God’s house

Annunciation Catholic Church, Brazil, IN

Last night before dusk, I was a few minutes early at church. A number of small children were leaving CCD (a/k/a religious education class) and posing for pictures in front of our patron saint’s statue while holding some formal-looking certificate. The children were proud of their accomplishment (whatever it was) and the parents were beaming.

What a happy place! If we think about it, we realize that all of the really important milestones of our lives take place right here at this building. Yet this building is quite different than every other. It is God’s house and He is at home.

This is where we come to unite with Him in His once and for all sacrifice which continues for us to this day. Here we join with Him both spiritually and incarnated in the Blessed Sacrament, the source and summit of the Christian life. It is not just the two of us either, but all the faithful: past, present and future. At this place our Eucharistic liturgy joins with the Heavenly liturgy, in the presence of God, together with all the angels and saints. If ever the word “awesome” could be applied, this is it.

The rhythm of our lives plays-out here. The picture taking I witnessed is just a memorable snapshot of a long series, in the lives of those children and in the lives of their parents. For each of them this journey began at their baptisms where they became the adopted children of God, establishing a familial relationship with Him and the entire Communion of Saints.

As the weeks and years pass, we live our imperfect lives, anchored by faith and our continuous response to the calls of conversion and holiness. In a world searching for the meaning of life, we found it — to know, love and serve the Lord. The truth really does set us free. Seeking to know Him, we serve the poor, connect to the disenfranchised, comfort the suffering, go to Bible studies, classes, men’s and women’s groups, retreats, read scripture and pray…   most especially through our participation in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is there that the bridegroom and His bride the Church are most intimately one in their expression of mutual love. It is from there we are sent into the world to serve Him.

The timeline marches on but we are not afraid. Along the way we are continuously strengthened by the sanctifying grace of the sacraments. The young children in the pictures will soon receive first communion. A little later, they will be confirmed, with new graces complimenting their baptisms and further forming their office as priests, prophets and kings. In a few years, many will also enter into a life-long covenant with another through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It will be they who are then behind the camera taking pictures of their own children.

Along the way, our fallen nature allows us to choose against what is good, true and holy. We temporarily leave this place for one of false promises. Our rebellion may be brief or many decades. The Father waits patiently for us to return and the angels rejoice when we finally turn back. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus absolves and forgets our sins, throwing His loving arms around us and welcomes us home.

Eventually, the race will end. We will be gone, temporarily, from our body. Our loved ones will bring us here one last time as the cycle for us is completed. Later that day a new life may be brought into the Church, a couple may become one, or a brother or sister find their way back.

That is what happens here everyday in God’s house, this Catholic church and every Catholic church. We are so blessed.

Francis: style, substance, execution

Francis Style Substance Execution

I have written very little about Pope Francis since he was elected to the See of Peter 18 months ago. I, like so many others, have been and remain somewhat confused. There are already so many things written about him, what he has said, what he has done and what he is trying to do. There should be little to add – except, that so much of what has been said is so terribly contradictory.

How to make sense of it all? I propose, gentle reader, that it may be helpful to understand the Holy Father in a framework of three areas: style, substance and execution.


Obviously enough, every pope has a different personal style. These are very different men with different backgrounds, education, experience and focus. Recent popes in particular have also been from different cultures and native languages. Except for a very small handful during the Middle Ages (less than 10 “bad popes” – out of 266), the Church has been blessed by extraordinary, but of course imperfect, men.

I do not believe for a second that Pope Francis is more humble, or cares more about the poor, or wants to center the Church on Christ even one iota greater than his predecessors. When I read anything that suggests that, I know it is not only completely wrong, but incredibly insulting to previous popes and thus the Church herself. I understand how some people, particularly the media, twists things in this way to further their own agenda.

That said, I believe that the Holy Spirit may have given us Pope Francis as the pope we need at this time. His style is suited well to highlighting what I believe are two areas in which we collectively need to rededicate ourselves.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Pope Francis asks us to look outward, renewing and reinvigorating our mission. He wants our message to be one of peace and joy in Christ, which is sometimes lost when we lead with rules, liturgy and the like. The Holy Father is right! We are well advised to keep this foremost in our evangelism efforts.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

The second area in which Pope Francis wishes to strengthen is our commitment to the poor. That is, the second part of the Greatest Commandment: “love your neighbor.” In our relatively comfortable lives, the needs of the poor can seem distant. The Holy Father reminds us that the poor are always with us and of our responsibility to these brothers and sisters.

