Saturday, September 29, 2012

About That Monk Leaving His Monastery...

I wrote in my “Pointing Fingers at Bishops” post the other day:

I have heard a story about a monk who, after years of solitude and prayer in the monastery, left that haven in order to go out and correct some errors that were running rampant amongst the laity. The bishop, observing the monk, commented, “What is this?! A monk has left his monastery!” To which the monk replied, “I wouldn’t have to leave my cell if you would do your job.”

Turns out I didn’t have that story quite right…though I think the point I was making with it still holds: when things have gone awry, sometimes you need to do something about it.

I am told by the person who originally shared the story with me (which I obviously didn’t remember in clear detail!) that this is how the tale should be told:

The monk was St Aphrahat the Syrian; the "bishop" to whom you refer was actually the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate; and the monk replied rather differently. Here's the actual text, taken from the ancient A History of the Monks of Syria by Theodoret of Cyrrhus:

8. On one occasion the utterly senseless emperor saw [Aphrahat] going out to the military drill-ground – for it was there that the adherents of the Trinity happened then to be assembling – and as he was walking along the bank of the river someone pointed him out to the emperor who was peering out from the palace. He asked him where he was setting out to so hurriedly. When he replied that he was on his way to make prayers on behalf of the world and his reign, the emperor again asked him, “Why, when you profess the solitary life, are you walking without scruple in the public square, deserting your solitude?”

The other, who was wont in imitation of the Master to reason in parables, replied, “Tell me this, O emperor: if I had been a girl shut away in some inner room and saw a fire attack my father’s house, what would you have advised me to do on seeing the flames kindled and the house on fire? Sit indoors and let the house be burnt down? In that case I myself would have become a casualty of the conflagration. If you say that I ought to have dashed to fetch water and run up and down and extinguished the flames, do not blame me, O emperor, for doing this very thing. It is what you would have recommended to the girl in the inner room that I am compelled to do, despite my profession of the solitary life. If you blame me for deserting my solitude, blame yourself for having cast these flames into the house of God and not me for being compelled to extinguish them. For you yourself have agreed that it is certainly right to bring assistance to one’s father’s house on fire; and it is obvious to everyone, even the utterly uninitiated in divine things, that God is more truly our father than fathers on earth. Therefore we are doing nothing wide of the mark or contrary to our original commitment, O emperor, in assembling and pasturing the nurslings of piety and providing them with the divine fodder.”

At these words, the emperor, out-argued by the justice of this defense, expressed approval by silence.

Yeah, I like that version better. ;-)

Friday, September 28, 2012

How We Vote Impacts Our Salvation

I post a lot of Vortex episodes because Michael Voris expresses some thoughts that I couldn’t say better. Personally, I like his presentation as well as his words, but I know that his “style” is not everyone’s “cup of tea”.

That’s why I also post the scripts, or at least portions of them. Some people won’t watch the video, but they will read the words…and vice versa. On the Church Militant TV web page, there is almost always a link to the script for the Vortex; I just try to make it a little easier for you here.

In today’s Vortex, Michael Voris commends Bishop Paprocki on his clear statement that “to vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy." (And I have also noted this bishop’s statement in two posts.)  

Voris adds some further thoughts, and I recommend watching the video (below), or reading the entire script here.

As a “teaser”, here’s an excerpt (my emphases):

No one who seriously believes in God – that Jesus Christ is God Almighty in human flesh – could entertain for the slightest instant the idea of voting for a supporter of child murder and sodomy. And the reason is because we have our heads screwed on correctly and our moral compasses pointed to heaven.

These acts are evil and they are individual actions that are committed against other individuals – not ethereal concepts like JUSTICE or POVERTY that need to be realized in the tangible here and now.

Of course, no one votes in favor of poverty; but since poverty isn’t an actual deed, it doesn’t begin to measure up to the action of chopping a child up in the womb and sucking out the remains with a vacuum cleaner. THAT is an action – a deed – and it is evil to the core.

No amount of rationalizing and high faulting academic babble can change that. It is what it is, and it is most definitely child murder. And to vote for a candidate who supports this unspeakable evil places that person squarely on the path to Hell.

Such a person becomes morally culpable in the killing because in our form of governance, the killing is brought into existence as a legal right by the people voted into office.

Video of Bishop Paprocki

Here's a quick video clip of Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, (about whom I wrote here) telling it like it is, and working to save the souls under his care.

The short article accompanying the video says (my emphases):

“There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils,” the bishop explained. “My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding ‘political’ and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins.”
“Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against,” he concluded, “but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Another Archbishop Speaks Up

Archbishop John J. MyersOn Tuesday Newark Archbishop John J. Myers released a pastoral letter calling on Catholics, especially Catholic politicians, who do not accept the teaching of the Church on marriage, to “in all honesty and humility refrain from receiving Holy Communion.” The Archbishop said that “to continue to receive Holy Communion while so dissenting would be objectively dishonest.”

