Sunday, March 30, 2014

What God has joined together....

Previously I posted on the letter from the seven bishops of the State of Michigan denouncing the federal district court’s recent decision to overturn the 2004 voter-approved Michigan Marriage Amendment, which upheld the truth that marriage can only ever be between one man and one woman. This judicial decision is further proof that the shared mind of American culture has darkened.

It was God Himself who created marriage when He created Adam and Eve and ordered them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22).  Here the Father ordered marriage toward the transmission of human life.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs the faithful that marriage exists for the reciprocal good of the partners (husband and wife are called to help each other get to Heaven) and the procreation and education of children.  These two purposes cannot be separated, for “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."  (Mt 19:6).

Marriage belongs to God, and He has a design for it; thus, no one may interfere with His purpose.  As the bishops wrote, “Marriage is and can only ever be a unique relationship solely between one man and one woman, regardless of the decision of a judge or future electoral vote. Nature itself, not society, religion or government, created marriage”.  God strengthens husband and wife through the Sacrament of Matrimony so that their love, fixed in sacrifice for each other and their offspring, can witness God’s love for us.  This is how married couples can take part in the new evangelization – to make God known to the world through honoring His plan for marriage.

In my book I discuss how contraception also interferes with God’s plan for marriage, separating as it does procreation from the marital act. So, too,  same-sex “marriages” interfere with the Divine plan.  God made male and female and blessed their joining together.  As the bishops stated, life cannot originate from use of the sexual faculty by two people of the same gender: “The biological realities of male and female and the complementarity they each bring to marriage uniquely allows for the procreation of children”.
It is important for us to be well-founded in our understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman, and be courageous in defending it, as the increasingly secular culture would undermine it if good people do nothing.  
What is paramount is that marriage belongs to God and He has a plan for it: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11). 

Monday, March 24, 2014

“Vatican II said it was okay to disagree with the Pope.”

Hardly. Read the documents! The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium)no. 25, states that, even though the bishops of the Catholic Church are not individually infallible, they teach infallibly the Church’s doctrines of faith and morals “when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.”
So—Lumen Gentium, No. 25, says that one such case of the bishops teaching infallibly is when they teach a matter of faith and morals in “an ecumenical council.”  Such as Vatican II. Lumen Gentium No.25 further states that these definitions of the bishops on matters of faith and morals must be held with a “religious assent,”  and, “This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra …” 

In the Council’s teaching this necessitates assent to the Pope’s non-ex cathedra teaching: “…that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.” How is this discerned? The Council explains it by saying that: “… His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” 

Let’s be clear—Vatican II teaches that one may not dissent from even the non-ex-cathedra or “non-infallible” decisions of the Pope on matters of faith and morals—not even “limited and occasional” dissent, which means that Catholics may not dissent from Paul VI’s teaching on contraception in Humanae Vitae. A Catholic who says that one may dissent from a non-ex cathedra or non-infallible decision of a pope would be implicitly dissenting from Lumen Gentium no. 25 and the Second Vatican Council itself! Read more....

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bishops Bishoping!

I view of the Federal Disctict Judge's ruling on same-sex "marriage" in Michigan, and the Circuit Court's stay:

Marriage is and can only ever be a unique relationship solely between one man and one woman, regardless of the decision of a judge or future electoral vote. Nature itself, not society, religion or government, created marriage. Nature, the very essence of humanity as understood through historical experience and reason, is the arbiter of marriage, and we uphold this truth for the sake of the common good. The biological realities of male and female and the complementarity they each bring to marriage uniquely allows for the procreation of children.
Every child has the right to both a mother and a father and, indeed, every child does have lineage to both. We recognize not every child has the opportunity to grow in this environment, and we pray for those single mothers and fathers who labor each day to care for their children at times amid great challenges and difficulties. They deserve our constant support and encouragement.
Today’s decision from federal district court Judge Bernard Friedman to redefine the institution of marriage by declaring Michigan’s Marriage Amendment unconstitutional strikes at the very essence of family, community and human nature. In effect, this decision advances a misunderstanding of marriage, and mistakenly proposes that marriage is an emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the dictates of culture and the wants of adults. Judge Friedman’s ruling that also finds unconstitutional the state’s adoption law is equally of grave concern.
As this case will likely move forward through the courts, it is necessary to state clearly that persons with same-sex attraction should not be judged, but rather accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. We rejoice with those brothers and sisters in Christ living with same sex attraction who have found great freedom through Jesus’ call to chastity communicated through the Church. We equally encourage those who are struggling in good conscience to live in harmony with the Church’s teaching about sexuality, along with their families, to continue praying and to continue seeking the Lord with the help and guidance of the Church.
Going forward, we, the Catholic bishops of this state, working through the Michigan Catholic Conference, will collaborate with those who are upholding Michigan’s Marriage Amendment and adoption statute and will assist to the greatest extent possible efforts to appeal Judge Friedman’s most regrettable ruling.
Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron 
Archbishop of Detroit
Most Reverend Earl A. Boyea 
Bishop of Lansing
Most Reverend Paul J. Bradley 
Bishop of Kalamazoo
Most Reverend Joseph R. Cistone 
Bishop of Saginaw
Most Reverend John F. Doerfler 
Bishop of Marquette
Msgr. Francis J. Murphy
Diocesan Administrator, Gaylord
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak
Bishop of Grand Rapids

