New Sherwood

The drownings at Nantes


The terror attacks in Paris have turned the thoughts of many to France and the sordid history of the French republic. I am always a little shocked when I read detailed accounts of the French revolution.  The atrocities are so recent (just 200+ years) – and so obviously motivated by secular ideas still widely held – that it all hits very close to home.

I don’t usually think of the present French regime as being unapologetically in continuity with Robespierre and Jacobinism, but maybe I’m wrong about that. In any case, it probably wouldn’t take much for our most “progressive” leaders to excuse or even condone these atrocities. Just a manufactured “crisis” that renders the “intolerant” intolerable.

Yesterday, November 16, commemorated the first mass drowning of 90 Catholic priests in the Loire River in 1793. The total number of priests, nuns, and other “royalist sympathizers” cruelly executed by drowning in subsequent weeks is unknown, but scholarly estimates range from 1800 to 9000. Read the Wiki article for details.

November 17, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Faith, History | 3 Comments

Terror in Paris

This is an important video. The Remnant gently reminds us that our modern struggle with Islam is rooted in the spiritual crisis of the West and the auto-implosion of the Catholic Church. In that analysis, Michael Matt is spot-on.

It doesn’t seem to me that he is taking a pacifist stance, but he does seem to suggest that if the West’s response to Islamism isn’t overtly and militantly Catholic, then it’s more or less a waste of time. I’m not quite on board with that, but I will say that any country whose military is institutionally hostile to Christ and which is, moreover, riddled with women and homosexuals, is going to have a hard time winning God’s favor and protection.

November 17, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Faith, Catholic News, The Catholic Crisis | 1 Comment

Why the Church needs the Society of Saint Pius X


There is one reason – and only one reason – why the SSPX is does not enjoy a normal canonical relationship with Rome, despite years of negotiations: Bishop Bernard Fellay will not relinquish the Society’s freedom to defend the Faith in a public way. The other details had been worked out, but Rome wanted compromises that would have effectively silenced the SSPX when it came to proclaiming hard truths. It’s fair to say that Bishop Fellay has been fully vindicated by recent events. The SSPX is the only priestly society, and Bishop Fellay the only Catholic prelate, capable of addressing Pope Francis in so direct and public a manner as this:

Declaration Concerning the Synod on the Family

The Final Report of the second session of the Synod on the Family, published on October 24, 2015, far from showing a consensus of the Synod Fathers, is the expression of a compromise between profoundly divergent positions. Of course we can read in it some doctrinal reminders about marriage and the Catholic family, but we note also some regrettable ambiguities and omissions, and most importantly several breaches opened up in discipline in the name of a relativistic pastoral “mercy”.  The general impression that this document gives is of confusion, which will not fail to be exploited in a sense contrary to the constant teaching of the Church. 

This is why it seems to us necessary to reaffirm the truth received from Christ (1) about the role of the pope and the bishops and (2) about marriage and the family. We are doing this in the same spirit that prompted us to send to Pope Francis a petition before the second session of this Synod. 

1. The Role of the Pope and the Bishops[1] 

As sons of the Catholic Church, we believe that the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter, is the Vicar of Christ, and at the same time that he is the head of the whole Church. His power is a jurisdiction in the proper sense. With regard to this power, the pastors, as well as the faithful of the particular Churches, separately or all together, even in a Council, in a Synod, or in episcopal conferences, are obliged by a duty of hierarchical subordination and genuine obedience. 

God has arranged things in such a way that, by maintaining unity of communion with the Bishop of Rome and by professing the same faith, the Church of Christ might be one flock under one Shepherd. God’s Holy Church is divinely constituted as a hierarchical society, in which the authority that governs the faithful comes from God, through the pope and the bishops who are subject to him.[2] 

When the supreme papal Magisterium has issued the authentic expression of revealed truth, in dogmatic matters as well as in disciplinary matters, it is not within the province of ecclesiastical organs vested with a lesser degree of authority—such as bishops’ conferences—to introduce modifications to it. 

The meaning of the sacred dogmas that must be preserved perpetually is the one that the Magisterium of the pope and the bishops has taught once and for all, and it is never lawful to deviate from it. Hence the Church’s pastoral ministry, when it practices mercy, must begin by remedying the poverty of ignorance, by giving souls the expression of the truth that will save them.

In the hierarchy thus instituted by God, in matters of faith and magisterial teaching, revealed truths were entrusted as a Sacred Deposit to the apostles and to their successors, the pope and the bishops, so that they might guard it faithfully and teach it authoritatively. The sources that contain this Deposit are the books of Sacred Scripture and the non-written traditions which, after being received by the apostles from Christ Himself or handed on by the apostles under the dictation of the Holy Ghost, have come down to us. 

