St. Stephen on interreligious dialogue

The liturgical calendar itself is a valuable safeguard of orthodoxy. As we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen Protomartyr today, we should read and reflect on his speech to the Jews (“proselytism”, anyone?), as recorded in the book of Acts, which he delivered before being stoned to death. But first, let’s recall that the Second Vatican Council, along with the teachings of every pope in the post-conciliar period, present a message very much contrary to that of the divinely inspired words of St. Stephen. The most aggressive and least nuanced of such statements can be found in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:

“As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word … God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism.”

“Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’, and thus be ‘associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’. But due to the sacramental dimension of sanctifying grace, God’s working in them tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying towards God. While these lack the meaning and efficacy of the sacraments instituted by Christ, they can be channels which the Holy Spirit raises up in order to liberate non-Christians from atheistic immanentism or from purely individual religious experiences. The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs.”

Let us turn now, in stark contrast, to holy Stephen’s severe reprimand of the Jews for their turning to idols, their rejection of the prophets, and especially their betrayal and murder of the “Just One”:

“And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.  And God turned, and gave them up to serve the host of heaven, as it is written in the books of the prophets: Did you offer victims and sacrifices to me for forty years, in the desert, O house of Israel? And you took unto you the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Rempham, figures which you made to adore them. And I will carry you away beyond Babylon. The tabernacle of the testimony was with our fathers in the desert, as God ordained for them, speaking to Moses, that he should make it according to the form which he had seen. Which also our fathers receiving, brought in with Jesus, into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David.

Who found grace before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built him a house. Yet the most High dwelleth not in houses made by hands, as the prophet saith: Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool. What house will you build me? saith the Lord; or what is the place of my resting? Hath not my hand made all these things?

You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you also. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.”

Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed with their teeth at him. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him. And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, invoking, and saying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord. And Saul was consenting to his death.

Apparently, St. Stephen wasn’t a big fan of interreligious dialogue or non-judgmentalism. Perhaps if he had tried dialogue instead of proselytizing, things would have been more comfortable for him. But the Second Vatican Council came too late for poor Stephen!

It has been said that revolutionaries always work to attack historical memory. History contains lessons that impede revolutionary “progress”. And if history cannot be forgotten by everyone, then it must be revised and re-interpreted. And so, when a Modernist commends the celebration of St. Stephen, he will “re-interpret” the saint in various creative ways more in tune with the times, perhaps like this:

“That the Church remembers Saint Stephen today is no accident.  Strip away the sentimentality that obscures the story of Christ’s Nativity and one realizes that Christ came into this world, and from the first instant he showed his infant face, he was opposed.  Recall yesterday’s excerpt from the magnificent prologue to the Gospel of John which testifies that Christ came to his own (us) and his own (again, that means us) ‘knew him not.’

But worse than this- we refused him.”

Whoa! No, Fr. Grunow, “his own” in the context of John 1:11 does not mean “us” – it means principally the Jews, and to a lesser extent it may refer to unbelieving Gentiles. It absolutely does not refer to Christians. Likewise, St. Stephen’s reprimand condemns the unbelieving Jews, not Christians. It still amazes me that teachers like Fr. Grunow and Pope Francis, while referring to sacred Scripture, just assume they will not be called out on their sleight-of-hand! I say “sleight-of-hand” reluctantly, but I have to believe that these learned men know well the Scriptures and the fathers, and are certainly familiar with the Church’s traditional understanding, but have nevertheless chosen to hide the truth from everyone.

Pope Francis and the value of contemplation

“Be deeply convinced of the pre-eminence of the interior life over the active life. You are called to conquer the world spiritually … without becoming part of the world. St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminds the apostle: ‘If you are wise, be a reservoir and not a canal’, because a canal simply lets water run through it without retaining any, while a reservoir begins by filling up before letting itself overflow … By remaining faithful to your meditation, you will nourish this interior life and preserve it from being harmed by your activities.” 

– Pope Paul VI, allocution to the Brazilian College, April 28, 1964

“In the history of the Church there have been some mistakes made on the path towards God. Some have believed that the Living God, the God of Christians can be found on the path of meditation, indeed that we can reach higher through meditation. That’s dangerous! How many are lost on that path, never to return. Yes perhaps they arrive at knowledge of God, but not of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. They do not arrive at that. It is the path of the Gnostics, no? They are good, they work, but it is not the right path. It’s very complicated and does not lead to a safe harbor.”

