Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Whom do you trust? The Real Presence, the Gospel, and traditional Christianity

-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“There are a great many intelligent Protestant Christians, well-versed in Scripture, faithfully seeking to know and follow the will of God, who have concluded that Jesus’ words about the bread and wine of the Last Supper becoming his body and blood are merely symbolic.

What if they’re right?

At first, it seems as though such a revelation would be a tragedy. Receiving the Eucharist is the most intimate encounter with Jesus Christ possible this side of eternity. Suddenly to discover that this intimacy was a sham, and that what we thought was God was actually just bread, would be disheartening, to put the matter mildly. Worse, it would mean that those hours spent in adoration were something approaching idolatry rather than proper worship of God.

But the true tragedy would be greater still—it would mean that the Church has been wrong about the Eucharist from the beginning. For the earliest Christians universally believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The well-respected early Church historian J.N.D. Kelly, a Protestant, has acknowledged that “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).

Take, for example, the church at Smyrna, in modern-day Turkey. In the latter half of the first century, the apostle John had delivered a message directly from Jesus Christ to the Smyrnaeans, encouraging them in their faithfulness amid their sufferings (Rev. 2:8-11). Shortly thereafter, a student of John, St. Ignatius of Antioch, wrote to this same local church on his way to be martyred in Rome early in the second century.

In his letter, Ignatius warns the Smyrnaeans to “keep aloof from” the heretical Gnostics “because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 7). Notice that Ignatius doesn’t feel the need to convince his readers of the truth of the Real Presence. For him, it’s enough to say that since the Gnostics reject the Real Presence, we should not even “speak of them either in private or in public.”

This is the way that Christians approached the Eucharist throughout the first few centuries of the Church. It was not just that a theologian here or there taught the Real Presence, but that it was the Christian position on the topic. In a series of lessons given to catechumens about to enter the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminded them that “you have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ” (Catechetical Lecture 22). Cyril is comfortable assuming that even those not yet baptized know enough about Christianity to realize that Christians believe in the Real Presence.

Even more telling than the many Church Fathers teaching and preaching on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the absence of Christian leaders either rejecting this Catholic position or teaching a contrary position.

If a Baptist pastor got up on Sunday and declared that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, you could expect that there would be angry letters denouncing him as a heretic, or at least seeking to correct him. That’s because Baptists don’t believe in the Real Presence.

The fact that we don’t see this sort of outcry in the early Church is compelling evidence that the early Christians didn’t believe what modern Baptists do about the Eucharist. Rather, they were united in belief about the Real Presence at a time when Christians weren’t afraid to squabble with one another over relatively smaller matters.

Why is this important? Because it means that these Protestants are saying not just “I think Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are meant to be merely symbolic,” but “I think that the entire Church misunderstood one of the most basic aspects of Christianity for centuries.” Call this the “everybody got the gospel wrong” position.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18), a promise not to abandon the Church or to leave us as orphans. Specifically, Christ promised to preserve his Church by sending “the Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit, to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:17, 26). How is belief in this promise compatible with the idea that the whole Church lost the true meaning of the Last Supper, and that no Christians successfully followed his instructions to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24)?

To be sure, left to our own devices, you and I would get some aspects of the gospel wrong. That’s why there are so many competing Protestant denominations. But the solution to that is to turn to the Church and to have the humility to be guided, rather than trusting that our own reading of Scripture is superior to everyone else’s. This is the model laid out in Scripture itself. When Philip the Evangelist found an Ethiopian official reading the book of Isaiah, he asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” to which the man replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30-31). But the Protestant view undermines all of this by suggesting that the visible Church, and indeed all Christians everywhere, might be the ones in the wrong.

This is about not just rejecting the Church’s teaching authority, but rejecting all of Christianity prior to a certain point in history. If you can simply throw out all of (say) pre-1517 history as heretical and off the mark, why not throw out all pre-2018 Christianity? What appears on the surface to be a question simply about the Eucharist or the perpetual virginity of Mary is really a question about whether we can trust Christ’s promise not to abandon us, leaving us to our own private theological interpretations.

What’s more, if everybody got the gospel wrong then, what makes us think that anybody has the gospel right now? If we could all be wrong on the literality of the Eucharist for centuries, why couldn’t we be wrong about the literality of the Resurrection or of any other aspect of Christian teaching? If all of Christianity can get the core message of Christianity wrong, then it seems that we simply can’t be trusted to get the basics of Christianity right. But holding that, of course, undermines our ability to trust Christianity itself.”


motiva credibilitatis

-by Casey Chalk

There are a lot of reasons to believe that the Catholic Church is what it says it is. If you already believe in the Bible, there’s the evidence that the institutional church compiled and defined the contents of the biblical canon. If you believe in Jesus, there’s the evidence that He gave His apostles authority to act on His behalf, and those apostles in turn gave that authority to their episcopal successors. And if you believe in God, there’s the evidence that the best arguments for His existence, and the most coherent brand of theism, are those presented by the Church.

Yet there are even more reasons than these, ones that serve as external proofs for divine revelation. The Church calls these “motives of credibility,” which are discussed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God Himself Who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” So “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of His Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.” Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability “are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all”; they are “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind (156).

The motives of credibility provide an effective means to counter the (false) Protestant claim that Catholics engage in circular reasoning. The Protestant argument, in brief, goes like this: any appeal to an ultimate authority is circular, because arguments in favor of that ultimate authority will originate from that same ultimate authority. For Protestants, that ultimate authority is Holy Scripture; for Catholics, it’s the Magisterium.

The problem with this argument is that the Catholic Church does not argue that people should believe the Church’s authority simply because she asserts it in various magisterial documents. Rather, the Church appeals to the motives of credibility as external proofs—accessible to human reason—to validate her credibility.

The first of these motives of credibility is miracles: those of Christ and the saints. The miracles of Christ, of course, are discussed at great length in the New Testament, which, even if we grant to our interlocutors—for the sake of debate—might not be inspired and infallible, at the very least present a considerable historical case for their veracity. When we add the testimony from extra-biblical records such as the writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Josephus, and Celsus, the veracity of these miraculous incidents is even stronger.

Then there are the many miracles attested to Catholic saints over two thousand years of Church history. When I was a Protestant, I dismissed these miracles, numbered at this point in the thousands, as most likely superstitious silliness. Did St. Francis of Assisi really have the stigmata? Did St. Martin de Porres really bilocate? Does St. Januarius’s blood really liquefy on his feast day? The stuff just sounded absurd, something only a naïf or fool would believe.

Yet when I was investigating Catholicism, I studied the more famous Marian apparitions: Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima. What I discovered was a remarkable amount of credible testimony that Mary had indeed appeared at these three locations, and that miracles were performed. All three of these cases also featured skeptical Catholics, including clerics! Several years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and I saw the tilma of St. Juan Diego myself, with its image of Mary that has survived a bomb blast. The more you study such miracles, the more you realize that these are far from fabrications.

Prophecies, like miracles, abound in Scripture. Theologian Lawrence Feingold in his book Faith Comes from What Is Heard notes that from the patriarch Abraham (ca. 2000 B.C.) to the book of Wisdom (c. first century B.C.), there are some fifty prophetic texts that “allude to a great diversity of aspects of the Messiah’s life and work.” These characteristics validate Christ’s claim to be the Messiah, the true representative of God. By extension, fulfilled prophecies also confirm anything Christ did in his role as a divine authority, such as establish an institutional, visible Church.

Another motive of credibility is the Church’s growth over two millennia, a remarkable achievement that spans every continent inhabited by man, reaching almost every tribe and nation on the planet. I have attended Mass celebrated by African priests, gone to confession in Spanish, and witnessed the baptism of two of my children by Thai Redemptorists. The Church, in a manner unparalleled among religious institutions, is truly universal. Its holiness, in turn, is visible in the remarkable sanctity of its saints.

