Thursday 29 May 2014

Which Tradition is to be followed: the Franciscan or the Roman?

I have received a comment from Sonia which asks a well-founded question:

“Father…which tradition is to be preserved, protected and fostered in the case of FFI where the friars profess fidelity to the Rule of St Francis i.e. “…Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to his holiness Pope Honorius and his lawfully elected successors and to the Church of Rome. The other friars are bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors.”?  Surely, if the FFI adopts a Lefebvrian mindset then it could only mean that they were never meant to be Franciscans and will only vindicate Rome’s intervention.

I think the writer of this has a point: either we are faithful to charism of St. Francis and to Rome or we are not. Personally, I think the FFI ARE faithful to St. Francis and to Rome. There is a subtle difference between the SSPX and the FFI/FSI in that the SSPX refused to follow a legitimate act of Rome in absolutely rejecting the New Missal (which, in my opinion, they ought to have accepted and used at least on occasion while continuing to lobby for its modification). This would be in line with the position I was told Dietrich von Hildebrand took of “We obey, but we do not agree”.

In that the FFI/FSI have not ‘banned’ or outlawed the New Missal within their Order or transgressed any canon law, they are not in the same position as the SSPX: they simply live a more disciplined Franciscan life. They are, it seems to me, seeking and doing no more than St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross did in seeking a more disciplined life within their Order. Indeed, the humble submission of the FI/FSI in their current situation demonstrates their striking obedience to Rome, which cannot be said for liberal catholics who take pride in pushing at the boundaries of orthodoxy as though change all equals growth not all change is good: some change, some growths, are malignant.

The Tradition to be preserved is that which the Church has held for 2000 years; we have no option about this since it is Divine Revelation that it communicates to us. To obey Rome simply because it is Rome who has spoken is a new and dangerous kind of ultramontanism. It is an ultramontanism by which one gives such blind obedience to the Rome of one’s own day that one can fall away from union with the Rome of the last 2,000 years –thereby intrinsically beginning a new Church devoid of roots. We have to avoid such ultramontanism; we have to remember that we retain the right to say “we obey, but we do not agree”, and lobby for change.

To fall into this new kind of ultramontanism is just as wrong as that of which the SSPX are sometimes accused: failing to move on. In fact it is more dangerous in that it denies its own past; it cuts itself off from its own roots. Failing to move on at least values and protects those roots, whereas a tree cut off from its roots undergoes a change called ‘decay’; a malevolent change by which the tree withers away. 

Tuesday 27 May 2014

To Safeguard Pope Francis’ Reputation...

A parishioner who is open to and who attends both the Traditional Mass and the Novus Ordo, said recently that looking at the situation with the Franciscans of the Immaculate (FFI and FSI) the Church under Francis appears to be staffed by destroyers. I pointed out that Francis is not responsible for every act of every individual he employs to undertake a task, but I understand my friend’s point. Taking Francis at his word (that he is a loyal son of the Church) we have to say that he respects and adherences to Tradition as a vehicle of Divine Revelation; similarly that he holds to the Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching on marriage and sexuality. Assertions that he is a ‘bad pope’ must therefore be wrong.

Sadly, his statement about not judging a homosexual person (which is correct in that we judge orientations, acts and situations but not persons) gave many the impression that he does not hold to the Church’s moral teaching; that we do not judge the homosexual orientation to be intrinsically disordered (which we do) or homosexual acts to be evil (which we do). Meanwhile the severity of the sanctions placed upon the FFI/FSI has brought many folk to consider the Church’s spiritual and liturgical tradition to be under attack from the Church herself. Taken together, Francis’ comments on homosexuality and the treatment of the FFI, have brought folk to the point of being scandalised in the theological sense (confronted by a stumbling block to faith). This is clear by many of the comments found on the internet. That is why the forthcoming Synod must uphold Traditional Doctrine on the family without fudging the issues, and why the situation with the FFI needs to be brought to an end quickly, justly -and in today’s parlance, ‘transparently’. For the sake of his reputation Francis needs to call his Synod to orthodoxy and his investigators to act with fairness and transparency.

Concerned Catholics have a right according to Vatican II to call their Popes and Bishops to account; many Catholics are exercising that right on the Internet, saying to their pastors, “You are but temporary caretakers; you are required by the Lord to ensure that what you received from your predecessors throughout history (and not just those of the last fifty years) you hand on to your successors whole, entire and uncorrupted.” Indeed, even the Papacy’s most prestigious gift –infallibility- is a negative gift; one which prevents a sincere Pope from damaging Divine Revelation; one which allows him to clarify what has always been believed in doctrine and morality, but not to alter or abandon it.

I write this post only so as to highlight the fact that the impression being received by many is that of a Rome intolerant of its own Tradition and of those who honour it; a Rome that is positively geared towards the destruction of her liturgical, spiritual and moral Tradition. If this impression is to be proved wrong the Synod must uphold the Truth in its texts and any suggestions is proposes for pastoral care, while true transparency and genuine justice must be seen as soon as possible in regard to the FFI –not only to safeguard the reputation of Francis and the Church, but to safeguard endangered souls who are scandalised by what they see and hear. After all, it was a very tiny minority who were unhappy in the FFI, and their proper response ought to have been to seek release from the FFI and admission to another Order, and Rome should have told them so. Simply put, the Friars ought not to have set out to destroy that which they no longer loved: a man unhappy with his wife divorces her; he does not set out to destroy her.