When the teaching Church declares the meaning of these truths contained in Scripture and Tradition, she imposes it with authority on the faithful, so that they might believe it as being revealed by God. It is false to say that the job of the pope and the bishops is to ratify what the sensus fidei or the common experience of the ‘People of God’ suggests to them. 

As we already wrote in our Petition to the Holy Father: “Our uneasiness is caused by something that Saint Pius X condemned in his Encyclical Pascendi:  an alignment of dogma with supposed contemporary demands. Pius X and you, Holy Father, received the fullness of the authority to teach, sanctify and govern in obedience to Christ, who is the Head and the Shepherd of the flock in every age and in every place, whose faithful vicar the pope should be on this earth. The object of a dogmatic condemnation could not possibly become, with the passage of time, an authorized pastoral practice.” 

This is what prompted Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to write in his Declaration dated November 21, 1974: “No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for nineteen centuries. ‘But though we,’ says St. Paul, ‘or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.’”[3]

2. Marriage and the Catholic Family

As for marriage, God provided for the increase of the human race by instituting marriage, which is the stable and perpetual union of a man and a woman.[4] The marriage of baptized persons is a sacrament, since Christ elevated it to that dignity; marriage and the family are therefore institutions that are both divine and natural. 

The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, which no human intention should prevent by performing acts contrary to it. The secondary end of marriage is the mutual assistance that the spouses offer to each other as well as the remedy to concupiscence. 

Christ established that the unity of marriage would be definitive, both for Christians and for all mankind. This unity possesses an indissoluble character, such that the conjugal bond can never be broken, neither by the will of the two parties nor by any human authority: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”[5] In the case of the sacramental marriage of baptized persons, this unity and indissolubility are further explained by the fact that it is the sign of Christ’s union with His Bride. 

Anything that human beings may decree or do against the unity or indissolubility of marriage is not in keeping with the requirements of nature or with the good of human society. Moreover, faithful Catholics have the serious duty not to join together solely by the bond of a civil marriage, without taking into account the religious marriage prescribed by the Church. 

The reception of the Eucharist (or sacramental Communion) requires the state of sanctifying grace and union with Christ through charity; it increases this charity and at the same time signifies Christ’s love for the Church, which is united with Him as His only Spouse. Consequently, those who deliberately cohabit or even live together in an adulterous union, contrary to the laws God and of the Church, cannot be admitted to Eucharistic Communion because they are giving the bad example of a serious lack of justice and charity, and they are considered public sinners: “He that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery.”[6] 

In order to receive absolution for one’s sins within the framework of the Sacrament of Penance, it is necessary to have the firm resolution to sin no more, and consequently those who refuse to put an end to their irregular situation cannot receive valid absolution.[7] 

In keeping with the natural law, man has a right to exercise his sexuality only within lawful marriage, while respecting the limits set by morality. This is why homosexuality contradicts natural and divine law. Unions entered into apart from marriage (cohabitation, adulterous, or even homosexual unions) are a disorder contrary to the requirements of the natural divine law and are therefore a sin; it is impossible to acknowledge therein any moral good whatsoever, even diminished. 

Given current errors and civil legislation against the sanctity of marriage and the purity of morals, the natural law allows no exceptions, because God in His infinite wisdom, when He gave His law, foresaw all cases and all circumstances, unlike human legislators. Therefore so-called situation ethics, whereby some propose to adapt the rules of conduct dictated by the natural law to the variable circumstances of different cultures, is inadmissible. The solution to problems of a moral order must not be decided solely by the consciences of the spouses of or their pastors, and the natural law is imposed on conscience as a rule of action. 

The Good Samaritan’s care for the sinner is manifested by a kind of mercy that does not compromise with his sin, just as the physician who wants to help a sick person recover his health effectively does not compromise with his sickness but helps him to get rid of it. One cannot emancipate oneself from Gospel teaching in the name of a subjectivist pastoral approach which, while recalling it in general, would abolish in on a case-by-case basis. One cannot grant to the bishops the faculty of suspending the law of the indissolubility of marriage ad casum, without running the risk of weakening the teaching of the Gospel and of fragmenting the authority of the Church. For, in this erroneous view, what is affirmed doctrinally could be denied pastorally, and what is forbidden de jure could be authorized de facto

In this utter confusion it is now up to the pope—in keeping with his responsibility, and within the limits set on him by Christ—to restate clearly and firmly the Catholic truth quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus,[8] and to keep this universal truth from being contradicted in practice locally. 

