Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sede Vacante

Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia (Where Peter is, there is the Church)


Pope Benedict XVI departs from the Vatican

Now that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has renounced his office as of 8pm his time (11am my time) today, all of us should give thanks to God for the gift of his service and pray for God's continued protection during this time while the See of Peter is vacant.

Now is also the time to pray for the cardinals as they prepare for the coming conclave.  To them is given the task of selecting our new Pope.  We should pray that they are open to the Holy Spirit in their considerations for the good of the Church.

Finally,  we, the people of the Church, need be at peace and to recognize that the selection of the Pope is not a political affair. It is not an issue of party platforms. It is a matter of selecting the 266th successor of St. Peter. We pray for a Pope who will be a good man to lead us in the years to come.

Let us not be frightened by so-called prophecies on the internet and media attacks.  We believe that Christ has promised to be with the Church until the end of the age (Matt 28:20) and that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18).  The promises made by Christ to Peter will remain for all Popes.

For centuries, people have predicted the collapse of the Catholic Church from sinners within and attacks from outside.  Through the grace of Christ, we are still here and we have faith that He will continue to protect the Church He established.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Does the Church Need a Pope from [Location Here]?

As the Church grows closer to the Pope's renunciation of office, I've seen certain discussions online concerning who should be chosen as his successor.  One of these discussions involves the statement that the next Pope should come from a certain region.  Africa seems to be the most commonly mentioned region in this regard, although other regions have been mentioned (Latin America, Italy or the United States for example).

Now, I firmly believe that the Pope, being the successor of Peter, can come from any region and if the best person for the job is from Africa, then he should be chosen for the task.

But I also think that those bloggers and blog comments who say that the vibrancy of the African Church means an African Pope would be best suited for the job are actually using the fallacy of division.

The Fallacy of Division works this way:

  • Group [X] has characteristic [Y]
  • Therefore every member of Group [X] has characteristic [Y]

Or to use an example:

  • This orchestra is the best in the world
  • Therefore every member of the orchestra is the best in the world

Maybe, maybe not.  Perhaps performing alone, some members of the orchestra are mediocre, but when combined with others, their contribution helps create the excellency of the whole.

The argument for a Pope from a region because the region is known for a vibrant faith is the same fallacy.  We can't judge the individual by the region he comes.

I don't pretend to know who will be the best choice to succeed Pope Benedict XVI (I have an idea on who I would like to see, but I will keep silent on that).  I do believe that whoever is chosen, it must be because the cardinals believe him to be the best choice to be the Successor of Peter, and not because the region he comes from is known for a strong faith.

We certainly need to pray for the coming conclave, that the cardinals will be guided by the Holy Spirit and not by human considerations.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reflections on the "Helpful" Advice to a "Dying" Church

Following newsfeeds online, I see many editorials talking about how the Church is "dying" and needs to change if it is survive  (By allowing women priests, permitting abortion, contraception and so-called homosexual "marriage.")  Personally, I wonder why these people express such concern.  After all, given that they seem to think we are a misogynistic homophobic institution, you'd think they couldn't wait for us to die.

I suspect that, far from being altruistic, this advice is being made in the same spirit as the pack of wolves suggesting to a flock of sheep that they need to get rid of those burdensome sheepdogs so there can be a dialogue on what to have for dinner.

The imminent demise of the Catholic Church has been announced by many so-called prophets who believe their movement will cause the Church to die.  When the Protestant Revolt began, some of the founders predicted our demise before their challenges in the name of Scripture.  The Enlightenment predicted our demise in the before their challenges in the name of Reason.  Atheists today predict our demise before their challenges in the name of Science.

These challenges however failed to kill us in the past and will not kill us now because the Catholic Church is not an enemy of reason, scripture or science.  Truth does not need to fear truth.  While some may apply erroneous philosophies based on their worldviews and confuse them with the teachings of Reason, Scripture or Science, the fact is their philosophies of interpretation do not accurately attack the Church – basically these attacks are aimed at the wrong target.

Other challenges come from political movements and social revolts.  Communism and Fascism both predicted that Christianity in general and the Church in particular was an archaic relic holding people back, while their movements would provide what the people really needed.  The modern hedonism argues that nobody cares about sexual morality and the Church is stupid/old-fashioned for clinging to teachings they disagree with.

But these movements have fallen or will fall.  Where Fascism was once seen as the wave of the future, it is now recognized as a wrong turn.  Despite the media message which sells sex, the media cannot hide the fact that free sex is a terribly empty thing and that there must be more to life than one night stands.  These movements mislead people.  They do not rest on truth, but rather on desires and fears.

Now these challenges can lead individuals and groups astray of course.  Regions have fallen away from the Church.  Many individuals do indeed reject the Church teachings on subjects based on the slogans of the age.  "Reproductive Freedom" for example.  It is true that the Church in America and Western Europe  are facing these trials.  It is also true that scandals in the media make it appear the Church is crumbling.

But difficulties and attacks and sinful members do not prove the demise of the whole Church.  While these challenges may cause the faithful to suffer and the weak to be led astray, and property to be lost, the Church does not exist for the comfort of her members, the body count in the pews, dollars in the collection basket or popularity with the elites.

Whether or not one accepts her claims or not, the Church exists as the means Christ chose to bring His salvation to the world.  It is true that a bad shepherd in the Church may obscure that message of salvation.  But whether or not this message is popular has no bearing on whether it is true.

If the Church believes what she teaches about her own mission, she cannot change the message of salvation to something more popular.  Why?  Because it is not her message – it is Christ's message.

The Church teaches about herself:

"Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church #86]

Because the Church believes herself obligated to be faithful to Christ, she cannot change her message without being unfaithful to Christ.

