Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Alternatives to Coventional RCIA

As a former DRE, problems and strategies relating to the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) have always been close to my heart. In previous posts we have featured RCIA horror stories and thoughts on teaching RCIA. And of course, the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website has been offering free RCIA lesson plans for over two years.

In light of the many issues relating to RCIA, folks have asked me over the years about possible alternatives to RCIA. What sort of leeway do we have in the modern Church to stray outside the current norm when it comes to initiating converts into the Church? What other alternatives are there for receiving people into the Church other than RCIA?

First of all, it must be noted that there is really no legitimate way to "get rid" of RCIA. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is mandated from the highest levels of ecclesiastical authority and there is no Diocese in the West where it is not pushed by the local Ordinary. Attempts to abolish or ignore RCIA will be met with stern resistance from even the most traditional minded bishops.

That being said, there is nothing prohibiting pastors from using their own discretion to bring persons into the Church in unconventional applications of the norms. Thus, we are not talking about something to replace RCIA, but other non-conventional ways of adapting it to parish life that are better or more closer to tradition. These sorts of adaptations and options are allowed in the current legislation - and Lord knows how the modern Church loves options!

The authoritative document, also called Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, lays down a basic framework for how initiation should proceed and what liturgical commemorations are appropriate, but leaves pastors free to adapt the content of this process based on their own pastoral judgments. The document is primarily concerned with liturgical celebrations and makes only the vaguest statements about what the actual instruction is to look like. Look at the incredible leeway the document allows when discussing the actual nature and content of instruction:

"The initiation of catechumens is a gradual process that takes place within the community of the faithful" (4)

All we are told here is that it should be gradual and take place within the "community", which judging by the context of the document, means that the stages of initiation should be celebrated liturgically.

"The second period, which begins with this entrance into the order of catechumens and which may last for several years, includes catechesis and the rites connected with catechesis." (7)

Here we are simply told that there should be "catechesis"; presumably the how, when and why of this is left to the discretion of the pastor.

"During this period, a more intense spiritual preparation... is intended to purify hearts and minds by the examination of conscience and by penance" (25).

What does "more intense spiritual preparation" and the purification of "hearts and minds" look like concretely?

"After this last stage has been completed, the community along with the neophytes grows in perceiving more deeply the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives" (37)

Again, what does it look like to help the neophyte grow in "perceiving more deeply the paschal mystery"?

"[A] period of postbaptismal catechesis is of utmost importance" (39).

Again, we are simply told that there ought to be catechesis but what it should look like is left up in the air, presumably to be adapted to the needs of each community and even individuals seeking entrance into the Church.

The point is that there is no fixed formula for what RCIA is supposed to look like, and the document itself states that part of the Council's vision was the "adaptation to local traditions" of the process of initiation. Therefore, we are on very solid footing when we suggest that RCIA need not look like the beast we have come to know it as, with weekly classes, RCIA "teams", lame reflections on the readings, service projects, etc. The contemporary experience we have come to know as RCIA is simply the method most parishes, following the USCCB, have adopted for implementing the directives of the RCIA document. But it need not be so, and there are viable alternatives.

Such as?

First, let us look at the Traditional way.

In the pre-Conciliar days, reception into the Church was a very private affair. A candidate would meet with a priest who would examine his motives and remind him of the responsibilities of becoming Catholic. if the candidate had no objections and cleared this first stage, he would begin to "take instruction" as it was called, which consisted of weekly meetings with the priest who would instruct him in the basics of the faith whilst continuing to assess and candidate's spiritual state. After an indeterminate amount of time - maybe six months, maybe two years, depending on the candidate - a small Mass would be said at which the candidate would be received into the Church. It could be at any time of year and was often on a feast day chosen by the candidate. The Mass was usually a daily Mass, small, and attended mainly by family and friends invited by the candidate.

Note the very appropriate union between the intellectual and the spiritual. The candidate is instructed by a priest who is capable of both instructing and assessing spiritual problems - and vested with the authority to take remedial action in either if need be. How different this is from the lay-dominated RCIA program today, where the layman teaches but with no competence or authority to judge the spiritual readiness of a candidate, nor the moral or canonical authority to rebuke the scandalous. For example, in the old days, if a candidate was cohabiting with a female, the priest giving instruction would have full authority to deal with the issue. But now, what happens when the layman RCIA director finds out about some scandalous behavior? He usually does not have the authority to kick the offender out of the program, nor the wisdom to really assess the spiritual state of the individual. At best he can quote Church teaching to the offender and pass the complaint on to the priest, who now must intervene, learn the facts, and make a determination in a situation he has just been briefed on about a person he has probably not had the opportunity to get to know personally. We can see at once that from a pastoral perspective, the pre-Conciliar practice was much sounder.

The great thing is, under the current legislation, this sort of initiation is still permissible, so long as the various liturgical rites are celebrated (the vast majority of these rites are made optional in the adaptations of these norms by the episcopal conferences and many are movable - for example, see #53 in the RCIA document on "pastoral reasons" for transferring presentation of the Creed). A pastor with the willingness can still require this sort of individualized initiation - of course, it takes more of the pastor's time and is much more involved, but the formation would be undoubtedly better.

Another alternative would be to have a regimented reading program with less face to face meetings. Instead of weekly meetings with the priest, a monthly book list assigned by the priest, with only a meeting at the end of each month to confirm the candidate's understanding of the reading material and offer further clarifications. I personally helped some folks come in to the Church in this manner.

At other times, a priest may not need to give much catechetical instruction. This is often the case when a very well-educated person "reads" themselves into the Church. In such cases, it is necessary simply for the pastor to assess his level of knowledge and then to ensure that a sufficient time of spiritual preparation is undertaken before reception. It need not be long. Sometimes the Holy Spirit has done all the work and it is simply the job of the pastor to stand aside and admit the individual. It is presumptuous to think that every person - no matter what they have learned and no matter how the Spirit has prepared them - is in need of a 9 month class. Sometimes a person is ready and the pastor just needs to give them a little bit of spiritual preparation.

My point is that we need not feel that 9 months of classes taught by a lay person - or worse, a "team" of them - is the only option under the current legislation. So long as the main liturgical rites are observed, a pastor is free to come up with any sort of arrangements he wishes. And it is the position of this blog that pastors ought to do so.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Great Pius X

Today we honor the revered memory of undoubtedly the greatest, saintliest and most visionary pope of the modern age: Giuseppe Sarto, St. Pius X, whose glorious pontificate came (1903-1914) came to a close one hundred years ago today.

When I first set up the current incarnation of this blog back in June of 2007, I really had no clue what sorts of graphics or images would work. In fact, I wasn't even really sure what my vision for this blog was or what I wanted it to grow into; at the time I just wanted a platform to vent my anger about Haugen-Haas music and complain about the lack of Latin in my diocese. I had no idea there was a 'traditionalist' movement out there, had very little knowledge about what the Traditional Latin Mass was, and was certainly not aware of a traditionalist blogging community.

Not knowing what I was trying to express, I defaulted to a powerful symbol - that of Pope St. Pius X. I was not sure what I was feeling or what I wanted this blog to be, but it all seemed to be summed up in the image of the great pontiff, whose picture I found and lovingly placed on the right sidebar with a citation from Lamentabile Sane, the great syllabus of Pius X. And there that image has remained for the last seven years, still a very fitting symbol of everything this blog and its sister site stand for.

There are many things praiseworthy about Pope St. Pius X. Indeed, he is not the patron pope of traditionalists simply because he is pre-Vatican II or because he had some wonderful insights about the dangers of modernism. This pontiff was truly saintly, and not only in his personal life, but in the manner in which he conducted the papacy and wielded the office entrusted to him. In other words, with Pius X we need make no distinction between his "personal holiness" and his conduct as pope. The two are beautifully synthesized in the person of the great pontiff.

