Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Final Thoughts: Evangelization and Paganism- The New and Old

The previous series of five blogs on Evangelization and Paganism: The New and the Old details seven differences between the New Evangelization of the twenty-first century and the Original Evangelization of the first five or so centuries. To recap, the seven differences are as follows:

1. Eternity was daily impressed upon the consciousness of the early Christians. Their preaching, teaching, worship, social discourse, good works and meditations were ordained principally towards that end. Among Catholics today, eternity is rarely a theme for sermons, teachings, books or otherwise. This is primarily due to death as being a taboo topic of discussion.

2. For the early Christians, repentance was an absolute condition upon which people entered into communion or remained in communion with the Mystical Body of Christ. Up until the 1960's, a candidate wanting to join the Church had to believe all of Christ's teachings and had to be willing to live the life of Christ. Among Catholics today, however, repentance is rarely insisted upon for the mistaken notion that a more lenient pastoral approach attracts more souls to the Church or that such insistence would scare prospective converts away from Church.

3. From the Apostles down to the great Church Fathers one necessary function of spiritual fatherhood- as with natural fatherhood –was that of discipline. Jesus said, if a sinner does not listen to the Church then treat him as you would a publican or tax collector; that is, as an outsider. St. Paul furthermore published names of blasphemers and instructed a fellow bishop, St. Timothy, to "reprimand publicly sinners publicly" so that others might be deterred from sinning. Among many Catholics today, such a pastoral approach is simply dismissed as lacking compassion and counterproductive. Nevertheless, public reprimands or public exclusions helped onlookers to know the difference between a wolf and a sheep. It also signaled to the one being reprimanded or excluded that he or she was in danger of forfeiting eternal life.

4. When there is an aversion to suffering as something useless or when the Wisdom of the Cross is undervalued, then unconventional, creative and heroic ways to advance God’s cause is sparing. The preaching of the Gospel in ancient times was a Revolution of the Cross. It gave new meaning to suffering, poverty and infirmity. It went further by proclaiming that such misfortunes could be used as instruments of grace and redemption. The saying among early Christians was, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” This understanding also allowed for great achievements. But among today’s Catholics, suffering as a condition of following Christ or as a means of reparation is not widely understood as being essential.

5. The early Christians recognized that evangelization and charity belonged together. Bearing witness to Christ’s love was not simply a matter of relieving “spiritual poverty,” as it is today among orthodox Catholics, but rather by appealing to the totality of man- body and soul. The same spiritual giants that were responsible for preaching memorable sermons and writing seminal books for the ages- such as St. Augustine and St. Basil –also founded hospices and orphanages for the needy. Currently, we have those who work for the Church by evangelizing and teaching; their main concern is the salvation of the soul. On the other hand, we have another group of people who, working for the same Church, serve the poor and disabled with hardly a thought given to their spiritual needs. The former is more important than the latter, to be sure. But in the past the latter served as a powerful instrument of evangelization; one which attracted souls to Christ. In any case, it is a problem that in today's Catholic Church one group of people administers to the soul and an entirely different group administers to the body; the former being religious, the latter being secular.

Again, evangelization and charity belong together. Our Lord juxtaposed the care for the soul and the body when "he summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick."

6. Taking it to the streets. The early Christians did not expect the unbeliever or the sinner to come to them. Instead, they went out to the public forum to meet sinners. Among Catholics today, we expect them to come to us; to our bible studies, prayer groups and conferences; most of which are on church property. I believe we cannot just limit the communication of the Gospel to religious venues anymore. We have to be more willing to go on "their turf," the turf of the sub-religious and the unbeliever. Upon arrival, we would do well to speak their language. The Gospel message, as Vatican II taught, should answer "their" questions and address "their" concerns; not just ours. After joining their conversation, we can then introduce them to a conversation with Christ.

7. In the first millennium, bishops used to preach to kings, queens and heads of state. They went to lands that were unfamiliar to them. They knew that they-not simply lay Catholics –had to lead the expansion of God’s kingdom with the fullness of Holy Orders; a fullness that gave a special anointing and efficacy to their words. Indeed, their mission field was not just the basilica or the local church; their mission was also in the public square and even in those places unfriendly to Christianity. St. Patrick of Ireland was a model bishop for this reason. Today, if a Catholic wants to see his bishop he has to burrow through a multi-layered, diocesan administration. By and large, a bishop's public appearance is confined to religious venues. The man on street- that is, the non-Catholic -is just as likely to see a bishop as he would his State governor; which is rarely, if at all.

This last point is the most important consideration for those who want to forestall the evils of a post-Christian world. Bishops, the Successors of the Apostles, are the prophetic voice of Christ; they are the extension of the Word Incarnate. This is not to minimize or take away from the rightful role the laity assumes in “sanctifying the temporal order.” To be sure, the lay person can reach into the corners of society that a member of the clergy can never reach. However, the main duty of a bishop is to preach the Gospel; not just to baptized Catholics, mind you, but to unbelievers and fallen away Catholics as well. This requires that they communicate the words and laws of Christ in non-religious venues. But how, you ask? They have to find ways…ways that work for them. They also have to be willing to expose themselves to a cruel world like we lay Catholics have to do on the streets, in classrooms, in auditoriums, and in the media. Quite often the prospect of getting ridiculed or criticized inhibits the average bishop from venturing out into the wilderness. And the wilderness is unkind, to be sure, but courage is contagious! And if courage is displayed from a bishop for all to see, I guarantee it, his courage will be multiplied a hundred-fold. His courage and his witness, to be sure, will set the Church of Christ ablaze.

I will end by quoting a Church Father who went by the name of Tertullian, a priest in Africa. He wrote a letter to a ruthless Roman Emperor in the second century who persecuted and even killed Christians without cause. Tertullian's attitude and confidence was common among the early Christians. It is something we need to recapture. He wrote the emperor saying:

“You will never destroy our sect! Mark this well: when you think you are striking it down, you are, in reality, strengthening it. The public will become restive at so much courage. It will long to know its origin. And when a man recognizes the truth- he’s ours!”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Evangelization and Paganism: The Old and the New (V)

The seventh characteristic, which distinguishes the Original Evangelization of the Apostles from the New Evangelization, is of the highest importance. The Church cannot be without its head in the mission field and on the streets of America. Without the Bishops being accounted for in the New Evangelization as its leader, the Church will continue to have minimal influence on society. Below is one very important difference that exists between what the early Christians practiced and what we as twenty-first century Christians practice:

7. Through the preaching of the Gospel, Catholic Bishops laid the foundations of Christian civilization. They were the principal missionaries- along with religious monks and sisters –in the expansion of Christianity. The following bishops established churches from which cultures and nations developed: St. Peter in Italy, St. Paul in Greece and the Middle East, St. Ireneaus in France, St. Patrick in Ireland, St. Augustine of Canterbury in England, St. Boniface in Germany, and St. Cyril and St. Methodius in the Slavic nations. They, as with every Bishop, were anointed with the fullness of the priesthood. As such, their proclamation of the Word was empowered beyond that of a lay person or even a priest. This is why Bishops spearheaded missionary endeavors in the first millennium; and they did so with great success. Today, this sacred responsibility is largely delegated to Catholics of lower rank (and less sacramental power and charism).

The Second Vatican Councils confirmed that “among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ…” (Lumen Gentium art. 25) Indeed, the highest priority for St. Paul as a bishop was to preach the Gospel- even above that of celebrating the Sacraments -so that the true God could be worshiped at more altars. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel…” (I Corinthians 1:17)

In the post-Vatican II era, the elevated status of the laity and the emphasis given to their contribution in “sanctifying the temporal order” has led to some confusion. Without saying as much, some Catholics- both clergy and lay -have floated the idea that the preaching of the Gospel in world is the exclusive duty of the laity. According to this logic, Bishops are left to preach within the interior of cathedrals and basilicas; the result being that they have little contact with the world. Now, this idea that the laity is primarily responsible for winning the world to Christ while the clergy tend to the Church is a new one. It is an idea which has gained currency only in the last fifty years. Nevertheless, no justification for this idea can be found in Scripture, in the writings of the Church Fathers or in the decrees of the General Councils; not even in the writings of the Second Vatican Council. As stated above, the Second Vatican Council expressly states that "among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place."

This begs the question: If “among the principal duties of a bishop is to preach the Gospel,” then who are they commissioned to preach to? To Catholics alone? God forbid! Christ commissioned the first Bishops, namely, the twelve Apostles, to make disciples of "all nations." And making disciples of all the nations presupposed that this be done among unbelievers and pagans. To be sure, this mandate was given no expiration date. It is therefore incumbent on the Bishops to preach the Gospel to non-Catholics every bit as much as they would to Catholics. This divine mandate is as old as the Catholic Church herself. This being the case, how are today’s Bishops reaching those souls outside of the fold?

