Leaders of this Age: Where are your Successors? And Finally, who cares?

Christian Martyrs of Rome, pray for us.

Christian Martyrs of Rome, pray for us.

The Catholic Church is on the wrong side of History. Those who remain under her shelter are Obstinate Fools, who prefer their Hate to the promises of the Age.

This narrative — along with evermore strident charges of bigotry ennobled by the mantle of constitutionality — is widely expected to deliver the silence of remaining dissent, or at the very least a new calm to the “marketplace of ideas”.

The Crucifix, along with the triregnum and crossed keys, are nothing more than anachronistic flags of another (hateful, hypocritical) confederacy. It is promised that whatever follows is so that all this hate can be swallowed up by rainbows. Then (and only then) will true peace prevail.

St. Stephen, pray for us.

St. Stephen, pray for us.

It matters not, say the benevolent, that never before in the history of human civilization has there been a definition for marriage as anything other than between man and woman. Take note: it is entirely possible, simple fools, to recast objective and fundamental reality. In fact, this is required so that #LoveWins.

Can we be very surprised by any of this? After all, it was Pontius Pilate who asked Jesus, “What is Truth?” and by this expression he showed himself to be a partaker in the same invincible ignorance suffered today. It was Pilate who first personified the notion that Truth is fungible, unascertainable, or relative.

Aggravating such ignorance is that the Question is never in earnest, but rather (mostly) rhetorical, offered as terms of surrender to one’s fallen nature. It is almost as though the worst offenders know their own idiocy, but are already too burned (or burdened) by acedia to do anything other than submit to the demands of the crowd. We might even feel justified in righteous indignation — because it is all so dumb, but that too is part of the Mystery of the freedom God gives us.

Sts. Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Barbara and Cecilia, pray for us!

Sts. Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Barbara and Cecilia, pray for us!

Do not be tempted to forget that the Word is yesterday, today and tomorrow. Our Lord says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake” — He is, at this moment in history, speaking to us. Do not discount the supreme Gift of such a blessing! Rich is the reward for those blessed by the Lord!

In Fr. Robert Barron’s book Catholicism, he quotes the late Francis Cardinal George concerning the appearance of the cardinals on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica in April of 2005 following the announcement of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. According to Barron, “the news cameras caught the remarkably pensive expression on the face” of Cardinal George, and when reporters asked him later what he was thinking, George responded:

“I was gazing over toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman Emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? Where is the successor of Caesar Augustus? Where is the successor of Marcus Aurelius? And finally, who cares? But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.’ “

St. Sebastian, pray for us.

St. Sebastian, pray for us.

Joyfully walking with Jesus means that we can follow the Cardinal’s example and accept that many will call us bigots, and worse. They will tell us we hate whilst spewing their own invective. Spit on our priests. Troll our blogs. Vandalize our churches. Disrupt our liturgies. Remove us from secular public life. We can and must love those who do these things. We can and must forgive them as Jesus forgives us. Everything to follow has already happened countless times before — and He told us not to worry about it. 

Meanwhile, to the Leaders of this Age, where are your successors, and finally, who cares?

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Francis Cardinal George — perhaps the only true one-time “American Papabile” — R.I.P.

The Statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago:

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I had the privilege and honor of being received into the Church along with my wife by Cardinal George at the Easter Vigil in 2000. He generously made time to visit our RCIA group when we were both candidates and later, as sponsors, and I was able to meet him and chat with him briefly several times. I was impressed by his brilliance, and humility. This is sad news.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 12.37.14 PMA lot of good Chicago Catholics noticed his appearance on the Loggia of St. Peter’s after the election of Benedict XVI in 2005. His expression was described as pensive or anxious, and reporters later asked him what it was that he was feeling or thinking in the moment that he was caught on camera.

My recollection is that Cardinal George answered that looking out onto the square, he reflected how the various man-made institutions had come and faded into mere memory over the life of the Church — the Roman Empire, the various European kingdoms, and all the other great powers that at one point or another seemed virtually indestructible. “Where are they now?”, he asked. Only the Church survived when other forces appeared so much more unstoppable.

This answer never put an end to speculation that he had received some votes in the conclave, enough to pray for Benedict to have a long pontificate. By any stretch, it would have been amazing for an American cardinal to receive any votes, much less a block of them. If true, by the time of the 2013 conclave he most likely was more serene, aware that his cancer and age would save him from such a burden. But a number of Chicago Catholics, including myself, would not have been dismayed at all, but rather delighted (and confident in the Holy Spirit’s guidance) with a Pope George.

