More Re: Holy Father’s Answers

pope press conference

Our Holy Father talked about more than just Theodore McCarrick at his press conference on Sunday.

1. He also answered a question about a conversation he had with a prominent abuse survivor and victims advocate. She has since written to him, asking him to clarify his answer.

2. And there’s more. During the press conference, Pope Francis spoke at length about a highly celebrated court case in Spain, the “Caso Romanones.”

A young man had written to him–Pope Francis–in 2014, accusing a group of priests of sexual abuse.

At the press conference Sunday, the Holy Father narrated the subsequent series of events from what struck me as a strange point-of-view. His account includes clear factual inaccuracies. As Pope Francis told the story, the priests had suffered a terrible calumny, which the press had exacerbated. But, in the end, the priests got vindicated in court. And the whole thing goes to show you that sometimes sex-abuse allegations against priests aren’t true.*

The pope had met the priests in private audience last month and asked for their forgiveness.

Problem is this:

Yes, the one priest who actually went to trial was found not guilty. The court originally insisted that the accuser had to pay court costs. The priests were all restored to the ministry. But then the Supreme Court of Spain annulled the imposition of court costs. And declared that the lower court had not determined that the accuser’s story was false.

Caso Romanones

The accuser is known as “Daniel.” What had happened is that the prosecutor dropped the charges at the eleventh hour of the case. Apparently because the criminal case required proving WARNING anal penetration. Which Daniel’s testimony had not established.

Also, the other priests Daniel accused had never even faced trial, because of the statute of limitations.

Earlier this month, after he learned that the pope had apologized to the priests, Daniel wrote a letter pointing out that the canonical case against these priests should not be closed. “The civil court has not reached the conclusion that sexual abuse did not occur.”

Now, I do not claim to understand the Caso Romanones completely. Daniel has a lawyer, and that lawyer may be a charlatan, for all I know. I read Spanish ok, and I have perused a lot of news articles. I think I know as much about this case as any English-language journalist–based on the internet searches I have done. But I can hardly claim to know that the priests are actually guilty.

What I can say is this: The civil court did not determine that abuses, for which the priests should be held to account, did not happen at all. Daniel appears to have given somewhat incoherent testimony. On the other hand, forensic experts had studied the witnesses at the trial, and they had concluded that Daniel is a lot more believable than the priest. For that reason, there was widespread surprise when the prosecution dropped the case at the eleventh hour.

It is a fact that the Supreme Court of Spain declared in its judgment (after the accused priests were re-instated to ministry by the Pope and Archbishop of Granada) that the lower court had not judged Daniel’s testimony to be false.

* In my limited personal experience, sex abuse allegations leveled by non-homosexual men against other men are almost always true.

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The Wise Virgins’ Oil

William_Blake_-_The_Parable_of_the_Wise_and_Foolish_Virgins

The question that remains, after the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins: What does the oil represent?

We considered this question exactly one year ago. Anyone remember what we came up with? The oil represents prayer. Specifically: praying the Mass.

But our Lord’s parables offer inexhaustible depths of meaning. So let me throw another answer at you. A two-fold answer. The oil in the parable represents:

1. Self-abandonment to divine Providence. Total trust. God’s foolishness is greater than human wisdom, and His weakness is greater than human strength. We live by faith in the unconquerable goodness of the Lord Who governs everything.

2. But total abandonment to divine Providence does not involve our abandoning our capacity for foresight and sound decision-making. The Lord said: Be innocent as doves. He also said…? Be wise as serpents.

–Yesterday I heard someone describe the American bishops as: Wise as doves and innocent as serpents. But let’s leave that aside—

So: The oil is total abandonment to divine Providence and also prudence. The virtue that “finds both the true good in every circumstance and the right means of achieving it,” as the Catechism puts it. Catechism goes on: “Prudence applies moral principles to particular cases and overcomes doubt about good and evil.”

