Archives for April 2010

Resources: Father Hardon Archive

I remember times in RCIA when we would cover a topic that I wanted more information on. At other times, I would come across a Church teaching that was not making sense. The Catechism is great as the authority of what Catholics believe, but not always the best place to learn why.

My searching found many resources. Some just restated the “what.” Others were too theological and over my head. Yet others explained the topic well, but too briefly – leaving me feeling that I had a glimpse of understanding, but still incomplete. One day while trying to understand purgatory, I came across a truly wonderful writer — Rev. John Anthony Hardon, S.J.

Father Hardon had a special gift for communicating Church teaching clearly and completely. His writings are one of my favorite places to consult when I want to understand something fully. The extensive topics he has written on are also interesting to just browse, but be sure to put aside the time to thoughtfully read and consider those you dive into. This is not material for skimming!

Ask our Lord daily to better appreciate what you are saying when you declare, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”

Father Hardon

Father Hardon was a Jesuit priest who died relatively recently, on December 30, 2000 at the age of 86. His work of over 1,000 articles has been archived online. He has also authored an impressive 46 books.

A website has been created to promote the cause for Father Hardon’s beatification and canonization (Father Hardon is currently at the Servant of God stage). The cause was initiated by Archbishop (and likely soon Cardinal) Raymond L. Burke, Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis and Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. Archbishop Burke is someone I really admire. He speaks of Father Hardon extensively in his article Re-Christianize America: Become a Marian Catechist.

Further Resources:

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.

Sex scandal

There are perverts everywhere. A government report by the US Department of Education said that 9.6 percent of public school children across the country have been sexually abused or harassed by school employees. Specifically teachers, coaches, substitute teachers, bus drivers and teacher’s aides (in that order). This is astounding, yet rarely reported.

As bad as US public schools may be for the safety of our children, they pale in comparison to the sexual abuse children suffer from family (30% of all cases) and friends (60%). In the other 10% outside of the home, children are victimized wherever they are subject to adult supervision. Public schools, youth sports, scouting and religious organizations for example.

This problem has historically been hidden by those in authority where it occurred. Children were reluctant to come forward and when they did, not believed. Parents, sometimes more concerned about shame, failed to report it or press charges. In the past, laws did not require that these crimes be reported to police. Mental health professionals advised that these behaviors could be effectively treated and cured.

Sadly, like every other organization, the Catholic Church was not immune to this serious problem. Catholics (both lay and clergy), more than anyone else, found it difficult to believe and shocking that it could happen here. We were naive. Every Catholic understands we are not perfect and are sinners. Even the pope goes to confession. Never-the-less, that any priest could be capable of ever doing such a terrible thing was just unimaginable. For all but a very small number, it truly was unimaginable.

Unfortunately we didn’t need to imagine it, it was shamefully real. In a Church of 1.3 billion members (growing 1.5% annually) and over 400,000 priests, more than just trust is necessary to address this widespread societal problem. It has been difficult for us worldwide with varied legal climates, cultural norms and local autonomy to universally take the necessary steps – but they are being made.

In the United States, we have aggressively implemented background checks, seminarian psychological evaluations, strict policies requiring multiple adults around children, zero tolerance, immediate removal from ministry when abuse is alleged, immediate police reporting, extensive annual audits and more. As a result, we have had our share of those falsely accused – but we must err on the side of protecting every child. Contrary to what you may read in the press, the Catholic Church may be the safest place for your children today – by far.

Last year there were a total of six credible allegations of sexual abuse in the Church. ONE instance is too many and absolutely NONE are tolerated. With 65,000,000 US members, this level of effectiveness is nothing less than phenomenal compared against any other organization. The US Catholic Church has set the standard for stopping child sexual abuse that everybody else should learn from.

This may surprise you because you will not generally hear about this in the mainstream press. They mostly ignore child sexual abuse unless it is related to the Catholic Church. Recent headlines along the lines of “The widening Catholic sexual abuse scandal” typically raise issues from decades ago and their errors of fact for even those are simply appalling. This is the reporting while actual abuse is occurring every day, right now all around us.

For us, dealing with the scourge of child sexual abuse that has spilled over from society into the Church is a shameful, extremely serious problem. It is a problem that we have done, and will continue to do, everything in our power to stop. For many in the press, the story is often not really about child sexual abuse at all.

How can the Catholic Church be “rehabilitated” in the eyes of many in the press? Embrace homosexual marriages and divorce. Tolerate sex outside of marriage. Be less family oriented. Ordain women priests. Remove celibacy requirements from the priesthood. Recognize abortion as a personal choice. Accept that sin is relative.

If these things were to happen, I believe that you might never see another story in the mainstream media about a “Catholic sex scandal.” Of course, these things will never happen. Those who are anti-Catholic in the press know this so the purpose of their attacks is to marginalize the Church. They will surely not succeed.

Regardless of some in the press and their misguided efforts, the Church is deeply sorry for its part in this tragedy. Innocent victims have been harmed. Peoples’ faiths have been shaken by the grave personal sins of the few. In a perfect world, a topic such as this would never need discussion in a blog like this. We live in a very imperfect world for which, as always — the Church is the answer, not the problem.

