Category Archives: Church

Catholic Culture and the Collapse of the Self-Evident

In a book written just prior to becoming Pope called Truth and Tolerance, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger describes the present day crisis of faith as coming about from a “collapse of the old religious certainties.” This collapse affects more than just faith, but leads to a total “collapse of human values” (Truth and Tolerance, p.140).  So connected are these religious certainties with our conception of human values, that we treat certain truths of the Christian ethos as self-evident.  Or at least, we did.  What we are witnessing is not just the death of a Christian culture, but also, what one author has called, the collapse of the self-evident.

The Enlightenment and the Collapse of the Self-Evident

Those who have been victimized by the project of the Enlightenment, the same project which promised to liberate reason from the constraints of religious truth, have seen reason collapse instead.  Rather than liberating reason, it has enslaved it to feeling and the scientific method.  There are no longer first principles, truths that we all hold as self-evident, from which reason and society might proceed.  Freedom reigns supreme, unfettered even by reason itself and it is every man for himself in this brave new world.  It seems that the only self-evident truth is that there are no self-evident truths.  Descartes’ skepticism has won the day—we now know nothing for sure.

Nevertheless, this is our reality and a failure to adapt to it only exacerbates the problem.  For those who desire to spread the Christian ethos they must come to accept the consequences of the “collapse of the self-evident.”  When we encounter another person who fails to acknowledge what is self-evident we assume that they are either stupid or wicked.  We assume that they are either unable or unwilling to see the truth. They are the swine upon which we should not cast our pearls and we counter with indifference and/or hostility.

Our Lord’s admonition regarding our pearls and the world’s swine is not without merit, but we miss a great opportunity when we fail to grasp that, in a culture in which the self-evident has collapsed, they may be neither stupid nor wicked.  In fact, in Christian charity, we should assume they are simply ignorant.  Rather than being, as we should all be, slaves to the self-evident, they become slaves to the fashionable.  There was a time when the Christian ethos was the fashionable, but those days are long past.

An illustration will help to drive the point home.  Many Christians find themselves absolutely flummoxed by those who support abortion.  The self-evident truth that acted as a cornerstone for our country, that no one may directly kill an innocent person, makes it practically self-evident that abortion is immoral.  Therefore we assume that abortion supporters are either stupid or wicked, marking them as enemies to be conquered rather than potential allies to be won over.  It is no longer self-evident what a person is.  Even if we are able to grasp that, then we run into a second “self-evident” roadblock, innocence.  What is an innocent person; one that poses no threat to my well-being or one that does not deliberately seek to harm me, or what?  That a child in the womb is innocent should be self-evident, the fact that so many people can’t see it is because of the collapse of the self-evident.

Every pre-Christian culture had abortions.  This was not because they were less enlightened but because they were pre-Christian.  Likewise with the dignity of women, slavery, euthanasia, and nearly every other societal ill.  It is only in light of the Christian conception of man that we can even speak of the value of every human being.  It is the fact that we are made in the image of God and worth enough for the Son of God to die for that we can even conceive of human dignity.  Throw out those two truths and the collapse of the self-evident is sure to follow.

We argue and argue, but our voice is lost because no one understands us.  We are, quite literally yelling into the wind.  Sure individual conversions still occur, but nothing on the massive scale that the Church is used to.  And that is because the smattering of individual conversions cannot sustain a Christian culture.

The Necessity of a Catholic Culture

Our Lord won a grace for the ignorant to see the truth on the Cross—“Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  But His Mystical Body, His visual presence on earth has been given a grace and a task.  This is the same grace and task that the early Church was given to “instruct the ignorant” through the foundation of a decidedly Catholic culture.  It started with a tightly knit sub-culture but before too long blossomed into an entire culture.  Constantine may have “legitimized” Christianity by adopting it as the state religion, but he was only acknowledging what every Roman already knew—the empire, thanks in no small part to a lifeless pagan worship, was in steady decline with the most vital part of society being the Church.  I am not calling into question the sincerity of Constantine’s conversion, there is no good historical reason to doubt that, only pointing out that it also turned out that a healthy Church has a unifying capacity in society, even if not everyone is Christian.  What follows from this is the rise of a Christian culture.

The Church may not be in favor of divorce, but they must finally admit that the marriage of the Church with liberalism is a failed union.  We have been trying for over a century to show how the Church is compatible with liberalism rather than showing how liberalism is compatible with the Church (or mostly how it is not).  Pope Leo XII may have been ahead of his time in declaring the heresy of Americanism, but he wasn’t wrong.

Culture, as the liberals (not in the liberal vs conservative sense, but in the sense of liberalism of which both liberals and conservatives are a part) know is built from the bottom up in the education of the young.  Why have Catholic schools adopted the liberal model and dropped the classical liberal arts model?  Catholic education was a battlefield in the 1950s when the Supreme Court put parochial schools in its sight.  Rather than continuing the fight, the Church schools simply adopt the liberal model.  There is no longer a uniquely Catholic education, except among a very small remnant.

Likewise, we are urged to call our Congressmen to protect the Dreamers, many of whom are Catholic immigrants, from being deported.  But if we are honest, they would probably be better off in their Catholic homeland rather than having their eternal salvation at stake as here.  Oppose Trump’s wall?  Fine, but how about building a wall around these young people so that they retain their Catholicism and not Americanism.  There was a time when there was enough of a Catholic culture to sustain many Catholic immigrants.

The examples could be multiplied, but the point remains that until we remain committed to building a Catholic culture, we will lose, not just the culture war, but eternal souls.  The collapse of the self-evident leaves many blinded by the fashionable and unable to see the truths of the Faith as livable and coming from the hand of a loving Father.


Joining the Choir

In the midst of one of the greatest Christian persecutions, Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan seeking his counsel for dealing with Christians.  What makes this letter especially noteworthy is that it is the earliest non-Christian account of Christianity itself, with specific details about the religious practices of the early believers.  In particular, he mentions how those former Christians whom he had met all said that their supposed error was that they “were accustomed to gather before dawn on a certain day and sing a hymn to Christ as if He were God.”  Although understated, it appears remarkable that of all the Christian practices, they remember the liturgical singing best.  It is as if it was so intoxicating that it was a primary cause of their “error.”  They were not alone, even the great St. Augustine expressed a similar conviction, finding the Church mostly vulgar until he heard her singing: “I wept in Thy hymns and canticles, touched to the quick by the voices of Thy sweet-attuned Church” (Confess. ix, 6).

Would either of these two pagans would say anything remotely similar if they were to find harbor in a church during Mass in our own time?  More than likely, not.  Like many aspects of the Sacred Liturgy, liturgical music is approaching a crisis point.  Banal at best, many places throw in a dash of irreverence confusing Mass music with the music of the masses.  Liturgical music ought to be different.  No mere sing-along, it is meant to vest and adorn the liturgy by bringing clarity to what is truly going on around the Faithful. Or, as Pope St. Pius X put it,

“Sacred music, being a complementary part of the solemn liturgy, participates in the general scope of the liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful. It contributes to the decorum and the splendor of the ecclesiastical ceremonies, and since its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful, its proper aim is to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries.” (Tra Le Sollecitudini Instruction on Sacred Music)

Bad Theology Leads to Bad Music

This is not really a critique of the skills of choir directors or choir members, but a critique of their underlying philosophy.  Many have been trapped within a mindset Pope Benedict XVI calls a “puritanical functionalism of the liturgy conceived in purely pragmatic terms.”  This pithy explanation is rich in substance, saying a number of things all at once.  Foundationally, it lies in a (mis-)application of the call of the Second Vatican Council for the Liturgy to be marked by active participation of all present.  Many have interpreted this to mean that everyone has a function to perform during the liturgy.  But, as the Pope Emeritus points out, the “earthly liturgy is liturgy because and only because it joins what is already in process.”  That is, we are merely participating in God’s work, a work that is cosmic in its dimension.  Our part(-icipipation) is not merely to do a bunch of external activities, but to actively and internally unite ourselves with this Opus Dei, praying that we will personally take ownership of the sacrifice and make it our own.  It is a sacrifice given in “spirit and truth” and thus, first and foremost, requires hearts that are into it.

