There is lots of enthusiasm for Pope Francis among Catholics. Many believe this enthusiasm is unambiguously good for the Church and the world. However, before reaching such a conclusion, it would be prudent to examine just what it is about our pope that gets so many Catholics excited. According to the latest Pew Research Center survey:
Francis, who draws giddy teenagers to his Wednesday audiences and generates Twitter traffic with every public remark, has clearly invigorated the church. But the poll finds that Francis has raised expectations of significant change, even though he has alluded that he may not alter the church’s positions on thorny doctrinal issues.
Nearly six in 10 American Catholics in the poll said they expected the church would definitely or probably lift its prohibition on birth control by the year 2050, while half said the church would allow priests to marry. Four in 10 said it would ordain women as priests, and more than two-thirds said it would recognize same-sex marriages by 2050. Large majorities of American Catholics said they wanted the church to change on the first three matters, and half wanted the church to recognize same-sex marriages.
This is highly significant. Pope Francis is wildly popular, but that popularity seems to be rooted in what is perceived as a papal blessing for moral laxity and doctrinal indifference. Furthermore, the pope appears to be encouraging false expectations that the Church will soon be changing her moral teachings. Also significant is that Pope Francis seems to be having a negative effect when it comes to the most fundamental disposition of the Christian life – repentance.
As for confession, only 5 percent of Catholics said they went more in the past year, compared with 22 percent who went less.
Let’s be clear: enthusiasm for Pope Francis is directly correlated with a sharp decline in Catholics going to confession. Before Pope Francis, the numbers were already dismal with only 26 percent of Catholics confessing even once a year – the bare minimum. That Pope Francis has influenced Catholics in this way should not be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The Holy Father has consistently lambasted what he calls “rigorism”, “legalism”, and “small-minded rules” but without specifically identifying which rules he has in mind. Following the Second Vatican Council, many Catholics have come to view the requirement to confess mortal sins as just another a “small-minded rule”, and Pope Francis appears to have confirmed them in this perspective. His own dismissal of rules he doesn’t like, such as his washing the feet of a Muslim woman on Holy Thursday last year, also sets a powerful example.
What is rather more surprising is that, despite all the praise Pope Francis receives for his emphasis on serving the poor, Catholics have not been inspired to increase their own service to the poor.
Volunteering in the church or community has not increased among Catholics, and the percentage of Americans who are Catholic, 22 percent, is the same as a year ago.
Behind this statistic we also learn that 23 percent of American Catholics report volunteering less often, while only 13 percent have volunteered more often - a net decline in volunteer activity. One possible interpretation is that the majority of American Catholics with “first world problems” are pleased to have the spotlight taken off of moral issues that hit them much closer to home.
Among the innumerable truths forgotten since the Second Vatican Council, we may count the following teaching about good works performed in a state of mortal sin:
Are good works available which are performed in the state of mortal sin?
Good works performed while in a state of mortal sin avail nothing in regard to eternal life, writes St. Lawrence Justinian, but aid in moderating the punishment imposed for disobedience and the transgression of God’s commandments. They bring temporal goods, such as honor, long life, health, earthly happiness, etc.; they prevent us from falling deeper into sin, and prepare the heart for the reception of grace; so the pious person writes: “Do as much good as you can, even though in the state of mortal sin, that God may give light to your heart.“
I can think of no better poem for entering into the spirit of Lent than this one. The author may not approve of my mentioning his name, so I will merely link to his website.
A Sonnet to the Sorrowful Jesus
Let me mingle these, my tears, with Thine,
Whose tears roll down Thy face’s cheeks so fine.
Let me share my sorrows, Lord, with Thee –
And, too, Thy sorrows, prithee, share with me.
Let me know the love between us twain,
Who, lovers true, do share each other’s pain.
Let compassion, common, given be;
And thus shall I the love between us see.
Let me walk along, O Lord, with Thee,
Along the paths of this Gethsemane;
Let me be condemned with Thee and whipped,
And of the cup of sorrow take my sip;
Let me wear Thy holy crown of thorns,
Along with Thee endure the soliders’ scorns.
