Wednesday, August 29, 2018

How can priests become so depraved?

In the wake of all the news about perversion and coverups among clergy and the hierarchy of the Church, one of the questions so many wonder about is, how can these men become so corrupt?

(By the way, I'm not talking about all sin, or even all sins against chastity. Some are entirely private, and some involve an Internet connection. These are grave sins, and can be a doorway to worse. But I'm talking about the sorts of things we're reading about in news reports: anonymous sex, ongoing relationships with others, male or female, preying on others who are less powerful, whether priests, seminarians, or minors.)

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I came up with five answers:

1) You know what you're doing is wrong, but you have given up on actually overcoming these sexual sins, and you reached a kind of compromise: "I'll only do this and this, but not that." Maybe this works for some, but I suspect it doesn't in many (if not most) other cases. I'm guessing that somewhere down the road, the cleric tries this again: OK, you can have this, but no more!

Why not leave the priesthood? You might rationalize that you're doing good in other ways; or that your sins don't really hurt anyone; or that people need you; or that people will be scandalized; or that you don't know what you'll do if you leave; or you have a lot invested in the priesthood -- you have a pension; or embarrassment about having to explain why you left.

2) You are deluded. You tell yourself you're going to change, and you are making some effort. You go to confession; maybe you periodically straighten up for awhile, only to lapse back. Any little victory is hailed as "progress." But the bigger picture is that you aren't really getting better, and you may be getting worse. For for whatever reason (pride, shame, fear), you don't get help. Here I might point out that since the 2002 "Dallas Charter," priests probably feel no safety in going to their bishop, because bishops are no longer "fathers" to their priests. They are, rather, employers, surrounded by lawyers and accountants.

3) You don't believe the Church's teachings that you are violating; either you don't believe the sins are all that bad, or you don't believe in mortal sin, or the necessity of confession; or all of the above. Perhaps you don't believe much of anything anymore. Perhaps you think you are owed something?

4) You have gotten used to living a compartmentalized life. One part of you is the priest; the other part is devoted to perversion. It's hard to imagine, but it happens.

5) You have actually surrendered to evil. This can happen implicitly: you surrender to the perversion and the mindset that goes with it. Justifying that perversion and considering it good. If you are interacting with others who share your perversion, you buy into their mindset and celebrate what you're doing. And the explicit way of surrendering to evil? I shudder to write this, but: you give into the devil.

This is my list; perhaps it's incomplete. Would you add anything?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

'Are you in or are you out?' (Sunday homily)

When Joshua gathered all the people of Israel, 
he laid a blunt challenge before them: 

Do you want to serve the gods of Egypt or of other nations, 
or the Living God who delivered you from slavery?

The idea of serving multiple gods may seem strange to us, 
but it should not. Less has changed than it may seem. 
Those other gods Joshua referred to? 
The people knew all about them. And they loved them!
Joshua was challenging them to give up what they loved.

Perhaps if Joshua were here today, he’d ask:

Do you want to serve the god of money and power? 
All about climbing and self-sufficiency? 
So that you can say, “I did it myself; I did it my way”?

Or, do you want to serve the god of attractiveness and desire, 
of sex and youth? This is a very popular god: 
large portions of the Internet are dedicated to it; 
most of the entertainment industry. 
Haven’t you ever noticed how many old rich men 
have young, pretty wives? Not their first wives, of course.

Perhaps you and I want to worship the god of sports. 
Sports are valuable, but look how they crowd out everything else. 
Even on Sundays, so that many children are told, by their parents, 
sports is more important that Holy Mass.

How about the god of popular opinion? Who would dare to oppose that? 
Don’t we want to fit in and be accepted?

Then there is the god of our own ego, our own way. 
How often other people are sacrificed to our rage!
(Added after first Mass:) This is what people get wrong about the second reading:
husbands hear that and say, I get to boss my wife around!
And wives hear that and say, you'll get a knuckle sandwich!
But it's not about power; it's about the Cross.

Let us not forget the very popular gods of food, alcohol and pleasure. 
The problem isn’t that you and I enjoy these gifts of God;
but do we bow down to them? Do we organize our lives around them?

And when I say “we,” I mean me, too! I obviously like food, 
and every morning I’m very devoted to my comfortable bed.
On my desk I have a shrine to the god called, “the latest information”; 
I’m always checking what’s going on, either with my computer, 
my tablet, or my phone.  

