Thursday, November 7, 2013
Sermon: Christ is the Point
As promised, this is my transcription of the first sermon I mentioned the other day, entitled "Christ is the Point", which you may listen to here. My transcription of second sermon, "Spiritual Contraception", will be coming soon!
What we'll start with is, for the most part, a long quote, with some editing and paraphrasing, from the work of Fr. Horace K. Mann.
The Synod in Rome of 897 was really something. Unwillingly, and in fear, the bishops and other clergy were gathered together by the Pope's orders.
But Pope Stephen VII had commanded that someone even more important attend the Synod. He had commanded that Formosus attend the Synod. OK, so who was Formosus? Well, Formosus had been the Pope, from October 891 until April of 896. And Pope Stephen commanded that Formosus be present for the Synod...even though he had been dead for 9 months. So the corpse of the unfortunate Pope Formosus, still more or less entire, but of course, half corrupt, was dug up, clothed in full pontifical vestments, and placed on a seat before the assembly. A deacon was assigned to speak for the dead Pope and answer the charges laid against him, while Pope Stephen sat in the judgment seat.
That's right: a dead Pope. A dead Pope: Dug up, dressed up, propped up, and put on trial…by the living Pope.
Now, in order to understand the charges that Pope Stephen made against Formosus, we have to realize that the ancient tradition demanded that a bishop remain with his flock through thick and thin, and that he could only be ‘translated’ (which means moving him from one diocese to another) in the most exceptional circumstances. This tradition was obviously rooted in the idea of spiritual fatherhood – something that used to be important in the Church.
Okay. So, Formosus was already the bishop of Porto – a diocese just outside of Rome - before he was elevated to the see of St Peter, and, in fact, he had originally refused the honor of the Papacy and had actually fled to the altar of his church, from which he had to be dragged, still clinging to the altar cloth. Now, with all that as background, let's return to the trial: The central charge leveled against Formosus was that at the time of his election, he was already the bishop of Porto, and therefore his election as the Bishop of Rome, as the pope, was invalid.
Formosus was found guilty as charged. I guess the deacon didn’t do such a hot job answering. And so, he was anathematized and - worse yet - his ordinations were declared to be null and void! In other words, all the men that Formosus had ordained to the priesthood or consecrated as bishops were declared to have never been ordained. (And of course, that meant, that none of their Masses had been Masses; none of their absolutions in the confessional would actually have absolved anybody of any sin; none of the anointings would have actually been anointings; etc, etc!) Then they began abusing Formosus' dead body: it was stripped of its sacred vestments and then dressed in lay clothing. They actually cut off the three fingers of his right hand that he had used to use to impart the papal blessing when he was alive.
By the order of Stephen, he was buried in ground reserved for pilgrims. (As his body was being dragged away for burial, fresh blood was flowing out of its mouth on to the pavement.) Shortly thereafter, he was dug up again, and this time, thrown into the Tiber (the river which flows through Rome). Although some blame Pope Stephen for this, it seems more likely this was done by treasure-hunters who were searching for valuables.
The night that Formosus was thrown into the Tiber, a terrible storm broke out over the city. The Tiber began to flood. The corpse was carried along by the rushing river, until it was finally thrown up onto the bank near Porto. Three days later, Formosus appeared in a vision to a monk, and asked him to go and bury his dead body, and the monk did so.
What became of Pope Stephen? A few months later, during an insurrection, he was seized, loaded with chains, cast into a dungeon, and strangled.
In December of 987, Pope Theodore II caught wind of the burial of Formosus in Porto. So he ordered the body to be brought back to Rome with the greatest solemnity; so they processed with the singing of psalms and hymns, and torches and incense, and so forth. He was clothed once again in pontifical vestments, brought into St Peter's Basilica, where, in the presence of Pope Theodore, Mass was said for Formosus, and his body was restored to its tomb. One chronicler reports that he had it “from most religious men of Rome” that when the body was brought to St Peter's, it was “reverentially saluted” by certain images of the saints.