Pope Francis, Mass at Casa Santa Marta, July 3, 2013

The pontificate of Pope Francis is significant for its extreme impatience with “passive” spirituality, by which is meant spirituality that is too “vertical” and focused on God alone. Also rejected by this papacy is a rudely caricatured “neopelagian” spirituality, perceived as too much concerned with personal holiness and morality, for purposes of pleasing God rather than serving man (i.e., encountering God in “the other”). This impatience is consistent with the anthropocentric trajectory of Modernism, a jealous idol that places man at the center of all religion. But as Pope Paul VI (of all people!) reminds us, the corporal works of mercy – if they are to be meaningful and sanctifying – must be the result of personal holiness and a God-centered life. Otherwise their benefits are merely temporal.

Pope Francis, I’m afraid, discourages that which is most essential to the Christian life. The somewhat paradoxical result will be a world in which the corporal works of mercy are far less common. The Anglican C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Aim at Heaven at you will get Earth thrown in; aim at Earth and you will get neither.”

The Modernist as Reformer

From the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis of Pope St. Pius X, September 8, 1907:

38. It remains for Us now to say a few words about the Modernist as reformer. From all that has preceded, it is abundantly clear how great and how eager is the passion of such men for innovation. In all Catholicism there is absolutely nothing on which it does not fasten. They wish philosophy to be reformed, especially in the ecclesiastical seminaries. They wish the scholastic philosophy to be relegated to the history of philosophy and to be classed among absolute systems, and the young men to be taught modern philosophy which alone is true and suited to the times in which we live. They desire the reform of theology: rational theology is to have modern philosophy for its foundation, and positive theology is to be founded on the history of dogma. As for history, it must be written and taught only according to their methods and modern principles. Dogmas and their evolution, they affirm, are to be harmonized with science and history. In the Catechism no dogmas are to be inserted except those that have been reformed and are within the capacity of the people. Regarding worship, they say, the number of external devotions is to he reduced, and steps must be taken to prevent their further increase, though, indeed, some of the admirers of symbolism are disposed to be more indulgent on this head. They cry out that ecclesiastical government requires to be reformed in all its branches, but especially in its disciplinary and dogmatic departments. They insist that both outwardly and inwardly it must be brought into harmony with the modern conscience which now wholly tends towards democracy; a share in ecclesiastical government should therefore be given to the lower ranks of the clergy and even to the laity, and authority which is too much concentrated should be decentralized. The Roman Congregations and especially the index and the Holy Office, must be likewise modified. The ecclesiastical authority must alter its line of conduct in the social and political world; while keeping outside political organizations it must adapt itself to them in order to penetrate them with its spirit. With regard to morals, they adopt the principle of the Americanists, that the active virtues are more important than the passive, and are to be more encouraged in practice. They ask that the clergy should return to their primitive humility and poverty, and that in their ideas and action they should admit the principles of Modernism; and there are some who, gladly listening to the teaching of their Protestant masters, would desire the suppression of the celibacy of the clergy. What is there left in the Church which is not to be reformed by them and according to their principles?

Criticizing the Pope: An F.A.Q.

Long-time readers will recall that I tend to latch on to certain issues and ride them out for a while. Previous “obsessions” include the California homeschooling crisis, the FLDS crackdown and kidnapping, the California same-sex “marriage” saga, and not a few others. So, for a little while, your humble blogmaster tends to look like a “one trick pony”. (I was going to say “a one trick pony beating a dead horse”, but those metaphors don’t mix well.)

This style has its drawbacks, and I’m sure it gets tiresome for some readers. But it has the advantage of clarifying my own thoughts, and hopefully engaging the subject at a deeper level than you’ll find on most blogs.

With the Pope Francis crisis – yes, Pope Francis is a crisis – many issues are percolating, lots of questions are being asked, and orthodox Catholics are being forced to re-evaluate their customary approach to the papacy (and to much else besides).  Therefore I decided to put together a short list of Frequently Asked Questions for the purpose of sorting through some of these issues.

1. Why are you criticizing the pope? Don’t you believe he is the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter, the Supreme Pontiff to whom you owe filial respect and obedience?

This question is the 800 lb gorilla for good Catholics. The pope is our father in the Faith – the word pope literally means “father” – and to us he is also, in the words of St. Catherine of Siena, our “sweet Christ on earth”. A good son always gives his father the benefit of the doubt. A good son inculcates a habit of trust and deference towards his father. If his father has certain undeniable faults, a good son tries to overlook them, to put the best possible construction on them, even to conceal them from his father’s enemies who would exploit them. That would mean not alerting his father’s other children to those same faults, which they may not have noticed. That would certainly mean not blogging about those faults to the whole world. For a Catholic blogger to publish a series of articles that is critical of the Holy Father is an extraordinary thing, to the point where it is perfectly reasonable at first glance to assume the worst of the blogger and the best of the pope.