Woo hoo! Another archbishop speaking and teaching the truth, and publishing a 16-page pastoral letter to boot! Not only that, he notes that his letter is meant to help the faithful form their consciences. I just like that kind of language!

If this kind of thing keeps up, we might end up with an actual, real “renewal” of the faith, or even a “new evangelization”! We might end up with a “year of faith” where the truths of the faith are actually taught and talked about and (dare I hope?!) put into practice!

Dr. Ed Peters at In the Light of the Law provides a short canonical commentary focusing on one paragraph of Archbishop Myers’ pastoral letter. He says that “Myers is also a lawyer and, even in a pastoral statement, he writes with the care (though without most of the technical trappings) that one expects from a good canonist.” Dr. Peters also notes that the letter is “aimed more at conversion than compliance”, and that

…Myers has issued, in effect, a pastoral admonishment to observe Canon 916 of the Code of Canon Law. Canon 916 directs would-be recipients of holy Communion who are not in interior communion with the Church to refrain from receiving holy Communion…

Often we hear about Canon 915 with regard to refusing Holy Communion to “Catholic” politicians who are at odds with Church teaching. Peters says that Canon 915 applies to ministers, not recipients of Communion; Archbishop Myers is “reminding Catholics that responsibility for worthy participation in the holy Communion begins with individual Catholics”.

Hopefully, people will read Myers’ letter with the same degree of care with which he wrote it and will recognize the spiritual seriousness of dissenting from Church teaching on the nature of marriage, leading them in turn to avoid actions that would make them ineligible for holy Communion.

Now that we have some bishops speaking up and teaching the Truths of the Church, we just need the somewhat-less-than-faithful to pay attention. That, I think, will take some time. I’ve talked to enough “liberal” and “progressive” Catholics to know that many of them have no desire to come to conversion. They have misconceptions about what it means to “follow one’s conscience” and seem not to even know what “forming” it might entail.

But at least we are all  beginning to hear some things that will contribute to our salvation.

Interview with an Exorcist: Forward Boldly Radio Show

Fr. Vincent Lampert, official exorcist of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, was the guest on the Fidelis Radio show “Forward Boldly” last Saturday, with host Christine Niles. You can listen to the recording of the show here.

From the intro to the show at the link, we learn that Fr. Vincent Lampert is the official exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He was interviewed and quoted in Matt Baglio's book "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist ," on which the popular 2011 film starring Anthony Hopkins was based. In addition to his duties as pastor of Sts. Francis and Clare Catholic Church, Fr. Lampert has spent the past seven years helping souls overcome the demonic through his unique ministry as exorcist.

In the interview, Fr. Lampert said that he has been a priest for 21 years, and was appointed to be the exorcist of his diocese in 2005. He trained with Fr. Gary Thomas and Fr. Carmine DeFilippis in Rome, sitting in on about 40 exorcisms.  He is a full time pastor of a parish, and spends about 60% of his time dealing with requests for exorcisms. In the last year, he has had the help of an associate pastor, though, which alleviates some of the pressures of his work.

Host Christine Niles asked Fr. Lampert about the process a person goes through who seeks the help of an exorcist. Fr. Lampert said he meets with the person as soon as possible, and outlines the steps that must be taken; those steps include a mental evaluation. Often, he said, people are inclined to see this requirement as indicating that the priest doesn’t believe that they are experiencing a battle with evil. However, this is not the case; Fr. Lampert says he points out that a person who is doing battle with evil will need to be strong mentally – so it’s not just a matter of the priest “not believing” the person’s story.

Signs that a person is actually experiencing a diabolical attack include an aversion to signs of the sacred, such as the Crucifix, holy water, and/or the Bible; an ability to speak a language the person should not be able to speak; the knowledge of future events; and a physical strength beyond what would normally be expected. Fr. Lampert also indicated that when a mental evaluation has been obtained, he also asks if the mental health professional has noted anything beyond his or her scope of explanation.

Fr. Lampert also outlined five ways that the demonic typically enters a person’s life. These are: 1) involvement in the occult; 2) being dedicated to a demon; 3) having a curse placed upon one; 4) a life of hardened sin; 5) broken family relationships.

Christine asked for further explanation on each of these points. She noted that many people don’t take occult practices seriously – especially seemingly innocuous things like playing with a Ouija board. Fr. Lampert explained that the occult can be invited in either directly or indirectly; a direct invitation occurs when we know what we are doing and we choose to do it anyway. Playing with a Ouija board or consulting a psychic in a half-serious way would probably be an indirect invitation, and usually people see it as an entertainment and don’t take it seriously; nevertheless these are transgressions against the First Commandment, because essentially, these activities say that one trusts the occult more than God.  In the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus these practices are specifically condemned, and those who do so are called “disgusting in the eyes of God”. So it’s not just that the Church is saying these things are wrong, said Fr. Lampert; God Himself is saying so in his Word.