The traditional, charity-active religious life of these Friars and Sisters has the authority of history behind it; Rome may see it as “old-fashioned” religious life and not useful in evangelising today’s world, but it cannot judge it to be wrong or bad since it is her own patrimony and what sustained her down through the centuries to today. And since it cannot be judged as wrong or bad, it cannot legitimately be condemned, because the Church has all authority to forbid what is evil but no authority to forbid what is good: her authority is limited “unto edification and not unto destruction” (2.Cor.10v8; 13v10). In fact, since the FFI are (were?) flourishing and attractive to many young folk there is no evidence that their religious charism is not useful in today’s Church; indeed the growth of the Order is evidence that the opposite is true. The same can be said about the use of the Usus Antiquior which attracts many young families.

In conclusion, we need to avoid ascribing an attitude of destruction to Francis and his appointees, because only the devil is wicked enough to use the Church to attack herself in her own heritage –aware of my own shortcomings I for one would not like to accuse Francis of such wickedness. In his turn, Francis must ensure the Synod is orthodox and the FI situation concluded justly, transparently and swiftly.

To those who have some suspicion of (or even hostility toward) Tradition, I repeat what scripture counsels: “if this work is from men, it will dissolve and pass away. But if it is from God, you have no power to destroy it, and may be found to be opposing God." (Acts 5v38-39).

Thursday 22 May 2014

Where Are You Going, My Lovely?

Just a few thoughts. Disagree if you wish -I have no charism of infallibility...

The Church is the beautiful Bride of Christ, and the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb the supper to which we are invited (Rev.19v9). In this Church all grace, truth, wisdom and justice are found. She makes heaven available to us on earth in the Mass where we join with the angels and saints singing Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus; She raises souls from hell to heaven in Baptism and Confession and She accompanies us to heaven by the Anointing of the Sick when death approaches. She is the repository and channel of all God’s graces, the mother of our souls and our sure path to God. Sadly She is being ruined by many of Her members today -not as we all do by our anger, pride, gossip, sloth etc, but by their demolishing of her walls and floors as they take apart her age-old teaching on marriage and sexuality, deny Her place as the One True Faith, and turn her worship from adoration and propitiation of God to the affirmation and upliftment of those present. Such folk are attempting to give Her credibility in the eyes of the world, remodelling Her Doctrines and worship in order that She might fit in with and be attractive to that world, when in fact it is a world to which Christ declared we do not belong (Jn.17v14-16; 2 Pet.2v1-2; 1Jn.2v25-19).

One example of this ruination is well-meaning Catholics supporting civil partnerships. We can surely understand the desire to grant next-of-kin status, protect inheritance and pension rights etc, for those who would not have them if no such partnership was available, but since the way these partnerships are constructed today contravenes Biblical teaching, the constant teaching of the Church and the natural law, we would surely sin if we called for them to be retained in law as they stand. The only way we could support them is if  -and what a stretch of the imagination this is-  if in law such partnerships specifically exclude recognising sexual acts between the two persons, but homosexuals would not want a civil partnership if they had to state that by entering it they were not conferring sexual prerogatives on one another. Thus, to support civil partnerships as we have them today has, I think, serious repercussions for one's salvation, since to support what is forbidden by Scripture and Tradition and contrary to natural law, is to renounce Christ’s teaching as made known via Scripture and Tradition. Indeed, by supporting relationships which contravene God’s law, one is guilty of an injustice against the majesty and sovereignty of God Himself.

Add this situation (wherein the Moral Tradition of the Church is being diminished if not dismissed) to the sanctions taken against the Franciscans of the Immaculate –folk who simply hold to Tradition in their teaching, lifestyle and often (though not exclusively) in their worship- and it looks as if the Church is so hateful of her doctrinal and liturgical past that she destroying herself in the present.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is the perception –pushed by the mainstream media- that Pope Francis is laid back on marriage and sexuality issues, and not concerned with authentic, God-centred worship. If he is concerned with safeguarding the Church’s doctrine of sexual ethics, her Traditions and authentic worship (as indeed he must since as Pope he is caretaker of Christ’s Church but not its CEO much less its proprietor) then his advisers need to advise him better and point out the corollary of his current public image and the effect of his off-the-cuff remarks so that changes may put in place.

We need more voices in the Church and in society decrying the assault on marriage, life and more Catholics decrying the assault on authentic worship. We cannot permit that these treasures of Holy Mother Church are denigrated since by doing so we reject Her past and deny Her a future as THE channel of Truth and Salvation. We have to remember that while we can accept a deeper penetration of doctrine and changes in ecclesiastical discipline, we cannot accept contradiction of doctrine. The reason is simple: God is unchanging: the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13v8; Gal.1v8-10), and the Church is but His voice in the world (Lk.10v16., Matt.28v28-29), so it is unchanging doctrine she must proclaim. In the Church, as the one authentic voice of the unchanging God, change in doctrine and worship is not a sign not of life as some too imprudently proclaim, but a sign of  self-destruction and impending death; a cutting off of the Church from Her roots, and a renunciation of Her role as the one sure anchor in the life of the Spirit. Yes, we can and ought to accept a deeper penetration of Doctrine, but not contradiction; the former is growth, the latter a tearing down. Sadly it is the latter where we seem to be headed. God help Holy Mother Church. St Michael the Archangel, Pray for us.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Holy Mother Of God

It would not be right to let the month of May, dedicated to the Blessed Mother, go by without a post in her honour. She is, for Catholics, the Immaculate Conception Assumed into heaven; she is the “Mediatrix of all Graces” and the Lord’s “Co-Redemptrix”. But the underlying reality at which we thrill most is that she is not only Mother of God, but our Mother too in the life of grace.

