Category Archives: Church

THE CRUCIFIXION NEVER ENDS

AN EASTER THOUGHT

In church today for the Easter service, I found myself swept up in the joyous spirit.  The music, the liturgy, the homily, al so spirit-lifting! But I had one disturbing thought as I looked at the crucifix: it seemed out of place, jarring and untimely.  We were celebrating the risen Lord, but the unavoidable centerpiece of the church was the crucifix, graphically displaying the dying Lord.  Didn’t the crucifixion end? Hasn’t Christ risen?  Then why, on this most joyous day, are we faced with death – His death? His gruesome, ugly, pathetic, painful death?

On Holy Saturday, commemorating the day when Jesus was in the tomb, the crucifix was covered, removed from sight, signifying His terrible absence from us.  But on Easter Sunday morning, He is back. We welcome Him home…but He is still dying!

As a recent convert (and long-lapsed Protestant), I have thought much about crucifixes. These depictions of our Savior dying on the cross adorn most (sadly not all) Catholic churches.  In this, we are (as far as I know) unique. Protestant churches usually have crosses behind the altar, but rarely are the crosses occupied.  Protestants tend to see the crucifix as needlessly maudlin. (Perhaps an appropriate word, if we remember its origin in the person of Mary Magdalene.)

The empty Protestant crosses are analogous to the empty tomb. The crucifixion, the death, the burial, all are in the past.  We move on.

But Catholics present the cross complete with the body of Jesus. The “corpus” may be symbolical or impressionistic, often bloodless, all in consideration of modern sensibilities about bloody, tortured bodies. But they are still painful to see.

Theologically, I don’t know why Catholics embrace the crucifix rather than the cross. But I have always found the crucifix a useful reminder that now, as in the past, every sin hurts God. Every sin requires an atonement.  Sin is not just an internal, private or inter-personal matter between me and anyone I injured with my sin. Every sin hurts God.

And so, the crucifixion never ends. It continues as long as sin does – that is, as long as I sin. And it is a great blessing to be reminded of that fact every time I step into a church.  Even on Easter.

I’m No Optimist, but…

Optimism is always a delusion, a belief that things will somehow work out OK. It is based on the notion that People Are Basically Good (PABGoo, in short).  In other words, it is a complete denial of reality, as evident throughout all human history and clearly visible in every day’s news.

Optimism is a pseudo-scientific, secular substitute for Hope, which is a Christian virtue based on faith in a loving God.

Fortunately, when we look carefully, even in these dire days, we can find hopeful things in the news. Even hopeful news about the state of our Church occasionally pops up. Recent days offered some.

Archbishop Jose Gomez, President of the US Council of Catholic Bishops, issued a public statement on the inauguration of President (and “devout catholic”) Joe Biden. 

“I look forward to working with President Biden and his administration, and the new Congress. As with every administration, there will be areas where we agree and work closely together and areas where we will have principled disagreement and strong opposition.

“Our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”

Unsurprisingly, this provoked an outburst from Democratic spokesman (and Archbishop of Chicago) Cupich, who called it “ill-considered”.  It is also no surprise that the Knights of Columbus, slandered as extremists by our new Vice President, stood firm in support.

Gomez’ statement also stimulated an outpouring of responses from other Catholic Bishops (see HERE), most of it strongly supportive.  

Imagine! Straight talk from the USCCB!

HOPE!

Parish Priests, the Saints Among Us

St. John Vianney, the Cure d’Ars, the patron saint of parish priests, apparently believed that no parish priests ever became saints.   Fr. Walter Gumbley, O.P. wrote a little book, Parish Priests Among the Saints, (1947) in correction.

From Gumbley’s introduction, “It has sometimes been stated that, with the single exception of St. John Vianney, no parish priest has become a saint.  Henri Gheon, in his The Secret of the Cure d’Ars, relates that the holy man was ‘terrified to learn that in the long roll of the ages not a single parish priest had been raised to the Church’s altars as a saint.  Popes had been canonized, cardinals, bishops, religious and laymen; but of parish priests not one; not the shadow of one.’”

Gumbley goes on to demonstrate that this is erroneous, listing 31 cases (pre-Vianney) in refutation.  (There are probably additional relevant canonizations since 1947.) But none of his cases are particularly well known, and only a few were canonized for their display of holiness explicitly in the exercise of their regular parish duties. (Most clearly on point was St. Peter Fourier, who died in 1644, and was canonized by Leo XIII in 1897.  But since Vianney died in 1859, he would not have known of his distinguished predecessor.)  Gumbley also points to St. Ivo Hellory, who died in1303 and was canonized in 1347. Ivo was a canon lawyer and ecclesiastical judge, but gave up his law practice to serve as a parish priest (which by itself seems sufficient ground for canonization.)

