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.

Sacramental validity

Sacramental Validity

Sacraments are outward signs, instituted by Christ, that give sanctifying grace. They are a huge gift to the Church that build and sustain us. Some time ago, I discussed the basics. In understanding the sacraments, we also see that certain requirements must be met for validity. That is, to receive the intended graces, the sacrament must meet certain requirements.

Various causes may render a sacrament invalid such as some defect in the matter, form, minister or recipient. One very interesting requirement is intent. If the intent is absent then the sacrament is not received.

For example, if a priest were to demonstrate the sacrament of baptism for an RCIA class. He might pour water over an unbaptized person and say the trinitarian formula – “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Since his intent was to demonstrate the process and not actually baptize the person, the sacrament is not received and the person remains unbaptized.

Another example: an engaged couple is asked to recite their vows in Church the week before their wedding for a movie documentary. A participating priest expects the couple to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony the following week, but unbeknownst to him, they can not wait any longer. Before the ceremony the couple discuss their intent to marry then. Are they married? Probably! While a terrible idea, this appears to be valid because in the case of matrimony, the couple administer the sacrament – they marry each other. The priest or deacon only assist and act as a witness. If everything else is in order (per the Church, not the state), they would be married by their intent. Sure, this is an unlikely and contrived example, but illustrates the point!

This raises another good question, who exactly administers the sacraments? For the most part it is a priest acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). In other words, it is Christ himself administering the sacrament through the priest. When we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e. “confession”) and the priest says “I absolve you from your sins” it is NOT the priest who is absolving your sins. He is not God. Rather, by virtue of Holy Orders it is Christ acting through the priest who absolves you.

Of the 7 sacraments, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing the Sick require a priest with faculties to administer. Only a bishop may administer Holy Orders (ordain a priest or, with the permission of the pope, another bishop).

Christ Himself created His Church and gave her authority. That authority has been passed by the Apostles, the initial recipients of this authority, in an unbroken chain to today’s bishops. We refer to this as Apostolic succession. Faculties are legal instruments under cannon law that grant permission to ordained priests to perform certain actions such as administering certain sacraments. Priests and deacons receive faculties from their bishop (and at his pleasure, may be removed).

There are only three levels of Holy Orders: deacon, priest and bishop. All bishops are first priests and all priests are first deacons. Faculties increase from one level to the next. Only bishops have full faculties, priests generally have the faculties of bishops except Holy Orders (ordination) and deacons generally have the faculties of priests outside of acting in persona Christi.

Deacons can hatch, match and dispatch (sometimes referred to as carried, married and buried). Those are not the formal terms, of course! Deacons can baptize, assist at / witness marriages and perform funerals. They are also ordinary ministers of Holy Communion and can preach the Gospel.

Baptizing, if done with intent in the proper form, can be done by anybody in extraordinary circumstances. That includes non-Catholics and even non-Christians. The Church therefore recognizes the baptisms of other Christian communities, properly performed. We see their baptism as sacramental, even if they do not. Although they are not in full communion with us, through their baptism they join us in the Communion of Saints, the Church Militant, the Body of Christ.

Likewise, when two baptized people validly (per the Church, not the state) marry each other, their marriage is sacramental. The Church also recognizes the validity of proper (per the Church, not the state) non-sacramental marriages (e.g. one or both parties are unbaptized). BTW, I stress “per the Church, not the state” because sadly, the state and secular society in general increasingly have little idea what marriage is.

The validity of marriage is a big topic that I will save for a future post.

Civil vs. divine law

Civil Vs Divine Law

The Irish Prime Minister, Minister for Justice and Minister for Children are backing legislation to require priests to report confessions of child abuse to the authorities. Failure to report these confessions would land priests in prison for up to 5 years. Emboldened by this, an Australian senator is proposing much the same.

Such efforts have only one purpose and it is not the protection of children. It is quite simply an attack on the Church. These politicians grab headlines, get to appear tough on crime, get to appear protective of children, keep alive the sexual abuse scandal and put the Church into a losing position.

No faithful priest would ever break the seal of the confessional. Doing so would lead to sanctions and excommunication. Priests have been martyred again and again for refusing civil authorities in the past and, if worse comes to worse, will suffer again to protect this sacrament.

Were these politicians actually interested in protecting children, they might take an interest in all the other institutions and organizations which so far have not had anything like the attention directed at the Catholic Church. That is NOT in any way to excuse the actions of those in our numbers who committed such deplorable crimes. Yet, for all the focus and attention on the Catholic Church, studies show it involved in only a small part (less than 0.03% of the perpetrators in the US) of this tragedy. Where is the attention on the home, schools, youth sports and non-Catholic communities?