Our Blessed Lady is not directly referred too much in scripture, because the purpose of scripture is to present us with the Person of Christ. But her appearances there, as inspired to be written down by the Holy Spirit, are core to understanding Christ and His on-going work of saving souls. They tell us much about the place God has assigned to her in the Redemption.

We see Our Lady from the very beginning; she is promised to us along with the Saviour and is the very enemy of the devil, “I will make enemies of you and the woman; of your seed and her seed. It shall crush thy head” (Genesis 3v15). She is the co-worker of the Redeemer as Eve was co-worker of Adam in the fall. Her participation in The Christ’s Redemptive Suffering is thus made known by the Holy Ghost in the Old Testament and in the New: “a sword will pierce you own soul too, that the secret thoughts of many may be made known” (LK.2v35).

When we see Christ as the successor of David and as the King whose reign will have no end (Is.9v7; Lk.1v33), we recall that it was always the Mother of the King that was Queen in the Kingdom; that even the King honours her and sets her throne next to His (1 Kings 2v17-20). 

When we see the birth of the Church we see Our Lady there with the Apostles (Acts 1v12-14), wherein the Holy Ghost is showing us that there can be no birth of the Body of Christ (which we are –Eph.5v30) without the Mother of Christ.

When we see her asked to become the Mother of God we see her hailed as full of grace (Lk.1v28), using a verb that is not time-limited: she is, and always has been, and always will be, full of grace: Immaculate.

When we see Christ enter public life at the wedding feast of Cana we see He acts at Our Lady’s intercession (Jn.2v2-9); wherein the Holy Ghost is showing that she obtains for us those graces of which we stand in need.

When we see her seeking out her son with His cousins (Matt.12v47) we are told that her blessedness goes beyond her physical motherhood of the Lord to the depth of her soul, in that she who is Blessed among women (Lk.1v42) does the will of the Father (Lk.11v28).

When we see her at the foot of the Cross and hear the disciple told by Christ, “This is your mother” (Jn.19v26), we see ourselves as disciples addressed, since our Lord did speak to John by name by in his capacity as a disciple: we all receive Our Lady as our spiritual mother; she is the mother of every disciple/member of Christ.

What is it we know about mothers? Why do we love them so? We love them because while our father is the protector of the home, our mother is the heart of the home. Mothers sit up with us at nights when we are ill; take us by the hand for our first day at school, and clean and clothe us day after day. We love them because we know they are our best friend, guide and advocate. We love them because they support us in our wholesome needs, and correct us in our destructive desires; we love them because we know we can always be sure of a loving welcome. We know they put us first, and themselves second. This is why we love them: they are always there for us, Even when they must chastise us it is done from love. Our spiritual Mother is no different.

It is small wonder that having been prepared by God for the unique role of Mother of God, she was imbued with the graces of Faith (Lk.1v45) humility (lk.1v46); active service of the Lord (Lk.1v38; 11v28); of active charitable concern for people (Jn.2v2,3). Might we not then see in her a great, if not the greatest, disciple of the Lord? Among the great crowd of witnesses which surround us (Heb.12v1) she must surely be the foremost as the one fashioned by God for God.

Our Lady’s apparitions at such places as Le Puy and Guadalupe*, Lourdes and Fatima do not add to Revelation but call us back to it; they call us back to Christ by insisting on prayer and penance. At Lourdes in 1858 she called us to “Penance, Penance, Penance”; to “Pray to god for the conversion of sinners”. This call was insufficiently heeded, in that she came to Fatima in 1917 to repeat her call to prayer and penance, demonstrating the validity of her message by the Miracle of the Sun on October 13 -one of the rare occasions when a miracle has been foretold as to the time and place it would occur, and one which was seen by believers and non-believers alike; from those at hand and by those at a significant distance. To honour Our Lady and to please her Divine Son, we must do as she asks: we must pray, do penance and meditate on the history of salvation in the Rosary by which we deepen our love for the Saviour and His work of Redemption.

Although a Marian Devotion, the Rosary is biblically based and Christ-centred, narrating the story of our salvation that we may mediate upon its wonder and message. Reciting the Hail Mary is our way of keeping company with Mary as we mediate on the life of her Son; its words taken directly from scripture (Lk.1v28,42); the Our Father is the prayer taught us by Christ (Matt.6v9ff) and the Glory Be our participation in the praise of God (Lk.1v14; Rev.4v14;19v1).

How close Our Lady is to so many who suffer, and how much help to them she can therefore be. For as many do today, she too suffered as a refugee with a small child (Matt.2v24); she too searched for her child when He was three days missing (LK.2v41-43); she too suffered the loss of her husband at an early age; she too watched her Son ridiculed even by His own blood relatives (Mk.3v20,21); she too watched her Son die a torturous death (Mk.15v15-39). Mothers who suffer with the children then, never suffer alone.

Let us not be afraid to honour the Woman whom God has made our Intercessor, our Model of humility, charity and devotion; our Mother and the enemy of Satan. Rather, we might consider that we may be ashamed before her Son if we refuse to honour her. Let us then, honour her who is the greatest advocate we can have before the throne of God bar Her Divine Son, the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim.2v5). As St Bernard reminded us, where Christ is Head and the source of grace (JN.1v14), and we are the Body receiving that grace (Jn.1v16), Mary is the neck which channels that grace: “The moment you voice reached my ears the child in my womb leapt for joy” (Lk.1v44). How blest by God we are that we have such a mother as our own; that He shares His own Mother with us in so intimate and powerful a way.

