Category Archives: Theology

I AM WHO AM – Ex. 3:14

-by Parker Manning

“Defenders of divine simplicity often say that God is existence itself, and that God’s essence and existence are the same. What does this mean? Let’s break it down.

When we talk about the essence of God, we mean what God is. So God’s essence being equal to existence is just another way of saying that God is existence itself.

This topic has the ability to go down a massive rabbit hole that would be too long for article form, and I am in the process of finishing up a book on it. For now, I wanted to go over three things that defenders of divine simplicity are really saying when we say God’s essence and existence are equal:

God plus creation is not greater than God.
This makes sense when you think about it. If God is infinitely great, then adding to him would not be greater. We probably wouldn’t want to think of God’s act of creating as something he needed to do to make the world greater, either. Humans do not make the world more great; we just participate in the greatness of God.

God necessarily exists.
This one needs some explaining. Because God exists necessarily, sometimes Christians use this language to mean just that. Confusing, I know. Theologians have a habit of making things more complicated than they need to be.

God creates from Himself.
When God creates, He uses His knowledge and power to create. Defenders of divine simplicity will also say that God’s power and knowledge are intrinsic and necessary to God, so we can conclude by saying power and knowledge (God) created the universe.

To make this essence/existence thing make more sense, let’s look at an example of a thing where its essence is different from its existence. If I asked you to describe a woolly mammoth, you would likely talk about how it had tusks and fur and whatnot. That would be the woolly mammoth’s essence. Then say I asked you where they are living today. Of course, this is an illegitimate question. Woolly mammoths no longer exist. Although we can talk about what this thing was, it no longer is. This is a clear example of what a thing is being different from that it is. Because God can never not exist, we say that what God is that He is.

Let’s imagine another example. Say I have the pleasure of meeting the current pope. Say when I come home, people ask what he’s like. In response, I say, “He exists.” They would probably look at me as though I’m crazy. Why? Because what Pope Francis is like (what his essence is) is different from the fact that he exists.

We can also talk about problems that we would run into if essence and existence were different in God. For one, if there is a possibility that God stops existing, we would have a problem. This is a real possibility if essence and existence are not equal in God. We can also speak about the issues relating to creation. If essence and existence are different in God, it’s possible that creation made the world more great. This is an issue because it presupposes that God is not great enough on His own.

These problems are important to consider, but there is one key issue with saying that God’s essence and existence are different. If God’s existence is not the same as His essence, it either comes from His essence or is because of something outside Himself. Obviously, God cannot exist because of something outside Himself. He also cannot come from His own essence because that would mean he causes his own existence. (See John Lamont, “Aquinas on Divine Simplicity” in The Monist, 80.4 [1997]: 530.) God cannot cause Himself to exist. This conclusion must be avoided at all costs.

It’s worth noting, also, that essence and existence can be the same in only one thing. Why? First, let’s remember what essence means. Essentially, God’s essence is what God is. So if we were to talk about Parker Manning’s essence, we would be talking about what Parker Manning is. Another way we can think about this is that my essence is how someone would describe me to someone else.

Now that we understand that, why can’t we have two things where their essence (how you would describe them) is equal to existence? If there were two things where essence and existence were the same, they would still have some sort of properties that would differentiate them. In that case, their essence (what they are) would just be how you would describe them, which would not be equal to existence itself. Going back to the Pope Francis example from earlier—it would not make sense for me to describe Pope Francis by saying, “He exists”.

Aquinas explains it as such: “In every simple thing, its being and that which it is are the same. For if the one were not the other, simplicity would be removed. . . . Hence, in God, being good is not anything distinct from Him; He is His goodness” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 38).

In summary, if, for instance, we had a situation where two things’ essence were equal to existence itself, we would have composition or accidents to distinguish the two. If something has composition, its essence is that of the composition and not existence itself. For instance, if someone were to describe me, he would likely say things like “Catholic male with dark hair.” In this scenario, my essence (the words you use to describe me) is made up of composition and is not equal to existence itself.

But not so with God—and that makes all the difference.”

He is. Love,

Pope has NOT blessed gay unions – bless the sinner, not the relationship

“If I had to summarize the new magisterial document on blessings I would say the document is about blessings FOR a same-sex couple but not OF the same-sex couple. The UNION cannot be blessed, but the PEOPLE in the disordered union can be blessed (and the blessing is not an approval, but is a petition to live a holier life). Also, such blessings are not to give in any way an appearance of blessing the union itself. That is the document in a nutshell.”
– Michael Lofton, PhD (cand)

Michael Lofton is a graduate of Christendom College Graduate School of Theology, where he received his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (Cum Laude) in 2018. He is currently working on a doctorate in Theology with Pontifex University and is writing a dissertation on the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Michael is the founder of Reason & Theology, where he has interviewed many of the leading figures in modern theology. He has also appeared on EWTN, Catholic Answers, SiriusXM Radio, and Radio Maria and has contributed frequently to various newspapers and websites.

Responsum – 3/15/2021

Fiducia Supplicans – 12/18/2023

“5. This is also the understanding of marriage that is offered by the Gospel. For this reason, when it comes to blessings, the Church has the right and the duty to avoid any rite that might contradict this conviction or lead to confusion. Such is also the meaning of the Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (above), which states that the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex.”

“9. From a strictly liturgical point of view, a blessing requires that what is blessed be conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teachings of the Church.”

“11. Basing itself on these considerations, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Explanatory Note to its 2021 Responsum recalls that when a blessing is invoked on certain human relationships by a special liturgical rite, it is necessary that what is blessed corresponds with God’s designs written in creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. For this reason, since the Church has always considered only those sexual relations that are lived out within marriage to be morally licit, the Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice. The Holy Father reiterated the substance of this Declaration in his Respuestas to the Dubia of two Cardinals.”

“20…One who asks for a blessing shows himself to be in need of God’s saving presence in his life…To seek a blessing in the Church is to acknowledge that the life of the Church springs from the womb of God’s mercy and helps us to move forward, to live better, and to respond to the Lord’s will.”

“21. …“when one asks for a blessing, one is expressing a petition for God’s assistance, a plea to live better, and confidence in a Father who can help us live better.”[12] This request should, in every way, be valued, accompanied, and received with gratitude. People who come spontaneously to ask for a blessing show by this request their sincere openness to transcendence, the confidence of their hearts that they do not trust in their own strength alone, their need for God, and their desire to break out of the narrow confines of this world, enclosed in its limitations.”

“31…a blessing that descends from God upon those who—recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of his help—do not claim a legitimation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. These forms of blessing express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit—what classical theology calls “actual grace”—so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love.”

