What Is Religion?

IsaiahIntroduction

Religion is an extremely unpopular subject in the modern world.  Critics like to complain that it is, and always has been, a cause of division between people and of war between nations.  The implication is, of course, that if only the human race were to abandon all religion, then peace and harmony could prevail.  By this reasoning, however, the human race should also abandon all forms of government, economic systems, property, and even human rights, since these also are, and always have been, causes of division and war.

One would expect certain people to be highly critical of religion; for example, atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists. Such persons hold to ideologies that despise formal religion, so that their criticisms of it are only natural and consistent with their principles.  But alongside these critics are also many people whose comments are a bit ironic and inconsistent with their own daily practice.  I refer to Christians, who, in spite of their name and beliefs, make nearly as many disparaging remarks against religion as do the atheists.  Such Christians often frame their anti-religious remarks in the following way:

“Jesus Christ established a spiritual movement based on the Gospel. But unfortunately, men have turned this movement into a religious institution, a hierarchical Church with all sorts of dogmas, rules, regulations, and obligatory devotions.  Christ preached a simple faith for the ordinary folk, but men have spoiled this faith by enlarging it into yet another complicated world religion with all the usual systematic trappings.”

I’ve heard similar comments many times from Bible Christians who feel that the most effective approach to take against the Catholic Church is to criticize it from the bottom up, by deriding it as…gasp…a religion, a religious institution that is the modern equivalent of the Pharisaism of Jesus’ times.  But in doing so, such Christians only increase the volume of the modern world’s anti-religious bigotry, and they share in the assaults of the anti-Church.

The all-important question is, then, what is religion? What does the Catholic Church mean when she uses the term religion?

 

Part I

The word “religion” is derived from the Latin word “religio,” which in turn seems to be derived either from “relegere” or “religare.” Relegere means, “to recollect,” and religare means, “to bind.”  The etymology of the word “religion,” therefore, suggests two harmonious ideas: first, that of recollection or reflection, and second, that of binding oneself to God.

To give another example of the confusion caused by anti-religion religionists: I once heard an Evangelical preacher say that the word religion means, “to bind.” Correct, so far.  But he then wrongly claimed that religion binds man to religion and to its many man-made customs and beliefs.  Such may have been his personal opinion or attitude, but he was incorrect.  In fact, this opinion is quite common among Bible Christians, who claim to be not religious at all, to abhor religion as a corruption of the simple Gospel, and who relish criticizing Catholics for their overt religiosity nearly as much as do atheists.

To put aside all prejudice, now, and get at the heart of the issue: the term religion, as used by the Catholic Church, refers to an interior life in which one freely and willingly binds or attaches oneself to God. The direction of true religion is upwards to the one true living God and to the things of God.  Religion concerns man’s relationship with the Almighty. It is centered on the transcendent, rather than the mundane, and the eternal, rather than the temporal.

This is not to say that religion is unconcerned with the problems of this world, with poverty, injustice, and violence.  By no means.  But, consistent with its transcendent nature, religion addresses such problems in light of the good and the true, in light of a divine moral law, and in light of the ultimate end of man, which is not merely to live in this world for as long as possible, but to finally live forever with God.

Can religion be abused? Can persons in the religious domain give themselves primarily to mundane pursuits, to greed, hatred, hedonism, and even perversity?  In this age of Church sex scandals, we can only respond emphatically in the affirmative.  But in such cases, religion and religious institutions have ceased to be authentically religious.  They have betrayed the essence and purpose of true religion, which is always to lead man upwards to God through truth, grace and prayer.  But to conclude that all religion should be abandoned, due to the failure of a few or even of many, would be absurd.

Are there not many corrupt doctors and nurses who neglect or abuse their patients and charge them outrageous fees for “care” that actually does them harm? Are there not misdiagnoses that overlook serious ailments such as cancer, which then lead to the unnecessarily early death of the patient?  And are there not cases in which a wrong limb or organ is surgically removed?  Yes, such tragic cases are not even rare.  But only an irrational simpleton would conclude that, therefore, all doctors and nurses should be mistrusted, and the field of medicine itself should be abandoned.

On the contrary, many people take advantage of the failures and scandals caused by religious individuals as opportunities to irrationally blame the very idea of religion, as if religion itself were the cause. But why should the sins and crimes of a relatively small number of persons produce a permanent reputation for the many, as if it were a matter of grave guilt by association?  This makes no sense whatsoever. And yet, it is a common view among many opportunistic people towards religion alone.  They offer a generous tolerance and patience towards countless fields and professions, but then exercise an extreme impatience and intolerance towards God, religion, and religious people.

 

Part II

Authentic religion entails three areas of teaching: belief, behavior, and devotion.  It declares what we should believe about God, how we should live before Him, and how we should pray to Him.  Any group of people that teaches or promotes these three fields is, by Catholic standards, a religious group, and that which they proclaim is a religion.

Thus, Christians who self-righteously criticize religion are just kidding themselves.  Their Gospel faith, if it is at all consistent with that which Jesus Christ taught, is entirely concerned with belief, behavior, and devotion.  Whether or not they are willing to admit it, they are religious.  And rather than join their voices with the shouts of atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists, they should courageously join the ranks of those of us who suffer at the hands of the world because we are openly, professedly, and proudly religious.

The truth is, the problem with modern Christianity is not that it is religious, but rather, that it is not religious enough. It is too often concerned exclusively with humanity, with human interests, and with the here and now.

Missionary statements are very popular in the contemporary Church. One can find them posted in Church bulletins, vestibules, and on parish lawns and websites.  These statements can often be painfully mundane, describing the Church’s mission as serving the community, developing peoples’ gifts, and creating a safe environment for people of all ages, lifestyles, and sexual orientations.  The homilies one hears at Mass, and the songs used as well, often speak of these same themes.  The Gospel is perfunctorily proclaimed, but then our Lord’s often difficult teachings, which can be quite contrary to the spirit and practice of the times, are carefully avoided.  Instead, one hears about the obligations to be tolerant, open, and non-judgmental towards others, to love and believe in oneself, and of course, to recycle one’s bottles.  In other words, the homilies are often non-religious in content, and sound more like campaign speeches filled with self-help platitudes.

