Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Survival Guide for Thinking Catholics – Ten tips from Rev. Tom Reese, S.J.

“Thinking Catholic is not an oxymoron.”  -MP McCormick
Born out of conscience, which St Thomas Aquinas says is inviolable, erring or not, Summa Theologiae Ia, q. 79, a. 13 – “Whether conscience is a power?” Aquinas’ treatment on natural law can also be found in ST I-II, q. 92 + ff.
“For Aquinas, every conscience binds, even an erring one. This means that if there is something that you believe you cannot do (after having taken care to form your conscience as well as you can), even if the Church commands it, then you cannot do it without committing a sin. Likewise, if there is something you believe you must do, even if the Church forbids it, then you must do it or else commit a sin. The command of one’s conscience to do or not do something against what the Church directs has to be pretty strong in order to fit what Aquinas is talking about.”
-Joseph M. Magee, Ph.D.
In the Regan lecture delivered on April 26, 2006 cosponsored by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, Reese outlined his strategies for Catholics who think, question, doubt, debate, and disagree. Here are those strategies in a nutshell:
1. Understand what the Church is actually saying. Is your question the result of a misunderstanding or a true disagreement?
2. Our understanding should be inspired by sympathy, not sarcasm and cynicism. Whatever a person says should be interpreted in the best possible light, which is one of the things St. Ignatius says in his spiritual exercises. If we disagree, we should disagree as friends in the Lord, not as opposing armies of fanatics.
3. You have to do your homework. The issues that face the church today are complex and not solvable through sound bites. As Catholics, we do not believe it is sufficient simply to listen to the Pope and ignore scripture, but nor do we believe it is sufficient to simply read the scriptures in isolation from the believing community. For us, conscience is important—but it must be an informed conscience.
4. We are a believing community with 2,000 years of tradition and history. We need to know our history—our triumphs and our failures, our saints and our sinners. A study of history helps us take the long view. Things have been worse, things can get better. For example, prior to the 20th century, a Catholic understanding of the Bible appeared to be in conflict with science. Today, contemporary biblical scholarship not only has eliminated this conflict, but helped us to better understand the Bible. Imagine what is going to be the situation 100 years from now as people look back on our time. How many of our theological debates and doubts will seem as silly as those caused among Christians when they discovered that the Earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa?
5. It is important to distinguish between law and doctrine. If you are a conservative and want a return to the pre Vatican II liturgy, don’t let anyone tell you that you are a heretic. If you are a liberal and believe that married men should be ordained, don’t let anyone tell you that you are a heretic. The question of married priests, the question of Latin in the liturgy, these are not doctrinal issues. These are matters of canon law and liturgical law. Laws have changed over time, laws can change again.
6. Understand the level of authority of a doctrinal position with which you disagree. Popes have only made two infallible declarations since Vatican I, the time when the infallibility of the Pope was defined: on the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. Some people tend to give all Vatican statements a definitive or infallible status, and that is just not the case.  Today we see that even longstanding teachings of the church can sometimes change. The church now teaches that capital punishment is wrong, whereas for centuries it had no problem with it; in fact, popes executed people in the papal states. Likewise, the Church is rethinking its position on limbo. Most theologians now believe that unbaptized children go to heaven. This is not what I learned in the Baltimore catechism.
7. Know how to interpret the words in doctrinal statements. Catholics in the last generation have learned from scripture scholars that it is a mistake to understand the bible in a fundamentalist way. It is important to study the historical and cultural context of the writing, the literary style, and the audience to which it was addressed. The same is true of doctrinal statements. When a Vatican document says that homosexuals are intrinsically “disordered,” we tend to think of this as a psychological description, whereas the authors meant it as a philosophical description. You may still disagree, but it is important to understand what you are disagreeing with.
8. Sometimes the Church uses words that are open to multiple interpretations as a way of covering over differences and maintaining unity. This was certainly done at the second Vatican council. Paul VI wanted documents approved by what amounted to almost unanimity. Compromise and ambiguity were important to gain conservative votes. Problems arise today when this historical fact is ignored and conservatives go back and give unambiguous interpretations to words and phrases that were purposely ambiguous at the time.
9. In my parents’ day there were only two options when facing questions about your faith: “Accept what the Church says or leave.” This is more an Irish or Northern European response than a Catholic response. Certainly this is not the way Italians and Africans live their faith. Italians pick and choose just like the classic cafeteria Catholics in the United States. The only difference is Italians don’t question the Church’s authority publicly; they simply ignore it and do what they want. The response is much more cultural than theological.
10. We need to recognize there will always be disagreements in the Church because there have always been disagreements in the Church. The Acts of the Apostles discloses that Paul disagreed with Peter at the council of Jerusalem. What I find so delightful in this story is that the disagreement was resolved through a compromise: Gentiles would not have to be circumcised, but they would have to refrain from blood sacrifice to idols (no longer a problem) and from adultery (still somewhat of a problem).
In the Catholic Church, we believe that an informed conscience is our highest authority. We also believe in the importance of humility. One must pray not simply for the conversion of ones’ opponents, but for the conversion of oneself. Despite their weakness and sinfulness, Christians have faith in the word of God that shows them the way. Christians have hope, based on Christ’s victory over sin and death and his promise of the spirit. And Christians have love, that inspires them to forgiveness and companionship at the Lord’s table. Any survival strategy for thinking Catholics must be based on the virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Nov 9 – Solemnity of the Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran, 325 AD