Let me wear Thy shameful scarlet cloak,
And let me hear the words that Pilate spoke.
Let me, Lord, embrace the cross with Thee,
And bear it by Thy side to Calvary.
Let my hands, like Thine, be nailed down,
And let my grievous wailing cries resound.
Let me, nailed upon the cross, be raised,
And hear the tumult of the crowd’s dispraise.
Let me, Lord, with Thee be crucified,
And for Thee die, just as for me You died.
Mr. Patrick Archbold, co-editor of the lively and popular Creative Minority Report, also writes a column for the National Catholic Register. His latest column is an appeal for Pope Francis to regularize the status of the Society of Saint Pius X – not because Mr. Archbold agrees with the SSPX on every point, but because regularization would serve the cause of Christian unity that (we are led to believe) is a high priority for the Holy Father. The column was cleared in advance by the powers-that-be at the Register, posted, and quickly pulled down without explanation. In the interest of disseminating an important and persuasive message, I am reposting his column here.
By now, many of you have probably seen the Tony Palmer video last week that was so exciting to many. At a Protestant conference, Tony Palmer, an Anglican priest, brought along an iPhone video of greeting from Pope Francis. The subject of the presentation and of the Pope’s recording was unity of Christians.
In his remarks, Pope Francis made the following statements to our separated brethren regarding the separation: “Separated because, it’s sin that has separated us, all our sins. The misunderstandings throughout history. It has been a long road of sins that we all shared in. Who is to blame? We all share the blame. We have all sinned. There is only one blameless, the Lord.”
It is certainly true. Regardless of the truth of Catholic doctrine, the Church has accepted its share of the blame for the misunderstanding that were allowed to deepen and harden, leading to centuries of separation.
When I heard this, something else written by Pope Francis’ predecessor came immediately to mind. In 2007, along with the issuance of the “motu proprio” Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI issued a letter explaining his reasoning. In that letter, he made the following statement.
“Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: ‘Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!’ (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”
It strikes me that this may be one of those critical moments in history to which His Holiness refers.
With the breakdown of discussion between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X at the end of the previous pontificate, the public mood during this first year of the current pontificate, and other internal events, traditional Catholics, both inside and outside the Church, have felt increasingly marginalized. Whether fair or true, I say without fear of contradiction that this is a prevailing sentiment.
This perception of marginalization has manifested itself in increasingly strident and frankly disrespectful rhetoric on the part of some traditionalists and their leaders.
I have great concern that without the all the generosity that faith allows by the leaders of the Church, that this separation, this wound on the Church, will become permanent. In fact, without such generosity, I fully expect it. Such permanent separation and feeling of marginalization will likely separate more souls than just those currently associated with the SSPX.
I have also come to believe that Pope Francis’ is exactly the right Pope to do it. In his address to the evangelicals, he makes clear his real concern for unity.
So here is what I am asking. I ask the Pope to apply that wide generosity to the SSPX and to normalize relations and their standing within the Church. I am asking the Pope to do this even without the total agreement on the Second Vatican Council. Whatever their disagreements, surely this can be worked out over time with the SSPX firmly implanted in the Church. I think that the Church needs to be more generous toward unity than to insist upon dogmatic adherence to the interpretation of a non-dogmatic council. The issues are real, but they must be worked out with our brothers at home and not with a locked door.
Further, Pope Francis’ commitment to the aims of the Second Vatican Council is unquestioned. Were he to be generous in such a way, nobody would ever interpret it to be a rejection of the Council. How could it be? This perception may not have been the case in the last pontificate. Pope Francis is uniquely suited to this magnanimous moment.
I believe this generosity is warranted and standard practice in the Church. We do not insist on religious orders that may have strayed even further in the other direction sign a copy of Pascendi Dominici Gregis before they can be called Catholic again. So please let us not insist on the corollary for the SSPX. Must we insist on more for a group that doctrinally would not have raised an eyebrow a mere fifty years ago? I pray not.
Give them canonical status and organizational structure that will protect them. Bring them home, for their sake and the sake of countless other souls. I truly believe that such generosity will be repaid seven-fold. Pope Benedict has done so much of the heavy lifting already, all that is required is just a little more.
