Friday, August 14, 2015

On Criticism of the Pope

One of my favorite Catholic blogs, Rorate Caeli, posted a very good article yesterday, reproducing a letter memorandum written back in 1976 by a prominent publisher and writer, Neil McCaffrey, and sent to a number of prominent Catholics including, among others, Dr. & Mrs. Dietrich von Hildebrand.  In light of some of my remarks about Pope Francis in my previous post ("These Are Disturbing Times"), I thought it appropriate to also comment on the McCaffrey memo and link to it here. 

The gist of Mr. McCaffrey's commentary was that constructive criticism of a pope is not only appropriate but necessary.  Unfortunately, at the time he wrote his memo and perhaps even more so today, many Catholic commentators seem to believe that any criticism whatsoever by Catholics of the Holy Father is verboten.  This involves, I believe, a serious misunderstanding of the relationship between the Vicar of Christ and the Catholic faithful, as we all serve the One King of the Universe, our Lord Jesus Christ, who requires that we speak the truth at all times, in all situations, subject only to the limitations of the sin of detraction.  When we believe in good faith that our Holy Father is in error in matters not subject to the dogma of papal infallibility, it is incumbent upon us to raise our criticisms, charitably but without dancing around the point.  A couple of examples:

“There being an imminent danger for the Faith, Prelates must be questioned, even publicly, by their subjects. Thus, St. Paul, who was a subject of St. Peter, questioned him publicly on account of an imminent danger of scandal in a matter of Faith. And, as the Glosa of St. Augustine puts it (Ad Galatas 2,14), ‘St. Peter himself gave the example to those who govern so that if they should stray from the right way, they will not reject a correction as unworthy even if it comes from their subjects’” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Turin/Rome: Marietti, 1948, II-II, q.33, a.4). (Source)
“Since [Christ] has given you authority and you have accepted it, you ought to be using the power and strength that is yours.  If you don’t intend to use it, it would be better and more to God’s honor and the good of your soul to resign….If I were in your place, I would be afraid of incurring divine judgment.”  -St. Catherine of Siena, in a letter to Pope Gregory XI. (Source)
Let there be no mistake, I love our Holy Father, in the Christian way--I desire only the greatest good for him, I pray for him every day, and I have absolute respect for him and for the office itself, the See of Peter, established by Christ until the end of the age.  (Mt. 16:18-19).  In light of the above, I believe that I stated my criticisms appropriately in my previous post.  But I am a fallen man, a sinner, so if you disagree, please let me know.  I avail myself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently, and one more item added to the list next time around will not be a problem.  :)

Laudator Jesus Christus!

Monday, August 10, 2015

These Are Disturbing Times

The Catholic blogs I regularly read (see "Recommended" over to the right for my list), especially the more traditionally-oriented ones, have been taking on a decidedly dark and foreboding tone in the past couple of years, and the foreboding has deepened in recent months. I can't say I blame them, as recent events in this country and in Europe, Africa and the Middle East have not been particularly kind to followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I have been silent on this blog all summer long thus far, while viewing events with a sense of growing discomfort myself.  I finally decided the best way to step back, take a hard look at the present situation and organize my thoughts would be to write a post, so here it is.  It's long and somewhat rambling, so please forgive both defects. 

Chief among my concerns are the systematic slaughter by Islamic jihadists of Christians in Africa, Iraq, Syria, etc.; the desecration and destruction of holy sites throughout the lands where Christianity has existed since literally the time of Christ, also by Islamic jihadists; the social and legal attacks on Christians in Europe and Canada, often based on the application of the noxious idea of "hate crimes"  to statements defending traditional marriage; and the growing pattern of anti-Christian behavior right here in the good old U.S.A., from the Executive Branch and the Supreme Court right on down the line to local governments and both social and commercial media. 

In case you missed it, for example, the U.S. health care reform law has resulted in the Federal government (through an administrative agency, not directly by the Congress itself) dictating to Christian businesses and institutions that they must pay for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs for their employees regardless of their religious beliefs, on pain of fines so large they would mean the literal death of the business or institution in most cases. (The so-called accommodation given by the Obama Administration in the wake of many, many protests and legal actions does not really change anything; it merely makes the mandated payment indirect rather than direct. It still amounts to a violation of conscience for those who adhere to Christian doctrine that holds abortion and contraception are inherently and gravely sinful.) The Administration argues in both words and effect that the First Amendment only protects freedom of worship, not the fully free exercise  of religion promised by the text. (Note to the White House and HHS: they had "freedom of worship" in the old Soviet Union. Is that your model?)  Not incidentally, the same law, which its supporters assured us would not result in more taxpayer funding of abortions, has in fact increased such funding significantly.  To the extent existing law purports to prohibit Federal funding of abortion, the current Administration simply ignores it.  So much for the system of Constitutional checks and balances, eh? 

