Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam. -Ps cxii. 9
We homeschool our children with a popular Catholic curriculum that relates all their various subjects to the Faith. The other day one of my teenagers complained about an American Literature assignment: “Why,” the child lamented, “does everything have to be about Catholicism?”
I fear this is a question inspired by the world—and therefore by the prince of this world—even though my children’s exposure to secular culture is more limited than most.
Unfortunately we have come to a place where the majority in western society outright reject religion as the objective rule for right living. Even some Catholics and other Christians who are considered “religious” for going to Church on Sunday live their lives and pursue their material objectives as if there is no God.
The worldview that religion is purely subjective—if not irrational—and therefore should be kept out of public life entirely, is communicated to our kids by every possible means twenty-four hours a day. But no matter how often it is repeated it remains a false conception.
In fact, the incessant flood of anti-religious nonsense that proceeds from the government and the media and the academy is pure fantasy. Those who believe that man is the measure of all things, that people of the same gender can get married, or that a society can thrive while aborting and contracepting itself out of existence, are living precisely in denial of reality.
God is real. Sin is real. Death is real. Choices have consequences.
Everyone you have ever met, or ever will meet, will either spend eternity with God or irrevocably separated from Him. Anyone who tells you differently does not represent reality, but the secular fantasy world of idolatry - where people worship money, and sex, and power, and their own imaginary self-importance.
Despite the incessant drumbeat that secularism will make you happy, people that refuse to accept the reality of God, and/or the attendant responsibility to act accordingly, live miserable lives; the statistics on suicide, abortion, addiction, divorce, child abuse, pornography, etc., speak for themselves. Moreover such people (“Christians” included) risk eternal separation from God.
The Bible says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14.1), but also records the words of Jesus: “[T]he Son of Man… will repay everyone according to his conduct.” Just believing in God is not enough, we must respond to Him in our actions; in public as well as in private.
As I explained to my teenager, the Catholic Faith is based upon Divine Revelation. God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, revealed to us many things—things that we could never know by reason alone—precisely so we can know him better. In due course He became man as the ultimate act of self–revelation.
“I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14.6).
“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18.37).
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22.13).
The truth of Christ, like the graces won by Him on the Holy Cross, is communicated to the world through the Church He founded. In other words:
Everything is about Catholicism because Catholicism is reality.
Sometimes even the faithful can lose sight of this truth. How often do I hear Catholic parents and youth ministers declare: “We need to prepare our kids for the real world.” If that means teaching them to live the truths of the Faith in opposition to a hostile culture all well and good; but the Faith represents reality, not our culture. Preparing them to achieve secular success apart from the truths of the Faith is anything but preparing them for the "real world" which includes an eternal destiny in heaven or in hell.
Our goal as parents, educators and evangelists must be to raise up a generation of saints, but this goal cannot be met by falling into the error that Catholicism is something to be imposed on “reality.” On the contrary, Catholic education and Catholic evangelization will bear far greater fruits when we recognize that the truths of the Faith define reality. Our task is to wake people up from their worldly fantasies in order to discover happiness and holiness in the ultimate reality of Christ.
As a promoter of Christian Chivalry, I find it distasteful to criticize a lady in these musings. However, the woman who was recently “ordained” a Catholic “priestess” is clearly no lady.
Yes, the now ten year-old organization Womenpriests has added another aged radical feminist to their roster of imaginary clergy. The “ordination” took place in Kentucky and the video footage I suffered through demonstrates their manifest rejection of the teaching of Christ and His Church.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the newly “ordained” woman, 70 year-old Rosemarie Smead said, “It’s illegal, but it’s valid.” This is a lie. Even if the one to be ordained had been a man, the woman “bishop” who did the “ordaining” was herself not truly ordained and that alone invalidates the proceedings.
As any Catholic second-grader should know, a sacrament requires two things for validity, namely, proper matter and form. For example, one cannot be validly baptized in peanut butter or with the words, “in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier.” This is because water and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” constitute the proper matter and form of the Sacrament of Baptism.
Likewise, for Holy Orders to be valid, the requisite matter and form demand a validly ordained bishop laying hands on a baptized man.
The sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church has no authority to change them, even if she wanted to. And just because schismatic splinter groups deign to blasphemously simulate the ordination of women, they do not have the authority to change the matter and form of the sacrament either. Therefore all such “ordinations” are not just illicit, but invalid.
Our society may have strayed far from Christ, but He does not change. Jesus instituted a male-only priesthood. As with all other enemies of Christ, those who desire the logical contradiction of “women priests” may heap as much ridicule upon His Church as they like, but that will not make it so. As we read in the book of Numbers:
God is not like people who lie; He is not a human who changes His mind.
Since fidelity to Christ and His Church is obviously meaningless to these ladies, one might legitimately ask, “Why not just become Old Catholics or Episcopalians or join some other non-Catholic group?” The answer: because then these “ordinations” would stop being news. “Woman Becomes Catholic Priest” is a man-bites-dog headline that gives these heretics an undeserved platform, whereas “Bitter Old Feminist Leaves Church” is no news at all.