Anyone who has gone to a concert knows that attentive listening, even if you are not singing or humming along, is a form of participation.  In fact someone doing that, especially when they are out of tune or otherwise don’t have particularly good voices, can ruin the experience for those around them.  Likewise, with musica sacra—listening intently and devoutly to a choir fits the Council’s call for active participation.  But there are those in the congregation who, to quote Pope Benedict XVI again, “who can sing better ‘with the heart’ than ‘with the mouth’; but their hearts are stimulated to sing through the singing of those who have the gift of singing ‘with their mouths.’”  The flip side is that by compelling those to sing who cannot we are not only silencing their hearts, but those around them as well.

The problem, as I mentioned, is not particularly related to skill but to ideology.  With the goal being external uniformity in activity, sacred music suffers.  Musical selection is based upon the ease in which those present may sing along and its capacity to build community through singing.  These two criteria however conflict with what Pope St. Pius X said was the authentic goal: namely that the music be holy and have “goodness of form.”

What Makes Good Liturgical Music

That the music should be holy simply means that it should be set aside as specifically liturgical, that is “closely connected with the liturgical action and… conferring greater solemnity upon the sacred rites” (SC 112).  “Praise and worship” music, Christian rock, and secular “feel-good” music each have their own place, but the liturgy is not that place.  It should be a musical setting of a liturgical text.  This is why the Church has always given the works of Palestrina and Gregorian Chant pride of place because of it solemnity and close connection to the spirit of the liturgy.

Liturgical music should also have “goodness of form” by which Pius X means it should be of high artistic quality.  He said, “it must be true art, for otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.”  This is where choirs and choir directors should not fear to shine for the glory of God.  They should strive to play and sing beautifully even if the rest of the congregation cannot join them.  They should see themselves properly as sacraments, making the singing of the angels and saints present.  Their music should raise our minds and hearts to the heights of heaven.

When these two criteria, holiness and beauty, are met, then a third one, universality emerges.  This is what St. Augustine experienced early during his conversion.  By universal St. Pius X means it “in the sense that while every nation is permitted to admit into its ecclesiastical compositions those special forms which may be said to constitute its native music, still these forms must be subordinated in such a manner to the general characteristics of sacred music that nobody of any nation may receive an impression other than good on hearing them.”  One does not need to understand all the words of the music, let alone the Liturgy itself, in order to participate.  As St. Thomas says, “Even if those who listen sometimes do not understand the words being sung, they do understand the reason for singing, namely the praise of God.  And that is sufficient to arouse men to worship” (ST II-II, q.91 art 2).  If the music has beauty, then the clarity of its purpose will emerge and move all those present to worship God more fully during the Mass.

Music has the power to move us in ways that even the best homily could never do.  This power, once harnessed and properly applied, can be the “heart of the Liturgy.”  The crisis point has been reached—it is time to reclaim liturgical music and restore it to its pride of place.

Sign of Contradiction

In what has been labeled as a landmark study into various institutional responses to child sex abuse, the Australian Royal Commission targeted two particular practices of the Catholic Church; deeming them as directly contributing to abuse.  There is a certain familiar ring to them with the Commission recommending that the Church remove the canonical seal of Confession as pertains to sexual abuse and make clerical celibacy voluntary.  Many in the media, both Down Under and abroad, have criticized the Church for being too quick to dismiss the recommendations of the Commission.  Of course, the Church has been listening to these “recommendations” for many years now and so has good reason for rejecting them out of hand.  Nevertheless, it is always instructive for us to look at why, particularly the recommendation to change the practice of celibacy, is not a real solution.

To be fair, the Commission was quick to point out that clerical celibacy was not a direct cause of abuse but instead called it “a contributing factor,” especially since it “is implicated in emotional isolation, loneliness, depression and mental illness. Compulsory celibacy may also have contributed to various forms of psychosexual dysfunction, including psychosexual immaturity, which pose an ongoing risk to the safety of children.”  Furthermore, “for many clergy and religious, celibacy is an unattainable ideal that leads to clergy and religious living double lives, and contributes to a culture of secrecy and hypocrisy” (p. 71).

Statistics Don’t Lie but People Sometimes Use Them Wrong

Because we live in a world that increasingly relies on empirical observation, it is always helpful to begin by examining exactly how they came to their conclusions.  There can be no doubt that the Church in Australia, like the Church in the United States and the rest of the world, fostered a culture of abuse in the past.  There have been many effective safeguards put in place in the last decade but there is always room for improvement.  Still, there is some extreme speculation in what the Commission is saying.  To say that celibacy is a contributing factor with any degree of statistical confidence, you must be able to compare the incidence with non-celibates, with all other risk and institutional factors (including size) being equal.   To simply report raw numbers and unadjusted proportions comparing the Catholic Church (964 institutions) with Hinduism (less than 4 institutions) is highly misleading and can lead to spurious conclusions (see pp. 45-46).    They mention that the Church had the highest percentage of the total abuse cases, but there is no adjustment in that percentage for the fact that it is by far the largest institution.  It is like comparing the number of murders in Billings, Montana, with those in New York City without making any adjustment for the population size.  Per capita the incidence of abuse within the Church is no higher than other religious institutions, making any claim that celibacy is a contributing factor spurious at best.  In a peer reviewed setting, what they reported in their numbers of victims would have never passed even the most cursory of scrutiny.

They may have data to support this claim, but it would have been remarkable since no other group has found the incidence among priests to be any higher than other religious denominations and some have even found it to be lower.  If you really want to know the truth as to the incidence of abuse, follow the money.  Since the 80s insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance and they have found that the Catholic Church is not at any additional risk than other congregations.  In fact, because most abuse claims involve children, the only risk factor they do include is the number of children’s programs they have (for more on this, see this Newsweek article).

The Unattainable Ideal

There is also a familiar tone to their contention that compulsory clerical celibacy is an “unattainable ideal” for many of the clergy.  In fact, it is similar to the response that Our Lord gave to the Apostles when they questioned Him regarding “becoming a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of God” (Mt 19:12).  It is a calling based on a very high ideal, an ideal that can never be attained unless there is a particular call—”Whoever can accept this ought to accept it” (Mt 19:12).  It is both a free choice and a calling to a high ideal, but God always equips when He calls.

The point is that it is an unattainable ideal for all of the clergy without the necessary graces attached to the call.  But it is still a fallen man who accepts the call and thus the possibility for infidelity always remains real.  But just because some men fail, does not mean that the Church should throw away the ideal.

What this really betrays is a hidden assumption that everyone is making.  Priests are human just like everyone else and when they itch they must scratch.  We do not understand what celibacy is and therefore assume the solution to the problem is an orgasm.  If we can set it so that this orgasm occurs in a licit situation then we will rid the priesthood of this problem.  But again, if that were the case no married men would do something like this.

This is where JPII’s elixir of Theology of the Body comes in.  In man who has been redeemed by Christ, sexual desire is meant to be the power to love as God loves.  Nuptial love is the love of a total giving of self.  It is in the body’s “capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in which the person becomes a gift—and by means of this gift—fulfills the very meaning of being and existence” (JPII General Audience 16 January 1980).  Marriage and Procreation aren’t the only ways to love as God loves.  These are simply the original models that God gave us “in the beginning”.  Anytime we image Christ in giving up our bodies for others we express the nuptial meaning of the body.

