Jeremiah 6:16

Thus saith the Lord: Stand ye on the ways, and see and ask for the old paths which is the good way, and walk ye in it: and you shall find refreshment for your souls.


Jesus of Nazareth - Chapter 1

The Baptism of Jesus

The Holy Father begins his Jesus of Nazareth with a logical initial step—the baptism of Christ. This is when the life of Christ becomes public, and history begins recording His actions. There are a few different accounts of the baptism and different settings in history. Benedict examines each and explains each of their importance. Matthew, for example, by his lineage of Jesus, shows that Jesus is the inheritor of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, fulfilling the promises to each and prophesy regarding them. Luke the Evangelist makes a point to emphasize the connection with man and God in his genealogy. When Luke refers to Adam, he emphasizes the special relationship which our first father shared with God, being the “son of God.” This emphasizes the relationship which Jesus shares as son of [...] Adam, Son of God. This emphasizes Jesus' relationship with God as divine, but also as Man, suggesting that as such, we share in the same humanity and thus possibly the same destiny.

Here the Pope switches gears slightly toward John the Baptizer and his own references in history, again, helping to establish a solid time-frame for his existence and for Jesus'. This case for the “historical Jesus” is made even more firm when He and John the Baptizer are recorded in the times of particular emperors and high-priests. In regards to these earthly leaders, the Pope makes an interesting distinction, pointing out that the emperor and Jesus belong to two different realities, distinct, but not mutually exclusive. Here we see the potential for struggle between the earthly and the divine, though preempted by Christ in his dictum “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and undo God that which is His” (Mk 12:17). John's role is, therefore, to prepare the path for Jesus who will come and bridge these two divergent realities.

John's mission echoes precisely that foretold in the prophets. And John's actions prefigure the saving actions of Christ. He baptizes, a sort-of death, and hears the confessions of all who come to him in the river Jordan. The Pope here begins to examine why it is that Jesus would do as all of Judea and come to John, a lesser man, for baptism and confession, when we understand that Christ was without sin to begin with. Benedict wonders here if Jesus could actually do as the rest of John's followers and put off his old life, and put on a new one. Now things really pick up in lesson, and we see that Jesus is trying to emphasize righteousness, which is necessary for salvation. Instead of descending into the waters of the Jordan and confessing His own sins, and putting on a new life for himself, which was utterly unnecessary and impossible for Him-who-is-Blameless, Jesus begins his public life with the symbolic action of how he would end it. His going down into the water is an assimilation of His humanity with the plight of humanity as a whole. The waters of Jesus' baptism are representative, as they are for us, of the tomb and the deep, Sheol. Were we to descend without Him we would be lost forever but in His descent and return the gates of Hell are flung open and He contends with Satan, and all that manipulate us, in order to free us. In this light, it only makes sense to baptize a person as soon as possible that they might share in the victory which Christ won for us in His baptism and eventual death.

Just as we witness Jesus’ communion with God and his commission at His baptism, we begin our life with God in the same way at ours. Jesus is Wholly Other, as Benedict says, and yet wholly contemporary of us, and through that, we can become Christian, and give our lives unto God.


Jesus of Nazareth: Introduction

So, for a class I have with Dr. Scott Hahn, I have to (re)read Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger AKA Pope Benedict XVI. For the class I have to summarize each chapter in a single page, single spaced. So I think I'll post them here for your edification. And comment.

The first assignment was to read and summarize His Holiness' Introduction.

In his Introduction in Jesus of Nazareth the Holy Father wishes to plainly expose that he will be writing about the Historical Jesus in the context of the combined natures of Him, God and man. He begins by citing books from his youth, recalling the inspiration he drew from works which depicted Jesus-the-man in the light of Divine perfection, combining the God with that Humanity.

His Holiness notes with a touch of dismay the transformation of Christological Understanding in the middle of the last century, separating the notions of the historicity of the Biblical Jesus and the Jesus who is the subject of Faith. In addition to this, the humanness of Jesus was divided into two extremist camps: the revolutionary leader versus the humble rabbi. Benedict criticizes these “exegetes” for portraying themselves in their work instead of attempting to shed light on Jesus, choosing instead to thrust their notions, agendas and doubts onto His historical being.

The Pope goes on to explicitly criticize one particular account where the author, Rudolf Schnakenburg, separates the true incarnation from history, saying instead that the Evangelists attempted to clothe the Divinity of God in the flesh of man. The Holy Father questions this simply, asserting that there was no attempt or even a need for an attempt, for fact already coincided with the view of an Incarnate God. Benedict goes on to address this redactive methodology, pointing out the benefits and limits of the the Historical Critical Method. He explains the indispensability of this particular method as the dimension of exegetical work which addresses the reality of History. The Pope explains that without the accurate examination of History, and the understanding of the Church in that light, Christianity disassembles and devolves into other sects and religions. However the Historical Critical Method does not have the ability to examine save historical accuracies.; this benefit is also it's greatest limitation. In order to be a fully effective exegetical tool, it would also have to address the supernatural incarnation of the Divine-in-flesh as a moving character in history while, as Benedict has pointed out, only solid facts, not “supra-historical truths”can be examined.

The Holy Father discusses at-length the further limitation of the Historical Critical Method, that being its requirement to leave Biblical texts in the past and to examine them in the sitz im leben or context in which they were written. This method is limited by it's inability to address profound truth; it cannot represent the past today and apply it to modern life. Furthermore, being historical as-it-is, it deals exclusively in a limited set of presented facts and therefore must resort to conjecture and hypothesis to supplement it's lacks and to tie together it's facts.

