Catherine Benincasa lived through two outbreaks of the bubonic plague in Siena (in what we now call Italy). Her mother gave birth to Catherine during the devastating first outbreak of the disease. Then the Black Death came back, 26 years later. Catherine lost three of her siblings.
In those days, the pope lived in France. Odd. Since the pope is, by definition, bishop of Rome.
Catherine wrote to Gregory XI. She reasoned with him: If you prefer French living to doing your pastoral duty in Rome, then you ought to resign.
The pope actually did as the young nun asked. Not resign, but come to Rome.
Problem solved? Not exactly. Gregory then died. The Cardinals elected a successor, who insisted on remaining in Rome, rather than return to France (home of most of the Cardinals, at that time.) So the Cardinals asked him to resign. When he wouldn’t, they elected a different pope.
Catherine called the Cardinals “incarnate demons” for causing a schism.
The “Western Schism,” as we call it, lasted for the next forty years. Pope Martin V finally succeeded in both a. returning the papacy to Rome and b. achieving universal recognition as pope, during the 1420’s.
Today at Holy Mass, we read the passage from John 6 where Lord Jesus says: I will not lose anything that the Father gives Me. Everyone who sees the Son, and believes in Him, will have eternal life.
St. Catherine of Siena died in Rome, 640 years ago today. She breathed her last surrounded by ecclesiastical turmoil, but totally united with Jesus, even in His wounds. (She received the stigmata.)
In 2005, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass on the altar that holds St. Catherine’s mortal remains.
Also, last year I got to visit the relics that they keep in Venice. May St. Catherine intercede for us with the Son of God.
In the second half of the fourth century AD, a non-Christian emperor took the throne. We Christians call him Julian the Apostate.
The new emperor took delight in the internal strife of the Church, which seethed in factions right before his eyes. He thought Christianity would destroy itself. But St. John Henry Newman notes:
In indulging such anticipations of overthrowing Christianity, Julian but displayed his own ignorance of the foundation on which it was built. It could scarcely be conceived that an unbeliever, educated among heretics, would understand the vigor and indestructibility of the true Christian spirit; and Julian fell into the error, to which in all ages men of the world are exposed, of mistaking whatever shows itself on the surface of the Apostolic Community, its prominences and irregularities, all that is extravagant, and all that is transitory, for the real moving principle and life of the system.
The thousand of silent believers, who worshiped in spirit and in truth, were obscured by the tens and twenties of the various heretical factions, whose clamorous addresses besieged the Imperial Court.
(from The Arians of the Fourth Century, Chapter 5, Section 1)
Today we keep the feast of my beloved evangelist patron. St. Mark founded the See of Alexandria, Egypt.
Three centuries later, St. Athanasius sat as one of St. Mark’s successors in office. Through the Arian controversy, the Church in Alexandria held fast to the orthodox faith, even when Pope Liberius wavered. (The pope succumbed only under threat of physical torture, not willingly.)
…Anyhoo, if you’re like me, when you get stressed, you lose yourself in the speeches of William Shakespeare’s Richard II.
Like Act III, Scene 2…
No matter where; of comfort no man speak: Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs; Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth, Let’s choose executors and talk of wills: And yet not so, for what can we bequeath Save our deposed bodies to the ground? Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke’s, And nothing can we call our own but death And that small model of the barren earth Which serves as paste and cover to our bones. For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground And tell sad stories of the death of kings; How some have been deposed; some slain in war, Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d; All murder’d: for within the hollow crown That rounds the mortal temples of a king Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits, Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp, Allowing him a breath, a little scene, To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks, Infusing him with self and vain conceit, As if this flesh which walls about our life, Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus Comes at the last and with a little pin Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king! Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood With solemn reverence: throw away respect, Tradition, form and ceremonious duty, For you have but mistook me all this while: I live with bread like you, feel want, Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus, How can you say to me, I am a king?
How slow of heart to believe. Are we slow of heart to believe?
To believe in God means to trust Him completely. We humble ourselves before the One in Whom we believe. We are all of us defenseless children, before the One in Whom we believe.
When we believe in God, we fulfill ourselves. He made us in His image and likeness. If we put our deepest trust in anyone or anything else, other than God, we will be betrayed. But if we love God with childlike hearts, we find the solid bedrock of absolutely reliable Truth.
If we are not foolish and slow of heart, we believe not just in God, but also in the Christ of God. We believe in the Son sent by the heavenly Father. By virtue of our faith in God, we can behold Christ, our brother, for Who He truly is: the eternal Son of the eternal Father, our divine Savior.
