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 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, in light of the current crisis.  If you would like to learn the Catholic faith, first patiently follow the main trail, and then gradually and systematically add the side trails.  Study the Church’s classic catechisms cover to cover.  Learn the long-established vocabulary of the faith.  Read, re-read, and through repetition, memorize the answers and definitions.  Humble yourself and follow the way that Catholic children once followed.  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

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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.

 

Controversy over Fr. Frank Pavone

Ed Mechmann is the director of public policy for the Archdiocese of New York.  The following letter is posted on the archdiocesan web site.

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“November 7, 2016
by Ed Mechmann

Yesterday, Fr. Frank Pavone, the leader of Priests for Life, went live on Facebook to endorse Donald Trump for President. That’s his right as a U.S. citizen, and one can agree or disagree with that as a matter of course. But the way he did it was absolutely appalling, and deserves to be repudiated by all of us who consider ourselves to be pro-life in the fullest meaning of that word.

What did he do? He used a dead aborted baby, laying naked and bloody on an altar, as a prop for his video.

Yes, you read that correctly.

A priest of the Catholic Church publicly displayed on a sacred altar a dead baby who was the victim of a terrible crime as part of a propaganda video in favor of a political candidate.

It is hard for me to express in calm, measured terms, the revulsion I feel about this. I know that the pro-life movement has long had a debate about the use of graphic images to reveal the reality of abortion. The discussion has always focused on a cost/benefit analysis of their effect of the viewer versus the risk of alienating those who don’t want to see such things, especially on women who are post-abortive and have not yet healed.

But that’s all beside the point. The real question is, what about that baby as a human being? That baby is an individual human person, someone’s son or daughter, made in the image and likeness of God, unique and unrepeatable, and deserving of our love and mercy. To use her body in this way is to treat that poor lost girl or boy as an object to be used — which is the antithesis of love  — and not as a brother or sister to be mourned.

Who would ever wish that their body be used in such a way?  Who would ever want that for a loved one?  Can any of us imagine that being the right way to treat the remains of our dead son or daughter?

And to place that baby’s body on an altar, which has been sanctified for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? To treat the altar of God as if it’s a mere podium for a political speech?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection.” There is no ambiguity there.

A human being has been sacrificed and the altar of God has been desecrated, all for politics. Everyone who respects the dignity of every human person should reject and disavow this atrocity.”

Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, has stated he will be opening an investigation.  The bishop wrote,

– Priests for Life, Inc., is not a Catholic institution, but a civil organization, and it is not under the control or supervision of the Diocese of Amarillo.
– Father Frank Pavone has posted a video on his Facebook page of the body of an aborted fetus, which is against the dignity of human life and is a desecration of the altar. We believe that no one who is pro-life can exploit a human body for any reason, especially the body of a fetus.
– The Diocese of Amarillo deeply regrets the offense and outrage caused by the video for the faithful and the community at large. The action and presentation of Father Pavone in this video is not consistent with the beliefs of the Catholic Church.

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I think very highly of Fr. Pavone for his many years of courageous witnessing to the sanctity of life and the evil of abortion.   However, activists working even for the best of causes and with the purest of intentions can some times, in the passion for their causes, exceed that which is decent and right.  One should never ever use the Holy Mass, the Holy Eucharist, or even the altar on which the Holy Sacrifice is offered, for purposes other than divine worship.  And as for placing a real aborted child on an altar – this is shocking beyond belief.  It is an act of sacrilege towards our Eucharistic Lord by means of the body of a murdered child, which should have been immediately given a proper burial.

Of course I can understand Fr. Pavone’s point, but this was a sickening way to make it.  In fact, it violated the very point he was trying to make; namely, that all human life should be shown the profoundest respect, and this respect must extend to include the bodies of the deceased.  The video is also an appalling example of the dehumanizing effect abortion has had even on those who are strongly opposed to it.  I dare say that, with this video, Fr. Pavone has himself fallen into this dehumanizing trap.

Where religion and activism meet, true religion is often the casualty.

 

We Must Hold Him to His Promises

Thanks be to God Almighty!!!  A catastrophically radical progressive and fanatically pro-abortion candidate for the United States presidency has been defeated, and a man of pro-life convictions who promises to guard the American pearl of religious liberty has been elected.   Approximately 50% of Catholics voted for Donald Trump, while about 81% of  Evangelicals gave him their vote.

