The St. Bede, Williamsburg Affair

[written 1/16/20]


God made us male and female. God became a baby boy, who grew up to be a man. The Scriptures conclude with the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

Lord Jesus made the marriage of a man and a woman a sacrament of the New Covenant. The celebration of Mass involves a nuptial mystery. A priest does not preside at the altar in order to attain some kind of personal primacy or honor for himself; he celebrates in the person of Christ the Bridegroom of the Church.

Men are not “better” than women. Man and woman, coming together, give life. In the nuptial mystery that gives life, man and woman must co-operate. They are not interchangeable in their distinctive roles.

Same goes for the priesthood and the celebration of Holy Mass. God became a man in order to save and sanctify the entire human race by His so coming. It’s not like the heavenly Father just flipped a coin to decide if His eternal Word would become a man or a woman. No: the maleness of the Christ comes from the great divine design. The maleness of the ministerial priests of the New Covenant does also.

Being a man doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. Being a priest doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. But to be a priest, you have to be a man. Because Christ celebrates the Holy Mass as the Bridegroom of His Church, in the person of His ministerial priests.

All this is essential Catholic doctrine. We say it pertains to the essence of the religion of Christ. We rely on the authority of the popes in this matter. As well we should, since the divine mysteries involved transcend our human reason.

Meanwhile, Anglican and Episcopalian Christians disagree. (Or at least many of them do.) They do not accord the authority of the pope the deference that we do. Indeed, our doing so offends their Articles of Religion, as does our veneration of holy images. They have women priests and bishops.

Susan HaynesThe Episcopalians of Virginia are our friends. We Catholics owe them a debt of gratitude. Even though certain aspects of our religion offend theirs, they let us use their church buildings for years, when many of our nascent parishes had no property.

We had a controversy in Williamsburg. The pastor of the parish of St. Bede, with the approval of our bishop, had offered the use of our church to the Episcopalians of the Diocese of Southern Virginia. So that they could have the consecration of their new bishop in a suitably large church building. (They have no cathedral, and St. Bede seats more people than any of their churches.)

Their new bishop is a woman. To us, this seems impossibly strange. To them, it is normal.

We do not call Episcopalians heretics or schismatics. We do not charge the spiritual descendants of those who separated from the Church with the act of separating. We seek the fellowship of all brother and sister Christians.

Friends can and do disagree on the gravest matters, but nonetheless remain friends.

It appears that the new Episcopalian bishop learned that her coming to St. Bede would distress some Catholics, so she found another place to use for her consecration.

We lost a chance to re-pay our friends some of the debt of gratitude we owe them, for their hospitality to us in the past. The pastor of St. Bede, and our bishop, missed a chance to explain clearly why the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in the ordination of women.

Sad situation all around, in my book.

Dew of Heavenly Truth

Mare and foal

Come, Holy Spirit! On our dryness pour your dew. [Spanish]

The Lord Jesus died on the cross. On the third day, He rose again. He remained on earth for forty days. He ascended into heaven. Our Lady and the Apostles prayed. Then Christ poured out the Holy Spirit.

Sunday we conclude the Easter season, which is the same thing as springtime. We Christians celebrate spring by celebrating the Lord Jesus’ Easter mysteries, over the course of fifty days.

The sequence of events that we remember every Easter season—it teaches us why the Lord Jesus became man and conquered human death. He did not do it for His own sake. After all, before He became man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, He already enjoyed undying life. From all eternity, He is true God from true God—one eternal God with the Father.

So Christ did not need to rise from the dead for His own sake. Rather, He rose from the dead for us. He rose from the dead to be the first-fruits of our resurrection.

So: two fundamental, unseen facts of life. 1. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The Apostles saw Him, and we believe the testimony the Apostles left behind. 2. We believe that, in the end, we will rise again, too, like Christ rose again.

El Greco PentecostUnseen truths of faith. We believe the fundamental facts of our lives; we do not see them. We believe in the final consummation of the world, the coming of Christ the Judge, eternal glory for the just, and eternal damnation for the unjust.