To atone for this missing line, and indeed to properly exegete, Benedict, while incorporating the importance of the Historical Critical Method, posits that in-order to garner the full features of Scripture, one must turn to complimentary methods. From the examination of history through the aformentioned method, we ought to be inclined to hear “a voice greater than man's...[echoing]... in Scripture's human words.” That is, though the Canon is comprised of many authors and voices, throughout the entirity of these texts is a sub-uttered voice, instructing and guiding the faithful and embodying the unity of Scripture. This non-linear Canonical exegesis nonetheless progresses forward to and by Jesus Christ, moving in a manner through which the Old and New Testaments are woven as a seamless unity, complimenting each other with the “key”, that-is, Jesus.

This understanding is non-contradictory to the Historical Critical Method and both are integral parts of a true Scriptural and Christological hermeneutic. The former endeavours to determine the precise sense which the texts of the Canon convey, while the latter goes beyond and above literality to the deeper and essentially more significant level of supernatural Truth. These words, therefore, are, but can not be limited to a literal level. The Holy Father therefore asserts that the sense of Scripture, the collective authors, direct their texts toward the entire historical, present and future People of God.

What do you think?


Kneel Before Thy God in the Most Holy Eucharist

In July of 2002 the (please withhold the laughter) United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (thank you for your restraint) issued a [IMHO] seemingly-blasphemous statement which read "The bishops of the United States have decided that the normative posture for receiving Holy Communion should be standing. Kneeling is not a licit posture for receiving Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States of America unless the bishop of a particular diocese has derogated from this norm in an individual and extraordinary circumstance."

Let us step back 12 years to the instruction by Pope Servant of God John Paul II, where in Inaestimabile Donum claims that "When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament is required, since kneeling itself is a sign of adoration." (#11)

Again step forward to October 2001, Cardinal Medina Estévez, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote a letter to the Bishops of the United States regarding certain New Word Innovations (my words) and American Adaptations (his words). He says that "the tenor of not a few letters received from the faithful in various Dioceses of that country leads the Congregation, even after a very careful consideration of such data, to urge the Conference to introduce a clause that would protect those faithful who will inevitably be led by their own sensibilities to kneel from imprudent action by priests, deacons or lay ministers in particular, or from being refused Holy Communion for such a reason as happens on occasion." (full text)

To further illustrate my point, and to completely beat this dead horse into submission, let me relate to you the letter written seven months after the USCCB's letter, again from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The relevant portion of this letter reads "communicants who choose to kneel are not to be denied Holy Communion on these grounds. Indeed, the faithful should not be imposed upon nor accused of disobedience and of acting illicitly when they kneel to receive Holy Communion."

And now, to the thick of it. Here at Franciscan University of Steubenville the Pre-Theologate Program has forbidden it's members (young men discerning a vocation to God's Holy Priesthood) from kneeling to receive their Blessed Lord in the Eucharist. They have been accused of disobedience and disunity.

I beg the director to tell me how this position of prayer, the raising of hands, which has been encouraged and fostered here at Franciscan University, is more commensurate with the tradition of the Church than the posture which is cross-culturally, historically and traditionally the posture of surrender, service, worship and obedience, kneeling. I further inquire of the Bishop of this Diocese where he is in regards to liturgical abuses, especially in so prominent and forefront issue and place such as this University.

Is it possible that our Bishops and priests have taken such a stance against outward signs of reverence and devotion? In our seminaries, the men are chastised for, and warned against signs of "clericalism," categorized from believing in the superiority of the Priesthood, to the outward signs thereof, including but not limited to wearing of clerical attire (to which they have been traditionally entitled), formal respect for priests and many other things. But that's a sidebar, and a whole book in itself.

Recently I read a novel called Come Rack, Come Rope by Robert Hugh Benson, and a follow up Martyrs of the English Reformation by Dr. Malcolm Brennan. In it are descriptions of the rabid and rampant hatred and expunging of anything seen as "Romish" or Hoc-Est Popery (see here "Hocus Pocus"). It was here in the mid-late 16th century that the Protestant "Bishop" John Hooper declared that

"The outward behaviour and gesture of the receiver should want all kind of suspicion, shew [show], or inclination of idolatry. Wherefore seeing kneeling is a shew and external sign of honouring and worshipping, and heretofore hath grievous and damnable idolatry been committed by the honouring of the Sacrament, I would wish it were commanded by the magistrates that the communicators and receivers should do it standing or sitting..." (Philip Hughes, Philip, Reformation in England, (London: Hollis Carter, 1953, p. 197)

Why should we agree with these archaic Protesters heresies; these attacks on the Sacredness of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the very Soul and Divinity, whole and entire of the God of Abraham, Issac and the Creator and Savior of the world?

An Anarchist, Atheistic-Communist who managed to get himself ordained wrote in his Memoirs that
“To weaken more the notion of the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ, all decorum will have to be set aside. No more costly embroidered vestments, no more music called sacred, especially no more signs of the Cross, no more genuflections, but only dignified and stern attitudes. Moreover the faithful will have to break themselves of the habit of kneeling, and this will be absolutely forbidden when receiving Communion.” (AA 1025: The Memoirs of an Anti-Apostle, p. 90)

*"...kneeling [...] will be absolutely forbidden when receiving Communion.”
- Atheistic Anarcho-Communist 'Priest'
*"Kneeling is not a licit posture for receiving Holy Communion."


The adoration due the Sacrament is lacking. We must halt the tide of modernism and methodical dispiriting of our Church. But yet, how can we if the very men we are relying on to lead us into the next age of Christianity are so indoctrinated by the blasphemies (dare I say Heresies, denying the Real Presence) of their predecessors. I am of the opinion that we have not only innovative and lunatic liturgists who impose their own style and theology on the Liturgy rather than the style and theology proposed, and imposed by the only legitimate source: Rome, but that we also have a flood of anti-Catholicism which seeps in and infects, like a plague even our own bastions of Catholic Tradition and orthodoxy. We must fight back and demand that our bishops, priests and seminarians do and be allowed and encouraged to do what is traditional and necessary for the sustenance of Holy Mother Church. She is the Bride of Christ, and if she is allowed to be stripped of her finery, robbed of her Glory and broken of her Purity and Reality, how, then are we to lend ourselves to her example and prepare ourselves for Christ?

