Category Archives: Ecclesiology

CCC 846 – Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

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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).


Conquistadors – saviors of souls

-please click on the image for greater detail

-by Steve Weidenkopf

“The Catholic conquistador Hernán Cortés occupies a preeminent place in the modern pantheon of villainous Catholic personages. It is common to find the explorer in lists of the “most brutal” conquistadors. The five hundredth anniversaries of his landing at Veracruz in 1519 and conquest of Mexico in 1520-1521 produced varied reactions in Spain and Mexico. In November 2019, Mexican president Andrés Manuel López-Obrador criticized Cortés at a press conference. Like many other historical personages who have been roped into the clutches of “presentism” (a modern bias in historical interpretation that judges the past based on modern sensibilities), Cortés’s legacy is called into question in the modern world. Efforts to “cancel” his memory and achievements and to tear down statues erected in his honor (including in his hometown of Medellín, Spain) dominate the current view of this sixteenth-century Catholic conquistador.

Amid these historical attacks against the Church and her past members, today’s Catholics are oftentimes bewildered and uncertain how to respond. Catholics are susceptible to two erroneous responses to these anti-Catholic historical criticisms: an unflinching and uncritical triumphalism that highlights the good and ignores the bad of Church history and the “ostrich” approach of ignoring the controversy at best and implicitly accepting the false historical narrative at worst. The Catholic defender of Church history must fight these extreme positions and seek the historical truth through knowledge, understanding the context of historical events, and recognizing that people in the past were men and women endowed with free will, which was sometimes exercised virtuously and sometimes not.

The point of defending the Church’s history against false historical views and narratives of the modern age is to protect the Church against detractors who use history to discredit the Church and her teachings. Defense of Catholic personages and historical events from the “mythistory” of the present does not indicate complete acceptance of past persons or actions, but instead seeks authentic understanding so that controversial events can by explained (but not necessarily justified).

So who was Hernán Cortés, and what did he accomplish? How should Catholics in the modern world view this man and his actions?

While the Church was embattled in the theological revolution, which soon turned political, in German territory in the early sixteenth century, on the other side of the world, an unauthorized expedition of five hundred Spaniards left Cuba for a journey to the interior of modern-day Mexico. Nearly three decades after Columbus’s first voyage to the New World, the Spanish soldier Hernán Cortés landed his ships at Veracruz on Good Friday 1519 with multiple objectives, chief among them the conversion of the indigenous peoples to the Catholic faith. His army marched with two banners, with red and black with gold trim, with the Spanish coat of arms on one side and the cross of Christ on the other.

At the beginning of their journey, Cortés remarked to his men, “Brothers and companions, let us follow the sign of the Cross with true faith and in it we shall conquer.” He ordered the destruction of their ships, so that failure was not an option, and began the trek inward.

Cortés was a skillful military leader and tactician and an excellent motivator of men. Additionally, whatever his faults, he was a man of deep, pious faith and a faithful son of the Church. Bernal Díaz, one of Cortés’s soldiers who wrote an account of the conquest toward the end of his life, described the first conquistador’s faith life: “[He wore] just a thin chain of gold of a single pattern and a trinket with the image of Our Lady the Virgin Saint Mary with her precious Son in her arms. . . . He prayed every morning with a [book of] Hours and heard Mass with devotion; he had for his protector the Virgin Mary our Lady . . . as well as the Lord St. Peter and St. James and the Lord St. John the Baptist.”

Cortés marched his troops to the Mexica (the proper name for the rulers of the Aztec Empire) capital city of Tenochtitlán (on the site of the future Mexico City), a metropolis of 200,000 people in the center of a lake. The Aztec Empire consisted of a warlike people who conquered neighboring tribes to expand their empire and provide the human capital needed to satiate their bloodthirsty gods (the Hummingbird Wizard and the Lord of the Dark, among others).

The Mexica practiced more human sacrifices than any other New World native peoples. Every imperial city and large town had a central square from which a temple pyramid, where human sacrifices were performed, rose to the sky. The victim was laid on a table, where a priest would cut out his beating heart and hold it aloft for the worshipers to see. Imperial law mandated 1,000 human sacrifices a year in every temple, which totaled nearly 20,000 victims annually. Thirty years before the Spanish arrival in the city, the human sacrificial toll surpassed 80,000 during a four-day inauguration of the Great Temple.

Cortés sought the end of the grotesque and barbaric human sacrifices in conversations with the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma II. Eventually, Cortés arrested Moctezuma, an action deemed necessary for Spanish protection, and received permission from the emperor, in January 1520, to allow the placement of an altar, a cross, and an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Great Temple. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass replaced the demonic human sacrifices for three months in the temple, but the Mexica priests were agitated and incensed at the stoppage.