The Christ offered Himself, in the sacrifice of pure divine love, for our sakes, on the cross. He rose from the dead. And He took His seat in the glory of heaven, where He reigns as High Priest and King. We do not hesitate to trust this King of Love, and to rely on Him completely.
We have to. We need Him. We need air, food, and a roof over our heads. We need Jesus Christ more.
Not only that. We Christian believers, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread. Faith in Almighty God. Faith in God’s Son, the Christ. Faith in the Mass.
The Church did not make up the Mass; Christ made up the Mass, and by doing so, He made the Church. The Church did not make up the sacred priesthood; Christ made up the sacred priesthood, and by doing so, He made the Church. The Church did not say ‘This is my Body,’ and ‘This is my Blood;’ Christ said ‘This is my Body,’ and ‘This is my Blood,’ and by doing so, He made the Church.
Lord Jesus gathered His Apostles, entrusting His divine Body and Blood to them by His infallible words, and then He offered that same Body and Blood on the cross. His own words make clear the inseparable connection between the Mass and the cross: “This is my Body, which will be given up for you;” “This is my Blood, which will be shed for you.”
In other words, to believe in the Mass is to believe in the Redemption, and to believe in the Redemption is to believe in the Holy Mass. The Mass and the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus are the same thing. The Church did not make this up; Christ made this up, and in doing so, He made the Church.
The dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus did not understand the Holy Eucharist that Jesus had instituted. They thought that Jesus’ condemnation and death involved a terrible tragedy. They didn’t realize that it was a religious sacrifice, that it was the sacrifice of divine love. They thought their beloved rabbi had suffered a crushing defeat. They didn’t realize that, on the cross, love triumphed. Jesus gave Himself to the Father, for us, with perfect love.
Pope St. John Paul II put it like this:
The sacrifice of our redemption is so decisive for the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it, as if we had been present there.
Namely, the Holy Mass.
So: No, not foolish or slow of heart to believe. No. We believe! We believe in God. We believe in Christ. We believe in the Mass. And we long, with everything we have, to unite again at the holy altar.
During the ensuing century, after St. George’s martyrdom, the persecutions of Christianity by the Roman emperors ceased. In Milan, in AD 313, the emperor Constantine declared Christianity tolerable.
But the fourth century saw tumult within the Church. Tumult the likes of which we could hardly imagine now. The college of bishops convulsed with party factions; the U.S. Senate of today looks like a club of polite, like-minded friends by comparison.
St. John Henry Newman narrated the hugely complicated business in his book, The Arians of the Fourth Century. I highly recommend reading it. To all past, current, and potential seminarians. (Others might find it rough sledding.)
The original faith of the Church needed a word to express itself. Homoousion in Greek, consubstantialem in Latin. With that word, we Christians confess the Incarnation and the Trinity, the essential mysteries of our faith.
Let me put it like this: The Son of God shares in the God-ness of God. To practice religion honestly, man must always divide everything that exists into one of two categories. 1. God. 2. Things created by God out of nothing. The eternal Son falls into Category 1, not 2.
We think of this question as settled forever at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. The Council did settle the question, doctrinally. But not Church-politically.
In ten days, we will keep the anniversary of the death of St. Athanasius. He held fast to the Nicene Creed, through all the internal strife the Church faced in of the fourth century. Newman wrote of Athanasius: “he was the principal instrument, after the Apostles, by which the sacred truths of Christianity have been conveyed and secured to the world.”
Athanasius held fast to the Nicene Creed; he confessed the Trinity and the Incarnation. For his pains, he was excommunicated and exiled five times. All of this after the Council of Nicaea.
The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church survived the fourth century. She continued, full of life, on Her pilgrimage through time. How? She clung with desperate love to Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.
Mr. Tom Lee recently wrote an e-mail to all the priests of our diocese of Richmond, about the situation we face here. Tom made an interesting point in his e-mail: the late Bishop Carroll Dozier served for a time as a prison chaplain.
When our diocese of Richmond last year released a list of priests ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing minors, Dozier’s name appeared on it. At the end of this past February, the Diocese of Memphis released a similar list, with the name of their founding bishop on it.
Information about the crimes of Carroll Dozier, however, certainly exists. Fairly copious information. The man victimized multiple young people. The diocese of Richmond paid at least two settlements, decades ago. (Dozier’s brother served as a lawyer for the diocese.)