I would venture to guess that most Americans can name one or two bishops, if that. One bishop personally told me that he feared that most people viewed the episcopate as a conglomeration of administrators. The point is that if Bishops were the principal founders of Christian civilization, then they- and their preaching –will be paramount among the instruments God will use to restore the same civilization. Therefore, increasing the visibility of Bishops in the media and in the public square is, it would seem, of the highest importance for the mission of the Church.

Evangelization and Paganism: The New and Old (IV)

Here is the sixth characteristic which distinguishes the Original Evangelization of the Apostles and the Church Fathers from the New Evangelization of twenty-first century Catholics:

6. Taking it to the streets. Christ commissioned his Apostles to “make disciples of all the nations.” In order to fulfill this mandate, his Apostles had to go to the nations. In the first millennium, the Catholic Church was quite conscious of the fact that if she wanted to broaden the frontiers of Christianity, then the heralds of the Gospel had to go into foreign lands and into places hostile to the Christian message. As a matter of fact, the first converts to Christianity were in urban districts of the Roman Empire. The Apostles and the Church Fathers went from city to city. Those who held out and hung on to paganism were from rural areas.

Today, the demographics seem to suggest the opposite. The metropolitan areas in America have a high concentration of people who are not religious. The diffusion of Christian principles in US cities have weakened considerably in recent decades. Conversely, people who live in rural areas tend be more traditional and Christian in their beliefs. Elections which favor progressive politicians- those unsympathetic to Christianity -certainly benefit from these demographics. And this might be indicative of a kind of retreat on the part of Christians; that is, a retreat in order to escape worldly influences and enticements.

Christians have not just retreated into the suburbs and rural America; we have retreated into our church buildings and conference tents. Although we have been taking it to the streets in venues such as Catholic radio and television, we still, by and large, expect the unbaptized and the unchurched to come to us. So we have conferences, bible studies and prayer groups in the safe confines of the church building (which is good but not enough). But as Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “Christ did not die in between two candles in a cathedral. He did out there in the jungle and that is where we need to take our message.” Catholics entrusted with evangelization need to find ways to go into those venues where the unreligious and sub-religious can be found. To do this, Catholics would have to be willing to endure confrontation and even hostility. If we have an aversion to opposition and disrespect, we will be unwilling to venture beyond the walls of our local parish basement.

One additional note worth mentioning: In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, parish priests were trained and expected to be active in their local community. His presence was known not just to Catholics, but to the non-Catholics of his city or town as well. Priests had a say- whether it was welcomed or not –in the proceedings of the municipality. Gospel principles were publicized, not just from the pulpit or on the parish bulletin, but in the newspaper and on street corners. Decades ago, the parish priest took to the streets as well.

In the twenty-first century, on the other hand, priests have become cloistered. There is but little interaction between the man of the cloth and the man on the street. This too was foreign to Bishops and priests of the early centuries. The words of our Lord were very much impressed upon their minds: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14-16)The man of the cloth was a man of the streets. And this, leads us to the last consideration.

Next blog-

Evangelization and Paganism: The Old and the New III

Continuing with that which differentiates the New Evangelization from the Original (Old) Evangelization of the Apostles and the Church Fathers:

4. Bishop Vassa from Oregon was once asked on a Catholic radio program, “What is it that the early Christians did that today’s Christians are not doing?” His reply: “I believe we haven’t suffered enough.” This was the exact message of Our Lady of Fatima to the three seers. Perhaps this is why these seers, namely, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, took every opportunity to accept suffering and do penance in reparation for sinners.

With the preaching of the Gospel during the first centuries of Christianity, a revolution emerged; a Revolution of the Cross. The preaching of Christ-crucified provided a whole new understanding of suffering and death. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord’s death and resurrection transformed human suffering and death into instruments of grace and renewal. This explains why martyrdom was considered the highest expression of love for Christ by the early Christians. For them, laying down one’s life as a sacrifice was closely linked with the Holy Sacrifice of Eucharist at the altar. Indeed, Christ’s offering at every altar empowers us carry out St. Paul’s mandate “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” This does not only apply to death, but to corporeal works of mercy and spiritual reparation for poor sinners through means of fasting and self-denial.

Suffering, therefore, is not given the same emphasis today in the Church as it was in early Christianity. This, in part, was the reason why the Blessed Virgin asked the children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917 the following: “Do you want to offer yourselves to God to endure all the sufferings that he may choose to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and as a supplication for the conversion of sinners?” Every evangelist of the Gospel- both clerical and laity -must also be a sin bearer. Indeed, Mother Theresa once said that for every sinner in moral darkness, a price needs to be paid. When we were baptized into Christ's death, using the words of St. Paul, we were anointed to participate in his suffering whereby our sacrifices, empowered by the Paschal Mysteries, become an instrument of salvation for others.

The spirit of sacrifice which permeated early Christianity also inspired a liberty and courage in preaching those doctrines which ancient civilization took offense. One of the motives behind the Roman Government's persecution of Christians was that this "new sect" proclaimed a message that was exclusive and superior in relation to the pagan religions. This was deemed as intolerant and arrogant by pagans. The Christian message was exclusive in the sense that only the Catholic Church was the oracle of God and only God was to be worshiped. And superior in that both God's revelation was true and reliable; the other pagan sects were not.

5. Among practicing and orthodox Catholics involved in the ministry evangelization, there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual apart from the corporeal; the soul apart from the body. It is often said by us that we are called to redress “spiritual poverty.” But as for material poverty, well, that is another ministry all together; a ministry for other people. Parsing these two ministries- ministering to the spirit separate from ministering to the body –was foreign to the early Christians. For them, the Christian witness was to appeal to the totality of man. As Dr. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization said, “Even the Church fathers, who bequeathed to Western civilization an enormous corpus of literary and scholarly work, found time to devote themselves to the service of their fellow men. St. Augustine established a hospice for pilgrims, ransomed slaves, and gave away clothing to the poor. (He warned people not to give him expensive garment, since he would only sell them and the proceeds to the poor.) Saint John Chrysostom founded a series of hospitals in Constantinople. Saint Cyprian and Saint Ephrem organized relief efforts for the poor.”

It is important to note that in addition to what Dr. Thomas Woods said, the first converts to the Church in the first three centuries were women, children, prisoners, slaves and social outcasts. Just after Pope St. Sixtus II was martyred, his deacon, St. Lawrence, was told by a Roman procurator to gather all of "the Church's treasures" and turn them over to the Roman municipality. So St. Lawrence summoned lepers, the crippled, and the mentally infirmed and presented them to the Roman officials and said: "These are the treasures of the Church." Incensed by what they thought was a joke, the Roman officials burned the saintly deacon alive. St. Lawrence's last words were: "I'm done on this side; you can turn me over now."

I have met many Catholic evangelist’s and members of the Catholic media who have not seen the inside of a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, mental institution, nursing home or hospice in quite a while. To be sure, ministering to the materially poor or the physically or mentally impaired requires Catholics from the middle and upper classes to venture in to neighborhoods and places that may seem strange or threatening to them. As such, orthodox Catholics left charitable enterprises to nominal Christians; those who incorporate Secular-liberalism into their services. As a result, a void of Christ-centered Catholics was created and hence those charitable organizations bearing the Catholic name were hardly concerned with the salvation of souls. Indeed, what was a truly religious enterprise has, in many cases, become a mere philanthropy. Faithful Catholics are right to complain about this; but we are partly responsible for what these charities have become.

This split between Catholic evangelization and Catholic charity was noticeable enough for Pope Benedict XVI to address it in his first encyclical On Christian Love: “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.” Blessed Mother Theresa was a living example of this truth. She was able to give a talk on chastity and the evils of abortion at Harvard University, of all places, and receive a standing ovation. Her corporeal works of mercy gave her words a credibility in a place that is normally hostile to such words. As Pope Benedict XVI alluded to, the early Christians took it for granted that evangelization and charity were indivisibly united.

Number 6 on the next blog-

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Evangelization and Paganism: The Old and the New II

Below are the pastoral practices of the early Church that are markedly different from our own. The gap that exists between the Original Evangelization of early Christianity and the New Evangelization in modern times needs to be closed before a post-Christian world can become Christian once again. Pope Leo XIII said, "When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to have them return to the principles from which society sprang...Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery." However, in order for society to follow this course, Catholics- both clergy and laity -must do it first; which is to say that the Church must return to those principles which brought about the rapid growth of early Christianity. Then, and only then, instead of showing decline as she has in recent decades, will she generate growth not unlike those of her spiritual ancestors.