So the Cure d’Ars was wrong, but not by much.   Parish priests are, to say the least, underrepresented in the lists of saints.  One might wonder why.

In the middle ages, parish priests were the proletarians of the clergy: lowly regarded, criticized as ill trained, lax, or corrupt.  Reform movements usually arose from monastic orders.

But with the rise of structured seminary education, parish priests are now well trained and dedicated, and work longer hours than any labor law would permit.   The expectations of today’s catholic parish priests are far higher than any other church’s pastoral duties.

So, maybe the shortage of saints among parish priests is simply because the basic job expectations are so high.  Exceeding those expectations really takes some doing.  (Underachieving, however, appears to be all too easy.)

There probably ought to be a lot more recognized parish priest saints.  There probably ARE a lot more than we will ever recognize, until we meet them in heaven. 

Until then, consider your parish priest.  If he seems to be genuinely Catholic (not a “progressive” modernizer), and he is as hard working as mine, he is probably a saint-in-the-making.  Remember to give thanks to God for him in your daily prayers.  And thank your parish priest, too. Do it often.

ADDENDUM

In the above post, I relied on Fr. Walter Gumbley’s 1947 book (Parish Priests Among the Saints) listing 31 parish-priest-saints.  I also noted in passing that “There are probably additional relevant canonizations since 1947.”  Unfortunately, I have been unable to find such an update.

But I have noted a relevant source on this matter.  Robert Royal’s 2000 book The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century is a remarkable collection of data and stories detailing a grim reality: the 20th century saw a worse slaughter of believing Christians, especially Catholics, than any comparable era in history.

He analyzes these mass martyrdoms in country after country.  Some are not unexpected: Communist China, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Turkish Armenia.  But the most striking are the Catholic countries in which “the appearance of virulent anti-Christian ideologies and brutally repressive regimes seeking to impose them…led directly to the widespread suffering and slaughter of religious believers,” including parish priests. 

The Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s is widely remembered as a heroic struggle against fascism.  In fact, it began with brutal attacks by communists, socialists, and anarchists against the Catholic Church.  In the first six months of the war (1936), 6,382 priests, monks, and nuns were massacred by the “Loyalist” forces.  Royal says “perhaps the greatest fury fell upon diocesan clergy” (parish priests). In cities controlled by the left, hundreds of priests were murdered: in Madrid alone, 1118.  Unarmed, unresisting priests murdered for doing their duty to their parishioners, their Church, and God.  Martyrs.

The Church has since recognized many new martyrs and saints from these cruel persecutions.  I do not know how many were parish priests.  But I suspect that they were all too well represented in the ranks of the sainted martyrs.

As I said before, “there probably ought to be a lot more recognized parish priest saints.  There probably ARE a lot more than we will ever recognize, until we meet them in heaven.

I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me…

[My friend Dan Wing has asked my thoughts on this strange Easter. Here they are.]

Dan, I have often shared with you my love for our Cathedral and how I miss it during the long winter months I spend in Florida. The parish I attend there is a sad affair, a church that feels old and tired. Literally old, as the congregation is almost 100% retired and 65+. And figuratively tired, as there seems to be no awareness of any of the challenges the church is now facing.

In Montana, I feel old; but in Florida, the world feels old. I prefer the Montana feeling. And throughout the Florida winter, I dream of attending mass in the magnificent Cathedral of St. Helena when spring arrives.

At my conversion, you helped me find my place in God’s world.  At the time I especially felt the truth in Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” You and Cherie were two of the ones who most persistently said it unto me.

And I remember that joy I felt, and still feel, whenever I have the chance to enter our Cathedral.

Yet now I have been back in Montana for a month, and still have not been to a single mass here. I am of course grateful for the opportunity to be of help to my family in this time of crisis. And my heart leaps with joy whenever I see our beautiful Cathedral on the hill as I drive through town. But still…

I know you and so many others feel the same sense of loss that I do.   In my case I wonder if this sense of loss could be a part of the purgatory my sinful heart needs.

The emptiness that has often hit me this month has sometimes seemed like an extended Holy Saturday, a day with a conspicuous absence in its heart. Now, He is Risen!

But the challenge continues. How to keep the holiness of God in my heart without the help of the sacraments ad our priests?  Very hard, indeed. The Magnificat helps with regular devotions. And my daily diet of “Thank You, Lord” prayers finds no shortage of occasions.

But still I long for the day when I again hear “Let us come into the house of the Lord” for mass. And I think it may be a foretaste of the day I can walk joyfully into God’s full and complete presence. God willing.