It is beyond my skill and available time to present a comprehensive biography of Pope St. Pius X, but I would like to offer a few observations about why he was such a praiseworthy successor of St. Peter.

First I would like to highlight the striking clarity and uncompromising straight-forwardness of Pius X. This is nowhere more evidenced than in Pius' famous 1904 with Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, who came to the pontiff seeking support for the Jewish movement in Palestine. When if he would support Jewish independence in a restored Israel, Pope Pius X responded:

"We cannot give approval to this movement. We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem—but we could never sanction it. The soil of Jerusalem, if it was not always sacred, has been sanctified by the life of Jesus Christ. As the head of the Church I cannot tell you anything different. The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people"

Herzl, recounting the interview in his diary, noted:

At the outset, to be sure, I tried to be conciliatory. I recited my little piece about extraterritorialization, res sacrae extra commercium [holy places removed from business]. It didn't make much of an impression. Gerusalemme, he said, must not get into the hands of the Jews.

"And its present status, Holy Father?"

"I know, it is not pleasant to see the Turks in possession of our Holy Places. We simply have to put up with that. But to support the Jews in the acquisition of the Holy Places, that we cannot do."

I said that our point of departure had been solely the distress of the Jews and that we desired to avoid the religious issues.

"Yes, but we, and I as the head of the Church, cannot do this. There are two possibilities. Either the Jews will cling to their faith and continue to await the Messiah who, for us, has already appeared. In that case they will be denying the divinity of Jesus and we cannot help them. Or else they will go there without any religion, and then we can be even less favorable to them. The Jewish religion was the foundation of our own; but it was superseded by the teachings of Christ, and we cannot concede it any further validity. The Jews, who ought to have been the first to acknowledge Jesus Christ, have not done so to this day."

The rest of the interview is available online here.

Can you imagine a modern pontiff speaking with such clarity to the Jews about the necessity of embracing the Messiah and the Church He founded? Can you imagine any modern pontiff speaking such straight forward, lucid terms as "the Jewish religion...was superseded by the teachings of Christ and we cannot concede it any further validity"? Interestingly enough, if you click on the above link and continue to read the reflections of Theodor Herzl, he speaks about the great respect he had for Pius.

Pius X was also master at identifying the root causes of problems within the Church and the world. This is especially evident in his treatment of Modernism in the encyclical Pascendi. It might not seem evident that this is such a difficult task, but remember how varied and far-reaching are the heresies of Modernism. The Modernist heresy encompassed liturgy and history, philosophy and Scripture study, ecclesiology and spirituality, theology and music. A less astute theologian might have been tempted to see these as multiple, heresies, diverse and unrelated. After all, what commonality is there between a liturgist pushing for incorporation of more patristic elements into the Mass and an Old Testament scholar of the historical-critical school? Or what concord hath the progressive Catholic philosopher who rejects Thomism and the cleric laboring in the Pan-Christian movement? It took the particular genius of Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi to identify the common factor that drew these trends together and made them not only a heresy, but the synthesis of all heresies: that factor was what Pius called vital immanence, which essentially means that the objective data of revelation is beyond the capability of man's reason; all man can grasp are the impressions or internal effects of this on man, with the consequent that religious experience trumps religious truth and spirituality becomes a purely subjective reality. This synopsis of the Modernist heresy was so spot-on and so thorough that Modernism throughout the Church went into hibernation to lick its wounds for several decades.

Not only was Pope Pius X astute at identifying problems, but in backing up his words with powerful and decisive action. After condemning the theories of the Modernists, he goes on to  say:

"All these prescriptions and those of Our Predecessor are to be borne in mind whenever there is question of choosing directors and professors for seminaries and Catholic Universities. Anybody who in any way is found to be imbued with Modernism is to be excluded without compunction from these offices, and those who already occupy them are to be withdrawn" (Pascendi, 48).

Can you imagine Paul VI or John Paul II not only speaking out against religious errors in seminaries and universities but actually taking positive steps to ensure that these heretics are systematically removed? This kind of decisiveness can scarcely be imagined today. Regarding the sort of education Pius seeks in candidates for higher studies, he asks for a background in Scholastic theology - but he does not just ask:


"For the future the doctorate of theology and canon law must never be conferred on anybody who has not made the regular course of scholastic philosophy; if conferred it shall be held as null and void" (Pascendi, 49).

He not only expresses his will, but mandates it and threatens to nullify degrees conferred in disobedience of his will! He orders bishops "to do everything in your power to drive out of your dioceses, even by solemn interdiction, any pernicious books that may be in circulation there" (ibid., 51); clearly Pius believes pastoral admonitions are insufficient if not followed up by firm action! He institutes the Oath Against Modernism to root out heretical tendencies from the clergy on pain of sin, and establishes "Councils of Vigilance" within each diocese whose sole purpose is "noting the existence of errors and the devices by which new ones are introduced and propagated" and to make recommendations to the bishop on "the best means for suppressing the evil at its outset" (55). Unlike modern bishops and pontiffs who identify errors in only the most cautious of terms and then throw up their hands when it comes to taking action, Pius took vigorous action, right down to the diocesan level, to make sure that Modernism was rooted out and that life in the Church was made very difficult for Modernists.

Even as a priest and bishop, Pius X was known for his charity and devotion to Christ, especially in the poor. Lest anyone try to contrast our current "humble" Holy Father with some sort of alleged pre-Vatican II triumphalism, see how Pius X loved the poor and least among his flock, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"In 1867 he was named arch-priest of Salzano, a large borough of the Diocese of Treviso, where he restored the church, and provided for the enlargement and maintenance of the hospital by his own means, consistently with his habitual generosity to the poor."

While Bishop of Mantua he distributed copies of the Summa to poorer seminarians at his own expense and took care to see that all seminarians were formed in Scholastic theology and Gregorian Chant, for which he had a particular love. As Cardinal of Venice, he held a synod in 1898 for the promotion of Gregorian Chant - something he would later mandate in his motu proprio Tra le Sollecetudine - and promoted cooperative rural banks in accord with the social teaching laid down by Leo XIII.

To Pius X we also must attribute the consolidation of the Church's canonical tradition which led to the great 1917 Code of Canon Law.

In every way a model of holiness, clarity, zeal and vigorous action against the enemies of the Church and in promotion of the Kingdom of Christ. St. Pius X, pray for us!

"It is impossible to approve in Catholic publications of a style inspired by unsound novelty which seems to deride the piety of the faithful and dwells on the introduction of a new order of Christian life, on new directions of the Church, on new aspirations of the modern soul, on a new vocation of the clergy, on a new Christian civilisation. Language of this kind is not to be tolerated either in books or from chairs of learning" -Pope St Pius X, Pascendi #55.

 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Do You Know Pride When You See It?

Friends,

In the past, when I have listened to Venerable Fulton Sheen, he has made me laugh, weep, sit on the edge of my seat, filled my heart with compunction and hope, but on a few occasions he has also made me cringe.  One of those occasions is his jab at St Bernards 12 steps of humility, which he seems to hold out to a brief ridicule for its complexity, or technical nature before he starts to expound upon the simplicity and beauty of St Therese’s Little Way.

Fortunately for us, such a characterization is a straw man, in fact, it is a strawman to the extreme.  Even though St Bernard did write a work called the 12 steps to humility, what the work actually speaks of is the twelve steps to pride, which St Bernard states at the end of the book that he knows more about pride than humility.  He does point out that if one knows how to become proud, then one merely must descend the steps of pride to become humble.  A good point, and one that St Bernard makes eloquently with parables and witty vivid imagery (he likes using animal bladders to describe the proud in this work, among other things.)