I suspect that when a good many Catholics hear the name Francis of Assisi, they think immediately of the prayer that begins, “Make me a channel of your peace…” Put to music, it is often sung at the novus ordo mass as The Prayer of Saint Francis.
Because of this familiar prayer—and the 1960’s film Brother Sun, Sister Moon—many have a conception of Saint Francis as a timid, nature-loving, pacifist.
What many do not know is that the “Prayer of Saint Francis” was not composed by Francis at all. It is not even medieval, but was first published anonymously in French in 1912.1 Some years later it was presented to Pope Benedict XV, but as an example of the spirituality of William the Conqueror.2
It was first published in English in 1927 in a Quaker magazine3 where it was first attributed to Francis of Assisi. Presumably, the popular image of Saint Francis as a plaster bird-feeder made this Catholic prayer more acceptable to the Protestant - and pacificst - Quakers. But the real Francis was a vigorous saint of prayer, courage, and action.
Contrary to his popular pacifist image, the medieval saint defended the justice of the Crusades so long as the Muslims refused to accept Christ and obstinately held onto the Christian lands they had taken unjustly by force.
Like everyone, he hoped for an end to the hostilities, but not “peace at any price.” Rather, he desired the conversion of the Muslims, and conceived a bold plan to end the war through evangelization.
Saint Francis & the Sultan
Risking torture and death, Francis and some companions made a pilgrimage to Egypt in 1219. In Damietta, Francis crossed enemy lines and was received by the Sultan of Egypt, Melek-el-Kamel, “brother” (probably nephew) of the late Saladin.
Francis challenged the Sultan’s Muslim scholars to a test of true religion: he proposed they enter together into a bonfire to see which of them God would choose to protect. Not surprisingly, they refused.
Then Francis proposed to enter the fire alone, under the condition that if he emerged unharmed, the sultan would accept Christ as the true God. When the Sultan demurred, Francis told him:
“If you do not wish to believe, we will commend your soul to God. Because we declare that if you die while holding to your law, you will be lost; God will not accept your soul.”4
Then the Sultan argued that the Crusaders were not true followers of the Gospels because Jesus taught to “turn the other cheek” (Cf. Matthew 5.39). Francis answered by quoting Our Lord’s own words taken from the very same discourse:
“If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee.” (Matthew 5.29)
“Here Jesus wanted to teach us that every man, however dear and close he is to us—and even if he is as precious to us as the apple of our own eye—must be repulsed, pulled out, expelled if he seeks to turn us aside from the faith and love of our God. That is why it is just that Christians invade the land you inhabit, for you blaspheme the name of Christ and alienate everyone you can from His worship.”5
Saint Francis’ bold dialogue with the Sultan was one of conversion to Jesus Christ. Melek-el-Kamel was so impressed, that he allowed the saint to preach to his subjects. And although he himself did not convert, the Sultan besought Francis,
“Pray for me that God may deign to reveal to me that law and faith which is most pleasing to him.” 6
Francis's visit to Egypt and attempted rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences. After the fall of the Crusader Kingdom it was the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who were allowed to stay on in the Holy Land as “Custodians of the Holy Places” on behalf of Christianity.
Mere Peace vs. "My Peace"
It was another Franciscan, Saint Raymond of Penyafort (d. 1275), who later championed tolerance and dialogue with the Muslims, but with the same end as his sainted founder, i.e., to achieve the conversion of the Muslims; not merely to “get along,” but to introduce them to Christ who offers us His peace.
It is not surprising that the Quaker’s took the “Peace Prayer” as their own. Modern people often confuse “peace,” meaning the absence of conflict, with what Jesus called “My peace,” which is the tranquility of soul that flows from a rightly ordered relationship with God. Jesus promised the latter as “the peace the world cannot give”:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you.” (John 14.27)
But He did not promise us absence of conflict. On the contrary, He said:
“Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man' s enemies shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it.” (Matthew 10.34-39)
This is a fine description of the conflict that arose in Francis’ own life due to his choice of vocation.
As a boy Francis dreamt of being a chivalrous knight. A commoner, albeit a well-to-do one, he hoped to satisfy his desire by embracing life as a soldier. Instead, he ultimately found the fulfillment of his noble longing by a radical embrace of the Gospel.
With so much being made of the new Pope’s choice of name, it is well to remember the real Saint Francis of Assisi and His heroic following of Christ.
1 The prayer was published in La Clouchette (The Little Bell), a magazine of Catholic spirituality, as a good prayer to be said during Holy Mass.
2 The Anglo-French association Souvenir Normand, which called itself “a work of peace and justice inspired by the testament of William the Conqueror” sent the prayer to the Pope in 1915.