Moctezuma was held in captivity for six months before his death (accounts differ as to the manner of death, with blame placed either with the Mexica or the Spanish). When Cortés left the city to deal with the arrival of another Spanish force sent to arrest the conquistador for his unauthorized foray, a large group of unarmed Mexica warriors were massacred by the remaining Spanish while dancing during a temple festival. This raised the ire of the indigenous population and forced the Spanish to flee the city. Cortés led his remnant army to Tlaxcala, a neighboring region containing a tribe hostile to the Mexica. Establishing alliances with Tlaxalans and other indigenous tribes, Cortés and the Spanish captured Tenochtitlán in August 1521, dealing a significant blow to Mexica hegemony.

The eventual conquest of the Aztec Empire was not as swift as usually portrayed, but occurred through a combination of Spanish military and technological superiority, and, most importantly, significant indigenous ally support. Cortés was aided by a former Mayan female slave known as Malintzin, who was among a group of twenty slaves given to the Spanish by the native people of Tabasco. Malintzin served as interpreter for Cortés and later became his mistress and bore the conquistador a son (Martin). Malintzin, like Cortés, has been maligned in modern memory as a traitor to her people who assisted Cortés for material and personal gain.

The conquest of New Spain was a bloody affair. The Spanish suffered significant casualties (over fifty percent) during the two-year war, but the Mexica suffered substantially more. Although Cortés estimated that his troops killed twelve thousand natives, the more likely number over the entire two-year campaign was near a million.

There is no doubt that the Spanish conquistadors and subsequent colonization severely impacted the indigenous peoples of the New World, both negatively and positively. Negatively, the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire resulted in a catastrophic death toll from violence and the unintended introduction of European diseases. Positively, Cortés expedition ended the barbaric practice of human sacrifice in the empire, and Spanish evangelization efforts, undertaken without much success until the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe a decade afterward, brought the light of Christ to a new area of the world.

Hernán Cortés was no saint, but he was a man of his age and culture, who, at least in part, was motivated by a desire to see the gospel communicated to people enslaved in darkness. Catholics cannot justify many of his actions in the New World, but, by studying authentic history, and not the false narratives rooted in presentism, we can understand the context in which he lived and acted and more effectively defend Catholic history against inappropriate and nefarious attacks.”

Love & truth,

“In our own lives, each one of us must answer, voluntarily or not, the question about being human.”

-by Christopher Check

“When he was yet Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI delivered four homilies using passages from the book of Genesis as points of departure. These later became a book: “In the Beginning”: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall.

The book gets to the heart of the matter. “In our own lives,” Benedict declares, “each one of us must answer, whether he or she wants to or not, the question about being human.”

Even after God came down from heaven and gave us the answer, we continue in no small number to cast about for an explanation of why we are here. Indeed, the assertions by nihilist historians such as Yuval Noah Harari—that all the meanings we attach to life are delusions—are evidence that the question will never go away.

Whereas the Socratics and the Scholastics would have contemplated the question with quiet serenity, we pursue it with anxiety, created and exacerbated by the ubiquity of screens. In screens so many of us search, and search, and search, without even realizing that it is meaning we’re searching for. How enervating a search, and how hopeless!

Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, knew where to locate our meaning, and he devoted his priesthood to directing and redirecting our focus there. He pointed us to the complementary realities for which man was made, the two experiences necessary for living a full life: divine worship and human friendship. As he insisted in his brilliant Spirit of the Liturgy, we must get the former right to get the latter right: “It is only when man’s relationship with God is right that all of his other relationships—his relationships with his fellow men, his dealings with the rest of creation—can be in good order.”

Where, how, does man put his relationship with God in good order? It is in the same place—the same experience—where he locates his meaning: in the liturgy.

Pope Benedict knew that we, in the post-conciliar age, had lost our sense of this truth. In his 1985 interview with Italian journalist Vittorio Messori, Benedict, then Joseph Ratzinger, called our attention to “the post-conciliar [liturgical] pluralism,” noting that it was strange that it had “created uniformity in one respect at least: it will not tolerate a high standard of expression.”

It would be reductionist to understand this observation merely as the future pope seeking to rescue the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from banal sanctuaries, insipid music, the innovations of narcissistic liturgists, and the extemporizing of bored priests. As his papacy would show, through his profound theological reflections on liturgy—ever rooted in his extraordinary grasp of Scripture, his command of classical languages, and his understanding of the anthropology of ritual sacrifice—and through his restoration and promotion of the traditional Latin Mass—Pope Benedict understood and wanted the faithful to understand that man is most himself participating in the liturgy, because it is in the liturgy that, on this side of the veil, man is most united—heart to heart—with God. So sacred an encounter, by virtue of the gravity and sublimity of its nature, must be elevated in its forms and expressions above all other human activity.