-baptistry of St John Lateran

The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome. It was built during Constantine’s reign and was consecrated by Pope Saint Sylvester I in 324 AD. That church and the adjoining palace were destroyed during the “Babylonian Captivity”, or Avignon Papacy.  The current structure Pope Innocent X commissioned in 1646.


One of Rome¹s most imposing churches, the Lateran¹s towering facade is crowned with 15 colossal statues of Christ, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and 12 doctors of the Church. Beneath its high altar rest the remains of the small wooden table on which tradition holds St. Peter himself celebrated Mass.  As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, containing the papal throne (Cathedra Romana), it ranks above all other churches in the Roman Catholic Church, even above St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.


The basilica itself stands over the remains of the Castra Nova equitum singularium, the ‘new fort’ of the imperial cavalry bodyguard. The fort had been established by Septimius Severus in AD 193, but following the victory over Maxentius (whom the Equites singulares augusti had fought for) at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge by Constantine I the guard were abolished and the fort demolished. Substantial remains of the fort lie directly beneath the basilica nave. The rest of the Basilica site was occupied during the early Roman Empire by the palace of the gens Laterani. The Laterani served as administrators for several emperors; Sextius Lateranus was the first plebeian to attain the rank of consul. One of the Laterani, Consul-designate Plautius Lateranus, became famous for being accused by Nero of conspiracy against the emperor. The accusation resulted in the confiscation and redistribution of his properties.

The Lateran Palace fell into the hands of the emperor when Constantine I married his second wife Fausta, sister of Maxentius. Known by that time as the “Domus Faustae” or “House of Fausta,” the Lateran Palace was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine. The actual date of the gift is unknown but scholars believe it had to have been during the pontificate of Pope Miltiades, in time to host a synod of bishops in 313 that was convened to challenge the Donatist schism, declaring Donatism as heresy. The palace basilica was converted and extended, eventually becoming the cathedral of Rome, the seat of the popes as bishops of Rome.

Every pope from Miltiades occupied the Lateran Palace until the reign of the French Pope Clement V, who in 1309 decided to transfer the official seat of the Catholic Church to Avignon, a papal fief that was an enclave within France.  How and why that happened is a, some say very, long story I will spare you at the moment.

During the Avignon papacy, the Lateran Palace and the basilica began to decline. Two destructive fires ravaged the Lateran Palace and the basilica, in 1307 and again in 1361. In both cases, the Avignon papacy sent money to their bishops in Rome to cover the costs of reconstruction and maintenance. Despite the action, the Lateran Palace and the basilica lost their former splendor.