The liberal media can be counted on to assist such political efforts. They are never a fan of the Church, unless it fits their agenda – such as to support our social justice teaching (which they often distort) or position on capital punishment. Usually, we make headlines today for our failures decades ago, made to sound quite new while such crimes actually being committed right now elsewhere are ignored. I have never seen any coverage of the extensive steps we take today to protect children. In the US, those are quite effective (at a significant cost and sometimes draconian measures). Others could learn a lot from us.

Politicians capable of rational thought and who actually cared about children realize that the confessional seal is helpful. First, this is probably the only place the penitent will face his crimes and the terrible harm done. Second, the priest will probably be the only voice they hear telling them to make amends by turning themselves in. Third, were the Church to agree to cooperate with such laws (it never will), does anyone really think that child abusers would confess their crimes before they are caught? They are disordered but not stupid.

So far, such nonsense has not been proposed in the US. We have had cases of the authorities bugging the confessional but such evidence has been ultimately found to be non-admissible. Ultimately found to be non-admissible because it usually has to go through multiple appeals until that point is reached. In other words, lower courts alarmingly saw it as legal.

While this particular attack is aimed (1) only at the Catholic Church, (2) only at the confessional seal and (3) only for child abuse crimes – do not think for a moment that it would stop there. Were this highly flawed attack to actually work, in relatively little time other crimes would be added…   murder, rape, everything else. New attacks would spring from this success on all of Christianity.

Political attacks on the Church are not limited to the confessional. When the world ignored the need for organized adoptions, the Catholic Church stepped-in . Now, Catholic adoption agencies have had to close because we can not morally place children into unnatural and disordered environments. Likewise, Catholic hospitals are at risk because they can not kill innocent, unborn children.

Even our ability to conduct legal weddings is at risk. In states where the myth of “gay marriage” is legally recognized, (temporary, weak protections notwithstanding) we may eventually loose legal marriages for “discriminating” against those wishing to enter into these unnatural unions. This has happened before in communist Poland where people were routinely married for real in the Church and by civil authorities for legal reasons.

Eventually, the Church may be persecuted for “hate speech” and alleged “civil rights” violations for our “intolerance” of sinful homosexual acts, the “rights” of mothers to kill their unborn children or the “rights” of adult children to kill (euthanize) their parents.

This is not just a problem for the Catholic Church either. Other Christian communities and other religions will face similar pressure to conform – or else. Communist China is very aggressive in this way. The visible Catholic churches are under control of the Patriotic Catholic Association which is controlled by the government. They do not recognize the primacy of the Pope and use all means necessary to FORCE bishops to (illicitly) ordain others of the state’s choosing which do not result in valid holy orders. There is an underground Catholic Church which is estimated to be twice as large as the visible one in which the faithful must take serious risks. Hopefully it will not come to that in Ireland, Australia or here for “upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

UPDATE: Father Finigan also discusses this topic in a few posts:

The Last Supper

Last Supper

It is Thursday, just before dinner. Our Lord is tired but there will be no rest. For the most part, His ministry is over and the foundation of His Church laid. Time is now short.

This week has been a busy one. After arriving by donkey last Sunday, He spent the entire night in Bethany praying. Returning to Jerusalem for the day on Monday, He cleansed the Temple (yet again). Tuesday was filled with teaching then retiring to the Mount of Olives. Yesterday, a woman anointed Him with an expensive jar of alabaster in the home of Simon the leper. Judas began his plot of betrayal.

There will be no sleep tonight. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus will pray, be betrayed and condemned by religious leaders. He will stand before Pilate and Herod. By morning Pilate’s “sentence” will be swiftly and zealously carried out. Tomorrow afternoon He will be dead.

Tonight’s Passover celebration will be the final meal with the twelve. How will this precious time be used?

Recall this part of what we now call the Bread of Life Discourse:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

This shocked and confused his disciples. Many left Him, but by their faith (if not understanding) the twelve remained. Jesus did not call to those who left nor explain Himself in any other way. His words were clear, blunt and not symbolic. Those who chose to leave correctly understood this.

This night – this last meal – would not be about earthly sustenance. Nor would it be a time for parables. Time was far too short for symbolism. No, tonight Jesus would give the Apostles holy food in the form of His body and blood. This is the means by which He will remain in direct communion with us. This is what He spoke of earlier.

While they were at supper he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples saying:

Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.

“This is my body” were Jesus words (widely accepted as accurately translated). Jesus could have said “this represents my body” or “accept this bread in memory of my physical sacrifice” or similar phraseology. He did not. This was no time to be obtuse. He said simply, plainly and without any ambiguity what-so-ever “this is my body.”

In the same way, he took the cup filled with wine. He gave thanks and giving the cup to his disciples said:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.

“This is the cup of my blood” was similarly intended. Jesus could easily have shown other intent with a longer explanation or using a word other than “is.” He did not because He said what He meant.