And we live by our faith in this as-yet-unseen future.  What we do see, however—what we see when springtime comes every year—it gives us a sign of the unseen consummation to come. The springtime we see gives us a sign of the eternity we do not yet see.

Let me explain. Every spring, the earth brings forth new life. What was dead rises again. What had gone down into the soil as a seed emerges as a living flower. The unseen power of nature brings about an annual resurrection of everything that is green and fragrant. The fauna, too, are renewed. Chicks hatch. Horses foal. All the species of the animal kingdom get resurrected by nature’s power.

Now, if we are going to try and understand Pentecost, we have to ask ourselves: What is the great secret ingredient of the annual resurrection of Mother Nature, of the earth? What makes spring spring?

The answer is, of course: Water. Water makes the springtime resurrection of nature’s life occur. The sky pours water onto the soil, and the moistening dew wakes the sleeping power of life. Water revives the earth.

Everybody with me so far? Now of course we are greater than all the plants. We are greater than all the animals. God made the other creatures for us. The other creatures sustain us; we cannot do without them. But they live small and fleeting lives, compared to ours.

We human beings need more than the water of the annual spring rains. Because God does not cultivate us nor breed us just for annual regeneration. We are not little creatures that cycle through simple annual routines in order to provide food for higher creatures. Tomato plants go through an annual cycle so that we can eat them. Worms go through an annual cycle so that we can bait fish hooks with them.

Holy Spirit dove sunWe, however, are not food for any other creature. No—we are the ultimate fruit of the earth. We are the reason why the earth exists. God cultivates us to bear our fruit once and for all. Our springtime is the eternal day, when everything is fulfilled, time is complete, the devil is altogether subdued, and eternal glory fills the earth. The fruit of the human race will be ripe when the new Jerusalem descends like a bride from heaven, and God is all-in-all.

To come out of the earth and flower on that day, we need water of an altogether different kind than the plants and animals need. Nature has her annual resurrection by water every spring. But for our eternal resurrection, we need the dew of truth. We live by the water of life which flows from the Heart of Christ in heaven. We are watered not just by H20 water, but by the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is the day of life-giving rain for Christian souls. So we pray.  Lord, rain down your holy dew on us! We are the seeds you have sewn in Your garden.  Turn on Your garden hose, and water us down with Your heavenly spiritual gifts—until the gullies and rivulets in our souls are gushing with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. We want puddles and puddles of Your dew in our hearts. Rain down Your grace on us, O God. Send Your Spirit.



PS. The Interfaith Council of Martinsville-Henry County invited me, along with other Jewish, Muslim, and other Christian leaders, to speak at a meeting on Sunday afternoon: The American Heritage of Religious Freedom: Are There Limits to Free Speech Regarding Other Faith Traditions?

I collected information from the Catechism, and from the documents of Vatican II, to prepare a little talk. If you’re interested, please come–3pm Sunday at the Islamic Center, 17125 Al Philpott Hwy, Martinsville.

Or you can read my notes by clicking HERE.


baptismchristgreco1When the Lord Jesus came out from the Jordan River, after His Baptism, the heavens opened and the Father spoke:  “This is my beloved Son, on Whom My favor rests/in Whom I am well-pleased.”

That moment in Christ’s life expresses the goal of our spiritual lives, doesn’t it?  To rest in the pleasure of God, right here, right now.  To live on the will of the Father as our food and drink, like the Lord Jesus lived on the Father’s will.  To love God and please Him—by lovingly obeying His plan to make us ourselves, in full.

Qoheleth penetratingly assessed the vanity of the world.  It’s all perfect futility–with the rivers running to the oceans through generation after generation, and Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar, and, Mao Tse Tung, and Whitney Houston, and every other dead person, moldering in dusty graves.  And all of us facing the same oblivion…  Pure futility. Unless we have the mind of Christ, and rest in the divine good pleasure.