Some people can’t be away from their phones for even an hour;
And if it summons them, they feel they must obey it!

For some people, government becomes god; 
for others, it’s the country and the flag.  
God isn’t on “our” side; but we’d better get back on his side, 
because that’s not where our country is, right now!

There was a book a few years ago called “Having it all.”
That’s what we all want. So it was pretty harsh when Joshua said:
You have to choose: you’re either all in with the one God;
Or you are out and you go with those false gods.
Choose: in or out.

The God of Israel, the living God who delivered his people from Egypt, 
is the God who is in this church, right now. 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God; 
the God who was made flesh in the womb of Mary, and became man. 

The God who took up the Cross for us. 
The God who said, in Galilee, “my flesh is true food, 
and my blood is true drink; eat my flesh and drink my blood” in the Eucharist.

Jesus – the new Joshua – stood before his people and asked them: 
Are you in or are you out?

Right now, you are in his divine presence: 
and every single Mass presents the same question!

Every Holy Mass is a renewal of Jesus’ eternal covenant in his blood.
When you are at Mass, if you receive Holy Communion,
Stop and realize how solemn and how momentous that is.

This is not just a ritual, a habit; trot up front with everyone else, 
plop that little white disc in your mouth and go sit down again.
I don’t mean to be irreverent, but I know what I see.

Some folks need to wake up! You are meeting the Living God here.

To receive Holy Communion is not to say the Church is perfect, 
for obviously – and painfully – this is not true.
Christ’s Body was grievously wounded on the Cross, 
and it is terribly wounded today.
He calls us to work with him to bring healing and life to those wounds.
And even – in a way that defies understanding – through his wounds.
Some are asking, why should I be a Catholic? 
And I think Peter gives us the best answer: 
“Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.”
Even the betrayal of Judas – who was Peter’s friend and companion – did not change that. 

Receiving Holy Communion does not mean that you or I are perfect, 
because if we were, we would not need this divine Medicine.

Rather, to receive the Eucharist is to accept Jesus’ solemn pledge: 
he gives everything, absolutely everything to us. 
His body, his blood, shed on the Cross to the last drop; 
his very self as God and man; he gives us Heaven and earth 
and every good gift. He gives us everything.

You witness this on the altar at every single Mass.

And then, for us to receive Holy Communion is to respond:
“Yes, I’m in! Jesus, I’m ALL in! My whole life, not just one part; 
not just one day, but every day; 
not just what I’m proud of, but all my sin and doubt and grief.
My computer, my cell phone, my calendar, my bank account;
My refrigerator, my liquor cabinet, my job, my farm, my business; 
My family, my future, my plans;
My mind, my will, my hope and my all!

“I have no other gods. You are my Lord and my God. All for you, Jesus!”
That is what it means to take the Lord’s Body and Blood to your lips!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Church scandal: Laity, it is time for you to act (Sunday homily)

People have seen the news this week 
about the grand jury report from Pennsylvania,
and we know about terrible, unspeakable crimes 
committed by many priests, and in most, nearly all cases, 
the bishops were negligent; they shifted the criminal priests around 
and they covered it up and they failed the victims, all children.
This comes on the heels of the revelations about Cardinal McCarrick and his crimes – 
which were known by many – as he climbed to power.

I hate talking about this, but how can I remain silent?

And yet I feel so inadequate in anything I say. 
I will start by apologizing, on behalf of those who ought to apologize.
On the behalf of the Church, I apologize and beg forgiveness.

Cardinal DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, 
called this a “moral catastrophe,” and that is true.
And he said – and I quote: 

“I apologize and humbly ask your forgiveness 
for what my brother bishops and I have done and failed to do. 
Whatever the details may turn out to be regarding Archbishop McCarrick 
or the many abuses in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else), 
we already know that one root cause is the failure of episcopal leadership.”

Here is part of what our Archbishop Schnurr said:

From the depths of my heart,
I am sorry for the terrible pain and suffering experienced by the victims of abuse
 throughout their lives.
I am sorry for the deep shame that Catholic lay people rightfully feel
at the inexcusable behavior of certain cardinals, bishops and priests,
the emotional exhaustion of having to defend their faith
to friends and co-workers, and the discouragement
of having to relive a deep tragedy that we all hoped was behind us.

