On Popes and Babysitters: how are they alike?

When I was a little boy my father taught me a lesson I will never forget. Whenever my parents used to go out and leave us with a babysitter my father gave us the same speech: “she represents me! You listen to her as if you were listening to me!” Usually my brother and I were not much difficulty for babysitters, but there was one time where I was being a real buster and I made that babysitter earn every dollar my father paid her! I guess she gave my father a bad report about my behavior, because the next morning I heard about it from my father. Only instead of yelling at me he asked me something. He said to me, “Andrew, do you love me?” “Yes dad,” I responded, “of course I love you!” My father said, “No you don’t! If you loved me you would have listened to that babysitter. I told you that she represented me, that she had my authority, so by disobeying her you disobeyed me!” I never forgot that lesson. Anytime we disobey any authority over us we disobey the person who gave that authority to the person in command over us. The Church is no exception.

Jesus gave his authority to St. Peter in the famous passage from Matthew’s Gospel account where he says to him “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the power of the netherworld will not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” (Matt. 16:13-20) Jesus wasn’t just plucking this out of the air he; was following a classic formula from the Old Testament. Whenever God entered a covenant with someone, he blessed him and changed his name. Giving a name to someone was extremely important. Even our Jewish friends today who observe the traditional rites know that theJesus giving the keys to Peterre are rules that govern how to name someone. The meaning of the name is paramount, as it tells something about the new identity of the individual and the covenant God is entering into with him. So at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus follows this same pattern, and any good Jew would recognize what was happening. They had just come back from a tremendous trip where everybody was praising Jesus and was excited about him, and he asks them whom the people say that he is. When they responded by some saying “some say John the Baptist, others say Jeremiah one of the other prophets” He asks them “but who do you say that I am?” You can almost hear the silence in the group! It’s very easy for them to say what other people think but to say what they themselves think, that’s harder! Finally Simon speaks up and says “You are the Messiah,” the Christ – the word Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek both mean “the anointed one.” Jesus accepts that and says to him, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my father in heaven. And so I declare you are Peter” – he changes his name, and the meaning of the name, “rock” is significant – and on this rock I will build my church and the power of the netherworld will not prevail against it.” There’s the covenant. “And I will give to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be let loose in heaven, and what you hold bound on earth shall be held bound in heaven.” There’s the commission. There is no doubt what Jesus was doing here with Peter: he was entering a covenant with him and giving him a commission and promising that he would be with him forever. Let’s look more closely at what Jesus promised Peter:

First of all, he declares Peter blessed and changes his name from “Simon” to “Peter”. Peter means bedrock in Greek, the type of rock foundation you look for to set a building on a solid foundation. “And on this [solid rock foundation] I will build my church and the power of the netherworld will not prevail against it.” That means two different things. First, it means that the Church will never come to an end, so when we hear people saying “Ah, this will be the end of the Catholic Church” we know better. Jesus promised the Church would never come to an end and in fact it can’t because the Church is the body of Christ. So to say that the Church would come to an end would mean that Christ will come to an end. Christ is reigning in glory in heaven so there’s no way he can come to an end; therefore, there’s no way the Church can come to an end. Secondly, what was ‘the power of the netherworld,” “the jaws of death,” “the power of hell” – there are many different ways we could translate that line? It is a lie. A lie led Adam and Eve to sin. Satan tempted them with a lie, and Jesus promised that that power would not prevail against the Church; in other words, he promised Peter that he would never allow the Church to sustain a lie or an erroneous teaching. That doesn’t mean that everything the Pope says is automatically true just because he said it. He never promised Peter he would be impeccable – that he could never possibly make a mistake – but rather that under certain circumstances he is infallible – he cannot be wrong. There are several conditions that must be met:

  1. When he is speaking on a matter of faith and morals
  2. When he is speaking ex cathedra, as the recognized head of the Catholic Church
  3. When he’s speaking to all Catholics universally (he can’t be talking just to Catholics in thepope-francis-2-300 United States or just in France or just in Italy)
  4. When he intends to make an infallible decision.