*At Le Puy, Our Lady appeared to a sick woman, directing her to a hill upon which the sick lady was cured. Further miraculous healings occurred which demonstrated the power and compassion of God.
At Guadalupe in 1531 Our Lady appeared as Mother of the True God on a hill dedicated to the pagan Aztec god Quetzalcóatl, converting them from paganism to Christ. All of Our Lay’s apparitions call us to God and the Gospel, not to her.

Monday 19 May 2014

Seeking Holiness Part II: Building Personal Holiness in Day To Day Living

A brief outline of some means of seeking holiness in our day to day life, in response to a comment.

We are all seeking holiness, but we are all broken by sin; we are all disabled children of God seeking healing; all folk afflicted with rough edges cutting into one another. It is because we are all in the same boat that we cannot judge the holiness of others, only their acts; and even then, only so as to keep them doing what is holy and avoiding what is evil. There are five fundamentals I would suggest to souls seeking holiness.

First, we must attend to the foundation of our interior life: prayer. We must be resolute and disciplined in our prayer; we need a quiet, undisturbed time and place, at the same time every day so that our conscience can nudge us when our prayer is omitted, as hunger prompts the body to eat. People around us should know this is God’s time, which is not to be disturbed. Mental Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, using of our own words, and time spent in silence so God can talk to our heart, is essential, along with the powerful set prayers of the Holy Rosary and Divine Office.

Second, we should make time each day for the reading of scripture and the spiritual works of the saints and Doctors of the Church; this will build our understanding of the spiritual life and enable us to negotiate it more profitably. The Office of Readings is a good source of both.

Third, we must remain faithful to the teaching of the Church; this will keep our souls in the Truth which sets us free from bondage to self. Church teaching is the teaching of Christ since the Church speaks with the voice of Christ (Lk.10v16) Who is the Truth (Jn.14v6), and who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13v8).

Fourth, we must remain faithful to the Mass (Heb.10v25) so as to keep the soul filled with grace and faithful to the Lord. Confession, by which we assess our spiritual state and seek restoration in holiness so as to be fit to receive Holy Communion, is important even when we are not conscious of mortal sin. Confession facilitates regular self-appraisal in the context of God’s mercy and brings us a grace that helps us to resist sin in the future. Spiritual Direction can aid us in preparing for Confession, but it is not the same thing.

Fifth, we should attend (or celebrate) reverent liturgy so as to dispose ourselves to encountering the majesty of God and practice humility before His Glory, rather than seek our own affirmation and emotional uplift.

We do these fundamental things so as to keep our souls safe and holy. Meanwhile we must model to one another the virtues of personal humility and generosity by giving time and energy to the care and needs of others (active charity towards those in need, upon which we shall be judged cf. Matt. 25v34-45).

To overcome a particular vice we can practice the opposite virtue; to ‘act the part’ so as to build the habit. I have heard this referred to as “fake it to make it”, but it is really about building new habits. The goodness of our lives will help call back the wandering sheep that have strayed from Christ’s true fold, and call in those who seek out the good.

Since we are the Mystical Body of Christ we must advise and instruct each other in all wisdom (Col.3v16) advising one another to pray, receive the sacraments, do good and avoid evil. Our spiritual reading promotes the ability to do this well.

We should make sure we know what the Church teaches and why, so that we can give an account of our hope (1.Pet.3v15); that way we do not preach but witness; we don’t say “you can’t do that” but “I couldn’t do that because...” This informs without enforcing, since it owns for ourselves the behaviours we are trying to encourage in others.

We should fast and do penance for our own sins and for those of the world; small sacrifices will not draw attention, such as not having that extra cup of tea; giving up the sugar in one cup of coffee; not going out for a smoke on our break time; saying the Rosary instead of switching on the TV, but they will be seen and used by God.

We must ensure we surround ourselves with friends who inspire us to be the best we can be, and avoid those friendships that bring us down to the lower common denominators of society: “Choose your friends carefully; you always become what they are in order to fit in”.

We will still limp along; but even when we are limping we are moving, and that can be affirmed in others (and by others) so as to encourage the soul. No soul should be left despondent; we must always remind one another that God rewards our efforts, not our achievements: “God saw their efforts to change and He relented” (Jonah 3v10; cf. Matthew 12v41). It is a change of heart the Lord is seeking; by His grace He inspires the desire for this change and empowers us to make changes in our behaviours. By such a change we will be at peace with ourselves, at peace with others and supremely, at peace with God. The fact that we do not overcome all our faults keeps us coming back to God for grace and reliant upon Him, and begging for His grace.

To avoid despondency we should be careful not to mistake our on-going weaknesses for serious sin which entails, to some degree or another, an act of the will. We should also remind ourselves that the greatest sin forgiven will be the greatest tribute to God’s mercy and love, and the greatest sinner saved the greatest victory of grace. No sin is too great or too terrible to be forgiven, for nothing can be greater than God; nothing can outstretch the infinite healer to whom no wound is beyond healing. Indeed the greater the sin; the more festering its wound, the greater the right we have to His healing. The medicine of penance and the struggle to change may be a lifetime’s work, but until we take our final breath, each of us is, as the saying goes, a work in progress. 