As an example of “being dedicated to a demon”, Fr. Lampert related the story of a young woman whose mother had tried to abort her. The abortion was not successful, and when the girl was born, the mother was so angry at God that she dedicated her baby to Satan in order to “get even” with God. In her teen years, the girl contacted Fr. Carmine, who worked with her to break the connection with evil that the girl had suffered under from birth; eventually she was freed from the evil influence.

Fr. Lampert’s explanation of curses was interesting as well. He said that usually people who make curses are those involved in the occult who claim to be witches or warlocks. A curse, he noted, is the opposite of a blessing; when we bless something, it’s dedicated to God, while something cursed is dedicated to Satan. Curses are effective when a person’s faith life is weak. In order to protect ourselves we need to develop a strong prayer life, and a strong sense of God as our Protector and Shield.

“One has to know that the power of God is greater than any power of evil, and I think curses are only effective when people have that lack of faith. Faith is such a key ingredient in being able to go up against the forces of evil and to realize they don’t have an impact on your life.”

He told of some business owners who thought a former employee, who was an avowed witch, had put a curse on them in their business. Fr. Lampert explained that he could come and pray against the curse, but then the “witch” could curse again. “When does the cycle stop?” he asked them. “It stops when you begin to know because of your faith that whatever she’s doing is not effective because you have the power of the presence of Christ in your life.”

Broken family relationships are the most frequent point of entry for evil that Fr. Lampert has observed. He mentioned a Biblical basis for this as well – the demoniac in Mark 5, who was possessed by Legion. After Jesus casts out the demons into the swine, the man wants to follow him, but Jesus tells him to go home to his family, trying to restore him to a proper relationship with his family. In the world of exorcism, it’s thought that perhaps the broken relationships were the entry point for the evil in his life.  Exorcism is only one component in the healing process when evil is involved; restoring right relationships is essential, too – first with God, then with family members, the church community, etc.

In preparing for an exorcism, Fr. Lampert said he prays, celebrates Mass, and receives the sacrament of confession. He also uses various sacramental, including a St. Benedict crucifix blessed by Pope Benedict XVI, holy water and blessed salt, relics, and his priestly stole (which of course indicates his office). Christine noted that famous exorcist Fr. Amorth has said that “one worthy confession is equal to a strong exorcism”; Fr. Lampert agreed, saying that the sacraments are always more powerful than sacramental. He also suggested that often people “let guilt get the best of them”. He added, “The devil thrives on guilt. By going to confession, we place our sins in the hands of God, and then the devil can’t use them against us.”

During an exorcism, Fr. Lampert says he usually enlists the aids of different people, some of whom pray in a separate place from where the exorcism takes place; others are present in the same location. He doesn’t have a “team” per se, and the participants will vary for each exorcism. The exorcism always takes place in a sacred place, such as a church or chapel.

In terms of saintly helpers, Fr. Lampert noted that the Blessed Virgin Mary is a powerful ally, a great life-line, who, as noted in Genesis 3:15, will crush the head of Satan. Fr. Lampert confirmed what Christine had heard from other sources: demons will have the audacity to curse the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but they will not curse Mary.

St. Michael, of course, is another important ally in exorcism.

Fr. Lampert also mentioned Blessed Bartolo Longo as a resource. Bartolo Longo was raised as a devout Catholic in the late 19th century; when he went to the university, he became involved in the occult and eventually became a satanic high priest. His family was able to extricate him from the occult through their prayers, and he recommitted himself to Christ. Subsequently, he dedicated his life to working with youth at the university, helping them to stay strong in their faith.

“It just shows that no one is ever completely lost to God,” observed Fr. Lampert. “Blessed Barolo Longo was once a satanic high priest, and now he’s on his way to sainthood.”

Fr. Lampert also discussed degrees of diabolical activity. At the lowest level, there is temptation, which everyone experiences; this is “ordinary” diabolical activity. “Extraordinary” diabolical activity includes: infestation, which may involve a location or an object; oppression, which is  a physical attack on the person; obsession, which is a mental attack on the person; and possession, in which the devil takes possession of the body.

Possession is rare, says Fr. Lampert, and he has only dealt with 3 authentic cases of possession in the thousands of exorcisms he has performed. He offered an explanation for why a demon want to take possession of a body: “The greatest gift of God is the Incarnation. The devil tries to mimic that by taking possession of a physical body. You might say that possession is the devil’s attempt at his own incarnation.”

A listener asked for Fr. Lampert’s opinion on the old rite of exorcism vs. the new rite. Fr. Lampert acknowledged that there is a bit of debate on that subject, but said that he has both rites, and that both carry the authority of the Church.