We have five minutes to rest and rejoice at the results of this election, and then it’s back to perpetual vigilance.  For as Donald Trump stated in his victory speech early Wednesday morning, politics is a nasty business.  And we Christians must never presume to have a friend in this world.

What matters now is no longer the victory, but rather, the good that follows from the victory.  Politics is not an end in itself.  A higher good must follow from it if it is to be meaningful.  Our struggle ultimately is not between right and left, conservative and liberal, or republican or democrat; it is between good and evil.  A Saint Paul wrote,

“For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high” (Eph. 6:12).

In October of this year, Mr. Trump wrote the following letter, which is only one example of his many promises to Catholics and Christians.  These are his promises to us, and for the love of God we must hold him to his promises.

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“October 5, 2016

Gail Buckley, President
Catholic Leadership Conference
9409 Pendennis Lane
Charlotte, NC 28210

Dear Friends:

Unfortunately, my schedule precludes me from meeting and talking with you at the Catholic Leadership Conference today in Denver.

First, I would like to send my warm greetings to the Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila.  In discussions with my Catholic Advisory Group, it is clear Archbishop Aqulia’s leadership in the  Denver Archdiocese has been exemplary, as was the leadership of his predecessor, Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Second, should I be elected President, I look forward to working with these two respected leaders of the Catholic Church in America, their brother bishops, and Congress, on issues of critical importance to the Catholic Church and Catholics.

Catholics in the United States of America are a rich part of our nation’s history. The United States was, and is, strengthened through Catholic men, women, priests and religious Sisters, ministering to people, marching in the Civil Rights movement, educating millions of children in Catholic schools, creating respected health care institutions, and in their founding and helping the ongoing growth of the pro-life cause.

I have a message for Catholics: I will be there for you. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

As First Lady, US Senator, Secretary of State, and two-time presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton has been hostile to the core issues and policies of greatest concern to Catholics: life, religious liberty, Supreme Court nominations, affordable and quality healthcare, educational choice and home schooling.

For instance, Hillary Clinton supports forcing The Little Sisters of the Poor, who have taken care of the elderly poor since 1839, to pay for contraceptives in their health care plan (even though they have never wanted them, never used them, and never will), and having the government fine them heavily if they continue to refuse to abide by this onerous mandate.

That is a hostility to religious liberty you will never see in a Trump Administration.”

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Pray and Vote!

If you are a Catholic, a Christian, or a non-believer who opposes the mass murder of the innocent, then please consider the differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump is pro-life, opposes partial-birth abortion, will choose pro-life Supreme Court justices, has a solidly pro-life running mate (Mike Pence), has chosen Rick Santorum as a pro-life advisor, and belongs to a political party (Republican) whose platform is firmly pro-life and opposes the use of government funds (our tax dollars) to fund abortion.

Hillary Clinton is fanatically pro-abortion, supports partial-birth abortion and, in fact, abortion during all nine months of pregnancy, will choose only pro-abortion Supreme Court justices, has a pro-abortion running mate (Tim Kaine), and belongs to a political party (Democrat) whose platform is staunchly pro-abortion, demands the repeal of the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits the use of government funds – our tax dollars – to fund abortion), and will directly fund abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

Following this election, it is not only the innocent unborn that will be the casualties; it will also be our Republic, our Constitution, and the very idea of democracy, in which the voting process must be free of fraud and corruption.  But even more, the final casualty will be religious freedom.

Religious freedom is not merely the liberty to worship God together with others in a public building.  That is properly called “freedom of worship.”  Religious freedom is the liberty to openly profess one’s religious faith, to live according to its precepts, and to participate in the discussions and debates of the times, as guided by one’s beliefs.  It supposes the right to publically disagree with, and peacefully oppose, unjust and immoral policies on religious grounds.  And all this without government harassment.

Under the Obama administration, religious freedom has not only been challenged; it has been directly assaulted.  Many Americans are now being harassed by state and federal agencies simply for opposing such atrocities as gay so-called marriage, or for refusing to provide for their employees, through Obamacare, such “health services” as abortion, sterilization, and contraception.  Simply for insisting on their right to live and work according to their own consciences, many have been threatened, sued, and have lost their businesses and good reputations.  Under this administration, America has become literally an anti-Christian country, a nation that despises, mocks, persecutes, and prosecutes Christians, and that blatantly hates God and the very idea of religion.