Another definition, to paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas: “Prudence means both skill at thinking about how to live a wholesome, good life and skill at putting the good thinking into practice.”

Prudence requires self-control, honesty, and courage. By the same token, no one can exercise self-control–or stay honest and brave—without prudence. In other words: No one can think right about doing right without doing right. But no one can do right without thinking and judging right.

Prudence is not “policy.” It is skill at applying good policies. But, of course, without good policies–without good principles–prudence cannot correctly resolve any problem. A prudent person is a principled person who also sees reality clearly enough to know which policy should guide you right now.

We need this oil. May God help us to keep it in our flasks.

Should the Pope Resign?

WARNING PG-13

Pope Francis waving

Allow me to narrate the life and times of Theodore McCarrick’s abuses, as we now know them. Along the way, we will encounter plenty of red herrings–that is, facts the require attention, but which do not help us determine what the pope should do. Just stick with me to the end, please.

Ordained a priest in 1958, McCarrick baptized a baby boy named James. In the early 1970’s, when James was eleven, McCarrick began to abuse him sexually. Also, McCarrick fondled the genitals of a high-schooler named Mike, in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s cathedral, and menaced the boy in the bathroom. All of this remained a secret until this summer.

While a bishop and archbishop in the 80’s and 90’s, McCarrick manipulated seminarians and young priests into sleeping with him. Meanwhile, he continued to abuse James sexually.

In the year 2000, a seminary professor accused McCarrick of seducing seminarians into immoral acts. That accusation reached the Vatican. Pope John Paul II made McCarrick Archbishop of Washington, and created him a Cardinal, anyway.

In 2004, McCarrick’s former dioceses paid out a secret cash settlement to a seminarian/young priest that McCarrick had slept with. Although the business involved only adults, paying a settlement recognizes that McCarrick had abused his victim. (If it were all free and consensual, there would be no question of paying damages.)

A file in the Vatican contained information about this settlement, as well as other accusations against McCarrick. John Paul II did nothing.

JPII died in 2005. Benedict succeeded him. In 2006, Donald Wuerl became Archbishop of Washington, replacing McCarrick. McCarrick was now “retired,” but nonetheless very active–a prominent churchman.

In 2007, another settlement in New Jersey: McCarrick’s file in the Vatican got thicker, with more clear evidence that he was a sexual predator.

In 2009 or 2010, Pope Benedict apparently took some action to discipline McCarrick, but with no discernible effect on the then-Cardinal’s life.

In 2013, Pope Benedict resigned. Francis succeeded him. In June of that year, Archbishop Carlo Viganò told Pope Francis about the file on McCarrick and warned the pope about the danger McCarrick posed.

Then, in 2017 or 2018, Mike finally had a forum in the Archdiocese of New York. He spoke about what McCarrick had done to him. In June of 2018, Pope Francis took action, suspending McCarrick from public ministry. Then, in July, James spoke out. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals.

Pope Francis enters St Patricks
Pope kisses the crucifix upon entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 2015

The story has heroes: Mike. James. The people who listened to them and helped them try to bring McCarrick to some kind of justice. The seminarians and young priests who tried to blow the whistle on McCarrick back in 2004 and 2006.

We still do not know anywhere near everything we need to know, about any of this. As mentioned above, it appears that a great deal of information is contained in a file on McCarrick in the office of the Congregation of Bishops in the Vatican.

Why has that file not been made available to us? I mean those of us with a legitimate interest in this case–which, because McCarrick had such prominence in the Church here, certainly includes all the Catholics on the eastern seaboard?

Maybe one or more of the victims insisted on secrecy? Maybe that is why some or all of the file remains secret? If so, fair enough. But the Holy Father, or his spokesman, could say so, if that’s the reason.

This story has no real heroes among the clergy. But we do have to thank Archbishop Viganò for providing a great, great deal of the information narrated above. His testimony has filled out the picture enormously.

When Pope Francis learned about McCarrick’s file, in June of 2013, the then-Cardinal was 83 years old. He no longer held a particular care of souls.