The Catholic Church, however, has an official missionary statement that was given to her by her founder, Jesus Christ.  Immediately before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus said to His apostles,

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Mt. 28:18-20).

This is the authoritative missionary statement of the Church, and it should be posted in every Church bulletin and vestibule, and on every Church lawn and website. It is the mission given to the Catholic Church by God Almighty Himself.  And it is inescapably and undeniably religious.  The divine mission of the Church is to proclaim all of the doctrinal, moral, and spiritual teachings of our Lord to all people for all time, and to sanctify with the sacrament of Baptism all those who would respond to Our Lord’s teachings.

In addition, at the Last Supper Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19). How is the Church to worship the thrice-holy God?   As revealed and commanded by Christ, she is to “do this”.  The Church is to worship God with that unique and extraordinary act of worship called the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the most perfect act of divine adoration that is possible this side of heaven.

In this manner, by means of doctrinal, moral, and spiritual truth, together with the grace of the sacraments – and most especially the Holy Mass – the faithful are to freely and joyfully “bind themselves” to God. And this constitutes what we can and must declare to be the one true religion.

Advertisements

Brother R. G. Stair Gets His Due

StairAlas, the self-proclaimed End Times prophet of God, Ralph Gordon Stair, has been taken into police custody on eight criminal charges.  Stair leads the “Overcomer Ministry,” a virtual cult compound with about seventy members located near Walterboro, South Carolina, with a global outreach “ministry” through AM, FM, satellite, and shortwave radio broadcasts.  He has been charged with criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, second-degree assault, first-degree burglary, and third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

This is not the first time Stair has been in police custody.  In 2002, he served two thirty-day jail terms for fondling two young female members of his cult.  He later claimed, “It was a consensual simple act of committing fornication or committing adultery… It was not a rape or an assault.”

As is common among cult leaders, groping and raping are simply a way of life.  They feel they have divine rights to the women in their compound, married or otherwise.  And if the women dare to resist the leader’s sexual advances, they are warned they are resisting the will of God and risking both expulsion from the community and eternal damnation.  In other words, manipulation through fear and guilt.

Because the Overcomer Ministry program airs on WACE, I’ve followed Stair for about fifteen years.  He regularly makes such statements as,

  • ‘I am the last prophet of God.’
  • ‘If you disagree with me, you disagree with God.’
  • ‘Jesus Christ will return before I die.’
  • ‘This is the last generation.  Prepare to meet your God.’

Perhaps the most ludicrous statement Stair has regularly made is, “Jesus Christ is coming in your lifetime!”  In your lifetime?  In whose lifetime?  In the lifetime of a two-year-old or a ninety-year-old?  Stair, who is himself eighty-four years old, is shrewd.  He’s invented an motto for his sensational predictions which, in order to disprove, you’ve got to die.

A constant feature of Stair’s broadcasts is his virulent anti-Catholicism.  He denounces the Church as pagan and satanic, and has many times referred to the popes as antichrists.  I well remember him mocking Pope Saint John Paul II as he was dying of Parkinson’s Disease and bearing heroic witness to the values of both life and suffering before a world that respects neither.  Stair implied that, if the pope was truly a man of God, then he wouldn’t be dying.  The suggestion was that John Paul’s Parkinson’s Disease was a divine punishment.

Stair once so angered me with his anti-Catholic rantings that I contacted him by email.  He had claimed the Church was leading the world in its rebellion against God, and that the popes were collaborating with such national organizations as the United Nations in an effort to control the world.  I asked him why, if such was the case, was the Church experiencing an increasing amount of persecution for her teachings – including from the UN – and why, in fact, was she shrinking in both size and influence.  Clearly, the world was becoming increasingly opposed to all things Catholic, including the pope himself (Pope Benedict XVI, at the time).

We went back and forth for a day or so.  His emails contained a curse, misspellings of common words, and nearly incoherent sentences.  The gist of his response was, ‘I can’t explain why what you’ve said is the case, but I still believe what I’ve said anyway.’  So much for trying to reach a “prophet” with truth and fact.  It was a pointless exchange.

The video below shows several of the recent events at his services that led police to investigate him.  Note the laughter and approval of the congregation as Stair touches the girls and refers to them basically as sexual objects.

We can only hope and pray that Stair’s Overcomer Ministry is quickly approaching its own “End Times”.

 

“Answering Common Objections” Talks

Saint Justin Martyr, Patron Saint of Apologists and PhilosophersCatholics are often confronted with difficult questions about the faith. Today, there are so many competing denominations, religions, spiritualities, and philosophies, as well as those that claim nothing at all is true: Protestantism, Islam, Wicca, Modernism, and atheism, to name a few.  What are the faithful to do amid such confusion?  First and foremost, they must know the truths of the Catholic faith and understand those beliefs and practices that contradict such truths.  As Christ said, only the truth can set us free.

Beginning on October 5, 2017, Timothy O’Keefe of The Fullness of Truth Apostolate will continue the talks entitled Answering Common Objections that examine and respond to some of the many challenges made to Catholic teaching. The talks will be held in the Holy Trinity Parish Center cafeteria on the first and third Thursdays of each month, from 7-8:30 pm.  They are held from October to June.  There is no set fee, but donations to the apostolate are greatly appreciated.

Holy Trinity Parish Center is located at 331 Elm Street, Westfield, MA.

The Fullness of Truth Apostolate can be reached at:

Phone:
(413) 568-4429

Mailing:
The Fullness of Truth Apostolate
P. O. Box 2301
Westfield, MA
01085

Email:
thefullnessoftruthapostolate@juno.com

“Catholic Apologetics” Classes

Saint Justin Martyr, Patron Saint of Apologists and PhilosophersCatholic Apologetics classes are now being offered on Mondays at the Little Sisters of the Poor Saint Joseph’s Residence (1365 Enfield St., Enfield, CT), and Tuesdays at Christ the King parish center (41 Warsaw Ave., Ludlow, MA).  Classes meet from 7-8:30 pm.