“The new rite is meant to place the pastoral care of those dealing with evil into the hands of every priest,” he said. “Only true cases of possession should be reserved for the exorcist. But every priest should be able to help those who believe they are up against other forces of evil.”

He explained further that there are two kinds of exorcism prayers: imperative and supplicating. The imperative prayers command the demon to leave, while the supplicating prayers ask God to bring deliverance to the afflicted person.  The new rite relies more on supplicating prayers, while the old rite is more imperative in nature. We can all pray, so we may all pray the supplicating prayers.

It is important to stick to the words of the rite, though. Fr. Lampert told of how a demon responded when another exorcist started adlibbing prayers, rather than sticking to the precise words of the Ritual: “I listen to the authority of the Church…not to you.”  In other words, it is not the authority of the priest that is important in an exorcism – it’s the Church. (Gives a whole new meaning to “say the black, do the red”, doesn’t it?!)

Is it possible and permitted to perform exorcisms for non-Catholics? Yes, says Fr. Lampert, who says that about half of those who contact him regarding exorcism are not Catholic; many are of a “Christian faith community”, but there are also some who are not Christian at all. The advice he gives after exorcism is that the Christian  maintain and strengthen his faith and his connection with his church community; for non-Christians, Fr. Lampert says that it is of course important to lead them to a relationship with Christ.

As far as Hollywood movies about exorcism, Fr. Lampert felt that the classic film – “The Exorcist” – contained a lot of realistic elements, such as changes in facial expressions, vomiting, levitation, foaming at the mouth. He himself has witnessed each of these in his own ministry. However, these dramatic effects are “parlor tricks” of the devil, he said, and are intended to shock and terrify the on-lookers.

The movie “The Rite” is “pretty good”, he said, though presents some theological issues he is not in full agreement with. “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was also “pretty true to what the Church believes” about possession and exorcism, he said.

The interview is very interesting and engaging – I highly recommend listening to it. I agree with Christine’s assessment of Fr. Lampert: he has a humble demeanor and quiet confidence in the power of God. In spite of all the intense encounters, and the horrible things he has seen and heard, it’s clear that Fr. Lampert has complete trust in the power of God. Just hearing him talk about it instills confidence in the listener.

There’s another article about Fr. Vincent Lampert here, and if you google his name you will find other information as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Saints Cyprian and Justina

The Lives of the Spiritual Mothers (published by Holy Apostles Convent, 1991) contains the interesting story of Saints Cyprian and Justina; they are commemorated on September 26 in the old calendar of the Latin rite. I especially like the story that takes place at the beginning of their relationship, and will reproduce it here, paraphrasing and quoting extensively from the book just mentioned; all emphases are mine.

St. Cyprian was anything but a saint in the beginning! He was a “magus” – a magician – “a philosopher who attained the pinnacle in the practice of the magic arts”. He knew “all the infernal arts of idolatry, astrology, and black magic”, and he conjured up demons to do his dirty work.

Justina, originally named Justa, was born into a pagan family, but “came to believe that there was only one true God. With this conviction taking root in her soul, the virgin struggled to keep herself pure in both body and soul.” As a result, she brought her parents to Christ as well.

A wealthy nobleman, Aglaidas, came to know of Justa, and was “smitten by her beauty”; Justa, however, refused his advances. Aglaidas was not known for his self-control, and he pursued Justa ever more ardently, to the point of attempting to take her by force. Her cries at that point summoned her relatives, and Aglaidas fled from the armed protectors.

Knowing of Cyprian’s skill in the dark arts, Aglaidas enlisted the magician’s aid in order to win the beautiful Justa as his wife, promising him wealth in return for the favor. The Spiritual Lives tells us that “straightway, Cyprian conjured one of the wicked demons who he often invoked to bring about shameless and unholy deeds.” The satanic instructions were carried out, but

…The virgin Justa arose at the third hour of night, as was her custom, to say her prayers. She sensed a burning sensation in her inward parts and understood it to be a temptation. To extinguish the flame of desire, she constrained herself to utter [several verses of Scripture]…Justina then made the sign of the Cross, an awesome, dreadful, and unbearable weapon against the demon, from which it took flight.

With great humiliation and fear, the demon returned to Cyprian, quite ashamed that he had been vanquished. However, when Cyprian examined the demon, though not wishing to say the truth, the demon was compelled to say, “I tell thee that I beheld a certain sign and was greatly frightened, for I could not endure Its might!”

The Blessed Virgin Mary treads the SerpentCyprian disdained that demon, and quickly summoned another demon who was more 
powerful. Justa, though vigorously assailed, armed herself with prayer, vigilance, and mortification against all demonic artifices and the power of spells. She supplicated the Virgin Mary that she find succor in this hour of peril. In like manner, therefore, the same plight befell this demon as the first.

