I remember seeing pictures of Bl. John XXIII in old relative’s houses, have vague recollections of Pope Paul VI, but I will never forget Sr. Mary announcing over the PA system that Pope John Paul died suddenly after only a 33 day reign. I was in second grade when the whole class-the whole school-at St. Mary’s was glued to the TV waiting for the white smoke. It was a beehive as the Filippini sisters kept making announcements and scurrying in and out of classrooms. That’s when I first met my Pope. We 20…30…errr…40-somethings can say that since JPII was pope for most of our lives.
For all the critics out there who think the pope is santo too subito, was too conservative, too liberal, mishandled the sex abuse response, etc., one thing is indisputable: Karol Wojtyla lived a life animated by the Gospel…and that is a definition of a saint. From his childhood struggles, his witness of the horrors and cruelty man can perpetrate against man, his underground pursuit of a priestly vocation, Karol Wojtyla centered his life on Christ and used his extraordinary gifts to preach what he lived. This man left a mark on history that will be analyzed for decades, theological and philosophical writings that will be read for centuries with the likes of Augustine and Leo, but most importantly, he inspired generations of young people not to be afraid to follow Jesus.
Although I missed a small audience I was invited to attend due to the fact I was arrested by the Caribineiri (a story for another post) I did get to walk in a procession at Mass and sit a short distance from JPII (I have a coffee table book of the Pope’s Italian Marian Shrine tour and I’m clearly in a picture). I’m overjoyed to see my Pope beatified, and will pray to him to intercede on my behalf that I may keep Christ as the center of my life, use my talents to make the Gospel known, and live a life of courage to follow Jesus.
O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that the Blessed John Paul II
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
John Paul II, Pray for us
Vatican Video – Watch Everything Here
Pope John Paul II’s Tomb Opened
JPII Official Facebook Page
Fr. Barron on What Makes a Saint
Abp. Dolan on Pope John Paul’s Heroic Sanctity
Fr. Martin, SJ on Why a Liberal Catholic Likes JPII
Pope’s Biographer, George Weigel, on Remembering JPII
Bishop Tobin Reflects on the Beatification
Abp. Dolan on JPII Priests
|St. Catherine of Siena as Spiritual Mother of the Second and Third Orders of St. Dominic, Cosimo Roselli c.1499
Today, April 29, is the feast day of the great Dominican saint and Doctor of the Church, Catherine of Siena. Her amazing life and spirituality has been well documented–which even began during her lifetime . Catherine Benincasa was born in Siena on Palm Sunday, March 5, 1347, the 23rd of 25 children. She is the patroness of large families! At a very young age she began to show signs of her mystical spirituality. At the age of 5 she would recite a “Hail Mary” for each step she climbed up the staircase of her home, and at age 6 she had the first of many visions:
“So it happened that Catherine, being arrived at the age of six, went one day with her brother Stephen, who was a little older than herself, to the house of their sister Bonaventura, who was married to one Niccol, as has been mentioned above, in order to carry something or give some message from their mother Lapa. Their mother’s errand accomplished, while they were on the way back from their sister’s house to their own and were passing along a certain valley, called by the people Valle Piatta, the holy child, lifting her eyes, saw on the opposite side above the Church of the Preaching Friars a most beautiful room, adorned with regal magnificence, in which was seated, on an imperial throne, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, clothed in pontifical vestments, and wearing on His head a papal tiara; with Him were the princes of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, and the holy evangelist John. Astounded at such a sight, Catherine stood still, and with fixed and immovable look, gazed, full of love, on her Savior, who, appearing in so marvelous a manner, in order sweetly to gain her love to Himself, fixed on her the eyes of His Majesty, and, with a tender smile, lifted over her His right hand, and, making the sign of the Holy Cross in the manner of a bishop, left with her the gift of His eternal benediction. The grace of this gift was so efficacious, that Catherine, beside herself, and transformed into Him upon whom she gazed with such love, forgetting not only the road she was on, but also herself, although naturally a timid child, stood still for a space with lifted and immovable eyes in the public road, where men and beasts were continually passing, and would certainly have continued to stand there as long as the vision lasted, had she not been violently diverted by others. But while the Lord was working these marvels, the child Stephen, leaving her standing still, continued his way down hill, thinking that she was following, but, seeing her immovable in the distance and paying no heed to his calls, he returned and pulled her with his hands, saying: ‘What are you doing here? why do you not come?’ Then Catherine, as if waking from a heavy sleep, lowered her eyes and said: ‘Oh, if you had seen what I see, you would not distract me from so sweet a vision!’ and lifted her eyes again on high; but the vision had entirely disappeared, according to the will of Him who had granted it, and she, not being able to endure this without pain, began with tears to reproach herself for having turned her eyes to earth.” Such was the “call” of St. Catherine of Siena, and, to a mind intent on mystical significance, the appearance of Christ, in the semblance of His Vicar, may fitly appear to symbolize the great mission of her after-life to the Holy See.