On the other hand, he continued to enjoy prominence in the Church. He was not homebound. Many of us saw McCarrick at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond on January 12 of this year (when we joyfully witnessed our bishop take possession of his throne.)

Also, as of June 2013: No one had accused McCarrick of abusing minors (at least as far as we know). McCarrick had, in fact, abused minors–but Pope Francis likely did not know about that abuse.

What the pope did know: McCarrick had repeatedly used his authority as a bishop to gratify his sexual perversities. leaving a trail of abuse and shattered lives in his wake. The pope had all of that information.

Let’s remember: One man has the responsibility for disciplining Cardinals. One. The pope.

You have a file containing substantial evidence that this 83-year-old Cardinal is a predator priest. What do you do?

pope press conference

Our Holy Father did nothing. At least nothing that we know of. And it appears that he would have continued to do nothing, had not Mike and James spoken out.

Should Pope Francis resign because of this?

Consider what has happened after the publication of the secret clergy files in Pennsylvania. Consider the damage to our Church. Damage that could easily have been prevented. Almost all the cases were decades old. If the bishops had only examined their own files, and had taken it upon themselves to see that justice got done somehow, then the grand jury would have had nothing to report.

Now, consider this: The catastrophic damage that the Church has suffered this summer–all of it ultimately comes from two places. The chanceries of the dioceses of Pennsylvania. And the Vatican–the place where Theodore McCarrick’s file is.

If the Pope had disciplined McCarrick in 2013, when he knew that McCarrick was a sexual predator, where would we be today?

Not in some kind of La La Land, to be sure; this pilgrim life always involves suffering and tears. But the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church would be in a far, far, far better place than we are now. Unimaginably better.

If the incumbents of those episcopal sees had acted uprightly with the contents of their own files. Yes, the crimes narrated in those files occurred under the watches of your predecessors. But only you, incumbents of those sees, had access to all this evidence. No one else had access. You had to deal with it. It was your duty.

Who am I talking to? The incumbents of the sees of Pittsburgh, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Scranton, Allentown, and Rome.

Should Pope Francis resign? Dare I use his words from the plane?

Draw your own conclusions.

Even More Dramatic

head-platter

If we were looking for something more-dramatic than the controversy involving the pope and bishops, we found it. The Passion of St. John the Baptist, the anniversary of which we keep today.

St. John, while languishing in prison, sent two of his disciples to Jesus, to ask if He is indeed the Christ. I think we can safely assume that John sent these disciples with this question for their benefit, not his; he knew the truth.

Anyway, the Lord Jesus answered the question with a kind of question of his own (though it was hardly a prevarication 🙂 ) The Lord asked them: What do you see?

I have come, and the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear; lepers are clean, the dead rise again, and the poor have hope. Blessed is the one who takes no offense in Me.

In other words: Look, I may be a humble, dusty, sweaty Nazorean with no property, surrounded by low-class followers. But I am obviously the Messiah. You can see with your own eyes that I am the King of Justice, Peace, and true Life.

Tissot Herod
Herod

…Now to the dramatic moment of St. John’s death.

Herod drunk at his egomaniacal birthday celebration. Engaging in perverse, incestuous sensuality by leering at his own step-daughter, who was also his half-niece, the daughter of his half-brother. Reveling in his worldly power, swearing up and down to give her anything–as if he, Herod, were some kind of tin-pot god.

Then a dark thunderclap cuts through all the debauched levity. Execute the holy man. Kill the herald of the Messiah.

The mother and daughter had called Herod’s bluff.

Herod knew that what they asked him to do was wrong—grievously, preposterously wrong. He knew that a sober man would not think of such an act of violence. He knew that John, and John’s lord Jesus, spoke righteous truth, gave hope, offered people a path toward a good and wholesome life in the sight of God.