When the Avignon papacy formally ended and the Bishop of Rome again resided in Rome, the Lateran Palace and the basilica were deemed inadequate considering the accumulated damage. The popes took up residency at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and later at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Eventually, the Palace of the Vatican was built (adjacent to the Basilica of St. Peter, that already existed at the Vatican since the time of Constantine), and the papacy moved in; the papacy remains there today.

This feast was later made a universal celebration in honor of the basilica in reflection of the basilica’s primacy in the world as mother church.  The words: “Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput” are incised in the main door, meaning “Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.”. This feast was established as a sign of love for and union with the See of Saint Peter for the entire Universal Church.


The square in front of the Lateran Palace has a red-granite obelisk, the largest in the world, commissioned by Pharaoh Thuthmose III and completed by his grandson Thutmose IV in Karnak, and placed in the Circus Maximus before being re-erected in its current place.  Truly, suggestive of, to me, King of Kings.


Franciscan Reform: Francis & Clare


Clare and Francis both embraced the proposition of Gregory the Great that we are saved by those we despise.

-from “The Great Catholic Reformers…”, by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, USML

“The idea that God uses people we regard as unimportant or as offensive to save us by teaching us humility, which Gregory saw revealed in Christ’s life and in the stories of the Old Testament saints, had become quite commonplace (by Clare and Francis’ time).

Rather than demanding the recognition of rights, Franciscan reform demanded a willingness to be despised in order to save others…this idea makes Franciscan thought and reform largely inaccessible to people who privilege current categories of thought…Ideas such as inherent rights and modern notions of freedom would not begin to appear until roughly five hundred years later.

Both Clare and Francis subscribed to the idea that the path to peace was poverty.  They would not have understood contemporary ideas that there will be no peace until there is justice.  Instead, Clare and Francis believed it was necessary to give others more than they deserved to establish peace.

By calling Christians to actively embrace and steadfastly love evil people, Franciscan reform went beyond passive resistance.  Based on the belief that the only way to overcome fear is through love,…Francis forbid his brothers from growing angry, from gossiping, from revilement, detraction, judging, and condemning those who were corrupt…

In fact, there is something radically, and Clare said ‘wonderfully’, subversive about Francis & Clare’s desires and actions to give those who are corrupt more respect than they deserve.  By giving the corrupt more respect than they deserve, Francis and Clare were imitating the way Christ desires to give to sinners the grace they do not deserve.  Franciscan reform hopes to compunct the sinner into reform.

Franciscan reform is absolutely nonsensical to those who do not possess the fear of God.  It is the fear of God, the recognition that God is just and that people are not, which moves the sinner to seek reconciliation.  Grateful for the gift of salvation, the sinner learns to be gracious with others.  Fear of God also allows people to let go of their anger and desire for vengeance.  In this sense, the fear of God is a mercy for those who have suffered real oppression or evil.  Filled with this gift, the only pious or appropriate response to sinners, even clerical sinners, is to feel pity for them.”



Speak the Truth!

To Cardinal Francis George:

 “What is truth?”, Pilate asked.  -Jn 18:38

Eminence, I am definitely not in your shoes, Deo gratias, but I pray you will always speak the truth regardless of the consequences.  Jesus didn’t mince words and didn’t go around apologizing for the Truth as He is the Truth.  They crucified Him for it, as you well know.   We can certainly expect the same if we stand with Him.  The KKK and gay movements are enemies of the Church.  This is not a surprise. This is a well known fact.  There is no mystery here.  I trust this is what you were referring to in your comments, even if unprepared.  Do not be afraid.