And now for those characteristics which distinguish the Original (or the Old) from the New Evangelization:

1. Eternity was strongly impressed upon the minds of the early Christians. Even as the Roman Empire was falling, the people of God were full of hope and were constantly looking forward. “Thy kingdom come…” was a petition which involved the readiness to leave this earth for a better homeland. Anticipating heaven and being ever conscious of what they were being saved from i.e. hell, the culture of death, sin etc., planted the seeds of a new Christian civilization. It is ironic but true that by dying to world the Christians of the first millenium were able to save it. But as Fr. Cantalamessa asked, “When is the last time you heard a sermon on eternity?” Being daily mindful of eternity generates many unintended consequences...good ones.

2. Repentance was an indispensable condition for communion with the Catholic Church. St. Peter was once asked by the people, "How are we to be saved?" He said in respons, repent and then be baptized. The three year Catechumenate of the first five hundred years- equivalent to the RCIA of today –involved a scrutiny of the candidate’s life by the local bishop for this reason. Cohabitating, using contraception, homosexual activity, publicly advocating abortion, and not observing the Sabbath were grounds on which a candidate would be denied admission into the Church. These deadly or mortal sins would have to have been repented of; publicly, if necessary.

The Fathers of the Church were first and foremost concerned with the salvation of the soul. Avoiding the appearance of being judgmental or rigid, paled in comparison to a person's salvation. To therefore acquiesce and exercise false compassion by giving the sinner the wrong impression that he or she was is in good standing with the Church- and therefore in good standing with God -when in fact they were not, would have been considered the ultimate disservice involving no small consequence. This was especially the case in the first millennium. St. Peter said that repentance comes before the participation in the Sacraments. It is no exaggeration to say that repentance has been made an option by twenty-first century Catholics. The standards by which candidates are admitted into the Catholic Church or by which a person remains in communion with the Church impacts her intergrity, the expression of her unity and her appeal to the outside world.

3. In light of eternity and the need of repentance- a real turning away from sin –disciplinary action by a Pope, a Bishop, or a Council was seen as an act of fatherly love in the early centuries. Disciplinary action involved the deposition of unorthodox or scandalous bishops and the excommunication of public sinners. St. Paul counseled the novice bishop, St. Timothy, to "Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid." (I Timothy 5:20) The Household of God was not seen as a museum of Saints to be sure; the early Christians knew that they were sinners. However, being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ presupposed- and the pastors of the Church took this very seriously –a firm resolve to “keep the commandments of Christ.” When this resolve was lacking, St. Paul told the elders of the Church in Corinth to not associate with such people; that is, with "immoral people." Moreover, with regard to sexual scandal in the church at Corinth, he further added that such sinners were to be handed over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh. St. Paul concluded chapter five by saying, "purge the evil from your midst."

It was from this pastoral tradition that St. Leo the Great could say, just three hundred years later, that “he [the sinner] will not be a sharer in our communion who refuses to be a sharer of our discipline.” But the question is: Are these pastoral attitudes and actions of the Apostles and Church Fathers taken seriously today or are they considered outdated? In Pope Leo's day, the Catholic title meant being an active follower of Christ. Today, however, there is a saying: “Once Catholic, always Catholic;” even when one is no longer practicing the Faith. This, in fact, is no better than the “once saved, always saved” doctrine of Protestantism; a doctrine which has been condemned by the Catholic Church. In any case, to say that one is "Catholic" in the twenty-first century is to say any number of things. But if it doesn't mean being an active follower of Christ- one who is destined for eternal life -then what good is it? Unfortunately, the name doesn't mean what it once used to mean...and that is a problem for the Church.

Number 4 & 5 on the next blog-

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Evangelization and Paganism: The Old and the New

Official preacher of the Pontifical Household, Fr. Cantalamessa, in an email correspondence with the Catholic News Agency on December 20th, 2010, made reference to the growing concern that we live in a post-Christian world. He said that if the New Evangelization is to have the same success as the Original Evangelization of the Apostles and the Church Fathers, we have to consider their “methods and means” which brought about a Christian civilization. “Such means,” he said, “were fundamentally the announcement ‘in Spirit and power’ of the Paschal mystery of Christ dead and risen, united to the testimony of life.”

The pre-Christian world bears much similarity to the post-Christian world we live in today. However, I would have to add that our challenges as twenty-first Christians are more formidable. Catholic historian, Hilaire Belloc, tells us why:

“The Old Paganism had a strong sense of the supernatural. This sense was often turned to the wrong objects and always to insufficient objects, but it was keen and unfailing; all the poetry of the Old Paganism, even where it despairs, has this sense…The New Paganism delights in superficiality, and conceives that it is rid of the evil as well as the good in what it believes to have been superstitions and illusions… Men do not live long without gods; but when the gods of the New Paganism come they will not be merely insufficient, as were the gods of Greece, nor merely false; they will be evil. One might put it in a sentence, and say that the New Paganism, foolishly expecting satisfaction, will fall, before it knows where it is, into Satanism.”

In the ancient world the early Christians knew what they were being saved from. Pagan immorality was constantly on display in the Roman Empire. Slavery was a well established institution; human sacrifices had been a ritual in every continent; not just abortion, but infanticide was a socially accepted practice; blood sports- that is, gladiator games -required human fatalities in order for the masses to be entertained; women were second class citizens, having no rights over their fathers or husbands; and the birthrate dropped precipitously because children were seen as a liability rather than a asset and a blessing. And if that weren't enough, the third century was beset with political turmoil. There were 31 Roman Emperors during that same century with only 6 having died a natural death. This was humanity before Christ.

Machiavelli, a cunning political thinker of the sixteenth century, once said that, “Whoever wishes to know the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times.” I fear that, as Belloc indicated, humanity in the post-Christian world will not fare any better than it did in the pre-Christian world. In fact, falling from grace or away from God is always worse than never having received grace at all (cf. Hebrews 6). Western civilization, unlike ancient pagan civilization, is descending from the heights of divine grace.

With that said, the New Evangelization, if it is to rise to the challenge of the New Paganism and bear similar fruits of the Apostles and Church Fathers (the “Old” Evangelization), it would do well, as Fr. Cantalamessa indicated, to use their “methods and means.” But such “means and methods” cannot be reduced to preaching and teaching only. The early Christians had different pastoral practices and disciplines; certain attitudes towards their own Faith and other religions that were markedly different from our own.

Just as the Old Paganism differs from the New Paganism; so too the New Evangelization, as it exists today, reveals certain differences from the Original Evangelization of the Apostles and early Christians.

Those differences on the next blog.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What a Childless Nation Portends

The following blog was posted in September.

"History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis." -Archbishop Fulton Sheen

In recent years, many Americans have made the personal decision not to have children. Today, however, even more people, sold on the myth that the earth is overpopulated, have made it clear that it is a civic duty for couples to have only a few children, if any. What was once a personal decision to have a small family is now a secular mandate to discourage couples from having children at all. In the twenty-first century, it has been customary for families with five or more children to either get lectured, sneered at or to be given looks of disapproval by perfect strangers at the local grocery store.

It is a true marvel of human nature that many or even the majority of people can be so zealously opposed to that which is absolutely necessary for survival and happiness. Materialism and secularism can so twist human thinking that people can hate what is positively good for them and love what is positively bad. Such is the mystery of sin and the effect it has on the soul.

I’ll leave it to Steve Mosher and The Population Research Institute to provide all the statistical data why America and Western Civilization is headed for a demographic collapse (see: The point here is that once people cross a certain threshold of prosperity, materialistic lifestyles set in, the appetite for sacrifice wanes and reproductive attitudes harden. It is usually at the tail end of this development that the State sees that a childless nation is not in its best interests. Historically, declining tax revenue and the disportionate ratio between the young and the elderly are but natural results of a low birthrate. In response to this, governments typcially offered incentives to reverse the trend. But when the harm of a nation gone childless was felt, it was often too late for political remedies.

In the last forty years, Catholics- both clergy and laity –have been embarrassed about what may prove to be the most prophetic and important doctrine of our times: the truth of contraception. As a result, very few teachings at the local and diocesan level and even fewer sermons at Sunday Mass have even mentioned what impact contraception has had on marriage, the family and culture. Our silence has left the door wide open for the propaganda that children are a burden to society. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception will undoubtedly be vindicated when the demographic winter has peaked. And we are just beginning- only just beginning -to feel the effects of that winter. We have to pray for our bishops and priests; that they may lead the way in encouraging married couples to be generous with God in terms of having children. It is incumbent on all Catholics, but especially Bishops, to articulate what a childless nation portends.

