Popes among us

Popes Among Us

Our new Pope, the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff came to us last week “out of nowhere.” All the prognosticators seemed to miss him but there he was, humbly serving Our Lord in Argentina. Only a few weeks ago, people sat beside him as they traveled together on the bus or subway. Some would recognize him as the Archbishop and others undoubtedly saw him as “just” some priest (he dressed simply).

When Cardinal Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio washed the feet of AIDS patients, people saw a humble servant. When he was ordained to the priesthood, they saw a faithful man responding to God’s call. When he taught literature and psychology to high school students, people saw a good teacher. When he himself was in high school, people saw a future chemist.

Only at the last conclave was Archbishop Bergoglio seen as papabile (this time, it was assumed that a younger man would be chosen). Otherwise, before and after the last conclave, the future Pope Francis was just one of the faithful working among and with us. Had we stopped to consider him as a future pope, we may have remembered that no one from the Americas was ever chosen nor was a Jesuit ever chosen. “Theoretically” any man may one day be selected as the pope. Some might have thought Jorge Bergoglio would make a fine one but that his chances were the proverbial slim to none.

When the white smoke appeared, we were overjoyed! We did not know who had been selected but it did not matter. Our confidence rests in God that we would get who we need (not necessarily who we want). Even if the Cardinals were not open to the Holy Spirit, we know for certain that He will protect the Church until the end of time.

This is our faith in Christ and His Church. It is also our love for His vicar, even when we do not yet know who he is.

While we did not know who would become the pope (and neither did the Cardinals until their 5th vote), God – who is outside of time – always did. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was always a future pope, unbeknownst to him and everyone else. May his reign be long and fruitful!

One day, Pope Francis’ reign will end and another man will become St. Peter’s 266th successor (the 267th pope). Today that man is among us, somewhere in the world. No one, including him, knows that he will be the next Holy Father. Not only is he among us now, but so are several of his successors. On average, the last 10 popes were elected at 66.9 years of age and reigned for 13.5 years. With us now are possibly 5 future popes (267, 268, 269, 270 and maybe 271)!

Who might they be?

  • a Cardinal in his early 60’s who just attended his first conclave.
  • a Bishop who is about to turn 50 and will be named an Archbishop in a few years.
  • a parish pastor in his mid-thirties.
  • a seminarian in his early twenties.
  • a boy of 8 looking forward to becoming an altar server.

Whoever they are, those future popes (unless Christ returns first, of course) are out there now. God knows who they are and is forming them for exactly what will be needed. The Holy Spirit is with us.

A new pope

Pope Benedict wearing a red saturno

Something big has happened and the world has changed – yesterday was different than the day before. Unless you have been cutoff from all civilization for the last 24 hours, you know by now that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has announced his resignation effective February 28.

We knew that his pontificate would not last forever, even if we always prayed it would last just a little bit longer. We expected, as has been the custom from before the Protestant revolution, that one day we would be told that he has died. A resignation was unexpected.

Sometimes people resign offices in disgrace. Sometimes they resign because their interests change. Pope Benedict has resigned in love for the Church. He is humbly stepping aside so that a man of stronger health will lead us in the challenges ahead. Our beloved Father is passing the Chair of Peter to another while he is able to do so in continuity. This may be our new norm.

What happens next? We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit over the College of Cardinals. Their dean, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, must call a conclave. Whatever else you had planned to pray for this Lent, include them in your prayers. God willing, we may have a new pope by Easter.

A caution: avoid mass media news reports (including those with Catholic “experts”). They understand little of what is happening and if history is any guide, may predict changes to the beliefs of the Church. Those beliefs, God’s truth, have not changed in 2,000 years, can not change and will not change!

Pope Benedict XVI

Voting Catholic

Voting Catholic

We count in our numbers as Catholic literally millions of people who will put Jesus in second place on election day – behind their political party and its candidate. I hope for the sake of their eternal salvation, that their actions are mitigated by true ignorance or deep confusion sewn by highly heterodox groups (e.g. “Catholics” for Choice).

For the rest of us, our choice will be based upon true Catholic moral teaching and understanding the difference between intrinsic evil and prudential judgement.

Intrinsic evils are moral choices which are always wrong and unacceptable. Abortion is the most important example of this because it involves life itself. The destruction of innocent lives is such a heinous act that it must be given priority above all else. Note that direct involvement in abortion automatically incurs latae sententiae excommunication whereas the murder of an older person, while also an extremely grave mortal sin, does not. Such is the weight given by Holy Mother Church in the name of our Lord.