This word, participating, confounds us because we think Christianity is a religion of doing rather than being. What is meant by participation, or even “active participation”—participatio actuosa, as the Second Vatican Council puts it? “Unfortunately, the word,” Cardinal Ratzinger said, “was very quickly misunderstood to mean something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people as possible should be visibly engaged in action.” Visit today a parish where even the most reverent Mass of Paul VI—what Benedict called the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite—is offered, and witness, for example, the collective arm-raising during the prayer “We lift them up the Lord” . . . even if it’s rendered “Habemus ad Dominum.” You will see what is not participation, but, in fact, a distraction from what Cardinal Ratzinger identified as the actio divina.

What should the faithful be doing at Mass, then, if not opening their arms or calling out responses or looking for work in the sanctuary? “The real action in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate,” Benedict wrote, “is the action of God Himself.” In the “oratio, the priest speaks with the I of the Lord—‘this is My body,’ ‘this is My blood.’” At this moment, Benedict asks us, “are not God and man completely incommensurable? Can man, the finite and sinful one, cooperate with God, the Infinite and Holy One?” The answer is yes, and it is this cooperation that the Church intends when calling for our participation in the liturgy—not a participation of moving and speaking, but rather the participation that comes from cooperating in mind and spirit with what is happening on the altar. This requires the active engagement not of our arms, but rather, as the rite says, of our hearts. That engagement can be given silently, and no less ardently for the silence. Perhaps it should.

This participation, which becomes a constant living in the presence of God, informs and transforms all our other relationships, all our friendships. The Christian who leads such an integrated life, one that begins with participation in a rightly ordered liturgy, becomes another St. Andrew, bringing his brother to Christ.

In 2007, on the Feast of St. Andrew, Pope Benedict XVI published his second encyclical, Spe Salvi. “In hope we are saved,” it begins, quoting St. Paul to the Romans. This salvation, Benedict continues, citing the patristic studies of Henri de Lubac, “has always been considered a ‘social’ reality.” Real life, the pope declares, can be attained only within the context of “we.” The “individual,” an impossible concept conceived by Enlightenment philosophers, and one that their less imaginative heirs today keep attempting to foist on us, makes no sense to the Christian.

In marriages, in families, in associations and friendships and religious orders, we are not individuals, but a communion of persons. The Trinity—the God in Whose image we are made—is a communion of persons. Our road back from the hopelessness of an atomized society of screens to true friendships is true liturgy. Pope Benedict XVI pointed the way—and will continue to.”

Amen. I am in a desert wasteland of liturgy. The ancient Greek philosophers began with the question “What is the life well lived?”  The question remains to each person who dares live it as weighty and profound and pressing as ever.

Lord, have mercy on us.


Dec 28 – Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs – Baptism of Blood, Martyrdom by Grace

«La Vierge à l’Enfant entourée des saints Innocents», huile sur bois (Hauteur. 138 cm ; largeur. 100 cm) de Pierre Paul Rubens. – Œuvre executée vers 1618, appartenant au musée du Louvre (Paris). – Ref. Nº INV 1763, photographiée lors de l’exposition temporaire « Rubens et son Temps » au musée du Louvre-Lens. Please click on the image for greater detail.

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

“Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, in which we praise as saints and martyrs the children murdered in Jesus’ stead by King Herod, who feared the news of the birth of a rival king.

The biblical basis for this feast is Matthew 2:16, which says that “Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.”

Prudentius (348-c. 413) wrote his beautiful Salvete flores Martyrum in their honor, as part of his larger poem in honor of the Feast of the Epiphany. There are various English translations, but I’m fond on this one by Nicholas Richardson:

Hail, all you flowers of martyrdom,
whom, at life’s very door,
Christ’s persecutors slew, as storms
the new-born roses kill!

O tender flock, you are the first
of offerings to Christ:
before his altar, innocent,
with palms and crowns you play.

But do the Holy Innocents deserve to be called saints, much less martyrs? After all, “martyr” means “witness,” and it’s not as if they were voluntarily witnesses who went to their deaths for the sake of Christ. As Charles Péguy observes, the Holy Innocents were “the only Christians assuredly who on Earth had never heard tell of Herod” and “to whom, on Earth, the name of Herod meant nothing at all.” Even calling them “Christians” seems wrong, since they weren’t baptized and knew no more about Jesus than they did about Herod. Right?

Wrong. Jesus speaks of his own death as a kind of baptism, saying during his public ministry, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). The early Christians picked up on this. Though insisting that baptism is necessary for salvation, Christians like St. Cyprian are clear that “they certainly are not deprived of the sacrament of baptism who are baptized with the most glorious and greatest baptism of blood.”