3 The Friend Intelligencer
4 Codex Vaticanus, Ott.lat.n.552
6 Chronicle of Jacques de Vitry, Bishop of Acre, c.1221
“The highest norm of human life is the divine law—eternal, objective and universal—whereby God orders, directs, and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Human beings have been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, they can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging.” – Dignitatus humanae (no. 3)
“The Council proclaims that all must hold to the absolute primacy of the objective moral order, that is, this order by itself surpasses and fittingly coordinates all other spheres of human affairs… for human beings who are endowed by God with the gift of reason and summoned to pursue a lofty destiny are alone affected by the moral order in their entire being. And likewise, if human beings resolutely and faithfully uphold this order, they will be brought to the attainment of complete perfection and happiness.” – Inter mirifica (no. 6)
As the above words from the documents of the Second Vatican Council affirm, if we wish to be happy, rational, and fully human—which includes attaining eternal beatitude—we must obey the law of God. The truth does not change; the Church’s traditional teaching has not changed; the law of God is the highest norm by which Catholics must govern our lives.
This cannot be overemphasized today, especially in light of the many conflicts between virtue and license that plague American culture. Moral questions are a matter of constant debate in our society. As Catholics, those of us who enjoy the right to vote have an obligation to exercise that right to support candidates of experience and Christian principles who may be expected to act justly in questions of morality. It has been often stated by “conservative” Catholic commentators that U.S. Catholics could change the course of our country in the direction of Christian virtue within a single generation if only we would vote exclusively for pro-life, pro-family candidates and say “no” to any politician who advocates “gay marriage” and “abortion rights.” What they are requesting, in essence, is that Catholics “vote their conscience.” The trouble is that Catholic voters who gave us the likes of Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Barak Obama seem to think that they have; their conscience is precisely the problem.
Let Your Conscience be Your Guide?
Conscience is sometimes called the “voice of God,” insofar as it reflects the moral law of God; the law that is “written on the heart” according to St. Paul (Romans 2. 12-16). The name “conscience” applies both to individual acts of moral judgment and to the faculty that makes the judgments. This faculty is human reason exercising its natural function of recognizing moral good and moral evil. As a faculty of moral judgment, conscience admits to greater or lesser development depending upon the person. However, as St. Paul admonished the Romans, no one with the use of reason can be ignorant of basic moral precepts (i.e., that murder is morally wrong or that love and respect of parents is morally good).
“In the depths of their conscience, human beings detect a law they do not impose upon themselves, but which holds them to obedience. […] In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor…
Hence, the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn away from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a person who cares little for truth or goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.” – Gaudium et spes (no. 16)
So for Catholics to follow our conscience means that we have an on-going obligation to conform our conscience to the moral law of God as expressed in Sacred Scripture and taught by His Holy Catholic Church.
As one must often readjust a mechanical clock to solar time, so Catholics must consistently adjust our conscience over and over again to what God demands of us. Why this constant adjustment? It is not that morality changes, but that our conscience is fallible—and therefore can err—on the other hand there is an unchanging, infallible truth to which we must consistently conform our life; the truth that Christ teaches us through His Holy Church.
The Blind Leading the Dead
Conscience may be “God’s voice within us” but that voice is often drowned out by other voices; of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is only by having a well-formed conscience that we may be sure that the voice we hear is His.
“Many pressures are brought to bear upon the people of our day, to the point where the danger arises lest they lose the possibility of acting on their own judgment. On the other hand, not a few can be found who seem inclined to use the name of freedom as the pretext for refusing to submit to authority and for making light of the duty of obedience.” – Dignitatus humanae (no. 8)
If we dissent from Catholic teaching on faith and morals in whole (apostasy) or in part (heresy), if we never study Catholic doctrine, never listen to a homily or engage in prayer or spiritual reading, conscience becomes a faithless, deceitful voice; a “blind guide.”
In circumstances where a Catholic is blinded by habitual sin or becomes reprobate (i.e., obstinate in sin, refusing correction); when such a one declares “I am following my conscience,” this most likely means he or she is merely yielding to his or her own disordered desire; truly ”the blind leading the blind” (Matthew 15.14). For all practical purposes, such a conscience is dead, just as a Catholic in mortal sin remains Catholic but is a “dead member” of the Body of Christ.
Catholics that flaunt the teaching of the Church, refuse obedience to its lawful authority in matters of faith and morals and encourage others to do the same are not acting in good conscience. We live in a world where access to the true teaching of the Church is more easily available than ever before in history: the official Catholic Catechism, the Holy Bible, the Documents of Vatican II (not to mention important documents from every other Council) are all available online for free. It is preposterous to suggest that well-educated Catholics who have attained high political office can plead invincible ignorance. When such a Catholic willfully misrepresents Church teaching or appeals to “conscience” when flaunting the law of God he or she is not an ignoramus but a “spiritual zombie.”
A person with a well-formed conscience turns from “blind choice” and “strives to be guided by the objective norms of morality.” If this does not describe America's political leaders, Catholic voters have no one but ourselves to blame.