I am sorry for the stigma that good and holy priests
who are committed to their vocation and vows have to endure wherever they go.
I am sorry for the trust that has collectively been violated.

Now: those are heartening words, however – 
with no disrespect to Archbishop Schnurr, 
who I believe is a good man – they are only words.

You and I – all Catholics, everyone – has the right to demand more.
Indeed, we must demand more. I think the bishops are realizing this. 
Nevertheless, I believe it is absolutely necessary 
for the laypeople to act. I mean you.

Now, this is all pretty raw, and if I were smarter, 
maybe I could give better answers than what follows, 
but here’s what I suggest.

First, let’s be honest about anger. You are angry, I am angry, 
and we are right to be angry. Anger is not always sinful; 
there is such a thing as righteous anger and this calls for it.

That said, if you and I are not extremely careful, 
anger will soon stop being righteous and become destructive. 
And that is the key: Our anger must lead us to justice and healing.

Second, remember those who suffered. Children.
Children who are now adults. Many lost their faith.
Many whose lives were wrecked, and many who died untimely deaths. 

Nearly all that we learned this week happened 40 to 60 years ago, 
but it is only coming out now.
The wound is ripped open again, but for those who were violated, 
I can’t even imagine what they have suffered.

Probably we know people who were harmed; perhaps some here.
There are no words, but if I can do something, I will. Please tell me.
This is why I am speaking out, so that as a family we help each other.

Third, you and I must demand full accounting. The truth must be told.
Even the bishops are recognizing that their credibility is pretty poor; 
perhaps mine is too, because I am a priest.
My brother asked me this week: did I know about abuser priests, 
and did I fail to say anything?
I will tell you what I told him. No!

By law I and all priests – and all church employees and volunteers – 
are required to report whenever we hear about abuse of children. 
Over the years, I have had such information come to me, 
and I have always reported it to law enforcement. 
None of those instances involved a priest, but I would have reported it, 
and I will report it, if ever learn such a thing.
And if you know anything, you need to say something too.

One of the questions people have 
is about who gets admitted to the seminary.
Things have changed greatly, 
and I believe our seminary is an upright place.
Still, if you have questions, ask me; ask our seminarians yourself.

Fourth point: I think our bishops must hear from the faithful.
Let me be clear: I am not trying to turn the dogs loose.
I am not trying to put the Archbishop in a bad light.
But you have a right to speak up, and a duty, too, 
because I think he needs to know what is in your heart.
I believe he wants to do what is right; and that will help him do it.
If you write him, please do so with charity.

Finally, faced with evil, we must respond with holiness. 
When one part of the body is sick, 
the rest of the body must take up the slack.
It’s very tempting to say it’s all on someone else, 
but the evil of lust and selfishness and callous indifference 
is more common than we dare admit.

For example: you’ve heard me talk about filthy material 
on the Internet, which is a HUGE problem. 
Here’s the connection: those people in those images?
They are victims of abuse as well. 
Their stories are equally as horrific.

But I ask you, what does it mean when you or I click on those images?
Aren’t we accessories to their abuse?
If you want to make a difference, take this form of abuse seriously, 
and resolve to separate yourself from it.
It’s a powerful addiction; I am not an expert, but I will help.

There is one more thing, which I am taking on myself; 
and that is to offer reparation to God for these crimes.
Starting this Friday, and every Friday, 
I will be here in church at 6:30 am, making a Holy Hour of reparation. 
I will do it on my knees, if they can take it. 
I will offer prayers for those who were violated and for us all.

So how does all this connect to the Scriptures?

In the Gospel, Jesus said over and over, “eat my flesh; drink my blood.” 
In the Greek, the language is actually more shocking: “chew, gnaw on my flesh.” 
People were shocked, and rightly so. Why would he say that? 

There are times when Jesus didn’t pussy-foot around; 
this is one of them. He was confronting them with a shocking reality: 
he was going to suffer a horrible death on the Cross, 
and this cruelty was placed at the center of his plan of salvation, 
because humanity needs to face the horror of sin and evil.
Not look away; not paper it over. Face it.
Your God came to earth to go to the Cross; 
the same cross that we humans nail each other to.