Under these conditions the promise that Jesus gave to Peter is fulfilled and the Pope speaks infallibly on his own authority. That’s what we call the Extraordinary Magisterium. In the course of history popes have exercised that right precisely twice: Pope Pius IX in 1854 to infallibly define the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Pope Pius XII in 1952 to infallibly define the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So all of this hullabaloo about the infallibility of the pope is about something that happened precisely twice in history!

But that doesn’t mean that’s the only time that the church exercises her infallibility. The authority that Jesus gave to Peter is exercised in the Ordinary Magisterium, the teaching power that comes with the clear and consistent teaching of the church. Part of the Church’s infallibility that Jesus gave to Peter is exercised whenever the church clearly and consistently teaches something over the course of time. When that happens, we know that it must be true or Jesus lied to Peter. So for example, pick any one of the hot topics today that people want the church to change. If the church should all of a sudden decide “Well alright, I know for the last 2000 years we said that was sinful but now are going to allow it” what would we be saying? We’d be saying that for 2000 years the Lord has allowed the church to sustain a lie! We’d have to say that either he couldn’t stop it – which is inconceivable; he’s God – or he chose not to, which is also inconceivable. It is not consistent with the promise he gave to Peter. So when the church clearly and consistently teaches something we know that it is the truth because of the promise Jesus made to Peter. The only other possibility would be for people to say that something which used to be wrong is now okay. But that too is impossible, for that would imply a change in God himself. Morality is our conforming our lives with the nature of God, so to try to declare that something that used to be moral is now immoral or vice versa would imply a change in God and that’s a metaphysical impossibility. That doesn’t mean that everything the Pope says is automatically true. For example in the 18th century when the waltz first came out, the Pope at the time condemned it as a sinful dance because it required the gentleman to put his hand on the lady’s waist as they danced, which was a rather risqué thing to do in their time. But it was never followed up by any other pope, and today there was nothing wrong with dancing the waltz. It was merely the opinion of one pope at the time. Popes could also sometimes make a mistake and say things that later they might retract. For example Pope Paul VI once talking to priests in Rome was encouraging them to go into the schools and teach the children their catechism, and he told to them this is the most important thing they do as a priest. Of course that’s not the most important thing they do as a priest; the most important thing they do as a priest is celebrate the sacraments, most especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and when questioned about it later I’m sure he said “yeah, I misspoke!” He was speaking off-the-cuff; he wasn’t intending an infallible decision. But when the Church teaches something clearly and consistently we know that that teaching is a clear teaching of God and is infallible because that’s what Jesus promised Peter.

And I will give to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; what you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven what you let loose on earth shall be let loose in heaven.” In other words Jesus is saying, “Peter, you speak for me! You have my authority to decide what leads people to heaven and what doesn’t, what is sinful and what is licit.” He promised Peter that he would speak through him, so when the Pope speaks, it is Christ who speaks. Again, it’s not arbitrary. It’s not that God automatically gives the Pope the perfect ability to never make a mistake but that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would guide him in making those decisions so he would not err. It is God at work and not the individual person of the pope. That’s how we can notice that even some of the popes in history who were quite sinful were able to make good faith-filled decisions in spite of their own sinfulness.