At least one Chinese Taxi Driver cannot fathom the possibility of Same-Sex Marriage

Believe it or not, this is Beijing. Photo courtesy of "Friend in China"

Believe it or not, this is Beijing. Photo courtesy of “Friend in China”

Recently I sent a friend working in China a link to this article that discusses a Virginia lawyer who faces “severe disciplinary measures” at his law firm.

The firm circulated an e-mail announcing that a federal judge in Florida struck down the state’s constitutional marriage protection amendment. In response, this lawyer sent a “reply-all” e-mail so it was received by everyone who got the announcement.

Perhaps that wasn’t so smart. “Reply-all” can be trouble sometimes. But the e-mail he composed was not a tirade; it actually provided some legal analysis supporting his argument. You can read the entire e-mail message in the linked article.

The lawyer was truthful; I would not call it “hate speech.” But the firm “denounced his statement as ‘reprehensible’ and ‘inappropriate,’ saying it ‘would not be tolerated.'”One commenter in blogoville wrote that the e-mail was “stupid, bigoted, dumb—, hate-filled, verbal feces.”

How tolerant. 

Cardinal George (despite undergoing experimental cancer treatment at the University of Chicago) offers some excellent insight into the problem for Catholics in secular society in his most recent column at Catholic New World. He writes:

“Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be. This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure…. Swimming against the tide means limiting one’s access to positions of prestige and power in society. It means that those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers. Nor will their children, who will also be suspect. Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics.

When I sent the story about the lawyer in Virginia to my friend in China, she wrote back with an anecdote:

A couple weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with a taxi driver over here. It was a 10 minute ride, so not a very long chat. It started with him asking if men in America were allowed to have multiple wives. He had heard of places where that was allowed and he thought it was not such a bad idea. He was a bit confused when I suggested that perhaps women wouldn’t care much for such an arrangement.

The conversation then turned to gay marriage and he was shocked to hear that was an option in some States. He was totally confounded. “How is that even possible? It totally goes against human nature! It isn’t possible! Why??? How do they have children? Even if they adopt you still have to have a man and a woman make it possible for them to adopt. This goes against human nature. It just isn’t possible.” He went on and on about the violation of human nature.

I was totally fascinated that this taxi driver in Beijing could see so clearly what has become foggy to so many. If we had had another 10 minutes maybe we could have returned to the question of polygamy and cleared up that water as well…

China has experienced more than 60 years of Communist rule. Pray for the Church there. The country is set to become the largest Christian nation in the world. This particular taxi driver certainly doesn’t have everything correct, and yet there remains an awareness of what goes against human nature. Meanwhile, an American attorney who proclaims that homosexuality is condemned in Scripture is subject to being severely disciplined.

Francis Cardinal George on the Good News…..

And Joy, and the New Evangelization:

Joy cannot be found in falsehood. A Jesus of our own invention cannot save. The true Jesus has risen from the dead. Free from all limitations, he acts now through the sacraments of the church. This is the connection between evangelization and Eucharist. We preach a Eucharistic Christ.

Read the rest, here.

Pray for His Eminence, and for his successor.

Huzzah to Springfield Bp. Paprocki: If we Voted, He’d have Mine to Succeed Cardinal George

Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki is a stalwart, courageous — and by all accounts, holy — pastor of his flock in Springfield. A few months ago he supported denying communion to pro-abortion Illinois senator Richard Durbin. He condemned the offensive attempt to simulate the ordinations of certain “Roman Catholic Womenpriests” at a protestant church within his diocese and declared that certain of the participants were thereby excommunicated Latae Sentiatae

Most recently he issued a pastoral letter on a subject very dear to me and countless other Catholics: restoring the placement of the Tabernacle of the Most Blessed Sacrament to a place of prominence in all churches and oratories under his jurisdiction. Check out his letter, entitled Ars celebrandi et adorandi:

…I direct that in the churches and chapels of our diocese, tabernacles that were formerly in the center of the sanctuary, but have been moved, are to be returned as soon as possible to the center of the sanctuary in accord with the original architectural design. Tabernacles that are not in the center of the sanctuary or are otherwise not in a visible, prominent and noble space are to be moved to the center of the sanctuary; tabernacles that are not in the center of the sanctuary but are in a visible, prominent and noble space may remain.

Huzzah! Huzzah! Three Huzzahs for His Excellency, Bishop Paprocki! May the Lord plumb the depths of his humble service and draw him into even greater sacrifices for the Faith by elevating him as metropolitan Archbishop of Chicago. Amen.

Prayers for His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George…..

cardinalgeorge_crest…New rounds of medical tests indicate that his renal cancer is no longer in remission, and he writes in his column for the newspaper of the Chicago Archdiocese that he will undergo another “…regimen of chemotherapy, with drugs more aggressive than those that were used in the first round of chemo.” He states that treatment is to prolong his life, but that the cancer will most likely be the ultimate cause of his death.