Following Christ’s counsel: vigilate et orate, we pray for the pope: oremus pro pontifice nostro Francisco, and we remain vigilant: non tradat eum in manus inimicorum ejus, so that God may not deliver him over to the power of his enemies. We implore Mary, Mother of the Church, to obtain for him the graces that will enable him to be the faithful steward of the treasures of her Divine Son. 

Menzingen, October 27, 2015
+ Bernard FELLAY
Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Faith, Catholic News, Pope Francis, The Catholic Crisis | 2 Comments

Petition: Abandon the Failed Synod!

Please sign this important petition and circulate as widely as possible.


Esteemed Synod Fathers,

We thank you for your witness to and defense of the truth of Matrimony and Family proclaimed by the Church, in fidelity to our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Ordinary Synod on the Family continues its work, confusion and scandal spread among the faithful. Catholics are concerned that some members of this body of apostolic successors, under the guidance of the Pope, are seeking to endorse homosexual relationships, effectively question the indissolubility of marriage, and permit the distribution of the Holy Eucharist to the unrepentant.

The current Instrumentum Laboris contains language in certain sections (§ 122 (52); §§ 124-125 (53); §§ 130-132 (55-56)) that is completely unacceptable from an orthodox Catholic point of view regarding divorce and attempted remarriage, homosexuality, and contraception. We have witnessed with profound sorrow the ongoing development of this crisis, beginning with last year’s extraordinary session in October, 2014, making it difficult to have confidence in the outcome of the Synod.

The irregular changes to the rules governing the current synodal process practically assure that the existing Instrumentum Laboris will be largely adopted. This revised process also appears to reject openness, transparency, and collegiality, and the committee drafting the final document of the Synod seemingly rejects any substantive input from the Synod fathers. We note with regret that the highly visible and widely adopted filial appeals and open letters have not been acknowledged, and have produced no discernable amendment by the Synod organizers. Several high-ranking Cardinals have brought concerns to the Pope, only to have them summarily dismissed as unworthy of consideration – with unfair accusations against those who are legitimately concerned that their voices will not be heard.

We fear, evidenced by all of the above, that the Ordinary Synod will attempt to recommend changes in teaching and pastoral practice that are contrary to the Gospel of Christ and the constant teaching of the Church on the sacred mystery of Catholic marriage and the nature of human sexuality. This would pose a clear and present danger to souls.

The Code of Canon Law 212 §3 states that the Catholic faithful “have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful…”

Therefore, we faithfully request that each and every faithful Catholic bishop at the Synod, having made every effort to resist these attacks on Christ’s teaching, if its direction remains unaltered and those faithful voices remain unheard, do his sacred duty and publicly retire from any further participation in the Synod before its conclusion so as to prevent greater scandal and confusion.

Those bishops who remain as participants, accepting this process and its outcome, must certainly bear responsibility for whatever confusion and sin may result among the Catholic faithful from what would be the disastrous fruits of the Synod.

October 14, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Faith, Pope Francis, The Catholic Crisis | 7 Comments

Francis, the Vandal Pope


There is just no excuse for Catholics pretending anymore. Pope Francis is a vandal – a man who so viscerally dislikes his own religion that he wants it defaced and disfigured beyond recognition. Jesus Christ is permitting this for our purification, as a test of our faith and love for Him. Furthermore we can be assured that Francis will not triumph ultimately: the holy Catholic Faith will survive until the end of time, and indeed will arise from the ashes in which we find it today. In the meantime, though, good men have an obligation to face reality and to oppose this destruction to the best of their abilities. Christopher Ferrara is to the point in his latest essay, “Vandals in Rome: Will They Sack Christian Marriage?”

Francis pays lip service to what he pointedly describes as the “the principle of the indissolubility of the matrimonial bond” (Mitis, Preface) while making it all but a dead letter in practice. But that is what Modernists always do: affirm what they deny while denying what they affirm. And Francis is a Modernist. Full stop. There, I’ve said it. We all know it, of course, but the time has come to declare it openly and explicitly so that as many other members of the faithful as possible may awaken to the clear and present danger this dictatorial, megalomaniacal visionary poses to the Church.

October 9, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Faith, Pope Francis, The Catholic Crisis | 3 Comments

St. Therese Chapel – Latin Mass in Chico, California

St. Therese Chapel in Chico, California, is served by priests of the Society of St. Pius X on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of every month. The traditional Latin Mass is celebrated at 10:00am on those Sundays. Holy Mass is also offered on some feast days when a priest is available. The street address of St. Therese Chapel is 1749 Spruce Avenue, Chico, CA 95926. For more information, please contact Mr. Mark Gruber at 530-899-7700.


Holy Thursday, 2015. 


Fr. David Nichols at the chapel’s crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 3, 2015. 