Until we squarely face – chew on and swallow – 
the truth of human darkness, 
we cannot really know what God is saving us from.
Without facing what hell really is, heaven is just a word.

Friday, August 17, 2018

From luxe to lean

After the fancy meal I prepared for the seminarians on Tuesday (and leftovers thereof on Wednesday, this was Thursday dinner:

Along with this I threw some frozen green beans in the micro, with some butter, garlic and red pepper, and I had a can of diet pop with this. I prepared these chicken pieces with olive oil, and generous amounts of garlic powder, red pepper, black pepper and coarse salt. If I have oregano, I will use that. Cook for about an hour at 350 degrees, give or take. I really judge it by the look of the chicken. This is pretty easy and tasty and the leftovers will make several more meals. If you live alone, this is a pretty painless way to do this. If I weren't avoiding carbs (mostly unsuccessfully of late), I could have put some rice in the pan below with a little chicken broth; with the drippings on top of it, that would have been out of this world. If you like other flavors, like Cajun or Chinese or Jamaican, Indian or barbeque, that would work just as well.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Dinner: Beef Wellington by Gordon Ramsey

Every year I have seminarians working in the parish for the summer, and the Solemnity of the Assumption serves as a kind of farewell dinner; as well as an opportunity to get out the best china and so forth and have an elegant meal. So yesterday, I was busy getting things together. I decided to attempt Gordon Ramsay's version of Beef Wellington. (Here's a video.)

First, one issue I have with Mr. Ramsay is that if you look up his videos, you'll see he doesn't always do it the same way. For example, the written recipe linked above calls for cooking the mushrooms with some olive oil; but then in the video, he doesn't do that. But overall, I was able to follow his lead and it worked pretty well.

Since I was having four seminarians over for dinner, I decided I needed to make at least two of the Beef Wellingtons, and to be sure there was enough for seconds, I made a third. On Monday I got everything I needed at the store.

Beginning yesterday, I wrapped the meat into little packets. Ramsay suggested doing it overnight; I was planning to, but forgot; so I ended up chilling them for several hours yesterday. Honestly, I'm a little unclear about what this accomplishes. Ramsay says it gives them "shape," but as far as I can tell, the shape was unchanged from how they came from the store.

Next I prepared the mushrooms. I used the food processor as Ramsay suggested -- with trepidation. I've not had success with it; but I'm sure that's because of my lack of skill. One of the seminarians had a helpful suggestion, and it worked! So the mushrooms were nicely chopped down, but not completely turned to mush as I feared. Ramsay emphasizes really getting out the moisture, and I kept cooking and cooking. I was a little nervous about burning things, so I probably could have done it at a higher temperature; and based on how things ended up, I probably could have cooked them a little longer than I did.

I try to clean as I go. The pile on the left also includes some breakfast dishes, but it's mostly this project. It's still early!

The menu included mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Since we were planning dinner to follow the 5:30 PM Vigil Mass, I had to get as much ready beforehand as I could. So I decided to wash, peel and cut up the potatoes beforehand. At Ramsay's suggestion, I cut up the potatoes into roughly even pieces; I hadn't thought of that before.

Here are the mushrooms cooked down. After they sat on the counter for a bit, I noticed yet more water, which I soaked up with a paper towel. Several times. Only later did I realize I could have simply returned them to the pan.

Next I made the red wine sauce. The Kroger butcher didn't have any "trimmings" left from the fillets, so he offered me some pieces of chuck roast. I cut them up further and used them for the sauce. I decided not to triple the amount of sauce I made, and I'm glad I didn't; we didn't use up what we had.

In case you are wondering, yes, the mushrooms and this both smelled wonderful. And, again, I was being cautious with this, so it likely took me longer. Ramsay suggested straining this sauce, when finished, through cloth. I didn't do that; I just used a colander. It ended up looking like not much sauce, so I strained out some of the shallots and added them back into the sauce. In fact, there was more than enough sauce when dinner time came. Still, I liked the look of the sauce with the shallots in it. This was my first deviation from Ramsay's directions.

I might explain that there were pauses between all this when I attended to other parish business. But, yes, this project did have me in the kitchen for several hours. Here is the puff pastry, right out of the box. I let it thaw for about 30-40 minutes before I rolled each one out, and then returned them again to the fridge. I ended up needing three of these, so I gave the fourth to one of my staff members, because I had no idea what to do with it.