Yours in Christ

Vatican Betrayal of China Continues

While keeping the past, present and future victims of the Wuhan Chinese Coronavirus Covid-19 are on your mind and in your prayers, give an extra prayer for the oppressed Catholics of the Middle Kingdom, crushed by the Chinese communist Party and cynically abandoned by the Vicar of Christ.

The heroic Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong has repeatedly rung the alarm bell about this crisis (see an article in Gatestone here), pounding on the Vatican doors to get the attention of the “people’s pope” (or am I thinking of Princess Diana?).  As usual, only silence in response.

Join me in praying for the success of Cardinal Zen. And when you pray for Pope Francis, join me in praying for his enlightenment and repentance, rather than his intentions. I shudder to think what those really are.

Vatican Betrays Chinese Catholics. Again.

Sad but not entirely unexpected news:  The Pope has once again betrayed the suffering Catholics of Communist China.  Heroic Cardinal Zen has written an open letter to all his brothers in the Catholic hierarchy, denouncing the new Concordat that sold out the church’s true believers and subjected them to total control buy the Chinese Communist Party.

The letter has been published openly on the Catholic website OnePeterFive.com,  an invaluable resource for the church’s current crisis. (It was one of the first to publish Archbishop Vigano’s challenges to the Vatican’s longtime embrace of former Cardinal McCarrick.) Here is the publisher’s introduction of…

“…a letter that Cardinal Joseph Zen sent some time ago to all the cardinals, and that he has now decided to make public. Needless to say, the latest news coming from mainland China only confirms and augments the concerns expressed for some time by many people about the interim agreement signed by representatives of the Holy See and the government of Beijing.”

Cardinal Zen asks “can we passively witness this killing of the Church in China on the part of those who should be protecting and defending it from its enemies?”  A good question.  As directed to the present papal incumbent, the answer appears to be “Yes”.

I started by saying “the Pope has once again betrayed…”  I was thinking also of the earlier betrayal when one of his “social justice” people startled the world (and the Chinese Catholics who know better) with the declaration that “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” The remark came from Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, two years ago.  The pope never disagreed, just as he has never responded to Archbishop Vigano’s j’accuse  August 2018, or to Cardinal Zen’s letter, presented to the Pope in July.

Yet another gratuitous slap in the face for those Catholics suffering persecution in China, and an embarrassment to the rest of us.

Read the full letter here.

Then say a prayer for Cardinal Zen and his flock.  And pray that more bishops will find their voices.

Happy Re-birthday to Me!

Last week I celebrated an anniversary of some significance, at least to me.

Not my birthday. Not my wedding anniversary, which my wonderful wife of over 47 years (wow!) and I celebrate in November.

Here’s a hint: In Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, the plot turns on a paradox. The hero, Frederick, was in his youth apprenticed to a pirate. (Which was an error, of course, the result of a failure to communicate; he was supposed to be apprenticed to a pilot.) He detests piracy, but his sense of duty compels him to complete his apprenticeship term at age 21. Unfortunately (SPOILER ALERT) his apprentice contract was poorly written, to end on his 21st birthday. But (SPOILER ALERT) he was born on Leap Year Day, Feb. 29, and only has a birthday every four years. So, he still has sixty-plus years to go. (If you haven’t seen or read the play, you really ought to.)

Anyway, last Saturday, the Feast of Saint Matthew, was the anniversary of my baptism and confirmation into the Catholic Church; my Second Anniversary. (That’s right. It took me almost seven decades to figure out where I belonged. I’ll bet it didn’t take YOU that long, dear reader.)  My re-birthday, if you will.

I can therefore paraphrase Frederick, singing:

“Though counting in the usual way,

Years seventy-one I’ve rocked and rolled.

Yet counting from my re-birth day,

I am a little two-year old.”

[Sorry about the “rocked and rolled”; I am not a very good poet.]

It is a strange and wonderful thing to be both an old man and a young Christian; aged in years but youthful (even childish) in the faith.

So if you see me around town, feel free to wish me a Happy Re-birthday. (A friend in college once received a birthday card stating “It’s my birthday! Buy me a beer!” He wore it pinned to his shirt for weeks, gradually hitting every bar in town.)

 

Note: Saint Matthew is not only my patron saint, but also that of (among others) tax collectors. This is based on the tradition that he was one himself.  That may be why I Continue reading

O Beauty

 

Cathedral on Lawrence 1 IMG_3850

“Late have I loved thee, O beauty, so ancient and so new.”