Similarly, Tertullian describes the blood and water flowing from the pierced side of Christ (John 19:34) as the “two baptisms,” which Jesus gives us “in order that they who believed in his blood might be bathed with the water; they who had been bathed in the water might likewise drink the blood.” He views this “second font,” martyrdom, as “the baptism which both stands in lieu of the fontal bathing when that has not been received, and restores it when lost.” So the early Christians didn’t view martyrdom as an exception to the need to be baptized. Rather, they viewed it as a sort of baptism—in blood instead of water.

So it’s not an exaggeration to say that the Holy Innocents—who died for Christ, and even died in Jesus’ place—were baptized in blood. We can be assured of their salvation, since Jesus promised that “whoever loses his life for My sake, he will save it” (Luke 9:34).

And all this despite their young age. St. Irenaeus, writing c. 180 AD, says that God

suddenly removed those children belonging to the house of David, whose happy lot it was to have been born at that time, that He might send them on before into His kingdom; He, since He was himself an infant, so arranging it that human infants should be martyrs, slain, according to the Scriptures, for the sake of Christ, who was born in Bethlehem of Judah, in the city of David.

This is an important detail: St. Matthew presents the death of these children not simply as a tragedy, but also as a fulfillment of “what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah” (Jer. 31:15; Matt. 2:16-18). So these infants are martyrs in a unique way, since their death helps to prove that the child Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Their death also reveals Christ as the New Moses. Prudentius makes this connection in his poem:

’Mid his coevals’ streams of blood
the Virgin’s child, alone
unharmed, deceived the sword, which robbed
these mothers of their babes.

Thus Moses, savior of his race,
and Christ prefiguring,
did once escape the foolish laws
which evil Pharaoh made.

So there are biblical reasons for understanding the Holy Innocents as martyrs in the sense of “witnesses.” Their death tells us something about Jesus Christ.

Cyprian, writing in the middle of the third century, describes the Holy Innocents not only as martyrs, but as a sort of prototype for all martyrs:

The nativity of Christ witnessed at once the martyrdom of infants, so that they who were two years old and under were slain for His name’s sake. An age not yet fitted for the battle appeared fit for the crown. That it might be manifest that they who are slain for Christ’s sake are innocent, innocent infancy was put to death for His name’s sake. It is shown that none is free from the peril of persecution, when even these accomplished martyrdoms.

By their death, the Holy Innocents also teach us something of the ruthlessness of the Enemy, as well as something about the Christian life—namely, that we’re not promised it will be easy. After all, if even these pure and innocent children should suffer such a fate, why should we expect to be spared hardship or persecution?

But Cyprian also highlights where we tend to go wrong in our thinking about martyrdom. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of martyrdom as a kind of good work that the martyr does for Christ. But the early Christians warned against this. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, written within a year of Polycarp’s death in 155, contrasts St. Polycarp’s martyrdom with the failed martyrdom of Quintus, who “forced himself and some others to come forward voluntarily” to trial, in an attempt to be martyred, only to end up apostatizing and offering sacrifice to the pagan gods.

Instead, martyrdom is a grace that—if need be—we receive from Christ. As Cyprian says, “the cause of perishing is to perish for Christ. That Witness Who proves martyrs, and crowns them, suffices for a testimony of His martyrdom.” So it’s not the Holy Innocents who make themselves martyrs. It’s ultimately Christ Who makes them saints and martyrs.

Just as Christ makes saints of babies in water baptism every day, He gave the Holy Innocents the grace of becoming saints and martyrs through the baptism of blood, so that (in Péguy’s words), those “who knew nothing of life and received no wound except that wound which gave them entry into the kingdom of heaven.”

Love & Merry Christmas,

I look from afar – Aspiciens a longe

I look from afar:
and lo, I see the power of God coming,
and a cloud covering the whole earth.
Go ye out to meet Him and say:

Tell us, art Thou He that should come
to reign over Thy people Israel?

High and low, rich and poor, one with another.
Go ye out to meet Him and say:

Hear, O Thou shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep.
Tell us, art Thou He that should come?

Stir up Thy strength, O Lord, and come.
To reign over Thy people Israel.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

I look from afar:
and lo, I see the power of God coming,
and a cloud covering the whole earth.
Go ye out to meet Him and say:

Tell us, art Thou He that should come
to reign over Thy people Israel?

Why must we believe certain doctrines not explicitly found in the Bible?

In short: because the Church teaches it. As has been pointed out many times by many apologists over the years, the very idea that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith is not only nonsense, but explicitly refuted by Scripture itself.

  • “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).
  • “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess. 2:15).
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account” (Heb. 13:17).
  • “If I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

So, the idea of the Bible being the ultimate source and arbiter of truth is false on its face. Scripture itself disproves this belief. The Church is the guardian of the deposit of faith, faithfully transmitting the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christ commissioned the Church to teach all nations (see John 14:26, 16:13), and we know that under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church teaches us what is true.

Love & truth,