they have expressed a view that is not a 100 percent in accord with the Church’s teaching, get faced with sign this statement of orthodoxy which is a direct opposition to what they believe.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “In conscience.”

Moderator:                  “Right. Or keep quiet and don’t say anything more about it. And it would be against their conscience to sign a statement that they don’t agree with. They would be lying essentially.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Right. So what I would want to go back to on that is my initial point that a priest is a public person. He is a public representative of the Church and I think any corporation. Even if we just take it away from the spiritual and bring it to the secular, any corporation, if you have a CEO of the corporation and saying no, you should be Microsoft and not Apple, can I say that on – we’re not getting paid for these endorsements, but you should buy Microsoft and not Apple, but I work for Apple. That’s a real problem for the corporation.

The same is true for the Church. If you have a priest who has been ordained to be faithful and has made a public commitment of fidelity, he’s given the oath of fidelity; he now then goes out as a priest that others can look at as a representative of the Church. He goes out and says things that are directly contrary because he’s having his own personal crisis or conflict. He in fact is leading people away from the Church.”

Moderator:

“But what would you say to a priest who makes a statement like that out of the deep concern for the Church because he’s out there with the faithful – this particular priest gave retreats and so forth all over the country of Ireland. So he knew a lot of people who were in conflict with the teaching of the Church. He was deeply concerned about the future of the Church and it’s direction. So he wasn’t trying to be obtuse. He was expressing this out of love for the Church. Most people that have been in this situation, that I know, did it for the same motive.”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“And I would not disagree with that. I think most people do this out of good intentions and good faith, but when a priest then sets himself up in opposition to the Church, he is claiming for himself a personal authority that he really doesn’t have. He has as an individual but he no longer speaks for the Church. You see? So when the Church says – when the congregation for the doctrine of faith says to Father Flannery, you cannot present yourself publicly as a priest, well, it’s because he really no longer has been. It’s an after the fact sort of thing.”

Moderator:

“Well, most of the priests that I’ve known that have expressed some dissenting view publicly have made it clear that the official teaching is this but these are the questions that I have and I’m concerned about the future of the Church whether it should let’s use some concrete examples. Whether ordained women or treat lesbian and gay people differently or whatever it is that they’re concerned about, it’s because they detect that there is a need for a more loving Church and they’re representing that Church. At least that’s how I’ve heard it.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Sure. And I would want to dispute the idea that the Church is not loving because it holds to what it believes to be the revealed word of Jesus Christ. So I would want to dispute that. But I would say that there is one thing for a priest to say. ‘Well, here’s what the Church has traditionally taught. I don’t quite understand it. I’m not sure I agree with it.’ There is quite another thing for a priest to publicly say the Church is wrong.”

Moderator:

“How in the world then does change take place in the Church? If you can’t have open discussion, and may I say Pope Francis at the recent Synod on the Family, invited all those present to say what they think, even if they thought he didn’t agree with them.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Right. That’s right. Look, there’s some things that simply cannot change. Some things that simply cannot change in the Church, and I realize that’s an unpopular position in today’s culture where we vote in and out politicians and people sometimes think well, the new pope is going to come in, he’s going to change this or – the pope does not have authority, nor do the bishops nor does the magisterium of the Church to change anything that has already been determined to have been revealed by Jesus Christ and his Apostles. Other areas, there can be development but nothing that contradicts what Christ Himself has done and said.”

Moderator:

“But you know and I know that there are Church teachings, and I suppose we could dispute about whether they go back to the apostles or not, but there are Church teachings on issues which were considered very sacred at one time which have changed. The position on usury. Charging interest on lending for example. Position on evolution. The ways in which it’s acceptable to interpret scripture; we used to do it literally. We no longer do it that way. Those are significant things which have changed over time.”

Father Thomas Petri:

“Yeah, I’m not sure – I mean, they might be perceived as significant, but we never declared those to be divinely revealed, any of those teachings. They would’ve been sort of lower level outgrowths of what we do know to be divinely revealed and what we believe to be divinely revealed. That’s really what I want to say to that. Not all teachings have the same weight. Not all the teachings have the same levels of fidelity and obedience that are required.”