What the family loses, the State gains. When families shrink and breakdown, the State only increases and becomes more powerful. History bears witness to this fact. The present day challenge of American citizens to retain their liberty and prosperity can be traced (although not exclusively) to the breakdown of the family and the unwillingness of couples to have children. On the other hand, if the American people were to value an abundance of children, this would be a sign of recovery; a harbenger of better things to come.

"But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them." (Ex 1:7)

Long before the birthrate of the West became an issue, Bishop Sheen issued the following warning in 1948 with the publication of his book, Communism and the Western Conscience:

If our birthrate should again decrease as it did 15 years ago [1933], and that decrease should continue, would we not become the prey of other nations? History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis. On the occasion of the fall of France in 1940, a French general gave the failure of the family to perpetuate itself as the basic reason for the nation’s debacle.

In 150 B.C. Polybius, in writing about the decline of Greece, said: “For the evil of depopulation grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting our attention, by our men becoming perverted to a passion of show and money, and pleasure of an evil life, and accordingly either not marrying at all, or if they did marry, refusing to rear children that were born, or at most, one or two out of the great numbers, for the sake of leaving their well-being assured, and bringing them up in extravagant luxury. The result, houses are left heirless, and like swarms of flies, little by little, the cities become sparsely inhabited and weak.”

The decline of the population always begins with the economic top; those who could most afford to have children do not. The group less economically blessed produces more. Soon the infection against the family spreads from those in high economic brackets to those below, and a civilization goes into decline.

There is no doubt the State will claim more power for itself as the family declines, but the state and society are not identical. As the vital energy of society goes into decline, the mechanized bureaucratic machinery grows by leaps and bounds…Invasion was a possibility from the time Roman morals began to decline.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Prisoner for Christ: Lessons for the Unemployed III

The cross Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan carried from 1975 to 1988 was that he was unable to fulfill his regular duties as Bishop of Nha Trang in South Vietnam. Instead he was thrown into solitary confinement…Vietnamese style.

Albeit the Cardinal endured harsher conditions than an unemployed man, but in the absence of his work as a Shepherd of Nha Trang, he struggled with much of the same struggles. These similar struggles consisted of waiting, monotony, idleness, and even having to endure the silence of God. With regard to unemployment, what seems like a senseless layoff or a never-ending search for a job- meeting only with rejections or silence from the employment prospects -needs to be reconciled with the faith in a benevolent Overseer; One who ensures a right ordering of life.

In the past one may have attributed his blessings and good fortune to a good and kind heavenly Father. Now that he is amid the wine-press of suffering, he might be tempted to blame God for the losses he has to endure. Strangely, it may seem, it is a biblical truth that God is to be credited for fortunes and misfortunes alike; but not blame. No. He wills by decree, or permits in His passive will, hardships that confound even faithful believers. Hence, the prophet Job said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away…” and then he adds, “blessed be the name of the LORD!" (Job 1:21) So, we are not to blame but rather give thanks to God knowing that “all things work for good for those who love God. “ Later, in chapter five of the same book Job said, “For he wounds, but he binds up; he smites, but his hands give healing.” (Job 5:18)

God, therefore, wounds and smites every bit as much as he binds up and gives healing. Every father, worthy of the name, who wishes to cultivate virtue and sound character in his children, commits himself to a difficult and sometimes painful work. Later in life, however, his children love him for it. With the benefit of hindsight or from the perspective of eternity, we too will love God even more for the trials He permitted.

Knowing how the loving providence of God works and being a beneficiary of its grace, a man who is husband and father can reconcile the two worlds he is an ambassador of: the world he works in and the world he comes home to; namely, his family. These two worlds affect a man in ways most women have a hard time understanding. To be sure, unemployment can rock these two worlds to the core; it also challenges his integrity as a man. But in a politically correct, egalitarian society, this mountain he has to climb can go unnoticed. With that said it is important to know that it is a virtuous woman and getting counsel from spiritual reading (i.e. Scripture and the Saints) that can make the difference. The grace Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan received in order to conquer all that was shortsighted, selfish and imperfect within him can also accommodate the man who is trying to find a job and provide for his family at the same time. Knowing and accepting the arduous circumstances as the content of God's will for each moment will help any man summit the highest of mountains.

Read how St. Paul waited on the Lord just after his public ministry got underway in Quiet in Tarsus. To be found in the right hand column under Spirituality, Social and Church.

A Prisoner for Christ: Lessons for the Unemployed II

For thirteen years, Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van was a prisoner for Christ; a prisoner in the unforgiving environment of a Vietnamese prison. Yet, he did not wait to be released so much as he waited on the Lord for his peace and strength to carry him through each day. Scripture is full of waiting: "I waited, waited for the LORD; who bent down and heard my cry." (Psalm 40:2) "Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14) Waiting on God is His instrument of purification, of spiritual progress and of sharing the sufferings of Christ (cf. Colossians 1:24/Romans 8:17)

For Cardinal Nguyen Van waiting was transformed into actively accepting God’s will. And that meant seeing the disagreeable circumstances of his daily existence as that which God willed for him. As such, he gave it his all. “All prisoners,” he said,” myself included, constantly wait to be let go. I decided then and there that my captivity would not be merely a time of resignation but a turning point in my life. I decided I would not wait. I would live the present moment and fill it with love. For if I wait, the things I wait for will never happen.”

It is inevitable for the unemployed, even in the midst of actively looking for a job, that there be waiting involved. Waiting after that first interview; waiting after sending out your resume; and waiting to hear about the final decision an employer is going to make; all of these forms of waiting is a cross the unemployed have to carry. Yet, there is good waiting that involves trust in God’s providence and thereby benefiting from its accompanying peace. There is also a bad waiting riddled with anxiety and sometimes idleness. Here are a few spiritual insights, many of which are from the Saints, which can better ensure the trust and peace previously mentioned.

With the exception of sin, everything that happens to us, favorable or unfavorable, is willed by God. The spiritual classic, Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis, says that there is not a leaf that falls from a tree without his permission. It can also be said that no man loses his job without the consent Divine Providence. It comes more naturally to Christians to view the meeting of his or her spouse, finding a house or even the success in one’s career as having meaning and reason by behind, as if inspired by the Lord. Nevertheless, we find in Scripture and in the writings of the Saints that so-called failures, suffering and even death fall within the same Providence that occasions the many blessings of life. Adversity, just as much as prosperity, has the power of bringing about our greater good. As a matter of fact, Jesus emphasizes that real beatitude and true happiness in the long-term is to be occasioned by spiritual poverty, mourning, persecution, hunger and being hated. To put it another way, bad things are supposed to happen. When they do, Pope Leo XIII reminded Catholics not to believe in those false promises which say that life ought to be paved with ease and comfort. No, we should bear our troubles in faith, trusting that they will come to a happy issue. In the meantime, we are to seek solace and strength from Heaven:

“[T]he other pains and hardships of life will have no end or cessation on earth; for the consequences of sin are bitter and hard to bear, and they must accompany man so long as life lasts. To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently -- who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment -- they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present. Nothing is more useful than to look upon the world as it really is, and at the same time to seek elsewhere, as We have said, for the solace to its troubles.” (On Capital and Labor, art. 18)

Therefore, we shouldn’t grow despondent when troubles beset us. Quite often, it is a necessary piece to the larger puzzle of life. Unemployment is no exception. Indeed, our Lord cautioned us that we must travel down the narrow and difficult road to heaven. Every vocation and every mission is paved with setbacks and delays. Those who achieved great things, either for the Church or for society, had to look beyond what seemed like a hopeless situation. So that we would not get discouraged, Jesus assured us that when we make the necessary sacrifices to follow him we will be compensated- not only heaven –but in this life as well.

A Prisoner for Christ: Lessons for the Unemployed

The following blog is a continuation of the A Prisoner for Christ: One Cardinal Learns God’s Peace in his Darkest Hour II:

Over the last two years the anxious pursuit of finding a job has become more common. Unemployment more than doubled since July of 2008 (4.4%). During the last month of 2010 it has lingered at about 9.6%. Many Free Market economists are predicting a double dip recession; which means the current employment rate may not be the worst of it. In any case, there are more people today than in 2008 that have a double burden of providing for a family and looking for a job. For a man, this can be especially trying because he responds to unemployment far differently than a woman (see: first blog of this series/read below).

With that said, what can a Cardinal possibly have to offer to the unemployed? Especially one who was subject to such squalid conditions in a Vietnam prison for thirteen years?