Friday 16 May 2014

Seeking Holiness...

There is a striking difference between Islam and Christianity. Not simply that we Christians hold to God as a Trinity of Persons in unity (baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit); nor that we know Christ as God-the-Son-made-man (Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, Jn.1v1&14; 14v28; Col.2v9, and therefore claims the Divine Name ‘I AM’ cf. Jn.8v58). Rather, the difference is in our understanding of God’s relationship with man. Indeed, our Catholic Faith tells us that God did not create us to be His submissive servants, which would be more the picture held by Moslems, but to be His dutiful children who share His Divine life.

To share that life with us even now God in Christ established one, true, universal and Hierarchical Church (Matt.18v15-18; Acts.8v55/Matt.20v28; 1.Tim.3v1-5; Tit.1v5-9; Vatican II, Lumen gentium #8). He did this in order to keep us united to Him by teaching us His Truth without error (28v19-20; Lk.10v16; 22v31-32; 1.Tim3v15); by giving us a premier earthly Pastor in Peter (cf. Is.22v20-23 with Matt.16v16-19; Jn.21v15-17; Lk.22v31-32) and by filling is even now with His Divine Life through our reception of the sacraments.

In Baptism God unites us to Himself when we are born (Rom.6v1); in Confirmation He seals us with His Holy Spirit (Acts.8v14-17; 19v6); in Confession He restores us to union with Him when we have lost it by grave, deliberate sin (Jn.20v21-23). In the Anointing of the Sick He brings us healing of soul and sometimes of the body (Mk.6v12-13; Jam.5v14-15); in Marriage He unites a man and a woman in a permanent, life-giving union as a life-giving sign of God’s permanent, life-giving union with His Church (Eph.5v21-23), while by Holy Orders gives us Priests to supply all these other Sacraments (1.Pet.5v1-4).

At the centre of all these sacraments and the source of all their graces is the Holy Eucharist. In the Holy Eucharist we meet Christ Himself, whole and entire, His very Person: “He who eats Me will draw from Me” (Jn.6v57). Holy Mass is the unending Self-Offering of Christ (Heb.9v12; 24-26; Rev.5v6); the offering of His Crucified and Risen Body (1.Cor.11v26-29; Rev.5v6) which we then consume to share His life by Holy Communion (Jn.6v53-63; Rev.19v9). Since the Eucharist is Christ; His Supreme sacrifice and the Heavenly banquet, anyone who is saved is saved by the Mass, hence it is of supreme importance in the life of the Christian.

To encourage our growth in holiness and support us in it, we also have the saints spurring us on as a great cloud of witnesses (Heb.11v32-40;12v1). Through their example we learn to pray; to do good and avoid evil; we learn to put ourselves in the shoes of others and seek to alleviate suffering wherever it is found. Justice and peace are not simply the concerns of the secular world but of the Church, who does all in the light of Gospel Truth and charity. As priests we seek holiness by service of the folk; as religious we seek holiness by active apostolic life or prayer for the needs of the world; as lay folk we seek holiness by engaging with the world and bringing Gospel value to bear in all spheres of daily life.

Though Non-Catholic Christian communities no longer possess all the saving resources God entrusted to the Church, they have yet held onto some of those assets (the Scriptures, Baptism, Marriage and the life of faith, hope and charity); as such, these communities channel salvation to souls by means of Catholic assets. Further, since God wills that all men be saved (1.Tim.2v4) He gives witness to Himself even to pagan cultures (Acts 17v23). All, however, are called into His Catholic fold (Jn.10v16; Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism #3) -the Lord’s Commission to make disciples of all the nations (Matt.28v19) is not negated.

Sadly, some Catholics abandon the Church and their Sunday Mass. Since The Church is Christ’s Body (Eph.1v22; 1.Cor.12v12-13) and Holy Mass contains Jesus Himself (Jn.6v53-63), the Sacrifice of the Cross which saves us (1.Cor.11v26) and Heaven in adoration of God at His heavenly banquet (Rev.5v13) they are depriving their soul of much needed grace. Simply put, to come to Mass is to come to heaven; to ‘miss’ Mass is to miss out on heaven. As I often say to our children and their parents, “We don’t have to die to go to heaven where we hope all our loved ones are present with God, we only need to come to Mass, which is heaven on earth”.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Dear "Interested",

It is now me who is interested and looking forward to receiving your email... it would be wonderful to find out which dear and long-lost friend has taken the opportunity of contacting me. I do hope to receive your email soon! Am I right in thinking we attended a Diana Ross concert together? God Bless.

PS. This is a private email address:


Monday 12 May 2014

Distinguishing Between The Sin and The Sinner...Seeing God as Our Healer

From Today's Office of Readings:
"God thirsts for your prayer, not your blood; 
He is appeased by your love, not by your death" (St Peter Chrysologous)

It’s rather difficult to speak about sin and its harmful effects upon the soul without it being taken personally by sensitive souls. Recognising themselves to be sinners, sensitive souls may see the condemnation of sin as a condemnation of themselves. This is particularly true of those who have committed acts that cannot be undone, such as adultery or an abortion. The thing is, their future is yet to be, and their future can be peaceful and graced. We need souls to see themselves as wounded and weak rather than wicked; and God as their Healer as much as their Lord. People must not be disabled by their sin; God does not want them disabled but healed by His Divine Mercy.