The Holy Father’s “messaging” centers around these two areas. We do well to listen, reflect and act accordingly.


Pope Francis describes himself as a “loyal son of the Church.” Put another way, the pope is a faithful Catholic. Duh.

There is absolutely no chance whatsoever that the pope will change doctrine. This will (eventually) come as a shock to the politicized media, to some non-Catholics and to poorly catechized Catholics.

Even if Pope Francis wanted to change doctrine, which he certainly does not (and would be heretical), he could not. Nor is he free to play games with it like keeping certain doctrines “technically on the books” but diminished and ignored in practice. These are revealed truths from God (ref: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”). The Church protects the truth, does not “evolve” it, and exists to change the world, not be changed by it.


Unless you believe there is a brilliant, intricate, long-term plan to which virtually the whole world has not caught on — then you would have to concede that there have been serious problems in this area!

The Holy Father has often spoken vaguely leaving us confused with what he is trying to say. Knowing he is a faithful (orthodox) Catholic, we put a meaning on the words such that they are consistent with doctrine and 2,000 years of Magisterial teaching. The media and heterodox Catholics assign a completely different, often opposite meaning. It seems that the pope has a policy never to clarify what he meant. Confusion reigns.

Another problem area is some in his “inner circle” who claim to be speaking for him, often with alarming pronouncements. This too seems to be tolerated without any objection from the Holy Father or requiring any retraction. Confusion reigns.

Another area is seemingly intractable systemic problems, such as the string of translation “errors” and unapproved, highly slanted information releases. These lapses always tilt toward the heterodox, seem to continue unabated and…   confusion reigns.

Finally, there is the issue of discipline. Those proposing and promoting heterodoxy, from all appearances (which admittedly could be misleading) are usually tolerated. Those affirming orthodoxy appear to often be unjustly disciplined (again, appearances could be wrong). Cardinal Burke’s reassignment may be one such example. The extremely severe treatment of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate may be another. There are plenty of other examples. How much Pope Francis is involved in these matters or how much he defers to that inner circle is unknown. The result is chilling however to many faithful Catholics.

The Future

A tremendous amount of good can come from Pope Francis’ pontificate. Fallen away Catholics and non-Catholics could be brought home. The mission of the Church to save souls could be fulfilled to the highest degree possible.

Alternately, a lot of bad could result if doctrine, while left “technically” unchanged, is diminished, reworded, reinterpreted or otherwise skirted to give heterodoxy a place in the Church. Scandal, by definition, does not save souls but leads them away from Christ. Only truth sets one free.

Frankly, it is unclear to me which path we are on. We must continue to pray for Pope Francis, his intentions and his leadership. May he one day be known as Pope St. Francis the Great!

UPDATE: A recent piece in the Catholic Herald by William Oddie quotes Cardinal Francis George expressing a similar perspective. See The Pope really needs to answer Cardinal George’s questions.

Red shoes

Pope Benedict

We have all read the narrative…

Pope Francis has decided NOT to wear the red shoes. He is a pope who gives a resounding NO to previous papal decadence and unbridled luxury. He is one of us brown shoe wearers – finally, a pope of the people!

Yea, sure.

I love and respect Pope Francis, as I have his predecessors. They each have unique gifts and styles, called by the Holy Spirit for the needs of Holy Mother Church at their time.

There are interests who wish to DIVIDE the Church. Satan is their leader but he has many helpers (even if unbeknownst to them). This scheme of division is subtle and clever, as many of Satan’s plans are, by attempting to divide us in time. The new pope is “good” while his predecessors (the decadent luxury lovers) were “bad.” The bad time ended when the good time began – with the new pope.

This is an attack on the Church, on Christ’s vicar and ultimately on God. If we can begin to think less of prior popes, we can discount their teaching. We can then begin to depreciate their many, many great contributions to the body of Christ.

We must not fall for this trap. It is offensive, as all attacks on the Church are, and at its core is a ridiculous supposition.

You never read about WHY popes have occasionally donned red shoes. Was it high fashion and a symbol of great wealth, perhaps as one wearing Prada? Sorry to disappoint the fashionistas, but nope.

Historically, episcopal footwear (in the form of “slippers”) has been part of the vestments of bishops. Those vestments, as we all know, have colors keyed to the liturgical calendar. The “outdoor shoes” worn by the pope are an outgrowth of that. This is more of a “uniform” than a decadent fashion statement. The uniform, like all clergy and religious, reminds the faithful who he represents.

