No, the Pope did not just permit gay marriage!

On Monday, the Vatican released what it calls a “relatio post disceptationem”—Latin for “report after debate” that has caused a tsunami of discussion and has sent the press into a feeding frenzy of speculation over “changes” in the Church’s teaching about gay marriage. I myself received many questions from people about what was going on, even people asking, “Is it true that the pope said he’d allow gay marriage?” The answer is an emphatic, “Absolutely not!” The Pope did no such thing! Let’s look at the document that caused the controversy:

The document is not a bull or an encyclical; it is a report. It merely summarizes ongoing discussions among top Catholic clergy, which are taking place as part of a two-week synod, or gathering of cardinals and bishops at Vatican City. George Weigel, who wrote the authoritative biography of St. John Paul II, had this to say about the document: “…it was an interim report on themes that had been raised in the previous ten days of debate and discussion at the synod. It had absolutely no legislative weight — synod documents are consultative, not legislative — and I am told by those who were there that various formulations in the report were seriously criticized in the synod debates. Moreover, the interim report will be chewed over in the ten synod language-based discussion groups — where, one suspects, further criticisms will be aired — before any final report is issued. To turn this kind of interim report into the virtual equivalent of a papal encyclical is ludicrous on its face.”

This document was merely the summary of discussions, kind of like minutes of a meeting, and is not authoritative in any way. As I read the document, I understood what the Holy Father was trying to say. It is a sad but true reality that there are many people – even in our churches on Sundays – that are not following all the teachings of the Church. This has been true since the time of Christ Himself. The moral teachings of the Church are absolute and neither can nor ever will change. For moral teachings to change would imply a change in the very nature of God, which is a metaphysical impossibility. But we are all sinners; none of us is a perfect follower of Christ. We are all sinners on the path to perfection. The Church is not a gathering of saints but of sinners trying to become saints. All of us are in need of conversion, and no one is beyond the call to salvation in Christ by adherence to all of the Church’s teachings. If sin precludes someone from coming to church and taking an active role in the life of the parish, then I cannot be a pastor, as I too commit sins and need to confess them. At the same time, there is a huge difference between embracing sinners and calling them to Christ and embracing their sins as acceptable behavior. What would Jesus do? Would he tell people, “Come back when you’re sinless and then I’ll accept you?” That’s what the Pharisees wanted Him to do. Instead, Jesus came to save sinners. He went after the lost, welcomed them, reassured them of His undying love for them, and then tried to bring them around to where He wanted them to be. He never told them it’s okay to continue to live in sin, as he told the woman caught in adultery, “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more”. What would Jesus have said to that woman if in fact she did continue to commit adultery? He would forgive her every time she repented, but He would constantly call her to leave her sin behind, reminding her that she’s only hurting herself by continuing to sin. He would never tell her, “Get away from me! Don’t come back until you’re sinless!”

I currently have in my parish (and have always had in every parish) people who are not validly married. I’m not happy that they’re invalidly married, but my job is not to judge them but to try to bring them into conformity with the mind of Christ and His call to them to holiness, and I have a much better chance of doing that by keeping them in the congregation and trying to bring them to where I want them to be rather than rejecting them and sending them away simply so I can present a “clean congregation” to the public. Many of these people do in fact have many talents and skills that have proved useful to the parish, and I am glad they are able to use their gifts to further the Gospel call to holiness, even for themselves. While they cannot receive Holy Communion and cannot hold certain positions that require one to be validly married, such as being Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, they still make a great contribution to our parish, and I’m hoping that their active involvement will increase their love for Christ and bring them to the point where they willingly choose to adjust their lifestyle so as to be consistent with Jesus’ call to holiness for them. It seems to me that this is what the Pope was saying, and I find that truly Christ-like and compassionate.

As for some of the comments made by a few bishops that seem a bit unorthodox or too lax, I’m sure that once the document reaches any level of authority any such comments will have been deleted. Open discussion among the bishops is vital for the true development of doctrine and discerning the call of the Holy Spirit. So let the debates continue – that’s what the synod is all about – but pray that the bishops will be led by the Holy Spirit in all their deliberations.

Christopher Columbus: Not a villain but a Catholic hero

I came across this article on the website “Return to Order’ and was most impressed by it. As a Third degree member of the Knights of Columbus I have been especially upset by the recent demonization of Columbus that has taken place at the hands of revisionist historians. This article sets the record straight.