All of the above is true. And if it’s true for ordinary families, it’s even more true for the family that is the Catholic Church. Personality defects of every kind should be overlooked in a pope. Practical incompetence in governing, if it exists, should also be overlooked in a pope (and quietly remedied by those who are in a position to help). To a fairly large extent, even moral failings should be overlooked in a pope and hidden from the public. A certain amount of doctrinal error should be overlooked in a pope – so long as these errors are few, innocently held, and not widely promulgated. Now then, it might happen that a particular fault is so public and egregious that it is impossible to ignore. Still, if a Catholic must oppose his pope in some matter, it should be done with gentleness and filial respect, with every effort to minimize the scandal and to quickly repair the Holy Father’s compromised authority.

Sometimes, though, tragic circumstances require extraordinary measures. A natural family might find itself burdened with a father whose cumulative defects pose a grave threat to its members – let’s say he gambles away the family’s livelihood and inheritance – and so a good son may need to warn his relatives, who might otherwise come to harm, while taking measures to defend the family’s inheritance. The Catholic Church, too, might be faced with a pope whose acts are similarly dangerous, and a good Catholic may need to alert his brothers, lest they too come to harm, while taking measures to protect the Church’s inheritance.

We face just such a tragedy today with Pope Francis. We should pray and fast that the Lord would prevent the worst, and that public opposition would no longer be necessary, but apart from divine intervention it seems that at least some of us should be speaking out.

2. Why are you trying to be “more Catholic than the pope”? Why don’t you just trust him and go with the flow?

It should be obvious that the Church is larger than the pope, and that Catholic dogma is larger than papal authority. If the Church could be reduced to papal authority, then popes would never bother to teach Catholic doctrine as objectively and universally true. When I became a Catholic, I made the Tridentine Profession of Faith as follows:

I, ——-, with a firm faith believe and profess all and every one of the things contained in that Creed which the holy Roman Church makes use of: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,” etc. [The Nicene Creed]

I most steadfastly admit and embrace apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions, and all other observance and constitutions of the same Church.

I also admit the holy Scriptures, according to that sense which our holy mother Church has held and does hold, to which it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

I also profess that there are truly and properly seven sacraments of the new law, instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord, and necessary for the salvation of mankind, though not all for ever one, to wit: baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and matrimony; and that they confer grace; and that these, baptism, confirmation, and ordination cannot be reiterated without sacrilege. I also receive and admit the received and approved ceremonies of the Catholic Church, used in the solemn administration of the aforesaid sacraments.

I embrace and receive all and every one of the things which have been defined and declared in the holy Council of Trent concerning original sin and justification.

I profess, likewise, that in the mass there is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that in the most holy sacrament of the eucharist there is truly, really and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is made a change of the whole essence of the bread into the body, and of the whole essence of the wine into the blood; which change the Catholic Church calls transubstantiation.

I also confess that under either kind alone [either the bread or the cup] Christ is received whole and entire, and a true sacrament.

I firmly hold that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful. Likewise, that the saints reigning with Christ are to be honoured and invoked, and that they offer up prayers to God for us, and that their relics are to be had in veneration.

I most firmly assert that the images of Christ, and of the perpetual Virgin the Mother of God, and also of other saints, ought to be had and retained, and that due honor and veneration are to be given them. I also affirm that the power of indulgences was left by Christ in the Church, and that the use of them is most wholesome to Christian people.

I acknowledge the holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church for the mother and mistress of all churches; and I promise and swear true obedience to the Bishop of Rome, successor to St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and Vicar of Jesus Christ.

I likewise undoubtingly receive and profess all other things delivered, defined, and declared by the Sacred Canons and General Councils, particularly by the holy Council of Trent; and I condemn, reject, and anathematize all things contrary thereto, and all heresies which the Church has condemned, rejected, and anathematized.

I do, at this present, freely profess and truly hold this true Catholic faith, without which no one can be saved; and I promise most constantly to retain and confess the same entire and inviolate, with God’s assistance, to the end of my life. And I will take care, as far as in me lies, that it shall be held, taught, and preached by my subjects, or by those the care of whom shall appertain to me in my office. This, I promise, vow, and swear – so help me God, and these holy Gospels of God.