The Cardinal is now past the statutory age for retirement, having submitted his resignation to Benedict XVI two years ago. He awaits word from Pope Francis regarding the appointment of a new archbishop to succeed him, but says that the formal process involving the Papal Nuncio has not yet started. So Cardinal George is likely to remain in place for the time being, which means that he’ll be in treatment for cancer while simultaneously leading one of the most diverse and dynamic dioceses in the country.

Please pray for Cardinal George. I’ve met him several times; he received me and my wife into the Church in 2000; he is a holy and courageous bishop of the Church.

Congratulations to His Eminence Francis Cardinal George…

20130820-154956.jpgOn his jubilee: the 50th Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

He’s my favorite cardinal. He’s also the only cardinal I’ve ever personally met (I think) and he received me and my wife into the Catholic Church in 2000. He survived polio as a child and cancer as a cardinal. As a holy and courageous bishop (and also a scholar and polyglot), his primary handicap for placement among the papabile was his nationality. And unlike some other American cardinals who will remain unidentified, he also had the distinction of not wanting the job. Fortunately for him, God had in mind another Francis. It’s really a beautiful thing when God stacks the deck in our favor. To think that at least a dozen men could have emerged from the conclave to become excellent popes should put in mind the promise of Our Lord…..

On RCIA and Confession

This is Part 5 of “My Conversion Story“. This part deals with our experience going through RCIA (spoiler: it isn’t always easy to be Catholic in RCIA!).
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Back in 2000, my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil by Cardinal Francis George. You’ll have to take my word that the (fuzzy) picture above is of my wife and Cardinal George.

There are two types of converts to Catholicism: those who have never been baptized (“catechumens”) and those who have been baptized in another Christian tradition (“candidates”). My wife and I were both candidates because we were validly baptized in other Christian churches.

Prior to Vatican II, if a person wanted to convert to Catholicism, the conventional approach was to visit one of the parish priests and go through the process one-on-one.

RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) is a newer innovation that is supposed to mirror the process of conversion in the very first centuries of the Church, when “catechumens” (there were no candidates then, because there was only the Catholic Church!) were formed into a community and taught the faith. Sometimes catechumens would undergo catechesis for years before receiving baptism.

For my wife and me, the road to that Easter Vigil in 2000 wasn’t easy. In fact, it was made more difficult because we had to go through RCIA. It wasn’t because of inadequate resources. Our RCIA program was well-supported by the parish. There was a dedicated team that led the RCIA group, we had a wonderful place to meet after mass, a priest who attended the meetings and led the RCIA team, and a large group of interested candidates and catechumens who regularly attended and participated in the discussions.

The problems began in the introductory sessions when, rather than offering the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a good resource for additional reading, it was urged (frequently!) that candidates purchase a copy of “Catholicism for Dummies”.

The suggestion that the best way for an ordinary Catholic to understand the profound mysteries (not to mention the intellectual beauty) of the Faith was with a book written for “dummies” did not sit well with me. (Note to self: check Amazon for an “Aquinas for Dummies” book).

The problems continued to build over the months, and finally culminated when we candidates approached the upcoming vigil and would receive the sacraments of initiation, because every convert to Catholicism needs good instruction on Confession. Converts to Catholicism, who have never been to confession and have only seen it on television and in movies (and have lots of ideas but little understanding about it) need special care and support in this area.

Confession isn’t easy. It is beautiful. It is a gift. It is a sign of God’s great and true love and mercy for us. But in fact, it’s really, really, hard to go the first time, especially for people whose first experience with it occurs after decades of living their life. A young Catholic being properly formed in the faith starts going to confession just before their first communion, when they’re seven or eight years old! Imagine the fear and anxiety of confessing ALL of your sins (for the first time), from the age of reason all the way up to present adulthood!

The way our RCIA program acknowledged this issue was seriously bad. I mean, bad.

Father, one of the associate pastors at the parish who led the RCIA team, told us that it might be nice for candidates to go to confession before being received into the Church, but that it wasn’t necessary since almost no one was guilty of committing mortal sin, which is the only reason you need to go to confession, and also because it was really only for those who were “already Catholic” and “liked to go”.

Following Father’s talk, I approached him one-on-one to ask him about what he told the group. He insisted that there was no reason for me to go to confession before receiving the Eucharist for the first time.

About eight weeks later, after reflecting on what Father told our group and researching what the Church actually teaches regarding confession for baptized candidates, I wrote Father a letter:

Following our discussion at the RCIA retreat concerning baptized candidates, the sacrament of Reconciliation, and your comments to the RCIA group on Palm Sunday, I want to reopen our discussion — this time in writing, so that my concern may be fully explained. I highly regard you as a person and as a priest, and I hope you will carefully consider the information that follows.