God uses the sufferings of his servants to teach others valuable, sometimes profound, lessons on how to better endure the ordinary- and sometimes extraordinary -trials of life. In 1975 Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was abruptly taken away from his sacred employment as a bishop in South Vietnam only to be thrown into a hole. What initially tormented Cardinal Francis Xavier, then bishop, was not only having the physical restriction imposed upon his body but having to endure the absence of what formerly fulfilled his soul; namely, his work and mission. As the saying goes, “Hunger is not the worst feature of unemployment; idleness is.” Indeed, Pope Leo XIII once wrote that man’s contribution to the world through his work is the “impress of his personality.” Work is so important to a man that he can make the mistake of defining himself by it.

However, God helped this prisoner for Christ to process the senseless suffering, the idleness and the endless monotony. Within his heart, lying in a dark cell, he heard: “You have only to choose God and not the works of God!” The good Cardinal then related that “from that minute onwards, a new peace filled my heart and stayed with me for thirteen years." Like George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, he returned to the same world but with a perspective only heaven can provide. A renewed Francis Xavier Nguyen Van then proceeded to teach and evangelize the prison guards. As he put it, the prison had become his shrine.

Unemployed, married men carry a very similar cross to that of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. However, unlike the Cardinal, married men are an ambassador of two worlds: the world of their career and the world of their family. A man can be successful in his career but if he fails as a husband or as a father, he has failed in life. To be sure, his thoughts on his deathbed will be filled with regrets! On the other hand, as stated previously, a man can be the best of husbands or fathers and yet if he is not fulfilled in his vocation, that is, his work, he can feel like half a man. There is a divide running right through him. Two worlds can either peacefully co-exist within him or they can clash! Perhaps that is why men statistically have higher crime rates than, higher suicide rates, higher rates of sexual assaults and they are more likely than women to have a midlife crisis. In the creation narrative from the book of Genesis, the only time God said, “It is not good” is when Adam was alone. In order for these two worlds to peacefully work together for his welfare, God and a virtuous woman (wife or mother) are needed. Absent these two factors, man becomes destructive to himself and to others.

With good spiritual reading the unemployed husband and father can manfully brave his trials. He can enjoy the same peace Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan enjoyed in the worst of prisons and see that each day brings with it new circumstances; and those circumstances are the content of God’s will. And all we have to do is accept these circumstances as God’s will- no matter how depressing and hopeless they may appear to be .

To continue, please read: A Prisoner for Christ: Lessons for the Unemployed II

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Common Denominator: The Immaculate Conception and the Last Supper

According to sound science and history a cause comes first and then an effect follows. The farmer plants the seed, and then the crop grows. An employee works a forty hour week and then receives a pay check. However, there are some things that are just too good to wait! Indeed, there are two historical events which benefited from a divine intervention that had yet occurred. Those two historical events are the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Last Supper’s celebration of the Eucharist.

When Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, she benefited from the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Resurrection of her Son, Jesus Christ. What the Holy Trinity already possessed in eternity, the world had yet to receive; namely, the saving graces the Son of God would merit on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Nevertheless, the conception of Mary could not wait. As God said to the Ancient Serpent in Genesis 3, “I will put enmity between you and the Woman.” She was that Morning Star before the Dawn of the Messiah. From the first instant of her existence she was “full of grace” only to be “clothed with the Sun” when she was Assumed into Heaven (cf. Revelation 12). Never did the dominion of Satan, that is, his reign of darkness, touch her. This is why she was able to exclaim to her cousin Elizabeth: "My spirit rejoices in God my savior." Indeed, she was the first Christian and disciple of her own Son; even before He was conceived in her womb some fourteen to sixteen years later.

Being singularly privileged as such on earth she will be a decisive figure in the war that will be waged (and is being waged) against the Ancient Serpent, also known as the Dragon in the book of Revelation: “Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus.” (Revelation 12:17) And about this offspring, St. Louis de Monfort says, “These are the great men who are to come; but Mary is the one who, by the order of the Most High, shall fashion them for the purpose of extending His [Jesus] empire over that of the impious, the idolaters and the Muslims. But when and how shall this be? God alone knows.”

One other historical incident that we cannot fail to mention is the Last Supper. Jesus Christ, the High Priest at the First Mass, better known as the Last Supper, according to the Order of Melchizedek, celebrated the Eucharist with His Apostles. When He consecrated the bread into His body and the wine into His blood, what He did in effect was to give them- as He does with us today –His resurrected flesh; but, as most Christians know, the Resurrection was to follow some three days later. Yet, as with the Immaculate Conception, the Eucharist which contained the resurrected flesh of Christ before the Resurrection, was given to the first priests of the New Covenant. And they were to benefit from its graces, like Mary did when she was conceived, before the Source (i.e. Paschal Mysteries) of those graces fully unfolded.

St. John Bosco had a vision that the Catholic Church would triumph over her enemies in the end times. The Blessed Virgin and the Eucharist would serve as those two great pillars through which the ship, that is, the Church, would sail. It was only after sailing through these two saving pillars that the people of God, led by the pope, would survive the stormy seas. More than political and social remedies, Mary the Immaculate Conception and Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic, will prevail over the Culture of Death and its ally, the all-powerful State.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Prisoner for Christ: One Cardinal Learns God's Peace in His Darkest Hour II

The irony of Divine Providence is that the Lord sometimes calls us to renounce the work he has called us to. He will inspire the zeal, guarantee success and then let the floor drop out from underneath us. After the dust settles, it would seem all lost. To be sure, God pushes us to the brink. But it is in this hour of darkness that purification reaches the depths of the soul. We are forced to answer the same question Jesus asked of St. Peter: Do you love me more than these? Being given the opportunity to love God for his own sake- and not for any delight we take in his gifts -makes us worthy servants of his. It prepares us for great achievements.

This opportunity was given to Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan when something happen. A light pierced the darkness and this light was the key to his peace and happiness even in the Vietnam prison.

This prisoner for Christ tells us the turning point from which he began to see the grim and inhospitable conditions in a new light. The following extracts were taken from an address he gave at a religious education conference in Los Angeles just before his death in 2002. The theme of his talk was Experiencing God's Liberating Power.

In his own words:

"Alone in my prison cell, I continued to be tormented by the fact that I was forty-eight years old, in the prime of my life, that I had worked for eight years as a bishop and gained so much pastoral experience and there I was isolated, inactive and far from my people.

One night, from the depths of my heart I could hear a voice advising me:

'Why torment yourself? You must discern between God and the works of God - everything you have done and desire to continue to do, pastoral visits, training seminarians, sisters and members of religious orders, building schools, evangelizing non-Christians. All of that is excellent work, the work of God but it is not God! If God wants you to give it all up and put the work into his hands, do it and trust him. God will do the work infinitely better than you; he will entrust the work to others who are more able than you. You have only to choose God and not the works of God!'

It is true. All prisoners, myself included, constantly wait to be let go. I decided then and there that my captivity would not be merely a time of resignation but a turning point in my life. I decided I would not wait. I would live the present moment and fill it with love. For if I wait, the things I wait for will never happen. The only thing that I can be sure of is that I am going to die. No, I will not spend time waiting. I will live the present moment and fill it with love.

This light totally changed my way of thinking. When the Communists put me in the hold of the boat, the Hai-Phong, along with 1500 other prisoners and moved us to the North, I said to myself, 'Here is my cathedral, here are the people God has given me to care for, here is my mission: to ensure the presence of God among these, my despairing, miserable brothers. It is God's will that I am here. I accept his will.' And from that minute onwards, a new peace filled my heart and stayed with me for thirteen years."

To continue, please read: A Prisoner for Christ: Lessons for the Unemployed

A Prisoner for Christ: One Cardinal Learns God's Peace in His Darkest Hour

God does not find success where the politician, celebrity or even the wealthy might find them. No, he finds them in those circumstances and situations the world considers unimportant. Failures, suffering and death are God’s chosen instruments of success and resurrection. This lesson comes through loud and clear at the beginning and end of the life of Christ. The circumstances surrounding his birth were by no means ideal; indeed, the manger was barely suitable for animals. The world would have looked upon St. Joseph as a failure for not providing a warm comfortable room for the birth of the long awaited Messiah. But what the world deemed as failure, God used to bring about the greatest of blessings for generations to come. As for Christ’s death, the Cross on which he was hoisted was an emblem of public shame; so much so that it became a stumbling block for the Jews. These two hallmarks of the life of our Lord- his birth and his death -speaks to the contradictions and setbacks in our own life.

Enter Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. His cause for canonization was recently opened in late 2010. His life and trails in a Vietnam prison speaks to "God's liberating power." What God taught him the dark cell of solitary confinement can be applied to any arduous circumstance we might find ourselves in.