When the time came to assemble everything, I was rushed for time -- Mass time approaching! -- so no pictures. I tried my best to do everything as Ramsay suggested, but I didn't manage exactly. First, the pieces of meat I had were fatter and shorter than what he works with in his videos. As a result, the ham-and-mushroom layer didn't quite encircle two of them. Second, I found the "duxelle" -- i.e., the mushroom paste -- wasn't staying put, and I didn't use it all. (The leftover duxelle I put in the fridge to have with this morning's eggs, and I forgot until just now about that plan.) Third, I forgot to put mustard on the meat after searing it -- which I did exactly as GR suggested -- so, I did it after wrapping the meat in the ham, but before wrapping in the pastry. Finally, I did use dijon mustard, because I like it, and that's what I had. Sorry Gordon!

As I was rolling the final product together, because of the stoutness of the fillets, I had to do some stretching with the dough; I hadn't rolled them out enough. But I was able to re-roll the second and third sheets, and it worked. Then I remembered Ramsay saying to "trim" the pastry, but I couldn't remember just how he did it, so I just folded up the ends and hoped for the best. After it came out, I see why he suggested that, and I re-watched the video to see how he did it.

Surprisingly, I got all this done before Mass, even with the egg wash and little fancy cuts on the sides. All this was in the fridge waiting for Mass to be over. Back to the kitchen, potatoes on the boil, and three Beef Wellingtons into the oven. One final defiance of Ramsay: I didn't take time to add more egg wash. It looked fine as it was. While the meat and potatoes were cooking, I sat down with the seminarians and had a drink. My staff had presented me with a bottle of Basil Hayden Bourbon, and I decided to open it up. Yes, it is very good! Meanwhile, I'm checking the meat, and it's cooking very slowly; I don't understand, I put it in at 200 degrees, just as Ramsay said...wait: was that Celsius? Indeed it was -- that means 450 degrees Fahrenheit! So I cranked up the oven, and it cooked nicely. Here are two of the three little bundles of goodness:

So how was it? Overall, very good! The meat was cooked just right. The pastry came out pretty well, but a little soggy. That could have been because I didn't start with the right temperature, or the mushrooms not being dry enough. That also meant the pastry fell apart when I tried to serve it, but it still tasted very good. We ended up eating every bit of these two, saving the third for dinner tonight. Everything else turned out really well and we had a very enjoyable evening. We had red wine with this.

For dessert I picked up a "tiramisu" cake from Krogers; it didn't taste that much like tiramisu, but it was pretty tasty. Then digestivos for any who wanted them. Afterwards, we watched a film called "Argo," about the thrilling rescue of six American diplomats from Iran, who got away from the embassy when the Iranian mob stormed it, and were shielded by the Canadian ambassador.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Why can't everyone go to communion? Because the Eucharist is like sex (Sunday homily)

There is one thing in particular that we Catholics are known for,
that confuses people, or causes offense. 
We get embarrassed about this and we don’t know how to explain it.
Sometimes this causes arguments.

I’m talking about who can receive Holy Communion, and who cannot.
There are two types of people who get confused.

First, there are people who are Christian but not Catholic.
Many times they will feel free 
to receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass.
They have no idea that this offends Catholics.
Indeed, many Catholics don’t realize that non-Catholics 
aren’t supposed to receive communion at Mass, let alone why.

The second group that gets confused are Catholics 
who seem to think that receiving communion is more or less automatic.
The syllogism goes something like this:
“I’m Catholic; all Catholics go to communion when at Mass; 
I’m at Mass; therefore, I will go to communion.”

The result, I believe, is that many – maybe most – Catholics 
receive Holy Communion almost automatically, without reflection.
And this explains many Catholics who are mostly inactive 
will still go to communion, again without realizing this is wrong; or why.

So what’s the mistake here? What are people missing?

Jesus said, “the Bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 
Doesn’t he want everyone to eat his Flesh, and drink his Blood?
The answer is, Yes he does, but in the right way.
I’m going to explain this, but you have to bear with me.

Jesus shows us what the full reality of the Eucharist is, 
when he says, over and over, that he the Bridegroom.
He is a Spouse; a Husband.
Who is the partner in that marriage? The Church: we are.
This  runs through the whole Bible, right up to the last book, 
where heaven is the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

And I want to be clear what I’m saying:
Human marriage is the sign, the foreshadowing; 
Union with God – beginning in this world and ultimately in heaven – 
is the complete reality.