In addition, a pattern of vicious public condemnation of anyone who dares to speak out or act against the agenda of the increasingly powerful and well-funded homosexual lobby in the U.S. has been underway for some time--just ask Brendan Eich and the owners of "Sweet Cakes by Melissa" how their First Amendment rights are doing.  Talk about the tail wagging the dog...all of this fuss is over a tiny minority of no more than two or three percent of the population, by any credible measure, yet the rest of us are told we must bow down and affirm them in their way of life, regardless of our deeply held religious beliefs.  And make no mistake, the situation for faithful Christians will only become more serious and widespread in the wake of the unbelievably arrogant and legally fatuous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges.  There, a 5-4 Court majority led by putative Catholic Anthony Kennedy discovered a heretofore unimagined right in the Constitution for same-sex couples to be "married" nationwide.  In stark contrast to Justice Kennedy's bizarre New Age reasoning, faithful Christians and Jews know that marriage is a sacrament instituted by God between one man and one woman, and no human person or institution has the slightest power to change that, period.  If the Church in the United States were not so thoroughly infected with Modernism, Justice Kennedy would be at risk of formal excommunication.  Fat chance of that happening today, especially in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., where the reaction to the decision by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the reigning Ordinary, was "The law of the land is the law of the land."  No word on where the law of God might fit into the picture.  With all due respect, Your Eminence, you sound more like a politician than a Cardinal Archbishop of the Catholic Church.

To be clear, I don't doubt that two people of the same sex can really love each other, at least in the somewhat truncated manner in which this culture understands the nature of love.  We as Christians are called to love them as well, as brothers and sisters made in the image and likeness of God, and since true Christian love means willing the ultimate good of the other as other,  that means we must sincerely desire the other's eternal salvation.  But whatever a same-sex living relationship is, it can never be marriage as instituted by God because it is not naturally ordered to procreation.  As for their physical relationships, despite the attempts of homosexual apologists to find support for same-sex unions in Sacred Scripture, the truth is that homosexual acts are strongly condemned in both the Old and New Testaments, as are fornication and adultery--in short, any sexual activity outside the bounds of sacramental marriage constitutes serious sin.  And faithful Christians cannot affirm any such way of life, for to do so is to be at serious risk of committing the grave sin of scandal. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2284-2285 (emphasis added):
2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.
2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."86 Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing.87
 86 Mt 18:6; cf. 1 Cor 8:10-13. 87 Cf. Mt 7:15
Let it not be forgotten in this regard that as Christians we all are obliged by nature to teach and educate others--it's called evangelization.  Jesus left no doubt that he expects his followers to evangelize, to bring his Gospel to the whole world, and the Church has always taught that three of the spiritual works of mercy required of all Christians are to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful and admonish sinners.  Thus, we cannot evade the sin of scandal by claiming "it's not my job to say anything about this."

If memory serves, it was St. Augustine of Hippo who originally said “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”  The idea of same-sex marriage is simply and eternally wrong, and ultimately it will not stand, although the journey back to truth will be painful for all concerned.  In the meantime, the Obergefell ruling, this travesty of Constitutional law which has no rational connection to anything actually written or implied in the Constitution, will be the launching pad for serious persecutions in this country of anyone who stands for the truth about marriage and human sexuality.  Well, such is the lot of the true follower of Christ, for which our Lord offers this consolation in the Sermon on the Mount:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:10-12.
And as long as we're on the subject of perpetrating and affirming grave sin, how about Planned Parenthood?  (One excellent Catholic blogger refers to them as "Planned Barrenhood."  Zing!)  The series of undercover videos released in the past few weeks has been eye-opening, to say the least, and has generated predictable hyperventilation from the secular Left in the U.S. (excepting the Administration, who yawningly inform us they haven't watched the videos and have no plans to do so), along with, one hopes and prays, a fair amount of soul-searching among people of good will on all points of the secular political spectrum.  Putting aside the issues of secular legality, the words and actions shown in the videos speak for themselves, and the reality of the evil that is abortion is finally sinking in for a lot of people.  The souls of the tens of millions of aborted children cry out to Heaven, as the hearts of medical practitioners (!) who perpetrate not only the acts of abortion, but also engage in trafficking in the body parts of the aborted, are revealed as cold and hard as the stone of a tomb. We must pray for their conversion and repentance, of course, and engage in prayer and penance for ourselves and the world for allowing these evils to occur.  It must also be said that the reaction of the Catholic Bishops in the United States has been underwhelming, to say the least.  Many have spoken clearly and forcefully in condemnation of this egregious evil, but many others have issued weak-kneed statements that should embarrass any committed Christian, and this shameful list includes the Archbishops of Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, to name just three.  On the other hand, one of the better statements, in my humble estimation, came from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, who hasn't always been so clear recently on other matters of faith and morals, so bravo to him!  You can see his statement here.