May 4, 2015 Posted by | California, Catholic Faith, Chico | 1 Comment

The new ultramontanes

Simon J. Dodd has made an important contribution to the exploding genre of “crisis literature” under the pontificate of Pope Francis:

“A year ago, I would not have resisted the label ‘ultramontane’—keen-eyed readers will notice that posts on this blog appear beneath a papal crest—and would have cheerfully recited the conventional wisdom that since Vatican I, ultramontanism has merged into Catholic orthodoxy. As we have seen, that is not quite right. For a while, though, it was right enough; that kind of sloppy thinking worked when Benedict XVI was pope, because there was no need to delineate carefully between the prerogatives proper to the papacy itself and the substantial deference and respect afforded to its distinguished occupant. But with Francis’ election to the See of Rome, it became necessary to think more precisely, and I have become convinced that in recent decades, in Millegan’s words, conservatives have ‘overstate[d] the role, powers, and privileges of the papacy.’”

June 5, 2014 Posted by | Catholic Faith, Pope Francis, The Catholic Crisis | 2 Comments

Catholic economic and social doctrine is not libertarian

Rorate Caeli has an excellent post up today – “Truth be told: The Traditional Catholic position on the economy is not Libertarian”.

“Very few indeed have been making the case, a case that is true, that the positions stated by Pope Francis on economic and social matters are much closer to the Traditional Catholic position on the economy and the State than not. Indeed, it can be said unhesitatingly that this is one area in which the Pope will find mostly allies in Traditional Catholics. They know by heart, also as victims of injustice (including within the Church), that the doctrine of the Church regarding individual persons, society and economic relations, and individuals faced with government, is one which privileges ‘justice’ as its foundational aspect.”

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Catholic Faith, Culture, Pope Francis | 4 Comments

Pope St. John XXIII’s Dramatic Call to Penance


This remarkable document seems to have been long forgotten. I stumbled upon it quite by accident and just read it for the first time. Here Pope John XXIII delivers an impassioned warning that unless the Catholic faithful – and especially the prelates of the Church – “perform salutary acts of penance” including “voluntary mortification”, the impending Council will not achieve its aims. Paenitentiam Agere is truly a breath of fresh air, and may help explain why indeed this Council failed so miserably, and why the Holy Father’s dying words were reported to have been “Stop the Council!”



Encyclical of Pope John XXIII on July 1, 1962

To His Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Local Ordinaries who are at Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.

Venerable Brethren, Health and Apostolic Benediction.

Doing penance for one’s sins is a first step towards obtaining forgiveness and winning eternal salvation. That is the clear and explicit teaching of Christ, and no one can fail to see how justified and how right the Catholic Church has always been in constantly insisting on this. She is the spokesman for her divine Redeemer. No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance.

2. That is why in Our Apostolic Constitution officially proclaiming the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council and urging the faithful to make a worthy spiritual preparation for this great event by prayer and other acts of Christian virtue, We included a warning to them not to overlook the practice of voluntary mortification.[1]

3. And now, as the day for the opening of the Second Vatican Council draws nearer, We wish to repeat that request of Ours and dwell on it at greater length. In doing so We are confident that We are serving the best interests of this most important and solemn assembly. For while admitting that Christ is present to His Church “all days, even unto the consummation of the world,”[2] we must think of Him as being even closer to men’s hearts and minds during the time of an Ecumenical Council, for He is present in the persons of His legates, of whom He said quite emphatically “He who hears you, hears me.”[3]

4. The Ecumenical Council will be a meeting of the successors of the Apostles, men to whom the Savior of the human race gave the command to teach all nations and urge them to observe all His commandments.[4] Its manifest task, therefore, will be publicly to reaffirm God’s rights over mankind, whom Christ’s blood has redeemed, and to reaffirm the duties of redeemed mankind towards its God and Savior.

5. Now we have only to open the sacred books of the Old and New Testament to be assured of one thing: it was never God’s will to reveal Himself in any solemn encounter with mortal men — to speak in human terms — without first calling them to prayer and penance. Indeed, Moses refused to give the Hebrews the tables of the Law until they hat expiated their crime of idolatry and ingratitude.[5]

6. So too the Prophets; they never wearied of exhorting the Israelites to make their prayers acceptable to God, their supreme Overlord, by offering them in a penitential spirit. Otherwise they would bring about their own exclusion from the plan of divine Providence, according to which God Himself was to be the King of His chosen people.