Once one realizes that the Church believes this – whether or not they agree with the Church over the truth of her belief – it becomes clear that to say "change or die" is a foolish ultimatum.  We remember Christ's words in Mark 8:36-38

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.

The Pagan Romans, for example, told the early Christians "Change or Die."  Christians knew it was better to die for the truth than to compromise what they believed.  The Church is still here.  Pagan Rome is a pile of ruins.  We will still be here when this current attack is ruins as well.

As Cardinal Francis George said,

"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history."

That will happen here as well.

We as Catholics believe Christ promised to be with the Church always (Matt 28:20), and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18).

People of good will may or not accept what Catholics believe about the relationship of Christ and the Church.  But they should consider this.  If we're wrong we should have collapsed long ago under the weight of sinners inside and persecution outside.  But if we're right, perhaps people should consider the ramifications of that.

But as the teacher of the Law, Gamaliel, pointed out when faced with the Christians:

So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)

If we're right, it means those who oppose her teachings are not fighting a human institution…

…they're fighting God.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Church Can Never Change To What Today's Society Demands

"The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization."

(Proposition condemned in Pope Pius IX Syllabus of Errors)


(Image found on the internet. Author of meme unknown)

One of the popular themes of the media in reporting the Pope's retirement is the proclaiming the death of the Church if it doesn't "get with the times."  What they generally mean by this is that they believe that the Church needs to change her teachings on sexual morality, and whatever will make that change is to be promoted.  Hence it is believed that if the Church ordained women, it might have a more "modern" view of abortion and contraception.

The problem however is the assumption that the Catholic Church is a merely human institution which picks and chooses what morality should be.  From that perspective, the Church seems irrational for clinging to her teachings.  The question is asked, "Why doesn't the Church just change the rules?"  Because this view does not know (or rejects) what Catholicism is, there appears to be no real reason except for a reluctance to change and intolerance.

But the fact is, the Catholic Church considers herself to be bound to follow the commandments of Christ, and she does not have the authority to change His commandments.  Yes she can change disciplines, such as whether or not to ordain married men or whether or not to abstain from meat on Fridays.  However, she believes she has absolutely no authority to change the teachings of faith and morality.  Things that corrupt what God calls us to do must be denounced.  Things that Christ established must be followed.

People who want the Church to "modernize" have a fundamental misunderstanding on what the Church believes she can do in the first place.  People may say that the Church must "get up to date or die."  But the issues of sexual morality the Church the Church took a stand on were issues in ancient times as well as today.  The sexual immorality of the elites was just as prevalent  in the first century as the twenty first century.  People committed fornication and adultery, they attempted to contracept and abort.

The 1st century writing, The Didache, points out:

You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication… you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.

Witchcraft, in this case, is referring to the ancient attempts at contraception.

The point is, that which is true is always true whether a society recognizes it or not.  If owning people as slaves is wrong, then it was always wrong regardless of what a society may think of it.  Likewise with sexual morality and any other issue of morality.  The Church cannot change the sixth and ninth commandments any more than she can change the fifth commandment (Thou shalt not kill).

People are always free to leave the Catholic Church if they (wrongly) refuse to accept the claim that she is the Church founded and protected by Christ.  But people cannot expect that the Catholic Church to change what she believes she is obligated to do.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Do Not Be Afraid

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ's power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows "what is in man". He alone knows it.  (Homily of Blessed John Paul II, Oct 22, 1978)

One of the things I see with some of my fellow Catholics is a sense of fear when it comes to the recent announcement from Pope Benedict XVI that he will retire effective February 28th at 8pm.  Since there has not been a Papal resignation in 600 years, it seems to be a shocking thing to us.

The important thing to remember is that Christ has promised to be with our Church always (See Matt 16:18 and Matt 28:20).  The successor of Benedict XVI will be a different person and will handle the Church in a different way to be sure.  But Benedict XVI handled the papacy differently than Blessed John Paul II.

We may like the changes or we may prefer things the older way.  But the important thing to remember is that when the new Pontiff is elected, he will be protected in the same way as the previous popes.

So come what may in the future, we can have faith in knowing that God will continue to watch over His Church.  Individuals may be persecuted and individuals may err.  But our Church is protected and the gates of hell will not prevail over her.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reflections on the Announced Retirement of Pope Benedict XVI

I was certainly caught by surprise at the announcement of the Pope that he will step down, effective February 28th.  I was introduced to his writings in the 1990s during a time when I was beginning to study what the faith I was brought up with meant.  I found his works wise and insightful.

As many crises arose in the Church, I was impressed at how he and Blessed John Paul II stood up for the truth in a sea of relativism.  Portrayed as a hateful old man by many, I saw in him a deep love and understanding of the obligations of seeking and doing what was right that binds us all.

At the death of Blessed Pope John Paul II, I thought he would be a good Pope, but I thought his age would keep him from being elected (Because of that assumption, I thought Cardinal Arinze would be a good man to be elected if we couldn't have Cardinal Ratzinger).  So when the news came of his election, I was elated.  His work after his election showed this elation was justified.

During his pontificate, he continued the work of making clear the teachings of the Church, showing a profound love of Christ in doing so.  His encyclicals showed the recognition of the fact that a desire for reform of the world could not simply be done by government decree, but had to have at its base a love for each person from the moment of conception to natural death.

Despite the attacks he suffered with the misrepresentation of his deeds and words, he showed he was a Pope deeply in love with Christ and seeking to lead people to seeking Christ.

Now, he has stated he must retire due to health reasons.  I find myself saddened at the news, but trust he is doing so because he believes it is best that he steps down before his health declines to the point he can no longer lead the Church.

I thank God for giving us Pope Benedict XVI at the time he was needed, and offer my prayers for the Pope and for his successor.