Cyprian conjured a third demon, the chief and leader of the others, who told him to take courage. Therefore, the third demon, more knavish than the others, went to the maiden’s home in the guise of a woman [and tempted her to leave her commitment to virginity and purity by various words]…Justa recognized the deceit of the demon. She then prayed and made the sign of the Cross, which repudiated and cast out the demon.

[The demon told Cyprian]... “Wherever there is the image of the sign of the Cross, the demons, trembling and restrained, then retreat.” When the shrewd Cyprian heard this, he became more astute, and despised the demons. Worsted by a superior power, straightway, he, too, desired to turn from deceit and believe in Christ… [Enraged at losing this magician]…the devil assailed Cyprian and began beating and strangling him. The penitent sinner repulsed the attack when he brought to mind the sign of the Cross, by which Justa successfully overcame demonic audacity. Thus, he cried out, “O God of Justa, help me!” He then managed to make the sign of the Cross, and the devil fled.

I love this story!

There is more, of course – Cyprian was converted and baptized, and was ordained a priest within a year; he was made a bishop soon after that. He tonsured Justa and gave her the name Justina. They were martyred together.

I quoted the story above, though, because of the lesson of the sign of the Cross. How many times do I make the sign of the Cross every day without even realizing the power it holds!

To me the story speaks of the power of the sign of the Cross combined with supplication to the Blessed Virgin Mary – how can we fail against the demons with such powerful weapons!

And let’s not forget that St. Joseph is known as the “terror of demons”!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More Good News About Bishops

I posted Some Good News About Bishops the other day, and lo and behold, there is more good news day!

I would much prefer to be posting about news items like these on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s going to become a more common occurrence.

First, from LifeSiteNews we have a story entitled “US Bishop Slams Dem Platform for Endorsing Intrinsic Evils”. Here’s an excerpt; read the rest at the link:

The bishop of Springfield, Illinois has issued a hard-hitting letter in his diocesan paper, slamming the Democratic Party platform’s support for abortion and gay ‘marriage’ and urging Catholics to bring their consciences to the ballot box.

Citing the events that transpired at the Democratic National Convention when the last remaining reference to God was removed, and then reintroduced into the party platform, Bishop John Paprocki insisted that this debacle was not the worst of the DNC platform problems, and that the platform’s pro-homosexual agenda and pro-abortion planks “explicitly endorse intrinsic evils.”

Remarking on the Republican Party Platform as a contrast, Paprocki said, “there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin.”

…“Again,” the bishop concluded, “I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

Yes! Thank you, Bishop Paprocki!

In a story from Catholic News Agency, we see Archbishop Jose Gomez stepping up to the plate again. Archbishop Gomez recently suspended the faculties  of a priest who has been a "gay marriage" activist for years; CNA reports today that he has made another  strong statement about the role of faith in politics:

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has called on Catholics to achieve a “unity of life” and let their faith form their political decisions as they prepare to vote this November.

“We have important obligations as citizens. But we have to carry out those obligations always in light of our duty to God,” the archbishop wrote in his Sept. 21 column for The Tidings.

The most important thing is to form our consciences. We have to make sure our participation and our contributions always reflect the moral and religious values that we find in the Scriptures and in the teachings of our Church,” Archbishop Gomez wrote.

When Catholics go to the voting booth, he said, there are non-negotiable aspects of Catholic social teaching that they should recall. Abortion and euthanasia, and families based on a marriage between a man and a woman are among those non-negotiables. These issues cannot be disagreed about among Catholics who have formed their consciences with the Church, he said.

But many issues are debatable among Catholics who have well-formed consciences. Archbishop Gomez pointed to issues such as taxes, government spending, how to deal with immigration and helping the poor as examples of topics that are matters of prudential judgment.

It’s refreshing and heartening to see these clear statements!

Pointing Fingers at Bishops

At Accepting Abundance, my friend Dr. Stacy Trasancos offers her thoughts on criticizing bishops. So…being a guilty part of such a thing, I thought I’d throw in my two-cents’ worth as well. (Be sure to read Stacy’s post – she has some good points.)

I have also written on this topic here and here, and I’ll reproduce some of my thoughts from those posts.

I don’t really want to bash bishops, and I hope that the criticism I engage in doesn’t really qualify as “bashing”. I agree with the concept of respect for the episcopal office; I agree that bishops are human beings, too, and thus not incapable of errors; I agree that obedience to a bishop’s decrees is required of the faithful.

BUT…okay, there’s always the big “but”…

Sometimes, it seems to me, bishops act in highly irregular ways. Yes, we may have a media slant on the issue at hand, or the bishop may have very good reasons for taking some particular action, and we may not be privy to all the information he has used to guide his decision. Still, there are times when you just have to shake your head…and maybe shake up the community by asking some or making some comments.