Catholic Apologetics is a four-year course designed to give students a thorough knowledge of the Catholic faith, with an emphasis on understanding, explaining, and defending the teachings of the Church.  Although there is no set fee, donations are greatly appreciated.

These classes are small, so there is always room for new students.  There is no required commitment to the course; people may come for as long as they choose.

If you would like to start an additional group in the southern New England area, I would be happy to consider it.  I’ve been teaching this course for sixteen years now, and am willing to offer it wherever there is a sincere interest in Catholic truth.  In addition to this course, I’m also willing to give only one or several talks on the faith.

The Fullness of Truth Apostolate can be reached at:

Phone:
(413) 568-4429

Mailing:
The Fullness of Truth Apostolate
P. O. Box 2301
Westfield, MA
01085

Email:
thefullnessoftruthapostolate@juno.com

Is the Church Only a Means to an End?

Saints in HeavenThe famous apologist, Frank Sheed, once wrote that there was hardly a single Catholic teaching which he had not heard denied or contradicted at Mass.  I would heartily agree.  In this age of irreligiosity in both the world and the Church, the weekly and daily homilies are often periods of doctrinal, moral, and devotional confusion – accidental or intentional.  Sometimes it is subtle and shrewd, but other times it is overt and stunningly absurd.  At Mass this morning I heard the latter type.  The priest said,

“The Church is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end.”

The concept of the Church that was revealed in these two statements and throughout the homily is shockingly temporal, utilitarian, and Protestant.  As if the Church were merely a tool for making or fixing something else, to be discarded when the project was completed!  Is she only a gadget – a sort of wrench or hammer?  Is she comparable to a college course or a political campaign, which is meant to exist for a time, but then be terminated once its purposes have been served?   Will the Church finally cease to exist, once the job is done?

The best way to answer these questions is to consider the purpose of the public ministry and atoning work of Our Lord.  The reason Christ came was to glorify God and save souls.  This was the ultimate two-fold purpose behind His every word and deed.  His preaching revealed the way to heaven; his healings and exorcisms demonstrated that He was the divine Redeemer with authority over death and the devil; His execution upon the Cross comprised the price of human sin and the means of universal reconciliation with the Father; and His Resurrection and Ascension were the proof and completion of the entire divine scheme.  From beginning to end, Christ came to die, that we might live.  But exactly where will the saved live?  All the saved will live in the Kingdom of God.

Now what is the relationship between the Kingdom of God (called the “Kingdom of Heaven” in the Gospel of Saint Matthew) and the Church?   When Jesus first sent out His twelve young Apostles, He instructed them,

“And as you go, preach the message, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Mt. 10:7)'”.

In announcing Simon Peter’s future primacy in the Church, Jesus said,

“I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:19).

Both of these passages describe the Kingdom as something that is present here and now on earth.  Saint Peter and his successors have supreme authority over it.  In addition, Jesus warned repeatedly that there would be corruption and scandal within the Kingdom, under the metaphors of weeds among wheat, bad fish among good fish, and a man who is thrown out of a wedding feast because he is improperly dressed.

To draw the obvious conclusion: the Kingdom of the God, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the one true Church of Jesus Christ are one and the same.  The Church is the Kingdom, but at its first stage of existence.  If the purpose of Christ’s redeeming work is the establishment of the Kingdom of God, then it can equally be said that the purpose of Christ’s redeeming work is the establishment of His Church.   The two statements are different ways of saying the same thing.

Commenting on the Lord’s Prayer, the Roman Catechism teaches,

“In this petition we ask God that the kingdom of Christ, that is, the Church, may be enlarged.”

Later, it says,

“In this kingdom of the Church, God has provided all those succors by which He defends the life of man, and accomplishes his eternal salvation.”

Expounding on this same topic, the Second Vatican Council fathers wrote,

“When Jesus, who had suffered the death of the cross for mankind, had risen, he appeared as the one constituted as Lord, Christ, and eternal priest, and he poured out on his disciples the Spirit promised by the Father.  From this source, the Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding his precepts of charity, humility, and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God and to be on earth the initial budding forth of that kingdom.  While it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed kingdom, and with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its king” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church/Lumen Gentium, #5).

The Church, then, is the beginning, the “budding forth,” of the Kingdom of God on earth.  She is the Kingdom in its initial and most imperfect stage, the Church Militant still engaged in the battles between flesh and spirit.  And one enters this Kingdom through Baptism.  One day, it will be purged of all sinners and unbelievers by the judgment of God, and only then will it be perfected.  Even now, that same identical Kingdom exists in heaven and is populated exclusively by the righteous, the saints, and is called the Church Triumphant.  Both are the same Kingdom and the same Church, but at different stages of perfection.  And it is concerning this futuristic purification and perfection of the Church that we pray, “Thy kingdom come”.

Now, to ask again and finally answer the original question: Is the Church only a means to an end?  Is she meant by God to serve a purpose here and now, but, once that purpose has been served, to cease to exist?

The Church, as the Kingdom of God which Christ became incarnate and taught, suffered, died, rose, and ascended into heaven in order to establish, is not merely a means to an end.  Rather, she is that place where man finds his ultimate purpose, the reason for his being, both here and hereafter.  As the domain of all the saved and the final home of the elect who will enjoy the beatific vision and worship God for eternity, her permanent establishment is part and parcel of the very purpose of Christ’s salvific work.  Hence, with the fulfillment of all things, the Church will finally enter the state of perfection and adoration…forever.  Like the righteous angelic spirits and human souls that will fill her, she will never cease to exist.

I am not suggesting that merely possessing membership in the Church as a mundane society is an end in itself.   Contemporary models of the Church as a social, cultural, political, and ethnic organization whose purposes and constitution are anything but transcendent – these directly contradict the standard set by Christ and have as their end, not the glorification of God and the salvation of souls, but merely current human interests as determined by the spirit of the times.  Such a “Church” could easily be replaced by other secular institutions that engage in humanitarian and philanthropic activism.  On the contrary, the Church has what no other institution has; namely, divine truth and grace.  And she must weary herself night and day urgently dispensing these to all who would receive them.  Thus, it is not mere membership in the Church that matters, but discipleship.  Because every human being was made to know, love, and serve God here, and to enjoy Him forever hereafter, and because the Church is that domain where this two-fold purpose is reached and retained, so the Church, correctly understood, is far more than a means to an end.  She will never pass away because her end is eternal; it is God Himself.