 

The Catholic Spirit of Christopher Columbus

As the sun set, the Salve Regina hymn rang out across the Atlantic. Ninety men stood on the decks of three boats, led in prayer by Christopher Columbus, the foreign captain they had come to trust. They had kept the same ritual of evening prayers since they left Spain months ago, but tonight was different. stanied glassTomorrow would be the Feast of Our Lady of the Pillar, Spain’s great patroness. Columbus had promised his men that had they not spotted land by her feast day, he would order the ships to turn back, a promise he intended to keep. He knew Our Lady would not abandon the enterprise he had worked so hard to bring about. The signs that they were near land were increasing by the day.

As Columbus climbed the steps to his cabin, his gaze fell instinctively to the western horizon. Off in the distance, he caught sight of a light, like a candle rising and falling on the waves. Quickly, he called another man, who confirmed the sighting. The crews on all three ships were alerted, each man was on deck, peering out for signs of land nearby. At 2 a.m., the cry came out, “Tierra!” Land! The excitement of the crew was such that they hardly noticed the many hours it took to navigate the treacherous reef that surrounded their new destination. As Columbus knelt on the beach to give thanks, the following prayer rose from his lips: “O Lord, eternal and omnipotent God, Thou hast, by Thy holy word, created the heavens, the earth, and the sea; blessed and glorified be Thy name; praised be Thy majesty, who hast deigned that, by means of Thy unworthy servant, Thy sacred name should be acknowledged and made known in this new quarter of the world.”1

Santa Maria
San Salvador
The above prayer, recited in Latin and the first spoken in the Americas, was followed by the chanting of the Credo, the Te Deum, and many other prayers in thanksgiving. As the banners were unfurled, the admiral solemnly proclaimed, “In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ…” He proceeded to claim the new land for his sovereigns, but not before first claiming it for his Divine Master, giving it the name San Salvador (Holy Savior).

The details in the above account of the first landfall of Europeans in the Americas are rather unknown in modern times. Historians have typically shied away from the Catholic aspects of Columbus’ journeys, either making passing mention or ignoring them entirely. Yet a reading of the writings of Columbus himself, along with the testimonies of his contemporaries, shows that the Catholic spirit permeated all aspects of life and was central to the mission of exploration.

While a detailed retelling of the events of 1492 and afterward is far beyond the scope of this article, we will examine the Catholic inspirations for the discovery, which are essential to understanding Columbus himself. Contrary to the opinion of many modern historians, and far from being a minor aberration, Columbus’ militant Catholic faith was the source of his greatness and influenced his every action.

Catholic Piety
All evidence shows Columbus was a man of deep devotion who took his faith extremely seriously. One of his contemporaries, Bartolome de las Casas, described him as a man of righteousness and deep piety:
“He observed the fasts of the church most faithfully, confessed and made communion often, read the Divine Office like a churchman, hated blasphemy and profane swearing, and was most devoted to Our Lady and to the seraphic father St. Francis. . .”2
These two devotions had many manifestations. The full name of Columbus’ flagship on the first voyage was Santa Maria de la Inmaculada Concepción (Holy Mary of the Immaculate Conception). During the return of the first voyage, when the ships were in danger of sinking, Columbus and his men vowed a pilgrimage to the first Marian church they came to, which they fulfilled in the Azores two weeks later. Upon his return to Spain, Columbus made a pilgrimage to the monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Extremadura as a solemn act of thanksgiving.

Christopher ColumbusAs a Third Order Franciscan, Columbus was often seen wearing the Franciscan habit.

As a Third Order Franciscan, Columbus was often seen wearing the Franciscan habit, particularly when in the presence of clergy or nobility. His close personal association with the Franciscans was instrumental in securing contacts in the royal court, and provided much needed encouragement when it seemed the enterprise would never get the support it required. His son Diego remained in the care of the Franciscans at the monastery of La Rabida near Palos during the first voyage, where the friars took charge of his education. Upon his return to Spain, Columbus spent the summer of 1493 at La Rabida, preparing spiritually for the second voyage later that year.

After Columbus’ death, his second son Fernando would write of his father’s piety:
“In matters of religion he was so strict that for fasting and saying all the canonical offices he might have been taken for a member of a religious order. And when he had to write anything, he would not try the pen without first writing these words, ‘Jesus cum Maria sit nobis in via.’”3
This inscription is found in the majority of Columbus’ letters still extant. The literal meaning, “May Jesus with Mary be with us on the way” is a fitting prayer for an explorer, and could rightly be considered his motto.