If there is anything more cringe-worthy than this straw man of Venerable Fulton Sheen (whom I still love) today, it is hearing people talk of humility.  In a world where pride in sin is held out as the highest of virtue, talk on humility comes across as less than cheap.  If a person gets the wrong idea of what humility is, then he may lose the ability to humble himself before God. Lets look at what St Bernard says.

These are the twelve degrees of pride:
  1. Curiosity
  2. Unseasonable joy or sorrow.
  3. Silliness: excessive merriment and laughter.
  4. Conceit: expressed in too much talking.
  5. Eccentricity: loving ones singular conduct, often trying to attract attention.
  6. Self-assertion: believing  (and seeking to become) more  pious than others.
  7. Presumption: believing oneself to be capable of doing anything.
  8. Defense of oneself in wrongdoing.
  9. Bad Confession: especially lying to avoid punishment.
  10. Rebellion: flat-out refusal to obey the rules.
  11. Liberty to sin: a person who sins freely but is still restrained due to the fear of God or other habits of virtue.
  12. Habitual transgressor: going straight to hell and nothing is slowing you down. 

In addition to St Bernard’s teaching on humility, there is also an article on Unam Sanctam’s core website on humility in your state in life. Knowing the 12 steps are very helpful practically, this article explains how the abandonment of understanding our place in society has greatly injured our ability to make the appropriate acts to grow in humility.

One of the interesting things in St Bernard’s work which you can download or listen here on Audiobook for free is that he does not exhort us to not notice pride in others or explain it away.  If we enable our neighbors pride by praise or puffing him up we only accelerate his downfall.

Upon reflection, I also realized that the Imitation of Christ says something similar:

“Study also to guard against and to overcome the faults which in others very frequently displease you”  chapter 25, Zeal in Amending our Lives

These admonitions are connected with the correction of our own lives.  If we find that excessive speech irritates us, let us resolve to not speak excessively; or if someone is boastful of their good works, let us make all the greater effort to hide the good that we do.  The violence that it takes to overcome these faults will perhaps give us a greater ability to bear with our neighbor;  he suffers these evils because to overcome them is difficult and the world is never short of the pride of life: vulgar displays of conceit, eccentricity, defense of evil-doing, breaking the rules, etc.  Yet, if we look in the memory (in humility) we will find in ourselves these things, and even if we have rooted out every evil in us (who would be so presumptuous to make such a statement?)  we still have our past sins when ascending from pride to humility.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Special Creation and the State of Completion

Some time ago I did an article on the Church's reservations about the theory of evolution pertaining to the concept of immutable substance. In discussions in person and in Catholic forums that followed, the argument came up that evolution simply explains the 'evidence' better than special creation and that affirming special creation would involve too great a divergence between what the science is telling us and what we are affirming as true. To explain the point better, I will reproduce an objection to special creation from one such forum which argues that to affirm special creation involves us in too many conundrums and effectively makes God a liar:

"With evolution, it's much easier to explain that all animals are related to each other, especially when we see the genetic evidence corroborating the degrees of physiological variance from one species to the next. For the critical thinker, accepting special creation as true would require an explanation for the evidence we see that contradicts it. Evolution explains what we are seeing. Special creation contradicts what we are seeing, and on such a grand scale that if it is false evidence, the only thing powerful enough to put it there is God himself. So if special creation is true, one must necessarily come to the conclusion that God has actively placed false evidence in the way to throw us off on the wrong course, presumably as a test to see if we will believe what the Bible says as opposed to what we can objectively measure. But it then begs the question, if God can distort all of reality to test our faith, if He is really willing to lie to us in his creation to get us to have faith, how then can we place any hope in what the Bible says as not being likewise a lie from God? There are just too many logical conundrums for a person to accept that are tied to special creation."

This is a common objection to special creation. In case the argument above is a little obtuse, allow me to provide a concrete example of what I'm talking about:

I was recently debating with friend about this - a good Catholic man who nevertheless has allowed modern ideas to soak in a little too deeply on certain subjects. He was saying that God could not have created the universe by special creation because the light from some of the stars takes billions of years to get to earth, which presumed an evolutionary time-span for the origin and development of the universe. I objected that God could have created the universe instantly with the light en route, such that all the light that was necessary was created exactly where it needed to be without having to actually traverse that distance. My friend countered by saying that this would make God into a "liar" because all our empirical observation suggests that the light has actually traveled that far and that it would be a kind of "false evidence" if the light looked like it traveled millions of light years but in fact was created en route.

Would creating the light "en route" make God into a liar or constitute "false evidence"? It is my contention that it would not. In fact, to say it is begs the question, as we shall see.

As a classic example of this, I always refer back to the creation of Adam and Eve. Tradition and Scripture are unanimous in affirming that Adam and Eve were created as adults; that is, God did not create infants, but a full grown man and woman with all the necessary perfections needed to sustain adult life. I do not know how "old" they were created to be; some Scholastics speculated that Adam was created as a 33 year old man since this was the age of perfection, based on the length of years of our Lord. Who knows. The point is, Adam and Eve were created fully formed, at least according to the Tradition.

However, what would an uninformed spectator assume if he were to encounter Adam? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you were to come walking around a corner and run into Adam only ten minutes after he was created. Having not witnessed his creation, you would look at his stature and presume him to be a man who has been around for several decades. He is tall, he is strong, he has adult teeth and perhaps a full grown beard. Yet in fact he is but ten minutes old.

Furthermore, there is no way to tell the difference. Aside from the accidental fact that the newly created Adam would have not had any imperfections due to years of labor, wrinkles, etc., you would not be able to know one way or another. God created him complete, and that completeness entails every characteristic proper to a full grown man.

Now, my question is this - was God "lying" or providing "false evidence" to you in creating Adam like this? Is the fact that Adam is created full grown a "deception"? Is the fact that when he is one second old he already has adult stature and adult teeth a kind of "distortion of reality"?

Obviously not. It is none of that. Rather, it is simply that God willed to created Adam complete.

The fact that God wills to create him complete means that he looks the same as any other person would who was born of woman. Did God similarly will to create the entire cosmos in some sort of state of completion? Looking at the light in the universe that is constantly bombarding the earth from millions and billions of light years away, can we really tell that it has actually been traveling for billions of years as opposed to being created en route not so long ago? Again, there is no way to tell the difference.

We know that rivers were formed by the cutting away of rock by running water. We know that this can happen slowly over a very long period of time, but we also know that raging waters can carve a gorge over a mile long and 22 feet deep in only a matter of days (don't believe me? See here). If God wanted to create a river in a state of completion, the creative process which brought that river into existence could certainly have been quick and catastrophic, which would leave behind similar physical evidence (carving and erosion) as a slow formed riverbed. We know that God created the universe out of nothing, but we do not know what the act of creation looked like, or the acts of subcreation by which He ordered the raw matter He had brought into existence. Some of these things were created in a state of completion, others not.

Now, we know that the cosmos in totu was not created in a state of total completion; Genesis and Catholic Tradition affirm that there was a sequential creation - certain elements of the world were created first, moving from the more general to the more particular. Water was the primal element of life, and the water creatures came about first, the land creatures following after, and finally, mankind. So the world was not created in a state of total completion. However, the various elements within it were - each created thing was established in a state of completion with its own substance. This was taught definitively at Vatican I:

"If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema" (Vatican I, Session 3, Canon 1:5).

When God creates the light en route, or the river already in place, or the elephant whole according to its substance, we are not seeing God creating "false evidence" as much as God creating these things in a state of completion.

Now you may say that this explanation presupposes a special creation - that it is a form of question begging. Perhaps, but not any more so than the question begging implied in the rejection of the concept. To say that light cannot have been created en route presumes the evolutionary time frame, while saying that it was created en route fits with a special creation. Let us acknowledge that neither argument proves anything in the strict sense, though both offer explanations for what we see in the universe.