Are there elements within the Church that are temporary, that do serve as a “means to an end,” but that will one day cease to be?  Certainly.  These would include the many externals of her devotion, ministry, and government, including the sacraments, Scriptures, and all authority.  For one day, the faithful will no longer need these because they will possess grace, truth, and God Himself directly and immediately as the the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church Triumphant.  Thanks be to God!

The Parable of Young Goodman Brown

Nathaniel HawthorneThe mid nineteenth-century writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, composed many stories concerned with moral issues.  One particular short story that rises to the dignity of a parable is called, Young Goodman Brown.  The story begins with Goodman saying farewell to his beautiful and angelic wife of three months, Faith.  Her name is an important detail.  Apparently, Goodman must depart for one night on some mysterious deed that bears a degree of danger.  After leaving behind his beloved and their home in the village of Salem, Massachusetts, Goodman enters a dark forest in search of his unmentionable destination.  Although Hawthorne is slow to reveal its nature, it appears to be some sort of meeting in a field, and of an impious type.  Along the way, Goodman meets a man carrying a black snake-like staff who becomes his guide.  As one person after another appears along the same wooded way, and he meanwhile reflects more gravely on the nature of his deed, Goodman finds his resolve shaken and he begins to argue with his companion.  First he sees the pious woman who taught him the catechism.  Then he sees the minister, the deacon, and other highly regarded town elders as well.  It seems as if everyone that Goodman respects is attending the same shrouded affair.

When Goodman finally arrives, he finds a woodland gathering of Satan worshippers preparing to welcome and initiate several newcomers – among them, Goodman himself and his beloved wife, Faith!  Goodman appears to have been persuaded against his will to attend this meeting, and offers resistance, but in vain.  Regardless, he and Faith are carried through the ceremony until the moment of actual initiation.  As the two are about to be unwillingly baptized from a rock-hewn basin seemingly containing blood, Goodman shouts to his beloved, “Faith, Faith, look up to heaven and resist the wicked one!”

Immediately, Goodman awakens alone in the forest.  Hawthorne deliberately leaves the reader without an explanation.  Did the meeting really happen, or was it only a dream?  Was Faith received into that wicked congregation, to which all the other venerable towns folk belonged?  Was he, Goodman, received?   Hawthorne offers no clues to answer these tantalizing questions.  But the conclusion of the story finds Goodman wandering again through the streets of Salem with a very different view of its citizens – the catechist, the minister, the deacon, the elders, and even his once precious Faith herself.  Disgusted with their (supposed) extreme hypocrisy – the holy do-gooders who may actually be devil worshippers – Goodman withdraws from everyone and everything, including the Church, and dies a bitter and lonely old man.  He could no longer believe in the good, simply because others had betrayed it.  And even worse, these traitors maintained the veneer of virtue for the purpose of preserving their good reputations.

Oh, the parallels!  The Gospel reading for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time recounts our Lord’s Parable of the Wheat and Weeds.  It is found in the thirteenth chapter of Saint Matthew, which contains a total of seven parables specifically about the Kingdom of Heaven.  This Kingdom is neither this world in general nor heaven itself.  Rather, it is the Church in her infant and most imperfect stage.  Jesus said,

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.”

The fundamental point of this parable is not to state the obvious, that there will be evil – metaphorical “weeds” – in the world; rather, it is to warn the faithful that there will be evil in the Church.  Although the field represents the world in general, the all-important detail is that the weeds are wrapped around the wheat and look just like it.  They are in the immediate vicinity of the wheat and cannot be distinguished from it.  In other words, this is a parable, not about the Church in the world, but about the world in the Church.  Hence, it would be too risky to pull up the weeds, because the wheat would come up with them.  The only solution will come with the harvest at the end of the season, when everything will be pulled up at the same time.  Then the weeds will be thrown into a fire, and the wheat saved.

Our Lord actually gives such an interpretation at verses 40-43:

“Therefore, just as the weeds are gathered up and burnt with fire, so will it be at the end of the world.  The Son of Man will send forth his angles, and they will gather out of His kingdom all scandals and those who work iniquity, and cast them into the furnace of fire, where there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.  Then the just will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

What will be found within the Kingdom of God?  Scandals and iniquity.  This cannot be heaven proper, for nothing unclean can enter heaven.  It is the Kingdom in its first and most imperfect stage – the Church on earth.  And what will become of such sinners and unbelievers who are ostensibly in the Kingdom but not truly of the Kingdom?  In the end, they will be thrown into hell.  Only then, after the Day of Judgment, will the Church be perfected and free of all evil.  For now, the Church must always be striving to reform herself, but with the understanding that only God can achieve a perfect pruning.  Until that Day of days, the weeds will remain, threatening the Church, soiling her reputation, and obscuring her message and mission.

Jesus used other images to express the same teaching – the dragnet that contains both good and bad fish, the man at the wedding feast who neglected to wear the proper garment, and so on.  The message for the faithful of all eras is the same: prepare yourselves, for there will be extreme evil within the Church.  And when you witness it, do not doubt that this most imperfect institution is, in fact, the true Church, the one Kingdom of God founded by Christ that will never be forgotten by Him.

The parabolic value of the story of Young Goodman Brown is seen in the final paragraphs, in Goodman’s reaction to evil within the persons that he formerly respected, that he thought had merited his respect.  Overreacting, he withdrew from Salem’s religious and civil institutions because he believed their members were hypocrites.  He judged the Church exclusively by her human face.  However, behind an all-too human exterior lies her divine interior, and to abandon one is to abandon the other.  Goodman tragically overlooked this fact, and in doing so, he committed a blunder committed by many people today.