As one writer put it, “Such was the ‘call’ of Saint Catherine of Siena … and the appearance of Christ, in the semblance of His Vicar [the pope], may fitly appear to symbolize the great mission of her later life to the Holy See”. For the pope was not in Rome but in Avignon, France, the so-called “Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy, where for political reasons the papal court had moved — and Catherine, years later, would attempt to persuade the pope to return to Rome, the See of Peter. Pope Paul VI remarked at a general audience (April 30, 1969):
We must always remember that it was she, Catherine, who convinced the young French Pope (he was forty) Gregory XI, weak in health and faint-hearted, to leave Avignon, whither the Apostolic See had moved with Pope Clement V, after the sudden death of Benedict XI, and to return in 1376 to Italy, still rent by bitter divisions, to Rome, though it was turbulent and in very bad conditions. And it was Catherine who, immediately after the death of Gregory XI, supported his successor Urban VI in the first critical events of the famous “Western schism”, which began with the election of the anti-pope Clement VII.
At age 16 she took the Dominican habit and after three years of visions she experienced the famous vision known as her “mystical marriage to Christ”. Catherine then dedicated herself to the poor, the sick and the conversation of sinners. In the summer of 1370 she received visions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven and a Divine command to enter the public life of the world.
She began to dictate and write over 400 letters to popes, princes, religious and lay people alike, was consulted by the papal legates about the affairs of the Church, and inserted herself into the most contentious of political affairs of the day. She implored Pope Gregory XI to reform the notoriously corrupt clergy and the administration of the Papal States. Catherine was not afraid to write in the strongest of terms as this statement to three cardinals supporting the anti-pope: “what made you do this? You are flowers who shed no perfume, but stench that makes the whole world reek.” Through her influence, the pope left Avignon and returned to Rome.
On the fourth Sunday of Lent in 1375 she received the stigmata, that is, the wounds of Christ. In about 1378 Catherine composed her “Dialogue”, said to have been dictated while she was in ecstasy, a book of meditations and reflections on the Creed and teachings of the Church, and on the sinfulness of man and the mercy of God. Catherine died April 29, 1380 of a sudden and painful illness.
In 1970 Pope Paul VI proclaimed Saint Catherine of Siena a Doctor of the Church, a title given to certain ecclesiastical writers because of the benefit the whole Church has derived from their teaching and witness. She was the first woman to get such a distinction, followed by St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux.
in meditating on the sufferings of Your Son
and in serving your Church,
Saint Catherine was filled with the fervor of Your love.
By her prayers, may we share in the mystery of Christ’s death
and rejoice in the revelation of His glory, for He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Christians, to the Paschal victim
offer your thankful praises!
A lamb the sheep redeemeth:
Christ, who only is sinless,
reconcileth sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended
in that combat stupendous:
the Prince of life, who died,
Speak, Mary, declaring
what thou sawest, wayfaring:
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
the glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
“Bright angels attesting,
the shroud and napkin resting.
“Yea, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he will go before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen,
our new life obtaining;
have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
NB: After the disagreement (though not quite unanimous) that my last post generated, I hesitated briefly on this next one. Every time I bring up von Balthasar’s Holy Saturday thesis, it generates quite a bit of conversation. Nevertheless, I find it very useful on this third, and perhaps most mysterious day of the Sacred Triduum. Please know that I am not unaware of the theological controversy surrounding this thesis.
In my mind, this is an example of a deep theological question that warrants some discussion. The publication First Things did a very nice job of presenting both sides of this argument: Alyssa Pitstick representing the traditional position, and Fr. Edward Oakes defending Balthasar (or rather defending the position that Balthasar was not heretical in his claims). For my own part, I think Balthasar’s thoughts are worth pondering, and I think Fr. Oakes is correct at least in his assessment that Balthasar is not wading in heresy in his claims.
While I do not have time, space, or expertise to present this entire debate, I would reference the readers to the series of article by Pitstick and Oakes in First Things. Without further adieu …
The twentieth-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote a work entitled Mysterium Paschale in which he attempts to come to grips with the experience of Christ on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. The thesis of the book is that Christ, in order to redeem man from the punishment of sin, must take on sin and all of its consequences and must rise from those consequences on Easter in his return to the Father.
The most striking chapter of the book, and certainly the one that has received the most attention, is his description of Holy Saturday. For Balthasar the experience of Holy Saturday is preeminently about the credal phrase descendit ad inferna (Christ’s descent into Hell). While belief in the statement is a matter of dogmatic obedience, the Church has not been clear on exactly what Christ’s going to Hell entailed. Balthasar’s thesis hinges on two given facts. First, in order to redeem man Christ must take on the penalty of death merited by man’s sin. Second, the penalty for sin is not just death of the body, but also death of the soul.
The experience of Hell is that of abandonment by God. More precisely, the soul has chosen to separate itself from God in the very act of sin. God is both our efficient and final cause, so eternity spent in the absence of this God is greater than any suffering of which we can conceive, and certainly greater than any physical suffering.