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a foretaste of Heaven. We reach out for the Divine, and we join the angels and the saints to sing their eternal hymn of Praise in declaring that God is Thrice-Holy and we beg him to allow us to share in the inheritance of His saints. Can we be expected adore Him properly, to bow before Him when we get to Heaven if we do not do it, if we are infact forbidden from doing it here on Earth?

"Wouldn't it correspond better to the deepest reality and truth about the consecrated bread if even today the faithful would kneel on the ground to receive it, opening their mouths like the prophet receiving the word of God and allowing themselves to be nourished like a child?" --The Most Reverend Athanasius Schneider, Karaganda, Kazakhstan


On the subject of Validity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

There are three parts to a sacrament that pertain to its being valid, 1) Form, 2) Matter, and 3) Intention.

According to Pope Leo XIII from Apostolicae Curae,

"In the examination of any rite for the effecting and administering of Sacraments, distinction is rightly made between the part which is ceremonial and that which is essential, the latter being usually called the "matter and form". All know that the Sacraments of the New Law, as sensible and efficient signs of invisible grace, ought both to signify the grace which they effect, and effect the grace which they signify."

Pope Leo XIII continues discussing the necessary intention,
"With this inherent defect of "form" is joined the defect of intention" which is equally essential to the Sacrament. The Church does not judge about the mind and intention, in so far as it is something by its nature internal; but in so far as it is manifested externally she is bound to judge concerning it. A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a sacrament is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do (intendisse) what the Church does."

Although in Apostolicae Curae, the Pope is addressing specifically the sacrament of Holy Orders (a subject I hope to address soon). The parts of a valid sacrament are the same for all sacraments; it is necessary to maintain what has essentially passed on from Christ and the Apostles. The Form are the words of the sacrament being administered. In regards the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the form for the Holy Eucharist is "Hoc est enim corpvs mevm" (This is my body) and "Hic est enim calix sangvinis mei, novi et aeterni testimenti, mysterivm fidei, qvi pro vobis et pro mvltis effvndetvr in remissionem peccatorvm" (This is the chalice of my blood, the new and eternal testament, which for you (pl.) and for many is poured out in remission of sin). Any deviation from these essential words should be considered doubtful, especially if a different meaning is specified or intended, I.E. if the words do not "signify the grace which they effect, and effect the grace which they signify." Usually, the words of consecration which are most regularly challenged come from those (mis)spoken over the chalice: for many v. for all and the mystery of faith.

In a simple manner, we can look to the Catechism of the Council of Trent which explains, "With reason, therefore, were the words 'for all' not used, as in this place the fruits of the Passion are alone spoken of, and to the elect only did His Passion bring the fruit of salvation." The use of the words "for all" signify quite something else altogether. Clearly "for all" signifies salvation even for those who reject and/or do not believe; please remember that "extra ecclesiam nvlla salvs," that-is, outside the Church, there is no salvation. This is a solid dogma of the Church (about which I also hope to write soon). Regarding the words "Mysterivm Fidei" (Mystery of Faith) this same Catechism explains their necessity for they "signify that what lies hidden, and concealed and far removed from the perception of the eye, is to be believed with a firm faith." Pope Innocent III explains the necessity of these words in the sacramental form of the Holy Eucharist as as such, because they explicitly protect against the error of disbelief. It is the "mystrium fidei" which declares the True Presence of Christ upon Catholic altars.

These same pronouncements from the teachings of the Popes are repeated in the Papal Bull de Defectibus of Pope St. Pius V. This bull was published in the front of every altar missal until the publication of the Novus Ordo Missae, when the first (IMHO dolorous) changes were made to the sacraments to conform to the "modern mind." Harken to the words of Pope St. Pius V:
"The priest who is to celebrate Mass should take every precaution to make sure that none of the things required for celebrating the Sacrament of the Eucharist is missing. A defect may occur with regard to the matter to be consecrated, with regard to the form to be observed and with regard to the consecrating minister. There is no Sacrament if any of these is missing: the proper matter, the form, including the intention, and the priestly ordination of the celebrant. If these things are present, the Sacrament is valid, no matter what else is lacking. There are other defects, however, which may involve sin or scandal, even if they do not impair the validity of the Sacrament."

The holy Pontiff continues with regard for the form,
"If the priest were to shorten or change the form of the consecration of the Body and the Blood, so that in the change of wording the words did not mean the same thing, he would not be achieving a valid Sacrament. If, on the other hand, he were to add or take away anything which did not change the meaning, the Sacrament would be valid, but he would be committing a grave sin."

So, be careful about receiving questionable sacraments. Christ gave us the sacraments that we might gain Heaven, giving us the tools to be administered by His Church, by which we might acquire sanctifying grace and be strengthened in our resolve to defend and spread the Faith. Holy Communion, received validly, and often, nourishes the soul with good food, for it is written that "man cannot live by [earthly] bread alone." Scripture refers to the Eucharist as "supersubstantial bread" (not to be confused with any heretical consubstantiation et al.).
This all being said, do yourself the justice, and honour the Church by exercising an effort to learn the differences between the Mass of All Time (Tridentine) and the Novus Ordo. They do differ for a reason; otherwise there would be no reason to make changes upon what God established and gave to the apostles.

Domine Deo Nostro, miserere nobis.
Maria Mater Ecclesiae, ora pro nobis.
S. Therese, ora pro nobis.


Bill of Rights... or Lefts...