As has always been the case since the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, there is extreme evil within the Catholic Church.  Presently, evil is being welcomed, defended, and promoted even at the highest levels.  At the same time, good is being ridiculed, denied, and opposed, even at the highest levels.  I guess we’re right on schedule; it’s just as our Lord had warned.  But how will we react?  Will we leave the Church?  Will we throw up our arms in despair, conclude that Christ has abandoned His bride, and never again darken her vestibules?  Only a Goodman Brown would do such a thing.

Countless Catholics respond to Church scandals and corruption by leaving her once and for all.  As if the sins of the clergy could alter the fact that every human being needs for salvation precisely what the Church provides; namely, the truth and grace of Jesus Christ.

Let me be blunt.  If the pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, and all the laity are mortal sinners and unbelievers to the last soul, regardless, I have not a single reason to abandon the faith.  If the Church refuses to preach the Gospel, but preaches liberation theology and leftist politics instead, regardless, I have not a single reason to reject the Gospel.  And if the Church insists on giving Holy Communion to practicing homosexuals, LGTBQ activists, cohabitating adulterers, and pro-abortion politicians, still, I have not a single reason to question the veracity of the Real Presence; nor do I need the grace of the sacrament any less.

Christ forewarned us about the coming scandals within His Church for a good reason; namely, so that when they appeared in all of their horrid grotesqueness – both the heresy and the perversity – we would not then wrongly conclude that the divine was wholly absent, that the God who had solemnly promised to remain with His Church until the consummation of this world, had, after all, abandoned her to the devil.  And also, so that we would not doubt that, in spite of hypocrisy and duplicity, the Church is still the Kingdom of God on earth.

Young Goodman Brown made a foolish assessment; it was purely emotional and therefore irrational.  As a result, he followed for the remainder of his life a different and longer path that, nevertheless, led him back to that same sylvan congregation of occultists.  Just as they had turned from God, so, too, did he, though in a vastly different manner.  And in the end, they would all arrive at the same kingdom where there is only “the weeping and the gnashing of teeth”.

The same is true for those Catholics who, overreacting to scandals within the Church, and even using such evil as a convenient justification, abandon the Church and never again return, to the peril of their own salvation.  For what, morally speaking, is the difference between the person who remains in the Church and sins, and the person who leaves the Church because of the sins of others?  Both have fallen and placed themselves apart from the Kingdom of God.

Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Whoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.”

– From the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) of the Second Vatican Council, #14

 

A Method of Self-Instruction

TrailMany years ago, I had an immensely valuable opportunity to develop my teaching skills and philosophy: I had to teach probably the stupidest person I’ve ever known – myself.

In 1990, after returning to the Catholic Church, I found myself thoroughly convinced of the veracity of Catholic teaching, but equally ignorant of it.  No, that’s not a contradiction.  One can come to a biblical and historical conviction beyond all doubt that the Catholic Church is the one true Church directly founded by Jesus Christ, and yet be substantially ignorant of the specifics of her many teachings.  Such was the case.

At the time, I had great admiration for certain well-known Catholic organizations that specialized in apologetics and evangelization.  Their advice to those who wanted to engage in this sort of work was the same: study individual subjects one at a time; become proficient with one particular teaching of the Church, and then move on to the next.  If you’re speaking to someone about a topic on which you’re confident, stick to it and do not wander off to another topic, even if you’re asked questions about it.  For example, become adept at speaking about the Holy Eucharist.  But if someone asks you about the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, humbly withdraw.

For a short while, I followed this council against my instincts.  But I soon enough concluded that it was not for me, and possibly, that it was not good advice in general.

Pardon the tangent, but this metaphor offers a little light on the subject.  If one is hiking a new area – be it a mountain or a flat wooded expanse – one can erratically and randomly take one path after another, in the hope that an accumulation of many hikes will eventually familiarize one with the area.  Or else, one can be much more methodical, deliberate, and patient.  One can take the main trail and stick with it to the end, and repeat this several times, on several different hikes.  Becoming well-grounded in the perimeter of the area on the most important trail of all establishes a sense of the place as a whole.  After this, one can hike the first side-trail off the main trail, then the second side-trail, then the third side-trail, and so on.  In the end, after many hikes, one will have built up both a general knowledge of the area, as well as an organized knowledge of the smaller less-important trails.  This takes much more time and patience than the erratic method, but in the end, one’s familiarity with the area will be far superior.  And one will be confident when hiking it.

I have found this second method to be the correct one, both in hiking and in studying the faith.  While preparing for my reversion to the ancient faith, I read many books at random, many excellent apologetical works by superb Catholic authors, but without a plan.  This was the erratic method of self-instruction, and it produced very little knowledge or understanding because it neglected to educate me in the fundamentals of the faith – the “main trail” of Catholicism.  It was interesting and enjoyable, but it wasn’t effective.  So, in struggling to effectively educate the stupidest person I’ve ever known, I changed the method of education.  I decided instead to start at the very beginning and build up.  This meant children’s catechisms.  In my early thirties, I read the Penny Catechism.  Then I read the Baltimore Catechism, numbers one and two.   Then I read several of Father John Hardon’s catechisms.  Meanwhile, I repeatedly read the Bible cover to cover, as well as some fairly simple apologetical works.  With this approach of starting at the bottom and studying very clear, simple, and yet thorough explanations of Catholicism, my dull mind began to grasp the faith, not as an assortment of religious propositions, but as a unified body of doctrines and morals that formed a beautiful and purposeful whole: the Holy Gospel, the faith of the saints.

There are countless Catholics today who have a fine education in various sophisticated fields, who have earned advanced degrees of impressive sorts, but who possess only the crudest religious education.  Parallel to this, catechesis has reached a catastrophic low in the modern Church, even in this age that is obsessed with formal education.  The instruction that we constantly hear from our preachers and teachers, from those whose solemn duty it is to form the faithful in the truth, is often banal, confused, inaccurate, and even shrewdly laced with errors that can deceive even the vigilant.  I dare say, this is true even at the highest levels of the modern Church.  To survive and acquire a sound Catholic formation today demands constant watchfulness, courage, and often independence from one’s immediate “Catholic” environment.  If you wish to gain a truly Catholic formation of mind and heart, prepare to go it alone.  That is the sad reality of our present situation.