Yes, it’s true: one may find many holy people in other religious traditions. But the sanctity of people such as St. Teresa of Avila, St. Philip Neri, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Bernadette, and St. Maximilian Kolbe is exceptional. There are thousands of such Catholic saints with remarkable stories of holiness.

Finally, there is the fruitfulness and stability of the Catholic Church. Her fruitfulness is identified in her many faithful members found at thousands of parishes across the planet, a phenomenon of growth that has occurred despite often brutal persecution. It is also found in the many manifestations of the Church’s devotion to God, be it through theology, art, music, architecture, or charitable institutions, all of which have blessed millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In America alone, Catholic schools, food kitchens, shelters, hospitals, crisis pregnancy centers, and many other similar organizations dot the landscape.

Stability might seem at first blush to be a mark against the Church. Isn’t this the institution that was in French exile from Rome for seventy years, the one that at one point supposedly had three popes, and is rocked by great turmoil even now? Yet the Church has survived these crises, and many more besides, enduring incredible persecution and internal dissension over two thousand years. G.K. Chesterton once noted that only an institution that enjoyed divine approbation could endure the trials and self-inflicted wounds the Catholic Church has suffered. And yet, despite not only the sins of the world, but the sins of many of its members, the Church, struggling but unified, has prevailed into the twenty-first century, the oldest continuing institution today.

These are the motives of credibility, accessible to human reason, and proving that an act of faith in the Church’s divine origination is reasonable and defensible . . . and certainly not circular.

Love & truth,

November – the month of the dead, “memento mori”

-by Joseph Shaw

As the liturgical year comes to a close….”This week begins the Church’s month of the dead. We remember those who have died, and this should stimulate us to keep our own deaths in mind. With All Souls’ Day approaching, I wish to focus on the latter activity: the remembrance of death, associated with the artistic theme of the memento mori, a visual reminder of death.

Memento mori literally means “remember” (a command) “to die” (an infinitive)—that is, “remember that you, the onlooker, will die.” It is a pithy restatement of the words of the priest who places ashes on the foreheads of the people on Ash Wednesday: Memento homo quia pulvis est et pulverem reverteris.” (“Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”)

Memento mori images are found not only on tombs and gravestones, but also in association with the memorial plaques found in Catholic (and Episcopalian) churches: a human skull or skeleton, mournful angels with inverted torches, hourglasses, and the like. These even found their way onto liturgical vestments, until the Church forbade this, since only images and symbols of holy things should decorate vestments. Death is important—worthy of respect, indeed—but it is not a holy thing. It is, indeed, our enemy: “The last enemy to be overcome is death” (1 Cor. 15:16)—the only quotation from Scripture found, interestingly enough, in the Harry Potter books.

The Four Last Things—death, judgement, hell, and heaven—used to be a regular subject for preaching and pious meditation. This preaching stopped abruptly in modern times. In a recent book review of How Our World Stopped Being Christian, by the French sociologist Guillaume Cuchet, John Pepino writes:

The sudden silence in the pulpits (as tracked in parish bulletins giving the topic of the homily) regarding the four last things . . . gave the impression that the clergy had either ceased to believe in them or no longer knew how to discuss them, even though these had been frequent sermon topics right up until the [Second Vatican] Council.

The discontinuity in the preaching is one problem—Pepino notes “changes in official teaching” that turned “humble folk into skeptics”—but there is also the question of the intrinsic value of the new approach. The Council did not, in fact, tell priests not to preach about mindfulness of death. Even if we think pre-conciliar preaching was too gloomy (an academic question for me and most readers, too young to have experienced it), it has become evident that always looking on the bright side does not in itself ward off all our problems—and certainly not the problem of death.

It is no coincidence that an era that ignores or mocks the idea of spiritual preparation for death, marking death, and mourning it is an era in which death is difficult to discuss. Death today is an embarrassment. Instead of visiting the dying, comforting them, and praying with them, they are commonly sedated: I understand from priests involved in hospital-visiting that it is now rare to be able to give the last rites to a conscious patient. Instead of entrusting the bodies of dead loved ones to the earth and visiting and tending their graves, it is now more common to make them disappear altogether, by burning them and scattering the ashes. (It is worth noting that while cremation is now permitted by the Church, the scattering of ashes is not.)

As Shakespeare wrote, “all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2). Even those alive at the Second Coming will pass through death: it is the doorway to eternal life. It is also the final moment of decision, the final moment in which we can influence our eternal fate.

This might seem unfair, and many modern speculations about the afterlife try to do away with the possibility of damnation (by saving or annihilating the damned), or indefinitely extend the time in which we can make morally significant choices (by reincarnation). Such theories rob life of its significance. This is the time of action: it is what we do now that matters, and it matters a great deal: “the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4). If it doesn’t matter very much, or at all, we might as well not bother.

If death is important, we need to prepare ourselves for it, and we can do that only if we allow ourselves to think about it. A long artistic tradition seeks to remind us of death through painting and sculpture. Some of it may seem a bit gruesome for modern tastes, but the grim reality of death can’t be brushed aside forever. The meditation on death to which this invites us is not an invitation to despair and passivity; rather, it should be a stimulus to renewed effort, to make the most of the life that God has granted us.

Indeed, to make the most of life, bearing in mind the reality of death, is not to close our eyes to death and have as much fun as possible—often at the expense of other people. It is rather to follow the advice of St. Paul: “Let us not tire of doing good” (Gal. 6:9).

It is in this spirit that paintings of the saints sometimes include a skull sitting on a desk: they are depicted as having a memento mori, as many pious persons did. It is a custom we would do well to revive, at a time when people behave as if they were immortal, and then find it difficult to face their own death, or to accompany another through the final stage of life. An even better way of remembering death, though, is to remember the dead, observing a period of mourning for deceased loved ones—not of gloom, but of remembrance and prayer. As Hamlet bitterly remarks of his mother’s truncated remembrance of her husband, “there’s hope a great man’s memory may outlive his life half a year” (Act 3, Scene 2).”

Love, remember death,

Catholic Counter-reformation (1545-1648)

“An Incident in the Life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (The Renunciation of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary)”, by James Collinson, 1851. Oil on canvas; 47 ¾ x 71 ½ inches (120.3 x 181.6 cm). Collection of Johannesburg Art Gallery.

-by Steve Weidenkopf

10/5/23 “… marks the three hundred and twentieth birthday of the American Protestant theologian and revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who is credited with unleashing the Great Awakening Protestant revival in the American colonies during the 1730s. Edwards preached a cycle of sermons to his congregation in Massachusetts, which he later published in the 1737 book A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God.

Edwards’s preaching and book sparked a renewed interest in spirituality among colonial Protestant congregations in the 1740s. The movement spawned a market for revivalist literature and spread rapidly throughout parts of New England. Although there were many supporters of the movement, its focus on individual expressions of spirituality, as well as some of its teachings, clashed with the practices and doctrines of various Protestant groups. The extent of the Great Awakening’s impact is debated, but there is no doubt that the movement marked a significant historical event in the spiritual life of the American colonies.

Several centuries earlier, the Catholic Church underwent its own “awakening,” although the revival of Catholic life and spirituality in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries is more aptly described as a renewal and authentic reform. The Catholic Reformation, undertaken mostly as a response to the Protestant Revolt unleashed by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others, was initiated by Pope Paul III (r. 1534-1549). Before his papal election, Alessandro Farnese had been a cardinal for forty years and was unceremoniously known as “Cardinal Petticoat” because he was the brother of Giulia Farnese, the mistress of Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503), who created Alessandro a cardinal. Paul had been the oldest cardinal (sixty-seven years) in the college, and so expectations of his pontificate were not high, but he surprised his contemporaries with the longest pontificate, fifteen years, in a century.