“Do not be afraid”
Genesis 43:23
 Genesis 46:3
 Genesis 50:19
 Genesis 50:21
 Exodus 20:20
 Deuteronomy 20:1
 Deuteronomy 20:3
 Deuteronomy 31:6
 Joshua 11:6
 Judges 4:18
 1 Samuel 4:20
 1 Samuel 22:23
 1 Samuel 23:17
 1 Samuel 28:13
 2 Kings 1:15
 2 Kings 19:6
 2 Kings 25:24
 Nehemiah 2:2
 Psalm 49:16
 Proverbs 3:25
 Isaiah 37:6
 Isaiah 44:8
 Jeremiah 1:8
 Jeremiah 40:9
 Jeremiah 42:11 (2 times)
 Ezekiel 3:9
 Daniel 10:12
 Daniel 10:19
 Zephaniah 3:16
 Matthew 1:20
 Matthew 14:27
 Matthew 17:7
 Matthew 28:5
 Matthew 28:10
 Mark 5:36
 Mark 6:50
 Luke 1:13
 Luke 1:30
 Luke 2:10
 Luke 8:50
 Luke 12:4
 Luke 12:32
 John 6:20
 Acts 18:9
 Acts 27:24
 Revelation 1:17

“Do not fear”
Genesis 15:1
 Genesis 21:17
 Genesis 26:24
 Genesis 35:17
 Exodus 14:13
 Numbers 14:9
 Numbers 21:34
 Deuteronomy 1:21
 Deuteronomy 1:29
 Deuteronomy 3:2
 Deuteronomy 3:22
 Deuteronomy 31:8
 Joshua 8:1
 Joshua 10:8
 Joshua 10:25
 Judges 6:10 (You shall not fear the gods of the Amorites…)
 Judges 6:23
 Judges 3:11
 1 Samuel 12:20
 2 Samuel 9:7
 2 Samuel 13:28
 1 Kings 17:13
 2 Kings 6:16
 2 Kings 17:35 (You shall not fear other gods, nor bow…)
 2 Kings 17:37
 2 Kings 17:38
 1 Chronicles 22:13
 1 Chronicles 28:200
 2 Chronicles 20:15
 2 Chronicles 20:17
 2 Chronicles 32:7
 Nehemiah 4:14 (Do not be afraid…)
 Job 21:9 (Their houses are safe from fear..)
 Psalm 64:4
 Psalm 78:53 (He led them to safety so they did not fear)
 Isaiah 7:4
 Isaiah 10:24
 Isaiah 35:4
 Isaiah 40:9
 Isaiah 41:10
 Isaiah 41:13
 Isaiah 41:14
 Isaiah 43:1
 Isaiah 43:5
 Isaiah 42:2
 Isaiah 51:7
 Isaiah 54:4
 Isaiah 54:14?? (you will be far from oppression, for you will not fear..)
 Jeremiah 10:5
 Jeremiah 30:10
 Jeremiah 46:27
 Jeremiah 46:28
 Lamentations 3:57
 Joel 2:21
 Joel 2:22
 Haggai 2;5
 Zechariah 8:13
 Zechariah 8:15
 Matthew 10:26
 Matthew 10:28
 Matthew 10:31
 Luke 5:10
 Luke 12:7
 John 12:15
 John 14:27 (Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful)
 1 Peter 3:14 (Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,
 Revelation 2:10

 John 14:1 (Do not let your heart be troubled…)
 Acts 20:10

It also says:
Mark 4:40 “…Why are ye fearful? Have ye no faith?”
Matthew 8:26 “…Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?…”
Revelation 21:8 “But the fearful, and … (ext.)… shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Read more:

In my amateur hagiography, I have come to the conclusion if we are moving towards the Cross, we must be doing something right in imitation of the Lord.  The Lord respected persons, but not popular taboo.  He also was never afraid to point out and acknowledge their sin, regardless of whom they were or what trouble they could cause Him.  I pray you will always imitate the Lord, as His servant.  Pray for me.  Many, many Catholics are praying for you in Chicago.

If the world can’t handle the truth, that’s the world’s problem, the Scriptures tell us.  The world always has and always will have a problem with the Truth.  That’s a good indicator it is the truth.  So, Cardinal, whatever the Truth is, say that.  If its that pedophile priests were protected, say that.  If it’s another hate group taking on the Church, say that.  Follow the example of the Lord, and speak the Truth.