In the midst of this chaos, there is quite predictably a constant berating of traditional authentically Catholic catechesis.  Both clergy and laity commonly speak of the Penny, Baltimore, and other similar catechisms as if they were a means by which, through memorization, the pre-Vatican II Church brainwashed the young with hurtful pious-sounding lies.  If anything is a brainwashing, it is this reckless claim that takes from Catholics the means of effective formation in the essentials of revealed Truth and leaves them both ignorant of the treasures God wishes them to possess and vulnerable to the spirit of the times, to the destructive nihilistic ideologies of liberalism, relativism, and agnosticism which corrupt the soul through the intellect.

Ask one such critic of traditional catechesis to define the Church, a sacrament, the nature of the Mass, the two-fold nature of Christ, or the purpose of life itself.  They will fumble and mutter a mouthful of nonsense as they try to invent their own definitions, until they finally declare, as if uttering the last divine revelation, “The Church doesn’t engage in religious definitions any longer.  Catechisms are passé.  We’ve moved beyond them!”

If such persons were to take themselves seriously and assess the actual meaning of their message, they would realize that the emptying of our churches of souls is the only logical consequence.  For if there is nothing to teach because nothing is true, and if catechisms contain a mass of outdated nonsensical propaganda, then the Church has no mission, and only a fool would continue to attend her services and listen to her homilies.  And this is what the dedicated Catholic must be courageous enough to admit, reject, and denounce – all alone, without the help or support of clergy or laity.  It is a weight almost too heavy to bear, but it is precisely what God is presently requiring of those who love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

My point is simply to offer some prudent advice and encouragement, in light of the current crisis.  Don’t give up; don’t quit on God and His Church; ignore the mockers and the lukewarm who have no use for the priceless gold of God.

Beware of excessive article-reading.  The Internet is a bottomless pit of both useful and useless information on the Church and religion in general.  It can be a superb tool for certain types of research, but it can also pose a serious threat to the study of the faith.  One can become obsessed with current information, but information is not a formation, is not an education.

If you would like to learn the Catholic faith, first patiently follow the main trail, and then gradually and systematically add the side trails.  Work at it from the ground up.  Study the Church’s classic time-proven catechisms cover to cover.  Learn the long-established vocabulary of the faith.  Read, re-read, and through the tedious wonders of repetition, memorize the answers and definitions.  Humble yourself and follow the way that Catholic children once followed.  This will be only a beginning, but a good and right beginning.  Later, you can build up a more mature grasp of the faith with more advanced manuals.  But first, establish a basic and thorough understanding of the faith through an assiduous study of fundamental catechesis of the clearest type.  Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.  And at all times, Holy Scripture.

Baltimore Catechism

“Amoris Laetitia” and the Revealed Nature of Christianity

sermon-on-the-mount-carl-bloch

The confusion over Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) continues to worsen, and the criticism of it by both bishops and scholars is daily growing more pointed and precise. From its first appearance in March of 2016, many Catholics found this document, especially its eighth chapter, to contain statements and principles that either subtly or blatantly contradict Catholic teaching on marriage, sexuality, and the sacraments.  More recently, four cardinals – Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Leo Burke, Carlo Caffarra, and Joachim Meisner – addressed a private letter to the pope, asking for clarifications on five key points of confusion.  After receiving no response for two months, the cardinals decided to release their letter to the public.  From this release, the four cardinals have been openly criticized and maligned by many in the Church, especially those sympathetic to the liberal perspectives of Pope Francis.  Yet, there is also growing support for the four cardinals and the questions and objections posed in their letter.  For example, an international group of twenty-three scholars recently published the following statement:

“As Catholic scholars and pastors of souls, we wish to express our profound gratitude and full support for the courageous initiative of four members of the College of Cardinals, Their Eminences Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Leo Burke, Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner.”

In addition, two more scholars have published a statement entitled, The Misuse of Amoris Laetitia To Support Errors against the Catholic Faith, explaining how many passages in the pope’s document may be easily used to directly contradict Catholic teaching. Finally, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in a talk given at the Laponto Foundation in Rome, has been especially blunt in his criticisms of Amoris Laetitia.  He said,

“An ecclesiastical authority that issues norms or pastoral guidance that provides for such admission, arrogates to itself a right that God has not given it. A pastoral accompaniment and discernment that does not communicate to the adulterous person, the so-called divorced and remarried, the divinely-established obligation to live in continence as a sine qua non condition for admission to the sacraments, exposes itself in reality as an arrogant clericalism, as there does not exist any clericalism so pharisaical as that which arrogates to itself rights reserved to God.”

Finally, previous to the release of the document, and after reviewing its contents, as many as thirty cardinals had warned the pope that Amoris Laetitia would only weaken marriage, but the pope chose not to listen.

To state the obvious, the ideas proposed in Amoris Laetitia amount to changes in Catholic teaching and practice, especially regarding the reception of Holy Communion by those living in “second” marriages.  Catholic doctrine, in accord with Holy Scripture, clearly teaches that civil divorce cannot break a sacramental marriage, so that those Catholics who divorce and enter into a second “marriage” are actually living in a state of adultery, since they remain married to their first partner while they live and have sexual relations with their second partner, to whom they are not actually married.   And to be clear, this document proposes that such adulterous couples who continue to have sexual relations may, in certain cases, receive Holy Communion.

To use the popular accusations and judgements of the day: Are these notions of marital and sexual morality only pharisaical rigidity? Are they indications that one is seeing only in black and white?  Are they the merciless precepts of nostalgic fundamentalist ideologues?  Absolutely not!  The issues involved in the Amoris debate concern fidelity or infidelity to the moral teachings of Jesus Christ.  There is no other way to say it.

Speaking through the prophet Malchi, God revealed the divine perspective on divorce:

“…You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, ‘Why does he not?’  Because the Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life?  And what does he desire?  Godly offspring.  So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth.  For I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel…” (Mal. 2:13-16).