So, with all due respect to both bishops involved in disclosing that Carroll Dozier “has credible accusations” against him–that is, the sitting bishops of Richmond and Memphis–a question arises. Why not actually give the public all the information available? And if only the Vatican has the information, why not publicly ask the Holy See to disclose it?
At least one victim of Dozier’s still lives. The Attorney General of Virginia has a substantial amount of information about Dozier’s crimes. Why not take responsibility as churchmen, now, for the outrageous cover-up perpetrated by your predecessors?
Why remain silent? It only exposes the Church to yet another catastrophic public-relations blow. That is: the blow that will inevitably come, whenever the information the Attorney General has about Dozier ultimately comes to light?
Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (John 3:21, which we read today at Holy Mass)
…Meanwhile, at the other end of Tennessee: Apparently, the Diocese of Knoxville violated the vaunted Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
According to Mr. Michael Boyd: a former bishop of Knoxville, along with the Vicar General, sexually abused Michael while he was in school. Mr. Boyd reported the abuse to the diocese in 2018. Getting nowhere, he proceeded to sue the diocese in 2019. Then the diocese’s lawyers tried to get Mr. Boyd to agree to a non-disclosure agreement.
The rules governing the Catholic Church in the United States clearly prohibit such agreements, unless the victim requests it. When Mr. Boyd’s lawyers pointed this out, the diocese changed it to a “non-disparaging agreement.” The victim thereby promises “not to make any disparaging remark” about the diocese.
The non-disparaging clause is a poor attempt at intimidating the victim from discussing the abuse he suffered as well as the agreement he signed. It is clear that if he relates the facts of his case as well as the identity of the perpetrator that this is clearly not disparaging or slanderous toward the diocese.
Nonetheless, Doyle notes:
How the bishop and his attorneys would interpret the agreement is another matter. It is entirely possible that should Mr. Boyd make a statement, especially a public statement, that the bishop believes violates the agreement, Mr. Boyd could be drawn into further civil court action and thereby re-victimized.
Doyle goes on:
It is clear the bishop is trying to deny that the plaintiff’s claims are true, which is thinly covered re-victimization. The press release from the diocese insults and demeans Mr. Boyd. Mr. Boyd’s attorneys thought a mutual non-disparaging agreement would stop the diocese from doing this. It did not.
Doyle makes a solemn charge:
The on-going attempts by the USCCB and by individual bishops to create the impression that they sincerely care about and are concerned for the pastoral welfare of the many victims of sexual violence by clerics are trivialized by the actions of Bishop Stika and any other bishops who follow similar policies.
The SNAP complaint asks that the diocese of Knoxville not receive a letter from the bishops’ body that certifies compliance with the Dallas Charter.
If the office does certify Knoxville, Doyle argues, the certification “practice is not only meaningless but insulting not simply to victims but to the Catholic people who have been asked to trust that their bishops have turned a corner.”
…I asked Tom if the USCCB office that received the complaint in January had responded. Answer: they have not even acknowledged receipt of the complaint.
On May 24, 2003, Theodore McCarrick ordained me to the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ. Over a few decades, McCarrick ordained a couple hundred men, including many of my oldest and dearest friends and spiritual brothers.
Turns out: McCarrick should have been in jail. For ruining a large number of young lives. And the hierarchy knew it, and covered it up.
Don’t know. But likely at least one of them sat there, among the 2,000 people present. Watching the man who had caused him personal spiritual ruin ordain me and my brother ordinands to the holy priesthood.
For two years I have tried, with all the little brainpower I possess, to see the whole business from that person’s point-of-view. To interpret all the actions of the Catholic hierarchy from James’, John’s, or Nathan Doe’s point-of-view.
I have at times lapsed into intemperate rhetoric. I apologize, again, for that. Please forgive me, dear reader.
I will not, however, stop writing my way through this spiritual crisis. Bishop Knestout has accused me of “choosing my blog over my parishes.” I find that wrong and unfair.
The bishop has threatened to suspend me from ministry and seek to have me dismissed from the clerical state. If he suspends me, that will separate me from my parishioners, at least for a time, since I cannot legally disobey a suspension order. My lawyer and I will of course fight such an order, through the canonical process.
But the fact I have to deal with is this: I cannot minister honestly as a Catholic priest if I do not try to connect my mind with the mind of the clergy sex-abuse victim sitting in the pew. I have no choice there.