To share the triune love–which heaven vividly revealed to us on the bank of the Jordan—that gives life meaning.  That gives life true joy.  Without a share in the divine good pleasure: vanity and chasing after wind.

We Catholics very much favor dialogue with other religions.  Anyone who does homage to the one true God we recognize as a brother or sister.  We always seek mutual understanding and peace with everyone.

But we would never say:  “All religions are really fundamentally the same.”  Because, without the mind of Christ—it’s all vanity.

We Catholics love to seek unity with other Christians, which we call “ecumenism.”  We recognize anyone who confesses Christ as a brother or sister, with whom we seek peace and mutual understanding.

But we would never say, “All denominations are really the same.”  Because having the mind of Christ is fundamentally a matter of supernatural grace.  We cannot rest in the pleasure of the Almighty Father, in union with the Son, without a Gift from on high.

That Gift comes to us through the sacraments that Christ gave to His Church, when He founded Her.  On the rock of Peter—one, holy, catholic, and apostolic—united on earth by the Bishop of Rome, our pope.  With whom we pray at every Mass, seeking to share the mind of our Lord through the holy mystery we celebrate at our altars.

Vision for Nicaea III, 2025

I went ahead and took my own advice–to think about how to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the Creed.  Your Holiness, I humbly suggest…

An ecumenical council, held on the shores of Lake Iznik, Turkey.  World Youth Day and the World Meeting of Families would occur simultaneously, in the same place.

Asia Minor map w NicaeaThe Council would confess the Creed and solemnly receive the canon of Scripture (all the books listed at the Council of Trent).

They would together declare that the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a sure norm for teaching.

The Fathers would agree on how to compute the date of Easter, would commit to the discipline of choosing priests from among celibate men, and would raise a cheer to Pope St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae.

Then everyone would have a chance to go to confession.  To conclude the Council, all the Fathers will concelebrate Mass, with commuicatio in sacris for all.  Communicatio in sacris for all Christians would be the goal of Nicaea III.

Now, before you say, “Father, that’s not ecumenism, that’s you-come-in-ism!” let me make a few provisos.

First, to send invitations to the Council, the Pope would gather as many patriarchs as possible–Patriarch Bartholomew and all other willing parties–to issue the invitation.  I don’t think anyone needs to stand on particular prerogatives to convoke and confirm ecumenical councils.  At this point in Christian history, the centenary of Nicaea itself can convoke the world’s bishops.  All will come as pilgrims to the place where the 318 met at Emperor Constantine’s invitation, seventeen centuries–and countless saints and martyrs–ago.

nicaea-sistineSecond, the invitation would include the following: Holy Father Francis proposes that the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers the best existing instrument for fostering union. But the Catechism could conceivably be improved.  We will have a process by which any invitee could submit proposed amendments to the Catechism.

This process would need a governing body.  The Catechism already is the fruit of world-wide consultation, so the benefit of the doubt will go to the document as is.  Most of the work processing proposed amendments would have to get done before the Council.  (We need all nine years!)  But no one would foreclose the possibility that proposed amendments could be put to vote at the Council itself.  (All that said, we are not talking about any fundamental changes.)

Third, the invitation would extend to every bishop that any of the signatory Patriarchs recognize as legitimate, including non-Catholic bishops.  Also, we would have a process by which Anglican and Lutheran bishops could get regularized (and ordained according to apostolic succession, if need be), so as to be seated at the Council.  Other non-Catholic presiding ministers could receive invitations to submit proposed amendments to the Catechism.  (All of this presumes an acknowledgement that the Catechism teaches the truth as is.)

nicaea-creedFourth, the Mass itself, to conclude the Council…  I think we can say that any honest Protestant, who visits the local Catholic parish and hears the Novus Ordo liturgy, would have to acknowledge that the 16th-century criticisms of the Catholic ceremonies have been addressed.
On the other (Orthodox) side: The funeral Mass of John Paul II offers us a model for how to incorporate Eastern liturgical elements into a Roman-rite Mass on such an occasion.