I suppose you will always remember where you were when you heard about the election of Pope Francis. I was in Fargo, ND for a series of Lenten talks at Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. On March 13, 2013 I was with a small group gathered in the Church Hall for a simple lunch and a Q&A session when the pastor, Father Courtright, stepped in to say two words: “White smoke.” Without further ado, the session was over as all headed for home to watch the coverage on TV.
I walked across the snowy parking lot to the rectory where Father Paulraj (a missionary priest from India) was already at the television set. We watched the coverage together and I was swept up in his contagious enthusiasm. Each announcement prompted another exclamation, “We have a pope! I love Saint Francis! He will go tomorrow to thank the Blessed Virgin – I love Mother Mary!”
I was deeply moved as the new Holy Father asked for our prayers to the Lord on his behalf and could not keep from shedding a tear as he blessed us all; the pilgrims in the square and the multitudes around the world. As I reflect on the experience, I realize once again the profound truth that—according to the promises of Christ and despite everything the world, the flesh, and the devil can throw at us—the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church lives on.
The Mixed Blessing of the Media
I suspect that my reactions were similar to those of many Catholics around the world and it was wonderful to experience it as it happened, however, the mainstream media TV coverage was at best a “mixed blessing.” Father had stopped changing channels upon on the first sight of St. Peter’s Square, which, as it happened, was MSNBC. The picture was great and the suspense exquisite, but, with the happy exception of a lone Catholic priest, the commentators were utterly clueless. Self-proclaimed “Catholic” Chris Matthews was simply an embarrassment.
Even before the name of the new pope was announced, Mr. Matthews listed the qualities he must possess, including a willingness to “overturn Humanae Vitae.” It seems Mr. Matthews, like virtually all the members of the mainstream media, including "liberl catholics," fails to understand that the pope does not—in fact, cannot—change the Church’s teaching or originate new doctrine. The Holy Father is the guardian of the deposit of Faith which was handed down by Christ and the Apostles. No matter how many Catholic Americans choose to ignore the Church’s teaching, artificial contraception (for example) is wrong and the Church will never change its position. Likewise abortion, same-sex “marriage,” women priests, or whatever becomes the next liberal cause celebre.
The insipid Mr. Matthews said that the new pope must be like Jesus, who accepted everyone. When the priest-commentator was finally given a chance to speak—after rather predictable remarks from the requisite dissenting Catholic intellectual as well as a representative of the hard-left political agitation group Catholics United—Father simply and gently stated that while Jesus did accept everyone, He also never backed away from boldly proclaiming the “hard teachings” of the Gospel. I am sorry I did not get this good priest’s name, but may his tribe increase.
When I left for home on Thursday I picked up a copy of USA Today to read on the plane. It seemed promising; the front page was dedicated to pictures of and articles on the new pontiff as was all of Section D. Unfortunately, all the articles—all of them—used the same few facts, the same few pull-quotes, and came from precisely the same perspective--the unrelenting drumbeat that what Catholics want is change--and only what amounts to a wholesale abandonment of the Church’s moral teaching will ever suffice to make the next pope acceptable to us. The pieces were clichéd, agenda-driven nonsense forced into hackneyed, ready-made story templates. It seems unlikely that any one of the reporters involved did any research beyond the AP wire. This is not journalism.
Francis with the Journalists
On March 16, Pope Francis met with thousands of journalists at Paul VI Hall to say that he loved them and to thank them for their recent work. The pope’s remarks were a clear call to journalists to remember what their profession is actually about. The Holy Father said:
“We aren’t called to communicate about ourselves, but on this trinity of truth, goodness, and beauty… Your work requires study, sensibility, experience like all other professions, but needs to also give special attention to truth, goodness and beauty.”
The Pope has offered us an important insight: that, like the Church, the media has a responsibility to do the “real work” in order to be sure that what they are communicating is true, based on genuine facts, and not an attempt to merely “communicate about themselves.”
“That is why we are so close,” the pontiff said of the Church and the media, “because the Church exists to communicate precisely this” (i.e., truth, goodness, and beauty). Pope Francis also told journalists that the Church gives great attention to their work and reminded them that Jesus is the center of the Church. He said, “Without Him, Peter and the Church would not exist nor would they have a reason for existing.”
Of course, the mainstream press today has little to do with truth, goodness, or beauty, but, rather, has everything to do with scandal. This was manifest in the commentary on MSNBC before the identity of the new pontiff was even announced. The experts” of MSNBC presented a vision of the papacy that can simply never be; as it would require rejecting the Faith. When the new pope falls short of this vision, as he must, they will consider it a scandal – never mind that it is of their own making.