All in all, I'd say that's plenty to be dark and foreboding about.  But it's by no means all that is worrisome today. We have another whole set of serious concerns within the hierarchy of the Church.

Standing at the top of this list is the highly public campaign being led by Cardinal Walter Kasper and some other Catholic prelates in Germany, France and Switzerland to change the practice of the Church with respect to Catholics who have undergone civil divorce and been remarried, without a declaration of invalidity of the previous marriage by the Church.  According to the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, these people are living in a state of open adultery, violating the Sixth Commandment every time they engage in the conjugal act, not to mention giving scandal every day of their lives simply by living together.  (Cf., Mt 5:31-32; Lk 16:18). This is every bit as inherently sinful as the same-sex relationships discussed above.  But Kasper, et al. are suggesting in all seriousness that there can be some "pastoral" way to permit such persons to receive the Holy Eucharist without true repentance, i.e., contrition and a firm purpose of amendment.

The Church has taught for as long as anyone can remember that it is necessary for civilly re-married couples whose prior marriages remain canonically valid to commit to living as brother and sister, and better yet, to separate completely from their adulterous union, before they can obtain valid absolution in the Sacrament of Penance and be properly disposed to receive Holy Communion.  And yet, under the guise of mercy, we are being told by Cardinals and Bishops that it should be possible for these Catholics, living in mortal sin, to be admitted to Communion without taking either of these steps. We are also assured by the same group that this would not really be a change in Church doctrine.  Not to put too fine a point on it, this contention is facially absurd.  Many other Cardinals and Bishops have responded by reminding all concerned of the words of our Lord in the Gospels, of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, and the millennia-old Church practice, based on Sacred Tradition as well as Sacred Scripture, concerning reception of the Eucharist.

But the outcome of this issue in the upcoming Synod remains in doubt at this writing, primarily because the Holy Father has mostly remained silent through all the public campaigning of the Kasperite group and the responses by the more orthodox prelates. And the logical mind must conclude that if this Synod indeed endorses a practice of permitting reception of the Eucharist by civilly remarried persons in a non-repentant state of grave sin, the extension of the practice to persons actively and unrepentantly practicing homosexual acts will follow in short order.  Could this happen? Yes. Christ's promise that the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church does not preclude the human beings who occupy positions of ecclesial authority from becoming heretics or apostates; this has happened before and can happen again.  The Synod will not be an "ex cathedra" proclamation of dogma, so the charism of papal infallibility will not be in play.  Nevertheless, the results of such a Synodal declaration would be devastating, and would lead many souls to perdition.  Scandal, anyone?  Perpetrated by Cardinals and Bishops, and possibly even with the support of the Pope himself?  I pray daily that this will not be permitted, but only God knows.

If one were of an apocalyptic frame of mind, one might view this simmering dispute as a very ominous sign, indeed.  In one of a series of apparitions in Japan in 1973, (and approved by the local Bishop as worthy of belief, although not yet definitively approved by the Holy See), Our Lady of Akita gave the following message on October 13 of that year (emphasis added):
"As I told you, if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never [have] seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by My Son. Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and priests."
"The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres...churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord."
Given that this was a private revelation, all are free to make of it whatever they will.  But I wouldn't call it very comforting, and it sure does appear timely.  On the other hand, it's only been 42 years since this message, which is a mere eyeblink in God's eternity, so maybe we still have some time to make things right.  For "the rest of the story" as related by EWTN, go here.

