Archives for November 2010

A night out

Last Saturday night I was fortunate to spend the evening at a shelter for homeless men in downtown Atlanta. I was with Derek and Tom from our men’s group and Derek’s daughter Erin as the overnight volunteer crew. This ministry of hospitality and compassion is called the Central Night Shelter and is housed in two neighboring churches – Central Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. No taxpayer money goes to this good work.

We met at our church at 6pm Saturday night and returned Sunday morning in time for the 7:15am Mass. Tom and I were new at this, but Derek (who is in diaconate formation) has volunteered many times over the last 6 or 7 years. The shelter is open from November through March offering meals, a warm / safe place to sleep, restrooms, showers, laundry and more. This video gives a good overview:

The first order of business when the men arrive is dinner. Saturday’s menu included Broccoli-Pasta Alfredo, salad, roll and drinks. Dessert was cake and ice cream. We volunteers dined with the guests and learned a little about each other. The gentleman sitting across from me was staying that night for the first time.

After dinner the room was setup for sleeping. Lights out at 9pm except for the television room which closes at 11pm (we went a little long until the football game ended). In the morning everybody is given a breakfast bag and a lunch bag for the day.

The guests are truly grateful for this ministry and it was a pleasure to be with them. They were always polite, kept everything tidy, got tables / chairs / mats out and put them away, swept and mopped floors, etc. Your heart quickly goes out to these good people and you pray that they will soon have opportunities to move out.

One special surprise was live music! The Jordan B Band played for almost 2 hours and was enjoyed by all. Jordan lives down the street from me and also plays at our 8:45am Sunday Mass. He and his fellow musicians are very talented, sincere and engaging. Here is an interview they did on a local TV station:

More interviews, along with performances of their original Christian music, is on their YouTube channel. Somehow, YouTube doesn’t do them justice when compared to the live performance. More information may be available on their website.

Jordan and his compatriots have an exceptional ministry, touching many in the greatest need. Everyone was uplifted and very appreciative of this special contribution.

Volunteering here was a wonderful experience for me too. I suspect it wasn’t so great for Tom, who must have drawn the short straw for my shift, putting up with me until 3:30am. If you have a shelter in your area, please consider volunteering your time. There are many ways to help. I know I will be back.


The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has a fascinating history dating back to 1848. During the Civil War, Father Thomas O’Reilly was respected by both sides. When Sherman ordered the burning of Atlanta, Father O’Reilly used his influence to protect the church and neighboring Protestant churches. After the war, the church served the homeless. It continues in that role today. The history of the shrine is quite interesting.

Elsewhere: padded pipes approved for mugging

In case you have been living under a rock for the last week or so, the mainstream media and blogosphere are abuzz with analysis of what our Holy Father said in a new book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times. In the book, the Pope responds to questions last summer from a German reporter. He spoke of the morality present when a male prostitute chooses to use a condom to protect his partners.

Modeling our public relations strategy on the keystone cops, L’Osservatore Romano excerpted a section out of context and without proper explanation of Catholic doctrine. As the mainstream press jumped on it trumpeting a sea-change in doctrine (to what they wanted the Pope to say), official Catholic PR channels “clarified” in Vatican-speak thus insuring 99.99% of the world would continue to misunderstand. Sigh.

On the other hand, the Holy See is quite amazing and some have commented that he may have designed the whole incident as a teaching moment. That it may be, as the important point is what people eventually learn from this, not the initial fog.

Pope Benedict actually spoke of condom use by homosexual male prostitutes as a first step toward their moralization. He was speaking of the first flicker of a moral conscience in what they are doing as a good thing. He did not endorse use of condoms in general, in special circumstances, or even take the “first step” toward doing so. The mainstream press, of course, reported this very differently.

Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., founder and editor of Ignatius Press, wrote one of the best explanations in a “guestview” for Reuters:

It is important to note that there are two very serious mistranslations in the Italian version of the Pope’s remarks, upon which many early reports were based, since the embargo was broken by the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. (That’s another story.) First, the German speak of “ein Prostituierter,” which can only be a male prostitute. The normal German word for prostitute is “[eine] Prostituierte,” which is feminine and refers only to a woman. The Italian translation “una prostituta” simply reverses what the Pope says.

Equally problematically, “giustificati” = justified, was used in the Italian translation of “begründete, and arbitrarily resolves the ambiguity one-sidedly.

The Pope responded: “She [the Church] does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality” (italics mine [Fr. Fessio]).

In the first place a solution which is not “moral” cannot be “justified.” That is a contradiction and would mean that something in itself morally evil could be “justified” to achieve a good end. Note: the concept of the “lesser evil” is inapplicable here. One may tolerate a lesser evil; one cannot do something which is a lesser evil.

But the crucial distinction here is between the “intention” of the male prostitute, viz. avoiding infecting his client, and the act itself, viz. using a condom. Since this distinction has been missed in almost every report I’ve read, it calls for some elaboration.

This distinction, in moral philosophy, is between the object of an act and the intent of an act. If a man steals in order to fornicate, the intent is to fornicate but the object is the act of theft. There is no necessary connection between stealing and fornicating.

In the case of the Pope’s remark, the intent is preventing infection and the object is use of a condom.

Here’s an example of this distinction that parallels what the Pope said. Muggers are using steel pipes to attack people and the injuries are severe. Some muggers use padded pipes to reduce the injuries, while still disabling the victim enough for the mugging. The Pope says that the intention of reducing injury (in the act of mugging) could be a first step toward greater moral responsibility. This would not justify the following headlines: “Pope Approves Padded Pipes for Mugging” “Pope Says Use of Padded Pipes Justified in Some Circumstances,” “Pope Permits Use of Padded Pipes in Some Cases.”

Of course, one may morally use padded pipes in some circumstances, e.g., as insulated pipes so that hot water flowing through them doesn’t cool as fast. And one may use condoms morally in some cases, e.g. as water balloons. But that also would not justify the headline “Pope Approves Condom Use,” though in this case it could be true. But it would be intentionally misleading.

In sum, the Pope did not “justify” condom use in any circumstances. And Church teaching remains the same as it has always been – both before and after the Pope’s statements.

Read the whole article at Reuters.

Idolatry

The first thought that comes to mind when I think of idolatry is of the Israelites wandering the desert after being freed from Egyptian slavery. When they no longer seemed to need God (and Moses was otherwise occupied), they forgot Him. They looked for comfort in other things. Aaron crafted a nifty golden calf and like an Egyptian god, many rather quickly came to also accept it as one. Believing it had delivered them from captivity, they soon worshiped this god of their own making.

We can recall this story and see how foolish the Israelites were. How ungrateful they were to God who freed them! They rejected God who created and loved them. They should have known better. They did know better. Yet, they placed this golden calf above the one, the only true God. We shake our head, pity them and maybe feel smug comfort in knowing better. Yet, many of us do the same thing.

In our modern society, many false gods are worshiped. Not only worshiped, but raised above or even replace God. What are their characteristics? We:

  • study them fervently, learning much about their dogmas
  • align our will with theirs
  • spend our time in the pursuit of their goals
  • spend our treasure in their support
  • evangelize in their name
  • often place them first above all else with uncritical rationalizations
  • can be addicted, they consume us

Examples are varied and numerous: pursuit of money, drugs (including alcohol), spectator sports, participant sports, crafts, unions, political parties, jobs, sex and many more.

These are not necessarily evil when kept in their proper place. In fact, they can be necessary and even good. We need our jobs and the money we earn to support our families, a glass of wine with dinner may be healthy, no harm is done enjoying a ball game, social justice supports unions and demands political involvement, sex in the context of marriage is beautiful.

Yet often, we go too far. People will give priority to the golf course or tennis court over going to church. Santa and all the secular traditions may receive far more family attention then Jesus and Christian traditions. Drugs and alcohol can cloud our minds, obscuring God’s will and blocking the Holy Spirit.