That brings up what a lot of people would ask us about some of those sinful popes, especially in the Middle Ages. They would say, “how can you talk about following the Pope after all those popes who sinned so much?” Yes, is certainly true there were some popes who were quite an embarrassment and who did sin grievously. I like to think of it this way: suppose were talking about the President of the United States, and let’s imagine some president somewhere commits a serious crime that is embarrassment to the entire nation, and both political parties – even the president’s own party – decide he has to be removed from office. He is impeached, removed from office and sent to prison. What do we do now? The vice president becomes president and he’ll probably have to do a lot of work to build up and restore the credibility of the office of the president in the eyes of the rest of the world as well as our own nation, but would anyone claim that the Constitution of the United States is now null and void simply because the president committed a crime? Of course not! The sin of the man in office says nothing about the power of the office itself. The same thing can be said about the papacy. Just because one pope commits a sin does not mean that Jesus’ promise to Peter is now null and void. If we’re looking for a perfect pope who has never sinner, there has never been any! Even Peter on the night Jesus was arrested denied three times that he even knew who Jesus was. What did Jesus do later? He reinstated Peter, as we hear in John when he asked him “Simon son of John, do you love me?… feed my sheep… tend to my flock!” He was reinstating what he had promised at Caesarea Philippi. It’s as if he was telling him “your weakness at that moment does not stand in the way of what I promised you; it still continues.”

The authority of the Pope was never a problem for the church until the time of the Protestant Reformation where the reformers wanted to break away from the power of Rome. Of course they had a serious problem when confronted with Matthew 16:13-20. It’s amply clear what Jesus said and did there, so they tried to get around it and explain away the meaning of that verse. They claimed that Jesus really meant Peter’s faith and not Peter himself was the rock on which the Church would be built, citing nuances of the word petra in Greek. Their argument in effect would say that anybody who has faith in Jesus as Peter did can know the truth and know what’s right and wrong, and would have the authority to speak infallibly in Jesus’ name. Well, just the fact that Christians disagree about that line let alone other things proves that cannot be true. Jesus never intended to say that anyone who believes in him will be infallible! That nullifies the whole call to discipleship, to following his teachings! The ability to decide right from wrong on one’s own authority is precisely what Original Sin was, the very thing Jesus was about to die to reverse! It is ludicrous to hold that Jesus was authorizing the very cause of our downfall! If you follow the reformers’ argument the conclusion you come to is that Jesus didn’t know how to use a metaphor! And if you step back and look at the story you have to ask, “then what the heck was Jesus doing there?” Without the traditional Catholic understanding of this text, it was a pointless dialogue. There is no getting around it: Jesus gave his authority to Peter, and the reformers tried to get around it but they failed.

For us even in our Catholic circles there are some people who try to excuse themselves from their obligation to follow the Pope. This usually comes into play when there is a teaching that we don’t particularly like or agree with. We want it to change but the Church is not changing it, so people will come up with things you’ll hear such as “Oh, that’s just Rome!” or “Well the Pope is an old man in Rome. he doesn’t understand what my life in America is like” or “he doesn’t understand what it’s like being a woman, so we can just take what he says with a grain of salt!” No we can’t. The Holy Father has the authority to speak in the name of Jesus, and we cannot just dismiss away his authority in our lives anymore then we could just dismiss away the authority of the federal government by saying “Oh, that’s just Washington!” Like it or not, we are bound by the laws of the United States and the laws of the state in which we live. Similarly, we are bound by the authority of the Holy Father and there is no way we can ignore the Pope and say were still following Jesus. To deliberately disobey the Holy Father is to deliberately disobey Jesus. There’s no way around it. And that’s the lesson that my father taught me all those many years ago about disobeying the babysitter.

Finally, sometimes people see the papacy and the authority of the Pope as this big authority on top of us crashing us under its power and putting this heavy weight in our shoulders, that somehow Catholics are slaving under this burden of all the things that the Church teaches. I don’t see it that way at all! In fact I see quite the opposite! I see the authority of the Church as quite liberating. Those denominations of Christianity that have rejected the authority of the Pope and decided they can decide right from wrong on their own are caught in a quandary. What happens when they disagree among themselves? If they take a vote and it’s 50-50, who has the ultimate authority to decide which 50% is right and which 50% is wrong? They have no one! But we, thankfully, have the power of the Holy Father that Jesus gave to Peter, that when we disagree among ourselves and bring it to the Holy Father, when he makes his final decision, we know it’s true because Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would guide the Holy Father through all of time. It’s a tremendous freedom for us to know that we can follow this with certitude because we know that this is not just the opinion of a man in white in Rome, that this is the very teaching of God. I pray that all people will come to realize the tremendous gift that God has given the world in the infallibility of the Church and the Holy Father. May we never try to get around that authority, but rather, may we turn and embrace that authority as a wonderful gift from God and ask the Lord to help us to accept the Church’s teachings as the truth leading to salvation in his kingdom.

