2020 Lenten Men’s Retreat

I will be giving a men’s retreat on March 21st, 2020 at Lake Leelanau St. Mary Parish (the parish where I got my first church job). See more details and register here

The Stumbling Block

I recently read that Bishop Erwin Kräutler’s argument for wanting to ordain married men to the priesthood in the amazon is that “indigenous people don’t understand celibacy.”

Granted this was a press conference answer and not a theological treatise, but it begs the question: “Which culture (indigenous or not) has ever imediately understood celibacy?” I think it would be helpful to remember that what we preach is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23)

Yes, we may not be understood, but we continue to preach. We don’t pander half-truths to avoid difficult teachings (like saying “her” in reference to one’s mom when the audience will clearly think one is speaking of his wife, so as not to have to explain why one is celibate). We preach the whole Gospel, in season and out.

Part of that Gospel is the example of our holy men and women “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:12) When I was a single man, I was singly for God, but awaiting my vocation. As a married man, I am for my wife, for God. And one day death will separate my wife and me, and we will again be singly for God–and (God willing) foreverso in Heaven. Our holy celibates have sacrificed marital relations (not because marital relations are evil but because of how large of a sacrifice it is to offer to God) to skip directly to be forever singly for God now. This allows them a unique ability to point the rest of mankind toward Heaven (and confirm their lives to be even closer to the way Jesus lived). This gives a great example to the world of caring for Heaven above all else… so much so that Jesus followed up the above quote with “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (ibid.)

To dismiss this all out of hand simply because it is not culturally understood seems quite rash. I can only assume that most if not all Catholic missionaries to every new culture throughout history have had challenges explaining celibacy (among other things) to those who were new to the Gospel. This is not a unique situation.

Yes, people are without the Sacraments in remote areas, but isn’t that how it has always been with missions? The Church slowly expands through the culture and as more and more people convert, the men are taught to pray/discern whether God is calling them to the priesthood (and with it celibacy) and as more men listen to God’s call, more priests are available to bring the Sacraments to remote areas. If the people are not understanding celibacy, perhaps the fault is more on the end of those proclaiming the message rather than the hearers…

Granted, mandatory clerical celibacy is merely a discipline of the Western Church (and Eastern Bishops), and as such, may be changed, but if it were to be changed, I think the reasoning needs to be more sound than simply “these people don’t get it.”

So Progressive

From today’s 1st reading:

Anyone who is so “progressive” as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.

2 John 1:9

How many people have lost God for trying to be “progressive?”


Lord, help me to never be so progressive as to leave any of your teachings. I want to have you. I would lose everything else for only you.

Amen.

His Office Let Another Take

Recently, our bishop died (Bishop Joseph Cistone). May God rest his soul. While the Vatican is working to appoint a new bishop, it is important to recall that this isn’t the same as any mere restaffing of a company’s open position.

Continuity in the Early Church

We saw in the early Church how the first bishops (the apostles) saw that their positions of leadership would need to be continued after their own deaths in order to lead the Church throughout time. After the loss of Judas, they knew someone had to take his place:

For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘His office let another take.’ So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

Acts 1:20-22

The apostles recognized themselves as stewards of the authority and power given to them by Jesus. Only they had this authority and power from Jesus to lead the fledgling Church. Only they had been set up by Jesus to be “overseers” (Greek: “episkopos”; English: “bishop”), but they need to hand this position on to future generations.

Later, St. Paul recognized the need to pass on the leadership:

…and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 2:2

Eventually, the Apostles spread out and each took charge over a particular area (today called a “diocese”). As the Church spread to new areas, new dioceses were created, so new men were appointed as bishops.

Apostolic Succession

Episcopal Consecration of Deodatus
Claude Bassot (1580-1630)

In order to continue the Church throughout time, the Apostles/bishops (as in the above quote) appointed others to take the place of their deceased members. We call this “Apostolic Succession.” The Apostles’ power and authority (from Jesus) was handed down throughout successive generations within the one Church to certain men in order that they might preserve His teachings and help lead His Church to deeper holiness. Each of these bishops was called to be the spiritual leader of his respective diocese.

Some men tried to fake their way into these positions in order to gain power and influence. When there was a dispute, the question would come: “Who ordained you?”

To prove that a man was a true bishop, he would have to show how he was ordained by someone who was ordained by someone (…) who was ordained by Jesus.

Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers

Tertullian Demurrer Against the Heretics, 32 [200 AD]

Succession Today

Today, Apostolic Succession is present among the Catholic and Orthodox bishops throughout the world. They have the authority from Jesus, through the Apostles to sanctify, teach, and govern their respective dioceses. All the more, then, should they be holy men who do not scandalize the faithful, but rather lead them on in fidelity to Jesus’ teachings.