Because Christ in his saving act must go through the entire experience of death, with the eventual result of its conquering, he must not only suffer and die a bodily death, but also must suffer a spiritual death, a death that is the complete abandonment by God. The whole idea becomes more profound when we consider that Jesus is God. As such, his “closeness” to the Father is perfect, and certainly much more intense than our own relationship with the Father. While two separate Trinitarian Persons, they are in fact one God. In this sense, Christ has a much greater loss when he is abandoned by the Father in Hell than any non-divine man could experience. (Note that only in a Trinitarian theology can we even begin to grapple with the idea of God being abandoned by God.)
Another way of looking at this is that Jesus, as true man, must experience the full depth and breadth of the human condition, and as perfect man will experience this depth and breadth in a manner more perfect than the rest of us. The human condition in its positive aspect is an original union with God, of which Jesus experiences in a far more perfect manner than we. In its negative aspect, the human condition is the abandonment of God in death caused by both original and personal sin, a death that only begins with the destruction of the body, but continues in the destruction of the soul in every way except its annihilation. Jesus, as perfect man, experiences the depths of Hell in a manner more perfectly terrible than even the souls of the damned.
As Christians, we have become accustomed to thinking about the sufferings of Christ on Good Friday. On Holy Saturday, we at times become a bit more human-centered, perhaps reflecting on the emptiness and confusion the disciples would have felt as people who did not yet fully understand the significance of the prior day’s events. Perhaps, however, we should keep our gaze on Christ, knowing that the sufferings he is experiencing today are infinitely greater than those of Good Friday. The height of his Good Friday sufferings occurs in his shout from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me!” This is the beginning of His Hell, and today is a long and arduous experience of this abandonment – and all of this He did for us.
Note: The traditional view on the matter comes from 1 Peter 3:19 and describes Christ preaching to the souls in prison. Balthasar notes that the tense in this and other passages is mysteriously passive, as if the preaching occurred simply by the event of the descent. Of course, the second person of the Trinity is the Word, so any action is simultaneously a “speaking” of sorts. A similar “preaching” occurred to the souls of the living in his very act on the Cross. The point is that Balthasar’s thesis in no way contradicts the traditional view.
Thanks, Mark, for drawing my attention to one of Pope Benedict’s responses to his unprecedented Q&A on Italian TV this Good Friday:
Q. Holy Father, the next question is on the theme of Jesus’ death and resurrection and comes from Italy. I will read it to you: “Your Holiness, what is Jesus doing in the time between His death and resurrection? Seeing that in reciting the Creed it says that Jesus, after His death, descended into Hell, should we think that that will also happen to us, after death, before going to heaven?”
A. First of all, this descent of Jesus’ soul should not be imagined as a geographical or a spatial trip, from one continent to another. It is the soul’s journey. We have to remember that Jesus’ soul always touches the Father, it is always in contact with the Father but, at the same time, this human soul extends to the very borders of the human being. In this sense it goes into the depths, into the lost places, to where all who do not arrive at their life’s goal go, thus transcending the continents of the past. This word about the Lord’s descent into Hell mainly means that Jesus reaches even the past, that the effectiveness of the Redemption does not begin in the year 0 or 30, but also goes to the past, embraces the past, all men and women of all time. The Church Fathers say, with a very beautiful image, that Jesus takes Adam and Eve, that is, humanity, by the hand and guides them forward, guides them on high. He thus creates access to God because humanity, on its own cannot arrive at God’s level. He himself, being man, can take humanity by the hand and open the access. To what? To the reality we call Heaven. So this descent into Hell, that is, into the depth of the human being, into humanity’s past, is an essential part of Jesus’ mission, of His mission as Redeemer, and does not apply to us. Our lives are different. We are already redeemed by the Lord and we arrive before the Judge, after our death, under Jesus’ gaze. On one had, this gaze will be purifying: I think that all of us, in greater or lesser measure, are in need of purification. Jesus’ gaze purifies us, thus making us capable of living with God, of living with the Saints, and above all of living in communion with those dear to us who have preceded us.
Jesus asked that the Feast of the Divine Mercy be preceded by a Novena to the Divine Mercy which would begin on Good Friday. He gave St. Faustina an intention to pray for on each day of the Novena, saving for the last day the most difficult intention of all, the lukewarm and indifferent of whom He said:
“These souls cause Me more suffering than any others; it was from such souls that My soul felt the most revulsion in the Garden of Olives. It was on their account that I said: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass Me by.’ The last hope of salvation for them is to flee to My Mercy.”
In her diary, St. Faustina wrote that Jesus told her:
“On each day of the novena you will bring to My heart a different group of souls and you will immerse them in this ocean of My mercy … On each day you will beg My Father, on the strength of My passion, for the graces for these souls.”
