To Honor and Not to Honor

Villalpando Magi

They came to honor the Child. The shepherds and the magi. We go to honor Him, too, by making a spiritual pilgrimage to Bethlehem. Not just to honor Him, of course, but also to praise and adore Him, and to rejoice at His birth. But let’s focus on the giving of honor. [Spanish]

We honor God above all things. All goodness, all nobility, all truthfulness, all grace comes from God. We owe God everything. We exist because of His generosity. We respond to His kindness by consecrating ourselves in His service and honoring Him for Who He is.

Like the shepherds and the magi, like St. Joseph and the Virgin, we honor God made man in Christ. By honoring the Son, we honor the Almighty Creator and provident Father of the universe. And by honoring the incarnate Word, not only do we honor the triune God, but also we honor everything virtuous and honest about mankind. The God-man has infinite divine virtue and the perfection of humanity. We honor all of that, when we honor the newborn Christ.

Recognizing all that is honorable about God and man in Jesus liberates us from idolatry. Honoring the Christ attunes us to reality as it truly is. God is God, and only God is God. God made the human race beautiful, in His image. We betrayed that; we betrayed our true selves. But God became one of us to restore and fulfill the original holiness of mankind. We honor that true loveliness of our race when we honor Jesus.

Fra Angelico ordinationTo give honor where we should give it, and not where we shouldn’t: that’s a matter of honesty and justice, a matter of maintaining personal integrity as human beings. (See St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, Pars II-II, q63 a3.) It’s a sin to neglect to honor someone who deserves our honor. That’s called disrespect. It’s also a sin to honor someone who doesn’t deserve it. That’s called flattery or sycophancy.

A couple weeks ago, a priest who supervised and guided me when I was a seminarian became a bishop. I watched the ceremony on YouTube, praying for my one-time mentor and for the people of his new diocese.

The Cardinal Archbishop who presided over the ordination gave a long homily, as they always do. But this one wasn’t totally boring. The Archbishop reflected on where bishops come from and what their fundamental role is.

The office of bishop comes from Christ, and the bishops give us Christ. Jesus founded His Church on the Twelve Apostles, the first priests and first bishops. Without the unbroken succession of the laying on of hands that started with the Twelve, and which has now continued for two thousand years, we would not have the Holy Mass or any of the sacraments. No one can make himself a priest. Only a bishop can make a man a priest, who can give the Body and Blood of Christ to the people.

We have to honor this. We have to honor bishops and the pope, because they are the successors of the original Apostles as Jesus’ representatives on this earth. The pope and bishops of today are the living ends of the chain that links us with the baby born in Bethlehem.

Death of an Altar Boy E.J. Fleming CroteauAll that said, we have to remember what we read in Scripture: Like snow in summer, honor for a fool is out of place… Like one who entangles the stone in the sling is he who gives honor to a fool. (Proverbs 26:1,8)

Very few people attended my one-time mentor’s ordination as a bishop. The people of his new diocese were stunningly, painfully absent from the ceremony. The pandemic kept people away, to be sure. But that’s not the whole story.

We learned earlier this year that the previous bishop of that diocese covered-up sexual abuse that had been committed by the bishop there a generation ago. At least two of the previous bishops of that diocese were guilty of sexually abusing minors, as well as dozens of priests there. To this day, the diocese has not reckoned with the full truth.

One of the priest-abusers likely killed one of his young victims. It is a murder mystery that still lingers. A skilled investigator wrote a book about the case a couple years ago, calmly laying out all the facts. It is practically impossible to read that book and retain any sense of honor for the clergy of the Catholic Church.

Another old priest friend of mine died just before Christmas. I attended his funeral, but I could not concelebrate, since the bishop here has unjustly suspended me from ministry.

Now, I don’t mean to “project” as the psychologists put it. But I think that my standing away from the altar at my friend’s funeral put me in the strained kind of place that a lot of Catholics find themselves in these days. I knew I belonged in church for the funeral. For me to be anywhere else would have involved betraying my friend and my faith. But I could not fit in there, as if nothing were wrong. For me to concelebrate the Mass peacefully—that would have required my making concessions to the bishop months ago, concessions that would have betrayed my conscience.

This is where I find myself as the new year of grace begins. I daresay you, dear reader, find yourself in a similar place. Let’s make a resolution for 2021: That we will trust God and trust Christ. Let’s trust that His plan will involve better days to come. And let’s trust that, to get there, we won’t have to betray either the Church or ourselves.

Trusting Jesus, the gospels, the Church

This weekend in Rome, the newly confirmed young people will make a little pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter, where they will profess together the Creed of the Church.

St. Peter's tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
St. Peter’s tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
I don’t think the young people of our parishes will be able to go.

But the important thing to focus on is: Closeness to God, closeness to the Church, and closeness to St. Peter all go hand-in-hand. If I want to live as a friend of my Maker, I live as a friend of His Church. If I want to live as a friend of God’s Church, I live as a friend of the Apostolic See of Peter.

No one could affirm this connection more convincingly than St. Mark could affirm it.

Mark started life as a devout believer in the one, true God of Israel. Mark grew up with Peter as a kind of unofficial uncle. In our first reading at today’s Mass for the Feast of St. Mark, we hear Peter refer to Mark as a son.

St. Mark wrote down a gospel. Where did he learn all of its contents? From St. Peter. How do we know that? St. Justin Martyr, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Jerome, Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, and practically every other early Christian who wrote anything down–they all testify to the fact that St. Mark wrote down what St. Peter preached.

Donatello St. MarkWe have a task, the New Evangelization. Let’s focus on the crucial dimension of trust.

Centuries of disputes have preceded our generation, disputes about God, reason, Jesus, the Bible, and the Church. To oversimplify, maybe we could summarize the disputes like this: Protestants have maintained that we can absolutely trust the Bible more than we trust our own minds, and we must absolutely distrust the Pope and the Church. On the other hand, Rationalists have argued that Jesus was a great guy, and there may be a God somewhere, but you can’t trust the Bible or the Church; you can only trust “rational” scientists and historians.

But after all these centuries of argument, the following is actually clearer than ever, to anyone who thoroughly investigates these matters: 1) Faith in God, the loving Father, and faith in Jesus are inseparable. 2) Jesus, the Apostles, St. Peter, and the four canonical gospels are inseparable. 3) The Old Testament, the New Testament, the Pope, and the Church are inseparable.

We do not really have a choice between the one, universal God of love and the God of Jesus, or between Jesus and the Apostles, or between the Bible and the Church, or between reasonableness and religion.

The only real choice we have is between having a life that makes sense, because Jesus makes sense of it for me through His Church, which bears His true, trustworthy Word–or having a life that doesn’t make sense at all.

O holy patron, my father, my lord, St. Mark–friend and son and disciple of St. Peter, who was friend and son and disciple of Christ: Pray for us, that we might trust God, His Son, His Word, and His Church, and trusting, help others to trust, too!

Pastoral Charity

st-peter

In his letters, St. Peter referred to the fact that his job was to remind his people of things they had already learned. They learned them when they first embraced the Catholic faith.

St. Peter also promised to make sure that there would be someone else to remind them after he had died (II Peter 1:15).

mosesThere is an unbroken succession of Popes from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. The succession from one pope to the next began with the fatherly love of the first Pope for his people…

…Please say a little prayer for me. The Archbishop has asked me to come to his office this afternoon. I am afraid he might do something rash, like entrust one of his parishes to me.

Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)

…I am working on a new special-edition Bests list, to be published soon. In the meantime, here is an extra:

Best Bobby Darin song: