Archive for September, 2010


Chrysostom on the Denial of Communion

Monday, September 13th, 2010

The day that just ended was the feast of St. John Chrysostom, the “golden mouthed.” Tomorrow I”m going to comment on abortion and politics. For now, as sort of a “warm up,” I thought I would offer an excerpt from St. John Chrysostom”s homily “On the Institution of the Eucharist.” I think you”ll agree that it”s quite instructive on the subject:

“I speak not only to the communicant, but also I say to the priest who ministers the Sacrament: Distribute this gift with much care. There is no small punishment for you, if being conscious of any wickedness in any man, you allow him to partake of the banquet of the table: ‘Shall I not now require his blood at your hand?’ (2 Sam. 4:11). If some public figure, or some wealthy person who is unworthy, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, forbid him. The authority that you have is greater than his. Consider if your task were to guard a clean spring of water for a flock, and you saw a sheep approach with mire on its mouth–you would not allow it to stoop down and pollute the stream. You are now entrusted with a spring, not of water, but of blood and of spirit. If you see someone having sin in his heart (which is far more grievous than earth and mire), coming to receive the Eucharist, are you not concerned? Do you try to prevent him? What excuse can you have, if you do not? [more]

“God has honored you with the dignity of priesthoood, that you might discern these things. This is not to say that you should go about clothed in a white and shining vestment; but this is your office; this, your safety; this your whole crown.

“You ask how you should know which individual is unworthy to receive? I am speaking here not of some unknown sinner, but of a notorious one. If someone who is not a disciple, through ignorance, comes to Communion, do not be afraid to forbid him. Fear God, not man. If you fear man, you will be scorned and laughed at even by him; but if you fear God, you will be an object of respect even to men. But if you cannot do it, bring that sinner to me, for I will not allow anyone to dare do these things. I would give up my life rather than give the Lord’s Blood to the unworthy.

“If, however, a sinful person receives Communion, and you did not know his character, you are not to blame, however. I say the things above concerning only those who sin openly. For if we amend these, God will speedily reveal to us the unknown also; but if we let these flagrant abuses continue, how can we expect Him to make manifest those that are hidden? I say these things, not to repel sinners or cut them off, but I say it in order that we may being them to repentance, and bring them back, so that we may take care of them. For thus we shall both please God and lead many to receive worthily. And for our own diligence, and for our care for others, we will receive a great reward. May we attain that reward by the grace and love that God gives to man through Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory, world without end. Amen.”

Christian, I Presume?

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

When I was in law school, I had a classmate named Barry (not his real name). At the time, I was not practicing the faith and by no means was a paragon of virtuous living. Despite my own low standards, I thought Barry’s carousing lifestyle crossed the bounds of propriety. He even confided to me that while he was home one weekend he made his girlfriend procure an abortion, because he was not willing to take responsibility for his actions.

One day, months later, Barry out of the blue told me, “It’s time for a revival.” It was only then that I learned that he was a part-time preacher who from time to time would go barnstorming through Missouri and Arkansas, inviting people to become “saved.”

I was shocked. I admitted that I had no room to talk, since in my estimation I was no longer a Catholic or even a Christian. Even so, the disparity between Barry’s faith and his ongoing debauchery confused and scandalized me. He eventually explained that I had to learn to separate faith from daily life. I told him–with less refinement and charity than I’d use today–what I thought of a religion I could test drive but not take home. My burning intuition was that a religion that did not affect who I was and how I lived was not worth my time. [more]

An analogous situation arises today in the context of funerals. As many of us know, the dominant mindset is that the deceased is “in a better place,” and thus the funeral rite itself becomes nothing other than a mini-canonization.

Assuredly we entrust the deceased to the mercy of God, who alone judges hearts. We also must console those who are mourning, offering them solid grounds for hope that their departed loved one is indeed with the Lord. In this regard, it is entirely fitting to recall the good deeds and accomplishments of the deceased to buoy our hope in his or her resurrection.

Yet the current trend goes even further. Our contemporaries assume the deceased is in heaven, so the only real concern is helping friends and family cope with the temporal loss. This approach effectively does away with the need to pray and offer sacrifice for the deceased, which Scripture describes as a “very excellent and noble” practice (cf. 2 Mac. 12:43; Catechism, no. 1032). It also derails a teachable moment: The reality of death affords all of us the opportunity to consider our own mortality and thus seek to be in right relationship with God. An objective observer at many funerals today could easily conclude that it really doesn’t matter how one lives, because everyone’s eternal fate seems to be the same.