How far we have come?

All European judicial systems of the 13th-mid 17th centuries used torture.  Inquisitorial repression of the sexual offence of sodomy, considered, according to Canon Law, as a crime against nature, merits separate attention. This included cases of incidences of heterosexual and homosexual anal sex, rape, and separately bestiality. Civil authorities at times executed those convicted.

In 1506 at Seville the Inquisition made a special investigation into sodomy, causing many arrests and many fugitives and burning 12 persons, but in 1509 the Suprema in Castile declared that crime not within the jurisdiction of the Inquisition deciding that cases of sodomy could not be adjudicated, unless related to heresy. Alleging that sodomy had been introduced to Spain by the Moors, in 1524 the Spanish Ambassador to Rome obtained a special commission from Clement VII for the Holy Office to curb its spread by investigating laymen and clergy in the territories of Aragon, whether or not it was related to heresy; and proceeding according to local, municipal law in spite of the resistance by local bishops to this usurpation of their authority.

The tribunal of Zaragoza distinguished itself for its severity in judging these offences: between 1571—1579, 101 men accused of sodomy were processed and at least 35 were executed. In total, between 1570 and 1630 there were 534 trials (incl. 187 for homosexuality, 245 for bestiality, and 111 with unknown specification of the charges) with 102 executions (incl. 27 for homosexuality, 64 for bestiality and 11 uncertain cases).

The first sodomite was burned by the Inquisition in Valencia in 1572, and those accused included 19% clergy, 6% nobles, 37% workers, 19% servants, and 18% soldiers and sailors.[45]  A growing reluctance to convict those who, unlike heretics, could not escape by confession and penance led after 1630 to greater leniency. Torture decreased: in Valencia 21% of sodomites were tortured prior to 1630, but only 4% afterwards. The last execution in persona for sodomy by the Inquisition took place in Zaragoza in April 1633. In total, out of about 1,000 convicted of sodomy – 170 were actually burnt at the stake, including 84 condemned for bestiality and 75 for homosexuality, with 11 cases where the exact character of the charges is not known.

Nearly all of almost 500 cases of sodomy between persons concerned the relationship between an older man and an adolescent, often by coercion; with only a few cases where the couple were consenting homosexual adults. About 100 of the total involved allegations of child abuse. Adolescents were generally punished more leniently than adults, but only when they were very young (under ca. 12 years) or when the case clearly concerned rape, did they have a chance to avoid punishment altogether. As a rule, the Inquisition condemned to death only those “sodomites” over the age of 25 years. As about half of those tried were under this age, it explains the relatively small percent of death sentences.[46]
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Speak the Truth!

Matthew McCormick
Chicago, IL

Watermelon Catholicism


What is “works” without “faith”? -MPM


-Bishop Anthony Fisher O.P., Bishop of Parramatta, Australia, World Youth Day 2011 Catechesis, Madrid



A recent English survey found many people had never heard of Moses or the Magi, thought miracles were magic and that the cross is a piece of jewellery. You probably know people like that. Many who still identify as Christian have little personal faith, don’t really know much about it, and live as practical atheists, that is, as if there were no god. Others, though baptized, no longer even identify with any religion.

While we’ve been away a census was held in my country. About a quarter of the people or more will probably have said ‘No religion’ or else just left the religion question blank. Things might be different in your country: they might even be worse.

Now, most of these no-religion and blank-religion people are not ‘pagans’ in the traditional sense: they are not people who’ve never heard of Christ or Christianity. Most of them were Christened. They grew up in nominally Christian families and may even have gone to Catholic schools. Their surrounding culture was ostensibly Christian or at least had a long Christian heritage. But now they inhabit a world without God.

As Pope Benedict has observed, secularism marginalizes God by promising a ‘paradise’ without Him. Yet experience suggests that a godless world is not a heaven but a hell: ‘filled with selfishness, broken families, hatred between individuals and nations, and a great deficit of love, joy and hope’ (Benedict XVI, Message for the 26th World Youth Day, 3). All too often our media, educational, cultural and political institutions conspire against the civilization of love and truth, of respect and communion, and against our best efforts to share our Faith with the world.

