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.”

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.


Featured Photo credit:

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!


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.


Would A Human Clone Have A Soul?

One of my previous students recently wrote me, asking about human clones:

If a person is ever cloned, does that living being have a soul? Can we say that God made that person, and that despite being cloned by man, is still a unique individual? Should a clone of a person have the same rights as a person who is, well, the original? Would it be a sin for a person to allow themselves or to allow others to be cloned?

The following is my response with some additions:
To answer your question: every human person has a unique, unrepeatable soul, no matter how he/she came to be. The means by which a human clone came into existence would be evil (assuming that scientists are actually able to figure this out, and one day do), but the person him/herself would still have all the rights as anyone else (just as a person who was conceived in a test tube or in rape would have been conceived in an evil way, but would still have his or her own unique soul with all the rights as anyone else).
If a human is alive, he must have a soul, and souls only come from God. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

the soul is defined as the first principle of life of those things which live: for we call living things “animate,” [i.e. having a soul], and those things which have no life, “inanimate.” (Summa Theologia I.75.1)

the human soul is produced by God (Summa Theologia I.75.6)

Like all moral situations God gives us free will to do things the right way or the wrong way. Rape, artificial insemination, sex outside of marriage, and cloning are all wrong ways of bringing a human being into existence. God also allows all the consequences of our actions (good or evil), so He just might allow these evil situations to be effective in their natural consequences (creation of a new human life) by creating a soul to animate the body these people are forcing into creation–even though these means are against His design.
Yes, you’re right. People who practice things like artificial insemination and cloning are (knowingly or unknowingly) trying to be as great as (or greater than) God. They’re taking a place that belongs to God in the human reproduction process. Every human being has the right to be the fruit of the loving act of his/her mother and father (c.f. CCC 2378). God designed humans to be the natural result of a loving marriage, not the result of scientific processes. Any act that creates a human being outside of the marital act, then, is evil (contrary to God’s design). It would also be a sin for a person to willingly have him/herself cloned (for the same reasons).
The only exception for this is, obviously, natural cloning (a.k.a. twins). If I remember correctly, I think I heard somewhere that identical twins (or was it fraternal twins?) are considered clones of each other because of the way they develop in the womb. That’s something about which an embryologist would a have much better understanding, so don’t quote me on it.
Some might try to argue that if clone has a soul, and God created the soul, this must be proof that God thinks cloning is okay. Again, we refer back to the fact that God allows the natural consequences of all of our actions (good or bad). If I jump off a tall building, God will let me die (no matter how good or evil of a person I am) because death (separation of the soul from the body) is the natural consequence He has set up for things like falling from high places. If I steal food from a restaurant, it will still taste the same as if I had bought it honestly. God would not be allowing it taste good because He condones my theft; rather, He would allow the experience of the good taste of the food to be a natural consequence of putting good tasting food in my mouth. Too often, people try to excuse their evil actions because they do not see an immediate reaction by God (like lightning bolts shooting out of the sky to kill them for doing whatever they did). They’re just fooling themselves into thinking their activity is okay.

[P.S. It’s been over 6 months since I posted because things have been a little busy: I have a 5 month-old daughter, I moved from Texas to Kansas, and I switched from teaching theology to farming–see also the New Catholic Land Movement]

How is the Pope Holy?

A friend wrote to me on Facebook, asking the following question:

 . . . how is the Pope considered a ‘holy man’ when he is elected by a group of individuals? It seems too Democratic a system to be pure and holy.

I enjoy when friends ask questions because they often ask questions that go beyond the scope of what I have already studied, so I have to do more research to learn exactly what the Church teaches on that particular topic. I was intrigued to begin to formulate an answer to this question, because I had been wondering about part of it myself–specifically, what the Church taught about God’s role in the election of the Pope. I believe I was able to make a good start, but I think there is probably much more I can learn about this topic. Feel free to comment if you know any more than I have already listed.
What follows is my response:
1) How is the Pope a “holy man?”

Photo Credit:
First, it will help to understand the word holy. We use “holy” in multiple ways, particularly to describe the following:
  • A: God Himself
  • B: A person, place or thing consecrated to God (set aside as belonging to God)
    • Gen 28:16 – the place God appears
    • Ex 19:6 – God’s people
    • Ex 28:43 – the Tabernacle
    • Is 48:2 – Jerusalem
    • Lev 10:17 – the sacrificial goat
    • Rom 1:7 – what Christians call each other
  • C: Someone who has an outstanding relationship with God and lives an exemplary moral life. (This is probably the most common use in our ordinary vocabulary.)