Paul III focused his energies on providing the foundation for the most comprehensive and successful renewal movement in Church history, the key component of which was the calling of an ecumenical council that eventually opened in 1545 in the city of Trent. The first meeting produced doctrinal decrees concerning the role of Scripture and Tradition, the canon of Scripture, original sin and justification, and the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. Reform decrees banning the practices of absenteeism and pluralism were also approved. However, the outbreak of plague dictated a suspension, which lasted four years.

Sadly, Paul III did not live to see the completion of the Council of Trent because he died during the suspension. It would take another sixteen years for the council to complete its work to undertake the necessary renewal and reform of the Church.

The Council of Trent was a key component of the Catholic Reformation, but the work of implementing the conciliar decrees and inculcating them into everyday Catholic life was undertaken by multiple saints and the establishment of a new religious order, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The Jesuits focused their efforts for the Catholic Reformation on the sacraments, education, and missionary activity. Additionally, the Jesuits placed an emphasis on catechesis as well as higher levels of learning, and their educational work was expressed in the establishment and staffing of universities throughout Christendom.

The reform and renewal of Catholic life during the Catholic Reformation produced a Catholic “awakening” in individual piety, new religious orders, and renewed artistic expression. It also sparked one of the greatest evangelization efforts in Catholic history.

While the Protestant Great Awakening was ongoing in colonial America, the Church was moving toward the end of the Catholic Reformation, which had produced a period of growth and vitality not seen for centuries. After the death of Pope Clement XII and a tedious and long six-month conclave, the mid-eighteenth century witnessed the pontificate of compromise candidate Pope Benedict XIV (r. 1740-1758), an erudite scholar with interests in science and literature. As pope, Benedict made conciliation and concession the hallmarks of his pontifical policy concerning both internal and external issues. A peaceful and pious man, he eschewed conflict and division, and his actions increased esteem for the moral authority of the papacy among Protestant and Catholic secular rulers. As an example, Benedict deftly navigated the vexing question of mixed marriages between Catholics and Protestants, which had impacted the Church for some time with different theological opinion and pastoral practice. In the 1748 bull Magnae nobis admirationis, Benedict XIV decreed the permissibility of mixed marriages under certain conditions, pre-eminent among them the raising and education of children from these unions as Catholics. Other pontifical actions included ecumenical dialogue with the Eastern churches, the renewal of Pope Clement XII (r. 1730-1740)’s prohibition of Catholic membership in Freemasonry, a revision to the Roman Martyrology, and the establishment of academies in Rome for the clerical studies in Roman and Christian antiquities and Church history. Benedict went to his eternal rest on May 3, 1758.

Pope Benedict XIV’s successors did not enjoy the time of peace present in his pontificate. The tranquility experienced by the Church at the time of the Protestant “Great Awakening” in colonial America and initiated by the earlier Catholic Reformation was shattered by the end of the eighteenth century. The vitality of Catholic institutions and missionary activity was sorely tested in the “Enlightened” age of absolutist monarchs, revolutionary elements, and the post-Christian world. By the end of the century, the Church faced attacks from secular rulers bent on controlling all aspects of national life, and from “enlightened” skeptics, who sought to diminish or eradicate the Church’s role in the public arena. The Society of Jesus, at the forefront of the Catholic Reformation and responsible for great missionary activity and a revitalization of lay Catholic piety, was attacked and expelled from most European nations and, eventually, suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773. Soon after that infamous event, the Church suffered the bloodlust of French revolutionaries, who dismantled Catholic life within the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.”

Although the attacks against the Church in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from external and internal enemies were substantial, the “awakening” of Catholic living from the Catholic Reformation provided the solid foundation for the Church to weather the storms of the modern age.”

Love & truth, ut unum sint,

The dubia

Left to right: German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Chinese Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun.

Listening to the Vatican, internal Catholic Church communication, is an art, requiring much experience and sensitivity to foreign languages and cultures. It is not an easy do.  I am the poorest and most ignorant example of one who tries.  However, here are some of the best sources I have come across in trying to understand.  I hope they prove useful to you as well.  The Vatican is a master of language.  I do not believe there is another human counterpart. It is about nuance, not soundbite.  Listen carefully, pray, let the Holy Spirit speak to you, have compassion and pray for all parties involved, sinners are we all.  It is incumbent upon the Catholic to constantly inform and educate their consciences, the highest authority in the Church and for the person.  Imagine the pressure and gravest of responsibilities to govern and helm the barque of Peter with the responsibility for ~1.8 billion souls with the mission to reunify and/or evangelize ~8 billion, and to show the compassion and love of Jesus Christ as well as the truth of His teachings for the last two thousand years.  Listening to soundbites and headlines is equivalent to ignorance, only more sinful.  Human beings, human politics, God help us!  He will.

October 2, 2023 . 7:39 AM

“A group of five cardinals asked Pope Francis this summer to answer five “dubia,” or doubts, related to the synod on synodality.

The request was made public on the eve of the long-awaited gathering in Rome, which Vatican watchers say could lead to far-reaching changes in the Church.

The five dubia, presented Aug. 21 to the pope and the Vatican’s doctrine czar, posed questions about doctrinal development, same-sex blessings, the status of the synod on synodality, women priests, and the conditions for sacramental absolution.

An initial draft of the five questions — signed by the German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, the U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, the Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, and Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen — was presented July 10 to Pope Francis and Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the then prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The pope reportedly replied the next day with an extensive letter in Spanish. But according to the Italian Catholic journalist Sandro Magister, the cardinals believed that it did not answer their questions.

“Although signed by Francis, the letter displayed the writing style of his trusted theologian, the Argentine Victor Manuel Fernández, who would soon take on the new role of prefect of the dicastery for the doctrine of the faith,” Magister wrote in an Oct. 2 post on his Settimo Cielo blog.

The five cardinals then sought to reformulate the questions so that they could only be answered “yes” or “no.”

Pope Francis has not responded to the rephrased dubia more than 40 days after they were submitted, Magister said.

But in an Oct. 1 report, Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper quoted Fernández, who formally took up the role of doctrinal prefect in September, as saying that the cardinals “obviously always have doubts, it’s a constant, you have to respect their passions though, everyone has their passion.”

Fernández, who received the cardinal’s red hat Sept. 30, reportedly added: “The pope has the freedom to respond or not, to consider whether to close a question or discuss it as will also be done at the synod, freely.”

In an Oct. 2 “Notification to Christ’s Faithful,” the five cardinals said they had decided to publish their questions ahead of the Oct. 4-29 synod on synodality so that Catholics “may not be subject to confusion, error, and discouragement but rather may pray for the universal Church and, in particular, the Roman Pontiff, that the Gospel may be taught ever more clearly and followed ever more faithfully.”

The cardinals’ first question asked whether it was possible “for the Church today to teach doctrines contrary to those she has previously taught in matters of faith and morals, whether by the Pope ‘ex cathedra’, or in the definitions of an Ecumenical Council, or in the ordinary universal magisterium of the Bishops dispersed throughout the world”.

The second said: “Is it possible that in some circumstances a pastor could bless unions between homosexual persons, thus suggesting that homosexual behavior as such would not be contrary to God’s law and the person’s journey toward God?”

This was followed by a related question asking: “Does the teaching upheld by the universal ordinary magisterium, that every sexual act outside of marriage, and in particular homosexual acts, constitutes an objectively grave sin against God’s law, regardless of the circumstances in which it takes place and the intention with which it is carried out, continue to be valid?”

The third question was: “Will the Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome, and which includes only a chosen representation of pastors and faithful, exercise, in the doctrinal or pastoral matters on which it will be called to express itself, the Supreme Authority of the Church, which belongs exclusively to the Roman Pontiff and, ‘una cum capite suo’ [‘together with its head’], to the College of Bishops.”