Sometimes we bring it on ourselves. Some aspects of our lives can be a real ‘turn off’ for others: Christian ‘faithful’ whose faith is lukewarm or angry or hypocritical; families that neglect to encourage the practice of the Faith in each other; schools that fail to present it fully or attractively; pastors whose terrible misconduct undermines people’s faith; parishes that are unwelcoming; liturgies that are uninspiring; injustices and uncharities that are ignored.

Rather than passing on the Faith we can actually inoculate people to it. You probably had vaccinations as a child or when first you travelled. They work by giving people small doses of dead or impotent examples of that to which they will build immunity. Sometimes I think we build up resistance to the Faith in people by injecting them with a weak or dying religion.

One example of this is what I call Watermelon Catholicism. What do I mean by that? I mean a sweet but watery and even seedy kind of religion, with plenty of green-and-red moralising about ecology and justice but with no goal of a deeper conversion of hearts, a richer relationship with God and His Church. As Edinburgh philosopher, John Haldane, has observed, this focus on important ethical, social or political issues can ultimately amount to no more than ‘mere echoes of notions acceptable to the secular world, and familiar because of it.’ (‘The Waiting Game’, The Tablet, 5 Feb 2005, p. 9) Watermelon Catholicism apes secular modernity and reduces faith to morality, morality to a few politically correct causes, devotion to quaint customs, and Catholic identity to good citizenship. But Evangelising Catholicism should challenge our culture and ourselves, always calling us to more and better – to the communion of saints with God in this life and the next.

The last few popes have talked a lot about evangelization. Not all Catholics are comfortable with that. The word can conjure up images of televangelists after your money, soap-boxers predicting with relish that most people are damned, or door-knockers with dire warnings about the evils of the Popish Church. The idea can seem intolerant of other religions, which after all are other people’s paths to God. Some years ago, a UK survey found that evangelists were regarded as ‘better than tax inspectors but worse than prostitutes’ (The Tablet, 26 Oct 2002, p. 37). But evangelization need not be so scary.

Put simply, evangelization means proclaiming the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. It seeks to bring people to faith through a personal encounter with Him. Before he died the Father of World Youth Day, Blessed John Paul II, said that the time had come to commit the Church’s energies to a new evangelization in previously Christian communities that are falling away from the Gospel in the face of secularization and other cultural change (Novo Millenio Ineunte 40; Crossing the Threshold of Hope, pp. 113-4). The same might be said about formerly Christian institutions, families and individuals.

So concerned is our present Holy Father about the decline of faith in some places that he’s called for a Synod on the New Evangelization next year and established a permanent Vatican department to work on this. As a conversation starter the working document for the synod (‘lineamenta’) has already been published on the net. It reminds us that our proper concern to be tolerant must never blunt our ‘sense of boldness in proclaiming the Gospel’. We must grasp every opportunity to respond to people’s thirst for God. We must purify ourselves of fear, laziness, weariness or retreat into the self, embracing wholeheartedly our baptismal mission to communicate Christ to the world (Lineamenta for the Synod on the New Evangelization 5). Ask yourself: what is it that’s holding me back from proclaiming Christ crucified and Risen for all humanity?

So the new evangelisation is not just a job: it’s a whole ‘frame-of-mind’ (Lineamenta 6) or mind-set, a way of looking at God, ourselves and the world, of making sense of those things, and of understanding our own place and destiny. As we rediscover it for ourselves, we also help ‘weary and worn-out communities [to] rediscover the joy of the Christian experience’, to ‘find again the love they once had but lost’ (Lineamenta 6). So as the Lineamenta put so directly: “‘Being Christian’ and ‘being Church’ means being missionary; either one is or one is not. Loving one’s faith implies bearing witness to it, bringing it to others so they can participate in it. Lack of missionary zeal is lack of zeal for the Faith.’ (Lineamenta 10) If you imagine you can be a ‘spiritual’ Catholic without the ‘institutional’ Church or that you can be a Church-going Catholic without being missionary, you are not really a Catholic! But when Catholics are Church-connected and truly missionary they build up the Church as ‘the community of witnesses’, ‘the community of hope’, ‘the community of brotherly love’. Our world today needs that kind of testimony to Christ, that kind of communion with the saints, those kinds of reasons to believe, to hope and to love (cf. Lineamenta 17).