Bill of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

However, a court in my home-state of Massachusetts has a law which essentially eliminates free speech rights within a zone of 35 feet of an abortion clinic by prohibiting pro-life counselors from working, preaching and pleading with those souls who enter the clinics. Tell me again, just how this is Freedom of Speech?

BOSTON (LifeSiteNews) - Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday against a new Massachusetts law that creates a 35-foot "buffer" zone around abortion clinics.

The law essentially eliminates free speech rights within the zone by restricting pro-life advocates from sharing their message with people entering the clinics.

"Pro-life advocates shouldn't be penalized for expressing their beliefs," said ADF-allied attorney and lead counsel Michael DePrimo.

"The buffer law is breathtaking in its scope. It obviously was designed and intended to squelch pro-life speech, but it prohibits much more, such as labor picketing and charitable solicitations. The First Amendment simply does not permit such outlandish restrictions on peaceful speech."

"It's ironic that Massachusetts, the 'cradle of liberty,' would pass a law that effectively creates a First Amendment-free zone that silences those who seek to share the truth about abortion," said ADF Legal Counsel Tim Chandler. "Those with pro-life views have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America."

On Nov. 13, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law S.B. 1353, which created the "buffer" zone. First-time violators face a fine of up to $500 and three months in jail. Repeat offenders face fines of up to $5,000 and 2 1/2 years in prison.

ADF attorneys filed suit on behalf of several pro-life advocates whose ability to communicate peacefully with people entering the clinics has been severely compromised by the new law. In some instances, the new law leaves only about one foot of public sidewalk open to free speech, making it virtually impossible to engage in reasoned conversation.

According to the pro-life advocates filing suit, more than 100 women have changed their minds about having an abortion after hearing their message.

Ecclesial Pussification

This week as I was visiting a local parish, I happened to read the bulletin for this upcoming Sunday. The mystery was solved. Last week, I happened to notice a drum set in church and found this most unusual. Why on earth would you ruin the beauty of the church with a drum set? What need was there exactly for such a thing in the Liturgy? To my disgust, I read in the bulletin that St. Joseph’s would now be offering the “Life Teen” mass (with a lowercase m) on the first and third Saturday evening of each month. (The Life Teen mass will replace the usual weekend Mass at that time.) If you attend Saturday evening Mass traditionally, and this new method makes you uncomfortable, tough, it’s what “the young people want.” Or is it? If this is what the young people want, why do vocational trends indicate otherwise? Saying that all young people “want” Life Teen is like saying all Irish people all drunks, it’s a terrible and most inaccurate stereotype.

There are some in “pastoral leadership” who would say “If we don’t make the Mass ‘fun,’ young people will leave the Church.”

I have one response to that statement: When last I checked, crucifixion was certainly no picnic. However, Christ loved us so much that He made the ultimate sacrifice. During the Triduum, we hear the final HOURS of Christ’s suffering and ultimately His death. His gift to us (among other things): the Eucharist. ONE HOUR A WEEK. Sixty minutes. That’s less time than it takes to watch a movie, a football game, or play a video game. Less time than a high school dance.

The Mass, fun? Since when did Truman Capote and Andrew Lloyd Weber take a seat on the College of Cardinals? Why is it that the music of the Mass has to sound like something off Broadway in order for young people (and some adults) to desire to attend? Why should we “dummy down” the mystical supper in order to appeal to young people. This generation is spoiled. In our classrooms, in our shopping malls, television, everywhere you go, we cater to make things “fun.” To make the Mass fun is like slapping Jesus in the face. Each and every youth who sleeps in on Sunday because “Mass is boring” is personally telling Christ “Thanks for dying on the cross and all, but your sacrifice bores me.”

There was a time when Catholic young people dressed up for Mass. You would never see a female’s mid-drift, nor did young men dress up nicer for the homecoming dance than they do for Mass. (I had a Catholic priest tell me once, that the reason he did not turn away people who dressed inappropriately was that he feared “sexual harassment.” Give me a break. The bottom line is that he feared angering those who put money in the collection basket. That’s another problem. Priests are too afraid to preach for fear they will anger parishoners. Let’s face it, sometimes, the truth hurts.) When are shepherds act sheepish, what are we to do? When our clergy caves into the youth’s request for fun, what does that teach them?

There was a time when young people would gather with their family at the Church on Sunday night for Benediction, there was a time young people knew how to pray the Rosary, the Angelus, and the Stations of the Cross. These days, if they aren’t set to a rock beat, Pastoral leadership claims “our youth doesn’t want it.” Interesting theory isn’t it? If we don’t add some “pep” to the Mass, our youth apparently turn their backs on Christ. What kind of lesson are we teaching if we give in to this sad demand?

Let’s take a moment to really take a careful examination of Christ on the cross, and really adore the Eucharist, and think to ourselves, how selfish is it to demand the Mass be more fun and enjoyable. Never once did Christ ask for a less painful death for our sins.

When Pope Benedict was elected to the Papacy, needless to say, I was delighted. Having read most of Cardinal Ratzinger’s books I knew we were in for something wonderful. However, a couple of times he has let me down. Why? Honestly, I think he is letting the media have too much control. Before his election, he was seen as the “Rottweiller,” the one who really upheld tradition. For the media this was apparently a concern. During world youth day, we tune in for evening prayer and see a clown juggling fire on the stage. Why on earth was this necessary? If Benedict is so traditional, why would he stand for such a thing during Divine Office? Simple, because it “made the youth feel good.” Does that make it right? No. But if the Pope’s doing it, why shouldn’t parishes?

Over the past few months, we have read time and again that Pope Benedict will be granting universal approval for the use of the 1962 Roman Missal. We have read that talks between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X are progressing very well. Who on earth is the source of all this information?