7. The most deeply impressive of these prophetic utterances is surely that warning of Joel which is constantly ringing in our ears in the course of the Lenten liturgy: “Now therefore, says the Lord, Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning. And rend your hearts and not your garments. . . Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord’s ministers, shall weep and say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people, and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them.”[6]

8. Nor did these calls to penance cease when the Son of God became incarnate. On the contrary, they became even more insistent. At the very outset of his preaching, John the Baptist proclaimed: “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[7] And Jesus inaugurated His saving mission in the same way. He did not begin by revealing the principal truths of the faith. First He insisted that the soul must repent of every trace of sin that could render it impervious to the message of eternal salvation: “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[8]

9. He was even more vehement than were the Prophets in His demands that those who listened to Him should undergo a complete change of heart and submit in perfect sincerity to all the laws of the Supreme God. “For behold,” He said “the kingdom of God is within you.”[9]

10. Indeed, penance is that counterforce which keeps the forces of concupiscence in check and repels them. In the words of Christ Himself, “the kingdom of heaven has been enduring violent assault, and the violent have been seizing it by force.”[10]

11. The Apostles held undeviatingly to the principles of their divine Master. When the Holy Spirit had descended on them in the form of fiery tongues, Peter expressed his invitation to the multitudes to seek rebirth in Christ and to accept the gifts of the most holy Paraclete in these words: “Do penance and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[11] Paul too, the teacher of the Gentiles, announced to the Romans in no uncertain terms that the kingdom of God did not consist in an attitude of intellectual superiority or in indulging the pleasures of sense. It consisted in the triumph of justice and in peace of mind. “For the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink, but in justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[12]

12. However, a rude awakening is in store for the person who thinks that penance is necessary only for those aspiring to membership in the kingdom of God. He who is already a member of Christ must learn of necessity to keep a rein upon himself. Only so will he be able to drive away the enemy of his soul and keep his baptismal innocence unsullied, or regain God’s grace when it is lost by sin.

13. To become a member of Holy Church by baptism is to be clothed in the beauty with which Christ adorns His beloved Bride. “Christ loved the Church and delivered Himself up for her; that he might sanctify her, cleansing her in the bath of water by means of the word of life; in order that he might present to himself the Church in all her glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she might be holy and without blemish.”[13]

14. This being so, well may those sinners who have stained the white robe of their sacred baptism fear the just punishments of God. Their remedy is “to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb”[14] — to restore themselves to their former splendor in the sacrament of Penance — and to school themselves in the practice of Christian virtue. Hence the Apostle Paul’s severe warning: “A man making void the law of Moses dies without any mercy on the word of two or three witnesses; how much worse punishments do you think he deserves, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant through which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? . . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”[15].

15. Certainly, Venerable Brethren, when one views the faith which distinguishes the Church, the sacraments which nourish and perfect her, the universal laws and precepts which govern her, the unfailing glory that is hers by reason of the heroic virtue and constancy of so many of her elect, there can be no doubt that the Bride of Christ, so dear to her divine Redeemer, has always kept herself holy and unsullied.

16. But of her children there are some who nevertheless forget the greatness of their calling and election. They mar their God-given beauty, and fail to mirror in themselves the image of Jesus Christ. We cannot find it in Us to threaten or abuse them, for the love We bear them is a father’s love. Instead We appeal to them in the words of the Council of Trent — the best restorative for Catholic discipline. “When we put on Christ in baptism (Gal. 3.27), we become in Him an entirely new creature and obtain the full and complete remission of every sin. It is only with great effort and with great compunction on our part that we can obtain the same newness and sinlessness in the sacrament of penance, for such is the stipulation of divine justice. That is why the holy Fathers called penance ‘a laborious kind of baptism.”[16]

17. The very frequency with which this call to penance is reiterated makes it imperative for Christians to recognize it as coming from the divine Redeemer for the purpose of bringing about their spiritual renewal. It is transmitted to us by the Church, in her sacred liturgy, in the teaching of the Fathers and the precepts of the Councils. “Make our souls to glow in Thy sight with desire of Thee.”[17] “Help us to repress our worldly appetites, that we may the more easily obtain the blessings of heaven.”[18] That is how the Catholic Church prays to God’s Supreme Majesty in these ancient prayers from the Lenten liturgy.

18. Can we wonder, then, that Our predecessors, when they were preparing the ground for an Ecumenical Council, made a point of exhorting the faithful to perform salutary acts of penance?

19. Consider, for example, the words of Innocent III before the Fourth Lateran Council: “To your praying add fasting and almsgiving. It is on these wings that our prayers fly the more swiftly and effortlessly to the holy ears of God, that He may mercifully hear us in the time of need.”[19]

20. Before the Second Ecumenical Council of Lyons, Gregory X wrote to all his prelates and chaplains commanding them to observe a three-day fast.[20]

21. And finally, Pius IX exhorted all the faithful to prepare themselves worthily and joyously for the First Vatican Council by ridding their souls of every stain of sin and the punishment due to sin. “It is certain,” he said, “that men’s prayers are more pleasing to God if they go up to Him from a pure heart; from souls, that is, that are free from all sin.”[21]

22. We too, Venerable Brethren, on the example of Our predecessors, are most anxious that the whole Catholic world, both clerical and lay, shall prepare itself for this great event, the forthcoming Council, by ardent prayer, good works, and the practice of Christian penance.