A young woman recently challenged me: I liked what you said about my generation being called to evangelise – but I’m not sure how. Her concern was a very practical one. Theologians and bishops can tell us a lot about the big picture, but what am I to do in my particular world? So in answer to her plea, here are my 10 commandments for the new evangelisation. Pope Paul once said ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.’ (Paul VI, Address to the Council for the Laity, 2 October 1974) It’s a very important point. How often have you been impressed by someone’s personality or example more than any speeches they gave; conversely, how often have you been turned off by someone’s failure to practice what they preach. The Church evangelises by being real. No pretence, no tricks. We tell it like it is. We live what we tell.

Thus my first commandment for witnesses is St Augustine’s: Christian, become what you are. Be proud of being a Catholic, live your faith honestly, with obvious joy, not ashamed to speak up when you have the chance but more importantly speaking with those silent but powerful words that are the living a fully Christian life, a holy life. There’s nothing more seductive than that, nothing more likely to allure and persuade and convert others.

Yet as the old adage goes, nemo dat non quod habet: you can’t give what you ain’t got. If you’re going to have any good ideas, anything interesting to say to the world, you need inspiration. So commandment number 2: Get inspiration from the best places. Go to God in adoration and prayer. Go to the Word of God in the Scriptures and the living tradition of the Church, told in documents like the Youth Catechism for World Youth Day.

If after WYD you have a hunger for more, do a good course on your faith, read some good books, iPod the great apologists, Google and YouTube what will really enrich your faith. Today I am so very honored to speak to you only inches away from the relics of St Therese of Lisieux; above me are statues of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. Read the lives of the saints and develop a relationship with them: they’ve struggled with issues like yours and by God’s grace came out on top. Above all, develop a relationship with Jesus Christ through those most privileged encounters with Him in Confession and Holy Communion.

Third commandment: Be open to God’s call. Some of you here are being called, right now, to give your lives to Christ, full time, in the sacred ministry as priests or religious. ‘Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are,’ says the bishop to the newly ordained deacon. ‘Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you preach.’ That powerful charge sums up the evangelical purpose of clerical and religious life. If you have a nagging sense that you could be a herald of the Gospel, that that might be how you could do most for God and the world, that that might be what would make you most happy, have the courage to take the plunge and give ‘a vocation’ a go.

Fourthly: Let God lead you down new paths. Ask yourself: how will I be different when I go home from this big spiritual wow that is WYD? In what new ways will I contribute to the Church and the world, or with what new passion will I continue to contribute? As the Pope said yesterday, your parishes need you! So have a good look at the things they do and ask how your youthful energy, vision and creativity might help.

Fifth: Dare to be creative. What new thing might you try for God? After WYD in Cologne a young woman decided to start a thing called ‘Night Fever’. Young people now gather on a Saturday night once a month in inner-city churches across Germany and beyond, to adore Christ in Eucharistic exposition, with gentle chants and candles in the darkness; others roam the streets, pubs and nightclubs inviting people to come and spend a few minutes with the Lord. It works: many come.

A sixth commandment: Make ordinary life your first field of evangelization – family, fellow students, work colleagues, friends. The mission today is not so much to a foreign land as to the non-Catholics and nom-Catholics (nominal Catholics) right where you are. Make your life in those places into a Gospel where people may read of Christ.

Seventh: Take a genuine interest in people, when approaching them to raise matters of faith. They are not just numbers in some conversion competition, not just evangelical projects. They are people, searching for answers like you are. They are persons, unique images of God in our world. So listen to them, befriend them, find common ground with them. Only then will deep conversations begin.