Jimmy Akin once attempted to rebut this by stating that, while God had a rationale for creating Adam as an adult - the need for him to be able to make rational decisions and take care of himself - there existed no similar rationale for doing this with the rest of creation, and therefore theories like the light being created en route are unreasonable. But again, this begs the question by assuming that God did not will to create the components of creation in a state of completion. If God did in fact will to do so - which Vatican I seems to suggest - then the same rationale exists for God to create other aspects of the material universe in a state of completion just as He did with Adam and Eve.

I know the "state of completion" argument does not solve every difficulty; no doubt many of you will post examples in the com box that do not fit with the state of completion concept. But my point here is not to argue away or explain every question relating to special creation, but merely to argue the more limited point that special creation does not "contradict what we are seeing" and make God the creator of "false evidence." To create things in a completed state is not to create false evidence any more than creating Adam as a mature adult when he is only ten minutes old is "false evidence." In many cases, we need to ask what assumptions we are bringing when we look at the universe, as well as that there may be multiple explanations for any phenomenon.

Other articles on evolution

Monday, August 11, 2014

Steel or Platitudes

Friends,

It is easy to sit in the comfort of modern society and cast harsh judgements on our forefathers that have come before us.  Not very long ago a somewhat popular priest in pop culture thought he had the right to cast judgement and declare that the holy St Bernard's preaching of the crusades was wrong.  I wish the example was only limited to that but, there are countless examples going back decades of the error of pacifism creeping its unwelcome tentacles into the Church.  Diabolic Utopian sentiments are flung carelessly from our highest pulpits demanding a world without war, a world without violence.  

It was not always so though, there was a time where the Church defended her sheep with steel instead of empty platitudes and fuzzy feelings.  What do you think God is more pleased with?

Lets look at what happened during the preaching of the 2nd crusade by St Bernard:

“In every place on his journey and wrought the most astonishing and instantaneous cures : the blind recovered their sight ; to the deaf and dumb hearing and speech were restored ; the paralytic received the use of their limbs; the possessed, the lunatic, and the demoniac were delivered from the spirits which tormented them. But the greatest of his miracles was the conversion of hardened hearts and the penances to which public sinners submitted.” excerpt from St Bernard the Wonderworker - Free Catholic Audiobook

Every hear of a miracle during the preaching of pacifism? I didn’t think so, because there is not one.  I am almost sure of it, because if there was it surely would be shoved down our throat endlessly.

Yet, we know that the 2nd crusade did not end well.  Haha, our pop culture preacher might say, this is proof that it was not of God.  The facts say otherwise.

"On that on that very day, when the news came of the destruction of the Christian army, God wrought a miracle at the intercession of Saint Bernard. “It came to pass, however, that when the lamentable tidings of the destruction of the Crusaders resounded through France, a father brought his blind boy to the servant of God, to have sight restored to him, and, by many prayers, prevailed on the saint who declined. The saint, placing his hand on the child, prayed to our Lord that He would be pleased to make known, by restoring sight to the child, whether the preaching of the Crusade was from Him, and whether His spirit was with himself. While, after praying, he was waiting its effects, the child said, what am I to do? For I see! Then a great shout was raised by those who were present ; for many were present, not of the monks only, but of people living in the world, who, when they perceived that the boy saw, were greatly comforted, and gave thanks to God.” excerpt from St Bernard the Wonderworker - Free Catholic Audiobook

There is more in the Audiobook even about mystical visions confirming the validity of the crusade as well, be sure to check it out. Despite our forefathers courage in battle against our foe, they at least sent missionaries to convert the Mohammedans;  many of whom were martyred preaching Christ Crucified with bravery.  

Yet, with the passing of time all falsehoods are revealed.  The absolute savage persecutions of the Christians in Iraq has once again shown us the true face of historical and authentic Mohammedanism, not some made up religion of peace which perverts Islam's doctrines (how culturally insensitive!).   I hope Catholic intellectuals will find themselves blushing for shame for their past dismissals of Islamic terror as being  "a valid protest against pluralist secularization and materialism." 

Intellectuals, and professors wearing fuzzy sweaters coming together will not stop war.  Slashing defense budgets and removing standing armies will not end wars.  Treaties, even good ones will never end war.  War is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, sent to afflict mankind when we reject the Gospel.  

War will come, and war will go based on the decrees of our God.  It is absurd to believe that the God who has numbered every hair on our head is not the one actively choosing to send war as a punishment for sin, or to permit wars as a punishment for sin.  

God made the Jews fight their enemies after they left Egypt!  Our sweet savior Jesus Christ ordered his apostles to own a sword, even if they had to sell their cloak!  Our God allowed the angels to fight a war in heaven! Our God is a God of War! There will always be war on earth, until the end of the world!  

Consequently, today (August 11) is the day to begin a Novena to St Bernard of Clairvaux (you can find one here) for his feast day.  He persuaded many nobles and Kings to embrace the crusade, perhaps we can pray that he does the same from heaven to our leaders, that they might bring some military relief for the Christians of Iraq. 

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, ora pro nobis!

SN This article does not attempt to take a position on the origin of the ISIS, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, St. JPII opinions on those wars etc.  It does advocate for  military relief (US or otherwise) for the Christians in Iraq today, it is the opinion of the author  not necessarily the other contributors of Unam Sanctam.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Book Review: "The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy"

For the past three months I have been immersed in The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy by the scholarly Jesuit Fr. Christian Cochini (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1981). The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy is the definitive work on the question of priestly celibacy in the Early Church, summarizing all the research done on this question since the Renaissance and adding truly monumental original contributions to this field by his own commentaries on Greek and Latin texts and voluminous compilation of primary sources. Fr. Cochini's magnum opus represents the last word on the question of clerical continence - and the historical sources absolutely vindicate the Tradition of the Church.

The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy aims to settle four points: (1) That there is a difference historically between the discipline of clerical celibacy and the discipline of clerical continence. (2) That the universal expectation in the Early Church was that clerics, married or unmarried, would observe perfect and perpetual continence. (3) That this was not just a pious custom but an actual law or precept, and (4) That the origins of this law go back to precedents set by the Apostles themselves. Every available text by a father, saint, pope, council, and even imperial legislation is brought to bear to prove these four points. And Fr. Cochini proves them beyond any modicum of doubt.

Honestly, until I read this book, I had not given much thought to the distinction between clerical celibacy and clerical continence. The former means the prohibition of clerics entering into marriage or of married men receiving Holy orders; the latter means abstention from sexual relations by all clerics, married or single. It is undeniable that the Early Church had married priests; some Traditionalists want to deny this plain fact of history. Don't bother. We had married priests. Get over it. In fact, Cochini devotes an entire chapter to documenting every single mention of a married bishop, priest or deacon in the Church of the first seven centuries. That we had married clerics is an undeniable fact of history and anyone who says otherwise has simply not read the sources.

However, the argument does not end there, because - and this is where the modern proponents of a married priesthood totally miss the point - while the Early Church admitted clerics to be married, it never, ever condoned clerics engaging in sexual activity. We are introduced to a plethora of texts - most of them previously unknown to me - in support of this position. For example, the Cum in Utum decretal of Pope Siricius, dating from 386:

"Moreover, as it is worthy, chaste, and honest to do so, this is what we advise: let the priests and Levites have no intercourse with their wives, inasmuch as they are absorbed in the daily duties of their ministries. Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, said, "Leave yourselves free for prayer" (1 Cor. 7:5). If lay people are asked to be continent so that their prayers are granted, all the more so a priest who should be ready at any moment, thanks to an immaculate purity, and not fearing the obligation of offering the sacrifice or baptizing. Were he soiled by carnal concupiscence, what could he do? Would he excuse himself? With what shame, in what state of mind would he carry out his functions?"