These are promises I intend to keep. While this Profession does include a promise of “true obedience” to the Bishop of Rome, it is assumed that “true” obedience can never mean violating any other part of this Profession, such as the vow to “… undoubtingly receive and profess all other things delivered, defined, and declared by the Sacred Canons and General Councils, particularly by the holy Council of Trent” and to “… condemn, reject, and anathematize all things contrary thereto, and all heresies which the Church has condemned, rejected, and anathematized.” If obedience to Pope Francis means that one does not condemn, reject, or anathematize the heresy of Modernism (to use just one example), then such obedience cannot be “true” obedience.

The evidence is overwhelming that not only is Pope Francis in the grip of Modernist errors, but he is aggressively communicating these errors to the Church and to the world – although, thanks be to God, without the pretense of magisterial authority.  Furthermore he is effectively diminishing the Church’s doctrinal, moral, spiritual and liturgical patrimony in the lives of the faithful, and his administrative actions promise more of the same. I am not concerned with his choice of shoes, car, residence, or vestments; neither am I particularly bothered by his abrasive manners, his simple style of preaching, his lack of theological acumen, or even his garrulous “off the cuff” spontaneity. I believe that he is sincere, not malicious, and that he believes himself to be doing what is best for the Church. But the fact is that the Church is threatened with serious harm by the actions of this pontiff.

Do I think of myself as “more Catholic than the pope”? That’s the wrong question. The question is whether I am a faithful Catholic, period, and whether being a Catholic in my particular state of life justifies speaking up in a crisis like this.

3. What do you hope to accomplish by blogging about this?

I pray that God directs the right people to read it, and steers the wrong people away from it. I hope that those who do read this blog will be sufficiently alarmed to take action of some kind, to resist error and promote the truth exactly as the magisterium of the Church has taught for centuries. I hope that some will be motivated to attach themselves to orthodox parishes and chapels where enthusiasm for Pope Francis doesn’t eclipse the Church’s priority of the salvation of souls. I hope that a few men of influence will be emboldened to address these errors coming from Rome with far greater wisdom, depth, and clarity than I am capable of doing. Finally, I dare to hope that somehow this blog contributes to helping members of the hierarchy – priests and bishops – understand the magnitude of this crisis, so they can respond to these errors in their parishes and dioceses even if they cannot speak directly to the crisis in a public way.

4. Aren’t you afraid of pushing unstable readers towards sedevacantism?

I suppose that is a danger, but it doesn’t justify silence in my view. Exposing the abuses of a bad government could push unstable minds towards anarchism or libertarianism, but the problems still need to be addressed. Besides, nothing I have written suggests that sedevacantism is a viable option at this point.

5. You’re starting to sound like a Lefebvrist. What do you think of the SSPX?

We attend an SSPX chapel once or twice per month. My thinking is evolving with experience and reading. The SSPX is a mixed bag, to be sure, but their raison d’être seems entirely plausible, Bishop Fellay impresses me greatly, and I appreciate the measured tone of their recent statements. Every day that passes under this pontificate I grow more and more thankful for Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

“The Greatest Schism”

PenitentWithSkullThis article from Unam Sanctam Catholicam is simply a must-read for any Catholic with a two-bit theological opinion.

I myself am chastened. Severely.

Please read the whole thing:

“This post’s title does not refer to the Greek schism, nor to the Great Western Schism of the 15th century, nor even to the tremendous modernist crisis within the Church today. The schism I am referring to is the unfortunate fracture between theology and ascesis, between spirituality and mortification. The more I reflect upon it, the more I am convinced that this division is at the heart of all our other problems, even the modernist crisis …”

Pope Francis is more right than wrong on economics

Thomas Storck explains:

“It is hard to imagine how a Catholic would presume to express any opinions on social or economic matters who has not actually studied these (earlier papal) documents and made their teaching his own. But in any case, I hope that those who have felt alarm at the Church’s latest social document can rest assured that Pope Francis is simply continuing the constant teaching of his predecessors, successors of St. Peter, who will without any doubt teach that same doctrine until the end of the age.”

On not judging others

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong for a pope to use harsh and judgmental language when appropriate. Some of our popes did, at times, use excoriating language and even insults against the enemies of God, as did Our Lord Himself. All to the good. It’s a matter of prudence and, of course, truth. It’s very important that insults be properly directed and oriented toward the ultimate good of all. They should also be used sparingly.