A big part of Herod’s own soul wanted to go down that path. But he couldn’t choose it; wouldn’t choose it. Instead, he chose merciless, hopeless, meaningless death. All because he feared being exposed for the puny little fraud that he actually was.

May God save us from such a fate. May He strengthen us so that we can face our choices humbly and soberly.

Let’s start by freely acknowledging that we ourselves are puny little frauds. No need to fear being exposed as such; we declare it ourselves! Then let’s stay close to Jesus and His saints.

Believing Viganò about McCarrick

McCarrick sofa

Journalist Daniel Politi has proposed that Archbishop Viganò intentionally released his testimony yesterday, on the day when Pope Francis spoke about sex-abuse in Ireland, in order to embarrass the pope. It was “timed to cause maximum damage to the pontiff.” Others have expressed a similar opinion: malice governed Viganò’s choice of release date.

But a published interview with Archbishop Viganò contradicts that interpretation. Italian journalist Aldo Valli spoke with Viganò: Ha deciso per domenica 26 agosto perché il papa, di ritorno da Dublino, avrà modo di replicare rispondendo alle domande dei giornalisti in aereo. He decided to publish on August 26 because the pope, at the press conference on the plane returning from Dublin, would have the opportunity to respond.

The Archdiocese of Washington released a statement today, responding to Archbishop Viganò’s testimony. Viganò had called Donald Cardinal Wuerl a shameless liar. Cardinal Wuerl knew, Viganò insists, that Pope Benedict XVI had imposed a sentence upon then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2009 or 2010. McCarrick was not to live a public life, but rather retire to prayer and penance.

The Archdiocese of Washington states:

Cardinal Wuerl has categorically denied that any of this information was communicated to him. Archbishop Viganò at no time provided Cardinal Wuerl any information about an alleged document from Pope Benedict XVI with directives of any sort from Rome regarding Archbishop McCarrick. [emphasis mine]

Thing is, you can read and re-read Viganò’s dossier, and never find any reference to any document regarding the sentence imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict. Viganò alleges no document. Viganò’s account of the imposition of the sentence involves only spoken conversations. Cardinal Wuerl has categorically denied something that Archbishop Viganò never alleged in the first place.

Archbishop Viganò recounts how an Indictment Memorandum was sent by his predecessor as U.S. Nuncio, Pietro Sambi, to the Vatican in June of 2006. It included the testimony of a former priest of the diocese of Metuchen, NJ (who also ministered in Charlotte, NC). The former priest indicted McCarrick for immoral sexual acts with himself and other priests and seminarians.

Viganò’s account here has a mysterious little hole. He recalls that Sambi’s memo to the Vatican warned that the former priest might go public with his information if the Holy See did not act swiftly. According to Viganò’s account, the Holy See did not act swiftly. Pope Benedict did not punish McCarrick until 2009 or 2010. Viganò refers to this as an “incredible delay.” So what about the former-priest going public as he threatened?

The hole can be filled with a quick internet search. Earlier this summer journalist Matt Abbott wrote about how he tried to make a public stink about McCarrick in 2006, and one former-seminarian agreed to go on the record at the time.

In 2008, the late Richard Sipe published his “Open Letter to Benedict XVI,” to which Archbishop Viganò refers in his account. Sipe claimed to have documents proving McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians. Then in 2010, Sipe published quotations from these documents–the 2006 confidential settlement between the diocese of Metuchen and a McCarrick victim–in an essay called “The Cardinal McCarrick Syndrome.”

In other words, Viganò’s narrative checks out here. There is a record of the information being made public after the threat.

Viganò makes broadside attacks against many churchmen in the latter part of his testimony, with no evidence offered to support his attacks. His dossier would certainly be more credible if he had left those indictments out.

But none of that touches the central question: Is his narrative about the Holy See’s dealings with Cardinal McCarrick true?

The most-prevalent criticism of Viganò’s veracity runs along these lines:

Viganò claims that Benedict XVI imposed a penalty on McCarrick, namely that he retire from public life and pray and do penance. But McCarrick did not retire from public life. Therefore, Viganò’s story about the Holy See’s dealings with McCarrick is not true.