Some other examples of intrinsic evils include so-called “gay marriage,” suicide (including physician assisted), embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning.

Prudential judgment reflects our personal choices on competing (moral) positions. For example: the most effective means of helping the poor, how to make healthcare more accessible to more people, immigration reform, when a specific war is just, when the death penalty is justified, the proper balance between solidarity and subsidiarity, specific government programs, tax plans, and so on. Often the choice is not between “right” and “wrong,” but between competing solutions to recognized problems. It is therefore debatable, among Catholics of good faith, which candidate’s or political party’s position will ultimately be most helpful to the poor, providing healthcare, creating jobs, defending the country and so on.

However, intrinsic evil must always be given precedence over prudential judgements. Therefore, no matter how much better we judge a candidate’s position on aid to the poor, healthcare, immigration, war, death penalty, etc. – if they embrace intrinsic evils, then that fact must be given the greatest moral weight. In this presidential election, it is NOT debatable which candidate fully embraces abortion or unnatural marriage (both grave, intrinsic evils).

When your bishop or priest speaks of the importance of voting a properly formed conscience, he is referring to one rooted in true Catholic moral teaching. He is NOT referring to some fuzzy feeling you may have or some emotional attachment to one party or candidate. For a number of reasons, he unfortunately can not simply tell you “therefore, in this election it would be highly immoral to vote for candidate so-and-so.” Do not interpret that to mean there are not disqualifying, immoral positions.

In this presidential election, neither candidate is perfect but one candidate alone embraces several positions which are intrinsically evil and alarmingly to the maximum extent possible. No faithful Catholic with a well formed conscience will vote for Barack Obama. We may vote for his challenger, Mitt Romney, for a third party candidate or if necessary for no candidate – but we can not vote for Barack Obama. We may even admire his vision, his social programs and his character – but we can not vote for Barack Obama. To do so makes us personally complicit with his gravely sinful positions.

The same moral requirement of well formed consciences must guide our votes not only in the presidential election, but for every race.

This video presents Catholic moral teaching, as applied to voting, very well:

Cardinal Raymond Burke (Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and Archbishop Emeritus of St. Louis), has presented an excellent pastoral letter on voting that also addresses these points. Here (with my highlighting) is the Catholic News Agency’s (CNA) coverage from two years ago (he was Cardinal-designate at the time):

Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke stressed to Catholic voters in a recent interview that they have a “very serious” obligation to uphold the truth of “moral law” in the upcoming mid-term elections. He specifically cited protecting unborn children from abortion and defending traditional marriage.

The American Vatican official, who was recently named by the Holy Father as a future cardinal, spoke on Oct. 20 to Thomas McKenna, president of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, just hours after the Pope’s announcement.

Cardinal-designate Burke opened his remarks by saying that “as a bishop it’s my obligation, in fact, to urge the faithful to carry out their civic duty in accord with their Catholic Faith.” Clarifying that he does not endorse particular candidates, the prelate also spoke of his duty to relay “principles” to the faithful to help inform their vote.

Speaking on the contentious topic of abortion in the upcoming mid-terms, Cardinal-designate Burke said one “can never vote for someone who favors absolutely the right to choice of a woman to destroy a human life in her womb or the right to a procured abortion.”

“You may in some circumstances where you don’t have any candidate who is proposing to eliminate all abortion, choose the candidate who will most limit this grave evil in our country,” he explained, “but you could never justify voting for a candidate who not only does not want to limit abortion but believes that it should be available to everyone.”

The Vatican prelate also addressed the issue of same-sex “marriage,” asserting that maintaining the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman is not unjust discrimination.

“Where there is unjust discrimination – “for instance, where you say that a fellow human being, because of the color of his skin, is not a part of the same race as someone, say, who is a Caucasian, that is a kind of discrimination which is unjust and immoral,” he said.

However, he added, “there is a discrimination which is perfectly just and good, and that is the discrimination between what is right and what is wrong.”

“Between what is according to our human nature and what is contrary to our human nature. So the Catholic Church, in teaching that sexual acts between persons of the same sex are intrinsically evil, are against nature itself, is simply announcing the truth, helping people to discriminate right from wrong in terms of their own activities.”