Both my encounter with Barry and the experience at many funerals today reflect the error of presumption, which takes many forms (cf. Catechism, no. 2092). One form of presumption is the timeless heresy of Pelagianism, which holds that happiness is attainable by merely human effort, without the necessity of grace. This is manifested today by those who place all their hope in technological progress. Another example of presumption, commonly seen at funerals, is the attitude that in the end God will forgive us irrespective of our cooperation with grace. Following this view, heaven is the inevitable and more or less universal sequel to this life.

Christian fundamentalism is yet another form of presumption. Granted, Barry’s case is an extreme example of the “once saved, always saved” mentality. Most Bible Christians would be aghast at Barry’s lifestyle. Further, they rightly affirm in the midst of our largely secular and indifferent society the centrality of our faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 3:11). Even so, the necessity of a “born again” experience is often explained in a way that leaves no room for human freedom. Once “saved,” the individual can’t “lose” his salvation, even through mortal sin.

“When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage, and enter the presence of God?” This antiphon, taken from Monday Morning Prayer, Week II in the Liturgy of the Hours, summarizes the proper attitude of the Christian in this life. This attitude can be summed up in one word: hope. 

Church Teaching Is Not Negotiable!

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

In our legal system, if we don’t like a law, we push for new laws and elect new legislators who might listen to us. When it comes to interpreting and applying existing laws, we hire the most skilled attorneys we can afford, whose job is not to seek the truth but to present our side most effectively. Even if we lose at trial, we can still pursue our cause through various avenues of appeal, all the while using the media to put pressure on the government.

We have many “disciplines” in the Church which are “positive law,” meaning that they’re the product of human invention. While Church leaders in general make the best pastoral judgments they can, such disciplines may turn out to be good, bad, or somewhere in between, and they may be in effect for a week or for 100 years or more.

Church disciplines have been subject of “lobbying,” especially in our time, from altar girls and Communion on the hand to a wider, more readily available access to the extraordinary (Tridentine) form of the Roman rite. The laity have the right to be heard on such matters, though in the meantime the current discipline calls forth our obedience and filial respect for the Church.

However, when it comes to the deposit of faith–what the Church teaches in the area of faith and morals–American democratic concepts simply are out of place. No matter how many petitions are signed, no matter how fervently and repeatedly dissent is allowed to foment and lead people astray, what God has revealed through Christ as proclaimed by the Church is not up for grabs. [more]

Some dissenters express frustration that some “celibate old man” in Rome can say that I have to believe and act in a certain way. Clearly there is a misunderstanding of authority here. The Pope does have considerable juridical or legal power, but in matters of faith and morals his authority is that of guardian and mouthpiece, not scriptwriter or legislator.

For example, if someone has a problem with the Immaculate Conception, the problem is not with Pope Pius IX, but with the way God has chosen to come among us to save us. If someone has a problem with the Church’s teaching on contraception, the problem is not with Pope Paul VI, but with the way God has created the human person and human society.

If I were given a speeding ticket and appeared before a judge to contest it, what would happen if my defense proceeded as follows:

 ”But your honor, modern legal scholars say that traffic laws are repressive, archaic, and the product of a male-dominated, pre-modern era and do not speak to the contemporary citizen . . .”

Obviously the judge, depending on his or her temperament, would either laugh at me or cite me for contempt.

Let’s note that there are two distinct problems with my defense. First, the argument itself is defective. Most people would agree that some traffic laws are necessary to promote public safety.

The second issue is what possible authority does some “scholar” have to change the law? In deciding the case, the judge will have to ascertain the actual speed limit where I was driving, how fast I was going, and consequently whether I exceeded the speed limit. The scholar’s opinion regarding the speed limit is utterly irrelevant.

The same two problems exist today regarding some theologians. First, what they teach is contrary to the deposit of faith. (In plain English, they’re wrong!) Second, their opinions are accorded weight in some circles not only because they’re the product of “scholars” or “experts,” but also because they purportedly represent the “modern Catholic.”

As the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith set forth some time ago in its Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, theologians do play a critical role in the Church’s understanding and communication of the faith. What all of us, especially theologians, need to keep before us, however, is that we have a teaching that is not our own, but one that has been handed on to us. Our faith seeks understanding, but presupposes content.

Behind our laws, values, and culture is a blending, or melting pot, of our founding fathers’ ideals, diverse ethnic and religious cultures, pragmatic court decisions, legislative compromises, narrow agendas, and special interests that continue to evolve. And we must admit (as has become part of Barack Obama’s political mantra) that such evolution has an ever-increasing bias in favor of that which is new–in other words, change.

Behind the teaching of the Church, however, there is Jesus Christ, the Mediator and sum total of Revelation, who not only is with us always (Mt. 28:20), but who is “the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). 