Missionary Zeal
Scholars have been quick to point to the influence of Marco Polo’s Book of the Marvels of the World upon Columbus and his contemporaries, and rightly so. Yet the chapter which most influenced Columbus himself was the introduction. In it, we read of Polo’s father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo, travelling to the Orient while Marco was still an infant. Their extensive travels eventually put them into contact with Kublai Khan, referred to in the book as the Great Khan. The Great Khan questioned them about life in Western Europe and the Catholic Faith, in which he took an interest. Upon their departure, he entrusted them with a letter to the Pope requesting 100 missionaries to instruct his kingdom in the Catholic faith, along with oil from the lamp at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. On the return of the Polos to the West in 1268, they discovered Pope Clement IV had died, and the long interregnum which followed prevented the Khan’s requests from being fulfilled.4

In his petitions to Ferdinand and Isabella over a period of 7 years, it was Columbus’ desire to fulfill the Great Khan’s request which finally persuaded the sovereigns to approve the journey. Aboard his flagship was a letter to the Great Khan from the king and queen, and Columbus went to great lengths in order to deliver it. In the prologue to the report on the first voyage, Columbus directly addresses this evangelistic mission:
“I had given [a report] to Your Highnesses about the lands of India and about a prince who is called ‘Grand Khan,’. . .how he had sent to Rome to ask for men learned in our Holy Faith in order that they might instruct him in it, yet the Holy Father had never granted his request, and thus so many people were lost, falling into idolatry and accepting false and harmful religions; and Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes, lovers and promoters of the Holy Christian Faith. . .  thought of sending me, Cristobal Colon. . . to see how their conversion to our Holy Faith might be undertaken.”5

Mass in New World“He was extremely zealous for the honor and glory of God; he deeply yearned for
the evangelization of these peoples and for the planting and flourishing everywhere
of people’s faith in Jesus Christ.”

Yet the mission to complete the Khan’s request for missionaries was but one aspect of Columbus’ desire to spread the Gospel. As Bartolome de las Casas wrote, “He was extremely zealous for the honor and glory of God; he deeply yearned for the evangelization of these peoples and for the planting and flourishing everywhere of people’s faith in Jesus Christ.”6 Upon his first encounter with the natives on San Salvador, Columbus concludes, “I recognized that they were people who would be better freed [from error] and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force.”7

On six separate occasions, Columbus wrote to the Holy Father requesting missionaries be sent to the recently discovered islands, a request which was fulfilled. On January 6, 1494, the Feast of the Epiphany, the first Mass in the Americas was offered by a Benedictine who had accompanied the second voyage.

Five centuries after the fact, American Jesuit Fr. John Hardon would remark, “It is one thing to say that Columbus discovered America. It is something else to realize that he opened the door to the most phenomenal spread of Christianity since the time of St. Paul.”8
Crusader Spirit
A question arises from the modern reader: “What about the quest for gold?” As Columbus makes clear in his log, the finding of gold, spices, and other valuables is central to his mission, but not for the reason most are taught.

On December 26, 1492, Columbus had established a makeshift settlement named La Navidad on the north end of the island of Hispaniola from the wreckage of the Santa Maria, run aground on a reef. Seeing the hand of Divine Providence, he then proceeded to write of his desired result:
“I hope to God that when I come back here from Castile. . . I will find a barrel of gold, for which these people have traded, and that they will have found the gold mine, and the spices, and in such quantities that within three years the Sovereigns will prepare for and undertake the reconquest of the Holy Land. I have already petitioned Your Highnesses to see that all the profits of my enterprise should be spent on the conquest of Jerusalem, and Your Highnesses smiled and said that. . . even without the expedition they had the inclination to do it.”9
Now that Spain was finally free from Muslim domination (Jan. 2, 1492), the great desire to take the fight to the enemy and complete the liberation of the Holy Land could finally be completed. By sailing west, Columbus was aiming to outflank Islam, gaining access to the riches of the East so as to finance the retaking of Jerusalem. Since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, while Columbus was still a child, calls had come from all corners of Europe to renew the Crusade. Columbus saw himself as the instrument to fulfill the longed-for end.