I have heard a story about a monk who, after years of solitude and prayer in the monastery, left that haven in order to go out and correct some errors that were running rampant amongst the laity. The bishop, observing the monk, commented, “What is this?! A monk has left his monastery!” To which the monk replied, “I wouldn’t have to leave my cell if you would do your job.”

Or something like that. The point is, many bishops are not doing their job, and by commission or omission, they are misleading the people. They are causing scandal by allowing people to think, for instance, that it must be okay for Catholics to disagree with the Church on abortion, contraception, and homosexual marriage because Catholic politicians do so and go uncorrected.

Sometimes, the laity must speak up, even according to Canon Law:

Canon 212  §3 According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, [the faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful

What a bishop is supposed to be, how he is to act: these things are laid out plainly in Canon Law and in various documents of the Church. For instance:

Walking in the footsteps of Christ, the Bishop is obedient to the Gospel and the Church's Tradition; he is able to read the signs of the times and to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Petrine ministry and in episcopal collegiality. (Pastores Gregis, paragraph 19)

And here’s a little more from the Code of Canon Law (my emphases):

Canon 386 ß1  The diocesan Bishop is bound to teach and illustrate to the faithful the truths of faith which are to be believed and applied to morals. He is himself to preach frequently. He is also to ensure that the provisions of the canons on the ministry of the word, especially on the homily and catechetical instruction, are faithfully observed, so that the whole of Christian teaching is transmitted to all.

ß2  By whatever means seem most appropriate, he is firmly to defend the integrity and unity of the faith to be believed. However, he is to acknowledge a just freedom in the further investigation of truths.

Can. 387 Mindful that he is bound to give an example of holiness, charity, humility and simplicity of life, the diocesan Bishop is to seek in every way to promote the holiness of Christ's faithful according to the special vocation of each. Since he is the principal dispenser of the mysteries of God, he is to strive constantly that Christ's faithful entrusted to his care may grow in grace through the celebration of the sacraments, and may know and live the paschal mystery.

These descriptions, of course, constitute the ideal, and obviously, many bishops – if not all – fall short of these ideals. They are human, after all, just like the rest of us! And because of that, we of the laity are often admonished to be charitable to our bishops (and priests, of course), to pray for them, and to give them a little slack, because leading the faithful is such a difficult job.

Is the job of leading the faithful by example really all that hard, though? Well, yes, there are tightropes to be walked as the media is dealt with, dissident groups and individuals clamor for changes, and those radical traditionalists keep insisting on having an extraordinary form of the Mass available on a regular basis. But then, a bishop is supposed to be a cut above, by the grace of God through his consecration as a bishop; he’s held to a higher standard than a parish priest or a layman.

So, yes, the bishop’s responsibility is huge: he is responsible for all of those souls under his care, which includes all of the people of his diocese – even, in a sense, those who are not Catholic. Many a bishop has probably said to himself, “You can please some of the people all of the time, and you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” And then he tries to do his best to juggle the needs and desires of his flock as he makes administrative decisions.

And there’s the problem: a bishop’s job is not really to please any of the people. A bishop’s job is to please God, and to save souls.

Since the Church has rules and regs – and since She teaches the Truth – a bishop need only give voice to what the Church already declares as true. In order to truly care for his flock, the bishop simply must preach the truth. He must preach the truth even if he thinks the “big donors” will stop giving money to the local church. He must preach the truth even if he is crucified in the media. He must preach the truth even if he is crucified by his own flock (just like Jesus)!

If the bishop does not preach the truth (and live it and talk it and publicize it in the mainstream media), but instead subverts Church teaching and directly violates Canon Law, then he leads his flock astray. Period.

And if he leads his flock astray, what is to become of him? Scripture has a straightforward answer:

[Jesus] said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:1-2; see also Matthew 18:6)

If I were a bishop, I’d be trembling in fear at those words.

So, is it so uncharitable to let bishops know that we see errors in their actions? And if they don’t respond to our concerns privately, is it so uncharitable to let others know that these errors exist? Dr. Stacy reminds us of that saying that “If you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you.” She adds (my emphasis):

We also have the obligation to fulfill our own role in the Church. After all, even fingers can play a vital role in the functioning of the body, but not if they are stuck in the eye.

That’s a good point. On the other hand (so to speak), sometimes it takes a poke in the eye to get the bishop’s attention. And better a poke in the eye than eternity in hell.

So what do we do? Do we turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when bishops say and do scandalous things? Or do we respectfully, but firmly, announce that “the emperor has no clothes”?

Sometimes, I think, we must accompany our prayer with a poke in the eye.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Our King Deserves the Best

I have mentioned before that, although Fr. Robert Barron's "Catholicism" DVD set has some stunning photography, in other ways (as in liturgical and theological issues) I am disinclined to use the program as a tool for evangelizing potential converts to the faith. 