“32. Indeed, the grace of God works in the lives of those who do not claim to be righteous but who acknowledge themselves humbly as sinners, like everyone else. This grace can orient everything according to the mysterious and unpredictable designs of God. Therefore, with its untiring wisdom and motherly care, the Church welcomes all who approach God with humble hearts, accompanying them with those spiritual aids that enable everyone to understand and realize God’s will fully in their existence.[22]”

“34. The Church’s liturgy itself invites us to adopt this trusting attitude, even in the midst of our sins, lack of merits, weaknesses, and confusions, as witnessed by this beautiful Collect from the Roman Missal: “Almighty ever-living God, Who in the abundance of Your kindness surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat You, pour out Your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask” (Collect for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time). How often, through a pastor’s simple blessing, which does not claim to sanction or legitimize anything, can people experience the nearness of the Father, beyond all “merits” and “desires”?”

“38. For this reason, one should neither provide for nor promote a ritual for the blessings of couples in an irregular situation. At the same time, one should not prevent or prohibit the Church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing. In a brief prayer preceding this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister could ask that the individuals have peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance—but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill His will COMPLETELY (my emphasis).”

“39. In any case, precisely to avoid any form of confusion or scandal, when the prayer of blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding. The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple.”

“40…there is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for His help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness.”

“43…even when a person’s relationship with God is clouded by sin, he can always ask for a blessing…”

“44. Any blessing will be an opportunity for a renewed proclamation of the kerygma, an invitation to draw ever closer to the love of Christ…”

Cardinal Fernández: Same-sex blessing ‘does not validate or justify anything’

by Edgar Beltrán

-Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith

Church leaders have been in the grip of sharp debate this week, after the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith published on Monday Fiducia supplicans, a declaration which offered a framework for clerical blessings of same-sex couples, and others living in relationships outside of marriage.

Some bishops’ conferences and dioceses which had already given a green light to such blessings, in Belgium and Germany especially, saw in the document a validation of their approach to the issue, with some promising to defy the document by publishing guidelines for the liturgical blessings of same-sex couples — a step prohibited by the DDF’s declaration.

But some bishops’ conferences in Africa and Asia pushed back on the document, with some prohibiting the implementation of Fiducia supplicans in their territory. One cardinal challenged the doctrinal orthodoxy of the document, while the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said the text does not apply to his congregation.

Amid a challenging week for the Church, The Pillar contacted Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, with questions about the document, and the reactions it has generated.

Cardinal Fernandez, Fiducia supplicans says that it ‘remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage, not allowing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion.’

It also states that the blessings it discusses ‘should not be fixed ritually by ecclesial authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the sacrament of marriage,’ and that ‘these non-ritualized blessings never cease being simple gestures that provide an effective means of increasing trust in God on the part of the people who ask for them, careful that they should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament.’

But various bishops’ conferences have approved rituals for blessings of couples in irregular situations.
Does that contradict the declaration?

The declaration is very clear in distinguishing the two forms of blessing: one with a liturgical-ritual format and the other proper to pastoral work — this is its specific contribution.

Some episcopates had advanced in ritualized forms of blessing irregular couples, and this is inadmissible. They should reformulate their proposal in that regard.

Fiducia supplicans says that: ‘In a brief prayer preceding this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister could ask that the individuals have peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance—but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill his will completely.’

It adds that: ‘These forms of blessing express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit—what classical theology calls ‘actual grace’—so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love.’

Do those passages mean that the primary motivation for giving such a blessing has to be that the couple in an ‘irregular situation’ conform their lives to the moral and doctrinal teachings of the Church?

These kinds of blessings are simply simple pastoral channels that help to express people’s faith, even if those people are great sinners.

Therefore, by giving this blessing to two people who spontaneously come forward to request it, one can legitimately ask God to grant them health, peace, prosperity—the things that we all ask for and that a sinner can also ask for.

At the same time, since one can think that in the daily lives of these two persons, not everything is sin, one can therefore pray for them [to receive] a spirit of dialogue, patience, mutual help.

But the declaration also mentions a request for help from the Holy Spirit so that this relationship, which is often unknown to the priest, may be purified of everything that does not respond to the Gospel and the will of God, and may mature along the lines of God’s plan.

As I was saying, sometimes the priest, on a pilgrimage, does not know that couple, and sometimes they are two very close friends who share good things, sometimes they had sexual relations in the past and now what remains is a strong sense of belonging and mutual help. As a parish priest, I have often met such couples, who are sometimes exemplary.

Therefore, since it is not a question of the sacrament of confession(!), but of a simple blessing, it is still asked that this friendship be purified, matured and lived in fidelity to the Gospel. And even if there was some kind of sexual relationship, known or not, the blessing made in this way does not validate or justify anything.

Actually the same thing happens whenever individuals are blessed, because that individual who asks for a blessing — not absolution — may be a great sinner, but we do not deny a blessing to him.

But clearly we have to grow in the conviction that non-ritualized blessings are not a consecration of the person, they are not a justification of all his actions, they are not a ratification of the life he leads. No. No. I do not know at what point we have so exalted this simple pastoral gesture that we have equated it with the reception of the Eucharist. That is why we want to set so many conditions for blessing.

The statement says that ‘beyond the guidance’ it provides, ‘no further responses should be expected about possible ways to regulate details or practicalities regarding blessings of this type.’

Does that mean that there will not be any response, or reprimand, to episcopal conferences or dioceses which seek to regulate and ritualize these blessings — or to those which seek to prohibit them altogether?

No, it means that one should not expect a manual, a vademecum, or a guide for something so simple.

I know that in some dioceses, bishops in the past have established guidelines for these cases. For example, some have indicated to priests that when it is a matter of a couple well-known in the place or in cases where there could be some scandal, the blessing should be given in private, in an discreet place. But this declaration did not want to go into details or replace the local discernment of the bishops.

On the other hand, trying to interpret your question, we are currently discussing these issues with presidents of bishops’ conferences and with groups of bishops visiting the dicastery. Soon, a group of dicastery prefects will begin a journey of conversion and deepening with the German bishops and we will make all the necessary clarifications.

Moreover, I am planning a trip to Germany to have some conversations that I believe are important.

The declaration appeals to the ‘practical”’ and ‘prudent and fatherly’ discernment of priests to impart these blessings.

Does that approach diminish the authority of bishops to govern their diocese, as follows from the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council — especially its emphasis on the authority of diocesan bishops?

Are the bishops who have prohibited these blessings in their territories directly contradicting the declaration?

Each local bishop, by his own munus, has always had the function of discernment in loco, in that very concrete place that he knows more than others, because it is his flock.

We do not speak of the national [bishops’] conferences, and even less of the continental ones, because they cannot impose things to the bishops in their dioceses. Even if they can unify criteria, they cannot replace the unique place of the bishop incarnated in his local Church.

But we are in the Catholic Church, and there the Gospel shows us Peter.

Obviously, when there is a text signed by the pope, in order to interpret it broadly, the bishops must first study it in depth and without haste, and allow themselves to be enlightened and enriched by that text. Therefore, prudence and attention to local culture could admit different ways of application, but not a total denial of this step being asked of priests.