The word scandal (Gk. scandalon) literally means a “stumbling stone.” (Cf. Mt. 16.23). In the ancient world sheep would be run down a chute to be slaughtered. At the end of the chute was a “stumbling stone” that would buckle the sheeps' front legs to facilitate slitting their throats. Just as the stumbling block led to the death of the sheep, scandal in the spiritual life leads to the death of the soul. That is why the Church has historically gone to such great lengths to avoid it. Conversely, the media thrive on it; creating it when necessary. Rest assured the search for something scandalous to hang on the latest successor of Peter will be on-going.*
Frankly, the secular media just doesn't get it, but then again, they don’t want to get it. It seems abundantly clear that a profession that once was presumed to promote truth, beauty, and goodness is now the unequivocal mouthpiece for the world, the flesh, and the devil. Because beauty, truth, and goodness all have their source in God, but it is the sine qua non of every secular news story to report as though God does not exist. To treat religious faith seriously as a factor in public discourse is to invite charges of fundamentalism.
A Pope “of the People”
The new Pope’s choice of the name Francis and his widely reported concern for the poor have been greeted with some enthusiasm by the mainstream press. It seems to some of them that a pope concerned about issues of “social justice” will be less concerned about doctrinal orthodoxy. But this is a false dichotomy. Care for the poor and the Church’s traditional teaching on life issues and marriage (for example) are a package deal. In reality, there is no “liberal” or “conservative” Catholicism. There is Catholicism and there is heresy.
Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14.15). Orthodox Catholics love both the poor and the doctrines of the Church for the same reason: because we love Jesus. But, since that doesn’t fit the agenda or the story-templates of the mainstream media, don’t expect to hear about it from Chris Matthews.
*Efforts to link Pope Francis to Argentina’s “dirty War” are already underway.
Joseph Ratzinger has had a long vocation of service in the Church. As a priest, a teacher, a theologian, an expert at Vatican II who helped draft two important documents, as a bishop and cardinal, as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and as Pope Benedict XVI. Long at the forefront of the Church in our modern era, he has, paradoxically, often been described as “medieval.”
In August 2000, as head of the CDF, he signed the document Dominus Iesus, which reiterated the proper understanding of the axiom extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation1).
Insisting that the Catholic Church is the one true Church in our modern age of ecumenism? How medieval!
As pope, his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum liberated the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass for any priest of the Roman rite without the need for special permission. In a letter accompanying the document the Holy Father explained: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”
Extolling the virtues of the Old Latin Mass in the midst of a “springtime of liturgical renewal?” Now that’s really medieval.
During his eventful pontificate we have seen many such actions, the most recent being the correction of the English translation of the Roman Missal which restores such familiar phrases as, “and with your spirit”; “consubstantial with the Father”; “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” etc.
A Paradoxical Progress
Many have accused the Pontiff of “turning back the clock” or being against “progress in the Church.” On the contrary, Pope Benedict was not “looking backward,” but looking ahead. He knows full well that Vatican II has wrongly been perceived as a “break with tradition” by those on both the right and the left, and has dedicated his pontificate to the application of the true interpretation of the council. What some perceive as “going backward” is really a matter of correcting the course of the bark of Peter. As C.S. Lewis once pointed out: "We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive."
All the above examples provoked powerful reactions in part because they were quite unexpected2. On February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict surprised the world again by announcing his decision to abdicate the papacy. Among the many reactions in the press and on the Internet, the one that was conspicuously missing was, “That’s medieval.” Some even thought it was unprecedented, but it soon came to light that popes had indeed abdicated before--all of them in the middle ages--the last being Gregory XII in 1415.
In a blog post on the day of Benedict’s abdication—and again in a February 14, 2013 article for the National Catholic Register—Scott Hahn commented on a couple of related, but largely unnoticed, actions of Pope Benedict, involving the rather medieval practice of going out of his way to venerate the relics of a saint.
On April 29, 2009, the Pontiff visited the tomb of an obscure medieval pope named Saint Celestine V (1215-1296). After several minutes of prayer, Benedict placed his pallium3 on the tomb. The next year on July 4th Benedict prayed before relics of the same Pope Saint Celestine V at the Cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome.
Scott points out that Celestine was elected pope in the year 1294, “somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday” not unlike our current Holy Father who was 78 when he was elevated in 2005. Five months after his election, Celestine issued a decree allowing popes to abdicate the papal throne and then stepped down.
This, according to Scott, explains Pope Benedict’s actions at the tomb and before the relics of Saint Celestine:
“Only now, we may be gaining a better understanding of what it meant. Both acts were more than pious gestures. More likely, they were profound and symbolic actions of a very personal nature, which conveyed a message that a pope can hardly deliver any other way…
Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this saint. Celestine didn’t resign because he was a saint. He wasn’t a saint because he resigned. He resigned to become a saint.”4
Martha, Mary and Benedict XVI
Another medieval saint, Thomas Aquinas, taught that the contemplative life is superior to the active life, because contemplation has God as its direct object. This is consistent with the traditional interpretation of the story of the very active Martha, who was occupied in preparing supper for Our Lord, and her contemplative sister Mary, who sat at her Savior’s feet to listen to His words. When Martha asked Jesus “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me alone to do the serving?” Our Lord replied: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Cf. Luke 10.38-42).