At the same time, in a contradiction suggesting an agenda, this administration has supported the mass immigration, almost exclusively, of Muslims from the middle east.   Are there no Christians east of Europe?  The effect of this massive number of non-Christian immigrants belonging to a religion that is notorious for its rejection of religious tolerance will continue to assault the Christian foundation of America.  Our laws will be gradually replaced by their laws, bit by bit, including polygamy and Sharia Law, the latter of which imposes physical mutilation and the public stoning of women as punishments.

Hillary Clinton, a former member of the Obama administration as Secretary of State,  will maintain and force to the next degrees many of Obama’s policies.  She has proudly promised a dramatic increase in middle eastern immigration.  For various reasons, she apparently has an intense interest in the Islamization of America.  If you’d like to see what this will result in, simply study the present conditions of France, Germany, and Sweden, which include dramatic increases in crime, rape, and anti-Christian violence.  There is no mystery here, no blind guessing or conspiratorial hype.  The chaotic results can be observed by anyone who bothers to follow the daily news in Europe.   And America will be next.

In addition, Clinton’s staff has shown itself to be specifically anti-Catholic, even before the election.  They have made insulting remarks about Catholics and even strategized about infiltrating the Church in order to “plant seeds of revolution” within the Church and against Catholic teaching.  They’ve mockingly described the Church as “medieval” and “backward.”  In addition, during here disastrous four years as secretary of state, Hillary did not visit the Vatican or Pope Benedict XVI even once.  A Clinton administration, packed with corrupt elitist officials, radical leftist activists, and anti-religious bigots, would be a nightmarish regime comparable to the twentieth-century communist dictatorships of eastern Europe.  Do not fool yourself into believing that this could never happen in good old America.  It already is happening, and it soon could get much worse.  We simply cannot afford to allow this wicked Jezebel to be elected, and our only means of preventing it are praying and voting.

There is no doubt about it; both candidates have qualities that are less than flattering, that give pause to the conscience of every morally-minded voter.  Both have behaved and spoken scandalously in the past.  However, we are concerned now with our future.   We are not voting for a Savior; we already have One.  We are not looking for a flawless hero; we don’t need one.  Simply, we are desperately trying to preserve the barest traces of moral sanity in a country that is in a perpendicular spiral into the deepest and darkest forms of depravity, such as the world has never before seen and cannot endure.  Whoever will substantially slow down this spiral deserves our vote.

This election is not a matter of bad versus bad; it is a matter of bad versus evil.  And this evil has shown itself to be especially opposed to the Christian way of life and thought, of the profound respect for sacred truth and life.  Both would suffer as never before under a Clinton administration.  The very teachings of the Church are at stake, as are the lives of innocent children.  Both are on the verge of renewed assaults from a Clintonian government.

Please, pray to God Almighty for His protection and mercy upon America, and especially upon His Church.  And then, strengthened and guided by prayer, go out and vote!  Do not think for a moment that sitting out this election will absolve you from moral responsibility for its outcome.  It will not.  The differences between the candidates are stark and will have real and long-lasting consequences for the country and entire world.  Regardless of who is finally elected, the responsibility will fall equally upon all of us – upon those who voted selfishly, upon those who voted in an attempt to at least restrain the demise of this great Christian nation, as well as upon those who decided they would not vote at all, in an attempt merely to escape responsibility.

The devil relishes those pious people who sit by idly, coddling their idealism and offering evil no opposition, while the world steadily goes to hell, stage by stage.  This is precisely what Satan needs from good people – absolutely nothing – and he would like to thank all of you in advance.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (2239-2240),

“It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom.  The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community.

Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country.”

The Compendium of the Catholic Church says (464),

“Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God and offer their loyal collaboration for the right functioning of public and social life. This collaboration includes love and service of one’s homeland, the right and duty to vote, payment of taxes, the defense of one’s country, and the right to exercise constructive criticism.”

In life, there is no escaping moral responsibility;  there is only doing the best that one can by divine grace with the difficult circumstances caused by man and permitted by God for His good purposes.

On November 8, can any sincerely pro-life person really sit at home with peace of mind, knowing that others are out voting to support that demonic thing called a “woman’s right” to murder her child?  And if pro-abortion politicians have – as we often say –  “blood on their hands” because of their murderous policies, how is it that those of us who refuse to oppose those same policies, when given the chance, do not?  How is it that our hands are spotless?

