Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

What has Pope Francis Changed?...

A lot of good men and women, many of them my former teachers, have said that if Pope Francis allows communion for the divorced and remarried, it will either explicitly or implicitly contradict orthodox Catholic teaching about the Eucharist and/or marriage. The result is that for a while people have been banking on the Holy Spirit preventing the Pope from making such a decision. In other words, some faithful folks reason as follows: a) allowing divorced and remarried people to receive communion would be – at least practically – tantamount to heresy; b) the Pope can’t officially commit heresy (that’s one of the main reasons we have a Pope); c) so the Holy Spirit won’t allow the Pope to officially allow communion for the divorced and remarried. Okay, but now it’s starting to look like the Pope has made the decision to allow the divorced and remarried to receive communion. So all the folks who relied on the above reasoning are going to be tempted to doubt the institution of the papacy, or the irreformability of Catholic teaching, or the Holy Spirit, or all three. In other words, I’m afraid that because of the Holy Father’s recent statements a lot of good Catholics are going to start questioning their faith. So here’s my message: it’s okay if Pope Francis changes the Church’s current practice. It’s okay if people in adulterous relationships aren’t prevented from receiving communion. It doesn’t mean adultery isn’t adultery, and it doesn’t mean the Pope isn’t the Pope, and it doesn’t mean people shouldn’t generally refrain from receiving communion when they’re conscious of having done something gravely wrong. All it means is that there can be a change in pastoral practice to reflect the distinction between...

Communion and Consequences...

Why are so many Catholics leading the civic charge towards American degeneracy? Our vice-president is Catholic, and champions abortion blithely, unblushingly, as a matter of course. Same goes for the House Minority Leader, the highest ranking female politician in our history so far. The last Secretary of Health and Human Services is Catholic, and warred with her own bishops in an effort to get Catholic money to go to drugs designed to kill kids and objectify women. Out of nine Supreme Court Justices, six self-identify as Catholics. Six! That’s a majority vote plus one! And that’s the governing body that just made a disorder of body, mind and soul legally equivalent to one of the fundamental metaphors for understanding how we’re loved by God. What’s going on here? It’s one thing for Catholics to be sinners, for God’s people to be tempted by the conditions of time and place to the point where they’re no longer distinguishable from their non-Catholic or non-Christian neighbors. That’s one thing. But it seems like another thing when you’ve got so many high-profile Catholics doing such disproportionate damage. Scandalous Catholics are nothing new, but why are there so many scandalous Catholics, and why are they so lamentably influential? My take? It’s because they receive communion. I bet these prominent, disastrous Catholic politicians go to Sunday mass with some regularity, and I’m sure every time they go they receive the Eucharist. And that’s really dangerous, because receiving the Eucharist always has an effect, and it’s not necessarily a good one. Drinking the Blood of Jesus can, of course, make you a saint, but you can also be drinking your own damnation. God in flesh is never something neutral – after contact you’re either a greater...

Wasting Money on the Poor; Wasting Time on the Dysfunctional...

Last spring I went to a lecture by Peter Brown, an expert on “Late Antiquity” (a time period centered around the early centuries of Christianity). The lecture dealt with the massive cultural and economic changes which occurred in the Roman empire due to the distinctively Christian way of conceiving the poor. Here’s more or less how Professor Brown put it: In pagan Rome, it was seen as socially irresponsible to give your money to the poor. Why? Well because it wouldn’t do any good. You’d give to the poor, they’d spend it, and then they’d be right back where they started from. So you’d be blowing your money on something with no long-term benefits. If you want to help society, do something that would improve the social infrastructure – don’t waste it on hopeless individuals. But then Jesus came along and told his followers that if you give your money to the poor, you’ll be “laying up treasure in Heaven.” Now once this idea took off, the poor became hugely important, since, after all, Christ had basically said that they were the currency exchange people for the next life. The poor were the folks who could change your Earth-bucks into Heaven-bucks, so it was a very savvy financial move to give them your money. Which is why, according to Brown, the poor became such a major factor in the economics of Christendom. Because in the Christian system it is wise to waste your money on the poor. So I thought that was interesting. Then this fall I got to go to a lecture by Leon Kass, who’s a sort of public intellectual figure. His presentation was on the “new poverty” in America – a poverty not characterized by material...

A Father who can’t Feed his own Kids...

Everybody knows there are plenty of people, including mass-attending Catholics, who don’t really like the priesthood. There may be a lot of reasons: maybe they think it’s a relic of outdated patriarchy, maybe they think it’s a silly ceremonial job, or maybe a decade of child-abuse headlines have firmly associated the ideas of priesthood and perversion in their minds. But what’s particularly unfortunate is how many people who actually do like the priesthood – who do celebrate the hierarchical structure of the Church, who do encourage their sons to consider the sacrament of Holy Orders, who do acknowledge that sacerdotal consecration creates “another Christ” – what’s unfortunate is how many of these people never have anything nice to say about any actual priests. They seem to like the idea of priesthood considered abstractly, but they don’t seem to like how it plays out in real life. How many Catholic children on the drive home from mass on Sunday hear their parents complimenting the priest? Or do most of them hear insults prefaced or concluded with a blessing, as though that somehow makes it a pious sentiment: “God bless Fr. So-and-so, he has no social skills.” “God bless Fr. So-and-so, it’s a good thing he became a priest because he never would have made it in the real world.” “You’d think they’d give Fr. So-and-so a little training in public speaking at the seminary, God bless him.” I’m hoping to give my kids a different perspective – not only on the priesthood, but on actual priests. When I was growing up the dad of a friend of mine was wheelchair-bound with a degenerative disorder that left him almost completely immobilized. There were five kids in the family, and they always struggled to make ends...

Don’t Lust after the Church...

The Body-Person relationship is key for the Catholic understanding of the Church – St. Paul says the Church is Christ’s Body, and therefore to understand how Christ relates to His Church we just need to reflect on how we relate to our own bodies. For instance: 1. We express ourselves through our bodies. Therefore, Christ expresses Himself through the Church. 2. We identify ourselves with our bodies (e.g., “Why’d you throw that rock at me?”). Therefore, Christ identifies Himself with the Church (e.g., “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”). 3. Our bodies are how we interface with people. Therefore, the Church is how Christ interfaces with people. Okay, so far so good. But there’s another crucial fact about the Body-Person relationship that you don’t very often hear applied to the Church. That fact is the phenomenon of lust: sometimes we focus on the body to the exclusion of the person. In lust all we care about is the body, and instead of allowing the body to facilitate a relationship with the person, we reduce the person to the body. We ignore the personal, or at least make the personal secondary to the bodily. Not good. Now, let’s translate that into an ecclesiological principle: 4. It is possible to focus so much on the visible body that the potential for relationship with the person is diminished. Therefore, it is possible to focus so much on the visible Church that the potential for relationship with Christ is diminished. This is what I call ecclesiological lust, an excessive focus on the visible Church which is bad for our relationship with Christ. It’s maybe an esoteric disorder, but it’s one that I’m prone to and I think a lot of other Catholics...
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