With this in mind we can begin to understand celibacy.  Celibate life can only flow from a profound knowledge of the nuptial meaning of the body.  Anyone who chooses this vocation out of fear of sex or some deep sexual wound would not be responding to an authentic call from Christ (JPII General Audience 28 April 1982).  Celibacy is meant to be an anticipation of Heaven where we are neither married nor given in marriage.  It is a witness to the resurrection of the glorified body.  In other words, those who forego marriage in this life do so in anticipation of the “marriage of the Lamb”.

The Commission simply sees no value in celibacy and therefore is quick to dismiss it.  It is a sign of contradiction and therefore “has to be the problem” even if there is no way to prove it.  They rightly call it an ideal, but then fail to grasp the value of that ideal.  It is an ideal because it is also a sign—a sign that is valuable to the rest of society as a whole.  It serves a complimentary role to marriage and helps to show its true meaning.  It is an anticipation of our future life where our union with Love itself will be more intimate than marriage.  But it also shows the great worth of marriage itself because it is a sacrifice of great worth.

The Slippery Heresy

There is an innate pessimism in all of us that leads us to believe we are living in the worst of times.  So ingrained is this habit are we that we surround ourselves with prophets of gloom—paid professionals whose sole task is to point out how bad things are.   We can hardly imagine things getting worse and we simultaneously pine for the good ol’ days when things were so much better.  Paralyzed by nostalgia we feel the darkness of doom surrounding us; surrounding us, that is, until we ask “when exactly were the good ol’ days?”  History becomes the elixir of pessimism.  The more we examine it, the more convinced we become that we are living in neither the best of times nor the worst of times.  We find examples of when things were better certainly, but we also find times where things we far worse.

The Church, for her part, has no shortage of prognosticators of peril promising that the collapse of the Church is imminent.  But history, if we study it, tells us otherwise.  The Church survived far worse circumstances than our own and we are assured it will survive the worst.  Talk about optimism!  The worst is yet to come, but the best will follow shortly thereafter.

The Gates of Hell and the Church

The Church holds an insurance policy against the gates of hell will not prevail, underwritten by the Divine Son of God, but we also have plenty of historical examples giving the promise a certain amount of street cred.  Hardly a century has gone by in which the Church did not seem to be on the verge of destruction and yet rebounded.  Our time is likely to be no different—the Mystical Body may enter the tomb like its Head, but it will always be a sign of His resurrection as well.

No worries, right?  Well, not exactly.  When you love someone, you not only want them to live, but you want them to be healthy.  The Church most certainly will survive, but her health is another issue altogether.  The Church may have been in great peril in the first three centuries, but her health was never in question.  She may have been big and rotund 1000 years later, but her health was delicate.

It may seem odd to go to these lengths for the sake of making a proper distinction, until we carry out the implications of this.  The Church as she sits here in 2017 is not healthy.  If we love her then we ought to greatly desire her health.  This is not pessimism, but realism.  The disease may not be terminal, but many members, especially in the extremities may end up being amputated unless we can properly diagnose the problem and apply the remedy.

Diseases in the Mystical Body of Christ have a very specific name—we call them heresies.  Rather than being infected from without, these are like autoimmune diseases that attack the body from within.  To fight them, God injects saints as antibodies.  These saints witness in a particular way against the prevailing error in the Church and then attack those errors with truth and charity, that is, by their words and way of life.

What makes our time particularly unique, is that it would be very difficult to name the heresy plaguing the Church.  St. Athanasius could identify the pathology he was fighting—Arianism.  St. Dominic could name his—Albigensianism.  And St. Therese of Lisieux could name hers—Jansenism.  The list goes on and on.  God raised these men and women up and formed them to fight the diseases in the Church.  While there seem to be a lot of heretics, there is no great heresy.  Some will say modernism, but that, as dangerous as it is, is really a catch all and doesn’t quite capture it.  Some would say it has to do with the moral authority of the Church, but again that is not quite it either.  Try as you might, you would be hard pressed to name the one heresy.

The Mother of All Heresies

That is because the heresy we are facing is really the mother of all heresies—ambiguity.  Ambiguity is really a heresy of omission—it sows error not so much in being silent, but in not saying anything.  It is animated by the spirit of Pope Honorius, the 7th Century pope who was condemned for fanning the flames of heresy by remaining silent when he could have spoken clearly regarding the Monthelite heresy.

In this environment we should not be surprised to see the re-emergence of all the past heresies because all truth is now hidden under the veil of ambiguity.  It is a circumstance that Pope Pius VI anticipated in his 1794 papal bull Auctorem Fidei.

“[The Ancient Doctors] knew the capacity of innovators in the art of deception. In order not to shock the ears of Catholics, they sought to hide the subtleties of their tortuous maneuvers by the use of seemingly innocuous words such as would allow them to insinuate error into souls in the most gentle manner. Once the truth had been compromised, they could, by means of slight changes or additions in phraseology, distort the confession of the faith which is necessary for our salvation, and lead the faithful by subtle errors to their eternal damnation. This manner of dissimulating and lying is vicious, regardless of the circumstances under which it is used. For very good reasons it can never be tolerated in a synod of which the principal glory consists above all in teaching the truth with clarity and excluding all danger of error.”

There is a demonic cleverness to the heresy of ambiguity that makes it difficult to grasp or even accuse someone of.  It says everything and nothing all at once.  It tells a different truth depending on where you are standing.  It is not either/or or even both/and, but both/or.  And like most heresies historically speaking they spread from the top down.  Nearly 80% of the Bishops in the mid-4th century were Arians as well as most of the Roman army, but it was the rank and file Catholics and faithful Bishops like Athanasius that stemmed the tide.

The Church may be a field hospital, but it is the unambiguity of divinely revealed truth that allows her to apply the salve of mercy.  There can be no mercy without justice, no mercy without acknowledging a truth that has been transgressed.  Take away the truth and mercy soon follows.  The Church is left defenseless and ineffective in her saving mission.  Eventually even her own children will be cut off with nothing to tether them to the Body.

Looked at through the lens of history, the saints of our age will be witnesses against ambiguity, fighting against the honorary Honoriuses of our age.  They will be marked by a clarity in their teaching that is matched by an unambiguous way of life.  They will be unambiguously joyful because they will be unambiguously holy.  They will accept unambiguous suffering at the hands of those afflicted with ambiguity and offer it for their sake (Col 1:24).  They will hold fast to the truth, but always in a way that speaks of love and mercy.  They will be true saints.



Apostles of the End Times

As the liturgical year comes to a close, the Church’s readings focus almost exclusively on the end times and the return of Christ in power and might, revealing Himself as Christ the King.  With Advent on the heels of the Solemnity of Christ the King, many of us will flip a switch and turns our eyes to His first coming, when He mounted the throne of the Cross to reign from the Tabernacle.  But rather than hitting the reset button, we should see a principle of continuity between the two seasons, especially if we subscribe to the beliefs of the greatest prophet of the 20th Century, St. John Paul II.  A recurring theme during his pontificate, one that he emphasized in his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis, was that we are in a season of “a new Advent.”  This new Advent means “to accept with keen conviction the words of her [the Church’s] victorious Redeemer: ‘Remember I am coming soon’ (Rev 22:12).” (John Paul II, ad Limina Address to the Bishops of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, April 25, 1988).  Without succumbing to any distorted millennialism or fatalism, the saintly Pontiff nevertheless expressed a sober certitude that “We are living in the Advent of the last days of history, and trying to prepare for the coming of Christ…”(Angelus Address for World Youth Day, August 19, 1993).