I well understand the concern of the bishops in some African or Asian countries, in places where being gay might put you in prison. It is an affront to human dignity that certainly distresses the bishops, and challenges them in their fatherhood. It is likely that the bishops do not want to expose homosexual persons to violence. They themselves refer to the “legislation” of their countries.

What is important is that these bishops’ conferences are not holding a doctrine different from that of the declaration signed by the pope, because it is the same doctrine as always, but rather they state the need for study and discernment, in order to act with pastoral prudence in this context.

I cannot say more than this because I recognize that the reception of these documents requires time, and a serene and prolonged reflection.

One interpretation that has been given to the declaration is that the blessings would be imparted on persons and not on their union specifically. However, the document clearly speaks in its third part of blessing ‘couples.’

Does this imply that the ‘irregular’ union of these persons is being blessed?

It is necessary to distinguish well, and the declaration makes this distinction. Couples are blessed. The union is not blessed, for the reasons that the declaration repeatedly explains about the true meaning of Christian marriage and sexual relations.

For those who read the text serenely and without ideological prejudices, it is clear that there is no change in the doctrine on marriage and on the objective valuation of sexual acts outside the only [kind of] marriage which exists — male-female, exclusive, indissoluble, naturally open to the generation of new life).

But this does not prevent us from making a gesture of paternity and closeness, otherwise we can become judges who condemn from a pedestal — when we consecrated men have much that humiliates us as a Church, we have given serious scandal to the simple ones with our behavior.

Besides, we all have our personal faults, we are not fully coherent with the whole Gospel, and our lapidary judgments sometimes do not take into account that the same measure we use for others will be used with us. I, who want to go to Heaven and be very happy with God eternally, try not to forget this warning of Jesus Christ.

Love and truth,


-by John M. Grondelski

“When it comes to love, English is impoverished. It’s not that English-speakers don’t love but that our language is so limited. “I love God,” “I love my wife,” “I love chocolate ice cream” all use the same verb, but that word cannot mean the same thing in all three cases.

Sociologists speak of the Sapir-Whorf thesis. Put simply, it explains differences in language based on users’ need, which, reciprocally, shape or limit the speaker’s way of seeing reality. Like “love,” English has one word for that white powdery thing that falls from the sky: “snow.” Eskimo languages, by contrast, have many words for snow. English has to approximate them by multiplying adjectives. Muruaneq is “soft, deep snow,” which is different from ughugesnaq, “wet snow that is falling”—each of which will require different actions to get home. A quick but precise noun conceptualizes X and distinguishes it from Y, enabling rapid life decisions.

So why is English a one-word “love” language?

C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves, which explains the four Greek words for “love.” They range from attraction (including physical attraction) to affection (emotional attraction) to friendship to benevolence.

I’m stressing the differences in “love” because it’s relevant to an image I want to discuss from another C.S. Lewis book, The Great Divorce. It has to do with “love” as eros and its deformation in lust.

The Great Divorce discusses the dead who come from a “city” on a bus trip to the outskirts of heaven. The identity of that “city” is fluid: for those who, on their heavenly peripheries day trip, are attracted to stay, it is purgatory. For those who choose to take the return bus, it’s hell.

Don’t be surprised that the return bus is usually full. One of the tragic consequences of the mystery of sin is that, having grown accustomed to it, we feel naked and insecure without its familiarity. It’s like that natty, worn out sweater with holes that should have been thrown out long ago but you still wear because “it feels good.”

I was particularly gripped by a scene in which an angel encounters a soul with a lizard on its neck. The soul is headed back to the bus. He’s a little put off by the angel’s presence because he knows that the reptile—which symbolizes lust—has not kept its promise. The lizard promised not to keep whispering dirty ideas into his ear, since the soul knows that “his stuff won’t do here,” but it “won’t stop.” So the soul is ready to take his inappropriate companion and go back to hell.

The angel proposes another way, albeit by steps.

“Would you like me to make him quiet?” The soul seems enthusiastic about the prospect.

“Then I will kill it.”

But, on approaching them, the soul already feels uncomfortable. “You’re burning me,” the soul bellows, “retreating.” When the angel asks whether the soul really wants the pest killed, the latter begins to temporize. “You didn’t say anything about killing him at first.” That’s so “drastic.” All the soul wanted was lust’s “silence,” not necessarily its separation. And he wanted its “silence” because, well, its overt visibility is “so damned embarrassing.”

The angel isn’t diverted. “May I kill it?” The soul parries: let’s talk “later.” Really, thank you, didn’t mean to be a bother. See you.

But the angel doesn’t give up. “There’s no time.” Now is the time (literally, since heaven is the eternal now).

The soul keeps multiplying excuses. “I shall be able to keep it in order now.” A “gradual process” is better than a nip in the bud. I’ll feel better about it tomorrow.

In the end, the soul admits its fear: in killing it, you’ll kill me. The angel assures the soul that’s not true. But “you’re hurting me now.” The angel is clear: “I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”

In the end, after further hemming and hawing, the soul finally musters himself enough to agree. As the angel’s hand approaches, lust grows louder, pleading, “You’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural!” At last, in the end, comes the soul’s decision: “Damn you and blast you! Go on . . . get it over. Do what you like. God help me. God help me.” (He will!)

The angel then plucks the lizard from the soul’s shoulder and fatally twists its neck. At the same time, the soul “gave a scream of agony such as I had never heard on earth.”

What then happens is amazing.

The soul begins to grow in stature, “not much smaller than the Angel.” His beauty emerges.

The lizard, too, changes. From an ugly reptile emerges a vigorous white stallion, which the soul approaches and nuzzles. Then the soul hops on its back and, together, both ride off to the mountains—the heights—of heaven.

Human beings are sensory creatures. The world comes to us through our senses, including touch (which includes sex). Eros is that love which most directly affects the senses. It is powerful. It gives us “lust” for life and love. It drives us forward.

In itself, eros is very good. It’s when its power is directed in the wrong ways that the powerful stallion becomes the creepy lizard hanging on our necks.

St. Augustine was an erotic man. His misdirected eros led to many sins and wasted years. But when his lizard was killed, he became a saint whose spiritual vigor outdid many.

Catholicism does not ask we deny the senses. It does ask that we put them in the service of the good. The failure to control them leads to lust; their discipline supports love. “Love” and “lust” are not cousins. They are just two four letter words.

Our sensual world confuses them. One example: think of the wreckage pornography brings to so many lives, damage that seems irreparable. And think of its ubiquity, along with the sexualization (“pornification”) of our world.

Now, imagine what great saints would arise if that eros were channeled into true love instead of lust. If we stopped making excuses and snuggling in our sins. If, by God’s grace, we cast off the lizard and mounted the white stallion.