Think of some “sports nuts” you may know (or yourself, if the shoe fits!). They know schedules, players, standings, gossip, draft picks, odds, injuries, coaching changes, plays, strategies, history and so much more. They commit significant time to television, season tickets, sports magazines, buying apparel and memorabilia. They are fully immersed and fully committed.

Looking over at the other side of the ledger, how committed are these people to their faith? Do they know it, study it, attend and/or teach classes, put going to church ahead of games, participate in ministries and put God’s will first? ANSWER: some do and some do not.

Our passions need not be at odds with our faith. They need not consume us to the exclusion of God. When our interests are always subordinated to our faith we are safe. Always means always however. When we only sometimes place these interests first, we are fashioning our own golden calf and denying God just as the Israelites did.

Sometimes we are literally given a choice to follow God’s will or to turn away from him. No other place is as black-and-white as the voting booth. This trial is played out every two years or so. The labels for our choices may read “John Jones” and “Suzy Smith.” One truly opposes abortion while the other supports the choice to kill our innocent brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, the later may be in the political party that generally fits our view. The real choice we have is not in voting for John or Suzy. The ballot may as well be labeled “God’s Will” and “Deny God.” Most Catholics pull the “God’s Will” leaver, but not all and that is truly sad.

Do you idolize false gods? If so, rethink this while you still have time.

“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Elsewhere: ad orientem

Prior to the changes implemented in response to Vatican II, the presider at Mass as well as the congregation faced east together, toward the Lord. This is known as “ad orientem,” Latin for “to the east.”

Many may be surprised to learn that nowhere in the Council documents was it even suggested that the priest should be turned away from God and toward the people. To my mind, this changes (at least to some degree) the focus from Him to us. It is some of the over-reaching, not of Vatican II itself (of course!), but of its implementation. I would definitely put this on the list of things to be considered for the “reform of the reform.”

Recently, Father Richard Simon celebrated Mass in the Ordinary Form (a/k/a “Novus Ordo”), but with a change – he did so partly ad orientem. This surprised the by-the-book part of me. I realize that EF (Extraordinary Form – a/k/a the Tridentine Mass, TLM, or the Latin Mass) is properly celebrated this way but I suspected it might be a liturgical abuse to do so with the OF. Not so! Father Simon explains:

I did it as an experiment. I suspect that the Council Fathers of Vatican II never envisioned Mass facing the people. I wanted to know what the Mass of Vatican II would really be like, some English, some Latin, Gregorian chant, unaccompanied singing and a balance of facing toward people when addressing them and facing the altar with them when addressing the Father. I think this is what is called in the rubrics of the Missal when it indicates that the priest should face the people six times during the Mass:

  1. When giving the opening greeting (GIRM 124).
  2. When giving the invitation to pray at the end of the offertory, “Pray brethren” (GIRM 146).
  3. When giving the greeting of peace (GIRM 154).
  4. When displaying the Host and Chalice before Communion and saying: “Behold the Lamb of God” (GIRM 157).
  5. When inviting the people to pray before the post communion prayer (GIRM 165).
  6. When giving the final blessing (Ordo Missae 141).

The fact that these rubrics exist, seems to assume that the priest is facing away from the people at some time during the liturgy.

Very interesting. Father goes on to describe his impressions:

I, however, wish I had not said Mass facing away from the congregation, and not because of the anger directed at me. I am a Catholic priest. I am used to people being angry with me. I wish I had not said Mass in what I believe to be the posture assumed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, because it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my priestly life. You cannot imagine what it was like to say words like “we” and “our Father” and “us” while standing at the head of a congregation that was turned together in a physical expression of unity. No matter how one might argue to the contrary, it is impossible to say “we” while looking at 500 people and not be speaking to them.