The images in "Catholicism" certainly show what the Church is "made of", so to speak, in terms of art and architecture. Fr. Barron presents the Church as being capable of creating and inspiring great works of art (and it has been), but he fails to recognize that unfortunate fact that the current Church he describing is not capable of any such thing. Look at current Church art, architecture, and music, and you see something so banal and trivial that it isn't capable of inspiring anthing but banners and collages and culture not even up to the level of kindergarten.


It’s one thing to show beautiful photographs, and another to make the shift from Rome to the Diocese of Baker.

For instance, consider the discrepancy between the visually breathtaking scenes Fr. Barron shows, like this:

...and the reality of the parishes in my diocese, which is more like this:

While the first photo might speak to the grandeur and majesty of the Church, the second says "1970's dining room decorated by Grandma".

And instead of awesome altars, reverently "vested" and adorned, like the ones we might see in "Catholicism", such as: our diocese we are much more likely to see something like this:

Admittedly, the above photo did convince the pastor of the need for a new approach to altar frontals!  

As for exterior architecture, Fr. Barron shows us scenes like this:

...while we look around at buildings that are barely recognizable as churches:

In our diocese, we have traded lovely churches like this:

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...for handball courts like this:

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I like looking at photographs of Catholic churches that look like Catholic churches inside and out. It's just too bad that we have so few examples here.

The best we can do is the Cathedral, and to be fair, it has been restored from a '70's wreckovation to something more appropriate:

Not bad, eh? This photo, though, does not show the usual decor of the sanctuary though; that antependium was "imported" of one Mass (and it is actually violet, not blue or black). A more usual altar arrangement at the Cathedral would look like this:

...or this, with the floral and other decorations completely obscuring the altar:

And that's only one church in the diocese, too. The others can't hold a candle to the Cathedral. 

Yet, it would be so easy to make a few minor adjustments to enhance the dignity of the altar and sanctuary in any church.

We went from this: this:

...and from this: this:

...and from this: this:

...with much less time, effort, and expense than you might think. 

Isn't it worth doing that kind of a "make-over" for the King of the Universe?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Padre Pio: A Homily by Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, OR 

Sept 23rd, 2012 Dominica XXV Per Annum, Anno B

“Let us beset the just one, for he is obnoxious to us…let us see whether his words be true; …let us put the just one to the test.”

These words from the book of Wisdom have been repeated by countless numbers of the faithful from the time it was written before Christ and throughout the Christian era. There is something irresistible that draws us toward holy people, but there can also be something that stirs up within us suspicion and envy. How can this man or this woman be so good? Is it a deception? This was the case among the pharisees and scribes as they encountered the very Son of God, Jesus Christ, standing before them in his sacred humanity. His holiness was just too much for them to bear. He was too perfect. There was surely something deceitful going on! Of course, we know the truth about Jesus. He was God and He was the perfection of holiness; the perfection of humanity.

We also know that He came so that we could aspire to that holiness, with His help. When we are in a state of grace, we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us so that we can imitate Him. Each of us is called to be a saint. But aspiring to sainthood, we place ourselves under the scrutiny of others who will question our holiness. And we find ourselves questioning others saying, “Let us put the just one to the test…if he be the son of God, God will defend him.”

Within the living memory of many today, there is a man who drew both suspicion and devotion from the highest tiers of the Church. In the year 2006, Pope Benedict XVI made available to scholars and the faithful the Secret Vatican Archives of the Holy Office for the years 1922-1939 (cf. Castelli. Padre Pio Under Investigation, 4). Among the archives emerged a file begun in 1921 which detailed the inquisition of a Capuchin priest known as Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Why was this priest being investigated? Because the Holy Office had received reports that he was faking the stigmata. The stigmata refers to the wounds of Christ which Padre Pio had reportedly received, piercing his skin through the hands, feet and side.
Now, let’s go back to the year 1918 when the story begins. World War I is raging. Pope Benedict XV had called this war “the suicide of Europe” urging all Christians to pray for an end to the war (cf. Wikipedia). In response, a young Capuchin priest named Padre Pio offered himself to God as a victim that the war might be ended. Within the span of about a week, Padre Pio had an experience while hearing confessions which he later described: a celestial person appeared and hurled a flaming spear into his soul. In his own words, “Since that day, I am mortally wounded. It feels as if there is a wound in the center of my being that is always open and it causes constant pain” (Preziuso, The Life of Padre Pio, 103).

A month later, in September, Padre Pio celebrated the Mass and afterwards, he was praying in thanksgiving. He later wrote about what happened next:

“I was alone. . . after celebrating Mass, when I was overtaken by a repose similar to a sweet sleep. All my external and internal senses and all the faculties of my soul were in an indescribable quiet. During this time there was absolute silence around me and within me. There then followed a great peace and abandonment to total privation of everything. . . This all happened in an instant.