Thus far, not one inkling of it has held water. Last week, TIME magazine online ran an article that stated how this fall Benedict would really be getting into full gear and really giving the world an idea of his platform. His platform? It read more like a fall movie preview than an article, but honestly, what platform are we talking about? The Cardinal Ratzinger we knew and loved? Or the Servant of the Servants of God, Pope Benedict XVI who doesn’t seem to be very firm on much of anything? I certainly hope this fall marks the beginning of the downfall of several liberal tendencies in the Church. I hope the “watchdog” of the faith gets out of the dog house and gets to work. Enough of these articles speculating, let’s see some action! His Holiness can not hep but know that it's out there, and so I would like for him to stop playing the game we all know and despise, that of silence and obfuscation which has won us so many friends lately, and speak. I am a hardcore Papist, everyone knows that. But sometimes those who love you most, must be your staunchest critics.

The bottom line, I can sit here and write about how much I despise Life Teen, I can write my disgust for Pastors who allow such things, and I speculate on liberal Bishops, but ultimately, at some point, IF the Pope really does have a conservative card up his sleeve, he needs to play it. Ecumenism has gotten out of hand. The modern church looks very protestant in many ways, and unfortunately, not much sets us apart from those who broke away centuries ago. If we continue to cave in to the requests of the youth and everybody else, what kind of church are we really? Is this a rock … or somehow has the foundation turned to clay? I hate Life Teen, yes. I don’t believe it should be permitted, but obviously the Holy Father doesn’t have a problem with the movement, so it can carry on.

Sunday after Sunday, our pastors can tell young people “let’s have fun at Mass, this is supposed to be exciting.” Meanwhile, Jesus hangs there on the cross looking miserable -- and only if your sanctuary happens to have a Crucifix. When we start to replace bread and wine with cookies and milk, maybe then somebody will say something. Until that time, enjoy the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, after all, IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU!

Note: This is a post from my original blog on 6 June 2007

The Forgotten Vice in Seminary Formation

This is a post courtesy of the late Fr. Todd Reitmeyer (1969-2006)

We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
C. S. Lewis - The Abolition of Man

This is an article that I wrote during my years of seminary formation but I was advised to wait to have it published until after my priestly ordination. It deals with a touchy subject, that will offend many involved in the work of seminary formation, but with the current atmosphere of scandals and talk of a more thorough screening process for seminarians, I believe it is a topic that must be dealt with. Sioux Falls is a rural farming diocese that is having great success in vocations with both numbers and quality and one of the consistent complaints or difficulties our new seminarians have had in adjusting to seminary life is the issue of effeminacy. The fact of the matter is they are not used to and are uncomfortable living in an environment that is often effeminate. Recently one of our seminarians from a farm family was embarrassed to say that he would not want his brother to visit his dorm because of the way the men acted on his floor. While not, perhaps, stating it in the most precise manner it was understood by all when he said that many seminarians on his floor, “acted like a bunch of women.”

Saint Thomas includes effeminacy under the vices opposed to perseverance. It is from the Latin Mollities, which literally means “softness.” Mollities is the verb used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 which deals with the sexual sin of sodomy. It involves being inordinately passive or receptive. It may be true that some cultural prejudices are being revealed here with this comparison because a vice is a vice, whether it is found in a man or a woman, but it is also true that some vices are more perverse or disordered when found specifically in men or women.

What Saint Thomas means by persevering is when “a man does not forsake a good on account of long endurance or difficulties and toils.” An “effeminate man is one who withdraws from good on account of sorrows caused by lack of pleasures, yielding as it were to a weak motion.” Thomas states that this effeminacy is caused in two ways. First, by custom, where a man is accustomed to enjoy pleasures and it is, therefore, more difficult for him to endure the lack of them. Second, by natural disposition, less persevering through frailty of temperament, and this is where Thomas compares men with women and also mentions the homosexual act of sodomy and the receiver in this act as being effeminate or like a woman. The vice of delicacy for Thomas considers those who cannot endure toils or anything that diminishes pleasure, and thus delicacy is a kind of effeminacy. Thomas quotes from Deuteronomy 28:56, “The tender and delicate woman, that could not go upon the ground, nor set down her foot for softness.” In priestly or seminary life we are not called to such softness, and these issues must be addressed in formation.

Imelda Marcos’ collection of shoes displays a type of softness, but if Ferdinand had a similar problem, it would be much more perverse or pronounced because he is a man. Effeminacy is more pronounced in a man than a woman because women are more susceptible to this vice. Just as the vice of drunkenness is more pronounced or perverse when found in a woman than a man.

I have five sisters, and all are feminine, but I would describe none of them as effeminate or soft. They are women; yet, they do not exhibit this particular vice. So, it must be understood, I am not putting down women or speaking on homosexuality, (though effeminacy is often a sign of this sexual disorder) but rather on acting in an inappropriate manner that is often prevalent in seminaries.

Saint Thomas also speaks on modesty concerning the outward movements of the body. Here, he quotes Saint Ambrose in stating that, “Beauty of conduct consists in becoming behavior towards others, according to their sex and person.” Thomas states that, “Outward movements are a sign of the inward disposition” and quotes Ecclesiastics 19:29-30, “You can tell a person by his appearance . . . the way a person dresses, the way he laughs, the way he walks, tell you what he is.” Saint Ambrose adds that, “The habit of mind is seen in the gesture of the body,” and that “the body’s movement is an index of the soul.” Ambrose goes on to say, “Let nature guide the movement: if nature fail in any respect, surely effort will supply the defect.” This effort is lacking in almost all seminary formation. Such things should be noticed and discussed by seminary faculty in both external and internal formation, as they can often be signs of deeper issues.