Eventually, Rome will appoint a successor to Bishop Cistone who will take the helm for the Diocese of Saginaw, MI. More than a mere CEO, that man will be ordained with the same power and authority that Jesus gave to the Apostles to help lead souls to Heaven.


Lord, please bless the Diocese of Saginaw with a holy bishop. Let him be a man after Your own heart who will be our spiritual father. Give him great courage and wisdom to lead all of us closer to You.

Amen.

Featured Photo credit: Saginaw.org

Of Ministers and Millstones

A Common Illness

Now, while I mentioned in my previous post that the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth and grace, not all “Catholics” actually live the Catholic life. Think about it this way… It’s kind of like all people are sick (with sin) and those of us who are in the Catholic Church have made it to the hospital where we have the full suite of elixirs to slowly heal us (prayer, learning the truth, living the moral life, and receiving the Sacraments). However, even though we’re in that place of healing, some might neglect (or worse refuse) to make use of those medicines, so they fail to get better.

Not Taking Their Own Medicine

In this analogy, even the hospital staff (those who work for the Church–even to the highest levels) are also sick and need to continually to take advantage of the elixirs. Unfortunately, as has been seen by the recent scandals, many workers in God’s Church have not continued their elixir regiment. So they are getting sicker and sicker and making those around them worse off as well.

The Evil of Scandal

I am disgusted by and angry at what these men have done–both because of how they have hurt those vulnerable young men, seminarians, and young women (over which much ink has already rightly been spilled), but also because of how their acts have given scandal (bad example that draws people away from God). If a doctor dies from a sickness that his medicine is supposed to heal, people think his medicine doesn’t work–they don’t realize that he’s sick because he isn’t taking his own medicine. Similarly, if a deacon/priest/bishop/pope is found to have egregiously failed the moral life, people are turned away from the perfect elixir of Catholicism (lived fully) and are led to believe that Catholicism is a sham–no better than a cheap bottle of phony tonic water. So this perfect medicine is rejected without even being tried.

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.

G. K. Chesterton

My previous post was about how Jesus said that those who do great works in His name are essentially on the same team. Right after that, however, Jesus warned us about scandal:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Mark 9:42

Obviously, the clerical abuse victims are not sinning by being abused, but they are driven toward the sin of rejecting God by the actions of these men (scandal).

So, while all people working in Jesus’ name are on the same team, there are many whose actions don’t always work for the good of the team. God Himself let us know that it would be better to be violently drowned than to be someone who works against Him. So, whether or not any earthly court exacts justice against these men and their atrocities, be assured that they will receive a full justice in the long run.

Do the horrible acts performed by Catholic clerics take away from the authority and holiness of the Church?

In short: no. To assume this would be to fall to the ad hominem logical fallacy (the character of the messenger changes the veracity of the message). As I described above, if many Catholic leaders failed to live the Catholic life, they’re failing to let the medicine of real Catholicism heal them. The same was the case in Jesus’ time–the scribes and Pharisees failed to live what they were teaching.

Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.

Matthew 23:1ff

The scribes and Pharisees were given the authority (Moses’ seat) to teach, but they misused it. They handed on the teachings, but they didn’t live them out. Similarly, Catholic leaders now have God’s authority to teach, but some have failed to live up to those teachings. Even St. Paul had to chide St. Peter (the first Pope) for acting hypocritically with regard to his interaction with Gentiles. (Galatians 2:11-14) This, chiding, however, doesn’t reduce Peter’s authority.

These inconsistencies (whether scribes, Pharisees, Peter, or today’s clerical abuses) cause scandal. Whereas they don’t reduce the person’s authority, they do reduce the perception of that authority in people’s minds. These scandals lead people to reject God. These people who are supposed to be on God’s side are effectively working against God.

It is a particularly serious sin when someone who is actually supposed to help people toward God, to whom a child or a young person is entrusted in order to find the Lord, abuses him instead and leads him away from the Lord. As a result, the faith as such becomes unbelievable, and the Church can no longer present herself credibly as the herald of the Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World, The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times: A Conversation With Peter Seewald, p. 23-25

Black Frocks

In 1919 Major League Baseball fans were rocked by the scandal that some of the Chicago White Sox players had possibly colluded in intentionally losing the World Series in exchange for money. This earned them the nickname of the “Black Sox.” We could say of many of today’s clerics that they have earned the title of “Black Frocks.” (I know, clerics are normally black, but you get what I mean.) However, we cannot judge the truth and goodness of Christ’s “team” by the actions of the players who are colluding against her (praying poorly, teaching poorly, living immorally, failing to receive the Sacraments well). They give a bad example, but can never sully her true nature.