Our Lady, Queen of Purity, pray for us!”

Love, His will be done!

The Good News of Divine Wrath

Dies Irae

-by Br Cyril Stola, OP

Divine wrath is good news. The Gospel is good news, after all, and the Gospel declares divine wrath over and over again. Indeed, the Gospel of Matthew records five long teaching discourses of Jesus, and at the end of each of them, Jesus speaks of the righteous earning an eternal reward and the wicked going off to eternal punishment (see Matt 7:15-29, 10:37-39, 13:44-50, 18:21-35, and 25:31-46). Jesus frequently disputes with Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, and scribes, and he does not shy from showing anger at their deeds: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?” (Matt 23:33). Jesus further reveals that He will personally come again to judge the living and the dead, promising that He will send “those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29).

-“Job pointing to the abyss of Hell”, Book of Hours, about 1410, by follower of the Egerton Master (French, / Netherlandish, active about 1405 – 1420), Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and ink, Leaf: 19.1 × 14 cm (7 1/2 × 5 1/2 in.), The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig IX 5, fol. 156v, 83.ML.101.156v, please click on the image for greater detail.

This can be rather surprising. Jesus says that he came that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He taught us: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Jesus is rich in mercy, ever delighted to forgive sinners. But the fact that Jesus judges men and condemns some to punishment—even eternal punishment—does not oppose His benevolence to mankind or His mercy. Christ’s judgment is, in fact, a great mercy, for judgment establishes justice in creation.

Injustice marks our world. Men and women murder innocent people, deceive others, and abandon their families and commitments. Yet God does not deign to leave His creation in shambles. He promised to right every wrong, and punishing sin is necessary in that process. It is bad for anyone to profit in any way from doing evil, and God’s punishment takes away all ill-gotten gains. By Christ’s judgment, every murder and assault, every slander and lie, every theft and blasphemy will come to the light and be punished, and no profit from these evils will remain.

Even beyond restoring the order of justice, punishment is a medicine for the greatest spiritual sickness: sin. Sin warps us and taints us. The more we sin, the more we learn to love the evil we do. Jesus hates sin because it ruins the people He loves, corrupting them and deadening them to the divine life He offers. His message of punishment reveals just how ugly and offensive sin actually is. If the God who is all-knowing and all-loving despises sin with such intensity, we ought to hate our sin and our wicked desires. The revelation of divine wrath calls us to a conversion which demands our transformation. In Romans, Saint Paul describes our salvation as a result of justification. By grace, God makes us just. We can truly become worthy of eternal life if we allow God to shatter the sin that gets in the way of that. We should view all God’s punishments in that light, minding what He said long ago: “Do I not rejoice when [the wicked] turn from their evil way and live?” (Ezek 18:23).

Jesus, by His judgment, will establish lasting and perpetual justice, and this is good news indeed. In the Creed and the Te Deum, we even announce rather joyfully that Jesus will come again and be our judge. It is a happy thought since Jesus is not a judge “Who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but One Who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). He is a judge Who makes it rather clear how to attain a good verdict and how to find an ally on the bench: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from My Father” (John 15:14-15). There is no way to heaven but by judgment. By shunning the sin Christ hates and by trusting that He desires to justify us, we can seek his help to attain true conversion. By His grace, we will be made worthy—and thus be judged worthy—of eternal bliss.”

Love, and the infinite wisdom and mercy of His justice. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man. His justice is a mercy to those aggrieved.

Catholic disposition of human remains

-by Karlo Broussard


‘Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak Whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.’
-Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 3

““For the living know that they will die,” says the author of Ecclesiastes (Eccles. 9:5). This is a reality we all face. But the question of what to do with the body after death remains. May we cremate it? If so, may we scatter the ashes or must we preserve them? May we donate the body to science?

Such questions weigh heavy on the minds and hearts of many. Therefore, it’s important that we address the question of what we can and can’t do with the body after death.

To dust you shall return

Let’s take the cremation issue first.

In August, the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith (CDF) addressed several pertinent questions concerning cremation in its instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo (“To rise with Christ”) (ARC).The document makes clear that the Church is not opposed to cremation:

The Church raises no doctrinal objections to this practice, since cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life. Thus cremation, in and of itself, objectively negates neither the Christian doctrine of the soul’s immortality nor that of the resurrection of the body. . . . Cremation is not prohibited, “unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine” (ARC 4).

It is important to note that the document doesn’t endorse the practice. It merely notes the Church is not opposed to it. This signals the Church’s strong preference for burial of the deceased, something the document makes clear: “The Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased” (ARC 4).

Ashes abroad

The question that is asked most often is whether we can scatter the ashes of the deceased. The answer is no:

In order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided, it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry, or other objects. These courses of action cannot be legitimized by an appeal to the sanitary, social, or economic motives that may have occasioned the choice of cremation (ARC 7).

Although the scene of Tom scattering the ashes of his son Daniel in the movie The Way may have been dramatic cinema, it was not Catholic.

Grandma on the mantle?

“Okay, maybe we can’t scatter the ashes,” you say, “so we’ll put Grandma’s ashes on the mantle in our home.” Though it may be a good sentiment, the Church doesn’t permit that either:

[T]he conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted. Only in grave and exceptional cases dependent on cultural conditions of a localized nature, may the ordinary, in agreement with the Episcopal Conference or the Synod of Bishops of the Oriental Churches, concede permission for the conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence (ARC 6).

Now that we know what we can’t do, what can we do? The CDF specifies that the ashes must be preserved in a sacred place:

When, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority (ARC 5).

Why the sacred place?

The reasons for this can be found in the list of reasons the CDF gives for burying the dead in a sacred place.

  • It expresses the Church’s faith in the resurrection of the body (ARC 3).
  • It shows “the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity” (ARC 3).
  • It “corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit” (ARC 3).
  • It “encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead” and upholds “the relationship between the living and the dead” and “has opposed any tendency to minimize, or relegate to the purely private sphere, the event of death and the meaning it has for Christians” (ARC 3).

What is mine is yours

What does the Church have to say about donating the body for the use of organs and/or medical research?

The Church permits it. With regard to organ donation after death, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity” (2296).

The Catechism is quick to warn, however, against those things that would render organ donation after death immoral:

It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons (CCC 2296).

One would think these instructions are common sense, but the Church has to make it clear, given the fact that so many have never developed the ability to reason to moral precepts.

Concerning donating the body of the deceased for scientific research, the Catechism answers “yes”: “Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research” (2301).

The above Church’s burial norms (sacred place, respect for body, etc.) would apply to the remains of the body after the research is completed.


Discussions about end-of-life issues often revolve around the topic of what constitutes ordinary and extraordinary means of prolonging life. Should we keep Grandma on the ventilator or not? When is it morally just to pull her feeding tube?