While it remains always true that “you know not the day nor the hour,” the office of Supreme Pontiff carries with it a prophetic charism that invites us in a particular way to keep watch during our own time (c.f. Mt 25:13).  The Pope had a good reason for thinking that our own times were ripe for the return of Christ, one that he hints at in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater:

“For, if as Virgin and Mother she was singularly united with him in his first coming, so through her continued collaboration with him she will also be united with him in expectation of the second; ‘redeemed in an especially sublime manner by reason of the merits of her Son,’ she also has that specifically maternal role of mediatrix of mercy at his final coming, when all those who belong to Christ ‘shall be made alive,’ when ‘the last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor. 15:26).”

The great Marian pope reasons that because Mary played such a key role in the first coming, she would likewise play an integral role in the second.  This is a principle that he borrowed from St. Louis de Montfort, a saint whom John Paul II admitted to having a particularly strong devotion.

Mary’s Role in the End Times

The words of the Polish saint echo St. Louis’ who, in his book True Devotion to Mary, says that

“The salvation of the world began through Mary and through her it must be accomplished. Mary scarcely appeared in the first coming of Jesus Christ so that men, as yet insufficiently instructed and enlightened concerning the person of her Son, might not wander from the truth by becoming too strongly attached to her…As she was the way by which Jesus first came to us, she will again be the way by which he will come to us the second time though not in the same manner” (True Devotion to Mary, 49, 50).

Mary’s greatness remained hidden at the first coming so as to cause no confusion as to the reason for her greatness—the Son of God come in the flesh.  Once the true nature of Christ was sufficiently known, the Holy Spirit wished that we come to know her more fully so that, made perfectly prepared for the first coming, she might prepare the world for the Second Coming.  Just as through her, He came, so through her, even if in a different manner, will He come again.  It is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Revelation 12 in which the Queen gives birth and the child is caught up to God and to His throne.  She returns to her place prepared by God and the devil takes out his wrath on her children.

Reading the signs of the times through a Montfortian lens, St. John Paul II likely interpreted the proliferation of Marian apparitions as a sign that the end is near.  Again, we do not know how near is near, but nevertheless Our Lady’s messages in each of the apparitions are marked by a spirit of urgency.  The “Fatima Pope,” deeply formed by these messages, invited the Church to a renewed vigilance in this “new Advent.”

Those consecrated to Jesus through Mary are, what St. Louis de Montfort, calls Apostles of the End Times (TD 58).  In describing these apostles, the 17th Century French Saint provides us with a blueprint for navigating this new Advent.  At the dawn of the Final Battle,

“Almighty God and his holy Mother are to raise up great saints who will surpass in holiness most other saints as much as the cedars of Lebanon tower above little shrubs…These great souls filled with grace and zeal will be chosen to oppose the enemies of God who are raging on all sides. They will be exceptionally devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Illumined by her light, strengthened by her food, guided by her spirit, supported by her arm, sheltered under her protection, they will fight with one hand and build with the other. With one hand they will give battle, overthrowing and crushing heretics and their heresies, schismatics and their schisms, idolaters and their idolatries, sinners and their wickedness. With the other hand they will build the temple of the true Solomon and the mystical city of God, namely, the Blessed Virgin, who is called by the Fathers of the Church the Temple of Solomon and the City of God . By word and example they will draw all men to a true devotion to her and though this will make many enemies, it will also bring about many victories and much glory to God alone.”

Becoming Apostles of the End Times

In short, these apostles will be identified by three particular marks—a love of the Cross, Apostolic Zeal, and a great Marian devotion.

These great souls, because they “carry the gold of love in their heart and the incense of prayer in their spirit” will love the Cross; a love shown by “carrying the myrrh of mortification in their bodies.”  They will, as Our Lady requested at Fatima, practice penance with great regularity.  In preaching devotion to Mary they “will make many enemies” (TD 48) and serving as Our Lady’s heel by which she will crush the head of the serpent, they will be “down-trodden and crushed” (TD 54) by all the children of the devil and of the world.

Not only will the Apostles of the End Times suffer for a love of God, but also they will be driven by an unquenchable apostolic zeal to save souls.  “Flaming fires” (TD 56) these apostles will spread the “the fire of divine love” everywhere.  Our Lady will use them like sharp arrows in her powerful hands and they will not only reform the Church, but will be instrumental in extending the truth of the Gospel to “the idolators and Muslims” (TD 59).

St. Louis says that “these great souls . . . will be exceptionally devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Illumined by her light, nourished at her breast, guided by her spirit, supported by her arm, sheltered under her protection” (TD 48, 55).  They will be marked by a profound humility which enables them to act as her heel that crushes the head of serpent.  Their militant spirit will imitate the spirit of Our Lady of Mercy, always willing to suffer to win souls from the clutches of the evil one. “They will have the two-edged sword of the word of God in their mouths and the blood-stained standard of the Cross on their shoulders. They will carry the crucifix in their right hand and the rosary in their left, and the holy names of Jesus and Mary on their heart. The simplicity and self-sacrifice of Jesus will be reflected in their whole behavior” (TD, 59).

Are we living in the end times?  Most assuredly, yes.  But we may still be separated by many years from the return of Christ.  Nevertheless, the Church needs to set the wheels in motion so that the Apostles of the End Times are fully formed when the time comes.  It is hard to imagine a better way to live in the “new Advent”, then by spending this Advent by becoming an Apostle of the End Times.  This Wednesday, November 29th offers yet another opportunity to spend the next 33 days preparing for a consecration to Jesus through Mary on January 1st.

Sacramental Momentum

At the beginning of his extended treatise on the Eucharist in the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas draws a parallel between our corporeal lives and our spiritual lives that helps explain the inner logic of the Sacraments.  Specifically he says “the spiritual life is analogous to the corporeal, since corporeal things bear a resemblance to spiritual. Now it is clear that just as generation is required for corporeal life, since thereby man receives life; and growth, whereby man is brought to maturity: so likewise food is required for the preservation of life. Consequently, just as for the spiritual life there had to be Baptism, which is spiritual generation; and Confirmation, which is spiritual growth: so there needed to be the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is spiritual food” (ST III, q.73, a.1).  While it is certainly a clever way to teach about the need for the Sacraments, to see it as only that would be to miss an important analogical corollary; one that has practical applications for our apostolic approach to those in various stages of conversion.

In mitigating the factions that had arisen within the Corinthian community, St. Paul reminds them of his (and our) role in the conversion of others.  It is by way of cooperation that we participate in the conversion of another, but it is ultimately God Who provides the growth (c.f. 1Cor 3:6-7).  We all intuitively grasp this and realize that our role is secondary (at best) and that only through grace does another person “grow to the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13).  Nothing new has been said so far.  But how that growth is provided is not at all intuitive.  In fact we might be tempted to think it is a mystery and only according to God’s good pleasure.  As Catholics we do know that there is one sure way that God causes growth—through the Sacraments.


Sacramental Inertia

This is where St. Thomas’ analogy between our corporeal lives and our spiritual lives fits in.  The analogy is not just about the inner logic of the Sacraments themselves but also represent a progression in our Spiritual lives.  Just as a living person has a natural drive toward food, the person who has been born again in Baptism has a supernatural drive to feed on the Bread of Life.  Just as the child who has been born and has nourished his life with food desires to grow up, so too in the Spiritual life there is a supernatural desire for Confirmation.  What St. Thomas doesn’t say, but which is implied, is that this supernatural desire is contained as a grace within the Sacraments.  Baptism leads to a desire for the Eucharist.  Baptism and the Eucharist lead to a desire for Confirmation.  Baptism and Confirmation lead to an increased desire for the Eucharist.  Each reception of the Eucharist leads to a more fervent desire for the Eucharist itself.  And so, through this analogy we see that within the Sacraments there are graces pushing the recipient towards the other Sacraments, most especially towards the “source and summit” in the Eucharist.  It is like Newton’s first law applied to the Spiritual life—that which is set in motion in Baptism stays in motion through the other Sacraments.