Is This The End of the Church?

While we may have our Black Frocks, our game is not over. Our World Series is not lost–in fact, we have a sneak peak into the fact that we will eventually win the game (even if, for now, it may seem like we’re down 100 to 1 in the bottom of the 9th). Many have said “this is the end of the Catholic Church.” Jesus knew this was coming, and along with the above “sneak peak,” He gave us His promise when He made St. Peter the first pope:

And I tell you, you are Peter [“Rock”], and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

 

Mt 16:18

He knew the powers of death would attack the Church (including infiltrating her ranks). He knew many would be scandalized. He knew many would assume an end (not only now, but many times throughout history). But, more accurately than Babe Ruth calling his shot over the fence, Jesus has promised that those powers of death SHALL NOT PREVAIL!


Lord,

Thank you so much for Your Church and Your Sacraments. Keep me strong so that I may never again fail to receive Your medicine. May I always be on Your team–always fight on Your side of the battle. Please use me to draw as many people to You as possible. Please diminish the power of the scandals that I have caused. Thank you for helping me to see the error of my ways and seek forgiveness. Please continue to point out the path of holiness that I must walk; continually purify me more and more. Please heal those whom I have hurt. Please heal all who have been hurt by Church members. Please help all who have caused scandal to see their errors, seek Your forgiveness, and work for the salvation of as many souls as possible. We trust in the hope You have given us and we long for many to enjoy the fruit of that hope.

Amen.

God’s Side

St. John the Apostle once complained to Jesus:

“Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.”

Mk 9:38

Jesus responded by basically saying everyone who works in His name is on the same team:

“Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us…”

Mk 9:39-42

Here, we see a man who does not have the authority of the Apostles, but is still working in Jesus’ name. This made me think of some common questions:

Do we Catholics think we’re the only true Christians?

No, we recognize that all other religions who believe that Jesus is God (who became incarnate, died for us, rose from the dead, and is now in Heaven) are true Christians. In fact if you were to get baptized in one of those religions and then converted to Catholicism, you wouldn’t get re-baptized because we recognize the validity of Baptism in all truly Christian communities. All Christians are working toward the same goal: drawing closer to Jesus and drawing as many people to Him as possible.

In St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the retreatants are asked to picture a great battle between Jesus and Satan and to reflect on whether each of their actions have them battling under Jesus’ banner or Satan’s. Whether they are within the fullness of the Mystical Body of Christ or not, those who work in Jesus’ name are operating under His banner.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes:

…many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church…

CCC 819

Does that mean there is no difference between Catholic Christians and non-Catholic Christians?

No. While, we’re on the same team, only Catholics have the fullness of the truth (all of the teachings), apostolic authority (bishops who are successors to the apostles with the bishop of Rome [Pope] as their head), and all of the Sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Communion, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick).

If elements of sanctification and truth are found outside of the Catholic Church, does that mean the Catholic Church doesn’t have ALL the elements of sanctification and truth?

Any elements of sanctification and truth found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church are also found within her. The Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth and sanctification (not just part of it)–that’s one of the definitions of Catholic (see CCC 830). We definitely recognize the good being done in other Christian religions, but we know that same type of work can be done in the Catholic Church. I recognize in the work of non-Catholics like Randy Clark a great charism of healing, given to him by God, but I also see it in Catholics like Fr. Matthias Thelen.

So, what about non-Christians? Do we believe they are totally wrong or is there anything good in those religions?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes that, in fact, all religions (not just Christians) have pieces of the truth (some more than others):

The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life. (CCC 843, emphasis mine)

So, in all of these religions, there are pieces of truth that are actually preparing those people to receive the fullness of truth that God has to offer in the Catholic Church.

See more here (1:06:00 – 1:12:25 in the video in tandem with the first handout).

Those Who Hear the Word of God and Do It

In Luke 8:21, after Jesus was told His mother and brethren were standing outside desiring to see Him, He replied:

“My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

Now, at first reading, this might seem to be an insult to Mary, His mother, but we know Jesus is God and that He follows His own commandments. Rather than an insult, this is an honor. Don’t read this is as Jesus saying “I don’t have a mother,” nor “I care more for people who do my will than I do my own mother.” Rather, we can see in Jesus’ words a special honor for Mary’s docility to the will of God.

The Golden Chain quotes St. John Chrysostom as commenting on this passage:

Now He does not say this by way of reproof to His mother, but to greatly assist her, for if He was anxious for others to beget in them a just opinion of Himself, much more was He for His mother.