While we must never underestimate the seriousness of sin (it is a sickness that leads to spiritual death) we must never underestimate the fact that we are conceived disabled by original sin and made positively prone (concupiscence) to actual sin: "Oh see in guilt I was born; a sinner I was conceived" (Psalm 50).

Having fallen into sins which cannot be undone, such as adultery or abortion, can leave sensitive souls carrying a burden of guilt they ought not to carry: we can absolve them from guilt objectively in Confession, but we cannot always take away the feelings of guilt which can paralyse a soul. In such cases we have to advise them to talk it through outside Confession, or to seek independent counselling (for those who are post-abortive I advertise contact with Rachel’s Vineyard or British Victims of Abortion every week in the Bulletin so as to a healing ministry). I don’t advise counselling before Confession, because if the feelings of guilt or removed the person may never come for absolution of their objective guilt, so Confession with Absolution is always step 1; counselling is always step 2.

But you know, none of us is free from sin; even the priest who sits in the Confessional to correct, advise and absolve is but a wounded healer, much like a physician who is himself ill. And the healing aspect of Absolution is not to be overlooked. Souls must be helped to see God as the merciful Lord who, when sin has been regretted and left behind, comes to them as their Divine Physician: “The healthy have no need of a doctor, the sick do, and indeed, I have not come for the virtuous, but for sinners” (Matt.9v12,13).

If we could learn to see ourselves and others as broken rather than simply ‘bad’; as weak rather than simply ‘wicked’; and if we could see the priest in Confession as a Spiritual Physician who determines a prescription of treatment as well as a spiritual Judge who determines our penance, we might give some souls a better chance of moving on in grace. Yes mortal sin is serious and self-inflicted; yes it leads to the loss of Heaven and the fall into Hell; yes it requires penance and a change in our way of life, but none of this is negated by seeing sin as a wound and the Church as a field hospital.

I don’t think seeing sin as a sickness minimises sin; mortal sin is indeed a deadly, self-inflicted wound; it does indeed require radical surgery (repentance and re-education) with difficult convalescence (penance) in order to be healed. This does not remove our responsibility for our sins or fail to require that we to do penance; but unless we can see ourselves as sick rather than simply wicked and penance as a treatment we will not see God as the Divine Physician by “whose stripes we are healed” (1.Pet.2v24). He will be nothing more than ‘a big policeman in the sky’, and He is far more than that: He is Father, He is Shepherd, and He is Healer: The Suffering Servant.

Seeing sin as a sickness also allows us to be a bit more compassionate with others; it does not ask us to overlook their sin and certainly not to dismiss it; we must be like the earthly physician who does not ignore a cancer.  But seeing sin as a sickness does help us to be less judgemental of the person who suffers from the cancer we call sin, and can cause us to seek to help rather than condemn them. I just think we need to take seriously both the sickness of sin and the healing power of the Suffering Servant “by whose stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53v5).

We can equate sin with sickness because...

Sin kills the soul; 
sickness kills the body.
Sin requires penance; 
sickness requires treatment.
Sin is self-inflicted; 
sickness is self-inflicted (improper diet, smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise  etc.)
Sin wounds the whole church; 
sickness spreads by example and infection.
The physician judges symptoms to save the body; 
the priest judges actions to save the soul.
The physician prescribes a remedy; 
the priest prescribes a penance.
The physician watches for relapse;
the priest watches for concupiscence.
The physician calls for lifestyle changes; 
the priest calls for life-style changes.
If we don’t take sickness seriously the body dies; 
if we don’t take sin seriously, the soul dies.

Sunday 11 May 2014

The New Translation of the Eucharistic Prayers for Mass with Children

I see that the CTS has published the new translation of Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children -the advert for which proclaims these have “more frequent acclamations all set to music for more active participation of the children”. Oh dear. I shall have to comment on that regrettable note...

First off I have to say I believe “Children’s Masses” are not good things per se, primarily because they dumb down an already chopped-down Roman Rite. Indeed, since liturgy forms and informs us, “Children’s Masses” should be of the highest quality and, as the Directory says, a preparation for participation in the community Mass. Sadly Masses with children are often replete with ad-hoc additions: dramas and dances, pre-recorded music, Collects written by the children and scripture readings chopped up between several readers for the sake of “leaving no one out”. Such celebrations do not prepare children for adult liturgy at all; rather, they form them in a mind-set in which the liturgy can be manipulated; in an attitude that as long as the basic structure is followed, anything goes.

To be honest, a simple presentation of the Missanormativa using a children’s lectionary, with simple Mass settings and the use of Eucharistic Prayer II (EPII), is quite sufficient for the forming of children in the liturgy. Yes this is a simplified ‘adult’ Mass, but it is the only way to prepare them for participation in adult Masses. It does them no harm to omit the ditty-type songs, dramas and parade of children for the readings. After all, the so-called ‘Tridentine Mass’ formed children for centuries without any adverse effect –in fact to very excellent effect in that those children learned to value the Mass as a sacred encounter with God and not as a celebration of the community’s giftedness by the community itself.

The same success has not been seen with the dumbed-down Masses we have seen in schools and youth ministries for the last forty years. It is a simple fact that although thousands of children and youth who have gone through the doors of our schools and youth services the lapsation rate from as young as school year 6 continues to rise. The youth are simply not being brought to a point where they put the Gospel and the Eucharist at the centre of their lives. Often, they are seeking the same entertainment-style liturgy in parishes that they had in schools and youth ministry; they simply do not know how to engage in God-centred worship.