The fourth asked: “Could the Church in the future have the faculty to confer priestly ordination on women, thus contradicting that the exclusive reservation of this sacrament to baptized males belongs to the very substance of the Sacrament of Orders, which the Church cannot change?”

The fifth and final question said: “Can a penitent who, while admitting a sin, refuses to make, in any way, the intention not to commit it again, validly receive sacramental absolution?”

The five dubia echo a set of five questions presented to Pope Francis in 2016 regarding the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, his apostolic exhortation on love in the family, which received no response.

The 2016 dubia were presented by two of the five cardinals who signed the 2023 request for clarification — Cardinal Brandmüller and Cardinal Burke — as well as the Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who died in 2017, and the German Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who died the same year.

The Vatican released the pope’s eight-page response in Spanish to the initial dubia following their publication Oct. 2. An English translation of the reply was published on Cardinal Burke’s official website.

In the translation posted by the U.S. cardinal, Pope Francis said that the time of the synod on synodality, which is due to end in October 2024, was a period in which questions were being asked about the Church’s structure and mission.

“With great sincerity, I tell you that it is not very good to be afraid of these question marks and questions,” the pope wrote. “The Lord Jesus, who promised Peter and his successors indefectible assistance in the task of caring for the holy people of God, will help us, also thanks to this synod, to keep ourselves always more in constant dialogue with the men and women of our time and in total fidelity to the Holy Gospel.”

“However, although it does not always seem prudent to me to respond to the questions addressed directly to me (because it would be impossible to answer them all), in this case I think it is suitable to do so because of the closeness of the synod.”

The response addressed the five July dubia one by one, beginning with the first question, “about the claim that we should reinterpret Divine Revelation according to the cultural and anthropological changes in vogue.”

The pope offered an eight-part reply, which began: “The answer depends on the meaning you give to the word ‘reinterpret.’ If you mean ‘interpret better,’ the expression is valid.”

It continued, citing the Vatican II document Dei Verbum: “In this sense, the Second Vatican Council stated that it is necessary that the work of the exegetes — I would add of theologians — ‘may help the Church to form a firmer judgment.’”

In response to the second question, on “the claim that the widespread practice of the blessing of same-sex unions would be in accord with Revelation and the Magisterium,” the pope wrote: “The Church has a very clear conception of marriage: an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children. She calls ‘marriage’ only such a union.”

He went on: “This is why the Church avoids any kind of rite or sacramental that could contradict this conviction and imply that something which is not marriage is recognized as marriage.”

“In dealing with persons, however, we must not lose the pastoral charity that must permeate all our decisions and attitudes. The defense of the objective truth is not the only expression of this charity which is also made of kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement. Therefore, we cannot make ourselves into judges who only deny, reject, exclude.”

“Pastoral prudence must therefore properly discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more people, that do not convey a misconception of marriage. Because, when a blessing is requested, it is a request for help from God, a plea to be able to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us to live better.”

Concluding his answer with reference to his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, the pope said: “Decisions that may be part of pastoral prudence in certain circumstances need not be transformed into a norm. In other words, it is not appropriate for a diocese, a conference of bishops, or any other ecclesial structure to authorize constantly and officially procedures or rules for every type of affair, since everything that ‘is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule’ since this ‘would … lead to an intolerable casuistry.’”

“Canon law should not and cannot cover everything, nor can conferences of bishops pretend to do so with their various documents and protocols, because the life of the Church runs through many channels besides the normative ones.”

Responding the third question, about whether synodality is a “constitutive element of the Church,” the pope wrote: “As you well recognize that the supreme and full authority of the Church is exercised either by the pope in virtue of his office or by the college of bishops together with its head, the Roman pontiff … nevertheless, with these dubia, you yourselves manifest your need to participate, to give freely your opinion and to collaborate, and thus claim some form of ‘synodality’ in the exercise of my ministry.”

He went on: “The Church is a ‘mystery of missionary communion,’ but this communion is not only affective or ethereal, but necessarily implies real participation: that not only the hierarchy, but all the People of God, in different ways and at different levels, can make their voices heard and feel part of the Church’s journey. In this sense we can indeed say that synodality, as a style and dynamism, is an essential dimension of the life of the Church.”

But he said this was this quite different from trying “to sacralize or impose a particular synodal methodology that one group likes, to make it the norm and the obligatory channel for all.”

Replying to the fourth question, about a belief among pastors and theologians that priestly ordination can be conferred on women as the Church’s theology has changed, the pope stressed that “when St. John Paul II taught that the impossibility of conferring priestly ordination on women must be affirmed ‘in a definitive manner,’ he was in no way denigrating women and giving a supreme power to men.”

Referring to Pope John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Francis added: “On the other hand, to be rigorous, we should recognize that a clear and authoritative doctrine on the exact nature of a ‘definitive statement’ has not yet been fully developed. It is not a dogmatic definition and yet it must be complied with by all. No one can publicly contradict it and nevertheless it can be the object of study, as in the case of the validity of ordinations in the Anglican Communion.”

In answer to the fifth question, about whether repentance is a necessary condition for sacramental absolution, Pope Francis wrote: “Repentance is necessary for the validity of sacramental absolution and implies the intention not to sin. But there is no mathematics here, and once again I must remind you that the confessional is not a customs house.”

“We are not masters, but humble stewards of the sacraments that nourish the faithful, for these gifts of the Lord, rather than relics to be guarded, are aids of the Holy Spirit for the life of persons.”

“There are many ways of expressing repentance. Often, in people with a very wounded self-esteem, to declare themselves guilty is a cruel torture, but the very fact of approaching confession is a symbolic expression of repentance and of the search of divine help.”

October 3, 2023 . 3:51 AM

Pope Francis, the Church learned Monday, answered the dubia.

Not — to be clear — the questions posed to him after the 2016 publication of Amoris laetitia — questions so long unanswered that “answer the dubia” has become a meme in some Catholic circles.

But the pope answered this summer another set of dubia — questions asked and answered back in July, pertaining to the synod on synodality, and released Monday in a kind of piecemeal fashion, with two sets of questions asked by five cardinals first reported by Italian journalist Sandro Magister, and then the Vatican taking the unusual step of releasing the pope’s answers to the first set of questions.

When he did so, the pope set off international headlines — and a great deal of controversy — regarding the prospect that he might permit the liturgical blessing of same-sex couples.

Of course, it’s a matter of debate whether Francis actually said something to merit that speculation. But on this issue, it’s worth looking beyond what Francis has said, to what he has done, and what he has chosen not to do.

There is a lot contained in the pope’s dubia responsa, with the answers to five questions spread across eight pages in the original Spanish. And while much of what the pontiff said he has said before, there will be debate over several topics addressed in the text — and debate over the dubia themselves, and what exactly the cardinals meant to accomplish by asking the pontiff questions and then, unsatisfied with his answers, rephrasing the questions and asking them again.

But the biggest headline to emerge from the story is the notion — repeated in both the Catholic and secular press — that Pope Francis has approved the prospect of “blessing” same-sex couples, signaled “openness” on the subject, or, as one newspaper put it, “softened” the Church’s “ban” on the practice.

The story came from language in the pope’s July 11 letter, published by the Vatican. In response to a question about whether it is possible for the Church to consider same-sex unions as “possible goods,” the pope wrote several paragraphs which emphasized that there are relationships — presumably same-sex relationships among them — which are “not morally acceptable.”

The pope added that “the Church avoids any kind of rite or sacramental that could contradict” its doctrine regarding marriage, or “give the impression that something that is not marriage is recognized.”

Still, Pope Francis also allowed for the possibility that some kind of blessing could be conferred on one or more Catholics in “not-marriage” unions.

“Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage. Because when a blessing is requested, one is expressing a request for help from God, a plea to be able to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us to live better.”