The next Pope, John IX – who ruled from January 898 to January 900 – rehabilitated Formosus. He called two Synods, during which he condemned the acts of Stephen's Synod, and ordered that they be burnt. He forbid “re-ordinations” of the bishops and priests who had been ordained by Formosus but declared to be laymen by Pope Stephen - and re-instated them to their offices.
Sometimes it is really hard to believe the things the Pope does, or says...
In the past few months, a lot of pious people have – understandably - gotten pretty worked up over statements made by Our Holy Father Pope Francis. The secular press and the mainstream liberal Catholic press are having a hay day; as for the conservative Catholic commentators, they seem to be scattered all over the place, ranging from doing out-and-out verbal gymnastics and cartwheels trying to explain phrases, or explain them away - to falling into apparent discouragement, or anger, or even accusals of heresy and modernism on the other side.
And the priests have been hit with questions like: What are we – as faithful Catholics – to make of all this? How should we react? Or should we react at all? What if it gets worse?
We started with the trial of Formosus, the point being that whatever is going on these days, it doesn't even hold a candle to that nightmarish situation.
One Pope ordering another Pope, 9 months in the grave, be dug up, dressed up, propped up on a chair, charged with crimes, with a deacon answering for him? Then the vestments torn off his body – they actually tried to tear his body to pieces but it was too strong to dismember - the fingers he used for blessing cut off – tossed in a simple grave.
But it didn't end there. It didn't end there.
Pope Sergius III – who reigned from 904-911 – called ANOTHER Roman Synod. By using violence, bribery, threats of exile and other evils, Sergius III got the Roman clergy to once again agree that the holy orders conferred by Formosus were null and void. Now is turning into a colossal mess. Over time, many men had been ordained to the priesthood or consecrated as bishops by the men who had been consecrated by Formosus. And so now these men's ordinations were suddenly declared null and void as well. Which, of course, implied that none of their Masses had actually been Masses; none of their sacramental absolutions had had any effect; no one that they had anointed had actually been anointed, etc, etc! Talk about a mess! Many of them submitted to re-ordination, but as you can well imagine, the whole ecclesiastical world of Italy was thrown into a tumultuous uproar. Little Guiseppe six-pack doesn't know if his priest is a priest! He doesn't know if his bishop is a bishop! He doesn't know if his dying grandmother had actually been anointed!
And the reason he doesn't know this - is because of the misbehaviors of the POPES! Now if the Church wasn't a work of God, there is no way we could survive something like this.
Pope Stephen VII and Sergius III were certainly wrong, and seriously wrong. A validly conferred ordination can NOT be repeated...
Wait a minute, Padre, did you say that those Popes were wrong?
Yes, I did.
But I thought that Popes were infallible.
They are, in certain conditions. And we are going to cover that, and a lot of other details about Papal teaching, in another sermon. The important thing today is to realize that not one of the Popes who are known or who are believed to have held false views on the conditions which make ordinations invalid ever tried to impose his ideas on the whole Church.
My friends, starting with St. Peter denying the Lord three times and fleeing from the Cross, throughout history there have been crazy things both said and done by the Popes. We've weathered some pretty dreadful storms. And we'll weather this one, too – at least, everyone who doesn't get panicky and jump overboard...
So, supposing that a Pope says or does something that causes consternation: What should a faithful Catholic do? How should a faithful Catholic react? And should he react at all?
Well, the first thing to do is to keep everything in perspective and remain calm. Keep it in perspective. Let's just stand back from the concrete situation for a minute and do a thought experiment: Imagine you’re on a boat, and it’s in a typhoon, so it’s getting tossed around; you’ve got the wind howling, you have 70-foot seas – and suddenly you learn – you’re hanging on for dear life – and suddenly you learn that up in the wheelhouse, you have a bunch of drunks having a fist-fight. What are you gonna do? Are you gonna let go and jump overboard? Or are you gonna keep hanging on for dear life? You might not appreciate what they’re doing up there, but who cares? It’s a storm, you hang on. It's a no-brainer. That’s what you would do.