As for the regrettable note referred to above, I see two problems. The first is the “more frequent acclamations”. Such use of acclamations give the impression that Mass is a concelebration of the congregation with the priest. This is a serious theological error, and may well give rise to the request for more acclamations by the people in the adult form of Mass. It is seriously wrong because while all present offer the Victim (as we were reminded by Pope Pius XII, cf. Mediator Dei [1947] #92, 93) the consecration of the Victim is specific to the ministerial priest whose in persona Christi role in the celebration is unique. We must avoid all appearance of being co-consecrators if the liturgy is to remain an authentic expression of the community’s “cohesion and hierarchical ordering” (IG #91).  

The second problem is equating saying and doing with participation in the Mass. I have written about this before, noting that there is a difference between participating in the liturgy and participating in the Mass. To participate in the liturgy means to stand, sit, kneel, and respond as the liturgy requires. It is primarily an external thing, though not exclusively so; the mind and heart should be engaged too. But it is easier to engage the inner man in a sacred silence wherein heart speaks to heart in undistracted manner. As the Instruction on Sacred Music notes, “participation should above all be internal” (Musicam Sacram, 1967, #15[a]).

Participation in the Mass, which is Christ’s Self-offering, comes with that interior disposition wherein we offer ourselves to the Father through Him, with Him and in Him; submitting our will to His and offering Him all that we are, say and do. We focus on the wrong thing if we focus on saying and doing. The man who cannot speak or move because of a stroke yet has his heart and mind focused on the Mass can be taking part far more actively than the man who leaves his guitar to the side for a moment so as to read or assist with the distribution of Holy Communion.

If the Eucharistic Prayers for use with Children are to have a truly useful role they must form children in such a way that they come to value the normative Rite in its integrity and not as something open to manipulation. As it is, many of the things admitted into children’s Masses have crept into parish liturgies, for example dance, pre-recorded music and the like. These are not authentic to the liturgy, yet they are accepted and approved by many –including Rectors, Parish Priests and Bishops who thereby fail to exercise control over the way the Missal of Paul Vi is celebrated.

If the newly translated Eucharistic Prayers for Children have the children’s voices popping up all the time during Mass we will only be forming them to think they are concelebrating, while dance, drama and pre-recorded music et al, will form them in the idea that we may engineer the normative Rite to suit personal preferences. For myself, I will continue to celebrate children’s Masses with EPII and a simplified, children’s lectionary. By this, and with the children making the normal responses, acting as readers and musicians, as offertory bearers and altar servers, practical participation will not lacking, and the Roman Rite will remain intact. 

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Married Priests?

Our Diocesan newspaper has the topic of allowing priests to marry as the front page article in this month’s edition. I cannot help but wonder if those who propose this idea to our Bishops have really thought it out.  

Let me begin by saying that just because the idea of married priests keeps coming up does not mean it is prompted by the Holy Ghost (as some may claim) but rather that we have turned our ear to the voices of a secular and over-sexualised society and stopped listening to the spiritual wisdom of the Church through the ages; a wisdom which is not to be dismissed as of little or no value. Indeed, the witness of celibacy in an age such as ours has even greater significance than ever before. While priestly celibacy may not be doctrinal, it is certainly deeply spiritual -it is perhaps the core way the priest conforms himself to Christ the Good Shepherd who gave up His life for His sheep.

The celibate priesthood calls for self-sacrifice, without doubt; not to ask for the highest ideals in those applying for priesthood is intrinsically to ask for less than the most complete commitment. Is asking for less than the best really what we want?

We also have to consider that both vocations, priesthood and marriage, are under attack today, do we really want to add the stresses of one embattled vocation to another? Does not this encourage the likelihood of failure in one or both of these vocations?

Continuing to consider the spiritual import of a married priesthood, one has to say that to attach priesthood to marriage (or marriage to priesthood) is in fact to devalue each vocation as a path to holiness in its own right; it is to imply that there is room in both vocations for adding further opportunities for self-sacrifice. In short, both vocations are inevitably diminished as complete and sure paths to sublime holiness of life.

We should also consider that both the priesthood and marriage are vocations in crisis today, and to add one crisis to another makes no sense at all. Having a married priesthood will not alleviate the crisis in priestly vocations, witnessed to by the fact that there is a fall-off in vocations in all Christian communities, not just the Catholic Church. We are fooling ourselves if we think having married priests will see a return to the levels of priests we had even 20 years ago.

I cannot help but think too that attaching marriage to priesthood is the last thing to be introduced if Pope Francis wants to eliminate careerism. A married priesthood would only encourage careerism. After all, it is altogether possible that those who seek the office of Bishop will remain celibate for career prospects -and a celibate episcopacy would need to be retained since it is rooted in the Church’s Apostolic Tradition, the witness to which is that even in the Orthodox world where priests can marry, only priests who have not married are chosen to be Bishops.

Practically speaking, we have to consider how we could support a married priest and his family. Congregations are dwindling and costs of living rising; are we really expecting smaller congregations to pay for the up-keep of the priest and his family when they are struggling themselves? Are we going to diminish the role of wife and mother in the Christian home by requiring she go out to work and leave the up-bringing of their children to someone else? As one of my parishioners said, “How could we support a priest with six kids? And if he only has two, can we assume he’s using contraception? What a great example that would be”. And what if there is a divorce? Who pays the alimony?  These are not unimportant considerations.