Benedict is not abandoning his post, nor is he is retiring from the papacy to star in his own reality show or write a “tell-all" book about his life as pope; he is retiring to a monastery in the Vatican in order to embrace a life of prayer5. According to the Vatican II Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, Perfectæ Caritatis: “[Monasteries] are entirely ordered toward contemplation, in such wise that their members give themselves over to God alone in solitude and silence, in constant prayer and willing penance."
It sounds to me that Benedict is teaching by example. Given that he currently holds the “keys to the kingdom of heaven,” the Holy Father is the most powerful churchman in the world. In the face of opposition from every quarter, he has done all he can to address the problems in the Church according to his own, authoritative interpretation of Vatican II. He has accomplished far more than I thought possible in my lifetime, but there is more to be done. And Benedict has decided that the best course of action for the Church is trusting the Holy Spirit to guide the cardinal electors to choose a worthy successor to his active role as pope, while he embraces a life of prayer on behalf of the Church he has served so well.
I believe Benedict XVI’s choice to abdicate the papal throne for a life of contemplation is no act of sloth or cowardice as some have impiously claimed, but, rather, an act of great humility whereby the Holy Father reminds us of the “one necessary thing” and invites us to choose “the better part.”
A life of humility, obscurity, and prayer is the answer to the problems in the Church? How very medieval, indeed.
1. Coined by Saint Cyprian (d. 258) this axiom has been officially clarified a number of times in the last three centuries by Popes Pius XII, Pius IX, and Clement XI and by then-cardinal ratizinger under Blessed John Paul II. The doctrine does not teach that non-Catholics may not go to heaven, rather, according to Vatican II: “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter it or to remain in it, could not be saved” (Lumen Gentium, 14, emphasis mine).
2. Primarily because many do not realize that Catholics confess their Church as the one true church in the Credo every Sunday, or that the Traditional Mass was never officially abrogated, or that Rome ordered the correction of the English Missal a decade ago
3. A sacred garment like a long, stiff scarf, the pallium is the primary symbol of the pope’s episcopal authority as bishop of Rome
4. Scott Hahn, Benedict Will Still be there for Us, National Catholic Register, 02.14.2013
5. Which monastery he ordered to be restored, as it was not in use
Today the Blessed Virgin Mary presented the child Jesus in the Temple; and Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, took Him in his arms, and gave thanks to God.
Antiphon from Evening Prayer II, Presentation of the Lord
Today pilgrims gathered in Quito, Ecuador for the “Rosary of the Dawn” in honor of the 402nd anniversary of the consecration of the Miraculous statue of Our Lady of Good Success. We join them in spirit to beseech her powerful intercession:
O Mary, Our Lady, Our Queen, and Our Mother,
In the Name of Jesus, we implore thee
to take our cause into thy hands
and grant it “Good Success”
May God richly bless you and your family today and always.
The following post is based on my response to a recent e-mail from a person that was greatly concerned about the escalating persecution of Catholics. Current events and Marian prophecies seem to agree that persecution of the Church will certainly get worse before it gets better, and this person suggested that continued anxiety about coming circumstances was better than a complacency that might lead to hell. I answered that confidence in God is not presumption and Jesus does not want us to worry, just be faithful and remain in the state of grace (which is quite enough for anybody).
Our Lord admonishes us in the Holy Scriptures: "Be not afraid... Let not your hearts be troubled... do not be anxious..." (cf. Matt 6.34, 14.27; Mark 6.50; John 6.20, 14.1; et al). I understand that the words, "Be not afraid," or the equivalent, appear in the Bible 365 times; that's once for each day of the year. Clearly there is a theme here. The Gospel is a message of joy and hope, even though one of the first reactions to Christ entering the world was a slaughter of innocents (Cf. Matthew 1.16-18); and if that world has not changed, neither has the Gospel.*
Jesus said, "Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil" (Matt 6.34). In book three, chapter thirty of the Imitation of Christ, He reminds us, "I am the Lord who will give strength on the day of distress (Nahum1.7). Come to me when all is not well with you. What hinders you most of all from receiving heavenly consolation is your slowness in turning to Me in prayer."
Private devotions like the Rosary are important, but the most essential and efficacious prayers are the Holy Mass and the Divine Office. For many lay people it is not always possible to make daily Mass, or to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours. However, it is to be highly recommended to cultivate the habit of morning and evening prayers according to "Shorter Christian Prayer." This is an arrangement of the four week psalter (Book of Psalms) approved for use in the dioceses of the United States that can be purchased in book form or followed online.
A participation in the official liturgical prayer of the Church, even the private recitation of the Psalter puts one in touch with thousands of devout souls praying around the world. The Psalms are the very prayers that Our Lord Himself prayed, even on the Cross (Psalm 22.1; cf. Matt 27.46, Mk 15.34) and we are called to imitate Him. Finally, as Scriptural prayers the Psalms are an inspired antidote to anxiety; they give voice to all our deepest longings and assure us of God’s hand in every aspect of our lives.