 

I took the ALS ice bucket challenge!!!

I was challenged to take the ALS ice bucket challenge. Here’s the video!

 

The Accidentally Incomplete Confession

“I’m afraid when I go to confession that I may not remember everything I want to say. What do I do if I later remember something I should have said?”confession 3

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that said! I also wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that myself! It does happen once in a while that we go to confession and later remember something we forgot to say. Does that make our confession invalid? Or do I have to go back and do it all over? The answer is, “no” to the first and “not necessarily” to the second. It’s kind of hard for a sincere confession to be invalid. Only if you deliberately held back a serious sin with some intention to sneak it past the priest could it be invalid. It doesn’t seem likely that someone would forget to mention something serious that is really plaguing him. Most likely, anything we forgot to bring up was of venial nature. But it does happen. So what do we do? Well, one thing I always do in confession to make sure I’ve covered everything is to say to the priest, “for these sins and any which I don’t now remember or realize I have committed I am truly sorry.” That gives me a sense of peace. But remember, the priest says “I absolve you of all your sins…” so unless there was a conscious effort to avoid mentioning a certain sin or something we deliberately did not confess, all our sins are forgiven.

Now for the real test: what happens about sins we don’t realize we’ve committed? Maybe we know something is sinful but we didn’t realize we had actually done it, or maybe we never knew something was sinful, or maybe we’re totally unaware that we have that sinful habit? Well, one thing I always try to remember is that, in our imperfect state, we are sometimes totally ignorant of our own sinfulness, and that may not be our fault. Of course we want to overcome all our sins, but what about the ones we don’t see? God is very much aware that in our fallen state, one of our shortcomings is not always being able to see all of our weaknesses. That’s why I always add in my confession the line I mentioned above: “…and for any sins I don’t realize…”  Part of our growth in holiness is coming into awareness of our weaknesses. We should not expect to be aware all the time of everything that is wrong in our lives, and God is patient with us while we learn what sin is in our lives and how to overcome it.

So how, then, do we figure out what our sins are, especially if we don’t think we have too many? First of all, an examination of conscience and a good spiritual reading book will help point out things that we may not realize are happening in our lives or do not realize are sinful. Other clues can come from other people. Listen, for example, to the criticisms that people will sometimes offer about you, even if they are not always offered in the most charitable manner. Not every criticism of us is valid, and sometimes we will get conflicting opinions. For example, early in my priesthood one parishioner told me I didn’t seem to care about anyone over 18 years old, and another told me I had no interest at all in working with young people. Obviously they can’t both be right! Just because one person says something doesn’t mean it’s true about you. But listen for repeated comments. If you frequently hear someone say, for example, “he’s so critical” or “she has no patience at all”, chances are you may be guilty of being critical or impatient. Another thing I like to do is imagine I’m having a conversation with Jesus. I imagine he is in a chair in front of me and we are speaking face-to-face, and I ask him , “Lord, what are the things about me of which you are pleased, and what areas in my life do you want me to work on improving?” Sometimes the answer comes almost immediately to me. But I also believe, and have found, that God never leave such a question unanswered, and in his own merciful way he has a way of showing me the areas in my life where he really wants me to grow and change. If we practice these skills, I’m certain we will grow in our awareness not only of the sin in our lives but also of our growth in holiness.