In short, the pope seemed to say, when people in an irregular union — perhaps a same-sex union — come to the parish for a blessing, it is worth discerning what they’re really asking for, and whether there is some way the Church can respond to that, even while avoiding the appearance of a nuptial blessing.

That idea got framed as a “softening” or an “openness” to the blessing of same-sex unions, and controversy erupted on Monday, across media outlets, among the commentariat, and across social media.

To some, the pope’s language is not entirely different from what the DDF said on the subject in 2021.

But some Catholics say the devil is in the differences — and that some small differences should be taken very seriously.

In 2021, the DDF, with Francis’ approval, clarified that it is not possible for the Church to bless same-sex unions, because God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

That clarification — which also came in response to a dubium — was widely seen as a surprisingly conservative move in the Francis papacy, hailed by many orthodox Catholics, and maligned by Catholics hoping that Francis would usher in change to the Church’s doctrine on homosexuality.

But while it prohibited liturgical blessings of same-sex couples, the DDF statement also affirmed that the prohibition on nuptial blessings did not preclude the possibility of “blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”

Some observers note that while the 2021 statement spoke about “individuals,” the 2023 responsa spoke about “one or more persons.”

And while the 2021 statement “declare[d] illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge [same-sex] unions as such,” the 2023 statement made no such proviso.

Still, some argue that Francis didn’t rescind the 2021 statement — which was published with his explicit approval — and that the 2023 statement, and its seemingly limitless possibilities, are actually curtailed by the DDF statement — that the 2023 text should be read in light of the earlier statement on the subject, which could be understood as a kind of limiting principle.

But for some Catholics, Francis seemed to be broadening the scope of possible blessing well beyond the 2021 statement, allowing for the possibility that self-identified gay couples might receive together a kind of blessing that would, in some ways, resemble marriage — despite the pope’s explicit prohibitions of that possibility.

One observer called such a possibility “nuclear,” and others have pointed out that Francis risks an actual schism — or at least a concerted pushback from bishops around the world — if he adopts even a semi-official “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the prospect of liturgical blessings for same-sex couples.

Except, by appearances, the pope already has — at least tacitly.

Of course, only time will tell what the pontiff means about same-sex blessings in principle — his July 11 answer can be read in more than one way, and, indeed, it has been.

But in practice, it’s worth noting that Belgian bishops published last year a text allowing for a ritual blessing of same-sex couples, and the pontiff has — to date — not yet intervened.

Even while the pope’s 2023 responsa said explicitly that episcopal conferences should not produce such ritual texts, the pope has not intervened to stop the Belgian bishops from publishing one, stepped in after a German bishop said last month that he would not penally sanction priests who offer liturgical blessings to gay couples, or addressed a kind of protest-blessing performed by priests for gay couples in the cathedral plaza in Cologne.

That might be the point on which everyone can agree — that regardless of whether the pope’s July 11 letter was permissive or restrictive on same-sex blessings in principle, the pontiff himself has already been at least passively permissive on the subject in practice, without any public response to the European dioceses where the practice is quickly becoming enshrined as a matter of course.

While Catholics argue over whether Francis made his policy of toleration explicit in the July letter, it might not actually matter much.

Despite the scandal of official tolerance, or published ritual texts, at the diocesan and episcopal conference level, Francis seems content to work behind the scenes on episcopal discipline — if he is working at all — with no public statement on the decisions in Belgium and Germany.

In fact, few serious observers in the Church have expected that any clarity will come on orthopraxy regarding same-sex liturgical blessings until after a future conclave — Pope Francis does not seem inclined to address the pragmatic realities of bishops who are ignoring Vatican directives on the subject.

After the dubia — and the responsa heard round the world — most Catholics will be looking to the synod on synodality, to see whether Pope Francis will signal again more openness to the prospect of liturgical blessings for same-sex couples.

The pope likely won’t. And while he might be asked about it on his next airplane trip, and he might offer more reflections, it’s not likely they’ll be concrete. It’s most likely that when he speaks about the subject, the pope will continue to focus on welcome, and pastoral discernment, without elaborating on the clear limits that might give definition to his reflections, but making some reference to the 2021 statement when pressed.

In short, his future reflections are most likely to be vague enough to be subject to broad interpretations.

It is not clear that the decisions of Belgian bishops, and the clergy in Germany, reflect what the pope actually thinks about the issue of liturgical blessings for same-sex couples. But the pontiff is more than a theologian — he is the governor of the universal Church. And some Catholics will be looking closely in the months to come at the parishes of Flanders, and the cathedral square in Cologne.

There, the question will be not what the pope chooses to say, but what he chooses to do — if anything.”

Love and truth,

CCC 846 – Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

-please click on the image for greater detail

Vatican Piazza

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Explicit & implicit faith: who can be saved?

CCC 846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; He is present to us in His body which is the Church.

He Himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door.

Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

-by Bp Robert Barron, Bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.

“You have probably heard by now that a statement made by Bishop Américo Aguiar has caused quite a stir. Aguiar is the auxiliary bishop of Lisbon, Portugal, and he is the chief coordinator of the upcoming World Youth Day. Moreover, he was, in a very surprising move, just named a cardinal by Pope Francis. So he is a man of considerable weight—which is one reason why his remarks have gotten so much attention. He commented, in reference to the international gathering over which he is presiding, “We want it to be normal for a young Catholic Christian to say and bear witness to who he is or for a young Muslim, Jew, or of another religion to also have no problem saying who he is and bearing witness to it, and for a young person who has no religion to feel welcome and to perhaps not feel strange for thinking in a different way.” The observation that excited the most wonderment and opposition was this: “We don’t want to convert the young people to Christ or to the Catholic Church or anything like that at all.” I will admit that the remark of his that disturbed me the most, however, was this one: “That we all understand that differences are a richness and the world will be objectively better if we are capable of placing in the hearts of all young people this certainty,” implying that fundamental disagreement on matters of religion is good in itself, indeed what God actively desires. Lots of Catholics around the world have been, to put it mildly, puzzled by the cardinal-elect’s musings.

In the wake of the controversy, Bishop Aguiar, to be fair, has walked back his statements quite a bit, insisting that he meant only to criticize the aggressive, brow-beating manner of sharing the faith that goes by the unlovely name of “proselytizing.” (I must say that this clarification still does nothing to explain his straightforward assertion that he does not want to convert young people to Christ or to the Catholic Church.) But for the moment, I will let that go and take him at his word. Nevertheless, I would like to address a wider cultural issue that his intervention raises—namely, the simple fact that most people in the West would probably consider his original sentiments uncontroversial.

Behind so much of the language of tolerance, acceptance, and non-judgmentalism in regard to religion is the profound conviction that religious truth is unavailable to us and that it finally doesn’t matter what one believes as long as one subscribes to certain ethical principles. Provided one is a decent person, who cares if he or she is a devout Christian, Buddhist, Jew, or Muslim—or nonbeliever? And if that is the case, then why wouldn’t we see the variety of religions as a positive, one more expression of the diversity that so beguiles the contemporary culture? And given this epistemological indifferentism, wouldn’t any attempt at “conversion” be nothing more than arrogant aggression?