The conclusion does not follow from the premises. The fact is: penalties imposed by ecclesiastical authority have only one coercive mechanism: conscience. It is actually 100% believable that McCarrick flouted Pope Benedict’s discipline. And since only the most-senior prelates would have known about the penalty, no churchmen could, or would, do anything to hinder McCarrick’s flouting of it.

At a transtion of bishops, the outgoing bishop would customarily hold the bishop’s crozier until the moment comes for the Nuncio to hand it to the new bishop. There is a story about Pietro Sambi trying to keep McCarrick from holding the crozier at the installation of Donald Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington, in the summer of 2006. This would have been before Pope Benedict imposed a punishment, but after Sambi first learned of McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians–as we now know, thanks to Archbishop Viganò.

McCarrick held the crozier anyway. Sambi apparently did not choose to wrestle with another clergyman in the sacristy. The same choice would have faced any other churchman who knew about McCarrick’s penalty and saw him flouting it.

When the National Catholic Register published Viganò’s dossier, the accompanying article included a remarkable statement: The Register has independently confirmed that the allegations against McCarrick were certainly known to Benedict, and the Pope Emeritus remembers instructing Cardinal Bertone to impose measures but cannot recall their exact nature.

The reporter is Edward Pentin. Someone other than Viganò told him that Pope Benedict remembers the affair and confirms what Viganò has written.

My impression is that Archbishop Viganò has a fairly obvious agenda, and he belongs to a faction that has distrusted Pope Francis since 2013.

My mom will swear that right before I had to go back to the church to hear confessions, on the afternoon of March 13, 2013 (Eastern Daylight time), when we sat watching tv in my living room, with the new pope waving at the crowd from the loggia of St. Peter’s, I said: “He is not up to this. This man has no joy. He is not up to this.”

So I guess I belong to that faction, too.

But I cannot see how any fair-minded reader could regard Viganò’s testimony as fundamentally suspect. It is enormously illuminating. He has given us a gift.

Pope Francis told the journalists on the papal plane to investigate Viganò’s claims themselves. One of them had just done that, by asking the pope to confirm or deny Viganò’s account of the conversation Viganò says the two of them had in June of 2013.

So the Pope urged those journalists to do something. And simultaneously refused to help them do it.

Viganò insisted in his dossier that a former nunciature official would confirm Viganò’s account of a stormy meeting between Sambi and McCarrick–presumably the meeting at which Sambi told McCarrick that Pope Benedict had ordered him to retire from public life and beg God’s forgiveness in private. The official has confirmed Viganò’s account, as Viganò said he would.

But this does not really prove anything. Neither Viganò, nor this official, even claim to know for sure what Sambi and McCarrick were discussing when they apparently yelled at each other. We just know the fact that they yelled.

Will Pope Benedict speak? Will he confirm that Pentin correctly referred to him as a corroborating source for Viganò’s account? (Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re could speak, also, or Cardinal Tarsiso Bertone–and make the same confirmation.)

In ‘Church World,’ in the Catholic Media Shadow House, everyone seems to think of such a thing as some kind of almost-unthinkable taboo. In the real world where the rest of us live, it would seem to be the one obvious, necessary thing that has to happen next.

Or, even better: Let us hear from McCarrick himself. I know the man pretty well. And I can guarantee that if he had a microphone in front of him and a good-looking reporter asked him to comment on Viganò’s dossier, the ex-Cardinal would damn himself and a lot of other people (who apparently deserve to be damned) within three minutes.

 

My Hero, His Mother, and Pontifical Prevarication

pope press conference

You listened to her, O Lord, and did not despise her tears, which moistened the earth, whenever she prayed. (Antiphon for today’s Memorial of St. Monica)

St. Monica. She prayed for her son… Augustine. That he would embrace Catholicism.