Golden Chain 9819

1640-50
The Virgin in Prayer by Sassoferrato

Read: Mary and my brethren (relatives–cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.) are among those who hear the word of God and do it.

In fact a few chapters later, Jesus again highlights Mary’s obedience again. Lk 11: 27-28:

27 As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!”28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Mary is certainly blessed among women for being the Mother of God. Jesus doesn’t reject that; rather He emphasizes how Mary is even more blessed because she perfectly kept God’s word (she did the will of God).

If Jesus Didn’t Rise From the Dead…

In 1 Cor. 15:12-19, St. Paul briefly plays devil’s advocate. What if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? If so:
…our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ… …your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. …we are of all men most to be pitied. 1 Cor 15:14-19
True… All Christians admit this: IF, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, Christianity would be a silly group of people following a dead guy, and, as St. Paul mentioned, we would be most pitiable. Yes, Christianity hinges on the Resurrection of Jesus. This makes me think of Lee Strobel’s story (book, movie). He was an atheist and an award-winning investigative journalist whose wife had recently become a Christian. He wasn’t very happy with that idea, so he decided to prove to her that Christianity was silly. He learned this same concept: that Jesus’ Resurrection is the linchpin to the Christian belief. So he set out, as a journalist, to disprove Jesus’ Resurrection. St. Paul, however, was among those who literally met Jesus after His Resurrection, so he is certain that this is not the case:
 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead… 1 Cor. 15:20 [emphasis mine]

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

St. Paul would go on to join the Apostles in giving their lives rather than renounce belief in Jesus and His Resurrection. After consulting many secular authorities and looking into historical accounts, Strobel too was forced to admit the plausibility of the Resurrection. This caused a change in him so great that he became a Christian and eventually a pastor.
God, May my life constantly be formed and guided by You and the truth of Your Resurrection to the world. Amen.

No One Dies for a Story

Our faith is not based merely on story, but on history. In 1 Cor. 15:5-8, St. Paul describes many of the people to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection:

5 … he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. [emphasis mine]

This is a faith of witnesses, not merely storytellers.

Not only were the apostles witnesses by seeing Jesus risen from the dead, they were witnesses in living as men who knew the risen Jesus. They were also witnesses by their death–that is, they were “martyrs” (a term which means “witness”). All but John were executed (John’s torturers were unable to kill him). Some traditions vary about the exact method used to kill each apostle, but they’re all unanimous in that each was martyred:

  • Peter – crucified upside down
  • Andrew – crucified on an X-shaped cross
  • James the Greater – beheaded
  • John – boiled in oil but miraculously survived, exiled
  • Simon the Zealot – crucified
  • Jude – clubbed to death
  • James the Less – thrown off a pulpit and clubbed to death
  • Phillip – crucified upsidedown
  • Bartholomew – skinned alive
  • Matthew – Stabbed to death
  • Thomas – Stabbed/speared to death
  • Matthias – either crucified or stabbed (differing accounts)

No man dies for a mere story. You and I wouldn’t take the slightest injury to defend the existence of the Easter Bunny, but these men gladly took beatings, torture, and all sorts of misfortunes if only to give witness to others that they have seen a man who came back from the dead… a man who changed their lives… a man who was also God.

The Greatest Spiritual Gifts

In today’s Mass readings, St. Paul urges us to “Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.”When I first read it, it seemed like Paul is pushing us toward figuring out which spiritual gifts are higher than the others and to pursue them. Then I looked at it in the RSV2CE translation, which states: “earnestly desire the higher gifts”–a more generic prodding toward all higher (spiritual) gifts. Paul does prefer certain gifts–as in 1 Cor. 14 when he explains how when gathered in Church, he prefers prophecy over speaking in tongues because it is more edifying for the building up of the Church. If, however, there is an interpreter for the one speaking in tongues, tongues can also be used for the building up of the Church. So it seems like Paul is urging all of us to strive for whatever spiritual gifts God wants to give us. He mentions a number of those gifts in 1 Cor. 14:
  • Prophecy
  • Speaking in Tongues
  • Interpreting Tongues
  • Teaching
  • Utterance of Wisdom
  • Utterance of Knowledge
  • Faith
  • Healing
  • Miracles
  • Discernment of Spirits
  • Etc.
Yes, those things all still happen today. One of the Catholic organizations dedicated to helping people learn about using the spiritual gifts today is Encounter Ministries.
Dear Lord, I wish to receive whatever gifts you have for me. Please use me as Your instrument and guide me to use those gifts to bring as many souls to you as possible. Amen.