So, what is special about the color red? It is the color associated with martyrs – saints (known and unknown) who died for the faith. When the pope, the Vicar of Christ, wears red shoes he is figuratively standing upon the spilt blood of martyrs following in the footsteps of Christ. Red shoes also symbolize Christ’s own bloodied feet as he walked to his crucifixion and the pope’s submission to Him.

Red also has significance as a color of royalty and power. As the Vicar of Christ, no one on earth is of higher rank. He is a person and a sinner just like us, but we can not speak for God the way the pope can. No one else can.

Pope Francis’ style is different and interesting. He captures, at least for a moment, the attention of many to hear the message of the Gospel. Openings are created through which the Holy Spirit can enter. Lives will be changed and more importantly, souls saved.

Do not be misled by style vs. substance. Pope Francis has made clear on many occasions his commitment to the “hermeneutic of continuity.” He is, as he says, a “son of the Church.” Personally, I believe the media’s “hope” in the Holy Father will wane when they figure out he is actually Catholic. Until then, be especially alert when you read about red shoes, the pope’s choice of residence, where he eats his meals and so on. There is much more to know than the media will present. Often, not only is their spin wrong but their facts are too.

A current example is Esquire naming Pope Francis the “Best Dressed Man of 2013”. Their purpose, of course, has nothing to do with the promotion of fashion but with division. Robert Gieb wrote a good piece for Catholic Lane on Saturday. Read his The Best Dressed Man over there.

Delusional dissidents

Delusional dissidents

This is far from a new topic for me. I have touched upon it in Catholics and politics, women priests, only Catholics go to heaven?, Catholic obedience, some leave the Church and public sinners.

As a convert, I think a lot about others like myself who realize (or at least suspect) that their Christian community is not in full accord with our Lord’s true teaching. We discover that it is NOT a matter of opinion, that there is truth and that it is knowable. We find that Jesus actually DID institute a Church for the purpose of preserving and teaching that truth until He comes again. When by the grace of God we are led to the Catholic Church, we know that we are home at last.

It is difficult then, to understand Catholic dissidents. “Cradle Catholics” (typically) to which faith has been given as a birthright, yet who walk away from it. Why do they do it? The Bible warns:

If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.

This is a very serious, very blunt warning. The Catechism puts it this way:

How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

That is trying to “re-formulate” the concept (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus) “positively.” There really is no nice way to warn of eternal damnation.

There seems to be different classes of dissidents, among whom are:

  • lapsed Catholics: these are people who no longer honor the precepts of the faith. Often they attend no worship service of any kind (yet still consider themselves Catholic). Some have joined Protestant communities or other religions (these no longer consider themselves Catholic).
  • active dissidents: these are people who are active in the Church and consider themselves to be faithful Catholics but are not. They reject Christ’s teaching, infallibly interpreted by His Church, in favor of their own sinful preferences. Liberal Catholic politicians are the best example of this.
  • independent parishes: these are like the active dissidents, but who have broken away into schismatic groups.

It is that third group (“independent” parishes) that I want to look at here. It is important to keep the scale of this in perspective. Estimates vary, but there is on the order of 300,000 Catholic parishes worldwide. The number of these self-described “independent” parishes appears to be on the order of dozens (excluding the SSPX, schismatic but quite the opposite of the groups referenced here). Probably the sum total of parishioners in such schismatic groups would compare to a single, large Catholic parish such as mine here in the Atlanta area.

Yet, they get showered with the media attention and acceptance they desperately seek. The mainstream media is always in favor of attacking the Church however it can in hopes of diminishing her influence. To wit, a recent article in the New Haven Register caught my attention. It has been picked-up and spread by various media outlets (as its content so appeals to them).

When I read the article, I was taken aback by it. The only word that popped into my mind to describe them is “delusional” (adj: 1. having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions; 2. maintaining fixed false beliefs even when confronted with facts). Consider:

  • They have separated themselves from the authority of the Church, given to her directly and explicitly by our Lord.
  • They think that they have all 7 sacraments. Lacking validly ordained priests, they do not. The only sacrament they validly offer is baptism. This is 1 less than any protestant community has. This is because as baptized Catholics, they are subject to canon law and their marriages outside of the Church are invalid by defect of form.
  • The article asserts that they have the “feel” of a Catholic “service.” So do Anglicans, but they do not claim to be Catholic. Our faith is about truth, not how we “feel.”
  • They embrace all the liberal sins: “re-marriage,” female priests, gay priests, re-married female gay priests, an so on. The article doesn’t mention abortion or contraception, but it is a safe bet that they strongly support a woman’s “right to choose” (the destruction of her unborn child).
  • This entire parish is objectively living in a state of mortal sin (if for no other reason than not fulfilling their Mass obligation). Their women ordination involved “priests” have excommunicated themselves latae sententiae.