I suspect that behind supporting the call for married priests is the assumption that the world will accept the Church more easily if she has a married clergy, and that it will lessen the risk of child abuse. This would be wrong on both counts. Child abuse, loathsome and reprehensible as it is, is not a ‘Catholic priest’ problem (see here and here). No; the underlying reality is that the secular spirit always has and will always hate Christ’s Catholic Church (Jn.15v18-20), primarily because of her pro-life stand and doctrinal objection to fornication, contraception, abortion, serial marriage, homosexual activity etc. Is not ultimately the devil who is at the root of the call for a married priesthood? Very likely yes, in the hope that the stresses and strains of marriage will bring the clergy to cry out for a renunciation of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, by which renunciation the devil and his secular spirit will obtain a limited victory over the Church and the Gospel of Christ.

Friday 2 May 2014

When is Dissent not Dissent? Dissent & The Catechism

Joseph Shaw has pointed out the often-repeated musings of Basil Loftus on the Lord’s Resurrection (see here), and Fr Henry has pointed out the musings of the Catholic Life magazine (see here).  The problem we seem to have is how to understand the development of doctrine (some resist it, some go beyond it), and how faithful we are to the teaching of the Catechism and Tradition.

We can, I hope, agree that the articulation and understanding of doctrine develops. For example, the Church always held the Eucharist to be the Real Presence of Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, though it took centuries to frame it in the philosophical concepts of ‘accident’ and ‘substance’ and defined the term Transubstantiation. Since we recognise that articulation of doctrine can develop -though such development must be entirely compatible with what has gone before if it is to be genuine development and not a distortion or diminishment of Doctrinal truths- I want to consider dissent from doctrine, which can occur while claiming to be merely developing doctrine.

Dissent is a serious issue; anyone who stubbornly and publicly proclaims an opinion that is at variance with the Church’s official teaching has moved from Truth to subjective opinion and relativism. And since only the Truth sets us free from bondage to self and to the devil, the father of lies, dissent is serious in its effects upon the soul.

I think we have a lot of people in the Church who hold opinions at variance with Catholic Doctrine. They hold them not because they reject the Faith, but because they had it presented to them in ways that are simply wrong. I was taken aback recently when a young altar server told me that teachers in one of our primary schools said Our Lord committed a sin when He cleared the temple. The teachers will not mean to teach erroneous Christology (which impacts upon Soteriology) but if the child is correct in what he heard, they have indeed taught serious error. Again, I was told by a parishioner that the Holy Trinity is like a man wearing three hats: a man can be a father, a husband and a son all at the same time (this is a form of Modalism). I have been told that Our Lord is present in bread and wine which is the heresy of consubstantiation (a view they got from the hymn ‘My God loves me’ which says ‘He comes to me in sharing bread and wine’). I have been told that the Pope can be overruled by the Bishops in a General Council, which is the heresy of Conciliarism (a more strident form of Gallicanism). I have had a brother priest tell me he is only a priest when he does priestly things like say Mass or Baptise, but not a priest when he is out shopping. I have heard a priest say God does not follow people into the bedroom so contraception is fine if the couple think it is fine. I have heard a parishioner say that if a consecrated Host falls to the ground or is taken away for unholy purposes that the Real Presence ceases because God protects Himself. A Deacon weeks from his ordination as a priest told a study group with whom we studied that we needed nothing but prayer and the bible to know the Truth. These statements only scrape the surface of the errors one hears.

The problem of poor doctrine is everywhere, and we never know from whose lips (including one’s own) an error may fall. That is why I often tell the folk to check everything they hear from pulpits or read in periodicals with the official teaching in the Catechism. After all, even priests (of both presbyteral and Episcopal rank) can fall into error in matters of faith without realising it, simply because they have been formed on theories and ideas that sprang into force after Vatican II when all things seemed up for grabs; theories that were never properly corrected because the teaching of that Council was not tied down to any real extent until we got the Catechism 30 years later.

But poor doctrine is not dissent; dissent includes wilful rejection of defined doctrine. When a person’s error has been considered by Rome as a possible development of doctrine but rejected as such, and the person refuses to change abandon their opinion and continues to proclaim it, that person falls into formal dissent. In my experience such dissent is more often found among those who have little or no time for liturgical norms; the authority of the Church obviously having less than sound impact upon their minds and upon their ministry (where ‘pastoral care’ is often a simile for ignoring doctrine or ecclesiastical law).

While we have to say that error is widespread in the Church I think we have to be careful in labelling someone a ‘dissenter’; they are usually folk blinded by 50 years of loose teaching. Only when they stubbornly hold and continue to proclaim their error publicly after it has been formally rejected can we call them a dissenter. Sadly, there are those who stubbornly hold to erroneous teaching and continue to proclaim it in the Catholic press, in periodicals and in pulpits. This tells us there is a desperate need in our parishes and our seminaries for a sound formation in the teaching of the Catechism and a call to obedience in teaching and worship.

We have great treasure in the Catechism; we should not waste this precious resource but refer to it in all our teaching and preaching. There is nothing wrong in following the biblical principle of correcting those in serious error; it is clearer and safer than simply demonstrating the validity of our teaching: “Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you in the name of his Appearing and his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience -but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching. The time is sure to come when, far from being content with sound teaching, people will be avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes, and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths (2.Tim.4v1-4). Are we living through a time when sound teaching is displaced by the latest novelty or the musings of our favourite theologian? Many would probably say yes.