In a letter to Pope Alexander VI, Columbus reiterates the seriousness of his intentions:
“The enterprise must be undertaken in order to spend any profits therein for the redemption of the Sepulcher and the Temple Mount unto Holy Church.”10
Historian George Grant succinctly concludes, “Clearly, the motivations of Columbus were shaped by the eons long conflict between Christendom and Islam. The evidence is inescapable. He sailed, not to discover a new world, but to find a way to recover the old one.”11

Our Great Debt to Columbus
The events of 1492 and afterward could have transpired far differently. The richest nation in the world at the time was China, followed by the Islamic caliphates which stretched from Morocco to the edges of the Far East. Why didn’t the Chinese expand their empire to the east across the Pacific? Why was it not a Muslim who established lasting contact between the continents? For that matter, why was it not an Indian who discovered Europe?

Modern historians are at a loss to answer these questions, and conclude that it was simply by chance that events unfolded as they did. This hardly explains the fact that Spain was the poorest nation in Western Europe at the time, bankrupt from its completion of the Reconquista. Yet not only did Spain successfully go about colonizing and evangelizing the Americas, it also kept the Muslims out of the Americas. Had Islam spread to the Americas in place of Christianity, what we know today as the United States could very well have been the United Emirates.

Columbus believed he was specially chosen by God to bring the Gospel to a people who were living in darkness and the shadow of death. He believed his given name, Christopher, signified the mission he was destined to carry out, as his son Fernando would later explain: “Just as Saint Christopher bore Christ over the waters, so too was he to bear the light of the Gospel over the vast oceans.”12

In conclusion, spreading the Catholic faith and acquiring riches so as to finance the retaking of Jerusalem from the Muslims were at the heart of Columbus’ mission. Any hopes of personal rewards or honors were secondary. In writing the royal treasurer of Spain at the completion of the first journey, he gives the reason all people, present and future, should celebrate what would come to be known as Columbus Day:
“And now ought the King, Queen, Princes, and all their dominions, as well as the whole of Christians, to give thanks to our Savior Jesus Christ who has granted us such a victory and great success. Let processions be ordered, let solemn festivals be celebrated, let the temples be filled with boughs and flowers. Let Christ rejoice upon earth as he does in heaven, to witness the coming salvation of so many people, heretofore given over to perdition. Let us rejoice for the exaltation of our faith, as well as for the augmentation of our temporal prosperity, in which not only Spain but all Christendom shall participate.”13Death of Columbus

 

Five Myths About Christopher Columbus

  1. MYTH: Columbus was sailing to prove the world was round.

FACT: Every educated person at the end of the fifteenth century knew the earth was a sphere, a fact known since antiquity. What was in dispute was the earth’s circumference, which Columbus underestimated by one-fourth.

  1. MYTH: Queen Isabella sold her crown jewels to finance the first journey.

FACT: The royal treasury of Spain was depleted after the completion of the conquest of Granada early in 1492. However, Luis de Santangel, the royal treasurer, was able to secure funding by reaching out to the Crusading societies throughout the Mediterranean, as well as other financial backers from Spain and elsewhere. The crown put up very little to finance the journey.

  1. MYTH: There was a priest on board the Santa Maria in 1492.

FACT: Because of the dangers involved, there were no priests or friars on the first voyage, despite the deep piety of Columbus. Many of the paintings of the first landfall in the new world on San Salvador show a priest with Columbus—contrary to the facts. There were five priests on the second voyage: Benedictine Father Buil; the Jeronymite Father Ramon Pane; and three Franciscans.

  1. MYTH: Columbus introduced slavery to the New World.

FACT: Slavery was already widespread among the native Indians when Columbus arrived. Columbus was insistent on the fair treatment of the Indians, a policy which gained him many enemies as governor of Hispaniola. Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish friar who worked for the protection of the Indians, is quick to excoriate his fellow Spaniards in their grave abuses, but is filled with nothing but respect and admiration for Columbus. The mass subjugation and importation of Africans to the Americas did not begin until a generation after Columbus’ death.

  1. MYTH: Columbus died a pauper, in chains, in a Spanish prison.

FACT: Despite the fact that the Spanish crown retracted some of the privileges promised to Columbus, he was relatively wealthy at the time of his death. Although he returned to Spain in chains in 1500 after his third voyage, the King and Queen apologized for the misunderstanding and had them removed.

On May 20, 1506, the Vigil of the Ascension, Christopher Columbus lay on his deathbed in his apartment at Valladolid, surrounded by his fellow Franciscans and his sons. As the friars chanted Compline, his last words echoed those of Christ on the cross: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. (Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.)