In 1967 he was ordained bishop of Nha Trang, South Vietnam. However, in 1975 after South Vietnam fell to Communist North Vietnam, he recounts, “I was invited to the Palace of Independence, the President's Palace in Saigon, only to be arrested.” He was then incarcerated for thirteen years. Nine out of those thirteen was spent in solitary confinement. One would think that the dark, stifling quarters he was confined to would have been the primary source of his torment. Not true. What tormented the bishop was that the fact he could no longer shepherd his flock in Nha Trang. Indeed, the pain of being prevented from celebrating Mass, catechizing, evangelizing and ministering to the poor in his diocese as their bishop was a sacrifice that equaled Abraham’s call to sacrifice his son Isaac.

A man’s work and mission is so interconnect with his identity and self-worth that the inability to provide for his subjects or the failure to fulfill his duties is a kind of death for him. In extreme and rare cases, this anguish can result in suicide or homicide. The temptation to go “postal” or to take his own life over a lost job may overcome a man, but never a woman. A man can be the best husband and father at home but if he is not fulfilled in his vocation or career, he feels like half a man. When Adam sinned in the garden, God’s punishment did not primarily affect his relationships like it did for Eve, but rather, it cost him where it counted- at work; this was enough to weigh him down. The fields he was called to cultivate were cursed with weeds. It was only in toil that he would yield his crops.

As for the Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, his burden was not being able to shepherd his people when they needed him most. However, all of this was beyond his control. He was called to resign himself to the new and trying circumstances that were thrusted upon him. In order to retain his sanity, he had to choose God over God's works. Either the Cardinal (then bishop) embrace God's will as it was given to him in that moment or he grope for what he thought God's will should be. That was his choice, plain and simple.

More on the next blog

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lessons for the Church: Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki and Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn III

In conclusion: It is better and even necessary that a Senator, Governor, Mayor or even a private citizen be publicly excluded from the Church so the he or she will not be excluded from heaven. How unfortunate it would be if a person, upon entering the Banquet Hall of Heaven, discovered that the Parable of the Banquet applied to him:

"But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, 'My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?' But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth." (Matthew 22: 2-13)


For your consideration, here are additional Scripture verses of Apostolic pastoral standards which seem to be forgotten today:

“Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.” (II John 7-8)

“Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened…I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people…But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person…’Purge the evil person from your midst.’” (I Corinthians 5)

“After a first and second warning, break off contact with a heretic…” (Titus 3:10)

“…you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord…(I Corinthians 5:5)

"Some, by rejecting conscience, have made a shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” (I Timothy 1:19-20)

Lessons for the Church: Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki and Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn II

“If the Governor wishes to pursue a secular agenda for political purposes, that is his prerogative, for which he is accountable to the voters. But if he wishes to speak as a Catholic, then he is accountable to Catholic authority.”

- Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki;s statement regarding the Illinois Governor, Patrick Quinn.

Natural fatherhood has its parallel with spiritual fatherhood. It is no exaggeration to say that a bishop of a diocese and a father of a family have much in common. As a matter of fact, natural or biological fatherhood takes its origin from the supernatural order; that is, from the Fatherhood of God. The priesthood is not a man-made imitation of natural fatherhood. To the contrary, a father of five children, such as myself, mirrors and borrows, not only directly from God, but also indirectly from the spiritual fatherhood of Holy Orders.

Now, if I handicap myself as a father of five by using mere persuasion or if I simply “ask” my children to cease from inappropriate or disorderly activity, an unruly household is sure to follow. Persuasion is certainly the first option a parent should use. Nevertheless, when persuasion is ineffective, my love as a father moves me to take disciplinary action for the sake of my child and for the good of the family.

What is a matter of instinct with regard to natural fatherhood i.e. fatherly love and discipline as being inseparable, comes with training and example with spiritual fatherhood. However, discipline as an expression of fatherly love has been undervalued and dismissed as lacking compassion in the priesthood. This is largely due to the omission of teaching and preaching about sin. No sin, no hell; no hell, no need to discipline or punish. With this series of pastoral dereliction comes a decreasing relevance to call upon Jesus as Savior; hence, the reason why there has been a precipitous drop in Sunday Mass attendance. Why bother getting up on Sunday if I am not a sinner.

This brings us to my proposal to our spiritual elders: Why not do as Jesus commanded his Apostles and Bishops to do? Why not do what St. Paul said to do? Jesus said to the Apostles, the first Bishops of the Church, that if a sinner refuses to listen to the private counsel of a brother, and then if he refuses a second time, then “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17) Keep in mind that a Gentile or tax collector was publicly excluded from the Jewish assembly in the first century.

This pastoral mandate by our Lord was not intended to be vindictive, but rather remedial. It is an act of fatherly love in order to save the sinner from spiritual ruin. It is in this context that St. Paul gave the following admonition the Thessalonians: “If anyone does not obey our word as expressed in this letter, take note of this person not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame.” (II Thessalonians 3:14)

To exclude the unrepentant sinner from the Church, or, to excommunicate, if you will, is a precedent established by Jesus Christ himself and then practiced by the Apostles, followed by the Fathers of the Church, and finally by saintly Popes and saintly Bishops throughout the centuries. But with the 1960’s, the pastoral practice of exclusion and public correction became unintelligible. It no longer made sense; it even seemed cruel by a good number of Catholics. Nevertheless, and this is important, the divorce between fatherly love and fatherly discipline has left the House of God in disorder and confusion. It has been forgotten that fatherly discipline always has for its objective the salvation of the sinner.

Next blog: the conclusion

Lessons for the Church: Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki and Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn

I like it! I like what Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois had to say about Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn. It is a father’s love at its best and it may come with some sacrifice.

On December 2, 2010, the Catholic News Agency reported that “Illinois legislature passed a bill on Dec. 1 that will establish same-sex civil unions in state law. While the state's Catholic governor Pat Quinn said his faith prompted him to support the bill, his bishop has warned that the governor's actions clearly contradict Church teaching.”

Above all else, a bishop’s duty is to prepare souls for eternity. Generally, this comes in the form of celebrating the Sacraments, preaching the Gospel and shepherding the flock etc. However, when his spiritual children stray, it is incumbent on him, in imitation of the Good Shepherd, to his raise his voice and call out that one lost sheep. As Pope St. Gregory the Great said, public sins need public correction. And this is what Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki did. Indeed, the love of Christ propels him and every bishop to take these courageous stands and make these kinds of sacrifices for the good of souls, the Church and society at large. Among the fatherly duties of a bishop, chief among them is to discipline his spiritual children. “…God treats you as sons. For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards. (Hebrews 12:7-8)

Bishop Paprocki, in fulfilling his duty as a father, said the following about the wayward governor of Illinois: “If the Governor wishes to pursue a secular agenda for political purposes, that is his prerogative, for which he is accountable to the voters. But if he wishes to speak as a Catholic, then he is accountable to Catholic authority.” “And the Catholic Church,” he continued, “does not support civil unions or other measures that are contrary to the natural moral law.”

The Springfield Journal-Register reported that the governor said, “My religious faith animates me to support this bill.” But the Bishop of Springfield countered, “He did not say what religious faith that would be, but it certainly is not the Catholic faith!”

This the kind of clarity and public correction by Bishop Paprocki reflects a long-standing pastoral tradition of the Church. Courage is contagious. And if these acts of courage among our bishops multiply, the Catholic Church will be on a quick path to renewal.

With that said, over the last fifty years such pastoral practices have been relaxed and in many cases, dismissed by our spiritual leaders. In those instances where a bishop does take a public stand against a so-called "Catholic" politician whose policies are contrary to divine and natural law, they have, at least in recent decades, limited themselves to persuasion; that is, they publicly “ask” these politicians not to approach the altar to receive the Eucharist.

Allow me to propose an alternative. My proposal builds on the good work Bishop Paprocki has already done in dealing with Governor Patrick Quinn. It is something that our Lord Jesus commanded the Apostles to do. St. Paul not only acted accordingly but he elaborated on the pastoral principles to be observed when faced with an unruly son or daughter of the Church. From his time until the 1960's, illustrious pastors from the Fathers of the Church to our last canonized pope, St. Pius X, used this form of discipline for the salvation of the most hardened of sinners.

More on the next blog.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Church, the Lower Class and Minorities III

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his first encyclical, On Christian Love, that “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.”

This exercise of the Catholic Church’s three-fold responsibility was once the foundation for civilizing an unbaptized and cruel world; a world that was insensitive to human suffering. Africa is such a world: a world that is undergoing a lot of suffering but is also becoming, day by day, a sign of hope. It is true that Africa is being afflicted with the AIDS epidemic, political corruption, and high mortality rates. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is winning an impressive number of souls for Christ. And in doing so, the epidemics and the crimes against humanity will cease or at least diminish in time.