Saint Thomas, moreover, asserts the truth that it is often from our outward movements that other men form their judgment about us. Thomas encourages us to study our outward movements so that if they are inordinate in any way, they may be corrected. Such things need to be addressed in formation because they have a definite effect on our ability to be and bring Christ to others. Does the seminary deal with a seminarian that sways when he walks, who has limp wrists, who acts like a drama queen or who lisps? It must. This not about a witch hunt but being honest enough to admit that such external behavior affects our ability to share Christ. I knew a seminarian that spoke in a very effeminate manner, and to his credit he recognized this impediment to his future preaching the Gospel, and on his own sought help from a speech instructor. The seminary did not see this glaring problem and did not move this man to get assistance. That is the problem.

When we are at the altar or preaching the Gospel, we are Jesus Christ and must do our best to image him to our people. Anything we do that takes people’s attention away from this reality must be addressed. Over dramatic movements, purposeful lisps, swaying, in short, effeminate behavior removes attention from Christ and His word and puts it on the priest. This is not just distracting to other men but I know my sisters will roll their eyes when the Liberace-like priest celebrates himself while celebrating the Mass.

Thomas also speaks on modesty of outward apparel. Moderation, of course, is the rule, and here he warns that the lack of moderation may arise from an inordinate attachment to clothes, with the result being that a man sometimes takes too much pleasure in them. G. K. Chesterton in describing a friend as a man’s man said it best when he stated, “He was not in any case a dandy; but insofar as he did dress well, he was totally indifferent to how other men who were his friends might dress, which is another mark of purely masculine companionship.” The three guiding virtues in dress are humility, contentment and simplicity. Here one must always consider the appropriateness of a situation and the personal motivation behind wearing certain apparel. This is not a new problem as Saint John Chrysostom addressed it in the 4th c. in his writing on The Learning of Temperance, which speaks of the folly of over-adorning oneself with jewels. He states that, “I, for my part, expect that in the process of time the young men among us will wear even women’s shoes and not be ashamed. And what is more grievous; men’s fathers seeing these things are not much displeased, but do even account it an indifferent manner. Do you want me to add what is still more grievous; that these things are done even when there are many poor?”. . . “What can be worse than this unseemliness, this absurdity? For, this marks a soul, in the first place effeminate, then unfeeling cruel, then curious and idly busy.” Chrysostom goes on to say, “You may indeed laugh at hearing this, but I am inclined to weep for these men’s madness and their earnest care about these matters, for in truth they would rather stain their body with mud than those pieces of leather.”

Now, I would hope that no one in seminary formation is going around in women’s shoes, but the general point is to watch our attachment to such things. Is it in line with being a man? With being a priest of Jesus Christ? I remember in my first year of seminary how I was shocked when I came across a first year priest in the seminary who was wearing a gold ankle bracelet and matching gold earring. These are not proper adornments for a priest or a seminarian, and this should be seen as a formation issue.

In the book, The Church Impotent, Leon Poodles asks why men in the Christian West are so little interested in religion and that men who are interested often do not follow the general pattern of masculinity. Father Tom Forrest, a priest active in international evangelization, points out that only 25% of the participants in Catholic gatherings he has attended are men. The fact is that women dominate daily Masses, church staff and volunteers, and church groups. Why are we not attracting men when the Orthodox seem to have a balance, and Islam and Judaism have predominately male membership? The author goes on to state that something seems to be creating a barrier between western Christianity and men.

Poodles observes, “Because Christianity is now seen as a part of the sphere of life proper to women rather to men, it sometimes attracts men whose masculinity is somewhat doubtful. By this I do not mean homosexuals, although a certain type of homosexual is included. Rather, religion is seen as a safe field, a refuge from the challenges of life, and therefore attracts men who are fearful of making the break with the secure world dominated by women. These are men who have problems following the path of masculinity.”

I am not a psychologist and I cannot speak on some over-attachment to the feminine, but there is a truth that masculinity as a needed virtue in the seminary is something that is generally ignored in formation. This may be one of the problems with why the church has a difficult time attracting men to Mass and serving the church.

What is it that draws soft or effeminate men to the seminary and why is this not dealt with in formation? Poodles offers the prior explanation for the former question but the latter can only be understood if it is admitted that there are many bishops, faculty and priests who suffer under this vice and are therefore unwilling or unable to recognize it or address it. All seminaries are not equal, some relish in their softness others have select faculty that will privately admit to the problem but for fear of offending colleagues and bishops refuse to speak out on it. In my years of seminary formation the most controversial conference was given by my own Bishop Robert Carlson on the vice of effeminacy. Some faculty and students were offended, the truth always stings, and felt my bishop either somehow lacked compassion or was mean spirited in discussing such an issue. This must end and as with all problems its solution begins only with admitting its existence and reality that many seminaries breed an effeminate culture.

In a study by Lewis Terman and Catherine Cox involving a masculinity-femininity test, Catholic seminarians scored at a point far less masculine than any other male group of their age. Right next to them, though, were the Protestant male seminarians, which the authors of the study stated ruled out celibacy or sexual deviance as a cause for connection to this lack of masculinity. This, it also must be pointed out, is not particular to the Catholic faith but to all of the western Christian faiths. In fact, “Some liberal Presbyterian or Methodist congregations are practically bereft of men.”

In a parish, it will be helpful if you can talk on sports to relate to men. If you have an easier time or even prefer interacting with women to the exclusion of men, this will cause problems in your parish and affect your ministry to men. I remember a seminarian from my dorm who, even though he was not athletically gifted, used to go out and practice basketball and softball with one of his classmates. He did this not so much for the exercise, but because he felt it would help him minister to the kids in the grade schools and high schools where he would serve as a priest. This man recognized the importance of sports in our culture and the fact that it could be used to draw the young, especially boys, to the church and to Christ.