Like all theological truths, this (super)natural progression also has practical consequences, one which we ought to make profit of in our apostolic endeavors.  If we know that an infallible means of growth is the Sacraments and follow St. Paul’s model then we ought to push others towards the Sacraments.  When we meet someone who does not know God at all and is unbaptized, our focus ought to be to lead them to the Baptismal font.  Why?  Because the grace of conversion contains within itself a desire to be baptized.  If the person is Baptized, then our focus ought to be on pushing them towards Confession and the Eucharist.  Why?  Because the Baptized person is already being inwardly pushed towards those Sacraments.  They may not be able to identify the specific impulses, but they will know them when they see them.    Lukewarm Catholic already in communion with the Church?  Push them towards Jesus in the Eucharist Who is the fire that will set ablaze the most lukewarm of hearts.

I knew of a man who did nothing else but invite his Protestant friends to Eucharistic Adoration.  He reasoned that if his Protestant friends really knew Jesus, they would recognize Him when they met Him in the monstrance.  It might not happen immediately, but in many of the cases they kept going with him until it did.  If Jesus is really there, and He is, then it is hard to find a flaw in this approach.

Applying the Law Sacramental Inertia

Our apostolic endeavors are only effective insofar as we cooperate with grace already working interiorly in the person.  By making use of this principle of Sacramental Inertia we are assured that we are on the same page as the Holy Spirit.  The Sacraments become a sort of apostolic blueprint that represent a goal.  In Latin, the Mass ends with Ite Missa Est, literally “she is sent,” meaning that we are sent out into the world to bring others back with us.  Like John the Baptist our goal is simply to point out and bring others to Jesus.  If we really believe the Sacraments are what the Church teaches they are, we will make them our apostolic goals.

One last point merits our attention as well, especially if it seems that the picture I have painted is overly simplistic.  It is no coincidence that the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist (and Confession), as next steps are also the biggest obstacles.  The principle of Sacramental Inertia is not foreign to mankind’s greatest spiritual foe.  They are either mocked by direct attack, counterfeited or else indirectly attacked by attacking the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  We should be constantly aware that the last thing the Devil wants is for a non-Catholic to begin a Sacramental life and he will do all that he can to impede that.  Our approach, when not leavened with prayer and sacrifice, will always become mere apologetics.  The Sacraments are the greatest treasure of the Church and we must always recognize that sharing these gifts is our apostolic goal.

The Power of Pentecost

Within the Jewish Liturgical Year, there were seven major feasts, three of which were considered “major feasts” and were commanded as times when the males were to “appear before the Lord God” in Jerusalem (c.f. Exodus 23:14-17).  These three major feasts were the feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year, and the harvest festival.  The Harvest festival, or the Feast of Weeks was to occur on the fiftieth day after Passover (there was some disagreement among the Pharisees and Sadducees as to when the actual feast was to be celebrated).  In later antiquity, it would come to be as Pentecost (Greek for “fiftieth”) by the Greek-speaking Jews.  It was for the celebration of this feast that many Jews from throughout the world (Parthians, Medes, Mesopotamian, Egyptians, etc. as listed in Acts 2:9-10) had gathered when the Holy Spirit was finally manifest on that day.

This helps to explain why so many were gathered on that day in Jerusalem to witness the power from on high, but it does not necessarily explain why it had to be that feast day.  In other words, why was it that the Jewish Feast of Weeks found its fulfillment on Pentecost?

A word first about the concept of “fulfillment.”  When we hear this term used, there is a tendency to think “it had to happen that day in order to fulfill the meaning of Pentecost.”  In short, we can think that the purpose of Pentecost was to fulfill the Feast of Weeks.  Thinking in these terms there is a danger of thinking that the Feast of Weeks is obsolete and now only Pentecost matters.  Properly understood though we should attempt to see things the other way around.  The purpose of the Feast of Weeks was to make Pentecost understandable.  It may no longer be efficacious, but it is not devoid of meaning.  God was so demanding in the rubrics surrounding the Jewish liturgy because He wanted them to act as clear signs of the thing they were pointing to.  The Jews gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost would have recognized what was happening and were instantly moved upon hearing Peter’s explanation.  But Pentecost was not just for them.  By deepening our own understanding of the Feast of Weeks, we can enter more fully into the celebration and join those first Christians in being “cut to the heart.”

This challenge of deepening our understanding of the Jewish celebrations is echoed in the Catechism:

A better knowledge of the Jewish people’s faith and religious life as professed and lived even now can help our better understanding of certain aspects of Christian liturgy…The relationship between Jewish liturgy and Christian liturgy, but also their differences in content, are particularly evident in the great feasts of the liturgical year, such as Passover. Christians and Jews both celebrate the Passover. For Jews, it is the Passover of history, tending toward the future; for Christians, it is the Passover fulfilled in the death and Resurrection of Christ, though always in expectation of its definitive consummation. (CCC 1096, emphasis added)

In ancient Israel, the Feast of Weeks was a harvest festival in which loaves of bread were offered to the Lord as a gift of the first fruits (a minor Jewish festival celebrated just after the Feast of Unleavened Bread).  It was accompanied by sacred rest and sacrifices (see Num 28:26-31).  It was by the death of the grains of wheat, the first fruits of the wheat that the bread was to be baked.   This grain then takes on the value of a sign of the One Whom “God raised up” (Acts 2:32).  As the definitive sacrifice, He ascended to heaven where God received Him and showed His approval by pouring out His Spirit by a strongly felt sign (Acts 2:33).  Rising on the day after Passover, that is the feast of first fruits, Christ is “the first fruits of those who have died” (1Cor 15:20).

The Feast of Weeks

By this powerful sign, the Apostles now become the harvesters.  And on this day, the harvest is great, drawing 3000 souls to the Lord.  This number is far from arbitrary and it would immediately bring to mind the other aspect of the Feast of Weeks, namely that it was to be marked as a time to remember the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai.

While God was giving the Law to Moses, the Israelites fashioned the Golden Calf.  In response, the Levites were commanded “’Each of you put your sword on your hip! Go back and forth through the camp, from gate to gate, and kill your brothers, your friends, your neighbors!’ The Levites did as Moses had commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people fell” (Ex 32:27-28).  Spiritually inebriated, the Apostles, that is the priestly successors to the Levites, will put to death the flesh of those 3000 souls, each of which will follow the law because it is written not in stone, but on their hearts (Jer 31:33).

The giving of the Law was the initiation of the Old Covenant.  This indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the Faithful that will become the sign of the new Covenant, that is Baptism.  Those who are claimed for Christ, the 3000, do as Peter told them— “repent and be baptized” so that they “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

The giving of the Law as part of the Old Covenant also formed Israel as the People of God—that is the visible Kingdom of God on earth.  At Pentecost, the Church becomes the Kingdom of God that is open to all people.  This understanding helps bring clarity to the somewhat random question and ambiguous response Our Lord gives to the Apostles when, just prior to His Ascension, they ask “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” to which He replies that they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:6,8).

The Spirit of Pentecost

All of this remains mere proof-texting unless we allow the effects of Pentecost to be felt in our day.  So many within the Church speak of waiting for a “New Pentecost” in which the power of the Holy Spirit will be made manifest once again.  But there will be no “New Pentecost” because Pentecost was not a single event, but one that was to last perpetually.  The Jews celebrated the different festivals not merely to remind them of the past, but to make the past somehow present to them so that they could participate in it.  The Feast of Weeks was a time for recalling and renewing the Old Covenant and Pentecost ought to be a time that we consciously renew our participation in the New Covenant.