The Mass is a prayer addressed to the Father, and despite our best intentions, we clergy address it to the congregation at whom we are looking. You cannot help it. The human face is a powerful thing. Last Saturday night I realized for the first time that I was part of a family of faith directed toward the same heavenly Father. I felt as if I was part of a church at prayer. It was not my job. It was my church. I never realized how very lonely it is to say Mass facing the people. I am up there looking at you. I am not part of you. For 13 or 14 minutes. You weren’t looking at me. We were looking at God.

I love the Tridentine Mass, or as we are supposed to be calling it now, the “extraordinary form.” I think that the Holy Father has been very wise in allowing its revival for those to whom it is meaningful. Its sense of solemnity is very beautiful and enshrines an essential dimension of the mystery of worship. I taught Latin for about 25 years, I understand the complex rituals of the old Mass. They mean a lot to me. Still, I don’t think that we should return to the exclusive use of Latin. I think the Council Fathers were right to simplify the mass.

The Holy Spirit anticipated the difficulties of our times. The simplification of the complex and beautiful gestures of the Tridentine Mass are entirely appropriate for the times we live in. In the same sense, there should be a pastoral balance between the common language and a “sacred language.” People pray best in their own first language. Remember that Latin was the vernacular when the Mass was in Greek. Latin itself was a concession to the popular mind. This being said, we the clergy should admit that we enshrined the liturgical abuses that were at the heart of the rebellion against tradition. We have become stuck in the 1960’s and are unable to look without prejudice at the hemorrhaging of our congregations. We have failed to inspire them with a sense of the sacred and sublime and generations have been lost to the Lord and the Gospel.

Read the whole article at Reverend Know-It-All.

I discovered this through Father Z’s coverage. Margaret Cabaniss over at Crisis Magazine also has some good thoughts on this.

Finally, Father Fabian Duggan wrote a brief, but very good, overview of the symbolism of facing east.

Apostolic succession

ordination of Father Dwight Longenecker

I have mentioned the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession several times but have not directly explored it. It is crucial to the authority of Christ’s Church so today this oversight is finally addressed!

Jesus had many disciples, but only a dozen Apostles. He personally called those men (and only men). During His ministry, the Apostles were essentially in formation for their future role in the Church. Their mission was to spread the Gospel after Christ’s death and resurrection through the institution of the Church.

To do this, Jesus not only selected the 12, but also chose their leader and gave them authority:

Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter

He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”

He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

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.

(Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.

There is more scripture that is applicable, but the above sampling is clear. Jesus:

  1. Instituted the Church.
  2. Chose its leaders, including their head.
  3. Gave them authority.

Specific men were chosen as the leaders of Christ’s Church and given authority. Other disciples could not validly claim that authority. The “fly in this ointment” is the earthly mortality of the Apostles. Was this Church, its leaders and their authority intended only for the life span of the Apostles? Of course not!

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.

This Church is commissioned until “the end of the age.” The Church continues beyond the deaths of the Apostles. The necessity to continue the succession began almost immediately with the replacement of Judas by Matthias. Some would argue that this was “not biblical.” That is an odd argument to be sure, as it (1) denies the authority given to the Apostles by Our Lord and Savior and (2) infers the validity of self-appointed leaders vs. those to whom authority was granted. Catholics on the other hand, find this argument specious because (1) our bishops are direct successors of the first ones (the Apostles), receiving their authority in an unbroken chain and (2) while we see this as biblical, the need to be so is not relevant as we reject the reformation’s self-serving invention of sola scriptura.

Christ’s Church and His authority conferred upon it continues today and until the end of the age. Our leaders are bishops and their priests, not ministers lacking direct succession from Our Lord’s chosen Apostles. Our Magisterium, protected by the Holy Spirit, definitively interprets Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Our doctrine has never changed. Our bishops and priests act in persona Christi (the person of Christ) to consecrate the Holy Eucharist and grant His absolution from sin. The leaders in the Protestant communities do not even claim this. This is the Catholic Church. Not another denomination, but Christ’s Church.

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