Please, please, please, do the best you can in these most difficult of circumstances: pray, hold your nose, and then VOTE!

 

Days of Penance

A common contemporary misunderstanding among Catholics is the belief that days of penance passed away with the Second Vatican Council.  By no means!  Lent remains the most familiar period of penance  for sin, but so, too, do Fridays throughout the year.  The practice of the Church changed only regarding what specifically is given up as a penance.  Whereas, in the past meat was always to be given up on Fridays, today, either meat or something else may be given up; or else, one may do a charitable or spiritual work of some type.  Regardless, some act of penance, chosen by the individual, must be offered on Fridays throughout the year.  For Friday remains a day of penance every bit as much as it was in the past.

For those to whom this is surprising news, I’ve collected a few authoritative statements on the subject.  At the very bottom is also a link to an explanation of the changes in the Church’s penitential practice published by the American bishops in 1966.

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From the Catechism of the Catholic Church  #1438:

The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).

From the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church  #301:

What forms does penance take in the Christian life?

Penance can be expressed in many and various ways but above all in fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These and many other forms of penance can be practiced in the daily life of a Christian, particularly during the time of Lent and on the penitential day of Friday.

From the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 1249  The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can. 1250  The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251  Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1252  The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/us-bishops-pastoral-statement-on-penance-and-abstinence.cfm

The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano

 

lancianoApproximately in the year 700 A. D. in the Italian city of Lanciano at the monastery of St. Longinus, a Basilian monk was preparing to offer Mass.  Because he was struggling with his faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, he prayerfully asked God for help.  Perhaps he said, “Lord I believe, but help my unbelief.”  He then proceeded to the altar.

During the holy Mass, at the double consecration when our Lord’s words from the Last Supper are repeated over wheaten hosts and a chalice of ordinary wine mixed with water, a visible change in the Eucharistic elements occurred.  With the consecratory words, “This is My Body,” the appearances of the host changed from bread to flesh, and with the words, “This is the chalice of My Blood,” the appearances of the wine changed to that of blood.  The priest, with nervous excitement, recognized in this miracle the answer to his prayers.  He then invited the congregation to come forward and see the miracle for themselves.  The people wept for joy and, after Mass, left the parish to tell family, friends, and strangers of this extraordinary blessing.  Shortly afterwards, the bishop was informed.  He investigated and declared it to be a Eucharistic miracle.

Thirteen hundred years later, without the aid of modern scientific methods of preservation or sealing, these Eucharistic elements are still in tact and on display in the cathedral.  This in itself is miraculous.  The Host still appears like flesh, while the Precious Blood has coagulated into five pellets – suggesting our Lord’s five wounds to his hands, feet, and side.

In the year 1970, Archbishop Pacifico Perentoni of Lanciano decided to allow fragments of these Eucharistic elements to be examined in a laboratory.  The tests were to be conducted by Dr. Odoardo Linoli, professor of anatomy and pathological histology, and chemistry and clinical microscopy, as well as former head of the Laboratory of Pathological Anatomy at the Hospital of Arrezo.  He would be assisted by Dr. Ruggero Bertelli, professor emeritus of Human Anatomy at the Universtity of Siena.

On March 4, 1971, the results of the tests were presented to the public.

  • The Contents of the chalice were fresh human Blood, AB type, and contained  chlorides, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and calcium.
  • The Host was human flesh, perfectly preserved, containing fresh human Blood, AB type.
  • This Flesh was the cross section of the wall of a human heart, the myocardium and the endocardium.
  • The particular sample of the Heart could normally be obtained only by a skilled pathologist.
  • No traces of preservatives were found, nor would the freshness of the samples have allowed extraction from a cadaver.

In an interview with ZENIT, Dr. Linoli later stated,

“As regards the flesh, I had in my hand the endocardium.  Therefore, there is no doubt at all that it is cardiac tissue.”

Regarding the Precious Blood, he said,

“The blood group is the same as that of the Man of the Holy Shroud of Turin, and it is particular because it has the characteristics of a man who was born and lived in the Middle East regions.”

In 1973, the Higher Council of the World Health Organization assigned a number of scientists to investigate the findings of doctors Linoli and Bertelli.  Over a period of fifteen months, five hundred examinations were conducted.  The findings only reaffirmed the original results, and these were published in New York and Geneva in 1976.  In 1981, Dr. Linoli himself tested his previous findings using more advanced technology, and the results were the same.