The first way that this should be done is through a renewed focus on our baptismal commitment to offer spiritual sacrifices unceasingly to Christ.  Likewise, we should renew our commitment to the graces of Confirmation, that is when we received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and march to the Front in the battle to win souls.  Offering Mass for the grace to live those two Pentecostal Sacraments to their fullest would be a worthy intention.

Pentecost is often referred to as the birthday of the Church.  With this in mind, a second way to live Pentecost is to do what we all do at all birthday celebrations—show gratitude for the gift of the person and offer a gift to pay our debt of gratitude.  We can often take for granted the gift of the Church and how much easier it makes our lives.  Yes, we have to deal with the human elements, that is the weeds among the wheat, but the guidance that her teaching office gives us can save us from making a lot of mistakes.  She speaks to nearly every aspect of our lives and offers us a sure port amidst the storms of life.  Amidst a culture in which we are “tossed to and fro by every wave of false doctrine,” there is great comfort knowing we have a place to go for the Truth.  By renewing our efforts to form ourselves in her teachings, to be docile to the truth and proclaim it loudly, we can pay the debt of our gratitude.  We are the new harvesters in the long line of harvesters known as the Communion of Saints.  Pray then, this Pentecost, that the Master of the Harvest will send more out into the fields, priests, and laity alike.

Separation of Church and State?

In a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association written on New Year’s Day in 1802, President Jefferson wrote what, especially in recent times, has become his most often quoted words.  In offering an interpretation of the First Amendment he said,

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State” (emphasis added).

The Catholic Church invents the Separation of Church and State

Jefferson was offering nothing novel.  Christians have been preaching the separation of Church and State for millennia.  If we look at the great cultures throughout history, the idea of a separation between the State and Religious powers was anathema.  Whether it was Egypt or Rome, the Emperors were believed to be gods themselves and religious veneration was due to them.  When Christ uttered His famous “render unto Caesar,” He did so in a culture in which Caesar thought himself divine and the High Priest or Pontifex Maximus of the official Roman pagan religion.  This was the norm throughout the ancient world, except for a single country—Israel.  In Israel, the role of king was distinct from either the priests or the prophets.  The first king, Saul, was anointed by the Prophet Samuel (1Samuel 10) and even King David himself was beholden to the Prophet Nathan who accused him of murder.

Christians have always interpreted Christ’s admonition to “render unto Caesar” as a call to keep this Jewish tradition of separating the governance of the State from the governance of the Church.  On the one hand, we can see why Our Lord thought this necessary simply by looking at man’s nature as both spirit and body.  We live two distinct, although related lives—temporal and eternal.  His utterance baptizes these two distinct powers to govern each of the lives.  Like the body and soul, there is a certain precedence of the spiritual governance over the temporal governance, but still the two should work in a complementary fashion.

Why We Need the Separation

Why the Church and State should remain distinct is not entirely clear until we add into the mix man’s fallen nature.  As an effect of man’s prodigious fall, the body tends to drag the soul down and corrupt it.  When the Church and the State are essentially one, it is the Church bears the brunt of it.  History reveals this repeatedly, especially if we look to the Middle Ages, culminating in Henry VIII’s foundation of the Church of England.  The circumstances may change but the Church always becomes corrupt when it gets too closely tied to the temporal power.

To use an American parlance, the Church/State distinction is a form of checks and balances.  The temporal authority, because he is first and foremost is trying to save his own soul in addition to his subjects, is always subservient to the Church.  The Church would, in turn, make itself the servant of the Imperium in her conduct of temporal affairs.  Each serves to keep the other in line—when the Church oversteps her bounds and gets too caught up in temporal affairs, the State is there to remind her of her mission to souls.  When the State oversteps its bounds and puts the souls of its residents at stake, the Church is there to remind it of its proper place.  While this practice may have been abused, the power of the Pope to excommunicate a rogue Christian King was very effective in bringing about conditions that were good for the soul.

When the two function in this way the citizens of the State thrive and are holy.  The culture becomes Christian, rather than a mere State that happens to have a majority of Christians in it.  The Church recognized the importance of building a Christian society—one in which being a Christian is made easier by the culture—and therefore worked out her understanding of Church/State relations shortly after the time of Constantine.  Pope St. Gelasius I (492-496) who is often credited with “inventing” the separation of Church and State said:

“Christ, mindful of human fragility had discerned between the functions of each power… His reason for so doing was twofold. On the one hand, it is written that no one warring for God should be entangled with secular things. The raison d’être of the royal power was to relieve the clerics of the burden of having to care for their carnal and material wants. For the temporal necessities the pontiffs indeed need the emperors, so that they can devote themselves to their functions properly and are not distracted by the pursuit of these carnal matters, but the emperors, Christian as they are, need the pontiffs for the achievement of eternal salvation.”

The Jefersonian Distinction

Even if Jefferson did not invent the notion of the Separation of Church and State, he did endorse an important twist to it.  What was new about Jefferson’s position—which was subsequently read into the Constitution by Justice Hugo Black—was his belief that a wall of separation had to be erected.  In other words, he thought Church and State should remain completely separate.

Returning to the analogy of the human person, you can no more put a wall of separation between the Church and State than you can between the soul and the body.  To sever the one from the other leads to death—be it the death of the person or of society as a whole.

When the complementary role of Church and State is denied, the State will go unchecked in its power.  When the State finds no authority above it then it simply does as it sees fit without any regard to the moral law or the eternal salvation of its citizens.  In order to pull this off though the State needs to promote “bread and circuses” to keep the populace from focusing on their souls.  The “bread and circuses” can take various forms, but the form of choice today is sexual license.  It is not as if the Church merely disappears in this setting.  The State sets up a new Church, one that is merged with the State.  In other words, when you set up a “wall of separation” it will always end up merging the two.


Return of the Church-State of Paganism

Much of the West is returning to paganism in the form of liberalism, worshipping the god of freedom.  Like all pagan gods, it demands child sacrifice, even if is cleaner this time because it is done in utero.  Its churches are universities (really all public schools) and its high priests are the judges.  The State will “tolerate” other religions and grant “freedom of worship” but any public expression, especially when it comes in conflict with the State Religion, will not be tolerated.   The Little Sisters of the Poor may have ultimately won their lawsuit, but that is only a harbinger of things to come.  The next battle will likely come for not complying with the demands of the law for gay marriage.  You must be willing to profess the new pagan creed which many Catholics, even bishops and priests, have shown themselves willing to do.

This is really a project of the Enlightenment, it simply took a few centuries for the Christian roots of Western society to actually die out.  Those roots are now, for all intents and purposes, dead.  We are living in Rome in reverse and the only way we can act redemptively is the way of the Church—martyrdom or an appearance by Our Lady.  Throughout history those are the only two ways that a society has been saved from the clutches of paganism.  Let us pray that as we ready ourselves for the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima that it is the latter.

Spiritual and Religious

“I am spiritual, but not religious.” It has become the fastest growing religious affiliation.  So popular is it, that it now has its own acronym—SBNR.  Its appeal is that it supposedly frees its adherents from the trappings of organized religion so that they may become more “spiritual.”  What it means to be more “spiritual” remains a mystery because any formal dogma or Creed would signal its death knell.  Usually it is about “connecting to God within.”  Although the popularity of SBNR has grown, it is not something new.  In fact one could say it is the second oldest religion in the world, beginning when Lucifer decided that he too would spend eternity as spiritual but not religious.

Ultimately the fall of Lucifer and his minions was a permanent refusal to have any obligations towards God.  The eternal cry of the demons is “non serviam”—“I will not serve.”  They desire to be like God, but shun religion.  Although their fall was instantaneous, many of the adherents to SBNR slide in the same direction—many not realizing what they are agreeing to when they recite the SBNR mantra.