These are crucial questions, and they deserve Catholic answers. But the question of what to do with Grandma’s body after death is also an important end-of-life (or after-life) issue. Due to the Church’s clear teaching on this matter, Catholics have one less thing to stress over when dealing with death.”


Indulgences 2 – The original viral post

-a bronze statue of Martin Luther in Hanover, Germany.

-by Katherine Arcemont, The Washington Post
October 31, 2017

“It was the original viral post.

On Oct. 31, 1517, an obscure German professor of theology named Martin Luther launched an attack on the Roman Catholic Church by nailing his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church — a story that has been repeated for hundreds of years. Luther’s act of rebellion led to the Protestant Reformation, which is being marked by millions of Christians around the world Tuesday on its 500th anniversary.

But did that dramatic moment — Luther defiantly hammering his critique to the church door — really happen?

The story was first told by Philipp Melanchthon, a fellow professor at the University of Wittenberg, a close friend of Luther’s and a leader of the Reformation, after Luther’s death in 1546. And the church door did serve as a public bulletin board of sorts.

But Melanchthon was not in Wittenberg on the day he supposedly witnessed the nailing. He didn’t join the university faculty until 1518. And Luther, a prolific writer who published 30 pamphlets in three years and later translated the Bible into German, never recounted the story.

In 1961, Erwin Iserloh, a Catholic Luther researcher, argued that there was no evidence that Luther actually nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door. Indeed, at the 1617 celebration of the Reformation, Luther was depicted as writing the 95 Theses on the church door with a quill.

Iserloh’s assertion set off a debate among Luther historians that remains unresolved.

A decade ago, Martin Treu, who works for the Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt, discovered a handwritten note by Luther’s secretary, Georg Rörer, made in a revised copy of the New Testament before Luther’s death. It reads: “On the evening before All Saints’ Day in the year of our Lord 1517, theses about letters of indulgence were nailed to the doors of the Wittenberg churches by Doctor Martin Luther.”

While Rörer was also not an eyewitness, Treu noted, “he was one of Luther’s closest staff.” Treu’s conclusion: 95 Theses may have been nailed to several church doors in Wittenberg, not just at Castle Church.

What’s not in dispute: Luther mailed his attack on the Catholic sale of indulgences to the archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, Albert of Brandenburg, on Oct. 31, 1517. The indulgences were meant to assure their buyer that their sins would be forgiven — a form of corruption in Luther’s eyes.

“Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” quickly spread across Europe and reached Pope Leo X sometime in 1518. After a series of disputes, Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church on Jan. 3, 1521.

The theologian became a celebrity, and with his celebrity came a following and a new religion: Lutheranism. And the founding symbol of the Protestant Reformation remains the door of Castle Church, now inscribed in bronze with Luther’s 95 Theses.”

-bronze doors of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany now cast in bronze containing Luther’s 95 theses.

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

“On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses against papal indulgences, or the atonement of sins through monetary payment, on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany.” That line from a piece by David B. Morris posted by the Library of Congress on its website (“Martin Luther as Priest, Heretic, and Outlaw”) summarizes the popular view of how the Reformation began. But it’s rife with errors.

To start with the most trivial, the popular image of Luther nailing his theses to the church door is almost certainly a Protestant fiction. Joan Acocella, in a piece for the New Yorker (“How Martin Luther Changed the World,” Oct. 30, 2017), points out that modern scholars

“…differ on many points, but something that most of them agree on is that the hammering episode, so satisfying symbolically—loud, metallic, violent—never occurred. Not only were there no eyewitnesses; Luther himself, ordinarily an enthusiastic self-dramatizer, was vague on what had happened. He remembered drawing up a list of ninety-five theses around the date in question, but, as for what he did with it, all he was sure of was that he sent it to the local archbishop.”

Acocella also points out that the theses were not “a set of non-negotiable demands about how the Church should reform itself in accordance with Brother Martin’s standards,” but rather “like all ‘theses’ in those days, they were points to be thrashed out in public disputations, in the manner of the ecclesiastical scholars of the twelfth century.”

In terms of more serious errors, what was at the heart of the 95 Theses? According to Morris, Luther was protesting “papal indulgences, or the atonement of sins through monetary payment.” Wrong. Luther not only defended papal indulgences, the only anathema in the entirety of the 95 Theses was his Thesis #71: “Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.” In other words, the people that Martin Luther condemned weren’t Catholics but (modern) Protestants. 

Nor are indulgences “the atonement of sins through monetary payment.” Not only do indulgences not bring about our atonement, “an indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven” (Pope Paul VI, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, norm. 1). Our atonement is won not by monetary payment but by Jesus on Calvary. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Christ’s Passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race” (Summa Theologica III:48:2).

So, if the popular theory of Luther’s protest is almost entirely wrong, what’s the truth of it? Luther’s argument was multipronged (there’s a reason there were 95 theses) and a mix of good and bad. Part of his dispute was over the nature and extent of indulgences: where the pope derived the power to grant indulgences and the kinds of penalties that could be remitted through an indulgence.

Luther, who still believed in purgatory at that point, argued that the “power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish” (Thesis 25). Luther’s views here are idiosyncratic, and neither Protestants (who quickly gave up on indulgences and purgatory) nor Catholics have attempted seriously to defend them.

More significant was Luther’s critique not of indulgences as such but of the sale of indulgences. He rejected the teachings of indulgence preachers (Johann Tetzel, O.P. and others) who “say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory,” countering that “it is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone” (Theses 27-28).

Luther was largely correct on this point. After all, while indulgences don’t bring about our atonement (as Luther well knew), they are a spiritual good. And the sale of spiritual goods is anathema to Christianity, the sin of simony, named after the unhappy Simon Magus: 

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (Acts 8:18-20).

There’s a long history in the Church both of simony popping up and of the Church condemning it. The second canon of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) ordered that “if any bishop performs an ordination for money and puts the unsaleable grace on sale,” he was upon conviction to “lose his personal rank,” while the ordained lost “the dignity or responsibility” he had attempted to purchase. A cleric found to have served as a go-between was likewise “demoted from his personal rank,” or, in the case of laymen and monks, anathematized.

So Luther stood in a long (and holy) tradition of rejecting simony, and the Council of Trent vindicated him on this point. The Council, desiring that “the abuses which have crept therein, and by occasion of which this honorable name of indulgences is blasphemed by heretics, be amended and corrected,” explicitly outlawed “all evil gains” for the obtaining of indulgences (“Decree on Indulgences”).

But that still leaves a question: how did these abuses happen in the first place? How hard is it to simply not sell spiritual goods? Well, a bit harder than it seems. One way of answering would be to trace the precise history: canon 2 of the Council of Clermont (1095 AD) decreed that “whoever for devotion alone, and not for the purpose of gaining honor or money, heads for Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God, that expedition is to be imputed to him [as satisfaction] for all penance.” That makes sense: what’s more worthy of an indulgence than risking your life to defend the Church?