Please Holy Father, let us not let this moment pass and this rift grow into a chasm. Make this generous offer and save the Church from further division. Do this so that none of your successors will ever say, “If only we had done more.”
The town of Durham, California, was founded by Robert W. Durham of Virginia, who inherited 240 acres of Rancho Esquon from his business partner, Samuel Neal. The town was planned by Robert Durham and his nephew, William W. Durham, in 1870 when the railroad came through, as a transportation and supply center for local farming operations. The Durham family and the town’s early pioneers are buried in an old cemetery just a few miles outside of town. I lived about a mile away from the cemetery in my boyhood and remember the place as being overgrown, neglected, and abandoned. According to a group of concerned citizens who restored the cemetery:
“In 1978, the defunct Christian Service Society deeded the cemetery to a private family. Over the years, weeds, brush and huge bushes of poison oak were rampant throughout the gravesites, and it became impossible for families to place flowers or visit the final resting place of their loved ones. When building materials appeared on top of the gravesites, the community of Durham became outraged. Residents banded together in a joint effort to protect and defend this sacred and historic site. In 1994, after many years of conflict and legal proceedings, the Butte County Board of Supervisors initiated eminent domain proceedings and subsequently approved an agreement designating the newly formed ‘Durham Cemetery Preservation Association, Inc.’ as caretakers. The non-profit Association was given the responsibility for restoration, repair and maintenance of the cemetery.
The monumental task of cleaning up years of neglect and disrepair was started immediately. The cleanup has revealed beautiful marble and granite grave markers which have not seen the light of day for decades. Other stones were repaired, and families contributed toward obtaining new stones for those missing or destroyed. Records of burials at Durham Cemetery had long since disappeared, so research was conducted to document evidence of those buried there.”
I had about 30 minutes to kill this afternoon and stopped by the old cemetery to take a few photographs. The place is now properly cared for and is obviously being used again by local families. The large monuments of the Durham family are the most most prominent graves in the cemetery, as they should be. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Today is Septuagesima Sunday in the traditional Roman rite. The editor of the blog “A Foretaste of Wisdom” reflects on the incomprehensible suppression of this season in the Novus Ordo Missae:
“In the new missal of Pope Paul VI, the preparatory, pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima has been completely eliminated, on the grounds that it would be difficult for the faithful to understand why Septuagesima, like Lent, is a penitential season. But in fact, as Dr. Pristas stresses, the traditional understanding of the difference between Septuagesima and Lent is that the latter is a season of obligatory penance, whereas the former is a season of simply devotional penance, for the faithful to prepare themselves for the obligatory penances of Lent. This distinction was overlooked by the authors of the new missal. And so they paid no regard to the eminent fittingness of a period of spiritual preparation for the coming penitential season. Consequently, they opted to suppress this season altogether.
Along with this suppression came the loss of a beautiful set of collects which were prayed at the three Sunday Masses of this season. These prayers express a humble anticipation of the purgative processes of Lent, referring explicitly to the sinfulness of man and his deserved punishment, the need to be freed from the bonds of sin, the insufficiency of man’s own efforts, and the need for God’s protection. There is also a reference to St. Paul in the collect of Sexagesima Sunday, on which the Teacher of the Gentiles is specially honored. All three of these prayers are lost in the Novus Ordo.
In what way was this loss of a centuries-old tradition conducive the genuine spiritual benefit of the Church?”
Originally posted on New Sherwood:
“It should be no surprise to find kinship at the foundation of community life. For cousins, as I’ve said, provide you that straight passport into a community.
A cousin always has to choose you to play on his team, though he doesn’t necessarily have to choose you first; you can waltz into your cousin’s house and ask to use the bathroom or get a drink of orange juice; you can just show up unannounced and pester him into a game of rummy. Some kids find it hard to make friends, but a cousin has to like you even if he doesn’t like you, and he comes readymade.