As I have been arguing for years, and pace the current cultural consensus, the Catholic Church places an enormous emphasis on doctrinal correctness. It most assuredly thinks that religious truth is available to us and that having it (or not having it) matters immensely. It does not hold that “being a nice person” is somehow sufficient, either intellectually or morally; otherwise, it would never have spent centuries hammering out its creedal statements with technical precision. And it most certainly does maintain that evangelization is its central, pivotal, most defining work. St. Paul himself said, “Woe to me if I do not evangelize” (1 Cor. 9:16); and Pope St. Paul VI declared that the Church is nothing but a mission to spread the Gospel. Neither the first-century St. Paul nor the twentieth-century St. Paul thought for a moment that evangelizing is tantamount to imperialism or that religious “diversity” is somehow an end in itself. Rather, both wanted the whole world to be brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is precisely why every institution, every activity, every program of the Church is dedicated, finally, to announcing Jesus. Some years ago, when I was an auxiliary bishop in California, I was in dialogue with the board members of a Catholic high school. When I commented that the purpose of the school was, ultimately, evangelization, many of them balked and said, “If we emphasize that, we’ll alienate most of our students and their parents.” My response was, “Well, then you should close the school. Who needs one more secular STEM academy?” Needless to say, I was never invited back to address that board! But I didn’t care. When any Catholic institution, ministry, or outreach forgets its evangelical purpose, it has lost its soul. 

The same goes for World Youth Day. One of Pope St. John Paul II’s greatest contributions to the Church, World Youth Day has always had, inescapably, an evangelical élan. It delighted the great Polish pope that so many of the young people of the world, in all of their diversity, came together at these gatherings, but if you had told him that the true purpose of the event was to celebrate difference and make everyone feel comfortable with who they are, and that you had no interest in converting anyone to Christ, you would have gotten a look to stop a train.”

Love & truth,

Is the Church losing?

-by Monica Doumit

“In the past five years or so, Australia has seen the redefinition of marriage, abortion up until birth permitted, as well as the prohibition of any pro-life witness—even silent prayer—around abortion facilities, euthanasia and assisted suicide made lawful in every state, legal protections for the confessional seal removed, the onslaught of gender ideology, and the most egregious attacks on religious liberty potentially seen in the Western world. In my role as the director of public affairs and engagement for the Archdiocese of Sydney, I have been directly involved in each of these socio-political battles . . . and have lost each time. I don’t want to brag, but if losing at the culture wars were an Olympic sport, I would be a gold medalist.

It’s quite likely that the years ahead will not see any ground regained. Our politics is broken and our society largely secularized; often we know that even before a proposed anti-Catholic law is debated, the politicians have enough votes and public support to pass them. Most likely, we’ll sustain further losses.

Given this, I tend to wonder whether it is worth engaging in the fight at all.

On the one hand, I know that Catholics must resist these bad laws whenever they are presented. On the other, these campaigns are costly. They cost the time of those involved in opposing the laws; they come at a financial cost to the diocese and other donors; and well-mounted campaigns often provide false hope to Catholics and others of goodwill that we might prevail. The disappointment of those who are fighting for the good is also a cost of defeat.

As someone with a say in the Catholic response on a high level, whether and to what extent we should risk incurring these costs is a question that causes me many sleepless nights.

I recall some advice I received from a good and holy bishop on this point. He quoted The Art of War, in which Sun Tzu exhorts leaders against fighting if it will not result in victory. The bishop told me we should focus our resources on those battles we can win and withdraw from the others.

I take his point, but with all respect, I disagree. Instead, I take the approach of American playwright James Goldman, who wrote the screenplay for the 1968 film the Lion in Winter. It centers on the story of King Henry II and his three sons, King John, Richard the Lionheart, and Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany.

Henry determines that he wants none of his three sons to succeed him. He imprisons them with the intention of having them executed so that he can bear a new son with a new wife. At one point, Richard the Lionheart believes he can hear Henry approaching to kill them and boldly announces, “He’s here. He’ll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn’t going to see me beg.” Geoffrey scoffs, “Why, you chivalric fool—as if the way one fell mattered.”

Richard replies, “When the fall is all there is, it matters.”

That is the posture toward losing battles that I think we need as Catholics: “When the fall is all there is, it matters.”

We need to fight every battle, even if we know we will not be successful. Because while there might be such a thing as a losing battle, there is no such thing as a futile one.

Battles aren’t futile, because all battles make us stronger. And if we allow ourselves to learn from them, they also make us smarter. Every loss is an opportunity to assess our strategies and to grow.

Battles also bring unity. Recent cultural battles have united Catholics, other faith groups, and faith-based operators. Each time these issues arise, people who have not previously worked together become teammates overnight. Theological differences and distrust are cast aside, and collaboration reigns. As a dear friend of mine often tells me, unity is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s work.

Another reason to fight losing battles is that it’s very good for the faithful to see their shepherds stand for truth, and to lead them in ways that they can contribute to the fight as well. Our bishops might think losing a battle fought publicly will diminish their credibility in the eyes of the faithful, but that’s not the case at all. We love hearing our bishops courageously speak the truth.

It is in the Church’s nature to fight injustice and to speak up for the vulnerable. Even if our voices aren’t heard now, alongside the story of every human rights abuse must also be the record of the Church speaking out.

The fight also sets an example for future generations, to form them and remind them that there is a fight to be had. We might not see the fruits, but we cannot expect the next generation to continue the battle if we haven’t told them one exists.

Because resistance is formative.

One of my heroes, Blessed Clemens von Galen, used sermons in 1941 to preach against the Nazi regime. In one of them, he spoke of the indoctrination that was occurring in the schools. Using the analogy of a hammer and an anvil, Bishop von Galen said that the anti-Catholic influences on our kids were the hammer; the family was the anvil. He explained that a piece of metal gets molded not only by the blows inflicted by the hammer, but also by the firmness and immovability of the anvil. In absorbing and resisting the pressure of the hammer, the anvil is equally formative. We have to remember that our resistance has the ability to teach and to form.

We also have to model hope and model faith that we will be successful. We are not excused from hope, nor from trust in a God Who moves mountains. My self-identification as a professional loser must be attended to by a professional hoping. It is a different type of hope—and, possibly, a little purer, because it is only rarely met with consolations. Engaging in battles that are sure to be losers removes attachment to the outcome and stops the need to see the fruit of our labors. We fight them only because they are the right thing to do, and not because we expect to see any rewards in this life. (Ed. easier said than done.)

If you want to build virtue, put on your armor for a losing battle.

I think there is no better recent example of this than the pro-life movement in the United States, because it is a reminder that the battle for a civilization of life and love is the work of generations.

When Nellie Gray organized that first March for Life in 1974, it wasn’t supposed to be an annual event. The expectation was that Congress would see the obvious flaws in Roe v. Wade and legislate to correct the error.

With each year of no legislative action, Nellie and others kept marching. When they saw no measurable or meaningful social, political, or judicial progress—for decades—they kept marching. They marched through the literal and figurative winter of the stranglehold of the culture of death.

Nellie died ten years before the Dobbs decision was handed down, and so she never got to see the fruits of her efforts this side of heaven, but she taught us to persevere through a decades-long winter of hostility and indifference from the public and the politicians and keep fighting.

Just as my namesake, St. Monica, was told the son of so many tears would not perish, the prayerful remembrance and tears were fruitful in working toward the realization of a civilization of life and love.

Here in Australia, where we so often experience drought, we have a saying that every day of drought we endure is one day closer to rain. As Christians, we know that each day of Lent is one day closer to Easter. And each day these terrible anti-life and anti-family and anti-reason laws are in place is one day closer to them being overturned.

Just as we have the certainty that God has already won the victory, we also know that we are not fighting losing battles at all because ultimately, the culture of life wins. The culture of death is self-defeating because it is inherently sterile. The culture of death produces no offspring; it leaves no progeny; it will itself wither and die.

And we will win.

We will outlive, outbreed, outlove, outpray, outserve, outsmart, and outvocation all those outside and inside the Church who oppose a civilization of life and love. I am more confident of this now than I have ever been. It’s a great time to be Catholic. Thanks be to God.”

Love, & “Now there remain these three: faith, hope, and love.” 1 Cor 13:13

“Better a weak faith, than a strong heresy.” – St Thomas More

“Make Christianity Weird Again!” – Tom Holland

The early church was Catholic

-by Jim Blackburn, Catholic Answers

“Protestants often claim that the Church that Jesus founded was the “Christian Church,” not the Catholic Church. The biblical evidence cited for this claim is found in the Acts of the Apostles: “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians” (Acts 11:25-26).