Later Crusades expanded beyond the careful nuance of the Council of Clermont, offering indulgences through what became known as “vow redemption.” In short, those unable (due to age or illness) to go on crusade were given the opportunity to receive an indulgence by paying for someone else to go. And again, the expansion makes a sort of sense: it seems unfair to deprive someone of an indulgence when they were ready and willing but physically unable to go on crusade. 

But this expansion was controversial in its day. In the thirteenth century, Thomas of Cantimpré, O.P., complained that indulgences were being acquired for relatively trivial amounts, amounting to as little as one percent of a person’s moveable wealth (Christoph T. Maier, Preaching the Crusades, 155-56). And it was only a short step from this point to the Church in Luther’s day, when preachers such as Tetzel made indulgences sound like purchasable get-out-of-purgatory-free tickets.

But tracing the history of the sale of indulgences is incomplete if we don’t also recognize the spiritual tightrope walked by the medieval Church and by all of us today. All Christians (whether they believe in indulgences or not) need to grapple with two core Christian ideas: first, that God really does reward generosity; and second, that it’s impossible to bribe God and evil to try. How we understand (and even “balance”) these two ideas makes a world of difference, since they sit in what seems like an uneasy, even paradoxical, relationship with one another.

This paradox is captured in the thirty-fifth chapter of the book of Sirach. In verses 10-11, the goodness of giving back to God is proclaimed: “Give to the Most High as He has given, and as generously as your hand has found. For the Lord is the One Who repays, and He will repay you sevenfold.” But in the next verse, there’s immediately a warning against transactional spirituality: “Do not offer Him a bribe, for He will not accept it; and do not trust to an unrighteous sacrifice; for the Lord is the judge, and with Him is no partiality.” In other words, give generously to God, Who will reward your generosity, but don’t think that you bribe Him or buy heaven.

While those verses from Sirach aren’t in Protestant Bibles, the underlying ideas are. St. Paul reminds the Corinthians to give generously since “God loves a cheerful giver” and “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6-7). He continues:

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God (2 Cor. 9:10-12).

St. Paul hints at the fact that God may give us rewards in this life, saying that “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). But God’s generosity is no less true in terms of heavenly rewards. As Jesus says to the rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matt. 19:21).

Tobit 12:8-9 (also not in Protestant Bibles) says that “prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold. For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin.”

Jesus describes this as a sort of spiritual fortune-building: “Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34). And “give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).

The idea that giving generously ensures spiritual riches in heaven isn’t some medieval corruption of the gospel: the Bible actually teaches it. And yet we have, alongside this message, warnings such as Sirach 35:12 and Acts 8:18-20 telling us not to try to buy the spiritual gifts of God.

The easy—and hard—answer is to love God for His own sake and before all else. Those rewards aren’t bad: it’s good that God blesses generous givers, and that He answers prayers, and that He considers our meager almsgiving seriously. But the spiritual life was never about the rewards and must never become about the rewards. The gifts God gives are to draw us to Him and to reveal something about His generous and loving nature, not to replace Him. After all, God wants to give us not merely some reward but Himself.

Jesus is happy to multiply loaves to feed the hungry crowds. But He’s also quick to warn them not to follow Him for that reason. A day after the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-14), Jesus rebuked His followers, saying, “you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v. 26). It’s easy for us to judge His hungry followers, just as it’s easy to judge the medieval Christians giving money to try to get indulgences for their loved ones. But before we do that, it’s worth asking: are we so different today?”

Love & truth,

The dubia

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

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

October 2, 2023 . 7:39 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 3, 2023 . 3:51 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and truth,


-“Jesus in Limbo” (c. 1530-1535) by Domenico Beccafumi, oil on panel, now in the Sienese Grand Masters room in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena, Christ descending to the souls in Limbo, including Adam in the centre, a nude Eve to the right and between them King David holding a sceptre. In the far background John the Baptist guides the souls, while at the bottom is a river divinity. To the left is a figure holding a cross, possibly St Dismas the good thief, please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“The traditional teaching concerning Limbo—“the Limbo of children,” as it has been called—has a fascinating history in Catholic theology. It has never been the object of a definition by either the ordinary Magisterium, requiring “religious submission of mind and will” (Lumen Gentium 25), or any definitive act of the magisterial authority of the Church, which would require the assent of divine and Catholic faith (CIC 750, para. 1). However, it was considered a teaching in the category of “common doctrine” in the past because it had been alluded to by the Magisterium over the centuries as well as taught by theologians. Thus, the Church has historically taught the faithful are not permitted to assert there is no Limbo. At least, not with any magisterial backing. But Catholics have never been required to believe in Limbo as a Catholic doctrine.

Some will disagree with me here, citing Pope Urban IV, who declared in his Papal Bull of Union with the Greeks, Laetentur Caeli (“Let the Heavens Rejoice!”) of July 6, 1439, during the Council of Florence,

As for the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin or with original sin only, they go down immediately to hell, to be punished, however, with different punishments.

Isn’t that an example of a pope teaching on Limbo? Well, let’s look at what the pope is actually saying.

-“Descent into Limbo” by Andrea Mantegna, 1492, tempera and gold on panel, 38.8 cm × 42.3 cm (15.3 in × 16.7 in), the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection in Princeton, New Jersey, please click on the image for greater detail.

There are two teachings here. First, if a soul dies in mortal sin, he will go immediately into hell, where he will suffer torments (positive punishments) for all eternity. That teaching is definitive and has been taught and repeated by the Magisterium for many centuries (see the Fourth Lateran Council, Constitutions, Confession of Faith; Pope Benedict XII, Constitution, Benedictus Deus; CCC 1033-1037, etc.). And second, the pope taught that if a soul dies with the stain of original sin only, he descends into “hell,” but only in the sense that he cannot attain the beatific vision of God.

Pope Urban is here using scholastic terms, which distinguish “the pain of loss” (poena damni, which means deprivation of the beatific vision, which would be experienced by both those who die with mortal sin on their souls and those who die with only original sin) from “the pain of sense” (poena sensus, which means the positive punishments of hell experienced only by the souls who die with mortal sin on their souls). The souls who die with original sin only on their souls experience only “the pain of loss.”

Pope John XXII made the distinction clearer—between the “place” those “who die in actual mortal sin” would go to and where those with original sin only go—in Nequaquam sine dolore (Not at All Without Pain”), of Nov. 21, 1321:

The souls, however, of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only descend immediately into hell; to be punished, though, with different pains and in different places.

The use of ac locis disparibus puniendas, which means “in different places and punishments,” which uses the same adjective disparibus (different) to describe both “places” and “punishments,” makes clear that the punishment of those who die in mortal sin is essentially different from the punishment of souls with “original sin alone” on their souls.