Moderator:

“But where conscience comes up today as we all know has a lot to do with issues of sexuality, and one of the most common – and if you read the polls, widely common, has to do with married couples and contraception. I’m sure you’ve known, too, and I certainly have, plenty of married couples who are much aware that the official teaching of the Church is opposed to the use of artificial contraception.

So they know what the Church teaches, they’re informed, but they don’t believe for reasons of health or finances or whatever, that they can risk having more children. And natural family planning doesn’t work for them let’s say. It doesn’t work for a number of people. So they use it in good conscience. And if you read the polls, it’s about a vast majority.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Oh, it’s pretty high. I can see that.”

Moderator:                  “It’s a vast majority of Catholics. And plenty of priests assure them, at least privately, that this is okay. So how does that fit?”

Father Thomas Petri:  Well, I would say a couple of things about that. First of all, it goes back to what we were talking about, what constitutes a formed conscience? For a person to simply know that the Church teaches that you shouldn’t do it, that’s not really a formed conscience. That’s just knowledge. That’s just information. To have a formed conscience is to live day in and day out the life of the faith, the life of the Church.”

Moderator:                  “And a number of these people do. They’re regular communicants.”

Father Thomas Petri:             “Well, certainly they do but have they ever been exposed to a real rationale, like the real reasons why the Church teaches this? And I think you would agree with me, how many priests talk about this? A few. Very few.”

Moderator:                  “Almost none.”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Exactly. Have they ever been exposed to a dynamic priest who can explain why this is better than the other way? Have they been exposed to John Paul’s theology of the body for example which is what he was trying to do with that, trying to get people to see this is actually the more beautiful way to live. What you just said a minute ago. Just because they know the Church teaches against it, doesn’t seem to meet or constitute a formed conscience. How have they lived? Have they ever really studied it? Have they ever really tried to understand why the Church would say that? Most of them – they just know – well, I know the Church teaches against this but we do it anyway.”

Moderator:  

“Now, when I talked to Father Flannery, one of his main complaints was not that the Vatican said that his views were incorrect, but how they dealt with him. For example, his views had been public in Ireland for some time before they censured him. But they didn’t dialogue with him. They didn’t invite him to dialogue. They didn’t respond to him when he said he wanted to dialogue. They simply demanded that he sign this statement of orthodoxy and be silent. They never dealt with him face-to-face. So it raises the question, is this the way to deal with a man whose been a priest for 40 years?”

Father Thomas Petri: 

“Sure. We have one side of the story; I don’t know the other side of the story. Sometimes there is dialogue and I trust what Father Flannery has said, that that’s his experience, and all I can say is if true, that’s how he experienced it, I think anybody would say that that’s not the appropriate way to deal with a priest or to deal with these issues. Now, from my own perspective, I do know theologians and priests who have gotten into this sort of conundrum with the Holy See and that wasn’t their experience at all. It was completely different.”

Moderator:

“It seems to me that there is however a huge disconnect between what the Church teaches, particularly on issues of sexuality, and what the laity actually do. All you’ve got to do is look at the polls to see that in both North America and Western Europe. So are, “Disobedient” priest like Tony Flannery a symptom of that or is he some kind of a wakeup call that maybe the hierarchy should pay more attention?”

Father Thomas Petri:

“No, I don’t think he’s a wake-up call because you refer to the polls and polling Catholics, there are a number of Catholics who are nominal Catholics. They self-identify as a Catholic but they’re not necessarily living the life of the Church. They’re not going to Mass but maybe twice a year, they’re not soaking in the preaching, they may not even have good preaching depending on who their pastor or priest is. But they don’t necessarily typify what we would call a true, dedicated, faithful Catholic. They may be baptized, they may be struggling, they may trying to live the faith as best they can but if they’re not engaging these issues from the life of faith, they’re not engaging them at all as far as we’re concerned.”

Moderator:                  “Thank you so much for joining us today.”

Father Thomas Petri:  “Thank you, Maryanne.”

Moderator:                  “Father Thomas Petri is an instructor in moral theology and pastoral studies at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. where he also serves as an academic dean and vice president.”

“Truth is not determined by a majority.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Love,
Matthew