All this said, a Mass can only have one celebrant.  At Nicaea III, that will be the pope.

Now, “wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there am I, in the midst of them,” saith the Lord.  No Christian can doubt this.  By the same token, no Bible reader can dispute that the Lord wills that we come together to take and eat, to take a drink, His Body and Blood.  We must seek communicatio in sacris; Christians must unite at Mass.  Nicaea III will offer the way.

The invitation to Nicaea III will not suit anyone who thinks we can have a Church without validly ordained priests, or who thinks that God calls women to the priesthood.  The invitation will not suit anyone who thinks Christ instituted only two sacraments, or who considers Christianity just one religion among many “spiritual paths,” or who thinks he or she can be his/her own shepherd and pope.

The invitation will not suit anyone who can’t recognize that Christ established a visible institution for the sake of mankind’s salvation.  Or who doesn’t see that this institution continues through the laying on of hands, from one successor of the apostles to the next.  And the invitation will not suit anyone obtuse enough to imagine that someone other than the pope can unite the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Most of the Christians of the world are Latin-rite Catholics.  No one sins against ecumenism by acknowledging this fact.  Also, Protestants and Orthodox can recognize most of what’s in the Catechism as their own teaching, too.  Nothing un-ecumenical about facing that fact, either.

Therefore, the invitation to Nicaea III will have two unambiguous subtexts:  1) The age of Protestantism has run its course.  Let’s come together and agree on what we read in the Catechism, so we can move forward together. 2) The age of autocephalous national Churches has run its course.  Let’s come together and agree on what’s in the catechism, and move forward together.

Why the commitment to celibate clergy?  The New Evangelization involves the apostolate of young people, families, consecrated men and women, widows and widowers–lay people in every situation.  It involves young people, families, consecrated, widows, and widowers gathered around their priest.

For the New Evangelization to bear fruit in souls, the priest need not be particularly competent (witness the pastor of St. Andrew/St. Gerard in Roanoke, Va.!)  But he must be celibate; he must commit his whole heart to love Christ (Head and members) and no one else.

Priests currently married can continue in ministry, of course.  But let’s acknowledge there’s no future in it.

Why the communal cheer for Evangelium Vitae?  One thing on which everyone still standing at the end of the process will agree:  We are pro-life!

Nicaea III will manifest Holy Church, more united than She has been for a thousand years. That union already almost-exists, thanks to:  1) Vatican II, and the ensuing efforts of many courageous souls, Pope St. John Paul II pre-eminent among them.  And 2) the spiritually desperate state of the contemporary world, which exercises a pressure on Christians to get down to basics.

A successful Council of this kind could lead to persecutions and martyrdoms afterwards, because the captains of the world will panic at the sight.  Not to mention how hard it will be to get the Turkish government to co-operate. And we’ll need as much money as the Olympics.

May God’s will be done.  Just an idea I had today while rambling in the woods. Your Holiness, I think this thing could be so awesome that Prince would come back from the dead to play covers of your favorite Christian-rock songs at the Saturday-night vigil before the concluding Mass!


Catholic Unity (Nine Points)

We find ourselves in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This past Wednesday, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, said to us,

During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel.

What do we Catholics believe about the unity of the Church?

1. We believe that Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Son of God—the Way, the Truth, and the Life, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven—we believe that He rules as the sole Head and King of the Church and of the universe.

2. We believe that every man, woman, or child who has been baptized in water and in the name of the Blessed Trinity is a Christian, a member of the Church.

We generally give to the clergy the office of baptizing people. But, when you get down to it, everyone possesses the competence to baptize.

Water + the words = Holy Baptism = a Christian.

3. We Catholics believe that the written Word of God bears witness to the truth in such a way that the Bible must be our constant study and rule of life. God Himself speaks to us when we read or listen to the Bible. At the same time, we must study the sacred books for what they are, namely the work of human beings written in particular circumstances at particular times.