While all this was happening, I saw in front of me a mysterious person, similar to the one I had seen on August 5, except that now his hands and feet and side were dripping blood. His countenance terrified me. I don’t know how to tell you how I felt at that instant. I felt that I was dying, and I would have died had the Lord not intervened and sustained my heart, which felt as if it would burst forth from my chest. The countenance of the mysterious figure disappeared and I noticed that my hands and feet and side were pierced and oozing blood” (Preziuso 106).

When it was discovered what had happened, the saint was humiliated by the attention that everyone paid to him over this. But he was at peace that he could offer this suffering up to God united to the suffering of Jesus Christ on the Cross. He had been prepared for this by Jesus who had spoken to him in prayer several years before. Jesus had said to him:

Do not be afraid; I will make you suffer, but I will also give you strength. I desire that your soul, by a daily and hidden martyrdom, should be purified and tested. Do not be surprised if I permit the devil to tempt you, the world to disgust you, persons dearest to you to afflict you, because nothing can prevail against those who mourn beneath the cross for love of me and whom I exert myself to protect [(Epistolario, I, 339) Preziuso 139].

Shortly after this happened, word got out and people began flocking to see Padre Pio. Word even reached the Vatican. In response, Fr. Agostino Gemelli, OFM, visited the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo where Padre Pio lived. Gemelli was a disinguished scholar who doubted the authenticity of the stigmata (cf. Castelli 5). He immediately wrote a personal letter to the Holy Office in Rome declaring it “the fruit of suggestion” (5). Thus began the formal inquisition.

In June of 1931, a letter arrived from Rome restricting the priestly faculties of Padre Pio. He was no longer allowed to celebrate Mass publicly nor to preach nor hear confessions. News quickly spread and the people protested outside the convent. Padre Pio accepted this decision and offered it up. After all, it was God’s work, not his. God could accomplish far more, if He chose, by his humiliations and suffering than by his priestly ministry. Pope Pius XI came to his rescue and released him from these restrictions in 1934. From that time crowds began to flock to San Giovanni Rotondo to go to Confession to Padre Pio. He would sit in the confessional for hours upon end. He could read people’s souls, even recognizing sins that they withheld from him. But he did not judge them. He wished them to be set free. He loved them and so he became known for not giving absolution if they were there for the wrong reasons. Those who came to him insincerely, to test him, to mock him, or just to visit a celebrity priest, were sent away.  

But he warned other priests not to copy him in this practice. He said: “You cannot do what I do!” (Preziuso 151). “All those who experienced the bitterness of being sent away without absolution, eventually, through the prayers of Padre Pio, were moved to true remorse. They were not at peace! They lived in a state of constant, unbearable agitation which ended only when, after a radical change of life and a total conversion, they turned to the heavenly Father with sincere repentance. Then their laments of sorrow turned into shouts of joy” (151). And Jesus would sweetly say, “Ego te absolvo” through the ministry of His priest. Meanwhile many people were experiencing miracles of healing and conversion. But the investigation of Padre Pio continued throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. It was even discovered that one of the friars had placed a bug in various places to record the private conversations of Padre Pio.

In 1962, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla wrote a letter to Padre Pio asking him to intercede and pray for a 40 year old woman in Krakow who was suffering greatly from cancer. Wojtyla had met the priest many years before while a seminarian in Rome. Padre Pio read the letter and said: “To this I cannot say no” (206). Ten days later, another letter arrived from the future Pope John Paul II. The letter read that as the woman was about to undergo surgery, her cancer “was suddenly cured” (206). Cardinal Wojtyla thanked Padre Pio for the favor.

September 20th, 1968 marked the fiftieth year of his receiving the stigmata. These wounds had soaked innumerable bandages with his blood for 50 years. The wounds of Christ which he carried had been examined time and again by skeptical doctors and scientists, humiliating him and scoffing at him. Two days later on September 22nd, he celebrated a sung Mass at 5 o’clock in the morning. The church was packed with 740 prayer groups. At the consecration, someone noticed that his hands were smooth and clear. There was no visible stigmata. After the Ite Missa Est was intoned, Padre Pio collapsed. That night, he made his last confession in anticipation of his death. He died very early in the morning on September 23rd, 1968, repeating the words, “Jesus, Mary, Jesus, Mary.”

When they examined his dead body, there were no marks, no scars, no trace that there had ever been a stigmata. His skin was smooth and elastic. Those who examined his body concluded that, among other things, this healing was a sign of the Resurrection, when the body will be restored to its perfection after death. He had suffered for Jesus Christ in life. His wounds were no longer needed after death. His body remains incorrupt to this day. Padre Pio was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Padre Pio did not seek greatness. He sought to be the last and the servant of all. In this, God exalted him and defended him and took him to Himself. 

For more homilies by Fr. Andersen, click on the tab at the top of the page.