This is, no doubt, an allusion to Limbo—i.e., “the place” a soul would go if he were to have only the stain of original at the time of his death. But Limbo itself is neither mentioned nor defined.

As an aside for now, when it comes to magisterial teachings on hell (where souls experience the poena sensus as well as poena damni), the Church has made very clear not only the existence of hell, but that there both are and will be real souls present there for all eternity. But with regard to Limbo, the Church has only alluded to its existence as a possibility. She has never stated that there will be souls actualized there. That is another question we will tackle below.

For now, we can safely say that the above-cited magisterial documents are not examples of Limbo being presented as an object of a definition. However, we do have cases like Pope Pius VI’s constitution Auctorem Fidei, August 28, 1794, where he explicitly condemned as false the idea that “the limbo of children” is “a Pelagian fable.”

Thus, the Catholic faithful were never required to believe in Limbo, but they were not free to condemn it, either.

You may have read, however, that the Church “abolished Limbo” a few years ago. Here’s what that charge refers to: in 2007, the International Theological Commission, which is a department of the Roman Curia under the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and serves as an advisory board for the dicastery, issued a document called “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized.” It was published with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI and taught that the Church has reduced the teaching of Limbo from the level of “common doctrine” among theologians to “a possible theological hypothesis.” It did not do what many expected—that is, completely abandon Limbo, as Benedict had said the Church should do back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. But it did reduce the teaching’s prominence.

“Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision. We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us. We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and love who has been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constant thankfulness and joy.

What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament. Rather, as we want to reaffirm in conclusion, they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.”

What does this mean? Is there any real change here? Yes, there is.

It means that a Catholic is still free to present this teaching as a possibility, but another Catholic can now say, “I ain’t buying it!” . . . and then present his reasons why. In fact, the ITC helps in that regard. In sections 5-7 of “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized,” the commission lists what I will number as three essential reasons—or categories of reasons—why Catholics can have hope that unbaptized infants will be saved.

  1. Given the principle of lex orandi lex credendi, the liturgy has never mentioned Limbo. Couple with that the fact that we have the Feast of the Holy Innocents, where we liturgically venerate as martyrs unbaptized children two years of age and younger, this becomes positive evidence in favor of at least some unbaptized children being saved.
  2. The document adds CCC 1261: “The great mercy of God who desires all men should be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them’ (Mark 10:14), allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism” (5). I would add here the fact that Luke 18:15-17 uses the Greek word brephe, or “infant” in this same context of Jesus saying, “Let the infants some to me.” This most manifestly brings out the truth that these unbaptized babies are in absolute need of the prayers of the Church because they do not have the ability to pray for themselves. The good news? Holy Mother Church does indeed pray for them! This is a powerful reason for hope that these babies will be saved.
  3. The document makes a powerful point in reminding us that “the Church respects the hierarchy of truths and therefore begins by clearly reaffirming the primacy of Christ and his grace, which has priority over Adam and sin.” This is not to diminish in any way the necessity of baptism. That teaching is de fide. But it is to show, given the fact that the Church acknowledges other ways people who are not baptized can experience the grace of the sacrament without the sacrament en re, that it is reasonable to think “that infants, [who] for their part, do not place any personal obstacle in the way of redemptive grace,” would be able to receive salvific grace for salvation

Given all of these “reasons for hope,” one might think the conclusion of the commission would be absolutely certain and definitive. But it was not. The conclusion was that we cannot have the same level of certainty of the salvation of infants who die without baptism that we do for infants who have been baptized. Hence, the commission emphasized what the Church has emphasized for 2,000 years: there still is and always will be the absolutely crucial need for parents to baptize their babies! This truth is paramount.

Again, Limbo, or something similar, is still a possible theological hypothesis. But we also have reason to hope that these children will, in fact, be saved. We can do so because the Church entrusts these children to our merciful God (CCC 1261), whose salvific will for all is a matter of public revelation (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:4, etc.). Also, we have reason to hope that the prayer of the Church liturgically and the prayer of Christians may well suffice to bring the grace of baptism to these unbaptized infants in need.”

Love & truth,

Only Love Knows Anything

-The denial of Saint Peter, oil on canvas, 154 × 169 cm, Rembrandt 1660

-With his left hand the disciple Peter makes a gesture of denial in response of the accusations made by Caiaphas’ maidservant, who is standing next to him holding a candle. To the left two soldiers in armor are present, one of whom is sitting at a table. To the right a chained Christ looks over his shoulder while he is being taken away. Please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Fr. Stephen Freeman

“There’s a part of us that is wired to be careful. It senses danger and hunkers down. It looks for danger. It can easily become the dominant mode of our life. Anxiety and depression, are among the most common noises of this internal warning system. When it comes to dominate, we see the world through fear-colored glasses. In the classical language of the Church, we describe such an experience by the voices it produces: the logismoi (the “little words” or “little thoughts”).

It is of note that the logismoi rarely consist of considering information or pondering deeper things. Such things do not “nag” us. Rather it is the dark thoughts of danger, anger, sexual impulses, hunger, anxieties, etc., that haunt our minds. And so, our days have a way of drowning in petty things.

Sadly, these voices or thoughts can become the lens through which everything is filtered. The world becomes a dark and dangerous place. This same lens can turn in on the self, magnifying the sounds and symptoms of the darkness within ourselves.

A difficulty with all of this is that a warning system is not designed to serve as a world lens. It does not see beauty, it fails to see the true complexity and wonder of the world, and it darkens and obscures any knowledge of God, including our sense of His presence. The nous, the natural faculty by which we see and know God is occluded by the logismoi. We imagine that God has abandoned us, or even that He doesn’t exist.

A World of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty

A number of the early Fathers described the world with three terms: goodness, truth, beauty. It is grounded in the story of creation. When God creates, we are told that He says, “It is good.” In both Hebrew and Greek, the word translated as “good,” also carries the meaning of “beautiful” (a very interesting linguistic intuition). From this, the Fathers taught that what truly exists, that which has true being, is inherently good, and is inherently beautiful. Additionally, they taught that what is “evil,” does not have true being. Rather, it is a parasite, a distortion, and a misuse or misdirection of what is true, good, and beautiful. This parasitic distortion is the very nature of sin itself – a drive towards death and non-being. (This understanding is quite prominent in the work of St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Dionysius the Areopagite).

But, if the truth of existence, the reality of being, is beautiful and good, what happens when the lens through which we see the world is colored by fear, lust, anger, and anxiety? We do not see what is – we see counterfeits, parasites, and dark wannabe’s. We do not see God. We do not see others. We do not even see ourselves. At least, none of these appear in the truth of their existence.

St. John offers this statement:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 Jn. 3:7-8)

The passage is so simple and familiar that we easily pass over it, failing to comprehend and consider what it tells us: Only love knows anything.

“He who does not love does not know God.” God is not an object, an inert entity that must stand still and endure our observations. Rather, St. John tells us, “God is love.” Only love can see Love.