The question then is what can be done in helping form and ordain more manly priests? First, seminaries and bishops must recognize effeminacy as a formation issue. In choosing faculty to teach and form our future priests the question must be asked does the candidate exhibit manly or effeminate qualities. Also, bishops need to realize that just because a priest requests an assignment, this does not automatically make him the right man for the job. This is especially true if the priest desires to work in liturgy, campus ministry, teaching or seminary work where a manly model of priesthood is most needed and unfortunately often most missing. Bishops need to take an active role in knowing and forming their priestly candidates. It is, perhaps, not only his most important decision but also the decision he will be held most accountable for. My own bishop is one of the few if not only bishops in our country who has every seminarian live at least a summer in his residence. He knows the men he will ordain. Bishop Carlson recounts a story of a seminarian he inherited who had already been through five years of formation and was extremely effeminate. In working with this seminarian he asked him about his sexual orientation. The seminarian responded he did not know. At that time he was two years away from being ordained and neither the rector nor seminary faculty saw this as a problem. This is the problem.

We need to consider Mt. 19:11-12 when the church discerns whether the seminarian actually has a priestly vocation. “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they born so; some, because they were made so by others; some because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” This third and last category is the only one true call to celibacy and the priesthood. Hebrews 5:4 reminds us that, “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” Bishops, rectors and seminary faculty must use these scriptures verses as guides in truly discerning if Jesus Christ is calling this seminarian to the priesthood. The number’s game and pressure to fill parishes cannot be used as the standard in making such decisions. This is one of the reasons why we are in the mess we are today. Certainly it is not always an easy decision but it must always be asked if this seminarian has an alternative motive to the priesthood other than God’s call. Also, necessarily, there must be men who are not blinded by similar vices to be able to see and makes this decision.

We need to take this time of scandal as an opportunity to take a good hard look at how our seminaries and vocation offices are run and staffed. As a seminarian I could not have said such things publicly without jeopardizing the review all seminarians must receive from the faculty staff to move onto ordination. I am now a priest and a vocation director and so, have a duty to raise such concerns in the hope that such things will be addressed in forming priests for the 3rd millennium who most fully image the source of priesthood our Lord Jesus Christ.

As a follow up to this, the following is are excerpts from an article written by a fellow seminarian, regarding the conditions at my former seminary.

-[This seminary] is staffed by good and holy people who genuinely have our best interests at heart. All of the following complaints are solely of a professional nature and are meant in no way as a personal rebuke.

- Amongst the student body, paranoia from being watched and being shut-in with a 120 men who are either like minded or scared to speak appears to have led to: rampant homophobia, lack of compassion for the laity and religious who are struggling with their faith and disobeying the church because of that struggle, lack of compassion for women who often feel ignored because of our patriarchal hierarchy, eagerness to mock cultures and Catholic parishes that do things differently from [this diocese], and an atmosphere of paranoia over committing heresy matched only by the Red Scare. This does not provide me with an open atmosphere to explore my faith and ask questions.

- I would’ve hoped that the majority of students at seminary would be happy people enjoying their seminary experience. This is not generally the case here. The majority of laughs are either at the expense of others or the ridiculousness of seminary policy. These laughs of sick desperation are however a welcome respite from the pervading mood of bitterness and sloth. My favorite quote made by a seminarian in good standing was “I’m tired of watching my vocation die.” All this makes it difficult to maintain an upbeat demeanor and an enthusiastic attitude towards my vocation.

Male Contraceptives May Soon Become A Reality

Male Contraceptives May Soon Become A Reality

This article, as well as others like it, and conversations that I have had with fellow students in the past two days have prompted me to post this.

Why is Natural Family Planning accepted by the Church while contraception is condemned? They both do the same thing--prevent pregnancy.

Because you don't judge the morality of actions by their effects or consequences. You judge their morality by what they essentially are. Using contraceptives such as condoms or diaphragms may accomplish the same end result as Natural Family Planning, but the ways they go about it are very different.

Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae defines contraception as "every action which, in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" (14). Such an action actively eliminates or withholds the procreative good of the marital act. This is sinful because "every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life" (11). Since one of the two ends of sexual intercourse is procreation (the other being unity of husband and wife, 12), engaging in sex while deliberately frustrating the procreative act is, as Pope John Paul II has repeatedly called it, "a lie in the language of the body."

If practicing contraception is to lie in the language of the body, to practice Natural Family Planning is to take the Fifth. Natural Family Planning (typically) involves restricting sexual relations to infertile periods in the woman's cycle. Although intercourse during these times is less likely to produce a conception, a couple always remains open to the possibility, having taken no action to render it impossible; therein lies the difference (see Humanae Vitae 16). During fertile periods abstinence is practiced, a sacrifice which shows respect for God's gift of sex and its proper ends. Conversely, practicing contraception during these times displays a lack of respect for this gift and a focus instead on selfish pleasure.

One further difference needs to be pointed out. Contraception is often a practice of convenience, while Natural Family Planning, to be licit, must be a practice of necessity, requiring "serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions" (16). Thus it must not be used as "contraception Catholic style."

If you have any questions, corrections, problems or comments please feel free to comment and we'll get into it.

Note: This is a post from my original blog on 28 April 2006

Liberal Christianity is paying for it's sins

Out-of-the-mainstream beliefs about gay marriage and supposedly sexist doctrines are gutting old-line faiths.

The accelerating fragmentation of the strife-torn Episcopal Church USA, in which several parishes and even a few dioceses are opting out of the church, isn't simply about gay bishops, the blessing of same-sex unions or the election of a woman as presiding bishop. It also is about the meltdown of liberal Christianity.

Embraced by the leadership of all the mainline Protestant denominations, as well as large segments of American Catholicism, liberal Christianity has been hailed by its boosters for 40 years as the future of the Christian church.

Instead, as all but a few die-hards now admit, all the mainline churches and movements within churches that have blurred doctrine and softened moral precepts are demographically declining and, in the case of the Episcopal Church, disintegrating.