My eighth commandment: Give personal testimony about how encounters with God have changed your life. As Pope Paul said, it’s witnesses contemporary people are interested in more than experts. Don’t just give arguments and scripture quotes, important as apologetics is. Let them see that it really matters to you, that faith is what makes you tick, makes you interesting, makes you happy.

Ninthly: Focus on the basic proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ. If you do that, you will then be able to range around the whole field of Christian faith and worship, morals and prayer, past history and future dreams, as the Catechism does.

And finally: Seek the support of wise friends, whether they are in a movement or youth group or wherever. It can be tough, lonely or emotionally exhausting at times, standing up for God in a culture, amongst people, maybe even friends and family, who don’t share your faith. So make sure you have a good support group.

There was once a lad named Tom who was big and slow and rather shy. His mates at Paris Uni called him ‘the Dumb Ox’ because he was so strong but taciturn. His teacher, whom they perversely called ‘Big Al’ because he was small, could tell that Tom had a lot of potential. ‘He might be quiet at the moment, but one day you’ll hear this ox bellow,’ Al said. So he taught him well, gave him every opportunity and made sure he got his chance to speak. And speak he did. He roared. They both became stars in what was then a new ecclesial movement devoted to a new evangelization: the Dominicans. They both more or less followed the 10 commandments of evangelization that I have outlined this morning.

The student ended up being the greatest theologian in history, St Thomas Aquinas; the teacher, Albert the Great, also was canonized in the end. Both inspired lots of other young people to take up the adventure of preaching the Gospel. By the time Thomas died they were calling him ‘light of the Church’ and painting a glowing sun on his chest in iconography to highlight his divine wisdom. Albert ended up patron saint of science and scientists. But he rightly thought young Tom was his greatest achievement. He’d encouraged young Tom to tell the world about Christ. Your generation must likewise support and encourage each other to be witnesses.

Will you be part of the great adventure that is witnessing to Christ in the 21st Century? I trust that by God’s grace you will.”

-Most Rev Anthony Fisher, O.P., Bishop of Parramatta, Australia

I am an adult Catholic


I am an adult, committed, thinking Christian in the Roman Catholic tradition.

I am committed to Gospel living, justice, love of neighbor, and my God.

I love my Church, its history, traditions, teaching, richness, diversity, and believe it, ultimately, a force for good in the world.

I am committed to understanding, in an adult way, the issues, challenges, and problems my Church faces, and commit myself to improving the situation for her benefit.

Therefore, I believe my Church worthy of my best effort. When my brothers and sisters question why I am doing what I am doing and say they don’t understand my actions, I am happy to try and explain.

I respect ecclesial authority when that authority manifests itself in actions in harmony with Gospel values.

As an adult and aware that sin exists in the world, I am well acquainted with human failings, in myself and others, to live up to those Gospel values.

My God calls me to forgive and I do. I can recognize the distinction between justice and injustice. I can tell when injustice is rooted in institutional structures.

As a Christian, I know, because my Church teaches me so, it is my duty and obligation to resist and to try to change, with all my strength and to invoke the aid of God, those structures which result in injustice.

I cannot stand by while the weakest and most vulnerable among us are afflicted.

I seek to return my Church to its often held moral leadership in society, for the benefit of society, myself, and my neighbor.

I believe this is God’s will for me.

I am an adult Catholic.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”
-Frederick Douglas

(c) 2009, Matthew P. McCormick
All rights reserved.

Who is going to save our Church?

“If any man should deny the Divine origin of the Roman Church, let it be known that no mere human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility could have lasted a fortnight.”
-author Hillaire Belloc (1870-1953)
“Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious.  It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church.  Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops, like bishops,  and your religious act like religious.”
-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, before the Knights of Columbus, June 1972
“I consider all religions equal. And by equal, I mean they’re all tied for second place behind Catholicism.”
– Stephen Colbert