But we are not accustomed to popes speaking so harshly in this Age of Tolerance and Non-Judgmentalism! I don’t remember John Paul II or Benedict XVI using harsh or insulting language, even when it came to the enemies of the Faith. However, Pope Francis has already developed quite a reputation for insulting those with whom he disagrees, to the point where The Pope Francis Little Book of Insults needs daily updating.

This morning’s homily is a prime example:

Christians who are allergic to preachers always have a reason to criticise but the truth is that they are afraid to open up to the Holy Spirit. And this is how they become sad, Pope Francis said at this morning’s mass in St. Martha’s House, Vatican Radio reports.

In the Gospel passage chosen as today’s reading, Jesus “compares the generation of his time to those children who are always unhappy, who do not know how to play happily, who always refuse the invitation of others: if they play, they do not dance, and if they sing its a song of lament, they do not cry … nothing satisfies them.” Pope Francis explained that those people “were not open to the Word of God.” They refuse “the messenger, not the message.” They reject John the Baptist, who “neither eats nor drink,” saying he is “a man possessed”. They reject Jesus because they say he “it is a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners.” 

They always have a reason to criticize the preacher: “The people of that time preferred to take refuge in a more elaborate religion: in the moral precepts, such as the group of Pharisees; in political compromise, as the Sadducees; in social revolution, as the zealots; in agnostic spirituality, such as Essenes. They were [happy] with their clean, well-polished system. The preacher, however, was not [so pleased]. Jesus reminded them: ‘Your fathers did the same with the prophets.’ The people of God have a certain allergy to the preachers of the Word: they persecuted the prophets, [even] killed them.”

“These people claimed to accept the truth of revelation, “but the preacher, preaching, no. They prefer a life caged in their precepts, in their compromises, in their revolutionary plans or in their [disembodied] spirituality,” Francis said.

“These Christians are closed, they are trapped, sad … these Christians are not free,” Francis said. “Why? Because they are afraid of the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which comes through preaching. This, then, is the scandal of preaching, of which St. Paul spoke: the scandal of preaching that ends in the scandal of the Cross. That God should speak to us through men with limits, sinful men, scandalizes: and what scandalizes even more is that that God should speak to us and save us by way of a man who says he is the Son of God but ends [his life] as a criminal. That scandalizes.”

“These sad Christians,” Pope Francis said, “do not believe in the Holy Spirit, do not believe in the freedom that comes from preaching, which admonishes you, teaches you – slaps you, as well – but it is the very freedom that makes the Church grow.”

“Seeing these children who are afraid to dance, to cry, [who are] afraid of everything, who ask for certainty in all things, I think of these sad Christians, who always criticize the preachers of the Truth, because they are afraid to open the door to the Holy Spirit. Francis concluded the mass by inviting those present to pray “for them, and pray also for ourselves, that we do not become sad Christians, cutting off the freedom of the Holy Spirit to come to us through the scandal of preaching.”

Now then, don’t you feel inspired?

Cardinal Burke: EG “not a part of the papal magisterium”

This is a revealing interview with one of the best prelates in Rome today. Note Cardinal Burke’s tangible discomfort in discussing certain topics, the kind of discomfort exhibited by men who are reluctantly constrained by their own honesty. The most important statement of the interview is that Evangelii Gaudium is not, in his opinion, intended to be “a part of the papal magisterium”, which he repeats emphatically, as if to reassure the Catholic world. The interview begins at around 9:00 minutes.

HT: Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

“New avenues, new paths … new meaning.”

Mr. Louie Verrecchio documents for us the obsession with novelty found in Evangelii Gaudium, which Pope St. Pius X describes below with searing accuracy – Oh, how we need a Council of Vigilance!

“We decree, therefore, that in every diocese a council of this kind, which We are pleased to name ‘the Council of Vigilance,’ be instituted without delay … They shall watch most carefully for every trace and sign of Modernism both in publications and in teaching, and, to preserve from it the clergy and the young, they shall take all prudent, prompt and efficacious measures. Let them combat novelties of words remembering the admonitions of Leo XIII. (Instruct. S.C. NN. EE. EE., 27 Jan., 1902): It is impossible to approve in Catholic publications of a style inspired by unsound novelty which seems to deride the piety of the faithful and dwells on the introduction of a new order of Christian life, on new directions of the Church, on new aspirations of the modern soul, on a new vocation of the clergy, on a new Christian civilisation.” – Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi 55