Call to Disarm

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Today there will be a groundbreaking ceremony for a nuclear weapons plant in the Kansas City area. Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph issued the following statement in response to this development:

“On September 8, 2010 ground will be broken to begin construction of a new facility for the production of non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons in South Kansas City. In the Catholic Church September 8th is the feast of the Birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The confluence of the groundbreaking with the feast of Mary’s nativity provides the opportunity to pause at the irony of the situation: Mary, mother of the Prince of Peace, and the construction of a facility whose main purpose is the construction of weapons for warfare. [more]

“The Catholic tradition has always affirmed the right of a state to defend itself from unjust aggression. Implicit in that right is the need to equip a trained military force. We do not deny this obligation and necessity on the part of any state.

“However, the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction–which this nuclear plant proposes to construct–constitutes a grave moral danger. Nuclear weapons are by their very nature weapons of mass destruction: their force and impact cannot be contained, and their use affects combatants and non-combatants alike. . . . Since the use of such weapons is morally questionable, it follows that the production of such weapons is also morally questionable. . . .”

Bishop Finn also pointed out the inherent difficulties in justifying the production of nuclear weapons based on their deterrent effect:

“Others would argue that to possess such weapons would be a deterrent to other nations who also possess such weapons. The Church responds to such an objection: ”The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation” (Catechism, no. 2315).”

The constant message of the Church is one of prudent disarmament and peace. This message was well communicated by Bishop Finn.

To view Bishop Finn”s entire statement, click here.

Honoring Our Fathers

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Bishops and priests by virtue of their office are our spiritual fathers in the Church. Honoring them in a spirit of charity, obedience, and filial respect usually poses no problem when things are going well. However, when our pastor seems to be “part of the problem,” we tend to wonder to what extent we are to honor them.

Throughout the Bible there are many important lessons on how to relate to those in authority, especially during times of crises. From the example of Noah’s faithful sons, who covered their father’s nakedness (Gen. 9:23), to David”s refusal to lay a hand on Saul (1 Sam. 24), to Our Lord’s pithy command to do as the Pharisees and scribes say but not as they do (Mt. 23:1-3), a clear picture develops. This picture is reflected in the constant teaching of the Church, including in our time the documents of Vatican II, the Catechism, and the Code of Canon Law.

The “anatomy” of a godly response to Church authority requires not only backbone but also heart–in other words, strength and tenderness rooted in the truth. This is charity in action, which the Catechism calls “the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil, and the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse” (no. 1889).

All this might sound good in theory, but what about Bishop So and So? What about my pastor, who allows–or even mandates–that X, Y, or Z go on in our parish? Here are some general principles that usually apply: [more]

(1) Take personal responsibility. We are responsible for doing our part to build up the Church. Too often people lament about the deficiencies of local Church leaders, as though everything rides with them. The fact is, Baptism gives us the serious right and duty to be “apostles” in accordance with our state in life. We can’t control the actions of others, but we surely can take it upon ourselves to strive to become saints. At the judgment, we will not be asked about our bishop or pastor, but we will be accountable for what we did with our own talents.

(2) Offer it up. Difficulties and suffering within the Church can be the very stuff of our redemption. Do we believe that? Are we going to embrace these crosses (even as we legitimately and appropriately address our concerns), or are we going to respond with the “violence” that only makes things worse? Suffering of all kinds is a given in life; we can choose whether in our case it will be redemptive or wasted.

(3) Honor our fathers. Since bishops and pastors are our spiritual fathers, we are commanded to honor them as such by the Fourth Commandment. The Roman Catechism, issued after the Council of Trent, taught that “Christ the Lord commands obedience even to wicked pastors.” But the Fourth Commandment is a “thou shall” rather than a “thou shall not” commandment. It does not tell us to avoid negative behaviors, but rather encourages a healthy, positive loyalty and reverence toward our parents and also our spiritual fathers.

(4) Live the vision. Lastly, we should pray for an increase of faith, that we might see in our bishops and priests, despite their human frailty and any perceived shortcomings, “the Lord’s anointed.” If we do that, we’re well on our way toward imitating the example of David, who was, to his eternal credit, a man after God’s own heart (cf. Acts 13:22).

The foregoing is an excerpt from my article ”Laity on the Line,” which originally appeared in the May-June 2006 issue of Lay Witness magazine. 

Labor Management

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Many men today think a “holy hour” means being able to watch the second half of a game without interruption, and that a “retreat” is 36 holes of golf interspersed with appropriate beverages. In countless parishes I’ve visited, the women far outnumber the men in the pews (and in the sanctuary). Meanwhile, try getting a seat at the local sports pub now that football season has begun.

There are countless things competing for men’s time and attention and, frankly, we don’t always do a good job of prioritizing, of putting first things first. And what could be more important than bending the knee before Our Heavenly Father, the source of all fatherhood (cf. Eph. 3:14-15)?