"Hope: A World Afire"

The title of this post was the theme for the Los Angeles 2014 Religious Education Congress, post-Cardinal Mahony (taking place amidst the recent earthquake). It managed to catch the attention of the blogger of Catholic bloggers in addition to my own, having discussed it previously.

A smidgen of the Congress' history:

….the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference. A quick foray via a wonderful means of social communication, the Internet, shows that many victims of modernist theories are featured at the conference today (though it is not as heterodox as the twentieth century occurrences). The Congress originated in the 1950s to educate catechists to teach the Faith more effectively, but by 1987 the influence of neomodernism on presenters at the Congress had produced a creedless, experiential catechesis under the auspices of Sister Edith Prendergast, yet another of our influential circle of religious education experts.
      Perusal of both the LA Congress’s website and links to its speakers divulge ample evidence of the neomodemist opinion that catechesis no longer means passing on received doctrine because the Church can no longer say it possesses revealed “truth” from God. Thus participants were taught to discover truth for themselves by reflecting on their experience, with the role of the catechist now being to facilitate such reflection. And so it was that doctrine increasingly disappeared from the nation’s largest religious education conference ….

 -from The Smoke of Satan in the Temple of God

About the Author Fini

....When I did return to the Faith, I was unable to find employment in my undergraduate major, history, so I began to volunteer teaching CCD in my parish, St. Agatha in Redford Twp., hoping eventually to land a job there teaching history. This required me to earn catechist certification offered by the Archdiocese of Detroit, which I did in 1978. No sooner had I completed the requirements, when a combination Religion/History opening occurred at Benedictine High School in Detroit. I taught there for one year, after which I landed a job teaching Scripture (for which I, by true Catholic standards, was woefully unprepared to do) at St. Agatha, where I remained for one year. I then took a position at a Catholic high school in a suburb of Detroit, where I have been ever since. Since 1995, however, and my “reversion” (no doubt through the prayers of my Mom) to the fullness of Catholic teaching, I have made ten year study of the post-conciliar years in the United States, for which my training in history and as a catechist at the St. John Bosco Institute for Catechetics, as well as twenty-five years as a catechist in the Archdiocese of Detroit have come in handy. As to the book, there is very little that is original; rather I offer a synthesis of much that I have read in the sources and in print regarding the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council, though my interpretation of Paul VI on the state of the Church in 1972 I believe to be somewhat original. I decided to write the book out of my experiences as a catechist (1978-2000) and a life-long student of history. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What the F?

A certain person very dear to me watches too much of the Soprano reruns, and thus I too get caught up in it (to my shame--this HBO show and reality TV shows in general will make adjectival use of the F-bomb routine if we do not repent....) Thus it piqued my interest to run across this video of the Pope, who in the past has said, "Who am I to judge?" This video is heartening, for though we are not allowed to judge people, we are allowed to, even have a responsibility to, judge behavior. Nice going, Holiness!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tolkein, Paul VI, and the Devil

In 1941, Tolkien wrote a masterful letter to his son Michael, dealing with marriage and the realities of human sexuality. The letter reflects Tolkien's Christian worldview and his deep love for his sons, and at the same time, also acknowledges the powerful dangers inherent in unbridled sexuality. From the letter:

This is a fallen world…. the dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been 'going to the bad' all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the 'hard spirit of concupiscence' has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell….The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favorite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones.

 Tolkien advised his young son that the sexual fantasies of the 20th century were demonic lies, intended to ensnare us. Sex was a trap, Tolkien warned, because human beings are capable of almost infinite rationalization in terms of sexual motives. Imagine that.

Tolkien's rumination is reminiscent of Pope Paul VI's premonition in 1972 concerning how it is that Satan is good at catching people through not only base motives, but even romantic love:

….So we know that this dark disturbing being exists and that he is still at work with his treacherous cunning; he is the hidden enemy who sows errors and misfortunes in human history. It is worth recalling the revealing Gospel parable of the good seed and the cockle, for it synthesizes and explains the lack of logic that seems to preside over our contradictory experiences: "An enemy has done this." He is "a murderer from the beginning . . . and the father of lies,"[Jn 8:44] as Christ defines him. He undermines man's moral equilibrium with his sophistry. He is the malign, clever seducer who knows how to make his way into us through the senses, the imagination and the libido, through utopian logic, or through disordered social contacts in the give and take of our activities, so that he can bring about in us deviations that are all the more harmful because they seem to conform to our physical or mental makeup, or to our profound, instinctive aspirations….