In his interview, Cardinal-designate Burke also urged Catholic politicians who have caused “scandal” by endorsing positions contrary to moral law to repent through a “genuine reform of heart.”

“That’s done through the Sacrament of Penance,” he said, adding that political figures must publicly “renounce” their errors, recognizing and recanting the “evil” they have promoted.

Fans of Father John Zuhlsdorf (I am one!) may also wish to read his recent comments on the above. Cardinal Burke’s full interview, upon which the above text from CNA has been transcribed, is here:

As a voter, you may exercise free will in every election. In this election, you are presented with one clearly immoral choice. Bishop David Ricken (Green Bay) warns: “To vote for someone in favor of these positions means that you could be morally ‘complicit’ with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.” Bishop Thomas Paprocki (Springfield) similarly warns : “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.

The last word goes to Father Daniel Doctor: “to attack life at any stage of development is to attack God Himself as the Creator – and then to call this a right or a freedom – is the most absurd of lies.”

Obama’s war on religion (update #10)

Obama's War on Religion

The administration’s unprecedented attack on religious freedom infringes on fundamental rights of Americans of every faith. Recently, the Cardinal Newman Society reported that non-Catholic colleges now outnumber Catholic ones in bring suit against the HHS mandate. That mandate FORCES us to fund highly immoral abortion inducing drugs and sterilizations for all. Over 100 plaintiffs (colleges and other institutions) have now brought suit.

Spreading Misinformation

In the recent vice presidential debates, Joe Biden falsely claimed:

With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution – Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital – none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.

NOT TRUE – Biden’s statement is completely false. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) immediately issued a statement exposing how blatantly wrong he is. This is not a matter of interpretation but black and white wrong.

I do not know why Biden made such an error-filled, outlandish claim. Paul Kengor makes some interesting points:

Joe Biden was wrong, and blatantly so. And it’s hard to imagine that Biden, a “pro-choice Catholic,” could not have known he was wrong. In fact, Biden has privately expressed misgivings with the policy.

According to the New York Times and Politico, both Joe Biden and Obama Chief of Staff Bill Daley urged the White House to carefully consider the backlash from the Catholic Church and Catholic voters over the HHS mandate. Unfortunately, they lost to Obama advisers Valerie Jarrett and Kathleen Sebelius. According to the Times, Biden even arranged for Cardinal Dolan “to meet with the president and express the church’s view.”

This means that Joe Biden privately did good work, whatever his motivation. Unfortunately, it means he didn’t do good work during the vice-presidential debate. Quite the contrary, during the debate, he misrepresented the mandate, and was factually wrong before a huge audience, surely convincing countless Catholic Democrats that the HHS mandate has been overblown. At the debate, Biden towed the party line and fell on his sword for Barack Obama. He did so before millions of fellow Catholics, and at the expense of his Church and religious liberty.

Some more articles on this blatant whopper:

How Obama’s Mandate Affects Businesses

Many business people – Catholics and other people of faith – have shared their stories. These are the job creators who will suffer costly penalties due to this mandate. That means, less jobs folks. Here are two recent examples:

The Green family talk about their Christian faith, their business (Hobby Lobby) and how religious freedom is being infringed.

Another businessman, employer and healthcare provider for many, speaks about the impact of ObamaCare on him. Listen to Autocam CEO John Kennedy:

Other Resources on Religious Freedom

Here are several good resources:

Further Reading

Here is a sampling of some new articles written on this topic in the last few weeks:

  1. America edging toward confrontation on religious freedom, Archbishop Chaput warns
  2. Amicus Briefs Filed in First Federal Appeal Regarding the HHS Mandate
  3. Appeals Court Grants Expedited Review of HHS Mandate
  4. August 1st: Mandate-day for Business Owners – A Dark day for Religious Liberty in America
  5. Ave Maria President: HHS Mandate Threatens Millions in Fines, Harms Faculty, Drains Resources and Endangers Future
  6. Becket Fund Testifies Before Congress
  7. Biden’s Remarks Debunked as Catholic Institutions and 13 States File Amicus Briefs Opposing HHS Mandate before DC Circuit Court of Appeals
  8. Cardinal George says mayor overstepped with Chick-fil-A remarks
  9. Catholic Doctors Tackle How to Survive in an ‘Increasingly Toxic Culture’
  10. Christianity Demands More Than Just Freedom To Worship!
  11. Conscience rights for pharmacists upheld in Illinois ruling
  12. Constitutional Experts Call Obama’s Abuse Of Power Historic
  13. Corporate Exercise of Religion and Other Thoughts on the RFRA Claim in the Mandate Litigation
  14. East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University Sue over HHS Mandate
  15. Federal Court Asked to Dismiss Lawsuit Against Montana Jesus Statue
  16. For This Employer, Faith Is No Hobby
  17. Former diplomat prods US to widen worldwide religious freedom efforts
  18. Hobby Lobby Sues over HHS Mandate
  19. Hobby Lobby responds to DOJ brief against religious freedom
  20. Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius
  21. Illinois cannot make pharmacists give ‘morning after’ pill-court
  22. Mayors chicken out of true family values
  23. New study finds rise in religious restrictions worldwide
  24. Obama Administrations attack on Catholics in healthcare
  25. Obama reaffirms support for HHS mandate, downplays controversy
  26. Obama vs. Religious Freedom: Why his administration threatens your right to worship
  27. Religion and the Election of 2012
  28. Reply Filed in HHS Mandate Case
  29. Supreme Court to Consider Hearing Weighty Church-State Controversy
  30. The Government’s Argument is Atrocious!
  31. Thousands join grassroots women’s movement opposing HHS mandate
  32. What’s Next for Conscience Rights
  33. Wheaton College Seeks Emergency Relief Against HHS Mandate

Reformation or revolution?

Reformation Or Revolution

Two months from today “Reformation Sunday” is observed. Not in the Catholic Church, of course, but in some Protestant communities. This day is set aside each year to remember the actions and the movement initiated by Martin Luther.

In the early 16th century, there were problems in the Church founded by our Lord, Jesus Christ. These problems wounded the Church and were born of sins and poor judgment of imperfect shepherds. As a matter of fact, the institutional Church was not perfect even in the early years nor is she perfect today. She will always need renewal and reformation, but she will prevail.

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Indeed, the Church has prevailed for 2,000 years through all manner of challenges – both within and without. Some have commented that if it were not for the protection of the Holy Spirit, she would have collapsed long ago! Through it all, the Church has preserved Christian doctrine and rejected all attempts throughout two millennia to “modernize” and dilute it. Truth simply does not change.

Martin Luther’s complaints for the most part were centered on discipline, not doctrine. Discipline is administrative, not faith. It is rooted in the authority given by Jesus to Peter and his successors. For example, how men are selected for the priesthood is a discipline. That married men are not selected for the Latin Rite is a discipline. Simony, selection to ecclesiastical offices in exchange for money, was a discipline that Luther quite correctly objected to.

Perhaps the most famous complaint Luther made was against the selling of indulgences. Indulgences are remissions of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. Essentially, acts of contrition in this mortal life can reduce the amount of, or need for, cleansing (purgatory) for the eternal life. In her authority given by Jesus to bind and loose, Holy Mother Church determines discipline regarding indulgences. While selling indulgences may or may not be intrinsically wrong, they certainly led to abuse as a practical matter. Luther was correct to object.

Simony, selling indulgences, and other discipline faults of of the early 1500’s have long been corrected – just as other problems which preceded them have been and just as current and future problems will be.

There have been many great reformers throughout Church history who have worked to renew and purify the practices of the Church. People like Pope (Saint) Gregory the Great, Saint Peter Damian, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Clare of Assisi, Saint Catherine of Siena, Jean Gerson, Jan Hus, Gasparo Contarini, Blessed John Henry Newman and Servant of God Dorothy Day.

Martin Luther could have also been a great reformer. He might have become Saint Martin Luther the Reformer. Alas, he chose the path of revolution over reformation. He violated his vows as a Catholic priest, separated from Christ’s true Church and led generations of Christians away from the fullness of the faith and into error. That is his sad legacy.

In his schism, Luther changed the canon of Holy Scripture infallibly determined over 1,000 years prior (only 400 years after Christ). He discarded Christian doctrine and created new, novel doctrine. On his own accord, this prideful revolutionary made sweeping changes that no pope could ever do. Inspired by this new freedom to redefine and reinterpret the faith, Luther had contemporaries who did likewise – each resulting in conflicting beliefs with the other.

Some will celebrate on October 28th the revolution they incorrectly call reformation. Others will pray for the reunification of our brothers and sisters now in thousands of separated Christian denominations. May they come home to the Catholic Church, inseparable from Christ, founded by Him and protected by Him until the end of time.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”