In this regard I suggest that we take a lesson from St. Joseph this Labor Day. [more]St. Joseph’s entire life was ordered to God. This enabled him to reflect in his actions an interior life that perfected his manhood and thus enabled him to take the right approach to his work.

We know that children learn mostly by example. They know where our heart is and what our priorities are. There simply isn’t a better example for children than a father on his knees before Our Lord in prayer. This holds true as well for our spiritual fathers. The faithful are always edified and strengthened in their own prayer lives when they witness the sincere, devoted prayer of priests. Without prayer, dads and priests become less like fathers and more like mere managers.

St. Joseph the Worker, as his title suggests, teaches us the goodness and value of human work, especially manual labor. Work manifests our cooperation with God as stewards of His creation, and it also furthers our own personal development. In other words, hard work is for “our own good.”

Honest labor has been redeemed by Christ so that it contributes to our sanctification. That’s why, for example, experienced vocation directors recommend training young men in the discipline and virtue of industriousness as an aid to fostering vocations.

Surely we must vigorously work against the vice of laziness, or the absence of industriousness. Yet, we must also avoid misguided industriousness, such as work which reflects poor stewardship of creation or which violates the moral law. Further, work is something we do, but it does not define who we are. Unfortunately, not everyone experiences work as cooperation with a loving God. Instead, many people are consumed by their work and it wields an ungodly tyranny in their workaholic lives.

St. Joseph the Worker must have played a significant role in Jesus’ human formation. Through His experience of His foster father’s God-centered work ethic, Jesus “became strong, filled with wisdom” (Lk. 2:40; cf. Catechism, nos. 470, 472).

I admit that I don’t always get it right (understatement of the week nominee), but I’ve tried to manifest the proper balance of prayer, work, and leisure in my celebration of this Labor Day. Mass will be the focal point tomorrow morning, but I also hope to take the kids on a hike, and later I might take my son Samuel out to hit some golf balls. To you fathers out there, once you finish reading this blog, go out and do something fun with your kids. Go ahead, I think the Lord would delight in that decision.

Depart from Me

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

In today’s Gospel (Luke 5:1-11), Peter, James, and John had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Our Lord instructs them to “put out into the deep” and, after some balking–after all, these fishermen think they know their trade better than this carpenter–they cast their nets back into the water and caught a tremendous amount of fish.

Then Peter falls on His knees before the Lord and says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

At first, St. Peter’s statement seems strange. It’s like telling a doctor, “Get away from me, I’m sick.” [more] (more…)

Like Noah”s Righteous Sons

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The relation of Christ and the Church is often expressed in nuptial terms: Christ is the Bridegroom; the Church is His Bride. By extension, the bishop (who acts in the person of Christ) and his flock have a spousal, familial relationship. The bishop’s ring symbolizes his “marriage” to the local Church. Moreover, the bishop typically wears a pectoral cross, not a crucifix. There is no corpus on his cross because the bishop himself is to be the corpus, laying down his life for his bride in imitation of our Savior (John 15:13; Eph. 5:25).  

Spousal, covenantal relationships do not involve a quid pro quo. My fidelity to my marriage covenant is not dependant on my wife’s fidelity. I don’t assess my wife’s performance each day in order to decide whether she deserves my love. Rather, my commitment–and hers–must be total and unconditional.

This principle also applies to our relationship with bishops. [more]And it should be noted that bishops’ obligations are weightier than our own. Yet the bishop may never say, “These people are a pain in the neck and oppose me at every turn; I will not love and serve them.” He will be judged ultimately on his fidelity to Christ played out through the exercise of his episcopal ministry, not on the fidelity of his flock.

Similarly, we have a duty of docile reverence toward our bishops as our spiritual fathers. This duty flows from the fourth commandment.

Of course, sometimes we may be compelled to speak up, but with patience, fortitude, and charity we must always preserve unity in our pursuit of Christ’s truth.

Taking needed corrective action with respect to one of our shepherds is not a cause for rejoicing or something to be publicly proclaimed so that we can take “credit” for being some sort of orthodox gunslinger. Rather, like Noah’s righteous sons who covered their father’s nakedness notwithstanding his drunkenness, we should take appropriate action while remaining very conscious of the harm caused by publicly airing our grievances against our spiritual fathers.

If my own father were to do something evil, it would be wrong for me to ignore it or to cover it up for him so that he can get away with it again. But it would also be wrong, and indeed a violation of the fourth commandment, to treat him as anything less than my father and perhaps even to lead the charge in publicly disgracing him.

The foregoing is an excerpt from my article entitled “How to Talk to (and about) a Bishop,” which appeared in the January 2007 issue of This Rock magazine.