I was ordained by a predator. Doesn’t make my ordination invalid, of course. And it places no particular burden on anyone else ordained by McCarrick. But for me personally, I have no choice about this.
I wish none of the disturbance we experience as parishes right now. I want only a tranquil life for us all, praising God and making our way to heaven. I am sorry for the offensive things I have written over the years.
But I cannot say that I am sorry for appointing myself James Grein’s amanuensis and running with it. If I were sorry for that, I would have to be sorry for being the Mark White that God made in the first place.
And for that I am by no means sorry, praised be the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rejoice while you have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor. (I Peter 1:6-7)
St. Peter’s words to us. Rejoice in your trials, because they test your faith, like fire tests the purity of gold. [Spanish]
Does everyone know that the Church of Christ has a “vanishing center?” A mysterious, invisible heart. Who lives there? Christian hermits.
In the 20th century, Father Thomas Merton gained fame among Catholics by seeking this total solitude. And many of us love St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, for the same reason.
A Christian hermit devotes his or her entire life to praising God and fostering the world’s salvation. How? By separating him or herself from human society, in order to live a life of pure prayer and penance.
Christian hermits manifest the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Personal intimacy with Christ. A hermit lives hidden from other human eyes and preaches the Gospel silently. By surrendering absolutely everything to God in the desert of silence, the hermit finds the glory of Christ crucified.
‘Living as a Catholic during the coronavirus epidemic manifests the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Maintaining a spiritual life during isolation involves personal intimacy with Christ. The Christian staying at home on Sunday morning for the sake of public health finds in the desert of silence the glory of Christ crucified.’
May God give us strength and insight. By His invisible power and grace, these weeks can deepen and intensify our spiritual lives.
May we co-operate with His grace! May we find the discipline we need. The real hermits will be the first to tell us: when your home and your church are the same little building, and you never leave, you either get holier. Or you lose it altogether.
The Lord has not called us all to live as Christian hermits forever. By no means.
What should we be doing as a parish right now? We should be having First Communions, with the kids in their white suits and dresses. And big Quinceañeras. Cakes after Mass. Weddings with string quartets and trombones. Processions to the Virgin’s grotto. Mexican dances with tambourines and somersaults. Candles, chants, incense.
After all, Catholicism doesn’t mean just, “here come the hermits.” Catholicism means: “Here comes everybody.”
Now, you know me as a man of stone-like stoicism. I find my own personal emotions so uninteresting that I consistently ignore them–so that they will leave me alone.
But you will see me cry. When we come together again in church. Before I can even make the sign of the cross to begin Mass, I guarantee you: I will be crying for joy like a daggone baby.
Hello from Father Trying-to-Survive-Today-without-Losing-It.
The sun shines, the Lord rose from the dead. I’m heading back home from the mountains soon (to Martinsville-Rocky Mount). I look forward to celebrating Mass, with the facebook livestream, for the feast of Divine Mercy, at St. Francis and St. Joseph.
A lot of people have slightly different ideas about what is going on with your unworthy servant. My plan is to continue to do my pastoral duties, as I embrace any canon-law process regarding my assignment. I will do everything I can to keep everyone informed, as things unfold.
I appreciate the phone calls, texts, messages, and e-mails. I really need all the prayers and support.
…My dear Lutheran mom has written an essay for us, about hymns.
About Hymns and Hymn Singing
On this year’s Good Friday, no one heard the Passion Chorale sung as part of a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. No one heard the Passion Chorale in a Bach organ prelude. Most important, on Good Friday 2020, no congregation sang the hymn, “O sacred head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down” — the Passion Chorale.
The Passion Chorale tune comes from the 16thcentury, the words from the 17th century. In the 18th century, Johann Sebastian Bach gave the tune a four-part harmony and it became a Lutheran Good Friday hymn. For 250 years, Protestants have sung “O sacred head” on Good Friday.
Martin Luther, a musician who played the lute and sang tenor, started the use of hymns in worship. In the earliest days of Lutheranism, you could tell the difference between a Lutheran worship service and a Catholic service not only by the prominence of the sermon in Lutheran worship but also by the great amount of congregational singing. Singing was a passion with Luther. He wrote at least forty hymns and taught his congregation how to sing them. Luther knew that music strengthened individuals and comforted them; he also knewthat whenindividuals sing their faith together, they express the voice of the Christian community.