The Mass

Sanctifying, renewing, reassuring, comforting, refocusing, amazing, community, fantastic, awesome, peace, joy. My friend Tom suggested that I explain the Mass in my own words so I will start with these.

Catholics participate in the Mass at least every Sunday and some, as often as every day. The Sacrifice of Mass is much more than a Christan “worship service.” It is a celebration in which we not only hear the word of God, but are in His direct presence. We encounter Our Lord in the literal sense. Heaven touches earth. If these seem like extraordinary claims – they are, and Mass is every bit that extraordinary!

Today’s Mass and that of the early Church have much in common. It is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. Structurally, it is divided into two primary parts: the first focuses around the word of God and the second around the Eucharist (Holy Communion).

In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear Old and New Testament Bible readings. Not just any readings, but readings prescribed for that day. Any given day, Mass said in every Catholic church in the world will use the same readings. Over a 3 year period the daily readings cover most of the Bible.

Following the readings, a priest or deacon will deliver a homily related specifically to that day’s scripture. These usually range from 5 to 15 minutes and are optional for the daily Masses (but common and short).

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the second part of Mass. Catholic bishops are direct successors to the Apostles who were present at the Last Supper. They, or ordained priests under their authority, act “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ“) to consecrate bread and wine (with a little water) into the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the Son of God. The Holy Body and Precious Blood maintain only the appearance of bread and wine, just as they did at the Last Supper.

Jesus sometimes taught by parables. Other times he was crystal clear and specific. Establishing the Church, the authority of the Apostles (the first bishops) and the gift of the Eucharist are examples of the later.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?” 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. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

After the consecration of the Eucharist, we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” It has been said that the Eucharist is the only food you can not consume, it consumes you. In receiving communion we are truly united with Christ.

The Mass is no mere worship service! Nor is it a social event, entertainment or Bible study. It is solemn and treated with all the respect one should give in the literal presence of Our Lord. Non-Catholics are very welcome to join us, but only Catholics who fully understand the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist and are properly disposed (including absolved of all mortal sins) may receive communion. Paul explains it this way:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Our churches are beautiful, our priests dedicated and inspired, the homilies insightful, the music moving, our attention focused and hearts open. Usually. Sometimes in place of a church a tent must be used, the priest is tired, the homilies uninspired, music that you would rather not hear and our focus diverted by worldly concerns. Even then the tremendous blessings and benefits of Mass are received. St. Thomas Aquinas said “The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.” St. Gregory noted “The heavens open and multitudes of angels come to assist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s Goodness and asked Our Lord “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “attend one mass.”

Heaven on earth and literally uniting ourselves with Christ — that is the Catholic Mass. I will give St. John Vianney (Patron Saint of Parish Priests) the last word: “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”

7 Quick Takes Friday (set #3)

Some random thoughts or bits of information are worthy of sharing but don’t warrant their own full post. This idea was started by Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary to address this blogging need. So, some Fridays I too participate when I have accumulated 7 worthy items. Without further ado:

— 1 —

Today is Pope Benedict’s 83rd birthday! He has been an outstanding shepherd during his 5 years in the Chair of Peter. Of late there has been much written in the so-called mainstream media attacking the Holy See. Do not believe a word of it. May His Holiness have many more birthdays.

— 2 —

I really want to stay away from Catholic news and opinion in this blog only because that is not what it is about. Still, from time to time things are so outrageous that I can not help myself from commenting (at least in Quick Takes Friday). Such is the case of Richard Dawkins, who has asked UN lawyers to have Pope Benedict arrested for crimes against humanity. Yup, that is how loony the extreme left is (making the New York Times look almost reasonable — well, not really). Watch this wonderful spoof:

— 3 —

Are you a Roman Catholic? That is a trick question. We are the Catholic Church, not the Roman Catholic Church. Folks outside of the Church often get this wrong and sometimes even us Catholics! There are several good discussions on the history of this such as How Did the Catholic Church Get Her Name? by Kenneth Whitehead.

— 4 —

In the realm of minor issues, there is one on which I just can not make up my mind. On Sunday I usually attend the 8:45am Mass. That is the one we were dismissed from while in RCIA. The music is often exceptional and moving, which occasionally leads to applause. The sticky part – is that appropriate? Part of me says no, not during Mass. It should be supportive of Mass and not the focus; Mass is not entertainment; if applause is acceptable, then how about booing; if applause is allowed, then are we showing disapproval when we don’t? On the other hand, I really, really appreciate our musicians and choir. We sometimes laugh or even applaud during the homily. I can see it both ways.

— 5 —

Along the same lines, we also follow the orans position – gesturing toward the priest with outstretched hands when responding “and also with you” and hold hands during the Our Father. I have read that this is not liturgically correct, strictly speaking. It is not explicitly allowed and innovations or novelties at Mass are not permitted. The USCCB and EWTN have articles on it. Yet, I like it and feel that it helps bind us together. Is concern with these kinds of things just being overly scrupulous?

— 6 —

Today’s quotes are:

Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn’t misuse it.

Pope John Paul II

and…

Know yourself. Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.

Ann Landers

— 7 —

Tax day has passed. Maybe someday we will find a sane way to do this.

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