Many modern Christians then suppose that the Catholic Church was founded by mere men much later in Christian history.

No doubt, disciples in the early Church became known as Christians. But does this mean that their Church was not the Catholic Church? A little historical study into the church at Antioch reveals that these early Christians’ church was, indeed, the Catholic Church.

One of the things Peter did before he went to Rome was to found the church in Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman Empire at the time. He ordained a disciple there named Evodius to the episcopacy and appointed him the bishop of Antioch. Evodius is believed by many to have been one of the seventy disciples Jesus appointed to go ahead of him to the towns and places where he taught during his second missionary journey (see Luke 10:1). It was during Evodius’s reign as bishop of Antioch that the disciples there were for the first time called Christians. But this isn’t the end of the story!

While Paul was teaching the Christians in Antioch during Evodius’s reign, another young disciple was moving up through the ranks. His name was Ignatius, and he would later become known as Saint Ignatius of Antioch, an early Christian martyr. Ignatius was a disciple of John. Legend has it that, much earlier in his life, Ignatius was the child whom Jesus took in his arms in a passage recorded by Mark:

[Jesus] sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 11:35-37)

This legend demonstrates the great esteem his memory has enjoyed since the early centuries of the Church.

At Antioch, Ignatius was ordained by Paul, and then, at the end of the reign of Evodius, he was appointed bishop of Antioch by Peter. He reigned there for many years before his martyrdom in Rome. On his way to Rome to be martyred, he wrote several letters to fellow Christians in various locations, expounding on Christian theology. He especially emphasized unity among Christians (see John 17) and became known as an Apostolic Father of the Church.

In one of his letters (to Christians in Smyrna), he wrote, “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.” This is the earliest known written record of the term “Catholic Church” (written around A.D. 107), but Ignatius seemingly used it with the presumption that the Christians of his day were quite familiar with it. In other words, even though his is the earliest known written record of the term, the term likely had been in use for quite some time by then, dating back to the time of the apostles.

The term “Catholic Church” (Gk. katholike ekklesia) broadly means “universal assembly,” and Ignatius used it when writing to the Christians of Smyrna as a term of unity. He exhorted these Christians to follow their bishop just as the broader universal assembly of Christians follows Christ. He clearly uses the terms “Christian” and “Catholic Church” distinctly: disciples of Christ are Christians; the universal assembly of Christians is the Catholic Church.

Some might claim that Ignatius intended to use the term “Catholic Church” not as a proper name for the Church, but only as a general reference to the larger assembly of Christians. If so, then the universal assembly had no proper name yet, but “Catholic Church” continued in use until it became the proper name of the one church that Christ built on Peter and his successors.

Thus, we see that the Christians of Antioch were part of the Catholic Church. They were indeed Christian disciples, but they were also Catholic. Given the unbroken chain of succession at Antioch—from Peter (sent by Christ) to Evodius to Ignatius—if any Christian today wishes to identify with the biblical Christians of the first century mentioned in Acts 11, it follows quite logically that he must also identify with those same Christians’ universal assembly: the Catholic Church.”


The Church is the Cross through history

-by Fr. Stephen Freeman

“The Church is the Cross through history.

St. Paul wrote that he had determined to restrict his preaching to the Cross. (1 Cor. 2:2) This was not an effort to diminish the gospel. Rather, it was an effort to rightly understand the gospel. One of the great temptations of Christianity is to allow itself to become a “religion,” that is, to serve whatever role that religions of any sort play within a culture and the life of an individual. Despite every atheist protestation, religion abides – and if there is not one that is inherited, then a culture will invent new ones.

St. Paul’s concentration on the Cross – Jesus Christ crucified – was a direct affront to religion itself. To understand this, though, requires that we see the Cross for what it is. Christianity as religion reduces the Cross to a moment in time, a historical moment that is celebrated for its importance. On the Cross, Christ died for our sins. This simple statement, however, can itself be reductionist. “Christ died, I’m forgiven, now I can get on with my life.” St. Paul has something very different in mind. He says:

“I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live. Yet not I, but Christ, lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

The Cross is more than the single event in the life of Christ. It is the single event for every believer, lived moment by moment, at all times and all places. It is the very center of our being.

In Holy Baptism, we are not merely “joining the Church,” nor are we merely “washing away our sins.” Holy Baptism is not a rite of membership. Rather, Holy Baptism is being plunged into the death of Christ (Romans 6:3) and raised into the likeness of Christ’s resurrection. Believers are given a Cross to wear as part of their Baptism – a token to remind us that our new life is nothing other than living in union with the Crucified Christ.

That reality informs the commandments of Christ. We forgive our enemies because Christ forgave His enemies on the Cross (“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”) We share what we have with others (in the Cross we can live as though we own nothing). It represents the definition of love: “Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.” (Eph. 5:25).

It is the abandonment of the Cross (or its redefinition as “religious” event) that betrays the Church and its primary identity. It was inevitable, it seems, that the Church would eventually become the “religion of the empire.” It is a position that Christianity, in nearly every form, has endured since the 4th century. There is, of course, a critique of Christianity that its very essence was betrayed in the tolerance given by Constantine and his successors. I do not agree that the Church’s essence changed – but it would be dishonest to think that its essence was not tempted and tested. Some failed the test.

Power is an ever-present temptation in this world. It offers the notion that we can, by force (of arms or law), achieve our desired ends. That was true under emperors and tsars, and remains true within modern democracies. When Pilate questioned Jesus regarding the nature of His kingdom, Christ was very clear that His kingdom “is not of this world.” He adds that were His kingdom of this world – then His disciples would arm themselves and fight. That many Christians through the ages have imagined armed struggle to be an important element of the Christian life is a testament to our confidence in the weapons of this world and our lip-service to the Kingdom of God.

The Church is the Cross through history. The reality of the crucified life has never disappeared from among us. Before Constantine, God brought forth the movements of monasticism. While Bishops were facing the temptations of imperial blandishments, the monks and nuns were refuting every worldly option. At times, the presence of monastics created a tension within the Church. The crucified life is seen most clearly when it stands out against a background of worldliness.

I think that times of turmoil, such as we endure at present, have their own form of imperial temptation. We long for order, for normalcy, for stability. That longing can make us easy prey for the various solutions offered by the world. There is an interesting phrase in the Liturgy of St. Basil. The priest prays for God to “make the evil be good by Thy goodness.” The temptation within our hearts would likely rephrase that prayer – simply saying, “Make the evil be good.”

God has never offered us any solution other than the Cross. St. Paul readily admitted that the Cross appears to be “weakness” and “foolishness.” The Cross is a clown in a world of scholars. He nevertheless declares it to be the “wisdom and power of God.”

As we gather to recall Christ’s death on the Cross we should rightly recall the Cross within us. We should recall that the weakness and foolishness of God is the path we have been commanded to walk. If we tremble at the thought, even saying, “Let this Cup pass away from me,” then, it would seem, we will have gotten it about right.

The Church is the Cross through history. It is the only gate to Pascha’s (Easter’s) paradise.”


mortem nostram moriendo destruxit – He destroyed our death by dying

“What does the Christian faith have to say about death? The message is direct and uncomplicated: death exists, it is the most serious of our problems, and Christ has defeated it! A very decisive human event took place with the result that human death is no longer the same. In faith, we are given this incredible news that only the coming of God himself on earth could accomplish. Like a serpent whose poison can only anesthetize its victim for a short time but cannot kill him, death has lost its sting. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54–55).

This news about death is proclaimed in the Gospel by a Roman centurion: “And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Mk 15:39). This centurion knew all there was to know about combats and combatants, and he immediately understood that the loud cry—the battle cry, as it were—that Jesus uttered when he breathed his last was the cry of a victor and not of a defeated victim.