The different souls prayed for on each day of the novena are:
DAY 1 (Good Friday) – All mankind, especially sinners
DAY 2 (Holy Saturday) – The souls of priests and religious
DAY 3 (Easter Sunday) – All devout and faithful souls
DAY 4 (Easter Monday) – Those who do not believe in Jesus and those who do not yet know Him
DAY 5 (Easter Tuesday) – The souls of separated brethren
DAY 6 (Easter Wednesday) – The meek and humble souls and the souls of children
DAY 7 (Easter Thursday) – The souls who especially venerate and glorify Jesus’ mercy
DAY 8 (Easter Friday) – The souls who are detained in purgatory;
DAY 9 (Easter Saturday) – The souls who have become lukewarm.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy may also be offered each day for the day’s intention, but is not strictly necessary to the Novena.
I believe history will look back on the pontificate of Pope Benedict not as a footnoted successor of Saint John Paul II, but as one of the greatest popes. He has a brilliant mind and a gifted capacity for distilling a lifetime of study, prayer and reflection in simple terms. Following is Pope Benedict’s homily from the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Continuing on this morning’s theme of God’s desire for us and how “driven by love, God has set out towards us”, Benedict begins with Jesus’ desire to draw us to Himself. But what about us? Do we desire Him? Have we become a people of unbelief and distance from God?
HOMILY OF POPE BENEDICT XVI
HOLY THURSDAY EVENING MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
BASILICA OF ST JOHN LATERAN
21 APRIL 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15). With these words Jesus began the celebration of his final meal and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus approached that hour with eager desire. In his heart he awaited the moment when he would give himself to his own under the appearance of bread and wine. He awaited that moment which would in some sense be the true messianic wedding feast: when he would transform the gifts of this world and become one with his own, so as to transform them and thus inaugurate the transformation of the world. In this eager desire of Jesus we can recognize the desire of God himself – his expectant love for mankind, for his creation. A love which awaits the moment of union, a love which wants to draw mankind to itself and thereby fulfil the desire of all creation, for creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God (cf. Rom 8:19). Jesus desires us, he awaits us. But what about ourselves? Do we really desire him? Are we anxious to meet him? Do we desire to encounter him, to become one with him, to receive the gifts he offers us in the Holy Eucharist? Or are we indifferent, distracted, busy about other things? From Jesus’ banquet parables we realize that he knows all about empty places at table, invitations refused, lack of interest in him and his closeness. For us, the empty places at the table of the Lord’s wedding feast, whether excusable or not, are no longer a parable but a reality, in those very countries to which he had revealed his closeness in a special way. Jesus also knew about guests who come to the banquet without being robed in the wedding garment – they come not to rejoice in his presence but merely out of habit, since their hearts are elsewhere. In one of his homilies Saint Gregory the Great asks: Who are these people who enter without the wedding garment? What is this garment and how does one acquire it? He replies that those who are invited and enter do in some way have faith. It is faith which opens the door to them. But they lack the wedding garment of love. Those who do not live their faith as love are not ready for the banquet and are cast out. Eucharistic communion requires faith, but faith requires love; otherwise, even as faith, it is dead.
From all four Gospels we know that Jesus’ final meal before his passion was also a teaching moment. Once again, Jesus urgently set forth the heart of his message. Word and sacrament, message and gift are inseparably linked. Yet at his final meal, more than anything else, Jesus prayed. Matthew, Mark and Luke use two words in describing Jesus’ prayer at the culmination of the meal:“eucharístesas” and “eulógesas” – the verbs “to give thanks” and “to bless”. The upward movement of thanking and the downward movement of blessing go together. The words of transubstantiation are part of this prayer of Jesus. They are themselves words of prayer. Jesus turns his suffering into prayer, into an offering to the Father for the sake of mankind. This transformation of his suffering into love has the power to transform the gifts in which he now gives himself. He gives those gifts to us, so that we, and our world, may be transformed. The ultimate purpose of Eucharistic transformation is our own transformation in communion with Christ. The Eucharist is directed to the new man, the new world, which can only come about from God, through the ministry of God’s Servant.
From Luke, and especially from John, we know that Jesus, during the Last Supper, also prayed to the Father – prayers which also contain a plea to his disciples of that time and of all times. Here I would simply like to take one of these which, as John tells us, Jesus repeated four times in his Priestly Prayer. How deeply it must have concerned him! It remains his constant prayer to the Father on our behalf: the prayer for unity. Jesus explicitly states that this prayer is not meant simply for the disciples then present, but for all who would believe in him (cf. Jn 17:20). He prays that all may be one “as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). Christian unity can exist only if Christians are deeply united to him, to Jesus. Faith and love for Jesus, faith in his being one with the Father and openness to becoming one with him, are essential. This unity, then, is not something purely interior or mystical. It must become visible, so visible as to prove before the world that Jesus was sent by the Father. Consequently, Jesus’ prayer has an underlying Eucharistic meaning which Paul clearly brings out in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16ff.). With the Eucharist, the Church is born. All of us eat the one bread and receive the one body of the Lord; this means that he opens each of us up to something above and beyond us. He makes all of us one. The Eucharist is the mystery of the profound closeness and communion of each individual with the Lord and, at the same time, of visible union between all. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. It reaches the very mystery of the Trinity and thus creates visible unity. Let me say it again: it is an extremely personal encounter with the Lord and yet never simply an act of individual piety. Of necessity, we celebrate it together. In each community the Lord is totally present. Yet in all the communities he is but one. Hence the words “una cum Papa nostro et cum episcopo nostro” are a requisite part of the Church’s Eucharistic Prayer. These words are not an addendum of sorts, but a necessary expression of what the Eucharist really is. Furthermore, we mention the Pope and the Bishop by name: unity is something utterly concrete, it has names. In this way unity becomes visible; it becomes a sign for the world and a concrete criterion for ourselves.