23. Clearly the most efficacious kind of prayer for gaining the divine protection is prayer that is offered publicly by the whole community; for Our Redeemer said: “Where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them.”[22]

24. The situation, therefore, demands that Christians today, as in the days of the early Church, shall be of “one heart and one soul,”[23] imploring God with prayer and penance to grant that this great assembly may measure up to all our expectations.

25. The salutary results we pray for are these: that the faith, the love, the moral lives of Catholics may be so re-invigorated, so intensified, that all who are at present separated from this Apostolic See may be impelled to strive actively and sincerely for union, and enter the one fold under the one Shepherd.[24]

26. To achieve greater unanimity in this prayer, Venerable Brethren, We would have you organize a solemn novena to the Holy Spirit in all the parishes of your diocese immediately preceding the Ecumenical Council. The object of this novena will be to beg for an abundance of heavenly light and supernatural aid for the Fathers in council. To all who join in this novena We impart from the Church’s treasury a plenary indulgence, obtainable on the usual conditions.

27. Then, too, a public act of prayer and propitiation might fittingly be arranged in every diocese and, in conjunction with it, a special course of sermons, to serve as a fervent invitation to the faithful to redouble their works of mercy and penance. By this means they may hope to propitiate Almighty God and thus obtain by their prayers that renewal of Christian life which is one of the principal aims of the coming Council. As Our Predecessor Pius XI so aptly observed: “Prayer and penance are the two potent inspirations sent to us at this time by God, that we may bring back to Him our wayward human race that wanders aimlessly without a guide. They are inspirations that will disperse and remedy the first and foremost cause of all rebellion and unrest, man’s revolt against God.”[25]

28. Our first need is for internal repentance; the detestation, that is, of sin, and the determination to make amends for it. This is the repentance shown by those who make a good Confession, take part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and receive Holy Communion. The faithful should be specially encouraged to do this during the novena to the Holy Spirit, for external acts of penance are quite obviously useless unless accompanied by a clear conscience and the detestation of sin. Hence Christ’s severe warning: “Unless you repent you will all perish in the same manner.”[26] God forbid that any of Our sons and daughters succumb to this danger.

29. But the faithful must also be encouraged to do outward acts of penance, both to keep their bodies under the strict control of reason and faith, and to make amends for their own and other people’s sins. St. Paul was caught up to the third heaven — he reached the summit of holiness — and yet he had no hesitation in saying of himself “I chastise my body and bring it into subjection.”[27] On another occasion he said: “They who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.”[28] St. Augustine issued the same insistent warning: “It is not enough for a man to change his ways for the better and to give up the practice of evil, unless by painful penance, sorrowing humility, the sacrifice of a contrite heart and the giving of alms he makes amends to God for all that he has done wrong.”[29]

30. External penance includes particularly the acceptance from God in a spirit of resignation and trust of all life’s sorrows and hardships and of everything that involves inconvenience and annoyance in the conscientious performance of the obligations of our daily life and work and the practice of Christian virtue. Penance of this kind is in fact inescapable. Yet it serves not only to win God’s mercy and forgiveness for our sins, and His heavenly aid for the Ecumenical Council, but also sweetens, one might almost say, the bitterness of this mortal life of ours with the promise of its heavenly reward. For “the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us.”[30]

31. But besides bearing in a Christian spirit the inescapable annoyances and sufferings of this life, the faithful ought also take the initiative in doing voluntary acts of penance and offering them to God. In this they will be following in the footsteps of our divine Redeemer who, as the Prince of the Apostles said, “died once for sins, the Just for the unjust; that he might bring us to God. Put to death indeed in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit.”[31] Since, therefore, Christ has suffered in the flesh,” it is only fitting that we be “armed with the same intent.”[32]

32. It is right, too, to seek example and inspiration from the great saints of the Church. Pure as they were, they inflicted such mortifications upon themselves as to leave us almost aghast with admiration. And as we contemplate their saintly heroism, shall not we be moved by God’s grace to impose on ourselves some voluntary sufferings and deprivations, we whose consciences are perhaps weighed down by so heavy a burden of guilt?

33. And who does not know that this sort of penance is the more acceptable to God in that it springs not from the natural infirmities of soul or body, but from a free and generous resolve of the will, and as such is a most welcome sacrifice in God’s sight?