How, then, did Jesus overcome death? Not by avoiding it, but by accepting it, by savoring all its bitterness. Jesus overcame death from within, not from outside. Let us recall the words of today’s second reading: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death” (Heb 5:7). Our high priest is certainly not one who is unable to understand our weaknesses, especially our fear of death. He knows very well what death is! Three times the Gospel records how Jesus was “greatly disturbed,” and two of them were in response to someone’s death (see Lk 7:13; Jn 11:33). At Gethsemane, Jesus fully experienced human anguish in the face of death. He “began to be distressed and agitated,” the Gospel tells us (Mk 14:33)—two words that indicate profound bewilderment, a kind of solitary terror, like someone who feels cut off from human society. Jesus did not face death like someone with “an ace up his sleeve” to pull out at the right moment. At times during his life, Jesus showed us that he knew he would rise again, but this was a special knowledge that he was not privy to share with, when, and as he wished. His cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46), shows that that certitude was not humanly available to him at that moment.

Jesus faced death as we do, like someone who crosses a threshold in the dark and cannot see what is beyond. He was sustained only by his steadfast faith in the Father, which made him exclaim: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” (Lk 23:46).

* * *

What happened when Jesus crossed that dark threshold? The Fathers of the Church explained it through imagery. Death, like a voracious animal, attacked even Christ and devoured him as if he, too, like every other human being, was in its power. But like a fish hooked after taking the bait, death itself became ensnared. This particular human—the Word of God who, by nature, cannot die—was made of iron. In biting him, the fangs of death were broken forever. In a homily given on Good Friday, a bishop of the second century exclaimed: “As his Spirit was not subject to death, Christ destroyed death which was destroying man” (Melito of Sardis, On Pascha, 66).

Christ overcame death by dyingmortem nostram moriendo destruxit. This is the paschal cry rising in unison from both the Eastern and Western Churches today. Death is no longer a wall, smashing everything that crashes into it. It is a passage—that is, a Passover. It can be likened to a “Bridge of Sighs” beyond which we enter into real life where there is no death.

The most awesome part of the Christian message is that Jesus did not die just for himself. Unlike Socrates, Jesus did not simply leave us an example of heroic death. He did something quite different: “One has died for all” (2 Cor 5:14), St. Paul exclaimed, and elsewhere Scripture puts it “that he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9). These are extraordinary statements, and the only reason we do not shout for joy when we hear them is that we do not take them seriously and literally enough. “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (see Rom 6:3). We have entered into a real, even if mystical, relationship with that death. We have become sharers in death, so much so that St. Paul is bold enough to proclaim in faith, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3), and again, “One has died for all; therefore all have died” (2 Cor 5:14).

As a consequence, we are no longer our own, but we belong to Christ (see 1 Cor 6:19ff), and whatever is Christ’s belongs also to us, even more than what is our own. We participate in Christ’s death even more than in our own death. St. Paul says: “The world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor 3:22–23). Death belongs to us more than we belong to death. In Christ, we, too, have defeated death.

For Christianity, the most important factor concerning death is not that we must die but that Christ has died. The fear of death does not break through to our human conscience, but Christ’s death does. Jesus came on earth, not to escalate our fear of death, but to free us from it. The Son of God shared fully in our flesh and blood “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14).

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of death is the solitude with which we must face it. We face it alone. Martin Luther said, “No man can die in another’s place; each must personally fight his own battle against death. No matter how hard we cry out to those around us, each one of us must face it alone” (Luther, Weimarer Ausgabe, vol. 10, 31ff). But this is no longer entirely true. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Tm 2:11). It is possible to die with someone!

This demonstrates the gravity of the problem euthanasia presents from the Christian point of view. Euthanasia deprives human death of its link to Christ’s death. It strips it of its paschal nature, changing it back to what it was before Christ. Death is deprived of its majestic awesomeness and becomes a human determination, a decision of finite freedom. It is literally “profaned”—that is, deprived of its sacredness.

* * *

From time immemorial humans have never ceased to seek countermeasures to offset death. One remedy, characteristic of the Hebrew Testament, is to live on in one’s children. Another is fame. A pagan poet tells us, “I shall not completely die” (non omnis moriar); “I have raised a monument more lasting than bronze” (exegi monumentum aere perennius) (Horace, Odes, III, XXX).

In our day, reincarnation is a new and widespread pseudo-remedy. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment” (Heb 9:27). Only once, semel! The doctrine of reincarnation is incompatible with the Christian faith, and besides, reincarnation, as it is presented in Western countries, is simply the result of an enormous misunderstanding. Originally, as in all religions professing it, reincarnation was not intended to be an extra installment of life but of suffering. It was not a cause for consolation but for fear. It was as if to say, “Be careful, if you do evil, you will be born again to atone for it!” Reincarnation was both a threat and a punishment. It was like telling a prisoner who had almost completed his sentence that, upon further consideration, the sentence was doubled and had to be repeated. In modern times, everything has been adapted to our materialistic and secularized Western mentality. Reincarnation, conceived before Christ’s Resurrection, has become an alibi for people to elude the seriousness of both life and death.

The real remedy is that which the Church recalls on this day every year: “One has died for all!” “Christ died for the sake of all!” To fortify ourselves for death, all we have to do is draw close to Christ and anchor ourselves to him in faith like a boat anchored to the bottom of the sea to withstand an impending storm. In the past, numerous ways were proposed for getting ready for death. The main way was to think about death often, to describe it and depict it in its most dreadful particulars. However, the important thing is not so much to keep our death in mind but to keep Christ’s death in mind, not a skull, but the crucifix. Our degree of union with him will be our degree of certainty in the face of death.

Our attachment to Christ must far exceed our attachment to anything else: our work, our loved ones—everything—so that nothing will be strong enough to hold us back when the time comes for us “to depart” (2 Tm 4:6). When St. Francis of Assisi was close to death, after having himself reached this perfect degree of union with Christ, he added this verse to his Canticle of Creation: “Praised be you, my Lord, through our sister, bodily death, from whom no living man can escape.” When told that his end was approaching, Francis exclaimed: “Welcome, my Sister Death!” Death is no longer the same; it has become our sister.

Francis was not alone in this sentiment. After the last World War, the Last Letters from Stalingrad was published (1950). This was a collection of letters written by German soldiers, all of whom perished in the siege of Stalingrad.

The letters were in the last convoy to set out before the final onslaught by the Red Army. In one of those letters, a young soldier wrote these words to his mother: “I do not fear death. My faith gives me this wonderful assurance!”

* * *

Before he died, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, and in doing so anticipated his own death. He showed that his death was not just a chance occurrence or the consequence of someone else’s decision. He gave death meaning, a meaning that he, not his enemies, determined. Jesus transformed death into a memorial of the New Covenant, an expiation for sin, the supreme gift of love to the Father on behalf of all people. “Take this,” he said, “all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” At every Mass, we, too, are given this wonderful opportunity of giving meaning to our death before it takes place, of uniting ourselves to Christ in order to make it a living sacrifice to him, a libation to be poured out, as St. Paul says (see 2 Tm 4:6).

One day toward evening, while sitting by the lake, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side!” (Mk 4:35). The time will come when he will say those same words to us: “Let us go across to the other side.” Blessed are those who, like the disciples, are ready to take him “just as he was,” and set sail with him in faith.

Today, profound gratitude erupts from the hearts of believers and all humanity. Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, in the name of those who know and those who don’t yet know that you died for them. Thank you for sweating blood for us, for your distress, and your cry of victory from the cross. Embrace those now departing this world and repeat to them what you said to the Good Thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in Paradise!” (Lk 23:43). “Stay with us, Lord, when evening comes and our day will be nearly over” (see Lk 24:29).