She prayed. And he did. He embraced our religion, big time. The Catechism quotes Monica’s son more than any other theologian. Reading St. Augustine’s sermons has given me endless inspiration and insight. There is no one whom I admire more.

What separated Augustine from the hypocrites? Maybe his slavish humility before the sacred text of the Scriptures? Maybe his total personal devotion to Jesus his Savior? Maybe his tireless readiness to seek the truth? This made him the kind of pastor who could answer questions without prevarication.

Let’s take one Augustine quote from the Catechism.

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts.

From this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only God (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence). [CCC 1809]

There’s enough wisdom in that one paragraph to organize your whole life on.

To live well is to love God.

Loving God keeps love pure and temperate.

Loving God makes love strong, even in the face of great difficulties.

Loving God keeps love honest and just, since the Lord sits on His throne to judge everyone, with all truth.

And loving God keeps love prudent, since a brave, pure, and honest love can see through nonsense and root itself in facts, in reality.

The best reaction I have heard so far to the publication of the famous Archbishop Viganó dossier: “I am shocked above all to learn that an Italian official spent time working during the second half of August.”

augustine-bookSeriously, though. We find ourselves at a terrible impasse. Our Holy Father had a chance yesterday to deny the truth of what the Archbishop alleges. On the papal plane heading home from Ireland, a reporter asked the pope directly, “Is it true that you knew about McCarrick?”

But Pope Francis would not say, “No. It is not true. Had I known I would have acted. Acted on behalf of those victimized by McCarrick’s predations. I’m only sorry I found out about it so late, and it breaks my heart to think about all the people that this man has hurt.”

The pope could have said all this. If it were true. But he did not. He said, “You must draw your own conclusions.”

To repeat: A reporter had asked the pope about a private conversation between himself and an Archbishop. The Archbishop had written: “I told Pope Francis about McCarrick in June of 2013.” So, Holy Father, is that true? Answer: “Draw your own conclusions.”

You might have wondered what I meant above, when I used the word ‘prevarication.’ Our Holy Father’s answer to a simple Yes or No question, a question that only he can answer: “Draw your own conclusions.”

That’s what we call prevarication, my dear ones.

If You’re Up Late…

…you may have heard that an Archbishop has accused Pope Francis of grave wrongs in handling the Theodore McCarrick case. The Archbishop, a long-time Vatican official and former Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., has called upon the Pope to resign from office.

Archbishop ViganoSome will question the credibility and reliability of the Archbishop’s written testimony.

As you know, dear reader, I have spent the past two months in a state of great agitation regarding the McCarrick case. Some have wondered if I might have lost my good sense, or even my spirit of Christian mercy.

If nothing else, I think that Archbishop Viganò’s written testimony does vindicate me in my sense of the profound gravity of the situation.

Namely, that an honest and public resolution to McCarrick’s case is absolutely necessary for the Church in America, and also for the Holy See. Without such an honest and public resolution, how can we move forward into the future with anything close to fidelity to the mandate given us by Christ?

Seems to me that whether or not Pope Francis has to resign now lies in the hands of the editors who will decide whether Archbishop Viganò’s testimony counts as “front-page news” for the “mainstream media.”

You would think that those editors would run with this story–such a high-ranking official denouncing the pope–even though Viganò frankly identifies homosexuality as a “perversity.” Then, in the ensuing frenzy, will others publicly corroborate what Viganò has written? You would think that they would.

Certainly we will wake up tomorrow in a situation even more confusing than it was before. And we just might have to follow my proposal for replacing all the leaders of the Catholic Church.

Whatever happens, dear reader, we will soldier on. The truth liberates, as the good Lord said. We will know the whole truth, about everything, when we go to meet Him. In the meantime, we pray.

Fleshy unto Spiritual

I think we can find a particularly interesting paradox in the words of Christ which we hear at Sunday Mass, having to do with “the flesh” and “the Spirit.” [Spanish]

The people murmured: “This saying is hard. Who can accept it?”