Of late a Duke University student (pictured above) who makes pornographic films to pay her tuition has said her experience in the industry has left her feeling “empowered” and uplifted: “My experience in porn has been nothing but supportive, exciting, thrilling, and empowering….For me, shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy….It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home,” said the 18-year-old freshman, who recently graduated from a Catholic prep school.
Shooting a pornographic scene is “freeing, it is empowering, it is wonderful, it is how the world should be.”

Interestingly, former pornstar Shelley Lubben of the Pink Cross Foundation has now posted a graphic video showing a male pornographic actor repeatedly choking, slapping, shaking, and verbally abusing Weeks.

Weeks, who has become an internet phenomenon, appearing on The View and Piers Morgan Live, defended her participation in the scene: “Everything I did was consensual,” she said, describing herself as “a bisexual woman with many sexual quirks.”
Later she told The Huffington Post, "I completely stand by every performer's right to perform in a rough sex scene….We live in America…Freedom of speech!"

Later Weeks said she “regretted” being in the scene. Although she said she was merely “role-playing” and “was comfortable” during the brutal scene, she learned that “some” of the other women on the website may not have been acting during the filming of their abuse and degradation.

A Women's Studies major, Weeks says she hopes one day to become a lawyer promoting “civil rights” and “women's rights.”

Prior to Duke she attended Gonzaga Preparatory School, a Jesuit-run institution that allowed a performance of The Vagina Monologues while she, an honors student, was on campus.

Weeks, who said she has been watching porn since she was 12, has described porn as the most effective way to graduate from her chosen school debt-free: “With my skillset,” she said, she didn't feel she had other “viable options.”

“There's really no way for women to win in this patriarchal society,” she said.
While still defending her porn career, which has heated up since her public relations campaign, a recent interview with a New York TV station seems to indicate that she regrets her choice. Let us pray for her. If we bring her back, it will cancel  a MULTITUDE OF SINS….

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Book for Our Times

Today homosexual activists are demanding the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” In some places they have even achieved this goal.

They assert that this is a matter of equality. If heterosexuals can marry people of the opposite sex, they argue, then equality demands that homosexuals be allowed to marry people of the same sex.

Many have found this argument compelling. Others have no objection to the idea of homosexual marriage. Both of these are grave signs. They reveal just how much damage the institution of marriage has already suffered.

Opponents of homosexual marriage argue that if marriage were redefined to include same-sex couples, then both marriage and families would suffer great damage. That is quite true, but marriage has already been greatly damaged or else the idea that two people of the same sex could marry each other wouldn’t even be under discussion. The fact that it is shows that a large segment of the public does not understand the basics of marriage. They have forgotten—or never knew—what marriage is.

In Catholic Answers booklet Why Homosexual Unions Are Not Marriages you’ll find an abundance of information on the issue that has been pushed to the front lines when it comes to the ongoing “Culture War” we find ourselves in.

About the Author III

I graduated from St. Eugene’s in 1966, when the liturgical changes after the close of the council promulgated in Sacrosanctum Concilium to the best of my memory had not yet been thoroughly implemented. I journeyed off to Detroit Cathedral High School downtown, where my experience of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist began to fade, as I no longer was required (sadly, in retrospect) to attend daily Mass, and cannot to save my life remember one thing taught to me in high school religion class by my teacher, who was also the Business Ed. and Typing teacher and track coach. A rumination of the yearbooks for these years reveals photo captions such as “DC Sodality Men Reach Out,” and “Fr. Trainor Celebrates Mass Facing the Seniors as he Closes the Senior Retreat.” To be sure, in my adolescent years I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what was happening in the Church in the United States after the Council, and, after seeing a pretty, red-headed Sophomore on the bus on her way to Immaculata High one day (in the end I proved too shy to sit next to her on the DSR bus...), I confess I really never paid it much attention.