There is much more. Hundreds of citations over hundreds of pages drive the main point home: It has never been the tradition of the Church to condone a sexually active priesthood.

There are many things cleared up by understanding this discipline. For one thing, it handily explains the how the Church once allowed then prohibited married clerics while simultaneously claiming her teaching on this matter has never changed; this is because the teaching was never about whether a cleric could be married, but whether it was fitting for clerics to have sexual intercourse. Understood this way, the teaching (until modern times) has been unanimous.

It also puts the question of marriage in the Eastern Rites into a glaringly new perspective. When we understand the ancient discipline, we see that it is not, as so often asserted, that the Western Church imposed a new discipline onto its clerics while the East, which allows married priests, is preserving a more ancient practice. On the contrary, East and West both insisted on continence from their clerics. In the West, this insistence remained so strong that eventually it became clear that the only way to ensure it was to prohibit the ordination of married men (the discipline of celibacy); in the East, the observance of the ancient canons began to grow lax until after the Quinisext Council of 692, married clerics were finally allowed to use the marital rights. Thus it was the East that changed the discipline, not the West.

I highly recommend Fr. Cochini's book for anyone who wants a solid patristic understanding of this question. You can purchase it here on Amazon.

If you want an in depth but more concise synopsis of the historical arguments presented in Cochini's book, please see my article "The Truth About Priestly Celibacy and Continence in the Early Church" on the USC website, which synthesizes the most important primary sources cited by Cochini and explains their theological and historical significance.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Buying, Selling, And Apostasy

They have no eyes and see not,
They have no ears and hear not.
“And that no man might buy or sell, but he that hath the character, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” Revelation 13:17

“It was almost impossible to procure the necessaries of life, without exposing themselves of committing some act of idolatry. In the public market small images of the gods were placed, and no one was allowed to buy or to sell anything unless he had first burnt incense before them.” The Life and Martyrdom of St Sebastian.

We have talked about previously about what the rise of paganism says about the state Christianity.

“The Democratic bill, which was supported by the Obama administration, would make it clear that any employer providing health insurance would have to pay for any type of coverage specified by federal law.” From Effort to Override hobby lobby ruling fails.

Personally, I find the idea of threatening strange Gods as something more worthy of fear then the feminist demographic. I am sure that the Romans would have had no problem accepting the Christians worshiping Jesus as long as they did not neglect to worship the other Gods as well. Equality and everything you know! I must say that our pagan opponents have gone backwards from their ancient forefathers, in the past the Romans built great temples to the Gods, performed rituals with Priests, and offered incense. Instead of worshiping a piece of pretty stone, they demand that we have to worship silly pills, and not even by taking the little soul destroyers, but by paying for someone else's coverage to maybe use them.

They failed this time, but our current freedom from such force participation without incurring the wrath of the state may be coming to an end. We should not despair of this fact, rather we need to prepare for it. It is true that humility, a love for contempt, a hatred for human respect, love of simplicity, detachment from kin, land and property should always be things that we are trying to grow in. Are soldiers more diligent in training when they know that they may go into battle soon? Our Faith should always drive us to struggle manfully against the principalities and powers, but when we dull our spiritual vision through sin and neglect seeing a visible threat can perhaps spur us to the amendment of life that we need just to be saved from hell. Perhaps, these threats of future trials may not come to pass from the hands of God, if we all return more to the fear of God and good living.

“Let your Excellency consider, therefore, that your high dignity obliges you to do many things inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity: you have to be present at public shows, which are offensive to modesty, to charity, in a word to good morals, you have to preside at trials, where it is a foregone conclusion that innocent Christians be condemned. Wherefore, permit me to suggest, under the plea of ill health, or of advanced age, it would be proper to ask for a successor.” St Sebastian from The Life and Martyrdom of St Sebastian on Audiobook

Another thing worthy of comment is that in the future, as society goes more and more pagan, certain prevailing attitudes may be expected for certain positions of power and participation in certain evils. If we inoculate ourselves now with true wisdom, we will not have to agonize later. We all know it would be better to not have a Catholic president, than to have one who approved abortion and the resulting scandal arising from it. The same goes at smaller appointments, to the bench, to political offices, to the military and the corporate world. These things are not worth selling our souls for, they are trivial compared to the nobility of the adopted sons of God, they are served by men and deal with the dealings of men. Christians are served by Angels and deal with the divine law.

If we have not meditated on the possibility of losing our job and suffering poverty for righteousness sake, we should. Whether our bellies are filled with dread, or we rejoice for the possibility to suffer with Christ we should ask God to prepare our hearts to suffer for His sake.

My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will Sing, and rehearse a psalm. Psalm 57:7

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Are you an Ultramontanist?

There is a lot of talk these days about a kind of pervasive Ultramontanism in the Neo-Catholic world; not Ultramontanism in the classical sense, for understood classically, Ultramontanism, like the term "Integralism", was just a phrase denoting Catholicism affirming the infallibility of the pope.

In current parlance, we are not talking about fidelity to the Holy Father, but rather a kind of crass, undiscriminating Ultramontanism that is best characterized by the embarrassing spectacle of Neo-Catholic apologists tripping all over themselves to affirm every single prudential decision of the pope as not only good, but the best possible decision. In the judgment of the modern Ultramontanists, every utterance of the pope, no matter how banal or off the cuff, is treated as a profound insight; every administrative act or symbolic gesture he makes are examples of brilliant leadership; every prudential judgment and non-authoritative teaching treated as infallible truth. 

No matter what they might say, there is a very easy test to see if the person you are talking with actually subscribes to the kind of crass Ultramontanism I have described above. Ask them to:

First, cite one prudential action of the pope which you disagree with.

Second, cite one action or statement of the pope that you agree with, though you admit that good Catholics can be in disagreement about.

If you or your interlocutor cannot do either of these two things, they are Ultramontanists, no matter what they might say to the contrary.

When I presented this to one Catholic apologist, he told me, "It might happen that you in fact do agree with everything the pope does, while acknowledging that one is not bound to agree with every prudential decision of the pope." That's why the second question is so important - if you do in fact happen to agree with everything the pope does prudentially, then state one of these instances where you admit that others may disagree and remain in good standing.

Great related article from Rorate. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Brown Scapular: True Wisdom

Friends,

A wish to speak today of a huge absurdity that exists in the Church today regarding salvation.  That so much effort is made to not even suggest that people are going to hell, while at the same time the snobbish condescension against the Brown Scapular of our Lady of Mt Carmel and the great promise of salvation to those who die wearing it. I pray that I am alone in having seen it, and that your ears have not had to suffer the irritation that mine have when suffering through the often times odious intellectual attacks against it.

I personally know of two priests, one who some might consider traditional and another who among his peers might be considered orthodox who have come far short from offering the esteem that this powerful sacramental deserves.   One likes to think it is superstitious the other likes to refer to it as a "thingy".


I must say that their are seldom found defenders of this great sacramental from the charge of superstition. There are so called “friends” of the scapular who give it only faint praise, who fall over themselves in their effort to downplay the promise of the brown scapular by pointing out that the scapular only works if you are not in mortal sin.  These statements injure the faith and confidence one can have in the brown scapular and injure its propagation. 

Lets us first consider a few things about the brown scapular.
1.  It is a sign of devotion and consecration to the Mother of God.
2.  It is ancient, going back at least 800 years and if you accept the annals of the order of Mt Carmel their devotion to Mary extends back to her even while she still walked the earth.
3.  It has received numerous blessings from the Church.
4.  Many Saints of the Church have worn it and recommended its use.
5.  Many miracles of the brown scapular are historical facts, attested to by numerous witnesses and they have occurred without ceasing sense the institution of the confraternity of the brown scapular. 