While debating with the Pharisees on the subject, Jesus said,

“For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Mt. 19:8-9).

From the beginning, it was God’s intention that man and woman should marry and remain faithful to each other for life.  Divorce, therefore, clearly contradicted the divine will, but under the Old Covenant and through Moses, it was tolerated due to the hardness of human hearts.  With the establishment of the New Testament in Christ, however, the original will of God was re-established.  Divorce was forbidden, but if a couple should divorce, at the very least they could not attempt to marry again as long as their spouses were still living.  For since divorce cannot break the marital bond, but only death can, attempting to enter into a second marriage would constitute adultery – that is, living and having relations with one partner, while still being married to another.

Notice that, in the controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees, the Pharisees argue on behalf of divorce and remarriage, while Jesus forbids them. In other words, Phariseeism in this case entails the toleration of divorce and remarriage – and thus, adultery – rather than the condemnation of them – quite contrary to the way the charge of Phariseeism is carelessly thrown around these days.  In this case, Jesus is clearly the “doctor of the law” type, the uncompromising teacher of black and white morals, rather than the halting moralist whose mercy is seen in his laxity.

The Catechism teaches the following on this subject:

“In his preaching, Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning: permission given by Moses to divorce one’s wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts. The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it: ‘what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder’” (CCC 1614).

“The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble. He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the Old Law” (CCC 2382).

In light of these passages from the Bible and the Catechism, it is clear that divorce and “remarriage” amount to the mortal sin of adultery.  Man cannot make right that which God has declared to be wrong.  To do so is to indulge in a moral authority that he does not possess.

Christ foresaw all the difficulties that would follow from His teaching about divorce, all the hardships that married couples would face, including the pains of “failed” marriages and the loneliness that follows them.  Nervertheless, He declared these moral truths, and it is the responsibility of the Church to proclaim them and of Catholic couples to live them.  By divine grace, all things are possible, including the humanly impossible.

Parallel to the teaching of Christ on divorce is another remarkable warning: “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you” (Mt. 7:6).

The so-called “dogs” and “swine” in this passage refer to the Gentiles in general, or more specifically, to sinners who reject the ways of the one true God.  In other words, that which is holy is not to be given to those who are morally unfit to receive it or to appreciate it, for such would be a sacrilege.  And sacrilege neither pleases God nor helps the sinner or the unbeliever.

Saint Paul took these principles a step further and made a defined connection between the issues of sin and that which is supremely holy; namely, Holy Communion.  He wrote,

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

This last excerpt provides the biblical basis for Catholic teaching.  Any person guilty of a mortal sin must first be reconciled with God in the sacrament of Penance.  Only after repenting of and confessing the sin may he or she receive Holy Communion.  To receive our Eucharistic Lord while in a state of mortal guilt is to commit an additional grave sin of sacrilege.  To permit people to commit such a terrible sin is neither compassionate not pastorally responsible.

Adultery is a mortal sin.  Hence, the Church has always taught that people guilty of adultery must not receive Holy Communion.  This is not an arbitrary law or a mere custom of the Church.  Rather, like the Ten Commandments, it is divine law, and man cannot change the moral laws established and revealed by God.  In fact, all people will be judged by this divine law, regardless of how they felt about it or whether it seemed in their view to be rigid, pharisaical, or overly black and white.  Who are they to judge God?

The problem with Amoris Laetitia is that it proposes the reception of Holy Communion for some couples who are in invalid second “marriages” and who, in spite of understanding the teaching of the Church on the subject, nevertheless continue to have sexual  relations.  Previously, the Church in certain cases would allow such couples to receive Holy Communion only if they would live together continently, as brother and sister.  In other words, the acts of adultery would first have to end before they could receive.  Amoris Laetitia proposes a change in this requirement, and Pope Francis has repeatedly confirmed this.

Practically speaking, that one couple, knowingly and freely living in a state of ongoing adultery, committing one act of adultery after another, can receive Holy Communion, while another couple that has – say –  neglected to keep the one hour Eucharistic fast cannot receive, reveals a moral system that is both inconsistent and incoherent.  And should that adulterating couple be instructed to observe the Eucharistic fast out of respect for the Most Blessed Sacrament?  Let their pastor try to make sense out of that one!  Talk about straining out a knat and swallowing a camel!

It is in light of these principles that the controversy over Amoris Laetitia must be waged.  It is not a matter of right or left, conservative or liberal, modern or traditional, but of right teaching or wrong teaching, of observing Christian morality or indulging in the world’s immorality.  For the Holy Eucharist is the most sacred thing we have, since it is Jesus Christ Himself.  To show an indifference in receiving Him is a scandal unto itself, and one that will lead to other acts of disrespect towards God.  And just as importantly, the controversy poses a threat to our understanding of the very nature of Christianity itself; that is, are its teachings revealed by God or are they merely composed by men?

Religions have come about in various ways. Some religions are the collected musings of imaginative individuals, some are the nonsensical ramblings of lunatics, some are the result of experimentations with altered states of consciousness, some are the fabrications of opportunists, some are the result of contact with demonic spirits, while others are the fruit of sincere human inquiry into the mysteries of the soul, the afterlife, right and wrong conduct, and the nature of the Supreme Being.  Religions that are the fruit of sincere human searching contain some truths and possess a certain value and nobility, and can be effective preparations for the reception of the Holy Gospel.  But whereas the world’s religions are the result of man’s search for God, Christianity is the result of God’s search for man.  As a result, they are worlds apart.

Christian teaching is the direct consequence of God’s having come in the flesh to walk among us, teach us what we could never have discovered by reason alone, demonstrate for us the meaning and nature of true righteousness and holy love, and finally, reconcile us with Himself through the Cross, thus making salvation possible for the first time since the infamous fall of our common parents. In other words, Christianity is a religion of divine revelation, and on this fact it either stands or falls.