My cousins were quite an assortment: a very pretty girl for me to have a crush on, a fellow Cardinals fan and memorizer of statistics, a shy bully, an inveterate coquette (whom my father didn’t like at all, but I did). Some were sharp and some were dumb; some were good-looking because they looked like our family, and some were homely because they looked like our family; one was adopted, and a couple you’d swear must have been but weren’t. Want diversity? Check out the first cousins of a big family. Nothing is less clannish than a clan.
Those cousins were a regular proving-grounds for flirting, fighting, and teasing: all indispensable for a happy marriage. Even the cooperation among cousins of the same sex — we boys built a fort in the middle of the woods, only to see it wrecked by some other clan — helps in the forging of those friendships which have built every civilization that has ever existed.”
Another unintended effect of small families is, I think, a strange kind of misogyny and misanthropy. Dr. Esolen points out that when families average two children per household, as is approximately the current rate, 45% of children grow up without a sibling of the opposite sex, and 70% grow up without siblings of one sex or the other. In earlier times cousins might have filled the gap, but today the only kind of closeness most young people have with the opposite sex is not the kind of closeness, shall we say, that is good for them. Boys today learn how to be boys, and how to relate to girls, primarily from strangers, without any of the insights derived from a close family life, and without any of the behavioral constraints necessary to family life. This can be compensated for by exceptionally attentive and creative parents, but alas, most parents are not very exceptional, nor should society expect them to be. As a result we should not be surprised that so many young people are confused about their sexual identity, frustrated at the incoherence and unpredictability of social expectations, and otherwise dysfunctional in the face of sex differences that earlier generations considered normal.
The Holy Father is reported to have said in today’s General Audience:
“If you do not feel in need of God’s mercy, if you do not feel you are a sinner, then it’s better not to go to Mass, because we go to Mass because we are sinners and we want to receive the forgiveness of Jesus, to participate in His redemption, His forgiveness.”
Before you get too excited about this papal permission to skip Mass on Sunday, please recall the unchanged teaching of the Catholic Church:
2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.”117 “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”118
2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.119 Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.
2182 Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2183 “If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the Liturgy of the Word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families.”120
2192 “Sunday . . . is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church” (CIC, can. 1246 § 1). “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (CIC, can. 1247).
Furthermore, the Church teaches that deliberately skipping Mass is a mortal sin:
390. Is it a mortal sin not to hear Mass on a Sunday or a holyday of obligation?
A. It is a mortal sin not to hear Mass on a Sunday or a holyday of obligation, unless we are excused for a serious reason. They also commit a mortal sin who, having others under their charge, hinder them from hearing Mass, without a sufficient reason.
Is one excused from the Sunday obligation if he does not “feel the need of God’s mercy”? Absolutely not. Attending Mass on Sunday is an obligation that falls upon all Catholics, no matter how they happen to be feeling about God’s mercy. Indeed it is even more important to attend Mass if one doesn’t feel himself to be a sinner, or especially in need of God’s mercy, because the graces of the Mass can move a soul to contrition. Sinners have been converted at Mass by means of the homily, the readings, even the words of the liturgy itself – not to mention the presence of Christ and the prayers of the faithful. Catholics who don’t feel themselves to be in need of God’s mercy should be all the more encouraged to attend Sunday Mass, not to commit a mortal sin by staying home.
Originally posted on New Sherwood:
The other day I came across the following statement on a Catholic blog:
“Allow me to stress the most important thing for any Catholic to know regarding the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. First and foremost, as Catholic Christians, our faith is NOT based on this historical accuracy of the Old Testament at all. Our faith is based on the historical accuracy of the New Testament alone. The Old Testament simply serves as a historical, religious and cultural context in which to interpret the New Testament. That is all. So as Catholic Christians, we don’t need the Old Testament to be 100% historically accurate to have faith in Jesus Christ and the writings of the New Testament.
It is the opinion of this blogger that the events of the Old Testament probably do represent actual historical events, starting with the life of Abraham (about Genesis chapter 12) onward. Prior to the life of Abraham, the style of the Book of Genesis is different. It has an almost mythic quality, as if it were recounting stories and legends. From Abraham (chapter 12) onward, Genesis takes on the form of a historical narrative, which is why I believe it is an account of an actual historic event. “