34. Finally, the object of the Ecumenical Council, as everyone knows, will be to render more effective that divine work which our Redeemer accomplished. Christ our Lord accomplished it by being “offered . . . because it was his own will.”[33] He accomplished it not merely by teaching men His heavenly doctrine, but also, and more especially, by pouring out His most precious blood for their salvation. Yet each of us can say with St. Paul: “I now rejoice in my sufferings . . . and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church.”[34]

35. Let us then be alert and generous, and take full advantage of this opportunity of offering up our sorrows and sufferings to God “for building up the body of Christ,”[35] the Church. No fairer, no more desirable fate could befall us than to be given a share in that work which has as its object the eternal salvation of men who have strayed far too often from the right path of truth and virtue.

36. Jesus Christ taught us self-discipline and self-denial when He said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”[36] Yet there are many people, alas, who join instead the immoderate quest for earthly pleasures, thus debasing and weakening the nobler powers of the human spirit. It is all the more necessary, therefore, for Christians to repudiate this unworthy way of life which gives frequent rein to the turbulent emotions of the soul and seriously endangers its eternal salvation. They must repudiate it with all the energy and courage displayed by the martyrs and those heroic men and women who have been the glory of the Church in every age of her history. If everyone does this, each in his own station in life, he will be enabled to play his individual part in making this Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, which is especially concerned with the refurbishing of Christian morality, an outstanding success.

37. So much for the subject of Our letter, Venerable Brethren, and it is Our confident hope that both you yourselves and, at your instigation, all Our sons throughout the world, both clerical and lay, will give a whole-hearted and generous response to Our fatherly appeals. Everyone wants the forthcoming Ecumenical Council to give all possible impetus to the spread of Christianity. It must give louder and louder utterance to that “word by which the kingdom is preached” mentioned in the parable of the sower,[37] and help to bring about the wider extension of the kingdom of God” in the world. But all this must depend to a large extent on the dispositions of the souls which the Council will be endeavoring to inspire to truth and virtue, to the worship of God both in private and in public, to a disciplined life and to missionary zeal.

38. Do your utmost, Venerable Brethren; explore every avenue that is open to you; have no hesitation in mustering all your authority and available resources in an effort to persuade the faithful under your charge to purified their souls by penance and to enkindle them with the fervor of piety. The “good seed” which the Council will scatter far and wide over the Church in those days must not be allowed to go to waste; it must find its way into hearts that are ready and prepared, loyal and true. If such is the case, then the forthcoming Council will indeed be for the faithful, a fruitful source of eternal salvation.

39. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”[38] These are words which We consider most applicable to that period of time which will shortly be upon us when the Ecumenical Council is in session. But when God in His Providence decrees to give His supernatural gifts to men, He does so in the measure of their own individual desires and dispositions. Hence Our long-continued insistence on the spiritual preparation of Christians for this great event. Hence, too, the supreme importance of giving heed to this final invitation of Ours addressed to those who are willing to be guided by Our demands.

40. We, Venerable Brethren, must lead the way; and may all the faithful — especially priests, monks and nuns, children, the sick and the afflicted — join us in praying and doing penance, that God may give His Church the abundance of light and grace that is so necessary for her at this time. For will not Almighty God surely be lavish with His gifts, after receiving so many gifts from His children; gifts which breathe the scent of myrrh, the sweet fragrance of their filial devotion?

41. Then, too, what a wonderful, what a heartening spectacle of religious fervor it will be to see the countless armies of Christians throughout the world devoting themselves to assiduous prayer and voluntary self-denial in response to Our appeals! This is the sort of religious fervor with which the Church’s sons and daughters should be imbued. May their example be an inspiration to those who are so immersed in the affairs of this world as to be neglectful of their duties towards God.

42. If you can implement these desires of Ours; if when you leave your dioceses to come to Rome for the Council, you can come laden with such spiritual riches as these, then we may hope indeed to see the dawning of a new and fairer age for the Catholic Church throughout the world.

43. Buoyed up by this assurance, Venerable Brethren, We lovingly impart to you and to all the clergy and faithful committed to your loyal care, that pledge of heaven’s graces, that earnest of Our fatherly good will, Our Apostolic Blessing.

44. Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, on the 1st day of July, the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the year 1962, the fourth of Our Pontificate.

April 29, 2014 Posted by | Catholic Faith, The Catholic Crisis | 5 Comments

The School of Loneliness


Most people are lonely at times. I think it’s fair to say that a fear of loneliness drives a tremendous amount of human activity. Our desire for God is partially manifested in a desire for union with others. We want to be known, understood, and loved. A soul that is, by its nature, difficult to know is destined to suffer loneliness more acutely. Such souls may seem to have many friends and to be widely admired, or they may be introverted and shy, but they are still the lonely ones.