Saint Luke has preserved for us one concrete element of Jesus’ prayer for unity: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:31). Today we are once more painfully aware that Satan has been permitted to sift the disciples before the whole world. And we know that Jesus prays for the faith of Peter and his successors. We know that Peter, who walks towards the Lord upon the stormy waters of history and is in danger of sinking, is sustained ever anew by the Lord’s hand and guided over the waves. But Jesus continues with a prediction and a mandate. “When you have turned again…”. Every human being, save Mary, has constant need of conversion. Jesus tells Peter beforehand of his coming betrayal and conversion. But what did Peter need to be converted from? When first called, terrified by the Lord’s divine power and his own weakness, Peter had said: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). In the light of the Lord, he recognizes his own inadequacy. Precisely in this way, in the humility of one who knows that he is a sinner, is he called. He must discover this humility ever anew. At Caesarea Philippi Peter could not accept that Jesus would have to suffer and be crucified: it did not fit his image of God and the Messiah. In the Upper Room he did not want Jesus to wash his feet: it did not fit his image of the dignity of the Master. In the Garden of Olives he wielded his sword. He wanted to show his courage. Yet before the servant girl he declared that he did not know Jesus. At the time he considered it a little lie which would let him stay close to Jesus. All his heroism collapsed in a shabby bid to be at the centre of things. We too, all of us, need to learn again to accept God and Jesus Christ as he is, and not the way we want him to be. We too find it hard to accept that he bound himself to the limitations of his Church and her ministers. We too do not want to accept that he is powerless in this world. We too find excuses when being his disciples starts becoming too costly, too dangerous. All of us need the conversion which enables us to accept Jesus in his reality as God and man. We need the humility of the disciple who follows the will of his Master. Tonight we want to ask Jesus to look to us, as with kindly eyes he looked to Peter when the time was right, and to convert us.
After Peter was converted, he was called to strengthen his brethren. It is not irrelevant that this task was entrusted to him in the Upper Room. The ministry of unity has its visible place in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Dear friends, it is a great consolation for the Pope to know that at each Eucharistic celebration everyone prays for him, and that our prayer is joined to the Lord’s prayer for Peter. Only by the prayer of the Lord and of the Church can the Pope fulfil his task of strengthening his brethren – of feeding the flock of Christ and of becoming the guarantor of that unity which becomes a visible witness to the mission which Jesus received from the Father.
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you”. Lord, you desire us, you desire me. You eagerly desire to share yourself with us in the Holy Eucharist, to be one with us. Lord, awaken in us the desire for you. Strengthen us in unity with you and with one another. Grant unity to your Church, so that the world may believe. Amen.
Another gem from the archbishop of New York on well-placed faith. Posted on his blog , Archbishop Dolan once again demonstrates his remarkable gift of humor, simple, to the point, wanna-give-the-guy-a-hug delivery. Other than his poor choice of the word “lax” in characterizing some bishops complicity in the abuse scandal, he aptly directs us to put trust in the Lord, not in the hierarchy. Never with Jesus, but inevitably we will be disappointed by the latter. Pretty funny story thrown in there too.
A Blessed Holy Week
Let’s see now: we’ve got a Sunday night series on one of the most corrupt and tawdry families in Church history, the Borgias, with popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests, all part of this big, happy family; we’ve heard non-stop for a decade about abusive priests, (albeit a small minority) and lax bishops who reassigned them; we’ve got front page stories of priests who embezzled money from their parishes; and I saw one not long ago about a priest arrested for DUI.
Yes, all this is scandalous, sinful, sickening, and criminal.
But, it is not new.
Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, nuns, brothers are human.
That means, we are sinners.
Granted, when one of us falls, it hurts and shocks more. People rightly expect their spiritual leaders to practice what we preach. When we don’t, we’re hypocrites. And we know what Jesus thought about hypocrites.
But, this is not new.
If you think it worse today than in the past, I ask you to consider the solemn days we will observe next week, Holy Week: Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
Within an hour or so after Jesus had ordained His very first bishops and priests — the twelve apostles — what happened? They fell asleep when He asked them to pray with Him; one betrayed Him for thirty silver coins; one — the first Pope — denied three times even knowing Him; and all but one, the youngest, ran away scared at the time He most needed them. That lonely loyal one, St. John, was there with our blessed Mother at the foot of the cross on a hill called Calvary on a Friday strangely called “good.”