A Catholic might logically wonder, “In light of such objective and scientific evidence for the Real Presence, how could a non-believer persist in their unbelief?”  I would respond with two personal stories.

First, one day while hiking with an atheist, I asked my unbelieving companion what he thought of Eucharistic miracles.  I then recounted the story of Lanciano.  He responded, “Well it might have been the flesh and blood of some one, but how do you know it was the flesh and blood of Jesus?”

Second, I once mentioned the issue of Eucharistic miracles to a rather renowned Protestant apologist who was speaking at a local Baptist church.  His immediate response was to claim that all such apparent Eucharistic miracles were actually demonic delusions. 

Presented with objective evidence demonstrating the veracity of Catholic teaching, what else can the stubborn unbeliever do but run?  What else but descend into illogical absurdities that require as much “faith” as do the miracles themselves?

The responses of these two men are sobering reminders that, believing is not only a matter of the intellect; it is a matter also of the will.  A person can have a plenitude of reasons to believe.  He or she can have a deep intellectual comprehension of doctrines and morals, apologetical arguments to support them, and even additional “motives of credibility” provided by miracles.  And yet, the tiny human creature can freely resist and deny the Creator of the universe, because faith requires the virtue of humility, the grace-inspired willingness to bow before the Great Other and profess His Holy Name.   And many people would rather do anything other than bow to the Great Other.

The various Eucharistic miracles that have occurred over the centuries are certainly extraordinary.  And yet, in another way, they are entirely ordinary.  They indicate a hidden reality that is invisibly present on the altars even of the smallest and most ordinary Catholic parishes throughout the world; namely, the abiding presence of Emmanuel – God with us – wherever the holy Mass is offered.  For at every valid Mass, the words of consecration convert mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ so that nothing remains of that bread and wine except their appearances.  What the faithful receive in Holy Communion is the very same divine Person Who died on Calvary – the same Flesh that was pierced by nail and lance for our sins, and the same Blood that was spilled at the scourging and later flowed down the beams of the Cross.

In the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, science demonstrated what the faithful already see with the luminous eyes of faith – that which the Church has proclaimed for two thousand years and can be found even in a children’s catechism.  Baltimore Catechism One teaches,

“Q. What is the Holy Eucharist?
A. The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament which contains the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.”

Truly, as Our Lord once prayed,

“I praise thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and prudent, and didst reveal them to little ones” (Mt. 11:25).

 

Classes in Catholicism

Saint Justin Martyr, Patron Saint of Apologists and PhilosophersOur various classes have resumed for the new school year.  There are presently three groups.  The course, Catholic Apologetics, will be taught at the Little Sisters of the Poor St. Joseph’s Residence in Enfield, CT (1365 Enfield St.), beginning Monday, September 19, and at Christ the King parish center in Ludlow, MA (41 Warsaw Ave.), beginning on Tuesday, September 20.

Another course entitled, Answering Common Objections, held on the first and third Thursdays of the month, will resume on Thursday, October 6, at Holy Trinity parish center in Westfield, MA (335 Elm St.).

Catholic Apologetics is a four-year course, but students are welcome to take as much or as little of it as they choose.  The course is intended to give students a thorough knowledge of the faith, with an emphasis on explaining and defending it.

Answering Common Objections is less of a course and more of a series of ongoing talks on the faith.  It is simpler than the Catholic Apologetics course, and therefore, would be suitable for fallen-away or non-Catholics who wanted to learn the basics.

In addition, I also have another course called The Fundamentals of Catholicism that examines the essential teachings of the faith.  I’m not presently teaching this course anywhere, but I would be happy to offer it wherever there is interest.

All classes are held approximately from 7-8:30 pm.  Although there is no set fee, donations of any amount to support the apostolate are greatly needed and appreciated.

It goes without saying that these groups are small in number – anything from 3-20 people.  So, new students are always welcome.  Again, I would be happy to start new classes wherever there is interest (in the southern New England area).  It requires only several students and a quiet room.  I’ve taught these classes for about 15 years now in school rooms, boardrooms, living rooms, and kitchens, and I’m willing to offer them wherever there is a sincere interest in Catholic truth.  So, please spread the word.

For more information, please leave a phone message at (413) 568-4429, or else, send an email to:

thefullnessoftruthapostolate@juno.com