The article notes that “all are welcome” by this group. Ditto the real Catholic Church. The difference is the real Church wants you to turn away from sin and turn to God. People turn to this group “because they’ve found their church no longer meets their needs” (to sin).

One couple notes that they “were really looking for a church that was all-inclusive in the world, because Jesus loved everybody.” That is the universal Church – the Catholic Church. The difference is understanding love. Jesus was clear that we are to repent of our sins and to sin no more, not do whatever we are tempted to – which rejects His love. There is more in the article, but you get the idea.

The Catechism describes groups like this as (at least) incredulous and schismatic:

Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

So how will they be judged? We never go there, thank God! Such judgment is His alone and in His mercy He may make allowances for genuine ignorance. However the Catechism warns:

Ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

The bottom line: do not be confused by these few groups or the common media coverage of them. Instead, pray for their return to God on His terms over prideful, arrogant viewpoints more in line with consumerism and politics than the Glory of God.



I was a life-long member of 1 Protestant denomination and believed it taught the truth (I know that remains their sincere intention). When we moved, I looked not for the nearest Protestant church but for the nearest church of my denomination. Many Protestants who grew-up in one specific denomination are that way.

Many other Protestants are comfortable changing denominations when they move. They will typically look for a church that is close, at which they “feel” comfortable and that does not preach too contrary to their personal beliefs. This frankly is odd, as Protestant theology varies significantly. On the other hand, the uniquely Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (invented in the 16th century) ultimately allows each person to determine their own beliefs.

Of this latter group of “denominational hoppers,” one Christian community rarely considered is the Catholic Church. Few can articulate why that is beyond vague misconceptions, but it is often rejected out-of-hand. I know that I did.

In fact, the Catholic Church is not a Christian denomination but is the Christian Church itself. Scripture is clear that Jesus founded 1 Church and history easily shows that to be the Catholic Church. Men such as the reformers (over a millennium after Christ) or modern day preachers opening storefront churches can not create something equivalent to the Church directly founded by our Lord.

To be steeped in history is to cease being Protestant.

Cardinal John Henry Newman (convert)

What is common with our brothers and sisters in various Christian communities (which Catholics call separated Christian communities) is membership in the invisible part of the Church through valid Christian baptism. This is the Mystical Body of Christ, where Christians are members of the body headed by our Lord. On earth, we are also known as the Church Militant reflecting our struggle against the worldly and toward holiness. The Church Militant is part of the Communion of Saints, which also contains those being cleansed for Heaven (in Purgatory; the Church Suffering) and those who are now in Heaven (the Church Triumphant). In this way, ALL Christians are united (even if they do not know this, it is still true).

Where we get into trouble is with the visible part of the Church. The only purpose of which is to make saints (that is, to help as many people as possible get to Heaven). All Christian communities intend this, not just the Catholic Church. However, truth matters.

Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Read these verses carefully. To “remain in my word” you must understand *what* the Word means. How can you remain in something correctly if you misunderstand it? I am not being rhetorical here. Stop for a minute and think about this. This entire passage hinges on it.

Remaining in His Word will make you His disciple and you will know the truth. Knowing the Word (correctly) is knowing the truth. Through actual truth you are set free. Being His disciple spreads truth and sets others free. His Word (when properly understood) = truth.

What if another good person of a different (Protestant) denomination has come to know God’s Word differently than you? He or she is absolutely convinced, as are you, that they are correct. They faithfully live their life by their differing understanding of the Word. Does it matter? Of course it does – to believe otherwise is the heresy of indifferentism. Further, “versions of truth” cover a very wide spectrum of mutually exclusive beliefs. If there are multiple versions, then there is no truth at all – only relativism. We are then not remaining in God’s Word but our own. His misunderstood Word ≠ truth.

Jesus instituted 1 visible Church, under Peter, to protect the truth He revealed to mankind. To be effective in her mission of saving souls, that truth, the truth, the only truth, must be steadfastly kept and faithfully taught. Only the Church protected until the end of time as promised by our Lord can do this with certainty. Other Christian communities outside of full communion with Christ’s universal Church do so to varying degrees. While never their intent – the full truth never-the-less is not present, what is taught may suffer from error and some teaching, to be blunt, is flat-out false.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus alone is the way and the truth and the life. Do you know His truth or another version of it?