As for persecution, Our Lord reminds us that if the world hates us, it hated Him first (Cf. John 15.18); Yet St. Paul writes; "Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4.6-7); and as we were admonished in the Introit and second reading for Gaudete Sunday: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Phil 4.4)
We need not fear persecution. Our Lord instructs the twelve about how to handle persecution (Matt 10.16ff) and promises at the end of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt 5.11-12).
I am not a prophet, but I do not believe that Scripture or Mary's words for our times (Fatima, Quito, etc.) suggest that we are headed for the immanent "end of the world." It may well be the end of an era, but that is to be expected; no worldly kingdom will last forever. The only lasting kingdom is the Kingdom of God which will come in its fullness after the Final Judgment; the outpost of that Kingdom on the earth today is the Church. Our role as subjects of Christ's Kingdom—as it has been for the saints throughout Christian history—is to remain faithful, not to be anxious. In the words of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, "Pray, hope, and don't worry." Perhaps easier said than done, but nothing is impossible with God (Cf. Luke 1.37, Matt 19.26, etc.).
*The message of Mary of Good Success is also a joyful one, because of the promise of the restoration of the Church. She reiterates the prophecy of Genesis 3.15 that she will "crush the head of proud satan." Mary crushes the head of the serpent by giving birth to the Messiah; Jesus crushes the head of the serpent by His Sacrifice on the Holy Cross; the Church crushes the head of the serpent through God's grace communicated to the world through the Sacraments instituted by Christ. The final defeat of satan is certain, and, I believe, will be achieved through the promised restoration of the Catholic Church; surely none of this is a cause for anxiety. For more on this please see "Mary of Good Success and the 2012 Election" below.
For fans of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the absence of the "Scourging of the Shire" was one of the great disappointments of Peter Jackson’s film version. PJ & Co. got so much right that this omission was all the more keenly felt. In Tolkien’s masterpiece the Shire did not go untouched by the War of the Ring. In the end the Hobbits return to find their beloved home greatly defaced, and it is only by virtue of their experiences on the quest that they have the skills and the fortitude to rescue the Shire from the ravages imposed by a vengeful Saruman. This is the point of the whole story; that the Hobbits—with the true courage that is the result of simple virtue—preserve the Shire. Because this ending was "forgotten" in the films, those for whom Jackson’s trilogy represents their sole exposure to the Lord of the Rings will never know the real lesson of Tolkien’s epic.
Another "Forgotten" Ending
Movie versions of the legend of King Arthur also have their forgotten ending, though the events that precede it are quite well-known. Whether or not Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere were guilty of adultery (even medieval versions differ) it was their forbidden love that brought about the fall of Camelot. The king’s wicked nephew/son Mordred betrays the lovers to the king and sets in motion a chain of events that lead to a final confrontation between himself and Arthur that kills them both. The dying King orders loyal Sir Bedevere to return the sword Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake and then is borne on a barge to mystic Avalon; music swells, roll credits. But as readers of Le Motre d’Arthur already know, this is not really the end.
The Rest of the Story
Free to be with his lady-love at last, Lancelot discovers that the Queen has taken refuge at a convent in Ambresbury. He hastens there to sweep her off to his castle Joyous Guard and live "happily ever after." But, to his surprise, Guinevere has "taken the veil" and lectures her former lover on the sinfulness of his past life, refusing him even a parting kiss. Admonished to repentance, the sorrowful knight wends his way to Glastonbury (aka Avalon) where he is reunited with his old comrade-in-arms Sir Bedwere. Lancelot learns the good old knight has miraculously discovered Arthur’s tomb in the chapel of a hermitage there and become a monk. Lancelot also assumes the monastic habit, and is in due time ordained a priest; becoming as pre-eminent in piety as he had once been in valor.
Brother Bedwere spends the rest of his days praying for the soul of his beloved Monarch. Guinevere likewise makes a good end; giving up her soul after serving as abbess at Ambresbury. Father Lancelot presides at the former queen’s funeral mass and finally dies at a good old age in the odor of sanctity. At his dying request, his body is taken to be interred at Joyous Guard, while his soul—as witnessed in a vision by his bishop—is escorted to heaven by "thirty thousand and seven" attending angels!
What We Have Forgotten
Despite modern revisions, the legend of King Arthur is not a tragedy. Rather, it has the ultimate happy ending: the good guys go to heaven. This is the goal of Christian Chivalry. This is why the stories of Camelot and middle earth live on, because, in the words of Evelyn Waugh, "In the end the only tragedy is not to have been a saint."
Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the Arthurian legends are profoundly Christian. Camelot, like the Shire, is an attempt to build and sustain an "earthly Jerusalem"—what Blessed John Paul II referred to as "a civilization of love"—over and against the "culture of death" represented by Mordred and Sauron. But no earthly kingdom is permanent, precisely because they are earthly kingdoms. Their rising and falling represent the battle that every soul must wage in this "vale of tears" until the return of Our True King; He who will usher in "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21.1). But this message is lost on an unbelieving modern audience. For, sadly, to quote Merlin from John Boorman’s Excalibur, "It is the doom of men that they forget."
Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.
Psalm 145.2b-3 (DRV)
Many Catholics (about 48% according to the exit polls) are frustrated with the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. Many of them fear—with good reason—that this is the end of American life as we once knew it. But, even if they are right, this is not a cause for despair. Four centuries ago Our Blessed Mother promised Servant of God Mariana of Jesus that following the turmoil of the 20th century there would be a marvelous restoration of the Church. I wish to emphasize that the promised restoration is of the Catholic Church; not American society, not democracy, not "family values," but the Catholic Church. Because it is the Church that communicates the saving grace of Christ to our fallen world.
It is because of her prophesy of the restoration of the Church in our days that Our Lady claims the title Mary of Good Success. I have often written that "good success" can be understood as "happy ending." What is the ultimate happy ending for a Christian? The ultimate happy ending for a Christian is Heaven. How do we reach Heaven? We reach Heaven through the merits that Jesus Christ won for us on the Holy Cross. How do we participate in those merits? We participate in the merits of Christ through the Sacraments of the Church He founded. That is the formula for saving the world.
Mary and the Church
Mary of Good Success linked the restoration of the Church in our days with devotion to her, "For I am the Queen of Heaven under many invocations." The connection between Marian devotion and the restoration of the Church is rooted in the Church’s understanding of the person of Mary and her relationship to Jesus.
In the book of Genesis, God promised the coming of the Savior of the world. He told Satan:
I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
Genesis 3.15 (DRV)
The "woman" is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Notice that the old translation has "she shall crush thy head," whereas most modern translations render it, "He shall crush your head." Why the difference? The original Greek is ambiguous; the pronoun used in the Septuagint can be rendered "he" or "she." But both translations are correct in that they show the relationship between Christ and His Mother: No Mary, no Jesus. Mary crushes the serpent’s head by bearing and giving birth to the Messiah. Jesus crushes the serpent’s head by His Sacrifice on the Cross. How do we participate in this victory over Satan? Through the Sacraments of the Church. Now we see the relationship between Mary and the Church: No Mary, no Jesus; No Jesus, no Church; No Church, no Sacraments.
The connection between Our Blessed Mother and the Church is further demonstrated by Saturday being especially devoted to Mary. The day after the Crucifixion, the Apostles were hiding in fear of the Jewish leaders, while Mary Magdalene and the other holy women were anxiously awaiting Sunday morning so they could properly attend to Jesus’ hastily buried corpse. Among all Our Lord’s followers, His Mother alone was waiting in joyful hope for His Resurrection; only Mary. On that first Holy Saturday, Mary literally was the Church.
Likewise, in the Book of Revelation we read of a woman "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars." She gives birth to the One who will "rule all nations." Her Son is "taken up to God, and to His throne." Clearly, the "woman" is Mary. But the "woman" also represents the Church; persecuted and driven into the desert while the spiritual battle rages in the heavenly places (Cf., Revelation 12.6ff, Ephesians 6.12).
The Second Vatican Council’sDogmatic Constitution on the Church teaches us that through the Church’s imitation of Mary, "Christ may be born and may increase in the hearts of the faithful" (Lumen Gentium 8.65). Mary is the Model of the Church.
The Promised Restoration
Jesus promised "the gates of hell shall not prevail" against His Church (Matthew 16.18) and that He will be with us "all days, even to the end of the world" (Matthew 28.20b). Our American founding fathers were given no such Divine promise regarding our country. Fifty or one hundred years from now there may well be no United States of America; at least not one we would recognize. But there will be a Catholic Church. In 2010, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago predicted:
"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history."
The Catholic Church has outlived every evil empire and endured every persecution devised by wicked men and fallen angels for two millennia. It is a well-known fact of history that the Church grows stronger when she is persecuted; even when she is reduced to a remnant. The Word of God tells us not to put our trust in human leaders. Politics will not save the world. Only Jesus can do that; and He does it through His body the Church, throughout the ages, "until He comes again in glory."
Mary of Good Success prophesied that in our times we will see a "marvelous" restoration of the Church. Although there will be moments when "all will seem lost and paralyzed," the hour will come, she said, "When I, in an amazing manner, will overthrow proud Satan, crushing him under my feet." This prophecy of Mary is a direct reference to the Scriptural prophecy of Genesis 3.15 where we see that the "feet" that will "crush the head of the serpent" belong both to Jesus and to Mary, and so to the Church. Because Mary is the Model of the Church and the Church is the Body of Christ. Therefore, Satan’s head will be crushed once again, by the restoration of the Catholic Church.
This restoration is where Catholics must focus their prayers and energies. For if we put our faith in political and material solutions, we may miss Christ altogether and find ourselves shouting for Barabbas. Come what may, the restoration of the Catholic Church is the good success which we now await—as we wait for Christ’s return—not in despair, but in joyful hope.