Not a very good start for bishops and priests. Within a few hours after their ordination, 11/12 had abandoned Him. That’s a worse record than even the Mets!
What’s the point? That we should tolerate and overlook the sins and vices of the clergy? Absolutely not! Or, worse, that we priests and bishops should stop seeking the heroic virtue, holiness, and perfection called for by Jesus? Never!
The point is that, if the life, vigor, holiness, and efficacy of the Church depended only upon the virtue of priests and bishops, it would have been dead-on-arrival, not surviving that afternoon when the sun hid in shame and the earth shuddered in sadness.
Our faith is not in popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, or even in monsignors. Nope: our faith is only in Jesus. He and He alone will never let us down; He will never sin; He and He alone will never break a promise; He and He alone deserves our absolute trust and confidence.
That’s why it’s especially tragic when someone leaves Jesus and His Church because of a sin, scandal, or slight from a priest or bishop. If your faith depended on us, it was misplaced to begin with. We priests and bishops might represent Jesus and shepherd His Church, however awkwardly — but we are not Jesus and His Church.
One of the more moving, sad, yet, usually “sacramental” duties I have as a bishop is to meet at times with victim survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, and on occasion their families. Some of them tell me they have left the Church, they hate the Church, they have lost their faith. Most of them, though, tell me that, as shattered, sickened, and angry as they may be, nobody, nowhere, nohow is going to take their faith away! These are an inspiration to me.
The wife of one victim once graciously said to me, “Archbishop, you have helped me regain my faith in the Church! I am putting my trust in you!”
I replied, “I’m flattered and grateful, but, please, don’t put absolute confidence in me. I’ll work everyday to earn and keep your trust, and pray daily I’ll never, ever let you down, but, believe me, sooner-or-later, sadly, I’m afraid I will let you down and disappoint you. Please, put your total faith and trust only in Jesus! Anything else is idolatry!”
Maybe, maybe there’s a decent reason for leaving the Church. I’ve never heard one, but a lot of people apparently think they have good cause, since “ex-Catholics” sadly number in the millions.
However, leaving because of something a priest or bishop may have done or not done is surely not a decent reason.
When I was about six-or-seven, I spent Saturday night with my grandpa and grandma, “Nonnie” and “Pata.” On Sunday morning, we got ready for Mass. Pata wasn’t budging from his EZ chair with the sports page and a second cup of coffee.
“Let’s go, Dad! (that’s what Nonnie called him),” yells Nonnie. “We’ll be late for Mass.”
“I’m not going. I can’t stand that new priest, Father McCarthy,” replies Pata.
“Oh, yeah,” responds Nonnie. “You can’t stand the new bartender up at Nick’s, either, but that sure doesn’t seem to keep you from going up there! Get moving!”
All three of us went to Mass . . .
Frank Sheed, that great Catholic lay theologian of last century, expressed it a bit more eloquently than Nonnie: “We are not baptized into the hierarchy; we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I, myself, admire the present pope, but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope, a bishop, a priest could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church (although I might well wish that they would).”
Pray for us bishops and priests, please. We’re sorry when we hurt you. We must try harder to conform our lives to Jesus. But don’t ever let our sins drive you away.
A blessed Holy Week!
An American bishop with a penchant for plain speech explains how—and why—he has become involved in public controversies.
Interview by Jim Graves
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, was born and reared in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the youngest of four children from an observant Catholic home, and his father was a manager at Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Tobin was attracted to the priesthood from a young age, and remembers pretending to celebrate Mass at home as a small child. “God was interested in having me be a priest,” he recalled. “And it was nourished by the Catholic faith in our household.”
Tobin has fond memories of the priests and Benedictine nuns who were his teachers at the Catholic schools in which he was enrolled as a child. He attended seminaries both in Pennsylvania and Rome, and was ordained a priest in 1973. In 1992 he was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and went on to serve as bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio from 1996 to 2005, when he became the eighth bishop of Providence.
Bishop Tobin has been an outspoken defender of Catholic teaching, and has tangled with prominent political figures over such hot-button issues as abortion and same-sex marriage. He regularly pens a column, “Without a Doubt,” for his diocesan newspaper, and has written two books on faith, Without a Doubt: Bringing Faith to Life and Effective Faith: Faith that Makes a Difference. He recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: You have been a leader against the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in your state of Rhode Island. Who is behind this effort, and what arguments do you make in opposition to them?
Bishop Thomas Tobin: Rhode Island is a very liberal state politically. The vast majority of our General Assembly in both houses are Democrats. The question of gay marriage has been on the horizon for many years. Fortunately, in recent years, we had a governor, Governor Donald Carcieri, who promised to veto it. Governor Carcieri is a practicing Catholic. Also, both our previous Speaker of the House and the president of the Senate kept the lid on same-sex marriage in the General Assembly.
That scenario has changed.