Notes:
1. Irving, Washington. A history of the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus. Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1828. 237.
2. Grant, George. The Last Crusader. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1992. 85.
3. Columbus, Ferdinand. The life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Ferdinand. 1. Madrid: 1892. 14-15.
4. Polo, Marco. The Travels of Marco Polo. Project Gutenberg, 2004. 11-14. http://www. gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10636/pg10636.html.
5. Marckham, Clements Robert, ed. The Journal of Christopher Columbus. London: Chas. J. Clark, 1843. 16-17.
6. Miller, Kevin A. “Why Did Columbus Sail?” Christian History. Oct 1992: 6.
7. Marckham, Clements Robert, ed. The Journal of Christopher Columbus. London: Chas. J. Clark, 1843. 37.
8. Hardon, SJ, John. “Christopher Columbus, the Catholic.” Fr. Hardon Archives. Inter Mirifica, 2003. Web. 27 Jun 2012.
9. Markham, Clements Robert, ed. The Journal of Christopher Columbus. London: Chas. J. Clark, 1843. 139.
10. Grant, George. The Last Crusader. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1992. 67.
11. Grant, George. The Last Crusader. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1992. 69-70.
12. Columbus, Ferdinand. The life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Ferdinand. Vol. 1. Madrid: 1892. 6.
13. Columbus, Christopher. The first letter of Christopher Columbus to the noble lord Raphael Sanchez announcing the discovery of America. Boston: Trustees of the Boston Public Library, 1891. 16.

I won’t go to the doctor because I’m sick!

psy_01Picture it: the USA 2014. You’re a person who works a regular job and for the most part gets along fine in life; however, you suffered in the past from bouts of perhaps depression, oversensitivity, little things of this nature that have caused you difficulty in your normal daily functioning, so at the suggestion of friends you have willingly placed yourself under the care of a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist is very helpful to you. In most situations, he’s giving you a pep talk in helping you see through the issues that cloud your mind so that you can able to understand more clearly exactly what’s taking place and how is the proper way for you to act in any given situation. When you needed more than encouraging words, he prescribed a mild medication, maybe something just to relax your nerves a little bit to aid you. But for the most part he’s there for support and guidance and you find him very helpful. Then one day something really sets you off edge. You have a real crisis in your family, at your job, in a relationship, and it really throws you to pieces and your shaking and trembling and don’t know what to do. Perhaps you’re even reduced to tears. A friend talks with you and asks you what the psychiatrist said when you called him and you said, “Oh I didn’t call the psychiatrist! I stopped going to him because I’m too upset about what’s happening in my life!” Does that make any sense? The psychiatrist is precisely the person who could help you through the difficulties at this moment, so now is a time when you would need him all the more. If you told your friend you didn’t call the psychiatrist because you are angry with him, that this was all his fault, what do you think your friend would say? Would it make any sense whatsoever to blame the doctor because you encounter difficulties in your life? Of course not!

his-healing-love-topBut sometimes it seems to me we make the same mistake with God. When everything is going fine perhaps we go to church on Sunday and we pray every day, but then a crisis comes up, and instead of turning to God all the more in prayer we stop going to church; we stop praying. We get angry at God, as if the difficulty that happened to us was all his fault, and so we stay away from him. But does that give us any relief? Does it help us deal with the situation and improve it? Of course not! God is the one who can help us through the difficulty and at a time such as this the last thing we should do is stop praying and stop going to church simply because something difficult happened. We have all the more reason to turn up the heat on our prayer and energize it so that we can get through this crisis.

God sometimes is like that psychiatrist for us. Many times our prayer just gives us the ability to see things clearly and God in his own way is comforting us and showing us how to handle the difficulties in our life. Perhaps sometimes when we might need a few more graces he may send them our way to help us through the difficulty. But even just knowing that God is there comforting us and saying to us “you’re not alone!” can bring us so much comfort, so much peace! Just like when a friend says to us, “Hey! I’m there for you the whole way!” even if there’s really nothing they can do. Well, if the support of a friend who can’t really do anything to help us would be so powerful for us, imagine what God can do for us when we turn to him in those moments of need!

So when problems happen in your life, do not blame God. Do not stay rescue_smaway from him thinking that somehow you have to handle this on your own, or that praying is not what you need right now. Actually, praying is exactly what we need. Prayer is the medicine that helps us get through the difficulties, that reminds us of God’s presence in our lives, and helps us deal with tremendous things that otherwise we could never handle on our own. So by all means keep a regular prayer life when things are going well, but when difficulties arise rather than make making the mistake that many people do of blaming God for their pain and turning away from him, turn to him all the more and he will be there for you! He will comfort you. God is the doctor to see you through the crisis. God is there for you every moment of every day, every step of the way!

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