Which saying? The one we heard last Sunday. My flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. The one who feeds on Me will have life because of me.

little last supperChrist, the man, flesh and blood, born of the womb of Mary. He possesses divine life, eternally flowing into Him from the Father. Infinite life. The Holy Spirit, Who has breathed life into everything that lives. This particular Galilean fellow, made of bones and cells and stuff, just like us. He gives His body and blood as the gift of divine life for us. The Holy Spirit gives life–through the flesh and blood of Christ.

Ok: A hard saying, which demands faith in the Incarnation and the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. He anticipated that His words would push some into disbelief.

The saying about the Body of the Galilean rabbi isn’t the only hard one involving flesh and blood in this Sunday’s readings, though. What about St. Paul quoting Christ quoting Genesis? A man shall join with his wife and become one flesh.

One flesh. Sex, marriage, procreation, and permanence go together. Like root beer and foam go together, or chips and salsa, or music and dancing. These are flesh-and-blood facts of life, brought to us by God Himself. You and me and baby makes three.

Maybe the idea that we all come into the world in this somewhat messy way; this one-flesh thing… maybe it strikes us as a little odd, if we think about it too meticulously. But God has His beautiful reasons.

wedding ringsThe birds and the bees are a fact of life. Like “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood,” is a fact of Christian life.

We didn’t make up that marriage is the permanent bond of man and woman. We didn’t make up that the Holy Mass gives us Christ’s true flesh. We Catholics just take the Lord at His word. We believe. We know that, if we believe, then maybe we can begin to understand. But if we don’t totally believe, we will never understand at all.

Anyway: taken all together, the facts of life, given by God in today’s readings: fleshy. Altogether fleshy. Husband and wife: one, inseparable flesh. Holy Communion: Christ’s flesh and blood to eat and drink. Almighty God does not despise human flesh. To the contrary, He has embraced it more intimately than we can conceive.

Hence, the paradox: In the same breath with which the Lord lays down these stunning affirmations of intense fleshiness, He also says, “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I speak to you are spirit and life.”

The flesh has life. The flesh even has life to give. But the flesh itself is not ‘life.’ God wills to give us life in these muscles and bones of ours. He wills that we receive our lives through our parents’ flesh and bones. He wills that we receive eternal life through His incarnate Son’s living flesh.

But our life is not just in the flesh. It’s not just breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, tv, and bed. Our life is God. God is immeasurably greater than all flesh and blood. God is so pure and spiritual that we cannot begin to imagine, cannot begin to conceive. He is the Beauty of everything beautiful, the Truth of everything true. He is our goal. God, purely God, awesomely, mysteriously God.

Everything Christ ever said has one fundamental meaning for us: that we would never shoot for anything less than God Himself.

Center of Gravity

Ray RiceWhen it comes to a running back, we hope for a very low center of gravity. Like ankle-level. But what about Jesus Christ’s Church? Where do we find Her center of gravity?

Certainly Her center of gravity is Jesus Himself. And His center of gravity is His Heart, since He is not a running back, but rather Divine Love made man.

So Holy Church has the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, and the tabernacle, and the monstrance, for a center of gravity. She has the Sacred Scriptures for a center of gravity. Since, as the Catechism quotes St. Thomas Aquinas as putting it: The sacred text reveals Jesus’ Heart (CCC 112).

Anthony Trollope wrote a series of novels about English country church life in the 19th century. He captured the feeling that parishes had rhythms that would continue until Judgment Day. Church bells would ring. Birth and death, Sundays and holy days. The Christian gospel, communicated with quiet consistency, nourishing simple hearts with joy, resilience, and a sense of humor—all based on the hope of honest love and eternal life.

That could be us, too. I hope and pray that we find ourselves at Holy Church’s center of gravity. Or at least close to it.