Our newly elected governor, Lincoln Chafee, is an Independent. He made promotion of same-sex marriage one of his priorities, even mentioning it in his inaugural address. And the new Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox, is an openly gay man who has also made it one of his priorities.
The arguments we’ve been making against same-sex marriage are well known. While the Catholic Church has respect, love, pastoral care, and compassion for people with homosexual orientation, we believe that homosexual marriage is wrong because it gives state approval of an immoral lifestyle involving immoral sexual activity.
Also, it is an attempt to redefine the institution of marriage as it has been understood since the beginning of time. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman and is meant to foster life and love. Homosexual marriage can never do that. It is an ill-advised attempt to redefine something God has given us and what is one of the building blocks of human society.
Additionally, the passage of homosexual marriage presents a challenge to religious freedom and conscience protection, as has been the case in other places in the country. Our neighbors in the Archdiocese of Boston in Massachusetts, for example, had to get out of the adoption business because they were being forced to place children in situations where there were two gay people living in a home in an alleged marriage. The Archdiocese of Washington had to stop giving family medical benefits because they were being forced to provide them to gay couples who tried to get married in civil marriages.
And there are situations where ancillary Catholic facilities such as reception halls must be made available to gay couples as they attempt to marry. All these things are on the radar screen if you go down this road of approving homosexual marriage.
CWR: How has the Catholic community in Rhode Island responded to efforts to legalize same-sex marriage?
Bishop Tobin: Historically there has been some apathy about it among the citizenry of Rhode Island, including among the Catholic population. But recently, because our political landscape has changed, we’ve done a better job in getting our pastors involved, rallying the Catholic faithful against it. I’m proud of what our pastors and people have done, both in reaching out to our legislators and making their voices heard in the media, saying this is not something that is acceptable to us.
We need our people to understand that this is a serious issue. Our greatest danger as a Catholic community is apathy. If we’re not aware of the situation, don’t care about it or make it a priority, gay marriage will pass in Rhode Island. But if we’re galvanized and make our voices heard, we’ll keep it out of our state.
It is important to emphasize that this is not just an exercise in partisan politics. This is an expression of our faith. We have to be involved in this issue as disciples of Christ and members of his Church.
Recently, the Providence Phoenix, a liberal-leaning, gay-friendly newspaper here in Providence, ran a lead story by David Scharfenberg, “Will the Catholic Church kill gay marriage?” They gave us a left-handed compliment by saying that we’ve been rather effective in our opposition. We have a long road ahead of us, and a tough fight. I don’t know what the outcome will be. But we’re doing our best.
CWR: What have people said to you about your leadership on this issue?
Bishop Tobin: I get both support and criticism. From practicing Catholics, as well as members of other religious communities, I’ve been getting a lot of support. They say, “Thank you for leading the charge,” “Thank you for speaking out,” or “This is what we expect the bishops to do.”
There are also those on the other side of the issue who are upset and angry that the Church is so visible and vocal about this issue. They talk about separation of church and state and say we shouldn’t be involved in it, or that we’re “homophobic,” bigoted, and interfering in other people’s lives. These are all the predictable reactions that you hear surrounding this issue, and they’re leveled time and again against me and the Church. I’m sure such complaints will continue.
CWR: You also spoke out against the Obama administration’s decision in February not to defend traditional marriage.
Bishop Tobin: The Obama administration directed the Justice Department to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement, and I did as well in response to a media inquiry, saying that the president overstepped his authority and abdicated his role and sworn duty to uphold the laws of our nation. It was just another attempt to impose a liberal, politically-correct agenda on our nation. It was disappointing.
CWR: In 2009, you had a dispute with Democratic former Congressman Patrick Kennedy over abortion. Can you tell me your side of the story?
Bishop Tobin: It began when Congressman Kennedy publicly criticized the American bishops about our opposition to Obama’s health care plan. We said we would not support anything that funds abortion or does not offer conscience and religious freedom protections. Congressman Kennedy strongly criticized us, and questioned our commitment to human life and social justice. That prompted my response to him.
What followed was a series of statements from him, and letters from me, that went back and forth. Finally, he revealed the fact that three years before I had written to him privately and confidentially asking him not to present himself for Holy Communion because of his position on abortion. It was meant to be a personal, pastoral approach. But in his flurry of public comments, he revealed the letter. It was disappointing, but it gave me the opportunity to reiterate the Church’s teaching on abortion.
CWR: You’ve also challenged Republican politicians, including Rudy Giuliani, over the issue of abortion.
Bishop Tobin: I’ve sparred with Rudy Giuliani and a number of other politicians, and it’s been thoroughly non-partisan. I challenged Rhode Island’s previous Republican governor, Governor Carcieri, on the immigration issue. I challenged Congressman Kennedy, a Democrat, and Governor Chafee, an Independent. Their political party meansnothing to me.
I’m trying to take the Gospel of Christ and the teachings of the Church and apply them in the public arena. I think it’s the role of the Church and the bishop to express a prophetic voice. It is an important part of our tradition.