So if the Christian life is a marriage – as Jesus says – 
then how does specifically receiving the Eucharist fit into this?

You may find shocking but: 
the best analogy for receiving the Eucharist is the marital embrace. 
And I want to be crystal-clear without being too explicit. 
I mean that special, physical, private moment of love 
between a husband and wife that can result in new life.

So if you ask, why is it wrong for someone 
just to walk in and receive the Eucharist?
For the same reason that it is wrong to be casual 
about the special act of love I’m referring to. 

And isn’t it curious that even as our society treats the sexual act 
as if it is nothing important, and we can do as we like with it,
that Christians and Catholics, in this same social milieu,
likewise treat the Holy Mass, and the Eucharist, so casually?

Look, I’m not married, so I may be off-base here, but:
Shouldn’t spouses enter into the marital embrace 
as something deserving preparation and supreme attention?
If it’s all about me, me, give to me, rather than about you, 
my being here for you, then isn’t that moment of embrace 
going to be a failure? Life-draining, not life-giving?

I know people will say, “In real life it doesn’t work out that way.”
Oh, I know that: and guess what? 
In real life, a whole lot of people are pretty unhappy in their marriages. 
And they don’t stay married.
All the more reason to get it right with the Eucharist!

As with the food Elijah received, the Eucharist is meant to give us life,
Strength for the journey, day by day, all the way to heaven.
The grave danger is that we approach the Eucharist the wrong way,
not seeking to be converted, not actually realizing the seriousness,
this brings not life, but death! 

Yes, that is what St. Paul himself said elsewhere in Scripture.
Our conscience becomes deadened and darkened.

To answer the question I started with:
This is why a casually-practicing Catholic should first go to confession – 
to the sacrament of reconciliation – before returning to communion:
For precisely the same reason that couples who are distant, 
or not giving each other much attention, 
likewise need reconciliation, first, in preparation for the marital act 
to be a true act of love, rather than something else.

So we have Catholics who show up at Mass one or two times a year, 
And they expect to go right back to communion:
If you’re married, and you stay away for months at a time,
Is that how it works? 
And even if it does, is that a good idea – for that marriage, I mean?

OK, but what about non-Catholics who are Christians. 
Aren’t they also “married” to Christ? Yes, indeed they are.
But the problem is, with rare exception, other Christian denominations 
believe that the Eucharist is not actually Jesus.
They believe Holy Communion is a symbol of Jesus, 
or a “reminder” of Jesus.

Yes, they use a lot of similar language to ours, 
but these other churches believe something fundamentally different.
To go back to the analogy: 
For these good people, receiving communion 
is like being given a picture of their spouse.
That is obviously totally different 
from meeting your Spouse in the flesh.

A moment ago, I said, “with rare exception.” 
Because there are some Churches that actually do believe
that the priesthood is real, and the Mass is truly a Sacrifice, 
and that the Eucharist truly is Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
And these Christians – generally speaking, Orthodox Christians – 
are in fact allowed to receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass.
So, if you know anyone in this situation, come talk to me.

But beyond that, for those who are not Catholic, 
and maybe you are here:
Yes, we do ask you wait, and not receive the Eucharist,
Until you understand the reality of Jesus, not only in this Sacrament, 
but in his whole Church, in all he teaches and asks of us.
Then you can respond with your whole self.

And to my fellow Catholics, I give a very serious caution:
Recognize the awesome reality of the Mass and the Eucharist!
Please don’t let Mass and receiving Holy Communion 
be a ritual you go through on auto-pilot.
Jesus wants to give you Life, from the Source! His very self!

But you can miss it; and become dead to it, if you don’t wake up.
This isn’t about you, and what you get; 
It’s about what you give: all of yourself; 
even as Jesus gives all of himself to you.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Pope Francis 'making a mess' of the Catechism, especially on the death penalty

(This originated as an article in my parish bulletin, but I reworked it a little.)

Let's talk about the Holy Father’s recent decision about the death penalty. This is complicated, so I apologize in advance if my brief comments don’t answer all questions; but I do think some explanation is needed. On Friday, August 3, the Vatican issued a letter – from Cardinal Laderia, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – that included a new paragraph for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that states the following:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.  