When it comes to how people interpret the Bible, we Catholics don’t call our brother- and sister-Christians ‘liberals’ or ‘fundamentalists,’ because neither of these terms really does anything to help people understand each other.

4. We Catholics believe that Christ gave everything essential in our religion to His Apostles, and they, in turn, gave everything to the first generation of Christians. Ever since then, the entire sacred patrimony has been handed down from one generation to the next.

Considering what the Lord gave us, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church shines gloriously, perfect in every respect. At the same time, considered as a human institution, the Church is nothing other than a hospital for sinners, constantly in need of reform and renewal.

5. We believe that, given the way human societies work, the Lord Jesus knew that His chosen band would need a leader, so He chose St. Peter for this office. The office has been filled ever since. The current occupant is Benedict XVI. The Pope governs Christ’s Church on earth.

6. We Catholics believe that we have a duty to stand up for truth and justice, for the right to life, for fairness in everything. We believe that we owe it to ourselves to help the poor. In all these enterprises we gladly co-operate with everyone who seeks to fulfill the same Christian duties, be they Catholic or not.

7. We believe that our Lord made marriage a sacrament and an unbreakable bond. We believe that the marriage of two baptized Christians is a sacrament. We know that some of our separated brethren don’t even teach that marriage is a sacrament, but nonetheless our faith binds us to regard any marriage of two baptized Christians as a sacrament. We believe that the Church, and the Church alone, has the authority to declare null any particular marriage vows, taken by any Christian man and woman.

8. We Catholics love the saints in heaven. We love our Lady, and we constantly beg her help. We worship only the Triune God.

We worship all the Persons of the Trinity. We worship everything that is personally united with the eternal Son. We worship, therefore, His Sacred Heart and the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

9. Christ instituted the Mass at the Last Supper. He made His Apostles the first priests of the New Covenant. Ever since then, the sacred priesthood has been handed down by the laying on of hands.

We believe that only a duly ordained priest can celebrate Christ’s Holy Eucharist. We believe that Catholic and Orthodox priests are duly ordained. We believe that the Protestant clergy are not. That said, we believe that whenever two or three Christians gather together, the Lord is there in the midst of them.

We do not take communion at non-Catholic services, and we do not invite non-Catholics to take Holy Communion at Mass. That said, we rejoice whenever we pray with anybody and whenever anybody prays with us. We have nothing but respect for every man’s Christian faith. False pretenses of unity do not serve the cause of Christ. But, of course, neither do pride or disrespect.

…Please God we get there, will we find a big coffee hour in heaven, with Protestants holding heavenly Styrofoam cups right next to us? Maybe. Only God knows the answer to such questions. I, for one, would like to ask Him if we could have a Tina Turner concert in heaven. But I know better than to expect an answer at this point.

We Catholics concern ourselves with our getting to heaven. The Lord has given us the means of getting there; He has given us every reason to hope for it.

One of the means we have of getting to heaven is: Loving Protestant and Orthodox Christians as our brothers and sisters.

Out in Public (Easter Exegesis, Pt. II)

“I am the Good Shepherd,” says the Lord Jesus. “I know mine and mine know me…I will lay down my life for the sheep…and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:11, 14, 16

private-propThe Lord Jesus shepherds His sheep. After He rose from the dead, He instructed the Apostles and prepared them for their mission. Then He ascended into heaven. Christ continues to shepherd His Church through the pastors He has chosen.

A year ago, Pope Benedict came to visit us here in the United States. He encouraged us in the faith. At his Mass at Nationals’ Park, he told us why he came:

In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles. I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father.

When Pope Benedict was here with us, he did what a loving shepherd always does: He tried to protect us from the wolves by warning us about the temptations that beset us.

pope-nationalsThe Holy Father identified four distinctively American sins: materialism, “privatized religion,” false individualism, and relativism. Today, let’s focus on the temptation of privatized religion.