CWR: How should a bishop best approach a Catholic politician who publicly opposes Church teaching?
Bishop Tobin: The teaching of the Church should be public and the issues should be discussed publicly. But in regard to someone’s personal sacramental practice, I think a personal, confidential approach is the best way to begin.
CWR: You’ve written two books on faith. Borrowing from the title of one of your books, how does a Catholic have an “effective faith”?
Bishop Tobin: Effective faith is a theme that has emerged from my own teaching, preaching, and writing. If our faith is authentic, it is effective and makes a difference in our daily lives. We can’t compartmentalize our lives, going to church for an hour on Sunday and then acting like pagans for the rest of the week. If our faith is authentic, then it touches every part of our lives: our work, our family lives, our community involvement, and the activities with which we entertain ourselves.
That has been one of the great failures of many of us in the Church—we do not incorporate our faith into our daily lives. Jesus said Christians are the salt of the earth and light of the world [Mt 5:13, 14]. As the Second Vatican Council taught, our faith is supposed to transform us, and then we move out into the secular world and transform it into the Kingdom of God.
It begins when we are transformed ourselves, especially through the power of the Eucharist, into the image and likeness of Christ.
CWR: You’ve made a point of reaching out to inactive Catholics in your diocese and inviting them back to church.
Bishop Tobin: Just before Christmas, I wrote an open letter to inactive Catholics as part of our diocesan-wide Year of Evangelization. The program was an effort to make the Church more present, active, and visible in our world, as well as to encourage inactive Catholics to come back to the Church and sacraments. We also invited those who had no religion to come learn what our faith is about.
CWR: Many people admire you for the leadership you’ve provided to the Church. Who do you admire and who has been an influence in your ministry?
Bishop Tobin: My strongest influence has been our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. For a good part of my priesthood and my life as a bishop, he was our pope, the Vicar of Christ. He is also the one who chose me to be a bishop; I have a photograph of him presenting me with my pectoral cross when I was first appointed.
Not only am I impressed by his life and ministry, but I’ve been greatly influenced by all that he has written. He gave us a blueprint for approaching the world from a perspective of faith. I often, for example, refer to Pope John Paul’sEvangelium Vitae [a 1995 encyclical concerning the value and inviolability of human life] and Pastores Dabo Vobis [a 1992 apostolic exhortation concerning the formation of priests]. And Pope John Paul’s writings have been beautifully complemented by Pope Benedict, who has given us some wonderful reflections about many things, including charity and hope.
As far as saints, the one I refer to often is St. Thomas the Apostle. The title of my column and first book, Without a Doubt, is derived from the fact that we call St. Thomas “doubting Thomas.” I often think about how he worked through his doubts to become a faithful and effective witness of Jesus Christ and his Resurrection. I also like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who gave us many wonderful writings and modeled a holy Catholic life.
When people ask me why I’m getting involved in public debates with politicians, I think about St. Thomas More, how he professed his faith and challenged the government of King Henry VIII, which had become immoral. I also think of St. John the Baptist standing outside the palace of Herod, challenging Herod on his immoral lifestyle. Both ended up giving up their lives for their witness to the truth.
Saints who challenge an established political order in witness to the truth of the Gospel and a common, decent morality appeal a great deal to me. We need to rediscover this courage and conviction in our own time.
CWR: You criticized retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland when he released his autobiography A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church in 2009. What is the appropriate way for Catholics to criticize the leadership of their Church?
Bishop Tobin: That’s a sensitive issue. Catholics have a right to challenge their leadership, including their pastors and bishops, but it always has to be done with understanding. Sometimes when I’m criticized I find people don’t even have the right information. Also, critics need to be charitable. It is never productive to engage in personal judgment, condemnation, or name-calling.
And along with criticism, our pastors and bishops need to be encouraged. If people think we’re doing something right, there’s nothing wrong with sending a word of encouragement. Sometimes people only speak up when they have a problem or see a failure, and give no credit when things are going well. We need to use our gift of speech in an encouraging way to build up the Church, its leaders, and fellow members.
CWR: Shifting to the corporal works of mercy, winters in Providence are cold, and when you arrived you launched a successful program, Keep the Heat On, to provide the needy with heating assistance. How’s it going?
Bishop Tobin: In our first five years we raised more than $1 million and helped more than 3,500 households during some difficult winters. Our response this year has been strong as well, with individuals, parishes, non-Catholic churches, and corporations all chipping in to help us.
I like this program because it is tangible and an effective corporal work of mercy. We raise the money and it goes directly to individuals who are not eligible for other forms of assistance or who have exhausted those. It gives people who are truly needy and desperate a place to turn.
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer in Newport Beach, California.
No disturbing images here, just an excellent educational video on how life begins at conception and should be protected at all stages of development. According to polling data from 2003 (these numbers have fallen since then) cited in the video, 66% of American believe abortion should be legal in the first trimester, while only 10% believe it should be legal in the third trimester. What’s the difference?…watch the video
H/T The hermeneutic of continuity