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

This announcement was hailed as a “change in Church teaching”; this startled me when I heard it on the radio. This is where the problem and the confusion lies.

The death penalty issue actually involves two distinct but overlapping questions. First, a morality question: what is good vs. what is evil? And both the Bible and the Church have said, continuously, that the death penalty is moral, if guilt is properly determined, and if not inhumanely applied. To be clear, this part cannot change! The pope did not – because he cannot – decide that what had been morally permissible for thousands of years, now is not. He can’t do it, because no one can. Only God determines good and evil.

The second question is a public-policy one: working from what is morally acceptable (the prior question), now we ask: what is a wise, prudent way to go forward as a society in our particular time and circumstances? Only this latter issue is subject to change with the times, whether by Pope Francis, or any other pope. The confusion here is that people are mixing these questions together.

Recall that it was Pope John Paul II who first proposed that society should avoid the death penalty, unless absolutely necessary; and in my judgment, Pope Francis is really only reiterating that point with greater emphasis. Pope John Paul II stated the following in the Catechism:

“The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor” (CCC 2267, prior version). However, Pope John Paul II went on to urge that non-lethal punishment be preferred, stating that “cases of absolute necessity” for use of capital punishment today “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

Candidly, I think the way this was presented, first by the Vatican and then others, lacked the clear distinctions that are needed. The Holy Father, having a praiseworthy objective of minimizing the death penalty (as did prior popes), is not addressing these distinctions at the moment, but he is well aware of them and knows that they matter. In time they will need to be clarified.

As far as I can see, the language of Pope John Paul remains in force, even if it isn't entirely retained in the Catechism. Namely: that on the morality question: is capital punishment good or evil -- then what the Church has always taught, is still true; the death penalty is justified with the usual conditions.

Nevertheless, on the public-policy question -- what's good for us here and now -- the Church urges avoidance of the death penalty to the maximum extent possible.

I know what many are saying: nope, Pope Francis closed that door. But the thing is, I can't see how he can. Can the pope declare good evil, and evil, good? No, he cannot. And note well, his language does not do that. Not once does the pope declare, explicitly, that capital punishment is "intrinsically" (or any other kind of) evil. He merely says, "inadmissible," which is -- from a theological and philosophical standpoint -- vague and loose. In my judgment, it boils down to a restatement of Pope John Paul's, try to avoid it all you can.

Someone asked me, does this mean I disagree with the pope? Well, the honest answer is, I don't know! But I don't really think so. The very lack of clarity here leaves me not knowing what Pope Francis' full intentions are. So I have to guess, and here's my guess:

1) He wants to discourage the death penalty as much as possible.
2) He thinks, at least in our circumstances, it is "bad" to do; meaning, it makes a net negative impact on society.

On these two points I agree with Pope Francis.

But does he think that the death penalty is morally evil and can never be justified in any fashion? Perhaps he does, and many people believe that's what he's saying here; but the problem is, if I say the pope believes that, I am accusing him of denying something the Church has always held, on the basis of Sacred Scripture, no less. And I will not make any such accusation against him; instead, I will err on the side of charity, especially in this matter.

That's not just an equivocation out of charity. I simply do not know what is in the heart of the pope, because I cannot know that. What I know is that the pope has issued new language for the Catechism, that in my judgment is muddled; but even then, it notably is careful about not going too far. That is to say, what if he had declared the death penalty intrinsically evil? And why didn't he? The answer, I think, is because he was told, if he did not tell himself, that he cannot do that and must not do that. In any case, he did not do that.

So, we have a mess. The pope is famous for saying "Hagan lio," which is translated as "make a mess." In the context, as I recall, he was encouraging folks not to be passive or inert, but to be active, engaged, and not to be afraid that their activism will ruffle feathers or challenge the status quo. This is something the pope himself does. At times this is very good advice; at other times, it can be unsettling, including for me in the present case. Some want to accuse him of malicious intent or gross neglect; some accuse him of being a heretic. If you wish to find fault with me for not reaching those conclusions, so be it; but I will make no such grave accusations unless I really have no alternative.