Remember that one confession is not going to automatically bring us to perfection; rather, every confession is a further step of growth in holiness. The more frequently and honestly we confess the holier we’ll be bound to grow. Just like learning to play a musical instrument, frequent practice and frequent lessons help us grow to be a virtuoso, so the same thing happens with holiness. While all of our sins are in fact forgiven every time we sincerely confess them, even if we don’t recall everything that was sinful whether it’s because we forgot or were not aware of it – provided we have not deliberately left out something – we do need to grow in our knowledge of exactly what is sinful and of precisely what sins we are guilty. God is patient with the understanding that we’re not always aware of all the weaknesses in our lives and if we make an honest effort to overcome them as he shows them to us, we will grow in holiness. So do not be afraid if you have not made a perfect confession. A perfect confession is not one where we remember every single detail that must be confessed but rather one in which we can truly say we are sorry from the bottom of our hearts for any sin we have committed, no matter how small. If we can do that, then just like the thief on the cross, when we stand before Jesus in judgment we will hear him say to us: “this day you shall be with me in Paradise!”

confession 4

Three reasons why Catholics leave the Church

I came across an excellent article by a young man involved with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). It addresses some misunderstandings people have about the faith that keep them from remaining in the Church. It is well worth the read!

http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/a-deadly-vaccine-3-reasons-catholics-leave.html

I pulled a prank on my parishioners!!

I pulled a great prank on my parishioners today at Mass. Several people told me it needs to be on my blog, so here it is!

What is the meaning and purpose of life?

I like to ask you three questions. Please answer them in your mind as best and honestly as possible: number one – why are you here? number two – what are you doing? and number three -where you going?

First why are you here? Why are you on the earth at this moment in time? Different people might answer that in different ways. Some people might say “well I’m just a step in the chain reaction that began with the Big Bang, and once the Big Bang began one thing started affecting another and now it’s just my turn to be here. So if we follow that through then we’re nothing more than cosmic dust left over from the Big Bang with no rhyme or reason and no specific purpose for being here at this time. Others might say – as a teenager once said to another upon whom he showed up on  rather unexpectedly, “Where did you come from?” He answered, “well, my mother and father loved each other very, very much!” In that case we can say we’re simply the result of a conjugal act. Perhaps we might be able to say if we knew that mom and dad had planned to conceive a child at that point that we were at least willed into being by our parents, but if not, then we were just a byproduct of a conjugal act, maybe even an “oops!” Neither of those gives you much sense of personal value today. There is a third answer which of course is the Christian answer: why are you here? because God has willed it. He wants you here at this moment in time. None of us here is an accident to God; every one of us is here on this earth at this moment because God wants us here. That gives me value! That helps me know that I have a reason for existing, that if I don’t seem to matter to anybody else in the world, I matter to God and God wants me here.

Number two: what are you doing? What is your purpose for existing? Why you get up in the morning and get dressed and go to work or to school or whatever it is that you go each and every day? What’s the reason behind it? Some people never think it through. A lot of people have no answer to that question. “Well I just do it because that’s what we do. That’s what we’re trained to do and we just do our thing.” For many people it simply survival, just like animals in the wild who, whenever they wake up, they go to hunt and find their food and keep themselves from being some other animal’s food. So every day is just a struggle for survival – “eat or be eaten!” Of course that doesn’t give us much comfort. Then there’s the Lord’s message to us. The Christian answer to “what am I doing here?” is that I am here because God wants me here and God made me in his image and likeness. You are the only person just like yourself that God has ever made, and God is showing himself to the world through you in a way he has never done before; you have a way of showing God to the world that only you can do! In whatever you do each and every day you are called to radiate the face of Christ, to be the very face of Jesus to everyone you meet, so that the world by knowing you can know God, and the world will be a better place because you are in it! If you live your life each and every day remembering what you are doing – being Christ in the world even if it’s only in the simple gifts I have, in my limited ability to meet other people and interact with them, then whatever I do, whether it’s big-time or little, I do it to show the face of Christ to people. That gives me tremendous meaning! That gives a sense of worth to every day because every new day is an opportunity for me to show God to the world once again in a way that only I can do. It’s not anything I can pat myself on the back for, but that has been given to me by God the day I was created, and that gives the automatic answer to question number three, “where are you going?” What is the purpose of your life? Sadly, for many people, the ultimate goal again is just like everyday – survival, just trying to make sure we don’t get swallowed up before eventually something takes our lives, and that’s pretty dismal! When you think about it, when that happens our lives are no different from a bunch of prairie dogs running around frantically yelping a call to the others to try to find food and get into our holes quickly when a wolf or predator comes to try to grab us as a meal. We’re spending all of our time only trying to survive and avoid being swallowed up by the cruel cold world around us. That leads many people to live simply for pleasure, simply for hedonism, just to enjoy each and every day. In the beginning perhaps maybe that can feel good, but after a while it becomes pretty empty. We need more than just little pleasures.