Jesus chose this night, in this last meal, to give us the Eucharist. The words He said to consecrate bread into His Holy Body and wine into His Precious Blood are said unchanged in the Catholic Mass. Those words are said “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ“) under His authority through the direct succession of the Apostles.

In that upper room, Jesus invited us to consume His flesh and blood as true food and true drink. In doing so that night, those present joined themselves to Him, and He to them. Catholics do the same at every Mass. We do not re-enact the Last Supper but continue His earthly feast and our direct, personal intimacy with Him. Happy are those who are called to His supper!

The Devil

The Devil

The Devil, Lucifer, Satan, Prince of Darkness, The Evil One, The Antichrist, The Angel of the Bottomless Pit, The Father of Lies, Leviathan, Wicked One – these and many more are all names for the one who is the true enemy of Christians. I am no theologian, but it seems to me that one can not be a Christian without firmly believing in the reality of the devil. To my thinking, we often do not give him his due. He is powerful, resourceful, deceitful, opportunistic, insightful, determined, clever, ever present and persistent. He is never discouraged and never gives-up. Fear the Lord but also respect the devil, for if you do not respect him you will underestimate him.

Whatever the less discerning theologians may say, the devil, as far as Christian belief is concerned, is a puzzling but real, personal and not merely symbolical presence.

Pope Benedict XVI

We are all children of God and therefore intrinsically good, but children none-the-less. We are easily subject to the influence of evil. The devil is what makes free will a choice. He is the other side of the equation and he has an urgent mission. For him (and for us), time is always running out. His window-of-opportunity to win our soul is limited to our mortal lives. The battle is over when we die, at that point he has either succeeded in separating us from God or not.

There are many good analogies. Life is like war against the devil in which there are many battles. We must strive to win every one so the outcome of the war will be certain. Life is like playing a sport where the devil is the opposing team. We must continuously strive to block our opponent from scoring any points and to win each match against him. This war or this game has one complication – we do not know when it ends. We can not be too conservative as the need to stay far ahead is crucial.

We lose battles or give points to the devil when we choose to separate ourselves from God through sin. The devil tempts, but can not force, us to sin. We must make those decisions ourselves. Sin is addicting too, small infrequent sins can easily lead to frequent grave sins unless we are determined to fight every time. It is a mistake to excuse venial (less grave) sins as they are the gateway to mortal sins. The choice is ours and we need not be slaves to sin.

No earthly place is free of the devil. Last week I wrote about the Mass and how it was heaven on earth. It is both heaven and earth joined together, but not purely heaven. The devil is not banished here – we can be tempted and distracted by him even at Mass. He is especially displeased when the faithful participate in the Mass.

The devil is no fan of Jesus nor the Church He founded! She is the major obstacle to his success and Her destruction is paramount. The devil is relentless in pursuit of this objective. Jesus himself told us the devil will fail as “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail” against this Church. This does not unfortunately dissuade the devil from trying.

The Church has ever proved indestructible. Her persecutors have failed to destroy her; in fact, it was during times of persecution that the Church grew more and more; while the persecutors themselves, and those whom the Church would destroy, are the very ones who came to nothing.

St. Thomas Aquinas

No mortal person is free of the devil and every person is tempted by him. Jesus and Mary were, although they saw through his treachery and never succumbed to him. The rest of us have, including all the Apostles, Saints, every Pope, bishop, priest, me and you. Last week I wrote about the sex scandal where parents, teachers, coaches, clergy and others we hold in high esteem have committed dreadful sins. Until we are in heaven, none of us can escape his temptations.

Begone, Satan! The Messiah’s resolute attitude is an example and an invitation for us to follow him with courageous determination. The devil, the “prince of this world,” even today continues his deceitful action. Every man, over and above his own concupiscence and the bad example of others, is also tempted by the devil, and the more so when he is least aware of it.

Pope John Paul II

The devil is a good organizational planner! He prioritizes his focus where it is most needed. In his battle for the souls of some, he may be far ahead. He is pleased by his progress and looks forward to claiming them for his own. Conversely there are others where he is losing the battle. People who resist him with all their will, who love the Lord and each other. These are his special targets, his operational priorities.

The success of the devil in the world and our personal lives is depressing. The good news is we can win. Know your enemy, recognize his tricks. When you fail – examine your conscience, take responsibility, commit to amending your life and receive absolution.

In our battle against the devil, we Catholics have a special weapon – the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. Receive them often and their graces will strengthen you in the fight.

We are to love our enemies and it is sinful to hate. The devil is a special case. Go ahead, hate him. Tell him you do not accept him in your life. Be alert – recognize and resist his temptations. Hold firm when you are tested by the many challenges of life. Pray. This is the most important battle worth fighting and with God’s help, one you will win.