Nevertheless, I cannot help saying this. One regrettable consequence of this is that the Catechism, which heretofore I have always treated as a clear statement of Church teaching, is now a bit of a "mess." I'm sorry about that; and it will be a little more complicated making use of it. I have the prior edition, and I intend to keep using it. That way I can share with people the language placed there by Pope John Paul II that I think maintains the necessary clarifications. I will refer to the desire of the current Holy Father that use of the death penalty be "inadmissible," and do my best to explain how that is consistent with the unchanging teaching of the Church on this matter.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The 'Food that endures' (Sunday homily)

Last Sunday, the key idea was “signs” – 
that is, which point us toward Jesus Christ, who is the destination.

This Sunday, we hear the Lord Jesus say:
“Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

So I wondered: how do these two types of food compare?
Let’s start with “food that perishes” – that is, natural, ordinary food.
This food you and I can grow or raise ourselves, or we buy. 
Although food is much easier to get than in Bible times,
It still costs real money and takes real work.

If we don’t eat it, we will die.
If we eat the wrong kind, we will get sick.
If you or I eat too much, we get fat.
But even if we eat the right natural food, in the right amount, 
You and I will still die; because this natural life cannot go on forever.
Such is the “food that perishes.”

Now, what about the enduring food Jesus offers us?
You and I cannot produce it; we cannot prepare it. It is simply given.
What does it cost? I was going to say it’s free, and that’s true;
Yet in another sense, no food is more costly; 
because what we “pay” to receive Jesus is, simply, our whole selves. 
He gives himself entirely, and he demands the very same from us.

Our entire selves: let that sink in.
Many wonder why the Christian Faith is facing troubles in our time.
So many profess to be Christian, but don’t really live it. 
Many live compartmentalized lives: one part of me prays, 
one part of me believes, but another part of me cheats on my taxes,
or mistreats my spouse, or goes to dark places on the Internet, 
or depends on alcohol to make me happy,
or is envious or controlling, and so on and so on.

Meanwhile there are so many who simply ignore the claims of Christ.
They don’t think they are rejecting him; but he’s a figure on a cross, 
a picture on the wall, and maybe he gets a visit one or two times a year.

Why is this happening?
It is true that bad Christians – high or low – give scandal.
Nevertheless, the main reason people 
do not continue with their Christian Faith, or do not accept it,
is because Jesus simply asks too much.
We might be willing to give him a part of us; but he demands ALL.

And so, by the way, this is why when we commit a mortal sin, 
we must be reconciled – through confession – 
before receiving the Eucharist. 
Jesus is not content to have only part of us; he wants all!

So, yes, the “food that endures” is indeed costly.

What else about the food Jesus gives?
While natural food can only communicate natural life,
The food of Jesus provides supernatural life that never ends. 
But without Jesus, you and I will be eternally hungry and empty, 
and that is hell.

These are the two foods placed before us.
And Jesus says, you’re working hard for ordinary food; I understand.
Still, receive this Food; “work” for this Food I will give;
And the “work” we do for it, is to put our faith in Jesus; 
as I said, to give him our entire selves, nothing held back.

Now, here is the bread and wine, used for Mass.*
Right now, as I hold it before you, this is “food that perishes”; ordinary, natural food.

In a few moments, before our eyes, 
through the unworthy hands of a priest, who is also sinful man,  
Jesus himself will change these ephemeral, earth-bound elements, 
into that Food which he promised to give: 
His very self, his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Now, do you see what I’m saying here?
This food, this perishable food, this is us!
You and I, like this bread and wine, 
do not have supernatural life in ourselves; 
and if God had not acted and entered time to share it, 
we would spend eternity without supernatural life!

What Jesus does to the bread and wine on the altar, 
He is determined to do to you and me!
This is what it means to receive the Eucharist;
As Saint Augustine said, we become what we receive.

I’m going to end with two questions; but don’t tell me the answer.
Don’t answer too quickly. 
Look deep in your own heart, confront yourself, 
and tell yourself the answer. 
Think hard about whether you truly mean it. 

Do you believe this change – from bread and wine, 
into Jesus’ Body and Blood, his true and real Presence – 
actually happens on this altar?

And do you believe that what Jesus does to bread and wine, 
He can and he will – AND WILL! – do to you?

Jesus is the Food that Endures: Become what you receive!

* At this point in the homily, I held up a plate of hosts and a cruet of wine.