Statue of St. Bartholomew in Milan Cathedral
St. Bartholomew, flayed alive, wearing his own skin as a toga, in the duomo in Milan

To stay there, we need to keep the Apostles’ feasts. We must commune intimately with our original forefathers. They are the running backs we want to imitate.

Forgive me for the metaphor. Imagining the indescribable jewel called “the deposit of faith” as a football. But the good Lord did hand that ball to the Twelve. And they did run into a barrage of crushing blows right at the line of scrimmage. And they did keep the ball tucked into the crooks of their arms.

At the Church’s center of gravity, we read the Scriptures, according to the rule of faith expressed at Nicaea. We celebrate the sacraments as enumerated at the Council of Trent. We pray the Our Father. We strive to obey the moral law that Moses held in his hands and that God has written into the very fibers of our hearts.

The super-human quality of a Hall-of-Fame running back is not raw speed, or even quickness, or versatility, or skill in reading defenses. The super-human quality that defines the Hall-of-Fame running backs is: Resilience. Come at me with what you will. I will come at you still.

As we often note on their feast days, the Apostles did not have extraordinary human qualities. Average intelligence. Average creativity. Average eloquence. Average charisma.

But supernatural resilience. Supernatural capacity to press forward with the ‘ball’—the deposit of faith given them by Christ.

Our heroes the Apostles had this supernatural resilience. The Church has this supernatural resilience. By heavenly grace, we can have this supernatural resilience.

Praying for You and Thinking You’re Incompetent

boticelli Madonna Magnificat

God made us to give Him glory. By His grace, we try to do that in everything—every waking moment, and every sleeping moment, too. Like Mary our Queen put it: My soul magnifies the Lord.

Of course our main way to glorify God is: Holy Mass. Our souls magnify the Lord most when we offer ourselves to God at the altar—the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, united in true worship. We offer ourselves along with the Host and Chalice to the Father, in our humble churches all over the world.

I, for one, find myself limping along with this right now. I think many, if not most, of us American Catholics find ourselves limping along with this.

Catholics cannot expect every pope, bishop, priest, or deacon to speak and act like a living saint all the time.  We all have our foibles; we all need to exercise patience with each other.

But can’t we reasonably expect more humility, honesty, and coherent prudent action from our shepherds? More constructive communication? We can’t expect great sanctity. But can’t we expect basic pastoral competence? Steadiness in the basic duties?

What is “The Scandal of Summer 2018?” Isn’t it the evident fact that we don’t have competent governance of our Church? The evident fact that sure hands do not hold the wheel? And that they haven’t held the wheel for some time now?

The wheel of the Church is in the hands of an impaired driver, one who only knows how to react—and reacts sluggishly and sometimes steers right into danger. The driver does not seem to know where we are going. It’s like our Church is just following a computer-voiced GPS, rather than having a real father at the wheel, who knows the roads and where we’re headed. And knows things like: where we might stop for a rest, a meal, a lovely view.

steering wheelI don’t mean just the pope. Of course I wouldn’t wish the burden of being a bishop on anyone, much less the burden of being the bishop of Rome. I wouldn’t wish the burden of being a priest on anyone, or the burden of being a father.

After all, there’s only one way to make it through life in one piece. To be a monk. In this sense: To give over all my burdens and responsibilities to God every morning and every night. To try to glorify Him according to His holy will today; tomorrow will offer another, unknown battle.

That’s the only life that can get a soul to heaven, that kind of monk’s life—whether you’re married, a priest, single, whatever.

Also, humility means that we acknowledge: It’s not really our place to judge the competence of our superiors. The Church cannot function without obedient hierarchical co-operation, any more than any family can function without obedient hierarchical co-operation.

But, in August 2018, we have a right to suspend that ecclesiastical convention of unquestioning humility. We have not just a right to suspend it, but a kind of duty. A duty to honesty. And a duty to our hope for a better future.

So we say: We will continue to live the life of the Church. We will pray at the altar according to the Roman Missal. We pray for you every day, dear pope and bishops. But we think you are incompetent.