Okay. Well, by the Grace of God, we are in the Catholic Church. That means that we are already in the Ark of Salvation. And this ship WON'T sink; it CAN'T sink, or we priests would’ve done it a long time ago. It just can’t work like that; it’s a work of God. So even if we had a bunch of characters going crazy up in the wheelhouse, the very last thing we wanna do is jump overboard. We just need to keep some perspective, keep calm, and hang on!
We need to keep in mind, it’s a salvation issue. In order to preserve our union with Christ, we have to preserve our union with our Holy Father the Pope; we have to preserve our union with the local bishop; we have to preserve our union with our priest. The hierarchy is of divine origin. And that union is not based on how we feel about it; we have to have that union on Christ’s terms, not our terms. It might be crazy up there in the wheelhouse, but all we have to do is hang on. Okay?
So if we've been working on our relationship with Christ, if we've been saying our Rosary and keeping close to the Sacraments, if we're staying in the state of Grace, then even when the storms blow and things seem crazy on the outside, we should be able to preserve peace in our hearts. We should have an inner peace and a calm in our hearts. That's really important, to keep that inner peace. The Lord works in calm and peace; it’s the devil who fishes in stormy waters.
So, if the Pope says or does something that causes consternation, take a deep breath, say a prayer to remain calm, pray for the Pope, and relax. God's in charge, and He hasn't abandoned us – and He's NOT going to abandon us. That's just foundational...
So the first thing to do is keep some perspective and keep calm.
Second: We also need to keep in mind that the fact that the Pope can’t change anything that is essential to salvation. As we've said, later we'll take a detailed look at what the Church teaches concerning the Papacy, but for today, it's sufficient to realize that the Pope can't change anything that is essential for salvation. He might make things pretty rough, but it won't be impossible. Stay on board.
Third: Get closer to Our Lady. During the Passion of Our Lord, who stayed faithful at the Foot of the Cross until the bitter end? It wasn't the Pope. With one exception, it wasn't the Apostles. During the Passion, the ones who stayed faithful until the bitter end were those who stayed close to Our Lady through it all. As we enter into the Passion of the Church, let's be very, very careful to stay close to Our Lady. Say your rosary; wear your Scapular, and practice the True Devotion of St Louis de Montfort or that of St Maximilian Kolbe.
And fourth: Don't let yourself be scandalized. This is essential. Quick review so everybody knows what we’re talking about here: What is scandal? St Thomas says that scandal occurs whenever “a man either intends, by his evil word or deed, to lead another man into sin, or, if he does not so intend, when his deed is of such a nature as to lead another into sin.”
So scandal is an action or a word which can lead another into sin. And being scandalized means allowing another's action or word lead us to sin – OK? Let's take an example: suppose a girl wears a bikini in public. By wearing something like that, she is guilty of scandal, since her deed is of such a nature as to lead others into sin, whether she intends to or not. OK. So she is guilty of scandal. But every single guy that sees her, and ALLOWS himself to fall into sin, is guilty of being scandalized, OK? So – as soon the man who is serious about saving his soul sees this girl – he would have to quickly move his eyes, and his mind's eye away from her, okay?
OK. The same principles apply with the words and behavior of the Pope, or any cleric.
It is especially important that we don't let ourselves be scandalized by anything the Pope says or does because this could very easily damage our faith - or even cause us to lose the faith. So we need to be careful about that. We also need to be careful about what we think or say about the Holy Father, because the 4th Commandment certainly applies here, and sometimes people don’t seem to recognize that. Just like it applies to your physical dad, it applies to the Holy Father. We have to honor him. We have to be very careful what we read and listen to: a lot of what passes for Catholic commentary is really just so much ecclesiastical porn, and that’s the nicest word I can think of for it.