What is Religion?

Without a doubt, some of the issue has to do with vagaries surrounding the word religious.  The English word religion is derived from the Latin religare, to tie, fasten, bind, or relegere, to gather up or treat.  First and foremost, religion is the moral virtue that consists in giving to God the worship and service He deserves.  It is part of the virtue of justice which consists in rendering to each his due.  Because He is the Creator of all things and has supreme dominion, God in a singular way has a special service due to Him.  This service is worship.

Herein lies a source of confusion, namely why God creates us and then commands that we worship Him.  This is worth investigating because it is often an obstacle for the SBNR congregants.  We offer worship to God, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, not for His sake but for ours.  We cannot give to God anything He doesn’t already have.  Instead He creates us as rational creatures not just because we manifest His goodness or glory, but because we, among all visible creation, have the capacity to appreciate it.  In other words, we worship to both show our appreciation and to grow in the pleasure that His goodness brings to us.

The SBNRer may willingly concede that they do owe something to God in terms of worship, but they prefer to connect to God privately “in their souls.”  This ultimately stems from a denial of what we are as human beings.  As body/spirit composites, we are capable of both internal and external acts of religion.  In a certain sense the internal take precedence, but these internal acts can never be wholly free from the external and must be guided by them.

As human beings, our bodies and our spirits act in unison with each other.  That which is in the mind, must first have been in the senses.  You cannot perform a wholly interior act without also affecting the exterior.  Just the very thought of God or Jesus, invokes an image in our material imaginations.  We worship both from the inside-out and the outside in.  Our external acts of devotion effect our internal acts of devotion.  One is more likely to have increased devotion in their heart to God kneeling (an external sign of supplication) in front of a Crucifix than if they are staring at a blank wall sitting on a bed.

The implications of this are obvious.  There are some external acts that are better than others at increasing devotion.  This is certainly true in the subjective sense—we all have our favorite environments in which to pray—but it is also true in the objective sense.  God is equally present in the bathroom as He is in the chapel, but it is the chapel that has been consecrated (i.e. set aside) as a place of prayer that is objectively better than the bathroom.  This is why praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament is called Adoration.  You can adore God anywhere in spirit, but in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament that Adoration occurs in “spirit and truth.”

SBNR and Organized Religion

As you probe more deeply into the motives of the typical SBNRer, you will find that really what SBNR means is that “I am spiritual, but I loathe organized religion.”  They view religion as something wholly personal and subjective.  But if it is really true that we owe God worship and that certain forms of worship are better than others, then a loving Father would teach us what those forms are.  The history of mankind outside of, first Judaism and then Christianity, has been man groping for these forms.  Some of the forms were innocuous like offering incense to the local god, while others commanded human sacrifice.  God commands definitive forms of worship to keep us from falling into two equally dangers traps—one of defect and one of excess.

There is the trap that once we realize that worship is really for us, we will worship in a way most pleasing to ourselves.  This has not only led to the Non-denominational denomination with their mega-churches and “praise and worship services” worthy of a pep-rally, but also the pop music masquerading as liturgical music in Catholic churches.  The second trap is that of excess.   The truth is that no form of worship will ever feel adequate because no merely human form of worship is.  So we keep upping the ante so to speak leading to some of the religious atrocities we still see in certain cults and Middle Eastern religions.  We need God to tell us what is acceptable and what is not.

God does not merely tell us, but He comes and shows us.  Through the sacrifice of His Son, He shows us the most pleasing form of worship—the one act that is enough.  He gives us the power to make that sacrifice our own—both through Faith (subjective) and through the perpetuation of that same Sacrifice in the Sacrifice of the Mass (objective).  The One True Religion is the one that offers that Sacrifice because it is not just any organized religion but the Religion organized by the Holy Spirit Himself.

The Catholic Response to SBNR

SBNR is really a protest movement against religious tolerance. Properly understood, religious tolerance assumes that there is a true religion and that we are willing to tolerate some people who hold only part of that truth. Tolerance respects human freedom to discover the truth. But religious tolerance has come to mean that all religions are equal. If all religions really are the same, then why should I have anything to do with any of them? But, if one of them is different because it is true, then it does matter. As the One True Religion is only the Catholic religion that can lead the SBNR away from sliding down the Luciferian slope.

This claim to be the One True Faith may seem arrogant, but it is no more arrogant than the claim that 2+2=4.  It is a statement of truth and it is a truth that has been handed down to us.  I am not the inventor of my religion, but its grateful recipient.

The Inventor died to give this religion to me.  Before dying He deeded it to its caretakers.  As proof, notice the first time that Jesus mentions His suffering on the Cross—it is only after setting up the Church upon Peter the Rock that He tells of His redemptive death (c.f. Mt 16:18-21).  Those same caretakers wore martyrs’ crowns rather so that the Faith was passed on to me.  Thousands upon thousands of martyrs and confessors boldly preached that religion so that I would have it.  Now it is my turn and your turn to pass it on to the next generation.  We cannot hide our light under a bushel.  We should not apologize for being Catholic, but we should apologize for not being Catholic enough.  Only we can show SBNR what it means to truthfully and joyfully be spiritual AND religious.

The Keys of the Kingdom

Pope Pius XI thought that the best way to protect Christian culture was to promote the Kingship of Christ.  With that in mind, he promulgated the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 so that Christ would be venerated as King over all mankind. Certainly the Holy Father was attempting to stem the rising tide of secularism.  But he also had great concerns that many would lose sight of His Kingdom in our midst.  One cannot honor the King while at the same time ignoring His Kingdom.  But what exactly does this Kingdom look like?

Sacred Scripture acts as recorded history of God’s progressive revelation of His Kingdom.  Therefore we should expect an internal coherence that makes it unlike any other book.  This means is that the Old Testament should not be isolated or seen as somehow opposed to the New Testament.  It is the same God, progressively revealing Himself to mankind within a given historical context, until in the “fullness of time” He takes on flesh to fully reveal Himself.  The reverse is also true—no interpretation of the New Testament should be made without reference to the Old Testament.  The Catechism lists this principle, which it calls being “attentive  to the content and unity of the whole Scripture,” first among “three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it” (CCC 111-112).  It is this same principle that Luther had in mind when, in his commentary on the Psalms, he said “the Bible is its own interpreter.

If, when we encounter difficult passages, we allow Scripture to interpret itself by examining it for parallels, then we will find the passage interpreting itself.  In this regard, Matthew 16 is a great Kingdom text.  The passage commends to the astute reader two very important Old Testament texts.  Unless we are aware of them, we are likely to miss what Jesus was actually doing when He declared Peter to be the Rock upon which He would build His Church.Peter Keys

First, it must be admitted that Jesus intended to form a kingdom.  St. Gabriel announces Him to Mary as a king, “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33).  Likewise, it is the accusation of kingship that is leveled against Jesus and against which He defends Himself against Pilate saying although He is a King, His Kingdom “did not belong to this world” (John 18:36).

Even though it did not belong to this world, anyone who reads the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13 knows that knows that we should expect to find the Kingdom of Heaven present in this world.  St. Gabriel gives us the interpretive key to recognizing the Kingdom in the world when he tells us that He will inherit the throne of David.  In other words, the Kingdom of God is prefigured by the kingdom of David.  The Davidic monarch was “the Lord’s anointed” (the literal meaning of the word Christ) who is the adopted son of God (Ps 2:7) and is the only human kingdom to enjoy the privilege of being founded upon a covenant (2 Sam 7:8-16); all of which point to Jesus.  But the Davidic Kingdom also has roles of administration in it for both the Queen Mother (1 Kings 2:19-20) and the Royal Steward (1 Kgs 4:6).  If Jesus really is the King, sitting on the throne of David, then we should expect those administrative roles to be filled.