My understanding concerning your position on candidates and Reconciliation is that previously baptized Christians not baptized in the Catholic Church should not receive the sacrament of Reconciliation until they are received into the Catholic Church and take their first Holy Communion. I assume this is your position regardless of whether one has committed grave or mortal sin.

During our conversation at the RCIA retreat, I allowed the topic to needlessly gravitate toward the question of defining mortal sin. This was an error on my part; the question of sin is one for each person making his or her own examination of conscience. The question here does not pertain to defining types of sin or sin itself. The question is whether baptized candidates should be instructed that they must be in a state of grace before receiving the sacrament of Confirmation and first Holy Communion.

At the very least, all baptized candidates should be informed that the sacrament of Penance is available to them. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1310, states, “To receive Confirmation one must be in a state of grace. One should receive the sacrament of Penance in order to be cleansed for the gift of the Holy Spirit…” (See also paragraph 1319). Despite its seemingly clear language, this passage alone does not refute your contention that Confession is open only to Catholics.

The U.S. Conference of Bishops addresses this ambiguity, however, and makes it clear that all candidates should be in a state of grace. The National Statutes for the Catechumenate #36 (Nov. 11, 1986), states, “The celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation with candidates for reception into full communion is to be carried out at a time prior to and distinct from the celebration of the rite of reception. As part of the formation of such candidates, they should be encouraged in the frequent celebration of this sacrament.”

Accordingly, there is no distinction between candidates baptized in the Catholic Church and in other denominations. In his article, “How to Become a Catholic,” (published in The Rock, September 1995), apologist James Akin cites the U.S. Conference of Bishops, stating that “Christians coming into the Church should receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before their reception into the Church (there is no established point for when they should do this) to ensure that they are in a state of grace when they are received and confirmed” (emphasis mine).

Finally, the text of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, under the section entitled Preparation of Uncatechized Adults for Confirmation and Eucharist, says this: “The following pastoral guidelines concern adults who were baptized as infants either as Roman Catholics or as members of another Christian community but did not receive further catechetical formation nor, consequently, the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist. (Sec. 400, p. 241)… During the Lenten season penitential services [the scrutinies] should be arranged in such a way as to prepare these adults for the celebration of the sacrament of Penance” (Sec. 408, p. 242).

I believe that the sources I have cited constitute an adequate, if not considerable framework on this issue. I do not count myself any more or less sinful than any other person; I only know that I needed absolution so that I could be prepared to receive the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal church at the age of 13. As a teenager and young adult, I sinned. Some of the sins I committed were mortal. Despite my sinfulness, I sought out the Catholic Church, recognizing the Church as a gift of Christ’s loving mercy, and I joined RCIA. I took seriously St. Paul’s warning that we must receive Jesus “worthily” (1 Cor 11:27-29); for me, this meant that thesacrament of Reconciliation before Confirmation and Eucharist was not optional, but compulsory. If we are not all sinners, why do we need the Church (why do we need Jesus)?

This issue is very important because each sacrament of the Church is an encounter with our Lord Jesus, including the sacrament of Reconciliation. The cleansing and healing mercy of God experienced in Reconciliation prepares the candidate, as nothing else can, to receive the Holy Spirit in Confirmation and the Body and Blood of Jesus in Eucharist. As His faithful, we have an obligation to approach Him in a state of grace. Likewise, all candidates, as “The Elect” and enrolled into a special order of the Church as such, should be given the opportunity to also receive their first sacraments in a state of grace. It is my hopeful prayer that you will consider this letter in the spirit it was delivered – that is to say in the love of God’s only Son and in the love of fidelity to the teachings of His Church. Moreover, as always, you and everyone in RCIA will remain in my prayers. I humbly hope that you will keep me in yours.

My wife and I went to Confession before the Easter Vigil (thank God).

Father never directly responded to my letter. A few months later, Father was appointed pastor at another parish (a promotion), but not before telling the other members on the RCIA team that I might be a “problem” for other candidates. When we signed up to be sponsors the following year, the RCIA team leader called me and indicated that “Father had some concerns about you returning as a sponsor.” I promised that I would be on my best behavior.

Pray for our priests. We have many, many, good priests, who diligently and earnestly teach and preach the faith. I’m not saying that Father wasn’t a good priest. But for whatever reason, his message to our RCIA group was that this sacrament of the Church would not assist in the spiritual formation of most people. That’s a shame, because Father should have been speaking with joy about the immense value of confession for anyone who wishes to approach Jesus in a state of grace.

We should never be ashamed to be Catholic. There are seven sacraments of the Church. Jesus gave them to us. They are offered to us by His Bride, the Church. Graces are poured out through them. We need them.