For other people their goal is to make it big. Maybe they want to go to top. They want to be able to make something big of themselves so they can go to their high school reunion and show all those people who thought they were good for nothing what they became, and then of course they do go to their high school reunion and find out that all the people they thought were going to be impressed by them are more successful than they are, and they become rather depressed because they failed to achieve their goal. Their goal was too dependent upon other people and being better than what other people have done, and of course when they find other people also doing well, instead of being happy for them, they get annoyed.

happinessSome people only want to move up the corporate ladder, to be number one, to become president or CEO or whatever it may be and they never do. Their goals are forever unaccomplished. Or perhaps they do get there and something happens and everybody is publicly embarrassed in the news and they need a scapegoat, and so the Board of Directors decides the CEO is the best to go, and all of their happiness – everything they worked for – is gone, just like that! For other people it’s to have that retirement home: doing everything possible to save money so when I retire I can buy myself a beautiful home on the shore and just sit and look at the sea every day and listen to the sound of the sea creatures. And they do, and that beautiful home gets wiped out in a hurricane! How many people set goals for themselves that never happen, that are either unrealistic or they don’t do anything to make those goals happen, and sometimes what we think is going to be so important turns out not to be very important at all. Maybe they dream of a huge mansion, and when they get it, they find out that it hasn’t made them happy; in fact, it’s just more rooms to clean! Our lives are filled with stories of people who claim they got everything they wanted and are still unhappy. It’s not a rare moment that somebody gets everything they wanted on this earth and quickly discover they have nothing!

Where are we going? Of course God ultimately has one thing in store for us: he is calling us to his glory in his kingdom. God wants us to be with him so that we when we pass through this earth when we can sit and bask on the glory of the face of Christ. Sometimes we dismiss that all too quickly; we look for all the earthly things and we forget about the heavenly things. If it sounds like I’m praising myself in what I am about to write, please forgive me as that’s not my intention, but I can tell you that as a priest that I know great happiness and peace following God every day. How many people if they found out their life were ending might lament that they didn’t accomplish all the things on their bucket list. I can honestly say that if I were to find out that my life was ending tomorrow I have done what I wanted to do, that I have already reached everything that I have wanted in my life. My purpose in living is not to reach a personal goal of anything I want to accomplish in this life but just to continue each and every day doing what God has asked me to do. You may know that Pope Francis is not keen on making monsignors. Someone asked me if I was disappointed and I responded, “Who cares? I don’t like the color magenta anyway!” Twenty-four years ago I got the only title I ever wanted, the title of “father”, and since then I have just been doing what God asks of me. I’m not perfect and I am not trying to make myself out to be a saint. I have my sins and my shortcomings and my failures, but my life is not an ambitious goal to try to do something for myself but trying my best to do what God wants me to do each and every day, to be his face to everyone I meet, so that when I die I can enter his kingdom and gaze upon Christ forever. Has given me a peace each and every day that I would wish on anyone of you, that I would hope that all of you could know, and when we realize that we are here because God wants us here, that we are called to radiate his face to everyone we meet, and are going to the glory of his kingdom, that gives us all the meaning our lives could ever desire! When you have Jesus, who could ask for anything more? May Jesus Christ be praised!