In the ensuing years I drifted further and further away from the Church, the Body of Christ, in true “prodigal son” fashion, often arguing with my mother over matters of faith. In college, I was approached by evangelicals asking, “Are you saved, brother?,” something they did not believe of me as long as I was Catholic. The norm would have been for this now-lukewarm Catholic to have been lured away from the Church, but baptismal grace proved me an exception.  Though I was not all that holy, I wasn’t about to become a Pentecostal! How Our Lord led me home is outside the scope of this endeavor; suffice it to say that there are rough parallels with St. Augustine. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

About the Author II

In the years prior to the Second Vatican Council, I also remember attending daily Mass before elementary school, which, because we had fasted for three hours, allowed us to eat breakfast in Mr. Sullivan’s math class. I remember bellowing out Tantum Ergo  at Wednesday Evening Benediction, which I was in the habit of attending with my Mom, siblings and “Gramp,” (her Dad, John). I also remember looking forward to participating in the praying of that most sublime form of prayer, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, with my St. Joseph’s Daily Missal.
With Pope Benedict’s having granted permission for priests to offer the Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, we hear much ado in the form of reaction against this from Catholic “progressives,” and about how the Council placed a new emphasis on the laity’s participation at Mass, the implication being that Catholics did not actively participate at Mass prior to Vatican II, opting for such devotions as the praying of the Rosary or Holy Cards. To such persons I say: you should’ve seen me (and pal Bob, for that matter) at Mass in third grade! Not only did I pray along with the priest in the Latin Missal, but I was a better-than-average singer of Gregorian chant, thanks to convert Mrs. Crowley’s daily faithful rendering of the chanted antiphons and propers in Latin. I, who failed becoming an altar server by stumbling over one Latin syllable in my tryout test, (Sr. Isabelle must have had a bad habit day that day), also remember telling my younger brother John, who passed, how he forgot the proper order in covering the communion rails before Holy Communion.

St. Eugene’s eventually closed in the Year of Our Lord 1989 due to “white flight” and demographic changes after the 1967 riots in Detroit, and with this came to an end the place where I spent some of the holiest years of my life, years in which neither I nor my classmates were ashamed to publicly give witness to our faith in Christ (yes, I too dressed in sheets and played the priest in acting out the Mass with my siblings). My memories of participation at Mass are exalted ones. There was a sense of the sacred that has since, through misimplementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, long since evaporated at Mass (though Jesus is just as present as He always was and will be), which has manifested itself in the words of my Catholic high school students as “Why do we have to go to Mass?”

Saturday, March 15, 2014

About the Author

Like many of the twenty-five percent or so of the American people who would respond with “Roman Catholic” when asked their religion in an emergency room, I am a “cradle Catholic,” born into an Irish-American family in Detroit as a baby boomer in 1952, baptized at St. Gabriel’s on the southwest side in the same year. I first received the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in second grade at St. Eugene’s parish in northwest Detroit, for which the Sisters of Notre Dame DeNamur admirably prepared me. I still stand amazed at the reverence instilled in the second-graders in the black-and-white photos shot by my father, Don, that day. I was also confirmed at St. Eugene’s parish in the fourth grade, after which my mother, Ann, took me out for my favorite breakfast, strawberry pancakes, where I played “Fun, Fun, Fun” by the Beach Boys at least twice. Since my return and faithful assent to all that the Catholic Church teaches in 1995, (from which admittedly I was AWOL from 1965-95) I have been a daily communicant and regular penitent.

My first memory on this earth is as a baby, less than a year old, of being driven by my parents to a funeral in Pennsylvania, an event my mother corroborated years later. My next memory in my earthly existence is one I shall always remember. It is one of observing from my pew prior to the 6:30 am Mass in 1958 the Sisters entering St. Eugene’s from the front-side entrance of the Church, special to them for access from their one-room convent in the adjoining school. It was winter, and the church was dimly-lit. They entered with awe-inspiring reverence, processing in their full habits, the beads of their waist-draped rosaries colliding gently, genuflecting and kneeling in silent preparation for the soon to occur reenactment in a non-bloody manner of Our Lord’s eternal sacrifice first offered on Calvary for our salvation, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The latent aroma of incense and the sight of fresh beeswax candles flickering on the altar, together with the sisters’ silent reverence and obvious practice of what they taught their first graders - the importance of reverence in the House of God - is an impression which not only convinced me that Jesus lived there (in the Tabernacle), but was also an actual grace which I believe, together with my baptismal grace and my Mom’s faith witness, was instrumental in eventually leading me back into the fullness of Catholic teaching. I do not know now what became of each Sister, but I am sure that whatever their relationship with Our Lord today, they had no idea their first-grader Tim was so inspired by the witness to the real Presence they gave that winter morn. To be continued....

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thou Shalt Not Spin

Ruminating on excerpts from John Allen’s one year review of the pontificate of Pope Francis (in red):
Many Points of Praise for Pope’s First Year
….In the year since, Pope Francis has electrified the world with his taste for the improbable: his spurning of the papal apartment, his resolutely informal personal style, his startling words, such as his instantly immortal “Who am I to judge?” line on gays. Quite right! Who are we to judge anyone? He’s popular at the Catholic grass roots and may be the most celebrated pontiff ever in non-Catholic venues, and even some secular circles where criticism of the papacy is much more common than praise. I rejoice at this, and pray that the world will listen to all of Francis, even the hard sayings….