These should be reason enough for everyone to want to participate in the devotion to the brown scapular by devoutly wearing it even if it did not have the promise, that anyone who died wearing the brown scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.

What are some of its benefits, excluding the promise of salvation and the special protection of Mary.

1.  It is an act of religion when one wears it for the sake of devotion to the Mother of God.
2.  It is an act of humility to the Church and her Saints that recommended its use to grow in grace. 
3.  It is an outward sign of devotion to the Mother of God.
4.  The Church has decreed that the devout use of a devotional object merits a partial indulgence.
5. Its wearing is a constant reminder of the presence of God and our childlike intimacy with Mary. 

These repeated acts help us grown in virtue, honoring the Virgin Mary in front of men will lead to God honoring us in front of men, the partial indulgences help alleviate the sufferings of the holy soul or pay our debt due to sin and the reminder of Gods presence deters us from committing sin.  Even if people choose to be doubters of the great promise of salvation of the brown scapular, they cannot deny these facts.

However, the promises of the brown scapular are true: that of a good and holy death, and of our Lady’s protection.  How do we know? Because they have been proven many times by miracles.  If you are interested in hearing many historical and semi modern miracles please check out our Audiobook on miracles of the brown scapular.

You will find among the numerous stories of the brown scapular not stories of canonized Saints,  but stories of sinners often times people who lived very evil lives, but through the power of the brown scapular where either saved from unexpected deaths or given the grace of repentance.  

It would be superstitious to believe that the cloth in and of itself will save one from hell.  It would be presumptuous to believe that one will be allowed to die wearing the brown scapular.  But, it is neither superstition or presumption to put ones confidence and hope in Our Lady of the Brown Scapular even when one is in mortal sin, even when one is living a reprobate life.  When we sin against charity we may lose sanctifying grace, but we do not necessarily lose the theological virtue of hope.  Dearest reader, no matter what sin or sins you find yourself committing, never ever take off your brown scapular.  

Every day we wear the brown scapular we renew our plea to Our Lady, “I need your special help to be saved!”. How can such a plea be worthless even when we are in sin!  No one with unrepented mortal sin will enter heaven, but to hope that our lady by wearing her garment will provide the grace for repentance is true wisdom.

The sinner and the saint  who wear the brown scapular only are able to do it through the grace of God, since to wear the brown scapular with devotion is a good work and only God can do good.  And while I do accept that no one must believe in the brown scapular (being a private revelation) or that wearing it is not mandatory, I have sometimes pondered that those who hold it in scorn have not received the grace to wear it because they are currently on their way to hell.

But we do not want them to go to hell, and we do not want for anyone to lose out on the numerous graces that are available by the devout daily wearing of the brown scapular.  Last year Alleluia Audiobooks published an Audiobook devoted to only miracles of the brown scapular from the founding of the confraternity up till the early 20th century. To date it is our second most popular audiobook after the torments of hell, but we have received feedback that it was a great aid in increasing devotion to the brown scapular and people showed greater fidelity in wearing it daily.

In anticipation for the next feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel we are hoping to receive enough user submissions of miraculous stories of the brown scapular from readers in order to put together a new Audiobook of miracles of the Brown Scapular in modern times.  To strengthen peoples confidence in the brown scapular and to confound its enemies. It is a great opportunity to help induce others to love and reverence our Lady of Mt Carmel.  I most earnestly implore you to submit your stories, to share this plea, and if you are a blogger to please also consider sharing this post on your blog so that we are able to collect enough stories to make another Audiobook to the Glory of God and Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Thou has promise St Simon Stock that anyone who died wearing thy brown scapular shall not suffer eternal fire. Grant then me the grace to die wearing it, and protect me at the hour of my death with the last sacraments.  O Mother, pray for me that when I go before the judgement seat of God that your merits might be applied to the penalty due to my sins and that I escape the punishments of purgatory. Amen.


Friday, July 11, 2014

The Beauty of the Catholic Homeschool Mother

Friends,

Recently, I attended the Southern California Catholic Home Educators Conference at St John the Baptist Church in Costa Mesa as a vendor for Alleluia Audiobooks.  I was there with a dual purpose, to hand out free Catholic audiobooks and to educate myself a bit on homeschooling as my oldest daughter will be starting kindergarten next year.  

What still brings me joy when I recall the conference is this: I had never seen so many modestly dressed women in one place at a single setting (even Mass).  I have lived in Southern California my entire life, and needless to say the standards for dress, especially when it gets warmer, aim more towards revealing than concealing.  

Not so among these faithful. I had the joy of interacting with many mothers who came by the booth who could not be accused of any of the following: bitter, weird, frumpy, socially awkward, unkempt, or angry. Rather, they were full of joy, modesty, kindness, and a general manner of behaving that could best be characterized as graceful.  

If you think about it, the life of a Catholic homeschool mother is one of exceptional modesty.  The vocation of motherhood (which is held out today with much contempt) is lived in the fullest manner: the personal supervision of the entire upbringing of a child without major delegation to another adult. To make the choice to homeschool one's children (and in a faithful Catholic way) will not win human respect among the majority of society, but rather a lot of ridicule.  Outside of close family and friends, the main work of this endeavor will go without praise (sometimes even within the family).  Children, who must be trained in the ways of virtue and learn wisdom through time, will oftentimes not show gratitude for the extent of the sacrifices that their mother and father make for them.

However, what should stand out to all, even if they do not have children or who never plan to homeschool: this work is done without payment and oftentimes at great sacrifice and expense. This fact, in my opinion, is one of the great indicators of the purity of heart that  homeschooling mothers practice. Perhaps you are saying "no duh!". But consider that many apostolates never get off the ground because of an unwillingness of those who do the labor to actually sacrifice the personal cash to make it successful. There is a book I have on ancient monastic writings from Ukraine that was recently translated from ancient Slavonic into English, most people probably do not know that the book even exists let alone some of the wisdom within its pages, but its copyright notification is so strict at the beginning of the book that I cannot even provide a direct citation (outside of a book review) without violating it.  I am certain you can think of other apostolates which either stifle themselves or have failed because of money.

Despite there being no economic incentive (other than viewing it as a cheaper alternative to private school) there are plenty of pitfalls that one can fall into that could damage purity of heart.  Many a monastery in history has shown how men vowed even unto poverty can fall into greed; we should not think that homeschooling children will preserve a family from worldly ambitions, delusions of grandeur, or the inordinate love of scholarships and high test scores.  However, the later opulence of some monasteries was not so easily found in the early days of monastic life where one needed to be sustained by a great religious fervor in order to persevere through the hard living.  One could get the feeling, with the absolute destruction of the Catholic education system by the modernists, that we are returning to the primitive rule, per se, of Catholic education.  St John Climacus and St Teresa of Avila both preferred monastic systems of a few monks to one elder over both solitary life and huge monasteries (though they acknowledged that each had their own distinct merits).  The intimacy for home life presents unique circumstances for the rooting out of vice and the development of virtue through correction that is more difficult when overseeing many students, or parents being separated from their children for long periods of time. 

There are some who have characterized the Catholic subculture as bitter, weird, cranky, and mediocre,   whose "scene" is overflowing with overly sentimental blogs and tacky Catholic memorabilia. What I saw at the Homeschooling Conference was the opposite, and I believe that the Catholic homeschooling subculture is and will continue to yield those great fruits of hope and charity. Kitschy JPII mugs and 3D Divine Mercy images  will pass away, but the fruit of homeschooling will yield great results that are eternal. 


Friday, July 04, 2014

Long Live the Republic!