The truth of creation (and of other human beings) is good and beautiful, and cannot be rightly perceived apart from love. This way of being (and perceiving) is often foreign to our actions. Instead, as fearful, anxious creatures of our logismoi, we imagine that knowledge is gained by the amassing of “facts.” The nature of such knowledge is found in its ability to manage. It represents a form of safety and comforts the mind of fear and anxiety.

Of course, such knowledge is extremely limited. The vast array of “facts” that constitutes the universe is well beyond our ken. With but the tiniest fraction of such information we spin various explanations of everything from the origins of life to the very nature of the universe itself. It is a game best played by academics, most of whom agree among themselves that the guessing game constitutes reality itself. The popular media regales the general population with daily revelations implying that we’re very close to knowing everything.

Only love knows anything.

Information Does Not Constitute Knowledge

Information does not constitute knowledge. At most, it constitutes the limits of our management. True knowledge, particularly as spoken of in the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church, is an act of communion. Communion is an act of love.

The nous, as the organ given to us to perceive God, is an organ of love. When Christ says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God,” He is speaking of the purified nous, a heart made whole through love. For many, even most, the nous is a reality that is largely unknown. Our pursuit of information has largely drowned even our awareness of the nous, or to pay attention and value to its voice within our experience.

In our culture, if someone spoke about coldness of the heart, we would likely describe it as an emotional issue, and dismiss it or diminish it as merely unfortunate. If, on the other hand, we were to speak about something interfering with our acquisition of information, we would treat it as a crisis of first-order. We do not understand that the greatest crisis in our lives is found in our coldness of heart. Indeed, even our acquisition of information is distorted by coldness of the heart.

Only Love Knows Anything.

In our interactions with other people, our hearing can be very selective. We can imagine that noting the words spoken is sufficient. But words are never spoken “alone”  – they have an emotional context, and, quite often, other levels of meaning. St. Ignatius of Antioch once wrote: “He who possesses the word of Jesus, is truly able to hear even His very silence.” St. Ignatius is describing a context in which love is at the very center. Only love “possesses the word of Jesus.” As St. John said, “He who does not love does not know God.” Love is the beginning of true knowledge.

Of course, none of us is perfect in love. Coldness of heart can be fairly common companion, fueled by inner wounds and circumstances. I have long treasured the simple admonition: “Guard your heart.” Caught up in a world of ideas and the arguments of culture and causes, we all too easily neglect our heart. The passions cloud the nous and the coldness creeps in. We do not need an idea or information to heal us – we need communion.

The greater point of fasting, at all times, is to reacquire warmth of heart in the cleansing of our nous. It is a slowing down of mind and body and an attention to the one thing necessary. We return to our first love, for it was always love that made God known to us, however dimly.

We need to determine, above all, to guard our heart, to note the subtle hand of coldness before its grasp is complete.”

Love & truth,

Why do we suffer?

-by Matt Nelson

Since 1670, when they were first published, Blaise Pascal’s Pensées (Thoughts) have proven to be extraordinarily influential upon the minds of Christians and non-Christians alike. Avery Dulles noted, “Few if any apologetical works have brought so many unbelievers on the way to faith.”

One might even argue that these scribbled thoughts of a French philosopher and mathematician have grown in importance over time. Peter Kreeft says they are “for today”—that, whereas most modern works of Christian apologetics are written as though we were still living in a Christian culture, the Pensées speak “to modern pagans, not to medieval Christians.” And Pope Francis praised Pascal’s “brilliant and inquisitive mind” just this past year.

What is the greatest good for man? What is every human being really looking for? Most people will readily agree with Aristotle that it is happiness. Pascal agrees: “All men seek happiness. There are no exceptions.”

The trouble is that we tend not to get what we want in this life—at least not entirely. Here enters the universal reality of human suffering. We are left unfulfilled in this life, and therefore we suffer.

The loss and deprivation of happiness are normative experiences for all human beings. “We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death,” writes Pascal. This is where his approach is so strong. It begins with the most obvious spiritual fact about humanity that not even skeptics can deny, what Chesterton called the only part of Christian theology that can really be proven: the damaged soul of man.

Every man knows through his own interior experience that he is “wretched,” Pascal continues, “but he is truly great because he knows it.” Man knows he is wretched because he possesses an intellect; therefore, he is also able to do something intelligent about it. Man’s greatness resides in his power to change his situation.

Because Pascal understood the fundamental human condition of suffering, he had wise insight into the psychological barriers involved with conversion. One of those barriers, he says, is fear: “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true.” The eminent atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel gives credence to this observation:

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

What could be so scary about Christianity? One plausible answer might be the obligations, religious and moral, that logically follow if Jesus is God. Perhaps non-believers recognize that they would need to change, radically, if Christianity turned out to be true. And change tends to involve suffering in direct proportion.

When a potential Christian fixates on the cost of discipleship—on the cross to be borne—conversion to Christianity seems utterly painful and undesirable. It is only once he sees clearly what is to be won (everything, according to Pascal) that the suffering of change and giving up short-term desires appear worthwhile. Even those who are not altogether convinced of Christianity may come to see that the eternal attainment of the greatest Good is perhaps worth the wager.

One of the reasons my fellow countryman Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto psychologist, has influenced such a wide swath of people—Catholics and Protestants, believers and non-believers, men and women—is that he speaks hard truths about human nature with genuine conviction. Like Pascal, he doesn’t sugarcoat the indiscriminate reality of man’s wretchedness.

Like Pascal, Peterson only begins with suffering. Then he moves to commonsense solutions—not for eliminating suffering, but for living a meaningful life despite it. Peterson’s solutions are essentially practical in nature. Pascal, though, moves beyond the merely practical. His ultimate remedy for sin and suffering is not a mere strategy or archetypal interpretation of reality, but a real, personal Savior who is the incarnation of the all-loving God:

Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God or of ourselves.

Teachers like Peterson offer hope for this life, and that is good and necessary, but we desire an end to our sin and suffering, indeed victory over death itself—not mere coping skills. Christ alone offers the ultimate, all-sufficient solution.

The overall form of Pascal’s approach is nothing new. It is the same general plan of evangelization used by the apostles 2,000 years ago, when they set the world ablaze. It is essentially the program laid out in St. Paul’s epistles: all men are sinners (Rom 3:23); if Christ has not been raised, then we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17); but Christ has been raised (1 Cor. 15:20)! Therefore, whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life (John 3:16).

Pascal knew that faith working in love was the only way to the truest experience of happiness in this life; that a person can have all the coping strategies in the world, but if he has not uncompromising love for God and man, he has nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3, Gal. 5:6). Life is suffering, yes. But in the life to come there awaits eternal bliss that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived of (1 Cor. 2:9). For that reason, the Christian life is not marred by misery. It shines with joyful expectation.”

Love & His Joy, only He can give,