Now, before we expose the fallacy, let’s acknowledge this: Every individual person is indeed free before God. No one can compel anyone else to believe anything. Our friendship with God arises from the depths of our souls—the most intimate, interior part of who we are. There is, in fact, something, uniquely private about religion.

Nonetheless: This personal, private part of religion is not the whole story. Religion is fundamentally a matter of objective truth. There is one God, and none of us are Him.

The one true God of all creation sent His one Son into the world to be the Savior of the entire human race. Christ founded one Church. The Church of Christ has one supreme pastor. There is one true religion, which God Himself gave us to follow. And the true religion governs us in public, as well as in private.

The Council of Trent
Here is how the Pope put it:

Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel…

God is preparing a new springtime for Christianity. What is needed above all, at this time in the history of the Church in America, is a renewal of apostolic zeal.

In our country, we have fallen into the trap of thinking that it is not “nice” to assert that one religion is true and that the truth makes demands on us in every sphere of life. Instead of standing up for truth, we have a collection of meaningless bromides that we use to avoid debating theology, like:

“It doesn’t matter. We all worship the same God.”

May is our Lady's month
May is our Lady's month
Or: So-and-so joined the church “that works for him” or “that meets his needs,” or “where he feels comfortable.”

Or: “In religion the important thing is to be true to yourself.”

All of these are nonsense, because there isn’t a god for every individual person. There is only One. Our duty is to seek the truth about Him, and to cling to it once we have found it.

The American fallacy of privatized religion is what has given rise to the idea of religious ‘denominations.’

Don’t get me wrong: we love and respect our Protestant and Orthodox brethren. We acknowledge all baptized people as Christians.

But there is only one Church. Christ founded one Church. He shepherds one Church.

The disagreements which produced the various denominations are important. It is not ‘ecumenical’ to pretend that the disputed points—for which our ancestors were willing to die—don’t matter. Religious ignorance is not ecumenical. What is truly ecumenical is to make the effort to study and understand the important questions so that educated discussion is possible.

Of course, any baptized person can sin against the unity of the Church. We Catholics sin against the unity of the Church all the time—by failing to live in the truth.

So let us repent of our sins and dedicate ourselves to the cause of truth. God has a plan to gather everyone into His Church. Let us each do our part to see that this plan is fulfilled. Catholics, let’s go public.

Giving the Holy Ones Their Props

Props for the Holy Ones?  None to be seen.
Props for the Holy Ones? None to be seen.
According to the Pope, one of the reasons why we have a Solemnity of All Saints is to make up for all the times we have failed to honor the saints during the rest of the year.

This raises the question: What do we owe the saints?

They of course do not need anything from us. That is the whole point of it: The saints are done with needing things. They are in the state of enjoying–enjoying eternal life with God.

For our sakes, we owe the saints praise, admiration, reverence, and imitation. Their memory is fully alive in heaven; we owe it to ourselves to keep their memory alive here on earth.

Today’s feast provides a good occasion for friendly ecumenical reflection. Protestants have charged the Catholic Church with neglecting God by worshiping the saints.

NOW we're talking.
NOW we're talking.
Now, in truth, to revere a saint is to worship God, since God alone makes a saint a saint. To admire a saint is to admire the work of God’s grace.

Let us Catholics freely express regret, though, for any instances of ignoring God for the sake of saints. Shouldn’t happen. God is God. God alone deserves our highest praise, adoration, and submission. There is no doubt that our dear Protestant brothers and sisters are right to insist on this point.

On the other hand, we Catholics have something to say to our Protestant friends, too. Face it, people: We owe the saints. We owe them some serious props. For our sakes, we owe them liturgical acknowledgement (i.e., prayers).

How, dear Protestant brethren, can you so shamelessly neglect to keep the saints’ feast days? They are up in heaven praying for all of us and winning graces for all of us–and you ignore them? Not nice.

Let us, then, keep All Saints Day by loving the saints all the more and praising them all the more. We need to make up for all our good Christian brothers and sisters who neglect to keep the saints’ feast days.