And this brings us to Pope Francis himself.  In Francis we have a Pope who says and does many uplifting, inspirational things, most prominently in leading by example in the application of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden...all the people Jesus made it his business, and ours, to love and care for as we love ourselves.  His installation of rest rooms and showers for the homeless in the immediate vicinity of St. Peter's Square is a good example, although it has not thrilled some of the business owners in the area.  Francis also is one who takes pains to show personal humility, and to speak directly to people, even if it means going "over the heads" of his advisors and schedulers.  He professes to be a "Son of the Church" and says the "right" things about matters of faith and morals with some regularity in his prepared homilies and remarks.  These traits have made him quite popular among Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and a darling of the mass media, (the latter, so far at least.)

Yet at the same time, when a Pope is a media darling, is that really a good thing?  We are called to be in this world, but not of it, and pleasing the mass media in this day and age is by definition a very worldly pursuit.  As a relatively recent convert (2005) who believes that the authority of the Pope is one of the most important characteristics of the Church, which stands on Sacred Scripture as strong evidence that it is the one Church established by Jesus Christ (See Mt 16:13-19), I am reluctant to be critical of the occupant of the Chair of Peter.  But in Francis we have a Pope who has managed to confuse, insult and denigrate a large portion of his own flock with a long and continuing series of statements and actions that seem always to need explaining and clarification; who said early in his pontificate that we spend too much time "obsessing" about topics such as abortion and contraception, two of the gravest evils afflicting our culture, and who characterized attempts to convert non-Catholics to the one true Faith as "solemn nonsense"; who has taken actions against orthodox Cardinals and Bishops that are difficult not to perceive as exile or demotion; and who at the same time has appointed men to important positions in the Vatican and in dioceses and archdioceses around the world who seem to go out of their way to show disdain for orthodoxy and tradition (as well as orthodox clergy and lay faithful) in favor of a modernistic, almost secular approach to Church teaching. This is not to mention the inexplicable appointment to an influential Vatican post of an openly dissident priest who blasphemously calls the act of sodomy "Eucharistic", and his selection of a notorious atheist German politician, who has suggested that six billion people need to die to save the Earth, as one of the spokesmen for the release of the encyclical Laudato Si.

Ah, yes, Laudato Si.  Most puzzling of all, to me at least, in this, his first encyclical not partially inherited from his predecessor, the Holy Father jumped headlong into a secular political controversy, lecturing the world about "climate change" and environmentalism in a manner bordering on pantheism, while thousands of babies are murdered in the womb daily, Christians are being martyred and churches demolished in the Middle East and Africa, and Mass attendance in Europe, once the cultural heart of the Church, is in single-digit percentages and continues to fall, with Church buildings being converted into mosques at an alarming rate. Also worthy of note is the extreme paucity of references in the encyclical to Christ, or to sin and salvation, and what few clearly Catholic statements it contains are all but lost amidst thousands of words that could have been taken directly from a screed by those faithful Christians over at Greenpeace. (/sarc) As the redoubtable traditionalist Catholic writer Christopher Ferrara so eloquently put it:
"One must ask how it is possible to take seriously a call to respect God’s creation in an encyclical that mourns the loss of plants and animals as an offense against God we have no right to commit, but then, many pages later, weakly criticizes the mass murder of unborn children because it “compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment,” is inconsistent with “concern for other vulnerable beings,” and “everything is connected.”
Perhaps it would be enough to say that any encyclical in which a papal condemnation of excessive air-conditioning appears 62 paragraphs before the first muted mention of the legalized murder of “human embryos” is a mockery of the papal Magisterium. But the overall thematic way in which this “pro-embryo” encyclical treats the infinite value of even a single human life in comparison with plants and animals shocks the sensus catholicus. The abortion holocaust rages on while Francis eulogizes lost fish, mammals and flowers our children will never see, never mentioning the murdered children our children will never see. This is ridiculous."
For the full text of the article, which I recommend most highly, go here.

And the hits just keep on coming... within the past few months, there have been two more extremely confusing and disturbing events centering on the Holy Father.  First was his acceptance during the Apostolic visit to South America of a shockingly blasphemous crucifix in the shape of the "hammer and sickle" emblem of international Communism, the atheistic creed that has resulted in the deaths of scores of millions of people in the last century.  It is difficult to imagine a more anti-Christian belief system than Communism, whose leaders repeatedly expressed the intention to eradicate Christianity entirely.  Yet Francis not only smilingly accepted this "gift", but took it with him back to Rome, when it should have been tossed in the nearest dumpster.  At least it probably won't be displayed in the Papal apartments, where Francis ostentatiously declines to live.