History shows that wherever the Gospel of Life is planted, civility and mutual love flourish. However, this can only happen when evangelization and charity work together for the common good. After all, people are willing to listen to the Gospel if the bearers of that Gospel relieve their hunger, loneliness and nakedness.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Church, the Lower Classes and Minorities II

Today, in the West, there is a tendency among Catholics to partition evangelization and charity into two separate compartments. If evangelization is seen exclusively as something that serves spiritual needs, then such a mission can easily be relegated to the middle and upper classes. From my personal observation and experience, Catholic evangelists- by and large –are apt to avoid the lower class-minority demographic; not because of any racist tendencies, but rather because they simply can’t identify with that subculture. This may explain why many African-Americans refer to Catholicism as a “white man’s” religion.

Since the upper and middle classes are materially provided for, it is natural that the spiritual dimension be the chief concern among Catholic evangelists. As result, doctrinal orthodoxy and moral purity becomes a high priority, as it should. But when the spiritual component of evangelization is disengaged from serving the poor, then a void is created. In the absence of Christ-centered personnel, charity-based initiatives and social services tend to take on a humanistic character. No longer seen as a single reality, evangelization and social services not only pursue different ends, but they are often inspired by different ideals. As such, those who honorably care for the poor do so without the sound moral and spiritual principles that evangelization requires for its mission. In many cases, what was once founded as a religious enterprise for serving the poor ends up becoming a secularized philanthropy.

If America is going to benefit from what Catholicism has to offer then evangelization and charity- both native to the Catholic Faith –will have to exist side by side, as one ministry, for the common good of this nation. Catholicism will never compete with political demagogues and advocates of big government if minorities and the lower class are untouched by Catholic evangelization and charity. Quite often, the ministry of caring for the body (i.e., soup kitchens etc.) leads to unfamiliar subcultures where the Gospel can be preached. Understandably, many Christians from the middle and upper classes are simply uncomfortable with this. So, they focus their energy on "spiritual poverty." The nice thing about "spiritual poverty" is that it is everywhere; including in our own parishes. As such, there is no need to venture to the other side of town; the part of town where lifestyles are markedly different from our own.

To put it another way, the convenient thing about attending to the needs of the soul- as opposed to the needs of the body and the soul -is that you never have to leave the parish basement; our comfort zone is secured. However, there is a price to pay. The false promises politicians hold out to the lower classes and minorities eventually acquires credibility and strength in our absence. And to be sure, proponents of big government will continue to have a monopoly on the underprivileged as long as Christians relegate their ministries within their own familiar environments.

Concluding thoughts on the next blog.

The Church, the Lower Classes and Minorities

Philip Jenkins in his book, The Next Christendom, argued that Africa is likely to be the next bastion of Catholicism in the twenty-first century. What Europe was to medieval Catholicism, Africa is now becoming to today’s Catholicism. In fact, in the year 1900 there were only 9.9 million Christians in Africa. But at the turn of the millennium, they numbered 360 million. It is estimated that at least 8 million Africans are baptized every year; which amounts to about 20,000 baptisms a day. Just when Christianity seems to be dying out in Europe, its growth in Africa continues to impress interested observers in the West. George Weigel gives a simple explanation for this rapid expansion: Christianity attracts massive numbers of converts in twenty-first century Africa, as she did in the second and third century Roman Empire, because it helped provide for those whom the rest of society preferred to ignore. He goes on to say that education, health care, and social service is deliberately linked to evangelization. Evidently, this joint effort of evangelization and charity underscores the progress Catholicism is making in Africa.

For the early Church, this body and soul combination in ministry was virtually inseparable and largely taken for granted. As Dr. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization said, “Even the Church fathers, who bequeathed to Western civilization an enormous corpus of literary and scholarly work, found time to devote themselves to the service of their fellow men. St. Augustine established a hospice for pilgrims, ransomed slaves, and gave away clothing to the poor. (He warned people not to give him expensive garment, since he would only sell them and the proceeds to the poor.) Saint John Chrysostom founded a series of hospitals in Constantinople. Saint Cyprian and Saint Ephrem organized relief efforts for the poor.”

Wherever the Gospel was widely accepted, people who were traditionally denied social status and justice- such as the poor, slaves, women and children –were seen as equals to the most privileged social caste. Pope Leo XIII summed up the kind of impact the Faith had on human dignity and progress: "The Catholic Church, that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God, has for her immediate and natural purpose the saving of souls and securing our happiness in heaven. Yet, in regard to things temporal, she is the source of benefits as manifold and great as if the chief end of her existence were to ensure the prospering of our earthly life. And, indeed, wherever the Church has set her foot she has straightway changed the face of things, and has tempered the moral tone of the people with a new civilization and with virtues before unknown."

The origin of this new concept of equality and human rights originated from a heightened awareness of the dignity of the soul. After all, it was the rational and immortal soul that was created in the image of God. By association, however, the human body came to be understood as the most sacred material thing in the universe. As Pope Pius XI said, man is a microcosm- a world in miniature; as such, he has a worth far surpassing the whole universe. This understanding of the human person gave the Church Fathers, Saints and Martyrs every incentive to not only to preach the Gospel, but to care for the infirmed at the risk of losing their own lives. In the third century, for instance, when whole towns and districts were wiped out from plagues, it was the Christians that demonstrated heroism by not only caring for their own, but also caring for pagans. Such a sacrificial love for humanity was unknown to the ancients. And it is a love that needs to be reawakened in America.

To continue, please read next blog.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Lady, Patroness of the Union

The following solemn prayer is a consecration of the United States of America to Our Lady in 1792 by Bishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop of America. She was later given the title, Our Lady, Patroness of the Union, by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884.

Most Holy Trinity, Our Father in Heaven,
Who chose Mary as the fairest of Your daughters;
Holy Spirit Who chose Mary as Your Spouse;
God the Son Who chose Mary as Your Mother,
In union with Mary, we adore Your Majesty
And acknowledge Your supreme, eternal dominion and authority.

Most Holy Trinity, we place the United States of America
Into the hands of Mary Immaculate
In order that she may present the country to You.
Through her we wish to thank You for the great resources
of this land.
And for the freedom which hs been its heritage.

Through the intercession of Mary, have mercy on the
Catholic Church in America.
Grant us peace.
Have mercy on our President
And on all the officers of our government.

Grant us a fruitful economy, born of just and labor,
Protect the family life of the nation.
Guard the precious gift of many religious vocations.
Through the intercession of Mary Our Mother,
have mercy on the sick...the tempted sinners...on all who are in need.

Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Our Mother,
Patroness of our land, we praise and honor you
And give ourselves to you.
Protect us from every harm.
Pray for us, that acting always according to your will
And the will of your Divine Son,
We may live and die pleasing God. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Building Better Than They Knew

The Third Plenary Council at Baltimore in 1884 was a gathering of fourteen archbishops, sixty-one bishops, and a number of priests and religious. It was presided over by Archbishop James Gibbons who, in my opinion, was another Fulton Sheen in his day. He was a man of eloquence and spiritual insight. Under his patronage the Catholic Church in America grew in number and in strength.

From this Council came the following words about America’s founding as being the “special work of Providence.” It further adds that if our freedom should ever be imperiled, it will be found that Catholics, acting as “one,” will pledge their lives to secure it.

"We consider the establishment of our country's independence, the shaping of its liberties and laws, as a work of special Providence, its framers 'building better than they knew,' the Almighty's hand guiding them.... We believe that our country's heroes were the instruments of the God of nations in establishing this home of freedom; to both the Almighty and to His instruments in the work we look with grateful reverence; and to maintain the inheritance of freedom which they have left us, should it ever—which God forbid—be imperiled, our Catholic citizens will be found to stand forward as one man, ready to pledge anew 'their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor."'

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Strongest Political Instrument III

In Survivals and New Arrivals, written in 1929, Hilaire Belloc addressed why public education is the "strongest political instrument of our time." Eighty years later, his insights on State-run education and its power to shape a nation's character speaks directly to America's political challenges today.

The second point in The Strongest Political Instrument II was not primarily concerned with false statements in text books or error propagated by teachers (although there is no shortage of them in public education), but rather with the hierarchy of values, the sequence of topics and the emphasis given to certain ideas. What is not emphasized ceases to be important, what is, becomes the essential. It is in this scheme of learning which provides the lens through which a child, and indeed the nation, is trained to see the world. Second to the family, children spend most of their time at school. Teachers leave a deep and lasting impression on their students. As such, most of us in our adult years can still remember the names of our teachers. Unfortunately, God and His laws are dismissed by public educators and hence forgotten by students. Again, what is foreign to childhood education struggles to become relevant and credible in the adulthood years.