Because only God can know men the way men long to be known – the way we are created to be known – there is always a danger that human relationships become an obstacle to union with God, an easy substitute that disguises our true condition and purpose. That is why souls who find it more difficult than others to avoid human loneliness are uniquely blessed. The path is cleared for them in advance!

Recently, a seminarian of the FSSP gave a talk on vocations to some young men in the parish. He was asked about the loneliness of the priesthood, especially for priests whose assignment does not include community with other priests. The seminarian responded that this loneliness is intended to drive the priest closer to God, to make him seek the friendship of God, to move him to a deeper life of prayer. The same is true for everyone else.

Ordinarily we should not seek loneliness. It is natural and healthy to desire the companionship of others, and to seek it. God wants this for us. The companionship of others is necessary for the exercise of virtue. How does one acquire patience or fortitude without struggling against human resistance? How does one learn mercy, generosity, or compassion without human beneficiaries? How does one learn to forgive without being offended? How does one imitate Jesus Christ without experiencing human rejection? And not just rejection by the bad, but rejection by the good! Etc. That is why God places us first in a family and then in society.

Having said that, there are souls who are called to acquire the kind of spiritual strength and union with Christ that can only be born of intense loneliness. They don’t seek it at first: the burden is forced upon them by both temperament and circumstances. But if they recognize this burden as a gift and receive it with gratitude, these souls have a “head start” in the spiritual life. They must, however, learn to avoid certain traps. They must learn how to forget themselves. They must accept being misunderstood to an extraordinary degree. They must not accuse those who misunderstand them, or turn their particular burden into a false sense of superiority. Often enough, they must love without being loved in return (because men cannot love what they do not know). One’s natural pride rebels against this condition and wants to blame the world, to take revenge in various ways, to pretend the burden is a virtue, as though it were chosen rather than imposed. And so the soul can respond badly and miss its great purpose in life … or find its purpose too late for the good it might have achieved. The lonely are therefore faced with a more urgent choice upon which their happiness depends entirely: God or self, humility or pride, love or hatred.

In an age of “all fun, all joy, all happy-clappy all-the-time” Catholicism, I think it’s important to re-assert the indispensable value of the desert. The following passage of a rather obscure essay is one of those rare discourses that will stay with me for life.


The School of Love, and Other Essays
by Alban Goodier, S.J.

To most men loneliness is a doom. It is imposed upon a criminal as the heaviest of punishments; carried to extremes we know it will drive him mad; nothing seems so to unman a man as the loneliness of a prison cell. Even for those who are not criminals, nothing so wrings pity from a human heart as the sight of another who is utterly alone. Loneliness to many is the very ghost of life, dogging their steps, haunting them at every turn, from which they are always trying to escape. It cannot be fought, it cannot be avoided, yet there is nothing many more dread for themselves, or see with more concerning others. Yet it is this very thing which God has chosen to be the school of training for His own. He has shown it without possibility of mistake. Look down the line of the Old Testament, and you will find it written everywhere …

… Our Lord Himself was alone; in the wilderness of humanity He lived, so long a time, and men did not know Him. He was in the world, and the world knew Him hot; He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. His fellow-Nazarenes claimed to know Him, and did not. His enemies knew Him and refused to own it. His friends – at one point in His life “many went back and walked no more with Him”; at another “all fled away”; at the very end He had to say:”How long a time have I been with you, and you have not known me!” He was born deserted, He lived alone, He died a lonely criminal’s death; and if we want a proof that He felt it, we have it, first, in His frequent cries of pain, and second, in the eager way He grasped at and rewarded every mark of companionship offered Him …

… Loneliness of soul gives wisdom – that breadth of vision that belongs to him who sees all the valley from the hill-top. Loneliness of soul gives understanding – that further power of seeing beneath the surfaces of life. Loneliness of soul gives counsel to sustain another, and fortitude to “endure its own burden”; all the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost come through and are fostered by loneliness of soul.

These are some of the fruits of this special school of suffering. None the less, let it not be forgotten that a school of suffering it is. We are not speaking here of the loneliness which is a joy and a comfort, in which, as the popular phrase goes, one is “never less alone than when alone”; we are speaking of that sense of desertion, of alienation from one’s kindred, of being somehow out of joint with all the world, of separation from God Himself, which human nature can scarcely endure; which even our Lord Himself considered to justify a cry for relief…

… Nowhere has Christ our Lord come nearer to us than in His loneliness and ours. Nowhere has He shown Himself more human. Nowhere has He more condoned the cry of pain, the appeal for some relief; nowhere has He done more, by example and by promise, to nerve us to endurance.

April 14, 2014 Posted by | Catholic Faith | 1 Comment


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