Symbolically, Francis, 77, has changed the narrative about Catholicism. Substantively, he has taken bold steps toward reform and reoriented the church toward the political and cultural center after years of a perceived drift toward ever more hardline stands. Perceived, indeed! But Satan is the Father of lies, and has been known to trick many.
For all those reasons, the full measure of his impact so far runs well beyond the power structure of the Catholic Church. Nothing new here.

Despite that point — or, perhaps, precisely because of it — many observers can’t help wondering what the 114 cardinals who thrust this maverick onto the Throne of Peter are thinking today….

Never Expected A Rock Star
Few cardinals anticipated the way in which the new pontiff would capture the imagination of the world, or how quickly he would do it…

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York amplified the point.
“We knew we were electing a man of the poor, and we knew we were electing a good manager,” Dolan said. “We had no idea we were electing a rock star.” While Benedict plays the piano, I did not know Francis played a musical instrument.

Dolan’s experience is typical of many churchmen. He reports that when he does media interviews today, the questions generally aren’t about pedophile priests, crackdowns on nuns, or bruising political fights inside the Vatican.

Instead, they’re largely adulatory inquiries about the new pontiff.
Cardinals also say that politicians and diplomats are less inclined to be hostile to church interests, because no one wants to be on the wrong side of a popular pope, and that when they mingle at the grass roots, even outside the confines of the church, they generally find delight. Popes are not Presidents.

DiNardo said one prominent Evangelical leader in Houston recently told him, “I feel like he’s our pope too.” Dolan said he can’t move in New York’s Jewish circles without hearing, “We love this pope!” Where I Francis, and I hardly compare, when I discovered this I would take the full Gospel to them! What a great “scoring chance” (for my hockey brethren)!... After all, Salvation is from the Jews.

Not Just A Matter Of Style

Immediately after Francis’ election, the question was whether his impact would turn out to be more in style than substance. Dolan tells a story from those early days that hinted at an answer.

“We were getting ready for Mass the morning after his election, and Francis came in carrying his own alb and just plopped down to get dressed,” Dolan said, referring to a white garment priests wear during services.

Vatican mandarins, Dolan recalled, swarmed around the new pontiff and began issuing instructions about the ceremony. Francis gently, but firmly, swatted them away.
“‘That’s okay,’ Dolan quoted the new pope saying, ‘I’ve been saying Mass for fifty years. We’ll be fine.’ The clear message was, ‘I know what I’m doing.’ ”

After twelve months, that flash of gritty self-assurance seems prophetic. On hard matters of policy, Francis has moved farther and faster than even his most enthusiastic backers anticipated.

For instance, Francis recently triggered a Vatican uproar by creating a new Secretariat for the Economy, giving it full power to impose fiscal discipline and to police transparency and accountability.
To run it he named Cardinal George Pell, a tough-as-nails Australian who’s one of the few senior churchmen viewed as having not only the vision but the spine to overhaul deeply entrenched patterns of doing business.

While money management may not have the media appeal of inviting homeless men, as Francis did, to a birthday breakfast, it’s hard to imagine anything a pope could do more challenging to the old guard.
“Nobody could have predicted he would strike such a chord with the world,” Pell told the Globe, “and many Italians probably never anticipated that he would reform the financial system.” Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s….

Not A Right-Winger (Maybe he is a defenseman?)

For many Princes of the Church, the real revelation about Francis is that he’s not quite the doctrinal conservative they thought they were electing. Here we go again, right-winger, progressive, traditionalist, neo-Catholic, cafeteria….Outside a small circle of fellow Argentinians who knew Bergoglio well, the sense of the Buenos Aires prelate’s ideological leanings was based largely on two elements of his biography.

First was a falling out within his Jesuit order in the 1970s over liberation theology, a current in Latin American Catholicism that sought to place the church on the side of the poor. Ummm… it sought to interpret Our Lord’s message through the eyes of His creature, Mr. Marx. Mostly because he feared that it might drive Catholics into endorsing armed rebellion, such as the Montoneros guerrilla movement in Argentina, Bergoglio was ambivalent. Who is he to judge?

Second, Bergoglio engaged in a high-profile standoff with Argentina’s leftist government under President Cristina Kirchner in 2010 when the country became the first in Latin America to legalize gay marriage over the vigorous opposition of the church.
As pope, however, Francis has profiled largely as a moderate, declaring in a September interview that “I’ve never been a right-winger.” As Cardinal at that time, he said that if a proposed bill giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children should be approved, it will “seriously damage the family.”

While not, he insists, changing doctrine, (so he wishes to conserve it, then?) he has struck a more merciful stance vis-à-vis the church’s traditional teaching, and has opened the door to debate on matters such as permitting Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment to return to the sacraments.