This takes us to our final point: Belloc maintained that in comparison with Christian education with its ultimate goal being the salvation of the soul, nothing else counts. "It is good to be able to read and write and cast up simple sums; it is better still to know something of the past of one's people, and to have a true idea of the world around one. But these are nothing compared with the Faith." In other words, knowledge and mere intelligence, by themselves, are woefully insufficient in preparing students to become productive citizens of our commonwealth. If the content of learning is not ordained towards noble purposes, such as the good of one's soul, the welfare of the family or the betterment of society at large, then intelligence can become a vice; indeed, it can easily be co-opted for evil purposes.

During the same year Belloc wrote Survivals and New Arrivals (1929), Pope Pius XI published an encyclical entitled, On Christian Education. In it he confirms that the Faith is of the highest importance- not only for the student and his salvation -but for the integrity of education itself. "There can be no true education," he said, "which is not wholly directed to man's last end." To be sure, the Gospel upholds God and eternity as being among the most important truths. All other truths, all other subjects and considerations, hang on this point. And it is only by having God and eternity on top of the hierarchy of truths that history, science, math, and language can be used for the common good. And as for the individual student, the Catholic Faith has always held that salvation is paramount. Belloc was right, nothing else matters in comparison. Without it, all is lost.

Pius XI went on to quote his predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, showing that Christian principles are equally necessary for a conducive learning environment: "Every form of intellectual culture will be injurious; for young people not accustomed to respect God, will be unable to bear the restraint of a virtuous life, and never having learned to deny themselves anything, they will easily be incited to disturb the public order." Since God was expelled from public schools in the early 1960's by the U.S. Supreme Court, discipline, order and safety has suffered considerably; even in the rural areas of America.

President John Adams said that the Constitution was made for a religious people. The sacrifices and the discipline required to sustain liberty and progress are only intelligible under patronage of Christianity. But in order for Christian principles to have a place in the public square, they must- they must -find a home in our nation’s schools. This will not happen as long as the State has a monopoly on education. There is no other way: The U.S. Department of Education has to go! Education has to be returned to the local communities and to the private sector! The Republic depends on it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Strongest Political Instrument II

Although most parents have not consciously surrendered their authority and rights over their children to the State, the Federal government, nevertheless, operates as though they did. This posture that public education has assumed towards the family has left a deep impression upon the psyche of Americans. And with this, we are led to Belloc's second point.

In Survivals and New Arrivals, Hilaire Belloc made a valuable contribution to the discussion of public education that few people consider today. He said, "For the most part what is not emphasized is not believed to exist. Often, from its unfamiliarity, that which is a stranger to education in childhood, is thought incredible [lacking credibility] by the grown man." It is not just the raw content we are concerned with in public education but also the order and emphasis to which certain topics are given. It is the latter which significantly shapes how we perceive the world.

Belloc elaborates further: "Truth lies in proportion. It is proportion which differentiates a caress from a blow, a sneer from a smile. It is the sequence and the relative weight of doctrines, not the bald statement, that makes the contrast between what damns and what saves. Let a child experience through the working day and through most days of the year that this or that is emphasized in its teaching, and what is so emphasized becomes, for it, and for all its life, the essential."

One could argue that as recent as 30-40 years ago public schools gave a high priority to the fundamentals of learning such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, however, such a claim lacks credibility. Poor academic performance and high rate of high school dropouts certainly does not plague all public schools, but it is widespread enough to be a cause for alarm. In any case, what has replaced the basics of learning as a matter of the highest importance in public education is a curriculum marked by political correctness; not only by a political correct approach in a social sense, but one that is highly politicized. To be sure, high school and even elementary school students are more likely to be taught about gay rights, the proper use of contraception, environmentalism, anti-colonialist propaganda, and the evils of capitalism than they are about Christianity, the Constitution, the Free Market and Democracy. To add insult to injury, deference to Islam is now being promoted even as discrimination against Christianity continues unabated in many schools.

Even if the content of the lesson plans and books were silent or neutral about the founding principles of this nation, the mere emphasis and weight given to topics like big government, environmentalism and gay rights etc., has a profound effect on how children see the world. As Belloc said, what is not emphasized in their childhood education will lack credibility in their adulthood. And what is not being emphasized in today's public schools are those principles which lend themselves to a free society. Instead of fostering self-governance or teaching about the principle of subsidiary or the need to look to God for the solution to life's problems, State-run education tends to advance the idea that the answer to any crisis is to be found in politics.

Invariably, what is held out as the ideal model for problem-solving is Socialism. Administrators and educators may not call it “Socialism,” but the overall worldview being advanced is one which says that government intervention is the the way to go; indeed, State regulations and oversight should be the check and balance against all injustices and inequalities. From this, an entitlement mentality is fostered in the mind of the student. He or she is more likely expect more from others, especially the government, and give less of themselves in their quest to solve problems.

Etienne Gilson, a Catholic philosopher, once said that the purpose of State-run education, its ultimate objective whether it is consciously deliberate or not, is the State itself. The vacuum that Christianity has left behind is a vast one. And in our day, an all-powerful State is in the process of filling that void. If God is not all things to all people, the State will be! But as Pope Benedict XVI said, when politicians seek to do the work of God, it becomes diabolical.

This takes us to Belloc’s third point: How Compulsory Universal Education contradicts important aspects of the Catholic Church's mission…on the next blog.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Strongest Political Instrument

State-run education is the "strongest political instrument of our time." During the twentieth century it has demonstrated that it has the power to make culture into its own image. Without exaggeration, education in America has evolved into an powerful machine; one that is based on a socialistic model. Is it any wonder that more and more politicians and media types have come clean and are now unapologetically in favor of Socialism?

As to the socialistic model of public education, for the most part, competition between schools does not exist. Most parents have no choice but to send their children to the nearest public school. State funds inevitably leads to State standards and no one elses. And the exclusion of choices and ideas is but a natural outcome of its governmental standards.

For instance, public education, since the early 1960's, has grown hostile towards Christianity, towards constitutional principles, and towards the family itself.
Yet relatively few people give it the attention that it deserves.

Admittedly, politics and the ballot box is where all the action is. And for that reason, much our energy is invested in congressional, gubernatorial and presidential elections. However, political victories which lend themselves to the restoration of America, when they come, are short lived so long as the State has a monopoly on education.

In 1929 Hilaire Belloc wrote a book entitled Survivals and New Arrivals. Belloc provides an analysis on Catholicism and the emerging threats to Western Civilization. One of those threats is what he called "Compulsory Universal Instruction." To Americans, it is better known as public or State-run education. In any case, he briefly outlines why this kind of education undermines the family, democracy and the Christian religion. "The inevitable conflict," said Belloc, "between the Catholic and the non-Catholic conceptions of human nature, life and destiny, cannot but make the elementary school their battlefield."

There are three decisive points which Belloc brings to our attention. Each one illustrates why Christians and Conservatives alike should provoke a national debate on the lethal effects a State-run education has on a free society.

First, Belloc wrote that, "The State is secondary to the family, and especially in the matter of forming a child's character by education. Now here the State of today flatly contradicts Catholic doctrine. It says to the parent, 'What you will for your child must yield to what I will. If our wills are coincident, well and good. If not, yours must suffer. I am master.' At least, so the State speaks to the poorer parent; to the richer it is more polite." Now, this is perfectly consistent with the Second Vatican Council's document,Declaration On Christian Education, which says, "Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators."

Belloc's prophetic statement that the public school system sees itself as "master" is no exaggeration. Public educators in the twenty-first century, especially when dealing with sensitive subjects like sex-ed, have expressed a superiority complex. Indeed, throughout the country, they have shown a disregard for the preferences of parents and have put them in uncomfortable situations by having their children opt out of certain sex-ed programs. Moreover, even though parents pay their fair share into the public school system, they have very few choices when their local elementary or high school fails their children academically.

According to the Catholic Church, as stated above, the State is the servant of the family. Fathers and Mothers, not public school teachers and administrators, are the primary educators of their children. In addition, the authority they have over their own children in terms of education is second only to God. However, the State as it exists today- in practice and in theory -no longer sees itself as the guarantor of parental authority, but rather its rival. This general philosophy is not only problematic in terms of parental choice and rights, but it has insidiously shaped the way children see the world. The elementary school children today will be the policy makers of tomorrow. The question is: Do we expect them to have any appreciation of the natural law? One such law is that the family precedes the State and for that reason "the State is secondary to the family." This is a fundamental pillar to Western Civilization. Without it, it ceases to be free and prosperpous.

Two other points Belloc proposed for our consideration in the next blog.