So, quit reading that book, that magazine, that newspaper, that website. Quit listening to this or that person, or this or that priest whose preaching is not leading us closer to Christ, who is getting us riled up and fomenting anger or hatred in our heart against the Holy Father, or against the Church. We need to pray for him and get busy reading things that will bring us closer to Christ and His Mother. In order to keep ourselves from being scandalized, we could take the advice St. Philip Neri used to give his directees; he was alive during another era of great scandal in the Church, St Philip used to tell his directees: I don't care what you read, as long as the author's name starts with “St.” Good advice!
The Inspired advice of St Paul (found in Philippians 4) is perfect here: Be not anxious; but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely: think on these things. That’s the Holy Spirit.
Be not anxious, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely... think on these things.
One last thought on scandal: That great Doctor of the Church, St Francis de Sales said, “While those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those who take scandal — who allow scandals to destroy their faith — are guilty of spiritual suicide.”
OK. If you're getting too worked up, relax, don't worry, go have a cold one. I’m totally serious. Christ hasn't abandoned us. We might abandon Him – but He won't abandon us. We might abandon Him – by allowing ourselves to get too discouraged and falling into despair; by allowing ourselves to become scandalized, and jumping overboard, and drowning in the waves of apostasy, heresy, schism, and scandal and sedevacantism.
Stay calm. Keep your inner peace. Stay close to Our Lady. Don't let yourself be scandalized. Remember that Pope can't change anything that is essential to salvation. He can make things pretty rough, but it won't be impossible. Stay on board.
Let's close with some thoughtful comments written by Frank Sheed during the terrible chaos following the Council. Frank Sheed:
“In the criticisms uttered by many... there is a failure to see Christ as the whole point. So much in the daily running of the Church they find depressing – the sermons, they say, take no one deeper into the reality of God or man; this priest or that cares for nothing but money, the sick are neglected, the old are rejected; the hierarchy know nothing of the emotional or intellectual problems which are eating away at their people's faith, the Curia is simply a bureaucracy, using every trick to hold on to its power; as for the pope...
“It all adds up to ‘the Institutional Church’, with so many wondering if their spiritual integrity will permit them to remain in it.
“But Institutional Israel, the Chosen People, as the Prophets show it, was even worse than the harshest critics think the Catholic Church, yet it never occurred to the holiest of the Jews to leave it. They knew that however evilly the administration behaved, Israel was still the people of God. So with the Church: an administration is necessary if the Church is to function, but Christ is the whole point of the functioning. We are not baptized into the hierarchy, we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally, we will not spend eternity in the beatific vision of the pope.
“St. John Fisher could say in a public sermon, ‘If the Pope will not reform the Curia, God will’: a couple of years later he laid his head on Henry VIII's block for papal supremacy, followed to the same block by St Thomas More, who had spent his youth under the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, lived his early manhood under the Medici pope, Leo X, and died for papal supremacy under Clement VII, as time-serving a pope as Rome had had.
“Christ is the point. I myself admire the present Pope [he was writing of Paul VI]; but even if I criticized as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I sometimes find the Church (as I have to live in it) a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing a pope could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church, though I might well wish that he would. Israel, through its best periods as through its worst, preserved the truth of God's Oneness in a world swarming with gods – and the sense of God's majesty in a world sick with its own pride. So with the Church. Under the worst administration – say as bad as John XII's a thousand years ago – we could still learn Christ's truth, still receive His life in the sacraments, still be in union with Him to the limit of our willingness.”
[Repeats these quotes:]
“While those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those who take scandal — who allow scandals to destroy their faith — are guilty of spiritual suicide.”
“In the criticisms uttered by many, there is a failure to see Christ as the whole point.”
“We are not baptized into the hierarchy, we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally, (we) will not spend eternity in the beatific vision of the pope.”
“Nothing a pope could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church, though I might well wish that he would.
“Under the worst administration – we could still learn Christ's truth, still receive His life in the sacraments, still be in union with Him to the limit of our willingness. Christ is the point.”
“Christ is the Point.”