(“Sero te amavi, pulchritudo, tam antiqua et tam nova.” St. Augustine, Confessions)

My parish church in Helena, Montana: St. Helena Cathedral.

I-phone  photo taken today, a block from my Helena home.

The Church Stands Alone

In the Pedophile Priest Crisis, the Church (specifically its internal corrupters, the pedophile priests and their superiors in the hierarchy who refused to take responsibility) was in the wrong.  The world helped correct it.  That is, the news media, law enforcement, and especially the lawyers of the plaintiff’s bar.  They publicized and sued and brought the scandal to public attention, forcing the Church to deal with it.

In the present Homosexual Crisis, the world stands enthusiastically on the side of the Church’s internal corrupters.  The media love the current pope and his “See No Evil” approach (along with his breezy off-the-cuff airborne theology).  The media and other elites all shared in the near-universal horror at pedophile child abuse; but they all equally support the Homosexual Agenda, from normalization to gay marriage to transgenderism.

The only voices being raised against this grooming-and-groping-and-worse behavior of some bishops come from the much-despised “Traditional Catholics”, smeared by their own pope as “Pharisees”.

G.K. Chesterton wrote somewhere (I think in Orthodoxy, but I don’t have a copy handy so I am quoting from memory) that when the world becomes too worldly, it is the church’s role to turn it around. But when the church becomes too worldly, the world cannot save it.  Only the church (through the Holy Spirit) can save itself.

There will be no outside help, no cheering from the sidelines.  The press coverage will be terrible.  We already see the calumny against the traditional church as a homophobic institution, a bunch of haters in Knights of Columbus uniforms.

It will be a lonely battle.  There will be no one on our side…except the Holy Spirit.

Reprise: “I Am That Man”

[By request, a rerun of a previous post. Plus a few Digressions.]

A few years ago, in RCIA at the age of 69 after a spiritually wasted life, I was finally getting serious about many things, including the Bible readings.

 But I was taken aback by one of the vineyard parables (Mat 20):  the one where the owner pays the same daily wage to late-arriving workers who only put in an hour’s work as he pays to the laborers who worked the full day.

As a former union representative, I rose to point out the unfairness of this.  It would violate wage and hour laws, not to mention any union contract.  The result would be a grievance, a federal charge, or a walkout.  The late worker would be singled out for derision (or worse) as the owner’s stooge.  My objections cut no ice. Salvation economics, I was told, were different from labor economics.  I dropped the subject, filing it under “Catholic Stuff I Don’t Get…Yet” Note: (There are still a lot of these. See the Digressions below.)

But later, at my first communion, the daily reading was that very same parable.  And after re-hashing the same issues in my mind, it suddenly dawned on me – I was that man! I was that laborer who showed up near the end of the day and happily, if a little guiltily, collected my full wages.  And, most amazingly, the other workers seemed happy about it. No grievances were filed.  No cradle catholic shunned me as an upstart.   They actually welcomed me!

Now whenever I see someone full of self-esteem and entitlement, the kind of guy who is convinced that he deserves all the good things life has given him, I have to remind myself that “I am that man.”  And when I am with one of the many good people who have been working in the Christian vineyards their entire lives, I feel my own unworthiness all the more.  But I know that this is the way God’s grace works.  My job is to accept the grace, and to pass it on.  And to keep at it until my workdays come to an end.

_______________________________

 DIGRESSION #1: One of the things I don’t get, or at least don’t like, is the New Testament’s low opinion of tax collectors.  I understand the history of the inherent corruption in that ancient imperial system, but surely there must be a better word for those corrupt officials. The Greek “telones” and the Latin “publicani” described contemptibly corrupt characters.  The modern-day American tax collectors I have known (and represented as union members) are upright, honest public servants. I don’t recall ever having to represent one accused of theft or embezzlement.  How must they feel when they read the gospel references to “tax collectors and other sinners”?  So Bible translators, get creative and come up with a better term.  “Corrupt officials”? “Crooked bureaucrats”? 

DIGRESSION #2: Speaking of Bible translators, why does the Catholic Church use such lame ones?  Consider Matthew 16:18. KJV: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [the Church]. New American Bible: “The gates of the netherworld…” Netherworld? The image conjured up suggests Holland, not Hell.

Or consider Psalm 23:6. KJV: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  NAB: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”  How many years? Two? Three? How long have I got until my lease expires and God throws me out?

DIGRESSION #3: Speaking of crooked public officials, one of my favorite lines from Casablanca is spoken by the dastardly police captain Renault, played by Claude Raines. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) proposes a twenty-thousand-franc bet that Victor Laszlo will escape to America. Renault responds “Make it ten thousand. I’m only a poor corrupt official.”