Christian doctrine and morality are not human doctrine and morality. Rather, they are God’s doctrine and morality.  They are founded on objective truths about God, man, the world, and the future that have been shown to us by our Creator, not arbitrarily, but purposefully, so that we may know, love, and serve Him in accord with His will.  If a person does not believe this, if they instead believe that Christian doctrines and morals are merely the pious musings or the oppressive assertions of human beings, then he or she lacks substantial reason to be a Christian.  And specifically, if a Catholic does not believe that the Catholic Church is God’s chosen means for making known this saving truth and dispensing the saving grace that accompanies it – and all this by the promised Spirit of Truth – then in the same way, he or she lacks substantial reason to be a Catholic.

The controversy over Amoris Laetitia concerns, not only the particulars of moral and sacramental theology, but also, the very nature of Christianity as a world religion among other world religions.  If a pope may legitimately alter or eliminate any teaching he wishes, if he may simply ignore clear and emphatic commands made by Christ and Saint Paul, then Catholicism is not the true religion, but only one religion among many other equal religions, and the notion of a “one true religion” is only a fantasy.  If divinely revealed  teachings can be derided as “rigid,” and then new human teachings put in their place, then the proper order of the two great commandments has been reversed, and the Church is loving others in a manner that conflicts with the love of God.

When Christ gave St. Peter, the Apostles, and their successors the authority to teach, sanctify, and govern the faithful in His name, saying, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” He did not give them an absolute authority.  They could not then abolish the Ten Commandments and the Gospel precepts.  Rather, such authority was given so as to uphold, expound, and defend the truths and laws of God in the face of opposition to them or confusion about them.  The Church possesses no authority whatsoever to deny what Christ has asserted in the Gospel.

Confusion in serious matters of religion is not of the Holy Spirit, but of the devil, especially if that confusion concerns teachings which had previously been clear and certain.  And the teachings regarding adultery and the reception of Holy Communion have been quite clear and certain.  Yet,  Amoris Laetitia has caused such confusion that even the bishops cannot resolve it; even they now disagree on fundamental matters of morality.   Hence, if one is in Poland or certain dioceses in the Untied States, one cannot be an adulterer and receive Holy Communion; but if one is an adulterer in Germany, Belgium, or the Philippines, one can receive Holy Communion.  This is a disaster that parallels the confusion of denominationalism.   It makes the Catholic Church appear no better off than the countless sects and factions that resulted from the Protestant rebellion of the sixteenth century.

The Catholic Church and faith will survive, no matter what we do to them.  But the fact is, the ancient faith is presently being neglected and assaulted by those who have the responsibility from Christ to be its chief defenders.  In such difficult circumstances, we must all “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  For we are not members of a football team or cheerleaders on the sidelines; rather, we are disciples of Jesus Christ, and it is our duty and privilege to live and die for the faith He taught…even when our leaders betray that faith.   There can never ever be a good excuse for being a bad Catholic.

I stand firmly with the four cardinals, twenty-five scholars, and thirty cardinals against the confusion caused by Amoris Laetitia.  But rather than have each confused passage be painstakingly resolved in an effort to “save” the document, I would personally prefer to see either the eighth chapter removed or the entire document withdrawn.  Let’s end this catastrophic confusion by altogether eliminating the cause.  If pope Francis truly is as humble as many claim, then let him once and for all resolve this dilemma with three humble words: “I was wrong”.

Let me conclude with one more superb passage from the Catechism concerning both Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition:

“Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.  At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully.  All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith” (CCC 87).

 

Abortion and Excommunication

confession

During the recently concluded Year of Mercy, Pope Francis granted to all priests the ability to relieve the excommunication attached to the sin of abortion.  Previously, in some countries, only a bishop could relieve this penalty, and until it was lifted, sacramental absolution could not be granted to the person guilty of abortion.  In an Apostolic Letter entitled Misericordia et Misera (Mercy with Misery) issued on November 20, 2016, the pope has extended this ability to all priests beyond the Year of Mercy, until further notice.  The relevant statements are found in paragraph #12:

“Given this need, lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary. I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.”

Recently, an Italian senator named Monica Cirinna, known for her pro-abortion and pro-homosexual activism, caused a bit of a stir by implying that Pope Francis was gradually liberalizing the Church’s position on abortion.  She claimed, “I am sure that he is going in the right direction.”  Strangely, Cirrano has additionally interpreted the pope’s recent statements to support her desire to punish medical personnel who refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds.  This is such a stretch as to be absurd, and it is an obvious attack especially on committed Catholics.

Pope Francis, although he does not speak against the sin of abortion as forcefully and frequently as many of us would like, nevertheless has plainly restated Catholic teaching on the subject.  As he asserts in the above document, “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life.”  In addition, abortion continues to carry the penalty of automatic excommunication.  This has in no way changed, except that the penalty may now be removed in the sacrament of penance by ordinary priests.

To grant all priests the right to give full and effective sacramental absolution to those guilty of abortion is not to belittle the gravity of the sin, nor to cheapen mercy, but only to emphasize the need for God’s forgiveness following such a grave act.  After all, the person confessing such a sin clearly recognizes its gravity and is repentant of it.  This is the very person that the Church wishes, not to push away, but to receive into her arms in order to strengthen through God’s mercy and restore in God’s grace.  Such is the purpose of the Church’s ministry of reconciliation, and the pope wishes only to make it more effective for those who prudently turn to it.

In spite of the warped interpretations and intentions of some, there is no change whatsoever in the Church’s moral teaching on abortion, nor can there be.  For it is a matter, not of the traditions of men, but of divine law.  The Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill,” means, “You may not murder an innocent person.”  No human being possesses the authority to change this law, for it is founded, not on merely human authority, but on divine authority.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

“Since the first century, the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.  This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.  Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (#2271).

Yes, circumstances can some times mitigate the guilt of those involved in an abortion.  Conditions such as ignorance or extreme threats from others can reduce the mortal guilt of a person involved in this particular, or in any other, gravely immoral act.  This is just standard Catholic moral teaching.  But the objective act of deliberately killing a pre-born child always remains gravely immoral, and it continues to carry the penalty of automatic excommunication.  Circumstances cannot make morally right that which God has declared to be morally wrong.