We also use other words that mean holy: sacred, saint, hallowed, blessed, etc.
We call the pope “the Holy Father” because of his particular position (his office). In Mt 16:18-19, Jesus said to St. Peter that he was “Rock” [Jesus changed his name from Simon to Kephas (Aramaic for “rock”) –> Petros (Greek feminine for “rock”) –> Petre (Greek masculine for “stone”) –> Peter (English transliteration)] and on this “Rock” He would build His Church. At this point Jesus also promised to Peter the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven [a symbol of Jesus’ authority being handed on to Peter to be “in charge” after Jesus ascended–when the Old Testament King was going away, he would give his prime minister the keys to the kingdom to show that he had the authority while the king was gone (see Is 22:20-22)]. Catholics see this as Jesus establishing Peter as the head apostle, who after the Ascension would have Jesus’ authority to lead the Church. Peter left James in charge as the “bishop” (from the Greek episkopos or “overseer”) of Jerusalem and moved on temporarily to Antioch. Peter eventually settled in Rome, where he spent the rest of his life. Peter helped to begin and grow the Christian community in Rome. After Peter was crucified, the remaining Apostles and other bishops knew that someone needed to take Peter’s place just like Matthias had been appointed to take Judas’s place (see Acts 1). Linus was appointed to take Peter’s place as not only the bishop of Rome, but also the new head of the whole Church. Since then whoever was the bishop of Rome was considered the head of the Church (Benedict XVI is the 265th bishop of Rome).
Because his position is to lead the faithful closer to God, he is called the “Holy Father” –> the “papa” –> the “pope.” This corresponds mostly to definition B (above) for holy. He is “holy” by virtue of the fact that his office dedicates him totally to God, and he is acting with God’s authority in that position. He acts in the person of Jesus as the earthly head of the Church, so we also call him the “Vicar of Christ” (vicarius is Latin for “in the person of”).
Ideally, we can also apply definition C to the pope: that he is a moral role model. We have been very fortunate to have recently had a string of some very definition-C-holy popes. Some popes have not been very morally upright (Leo X comes to mind), but the REALLY cool thing with that is this: even though there have been some really morally lousy popes in the past, God has prevented all of them from changing official Church teachings to say that those bad things are good. God wants His people to always have access to the correct teachings about Him (faith) and how we ought to act (morality), so He prevents the popes from changing the teachings that Jesus handed on to the Apostles, who handed it on through history to us today. The popes don’t necessarily get any extra knowledge, but because God wants us not to be led into error, the Holy Spirit prevents the pope from changing the teachings. This can be seen in that same passage from Matthew: both in the authority of the keys, but also when Jesus told Peter that whatever he “bound on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever he loosed on earth would be loosed in Heaven” (“binding” and “loosing” were terms used by rabbis both for doctrine and for the forgiveness of sins). This is what Catholics mean when they say the pope is “infallible.” He is not made “impeccable” (without sin), but he is prevented from changing the truth that Jesus handed on. It has been such a blessing that Benedict XVI and John Paul II were such holy men in all accounts, but not every pope has been that way.
2) Does the election of the Pope make him holy? Isn’t it a rather fallible human system?

Photo Credit: Fotographia Felici
Analogously to Jesus Himself, in the election of the Pope there is a certain combination of the human and the divine. Yes, the cardinals are men, electing the next pope, but they are called to pray for God’s help. Pope Paul VI described it in his document on the Election of the Roman Pontiff (#84):

Like Our predecessors, We strongly exhort the cardinal electors not to be guided by likes or dislikes in electing the pope, nor influenced by the favor or compliance of anyone, nor moved by the interference of persons … nigh places or pressure groups, or by the suasive language of the masters of the communications media, or by violence or fear or love of popularity. Instead, with God’s glory and the good of the Church as their sole guide, and having asked for divine help, let them vote for him whom they judge most fit to rule the universal Church in a fruitful and useful way.

In the next paragraph, Paul VI also recognized that all the Catholic faithful around the world are called upon to pray for the cardinals in the conclave, so that they may be open to listening to God’s direction. While it is open to human fallibility, the conclave of cardinals electing the new pope is called upon to open themselves to God’s direction. And even if they don’t, and the worst pope in history is elected, we can trust in Jesus’ promise to Peter in that same quote that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. Whomever they elect will be the new bishop of Rome, and God will help him in guiding the Church. Even if the man is not definition-C-holy, he will be by default definition-B holy. We pray for both B & C.

UPDATE (3/1/13): A friend linked me to this article at the Deacon’s Bench, quoting Cardinal Ratzinger 8 years before he became pope:

I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined . . . There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
Again, if any of you have any good quotes on God’s guidance of the papal electors, please share.
Praying for our current and future Holy Father,

The Church’s Deepest Nature

Just today the pope released a new motu proprio (document written on his own initiative–something he saw was needed). It is titled Intima Ecclesiae Natura (The Church’s Deepest Nature): De Caritate Ministrada (On the Service of Charity).

Photo Credit: Whispers in the Loggia

It basically explains the bishop as the head of all Catholic charitable activity in his diocese.

Of note, I thought four particular sections stood out:

Art. 9§3: It is the duty of the diocesan Bishop and the respective parish priests to see that in this area the faithful are not led into error or misunderstanding; hence they are to prevent publicity being given through parish or diocesan structures to initiatives which, while presenting themselves as charitable, propose choices or methods at odds with the Church’s teaching.

Basically, it’s the bishop’s job to make sure that “Catholic” charities don’t propose anti-Catholic teachings. (By anti-Catholic, I mean anything that goes against the Church’s teachings.) An elephant in the room here is Catholics for a Free Choice who promote abortion, yet claim to be Catholic.

Art. 10§3: In particular, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that charitable agencies dependent upon him do not receive financial support from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to Church’s teaching. Similarly, lest scandal be given to the faithful, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that these charitable agencies do not accept contributions for initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the Church’s teaching.

Again, it’s the bishop’s job to make sure that anti-Catholic groups aren’t funding Catholic charities. Another elephant in the room here is the group Faith in Public Life, which is supported by George Soros, who has links to many anti-Catholic agendas.

It is also the bishop’s job to make sure that Catholic charities don’t accept money for anti-Catholic uses.

Art. 2§2: A charitable agency may use the name “Catholic” only with the written consent of the competent authority, as laid down by canon 300 CIC.’ 

Art. 11: The diocesan Bishop is obliged, if necessary, to make known to the faithful the fact that the activity of a particular charitable agency is no longer being carried out in conformity with the Church’s teaching, and then to prohibit that agency from using the name “Catholic” and to take the necessary measures should personal responsibilities emerge.

The first one is mostly a reminder of Canon Law 300. The second one is implied but now makes explicit that the bishop should inform his flock when a “Catholic” charity doesn’t follow Catholic principles, and to strip them of their Catholic name–something many bishops have failed to do for quite a while with certain “Catholic” groups.