In a recent interview with the Italian paper Corriere della Sera and the Argentine daily La Nacion, Francis also stopped short of blanket opposition to civil unions for same-sex couples, saying “the different cases have to be evaluated in their diversity.”
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, admits that there have been times when the pope’s almost casual rhetorical turns and his spirit of openness have created heartburn. Prilosec works great, I can tell you.

“There have been things which are hard to explain,” Collins said, referring specifically to one of the headlines from an October interview Francis granted to a left-wing Italian paper: “God is not a Catholic.” This cannot be one of the hard-to-explain sayings; I always find the Trinity harder…

DiNardo said the new pope’s informality and lack of pretense have taken some getting used to. He told a story of being at a two-day meeting of cardinals with the pope in Rome in late November, and turning around during a crowded coffee break to find Francis standing in line for a cup like everybody else.  As a coffee addict, this I like! I bet it was not a carmel macchiato….

Still, DiNardo said, Francis’ relaxed style by no means suggests ambivalence about his power or his will to use it.

“I’ve never known a pope, if he really thinks he has to use his universal jurisdiction, who’s been afraid to use it,” DiNardo said. “This guy’s not afraid at all.” Good. He is the Servant of the Servants….

Few Anxious To Go Back

Reading between the lines of these conversations, the impression is that whatever reservations some cardinals may feel, few are anxious to turn back the clock.
Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, for instance, is the primate of Quebec, widely viewed as perhaps the most thoroughly secularized pocket of North America. Yet even there, Lacroix said, Francis is a hit.

“The Quebecois love him,” he said. (I knew there was a hockey connection in here somewhere….)

Lacroix said he’d recently given an interview to a major newspaper often critical of the church. When he was done, he said, the editor in chief told him, “If your pope continues doing what he’s doing, he’s going to get us,” meaning the paper might warm editorially to the church’s approach. (We need a papal visit to Quebec then—perhaps even a WYD in Montreal).

Asked if he would trade such entrée into secular circles for greater doctrinal precision, Lacroix’s response was unambiguous: “Are you kidding me?” With Francis, it will be both!

In a similar vein, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster in the United Kingdom said that Francis’ appeal seems to have reached even into corners of British society most hostile to the church. Having studied pope Benedict’s visit to Westminster, I think the Church in England is doing very well; let’s build on it. Personal Ordinariates, anyone?

“Pope Francis has shifted the perceptions of the Catholic Church,” Nichols said. “He’s done it partly through a very deliberate policy of speaking through actions, and it’s hard to argue with actions,” he said.

Outside the West, the enthusiasm may be even greater.
Chibly Langlois, for instance, was one of nineteen new cardinals created by Francis in a February ceremony, and is the first-ever cardinal from Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the Americas.

“The Haitians are a people that need to be helped, maybe, but more than anything, they need to be heard,” Langlois told the Globe. “Pope Francis is making us heard.”
Turkson, of Ghana, said Francis is playing well across Africa, in part because he’s able to translate the church’s concern for the poor into emotional language that resonates with ordinary people, such as when asked a gathering of seminarians if they’ve ever wept for a poor person. Reminds me of the time when Jesus wept for those of Jerusalem.

“Lots of Africans feel this is a pope who cares,” Turkson told the Globe.
Despite Francis’ remarkable opening act, some cardinals believe there’s still a raft of unfinished business, that the glow around Francis may yet be tested by some of the major questions ahead.

O’Malley, for instance, said Francis “is aware of how serious” the child sexual abuse scandals have been for the Catholic Church, but added that “I don’t think he has a plan yet for how to deal with it.” Unassisted, (sorry) perhaps—but let us wait on the Spirit….

Overall, however, the judgment seems strikingly positive. Even cardinals who admit to being blindsided by some of the pope’s words and actions seem to regard the new lease on life Francis has given the church as a godsend.

“It confirms what we believe, which is that if you open yourself up, the Holy Spirit’s going to act through you,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.
“It still works.” Yes, I have to agree. So let us work.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dreaming Sky-High

David Gibson of the Huffington Post in a recent editorial entitled, "Pope Francis' Reforms for The Catholic Church May Be Bigger Than Anyone Dreamed." Here is his piece, with my commments in red:

VATICAN CITY (RNS) As Pope Francis approaches the one-year mark of his papacy, his global flock and a fascinated public are starting to measure the changes he is making against the sky-high hopes for transforming an institution many thought impervious to change.
Every personnel move and every new proposal is being scrutinized for what it might indicate about the direction of the church, what it might augur about possible adjustments to church teaching and whether the aspirations of so many will be fulfilled — or frustrated. This is unclear- Francis has no authority to change the Deposit of the Faith. Perhaps Gibson is confusing teaching with practice?
But as important as such structural and policy moves can be, church leaders and Vatican insiders say the 77-year-old Francis is really focused on a more ambitious (and perhaps more difficult) goal: overhauling and upending the institutional culture of Catholicism.
Francis, they say, is bent on converting the church, as it were, so that the faith is positioned to flourish in the future no matter who follows him to the throne of St. Peter. What a disingenuous sentence-- "converting the church [sic]?" Conversion only happens to members of the Mystical Body of Christ through metanoia, brought about by God's grace through one's faith, a change of heart from sin to the practice of virtue. There are many in the Body who as yet are unconverted as such, and Fr. Yanez in the paragraph after next is right that it "is the most important thing." The Holy Father, though commendable in making it central to his preaching, is not unique in that his predecessors also often spoke continually of conversion; indeed it was what the first pope demaded after Pentecost!
“Some in the Roman Curia” — the Vatican bureaucracy — “say, well, this pope is old so let’s wait a bit, and things will return to the way they were,” said the Rev. Humberto Miguel Yanez, a fellow Argentine Jesuit, who heads the moral theology department at the Gregorian University in Rome.
“If this is the attitude, then his words and his reforms don’t mean anything. I think conversion is the most important thing, and that explains why Francis speaks every day, why he preaches every day. Some say that this pope talks and talks and talks but doesn’t do anything. But I think he is preparing the ground.”
According to those familiar with his thinking, the pope seems to be pursuing three main strategies:
ONE: Leveling with the hierarchy
Sure, Pope Francis has charmed the world with his easygoing manner, his populist homilies and his affecting way of reaching out to the marginalized. But woe to those churchmen who have been used to life at the top, and enjoy the view a bit too much.
In repeated broadsides at the culture of clericalism, Francis tells his fellow hierarchs that they are not to think of themselves as “a royal court,” as he put it to his first batch of appointed cardinals.
That was just one in a series of blasts he issued in the days leading up to his first-year anniversary on March 13, reflecting an insistent theme of his young pontificate: Bishops are to lead by serving, not dominating. The centralized Curia, too, must not be “an inspector and inquisitor that no longer allows the action of the Holy Spirit and the development of the people of God.” What has this to do with metanoia, other than perhaps  the hierarchs should take a hard look at the state of their souls? That the Pope feels that some may not be serving does not mean that they are "dominating." All are called to holiness....
Hierarchical “careerism” is “a form of cancer,” Francis has said, comparing bishops who strut about in church finery to “peacocks.” Instead, he wants pastors who act as shepherds and who “smell of the sheep.” He does not want “airport bishops” who buzz around the world padding their resumes and preaching a doctrinaire gospel while living the good life. “Little monsters,” he calls such clerics. Such hypocrisy is the sin which occurs most in the New Testament, which contains the gospel. "Doctrinaire gospel?" Doctrine: any truth taught by the Church as necessary for acceptance by the faithful. Let's start with. "Repent, and believe the gospel."
While more than a few of the Vatican’s old guard find Francis’ predications “annoying,“ as one put it privately, they nonetheless acknowledge that he includes himself in his critique.
“I am a sinner,” as Francis put in a lengthy interview last summer. “This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” And in his landmark exhortation published last November, he harped on the need for the conversion of the church: “Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy.” The papacy is not synonymous with this or any Pope.... but Francis' humility is admirable.
As potent and attractive as those words are, church insiders say Francis first needs time — years, not months — to appoint bishops who buy into his vision. That’s not to discount the fact that many bishops have been moved by his exhortations, and others are adjusting their behavior accordingly. What has become of Vatican II's Christus Dominus? The vision for bishops is eloquently stated therein, and should be the criterion for the selction of bishops.
“How many BMWs do you see parked in the Vatican these days?” a well-connected American layman said recently as he surveyed the Roman scene, asking for anonymity in order to speak frankly. “You just don’t see the Gucci loafers anymore.” There is nothing of BMWs or footwear in Christus Dominus....
TWO: Teaching Catholic leaders to talk, and trust
If there was a single, central dynamic driving the coalition of cardinals that elected Francis in last year’s conclave, it was the desire to put an end to the command-and-control style that characterized Rome’s management under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Dissent was quashed and suspect theologians were silenced. Bishops constantly looked over their shoulders, worried about perceived lapses in orthodoxy while Vatican departments tried to micromanage local issues that Rome knew little or nothing about. Dialogue was out, conformity was in, and bishops who toiled outside Rome were fed up. Which bishops? I suggest those appointed prior to JPII's papacy? Certainly not O'Connor, Myers, Chaput, Bruskewitz, Rigali et. al. Which theologians?  Liberation theologians? Certainly not DeNoia and those like him.
Not anymore. Francis has welcomed criticism and opposing opinions; as he put it in an interview with an Italian newspaper just this week, “fraternal and open confrontations help develop theological and pastoral thinking. I do not fear this; on the contrary I seek it.”
To that end, Francis has summoned his cardinals and bishops to Rome for regular meetings, including an intense 10-day stretch at the end of February to talk about Vatican finances, reforming the Curia and launching a two-year dialogue on tough pastoral issues such as Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Good enough. But what about "the most important thing," i.e., implementation of the 13th Synod of Bishops' Instrumentum laboris, The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith?