Bach deepened the Protestant hymn singing tradition. He gavecongregations the hymns that he harmonized, known as chorales, and he connected the chorales to the Gospel lesson for the day. For every Sunday of the church year, Bach wrote a cantata, a work for voices and instruments performed in the Lutheran liturgy after the reading of the Gospel. He would often insert a choralewith words that directly connected to the Gospel lesson.
In his cantata chorale, “Sleepers wake,” for example, a watchman sings, “The bridegroom comes, awake, your lamps with gladness take.” What is the Gospel for that Sunday? It’s Jesus’ story aboutthe bridesmaids who weren’t prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. The congregation would have recognized the chorale when they heard it – it was a hymn they loved. Through it they would have heard the Gospel lesson a second time.
Thanks to Luther and Bach, we Protestants see ourselves as hymn singers in worship. We understand that the hymns connect to the Gospel and the sermon, and we know that hymns express the faith in a way that spoken words do not.
After my sister’s memorial service, a friend told me that the most moving part of the service was the congregation’s passionate singing of the hymns, one of which was “Now thank we all our God.” This, too, is a chorale, its words and tune dating to the 17th century, its four-part harmonization written by Bach around 1735. I’m not the only Lutheran to know the hymn’s words by heart, including the last verse: “All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given, the Son and him who reigns with them in highest heaven . . .”
Why do we know the words of hymns by heart? We know them because they repeat Christian truths. You can show this with any hymn; I’ll show it here with the hymn, “The Church’s one foundation.” About the Christian church this hymn tells us 1) that it is the creation of Jesus Christ; 2) that it is united everywhere throughout the world by “one Lord, one faith, one birth; 3) that it is united with God and with those who have died before us. The hymn doesn’t replace sermons and discussions about the nature of the church; it illuminates those sermons and discussions in a memorable way.
For any hymn to be worth singing in worship, its words must be poetic. Look for poetic images direct from scripture, as in “Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea,” from Revelation 4:1-11, in “Holy, holy, holy,” a hymn about the Trinity. Poet and hymn-writer Isaac Watts recast Psalm 90’s picture of the mystery of time. “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.” These are the words of verse five of Watts’ most famous hymn, “O God, our help in ages past.”
Unfortunately, recent Protestant hymnals contain quite a few hymns without poetry. These hymns have old, beautiful tunes with new, clunky words. This is a sad development in the Protestant hymn-writing tradition.
In the poetic hymns, words are set to music that is both beautiful and expressive. Jesus’ crucifixion calls for the somber notes of “O sacred head.” In the hymn “Sleepers, wake,”the watchman’s words are sung on three ascending notes that suggest the sound of a town watchman’s voice. For Easter, “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain” proclaims the day’s extraordinary joy with three crisp, identical major-key chords. The music is by the nineteenth century British composer Arthur Sullivan, who wrote hymns in addition to the music for the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. The hymn’s words are by the eighth century St. John of Damascus. The first stanza begins and the last stanza ends with the same words: “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness; God hath brought his Israel into joy from sadness.”
For me it’s been a continuing joy to sing beautiful hymns, Sunday after Sunday, with a worshiping congregation. I’mgrateful to have spent my life in the Protestant hymn singing tradition.
Are thehymns mentioned in this postin your Catholic hymnal? If you find them, sing them soon!
I promised respect and obedience to my bishop when I became a priest. I have honored that promise for seventeen years, and I will continue to honor it. With all my heart I want to do God’s will. After all: What good does it do for anyone to want to do anything else?
A bishop does not have the legal right to silence a priest altogether, or to constrict a priest’s freedom in an unnatural way. A bishop has the duty to insist on clarifications and corrections, if and when a priest departs from truth and orthodoxy in his preaching or publications.
I acknowledge the bishop’s role there. I have asked many times for the clarifications and corrections that the bishop would have me make. Never got a specific response, or any kind of written response at all. In the meetings we had, he gave me only vague generalizations about what I had done wrong. I pointed out that we seem to have significant misunderstandings between us, and I asked for his specific objections. No response.
The Church has explicit rules about a bishop removing a parish pastor against the pastor’s will. So far we have followed none of those rules.
In his letter to me yesterday, the bishop ordered me to move. But he did not provide the address of the domicile to which I was to move. This tells me that he understands, like I do: we have many more legal rivers to cross here.
Bishop proposes that I become a prison chaplain at-large for the diocese. If that proves to be God’s will for me, I will embrace it with all the devotion I have. I would hold it a great privilege to serve in that way.