Then there was the Pope's statement, in a homily given during the same South American visit, attributing the Gospel miracle of the loaves and fishes to people "sharing what was their own", a piece of modernistic historical-critical exegesis that flies in the face of the clear words of the Scriptural text.  This view also, it must be said, works to undercut the deeper meaning of the miracle as a type of the Eucharist, the reality of which is so clearly taught in St. John's Gospel later in the same chapter containing St. John's narrative of the miracle itself.  (John 6:35-69.) Let's also not forget that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is the only one of Christ's miracles which is related in all four Gospels.  Yes, it's that important...but apparently Christ's Vicar on Earth doesn't believe it really happened the way Scripture says it happened. 

In the wake of all of this, Catholics who honestly try to live out all aspects of the Faith handed down to us from Christ and his Apostles over nearly two thousand years, and who think it improper to entangle the Church in secular politics and worldly disputes over matters of prudential judgment, have begun to wonder if our Holy Father really believes the same things we believe.  Whether or not these misgivings are well-founded, they exist, and a lot more people have them than I think anyone realizes.

What, then, is the faithful Catholic in the pews to do? Persecution is rampant abroad and looms here at home, our culture glorifies mortal sin and viciously attacks those who demur, millions of souls have left the Church if not abandoning faith altogether, and the highest levels of the Church hierarchy act as if none of this matters as much as giving communion to adulterers and sodomites and taking action against climate change.**  

Clearly we must remain faithful to the teachings of the Church, which after all are the teachings of Jesus Christ.  We must pray much, fast and do other forms of penance, and give alms to those in need. We must not be afraid to stand up and speak up for our Lord, his Church, and the eternal truths of natural law and divine revelation.  We must speak in charity to our family and friends who hold beliefs or are living lives inconsistent with these truths, and pray and offer Masses for them and the whole world.  And we must prepare for martyrdom, whether it be the "soft" martyrdom of economic and social loss, or the martyrdom of blood now being suffered by our brethren abroad. 

It is probably a good idea to find a parish where the priests and deacons are not afraid to tell the people what we need to hear, rather than just what we want to hear, and shift your financial support there along with your worship and participation in parish ministries. I also recommend serious study of Sacred Scripture and the writings of the great saints, especially the Doctors of the Church, such as Augustine, Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Therese of Liseux, to name just a few. Follow their guidance in developing your prayer life and daily practices. All but Therese are rather difficult reading, but the rewards will be great.

In the end, we know who wins, but we also know that "...the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Mt 7:14. On that same note, recall the admonition of St. Paul in the letter to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Rom 12:2. It's time to be devoting as much energy as we possibly can to discerning the will of God and finding that narrow gate, because regardless of when the End Times arrive, the day of individual judgment for each of us is nearer than we care to think about, and may even be hastened by the trials that lie ahead. And through it all, as we are reminded by that great saint of the 20th Century, Pio of Pietrelcina, "Pray, hope, and don't worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer."

So...go to Mass as often as possible. Pray the Rosary. Pray the Divine Office. Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Ask the saints to pray with you. Then pray in your own words, as well. Pray for the Church, for the Holy Father, for this Nation. Pray for all of our bishops and priests, our deacons and seminarians, our religious sisters and brothers, and those in formation or discernment. Pray for our secular leaders--the President, the Congress, administrators, judges, state governors and legislators, tax collectors, everyone! And one final quotation from St. Paul:

"Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation." Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation."  2 Cor. 6:1-2.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Laudator Jesus Christus!

**--As to climate change, by the way, contrary to the unquestioning acceptance by the Holy See of the full plate of alarmist rhetoric issuing from various governments, the U.N., and other non-governmental organizations, the science is by no means "settled"--science by definition is never "settled", and many reputable experts in the field of climatology and related disciplines do not accept the contentions either that carbon dioxide is a pollutant or that an increase of a few degrees or fractions of degrees in global temperatures, even if it were to occur, is principally caused by human activity.  Rather, such fluctuations as have been reliably measured, as opposed to being erroneously predicted by various "models", are more likely caused by natural climatic cycles.  For more information on this issue, which exceeds the scope of this post, go here.