But while many were looking for the recent meetings to produce policy statements or other portents, the real goal was to get senior church leaders used to talking openly and honestly — even in front of the pope.
“The big change is the emphasis on collegiality, on collaboration,” said Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, who advises the pope as head of the Vatican department that writes the statutes that will turn reform proposals into church law.
Francis, the cardinal said, is trying to get cardinals and bishops to realize that “they can listen to everyone and speak freely and without fear, that each one can say what they think. They can be correct in what they say, and if not, it’s fine that they think differently.”
THREE: Evangelizing the world to convert the church
Whereas John Paul and Benedict focused in their different ways on persuading a skeptical world to put its faith in the Catholic Church, Francis is trying to persuade a fearful church to go out and engage the world. Ironic: the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent has Our Lord resisting just this temptation..... Here is Pope Francis: "Satan tried to divert Jesus from the Father’s plan” by tempting Him “to take an easy path,” a path “of success and power.” Jesus definitively rejects these temptations, reaffirming His “firm intention to follow the path established by the Father, without any compromise with sin or with the logic of the world.” 
He gives interviews to atheists, cold-calls all manner of people, and on Holy Thursday washed the feet of young inmates — including women and Muslims. He is constantly pushing the church to go “out to the periphery” to find the least and the lost. “A church that doesn’t get out, sooner or later, gets sick from being locked up,” as Francis put it, stressing that he prefers a church that is out in the street and “runs the risk of an accident.” Which is perhaps why JP II was the most traveled human being ever to traverse the planet.
Such talk is hugely popular, of course, but it isn’t just public relations.
At the closed-door meetings that preceded last year’s conclave, each of the more than 150 cardinals had five minutes to speak on where the church should be headed, and implicitly, who among them would be the man to lead them there.
Most of the cardinals took up more than their allotted time, but then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires actually used under five minutes when his time came, delivering a remarkable diagnosis of a “navel-gazing” church that he said was suffering from a “theological narcissism” that tried to keep Jesus locked inside when in fact “sometimes Jesus knocks from within, wanting to be let out into the wider world.” Remedy: read Redemptor hominis. One sample: "'s situation in the modern world seems indeed to be far removed from the objective demands of the moral order, from the requirements of justice, and even more of social love." 
A few days later, Bergoglio emerged as Pope Francis. Ever since, he has been preaching this same message — not a new theory of Catholicism, but rather a reminder that the church can only be true to itself when it goes outside of itself, and leaves behind all the internal disputes and power struggles that have sapped its spirit. Are you serious?
“The path opens by walking along it,” is the way that the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit in Rome who is close to the pope, characterized the process.
‘We have reached the point of no return’
Far less certain is how long it will take Francis to implement the transformation he has started, and whether it will endure. “I’m firmly convinced we are at the dawn of a new era in the church,” said Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who heads the “kitchen Cabinet” of eight cardinals that Francis handpicked to advise him. Let us hope so, but the transformation , as Francis has said many times, is the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.
Francis could end up being nothing more than an inspiring role model, an object of great affection and even devotion but one whose impact disappears when he leaves the scene. Would the power of his example and his constant exhortations go with him? Or has the Catholic Church reached a tipping point on reform?
“I would say that the key to this pontificate is the greater freedom to express one’s opinions without fear,” said Coccopalmerio. “On that we have reached the point of no return. That is the important reform, and there can be no going back.” Were Curran, Kung, Fox, McBrien, Daly, Schlussler-Fiorenza, Radford-Reuther afraid to speak out?
One point in Francis’ favor is that nothing succeeds like success. Now that the hierarchy has seen how popular Francis has been, even those who disagree with him don’t want to go back to the bad old days of constantly playing defense on a range of issues.
“The new uncertainties beat the old certainties,” as one Vatican official put it privately. “He has liberated such hopes and expectations among the broader public that there is no going back, or it would come at too high a cost.”
Yanez, the Argentine Jesuit who knows Francis from seminary, agrees.
“I think on many things already we have reached the point of no return,” he said. “There has been a reawakening of the Christian conscience that, it seems to me, will be difficult to reverse.”
“Still,” he conceded, “there is a lot to do.” “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15)