How would one recognize the royal steward or “over the household” in the Davidic Kingdom? He would be the one on whom the king had bestowed his keys.  In Isaiah 22:15-22, we find an example of this:

Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: What have you to do here and whom have you here that you have hewn here a tomb for yourself, you who hew a tomb on the height, and carve a habitation for yourself in the rock?  Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you, and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master’s house.  I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station.  In that day I will call my servant Eli’akim the son of Hilki’ah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.  And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

The royal steward, Shebna, is being thrust from his office and is being replaced by Eliakim.  Eliakim will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah and will be given the key to the house of David as a sign of his authority.

One cannot help but see the parallels between this passage and Matthew 16:19 where Jesus tells Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  As the rightful heir to the Davidic Kingdom, Jesus is appointing His royal steward by bestowing upon him as a sign of investiture the keys to the Kingdom.  These keys are no mere symbol but carry with them an authority (binding and loosing are legal terms) to act on behalf of the King.


What were the limits to the authority of the royal steward?  Turning to the second important text,  Genesis 41:40, we can see that Joseph, Pharaoh’s royal steward, is given absolute power with only the limitation of the throne itself.  He was not the King and all his authority came from the King, but still his authority was absolute.  Christ the King likewise gave Peter such authority when He said whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  The difference of course is that in the case of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus offers divine protection to Peter against making any errors which is why we say that Peter was infallible in his office as royal steward or “father to the inhabitants” of the Kingdom of Heaven (the title Pope or Papa is just Italian for father).

Although this seems obvious from what has been said so far, it bears mention that the power rested not with the person holding the office of steward, but with the office itself.  This means that there was succession in the office.  Recall that Shebna is being replaced in his office by Eliakim and the keys that symbolized the office were passed along as well.

In short, it is the Church that is the Kingdom of God in our midst.  The Second Vatican Council calls the Church “the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery” and “strains toward the completed kingdom” (LG 15).  It is Christ who rules from His Eucharistic throne and the successor of Peter, the Pope that acts as His royal steward.  You cannot have the King while simultaneously rejecting His kingdom.

The Holy Catholic Church–Really?

Of all the distinguishing marks of the Church, the Church’s holiness is perhaps the hardest to reconcile with reality.  The Church’s history is riddled with scandals and scoundrels.  Even to this day, the enemies of the Church use this as a weapon to discredit the Church.  Those who might otherwise be open to the Truth found only in the Catholic Church cannot seem to get over the scandals.  Yet, the Church’s members profess boldly that we believe in “the Holy Catholic Church.”  Are we merely delusional or is there something more to this belief than meets the eye?  If we are to both profess and defend this mark of the Church, then it is necessary that we understand exactly what this means.

Sacred Scripture describes the Church in a number of ways, two of which are especially helpful in understanding the holiness of the Church.  The first is the Kingdom of God.  So important is this concept that Jesus speaks about perhaps more than any other topic in His preaching.  In describing His Kingdom He anticipates the problem of scandals that would come from the community of His disciples (such as good wheat growing with tares, etc.).  Even His handpicked Apostolic College contains Judas, so we must view scandals and scoundrels as somehow part of the Divine plan for the Church.

It is St. Paul’s image of the Church as the Body of Christ that helps us to best see how the Church is holy.  The Church has attached the term “Mystical” to it in order to distinguish it from Christ’s physical body.  It is the richness of the notion of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ that helps us to view the Church in the manner Christ intended.

At the close of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes a rather puzzling promise to the Apostles.  After commissioning them to make disciples, baptize and teach, He says “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).  What Matthew omits is just as important as what he does say.  He makes no mention of the Ascension like the other Synoptic Gospels.  To make this promise and then present Jesus as leaving would make Jesus’ presence very difficult to believe.  Instead Matthew wants to emphasize that Jesus remains until the end of time.

This enduring presence is no mere spiritual presence.  Instead, it is a physical presence just like the Incarnation.  As proof of this, when St. Paul meets Our Lord on the road to Damascus, He asks the Apostle to the Gentiles “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).  He does not ask why Saul persecutes His followers, but His Person.  One cannot persecute a “spiritual person” but only one that is physically present.

Carvaggio Saul

It is no wonder then that St. Paul in his letters (especially to the Ephesians) uses this metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ in a way that suggests it is more than a metaphor.  For the Church is the extension of the Incarnation “until the end of the age.”  The Eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, took to Himself a new body on Pentecost.  This body, like the first one, is something physical and tangible.

To understand this more fully we have to see that the human nature He took to Himself was merely an instrument.  Making the invisible reality of God in our midst, visible, His human nature acted as a sign of this.  Just as He used the physical body to win our salvation, so too He will use His Mystical Body to extend the fruits of salvation through all time and space.

With the Church as the extension of the Incarnation through time and space, we can see that it suffers from the same problem that Our Lord did while He walked the earth in His flesh.  Many people saw Jesus as one man among others, even if they thought He was somehow special or wise.  So too some may view the Church as a merely one human institution among many; one Church among many.  Some saw Him as a prophet able to exercise great powers, yet they could not understand where He derived those powers from.  Likewise there are those who view the Church as an instrument of God, but still a merely human institution.  Finally there were those who looked upon Him with supernatural faith as the “the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).  So too there are those who see the Church through the eyes of faith as a profound mystery.

In other words, we err because we see the Church primarily as an institution and not an organism.  The Church is holy for the same reason the physical body of Christ was holy—because the Person who inhabits that body was holy.  Christ is the head of the Church not as a CEO, but as the head that sits upon a body, leading it around.  As an organism, there must be a bond between the head and the body which is a living soul.  That living soul in the Church is the Holy Spirit, Who is intrinsically holy and thus the “Lord and Giver of Life.”

Seeing the relationship between the Incarnation and the Church helps not only see the intrinsic holiness of the Church, but also how to deal with the sinful members.  During the Incarnation, Christ took upon Himself all human weakness but without any personal sin on His part.  The body He assumed to Himself was plagued by fatigue and thirst, collected dirt, and bled in the Garden.  It is therefore natural to assume that He would also allow weakness in the members of His Mystical Body.  He allows this weakness precisely for the same reason that He did during the Incarnation—by identifying Himself with sinners, He was able to comfort the afflicted.  It is the weakness in the members of the Mystical Body that allows Him likewise to eat with sinners in our day.

As an aside, we can also begin to see why the Church only considers those who have been baptized as members.  By sharing the soul of the Mystical Body through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a person becomes a member and instrument of Christ’s Body (1Cor 12:13).  Just as parts of a physical body may succumb to disease and no longer be able to properly act as members of the body, members of the Mystical Body may succumb to sin and no longer act as members.  And just as no one would attribute the actions of a diseased part of the body to the person, we do not attribute the sins of the members to the Personality of the Church.  Finally just as a body has varied means to heal diseased parts of the body, so too the Church has the same power because it is always the Person of Christ who acts, even if He uses other members of the body as instruments.

In conclusion we can see why someone who says the Church stands in the way of a relationship with Christ is just as wrong as the Jews who could not accept that God would take on weak human flesh.  The Church is Christ Himself, made visible, even in the weak members of His Body.  Just as in the Incarnation the actions of the human nature of Christ were attributed to God, so too in the Church because of the oneness with Christ, its actions are His actions.  The human elements, as weak as they are act as merely the instruments with which Christ continues to teach, govern and sanctify just as the human elements were instruments in the Incarnation.  As a true body, not only is the body visible, but it must have a visible head in the person of Peter and his successors. A living person does not merely speak through writings of the past but as proof of existence He must have the ability to speak now.  The Mystical Body of Christ is no mere metaphor, but the very definition of the Church.

“‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”(Acts 9:5)