I Love my country and often times I like it as well.  I make the distinction because a person is capable of loving something without liking it, an important distinction especially when dealing with others who we might find irritable.

England, France, Spain, Italy and other European countries rich in Catholic history are also drenched in Catholic blood, and these are not ancient memories from the days of the primitive church, but their sagas along with other nations can be found in the last few centuries.  

Why should Catholics love America?  In America as of today, it is still possible to practice our Holy Religion, unlike in China or Saudi Arabia where the Church is underground and savagely persecuted.  We can still condemn sin from the pulpit, unlike even Canada where if you condemn certain politically protected sins you might be found guilty of a hate crime. 

The right to private property, the ability to have as many children as one would like(unlike China), the right to own firearms, the right to home-school (unlike Germany), the freedom to tithe the amount you want to and to whom you want to (unlike Germany again).  These freedoms no doubt, are graces granted to us by God to do good by.  Americans may think that it is through the people that we have these freedoms  while we as Catholics know it is only through cooperation with the grace of God that we have them.

It greatly saddens me to see pro lifers, or traditional Catholics sometimes getting so caught up in the struggle for national righteousness, that they begin to hate our beloved country.  It is true that the ideas on which our nation were founded were short of the fullness of truth.  Yet, nations are made up of men and men sin and fall short of the Glory of God.  Ireland may invoke the Blessed Trinity in its constitution, yet who would dare say that their Government today is Godly. 

What if our country was worst and we enjoyed none of these freedoms?  Could we, should we still love it? Yes, we should, for the most simple reason of all.  We live here.

Even during the centuries of savage persecutions of the Roman empire did the Martyrs hate their country and there countrymen? No.  It is true they hated and spited  their “gods” or national demons, and that they refused to worship the emperor as a god.  These oppositions to evil though did not make them bitter, their Christian faith which was the contradiction to both the political and cultural life gave them the strength to suffer for their country and even at times for the benefit of the Emperors who made them suffer.

I believe St Sebastian, Captain of the Imperial Guard to the Emperor, and made defender of the Church by the Pope at that time is a most excellent example of patriotism and love of country.  St Sebastian was the captain of the guard to the notorious and savage persecutor of the Church, Diocletian.  Upon hearing that St Sebastian was a Christian he refused to believe it, as he considered the Christians to be his greatest enemies, so he summoned him and interrogated him.

Diocletian said to St Sebastian “Sebastian, I have raised thee to honor and distinction among the officers of the palace, because I looked upon thee as one of the most faithful of my friends.  Must I believe that all the while thou was an enemy of the gods, and that I entrusted my safety to one who was disloyal to me.”

To which St Sebastian responded “I have ever been faithful and loyal to you, I have constantly prayed to the God whom I worship, that he might give safety to your august person and to the Empire.  Of your idols of wood and stone I have never asked anything, knowing that they cannot give to to others what they do not possess” 

“Thou art then a Christian?” asked the Emperor

“I am a Christian such I have been from the days of my childhood, and it is for this very reason that I have always performed my duties faithfully and conscientiously”.

After giving that story St Sebastian was ordered to be put to death by being shot full of arrows.  However, after his execution he was resurrected from the Dead and confronted the emperor again, not in vengeance but in pleading during a solemn day of pagan worship.  

St Sebastian: “Harken to me, O Prince! The priests of your temples deceive you by their wicked falsehoods against the Christians.  They tell you, that we are enemies of the Empire; yet it is by your prayers that the Empire is made to prosper.  Cease your unjust persecutions against us, and remember the day of reckoning is near at hand, when you too shall be judged by an all knowing judge.”  (To hear more on the Life and Martyrdom of St Sebastian taken directly from the Acts of the Martyrs, sign up for Alleluia Audiobooks mailing list to be notified when it is available for download). 

Needless to say the Emperor did not have a change of heart, and had St Sebastian beaten to death at that point by clubs.  What tremendous loyalty this Captain of the Guard had and love this Saint had for the Emperor, and the Roman Empire!  Even after being put to death, he does not cease to excuse the tyrant, excusing his cruelty on the deceptions of pagan priests.  Can we hope to have such a burning charity for these United States of America and for our leaders?  

What a contrast of loyalty to a pagan leader to the memories of the Catholic States lead by noble kings.  Have you met a person who advocates the restoration of the monarchies of old based on these excellent memories.  I wonder how many traditional Catholics would feel about a Catholic Monarch if they wound up giving that power to a man like Prince Charles of England or even our Holy Father Pope Francis but with real Political Power.    

When we read such heroic old examples we should draw upon them and apply the examples of their virtue to our lives, and relay their stories so that other men become aware of the greatness of leadership characterized by a humble submission to God.  We should hope and labor to win over all of America  for Christ through conversion, and perfect our Government.  In the meantime we should show reverence and respect for the Laws, institutions, and customs of our nation and obey them in as far as we do not sin.  All authority, even the authority of our constitution (that makes no mention of the Holy Trinity), receives its authority from God whether it says so or not.  

The Monarchies of old are far removed from the political realities of today.  One can like the monarchs of old, as long as one remains loyal to the legitimate government now. By the ordering  of the world by God we are a republic and we should strive to serve him in the holiest way we can right now, not longing for distant governments or circumstances to come as per the warning of  St Francis De Sales.

“Do not desire faraway things, that is, things that cannot happen for a long time, as many people do, and by so doing wear out and waste their hearts to no purpose and expose themselves to the danger of becoming very discontented”  Introduction to the Devout Life.

Even if this country is becoming more hostile to Catholicism, may God preserve us my friends from becoming more hostile to it, may we find strength in the example of St Sebastian to pray for our leaders, the empire and  do our duties faithfully and conscientiously. 

Happy 4th of July, Long Live the Republic and God Bless America! 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Lost Practice of Christian Shunning

While certainly affirming our Lord's teaching to go out into the highways and by-ways to seek the lost and of being a light to the world, have you ever run across a situation where you simply cannot put yourself in the presence of a particular individual(s) because of the lifestyle they choose to live? People whose manifest and unrepentant sins are so scandalous that you believe it would be spiritually damaging for you or your family to engage with them in any way? People whom you basically shun or shut out of your daily life intentionally?

We all have these people - and maybe you feel a little bit bad about your approach to them? Maybe you feel conflicted. After all, you remember the "sinners and tax collectors" stuff from the New Testament and the "who is my neighbor?" stuff and you wonder whether it is really just to simply exclude a person from your life because of their sins. After all, you were a sinner and God did not exclude you.

My friends, this is not a happy-clappy blog, and I am not going to go into a moralizing lesson on how we ought not to shun these people. In fact, I am going to suggest the opposite: that your guilt is misplaced and that you are right to shun or shut out manifest certain sinners from your life. In fact, the Sacred Scriptures not only allow for such shunning, but positively command it in certain circumstances. Let us take a look and the long-neglected practice of Christian "shunning".

First, let us recall Matthew 10:12-15:

"And when you come into the house, salute it, saying: Peace be to this house. And if that house be worthy, your peace shall come upon it; but if it be not worthy, your peace shall return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words: going forth out of that house or city shake off the dust from your feet.  Amen I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city."

The only sin or evil that is mentioned here is the refusal of a person or persons to listen to the Gospel or be willing to receive a Christian in order to hear the Gospel. If this occurs, Jesus commands the disciples to "shake the dust from your feet"; in New Testament era jargon, this reflects a demonstration of repudiation or separation. Pious Jews used to do this after passing through a Gentile city to demonstrate their repudiation of the Gentile customs they had to endure whilst in a city on business. The command of Christ to do this signifies that the believer repudiates the unbelief of the infidel. But not only is the unbelief repudiated, but the believer must physically separate himself from the presence of the obstinate infidel by "going forth out of that house or city"; St. Paul and Barnabas do just this in Acts 13:50-51 after meeting hostility in Pisidia. They shake the dust off their feet and move on to another city, leaving the unbelievers to themselves. 

Note also our Lord not only commands repudiation and physical separation, but pronounces a woeful judgment on the unbelievers.

This is not shunning in the positive sense of a believer refusing to see a scandalous sinner; rather, it is the believer removing himself from the presence of obstinate unbelievers. But the principle is introduced that a physical separation from an obstinate infidel - and that word obstinate is key  - is sometimes necessary.

Jesus also discusses shunning in Matthew 18:15-17:

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

First, note that this is applied to "your brother"; i.e., another member of the Church. That this is evident is denoted by Christ's reference to "the Church" as the authority the two brethren can take their problem to. If the errant brother was not also a member of the Church, why would the Church have jurisdiction to hear the case? So Christ applies this teaching to other Christians, not unbelievers in general.

Second, the obstinacy of the brother who refuses to listen "even to the Church" merits shunning. "Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" means shun him; it is common knowledge that pious Jews shunned the company and homes of Gentiles and tax collectors, and Jesus' admonition is that one remaining obstinate in his sins is to be shunned by the Church.

Let us go on to 1 Corinthians, where we see St. Paul has taken the concept of physical separation in cases of obstinate refusal to listen and applied it to cases of sexual immorality within the Church:

1 Corinthians 5:19-13

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.

Like in Matthew 18, we see the practice of shunning being invoked to deal with cases of obstinate sin within the Church. And in case Jesus' teaching was not clear enough, St. Paul goes to lengths to explain that he is not suggesting that Christians separate from the sinners of the world - for to do that, one would need to leave the world! On the contrary, it is those who call themselves Christian yet persist in sin who must be shunned. Notice also that, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the world, St. Paul assumes that Christians are discerning, judgmental people: "Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge?" 

But why do believers in obstinate sin -sexual immorality in this case - deserve to be shunned? Why not extend this to unbelievers as well? After all, sin is sin and scandal is scandal, right?

Well, not really. Adultery is always scandalous, but when adultery occurs in the case of a Christian it is especially scandalous because the Christian ought to know better. This is why St. Peter admonishes, "let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker" (1 Pet. 4:15), and also why Jesus warns that a Christian who falls into grave sin is in a much worse state than a sinner who was never in a state of grace to begin with (cf. Luke 11:23-26). In other words, there is particular scandal about obstinate sin or unbelief when one should know better. "If your eye is unsound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the very light in you is darkened, how dense is that darkness! (Matt. 6:23).

Note that Paul recommends a very strict separation in the case of these obstinate sinners. We are not to "associate" with these people - and as if to make sure we understand how serious Paul is, he specifies that we are not even to eat with such people. He goes on to quote Deut. 17:7, which says "purge the evil from the midst of you" and has reference to the execution of the death sentence against Israelites guilty of worshiping other gods. Given this, it would be difficult to argue in context that Paul's admonition to shun sexually immoral Christians is not meant to be taken literally. This also demonstrates that Paul is not referring to a juridical excommunication - although excommunication is a kind of formal shunning on the part of the whole Church. Rather, he is referring to the way individual Christians are to treat other individual Christians who are habitually sexually immoral.

Finally, let us turn to 2 John 1:7-11 for the next development of the practice. Christ has given us the principle that obstinate unbelievers ought to be separated from, as well as members of the Church who are obstinate sinners; St. Paul uses the example of habitual sexual immorality among Christians as an practical example of Christ's precept and goes to great lengths to state that the separation should be total - we should neither "associate" nor "eat with" such person.

St. John the Apostle applies this to not only immoral Christians, but heretical Christians as well. Let us turn to 2 John 1:7-11:

"Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person."

St. John is speaking clearly of doctrinal deviations, for he references anyone who "does not bring this teaching." In other words, heretics, those who obstinately refuse to "abide in the teaching of Christ". We are to neither welcome these people nor even let them into our houses. Like St. Paul, St. John advocates a total shunning of the heretic. But unlike Paul, John gives the rationale: "To welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person."

This is an important point. Even if we personally disagree with homosexual acts, if we welcome a practicing homosexual who professes to be a Christian into our homes, we are in fact affirming his wicked lifestyle and thus sharing in his evil deeds. Remember, one of the traditional ways of partaking in the sin of another is by silence. Receiving one into the house signifies a kind of silence regarding the person's errors; unless of course you are visiting with the person for the express purpose of calling them to repentance - the correct context in which to understand Christ's eating with tax collectors and sinners, by the way - but the problem is too many people fraternize with heretical or immoral Christians whilst simultaneously keeping silent about their immoral lifestyles. They thus refuse to perform a spiritual work of mercy while affirming the sinner and thus sharing the guilt of their sins.

On the contrary, shunning is a type of admonition of the sinner, a kind of call to repentance by avoidance of physical communion - symbolizing that the obstinate sinner has broken communion with God and the Church. It is like a personal-social boycott against sin, and as such is actually a spiritual work of mercy.

By the way, St. John does not say this practice applies only to really bad heretics, but to "everyone" who does not abide in the teaching of Christ.

In St. John, we see the kernel of the traditional understanding of the relationship between "heresy" and "obstinacy"; heresy is defined as a kind of obstinate, inflexible refusal to believe or "abide" in sound teaching. The heretic and the habitually immoral Christian are to be shunned because their obstinacy is a scandal and to continue to commune and associate with them as if nothing were wrong would be to make us complicit in their sins. This is why St. Athanasius refused to receive communion with Arius and why St. John the Apostle removed himself from a public building when he learned a notable heretic was inside (St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III.3.4).

So what sorts of practical conclusions can we draw here?

First, there are appropriate situations for actively shunning the company of other people. Who? According to the New Testament, other Christians who are obstinately living in sin, especially sexual immorality, as well as heretics. We do not go out of our way to avoid the sinners of the world - those folks are targets for conversion and anyhow its impossible to get away from them ultimately. But we do expect a certain degree of behavior and fidelity "on the inside" of the Church, to use St. Paul's language. Those Christians who obstinately refuse to maintain it ought to be avoided. What sorts of people in your life fit this description?

Second, that this shunning is physical and total - refusal to associate with, eat with, or even greet these people. How would this look in your life were it put into practice?

Third, that refusal to do so in fact makes us guilty of these people's sins. It is not an act of Christian charity to invite your lesbian niece and her girlfriend over for Christmas dinner while not saying anything to them about their sin. In fact, to do so would make you guilty of sharing in their sin. Examine your conscience here.

Fourth, in all these cases, Christ, St. Paul and St. John are all more interested in preserving the integrity and sanctity of the faithful believer than worrying about the feelings of the obstinate sinner being shunned. So should we.

Fifth, we need to keep this teaching in proper perspective. After a person repents, we are to welcome them back joyfully (cf. Luke 15:7, 2 Cor. 2:6-11, Luke 15:22-24). Furthermore, this cannot be used as an excuse to avoid evangelism. As we said above, this teaching clearly applies to those called by the name of Christ, not unbelievers in need of Christ.

Finally, it is not arrogant judgmentalism or Pharisaism. St. Paul himself affirms that it is our business to judge those "on the inside." Still, such judgments should be made in humility, not out of a sense of superiority.

So do not feel guilty that you did not invite your lesbian niece and her girlfriend to the family party. Put away your nagging questions about whether you ought to attend the third marriage of your Uncle Gary. You are doing the correct thing by shunning these people. To do otherwise is to affirm their evil deeds and partake in them. There is a place for shunning in Catholicism, and if we weren't so paralyzed by seeming judgmental or harsh, we would realize it.

"So shall you purge the evil from your midst." ~Deut. 17:7