It is not entirely coincidental that at about the same time that Episcopalians, at their general convention in Columbus, Ohio, were thumbing their noses at a directive from the worldwide Anglican Communion that they "repent" of confirming the openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire three years ago, the Presbyterian Church USA, at its general assembly in Birmingham, Ala., was turning itself into the laughingstock of the blogosphere by tacitly approving alternative designations for the supposedly sexist Christian Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Among the suggested names were "Mother, Child and Womb" and "Rock, Redeemer and Friend." Moved by the spirit of the Presbyterian revisionists, Beliefnet blogger Rod Dreher held a "Name That Trinity" contest. Entries included "Rock, Scissors and Paper" and "Larry, Curly and Moe."

Following the Episcopalian lead, the Presbyterians also voted to give local congregations the freedom to ordain openly cohabiting gay and lesbian ministers and endorsed the legalization of medical marijuana. (The latter may be a good idea, but it is hard to see how it falls under the theological purview of a Christian denomination.)

The Presbyterian Church USA is famous for its 1993 conference, cosponsored with the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other mainline churches, in which participants "reimagined" God as "Our Maker Sophia" and held a feminist-inspired "milk and honey" ritual designed to replace traditional bread-and-wine Communion.

As if to one-up the Presbyterians in jettisoning age-old elements of Christian belief, the Episcopalians at Columbus overwhelmingly refused even to consider a resolution affirming that Jesus Christ is Lord. When a Christian church cannot bring itself to endorse a bedrock Christian theological statement repeatedly found in the New Testament, it is not a serious Christian church. It's a Church of What's Happening Now, conferring a feel-good imprimatur on whatever the liberal elements of secular society deem permissible or politically correct.

You want to have gay sex? Be a female bishop? Change God's name to Sophia? Go ahead. The just-elected Episcopal presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, is a one-woman combination of all these things, having voted for Robinson, blessed same-sex couples in her Nevada diocese, prayed to a female Jesus at the Columbus convention and invited former Newark, N.J., bishop John Shelby Spong, famous for denying Christ's divinity, to address her priests.

When a church doesn't take itself seriously, neither do its members. It is hard to believe that as recently as 1960, members of mainline churches — Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and the like — accounted for 40% of all American Protestants. Today, it's more like 12% (17 million out of 135 million). Some of the precipitous decline is due to lower birthrates among the generally blue-state mainliners, but it also is clear that millions of mainline adherents (and especially their children) have simply walked out of the pews never to return. According to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, in 1965, there were 3.4 million Episcopalians; now, there are 2.3 million. The number of Presbyterians fell from 4.3 million in 1965 to 2.5 million today. Compare that with 16 million members reported by the Southern Baptists.

When your religion says "whatever" on doctrinal matters, regards Jesus as just another wise teacher, refuses on principle to evangelize and lets you do pretty much what you want, it's a short step to deciding that one of the things you don't want to do is get up on Sunday morning and go to church.

It doesn't help matters that the mainline churches were pioneers in ordaining women to the clergy, to the point that 25% of all Episcopal priests these days are female, as are 29% of all Presbyterian pastors, according to the two churches. A causal connection between a critical mass of female clergy and a mass exodus from the churches, especially among men, would be difficult to establish, but is it entirely a coincidence? Sociologist Rodney Stark ("The Rise of Christianity") and historian Philip Jenkins ("The Next Christendom") contend that the more demands, ethical and doctrinal, that a faith places upon its adherents, the deeper the adherents' commitment to that faith. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which preach biblical morality, have no trouble saying that Jesus is Lord, and they generally eschew women's ordination. The churches are growing robustly, both in the United States and around the world.

Despite the fact that median Sunday attendance at Episcopal churches is 80 worshipers, the Episcopal Church, as a whole, is financially equipped to carry on for some time, thanks to its inventory of vintage real estate and huge endowments left over from the days (no more!) when it was the Republican Party at prayer. Furthermore, it has offset some of its demographic losses by attracting disaffected liberal Catholics and gays and lesbians. The less endowed Presbyterian Church USA is in deeper trouble. Just before its general assembly in Birmingham, it announced that it would eliminate 75 jobs to meet a $9.15-million budget cut at its headquarters, the third such round of job cuts in four years.

The Episcopalians have smells, bells, needlework cushions and colorfully garbed, Catholic-looking bishops as draws, but who, under the present circumstances, wants to become a Presbyterian?

Still, it must be galling to Episcopal liberals that many of the parishes and dioceses (including that of San Joaquin, Calif.) that want to pull out of the Episcopal Church USA are growing instead of shrinking, have live people in the pews who pay for the upkeep of their churches and don't have to rely on dead rich people. The 21-year-old Christ Church Episcopal in Plano, Texas, for example, is one of the largest Episcopal churches in the country. Its 2,200 worshipers on any given Sunday are about equal to the number of active Episcopalians in Jefferts Schori's entire Nevada diocese.

It's no surprise that Christ Church, like the other dissident parishes, preaches a very conservative theology. Its break from the national church came after Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Communion, proposed a two-tier membership in which the Episcopal Church USA and other churches that decline to adhere to traditional biblical standards would have "associate" status in the communion. The dissidents hope to retain full communication with Canterbury by establishing oversight by non-U.S. Anglican bishops.

As for the rest of the Episcopalians, the phrase "deck chairs on the Titanic" comes to mind. A number of liberal Episcopal websites are devoted these days to dissing Peter Akinola, outspoken primate of the Anglican diocese of Nigeria, who, like the vast majority of the world's 77 million Anglicans reported by the Anglican Communion, believes that "homosexual practice" is "incompatible with Scripture" (those words are from the communion's 1998 resolution at the Lambeth conference of bishops). Akinola might have the numbers on his side, but he is now the Voldemort — no, make that the Karl Rove — of the U.S. Episcopal world. Other liberals fume over a feeble last-minute resolution in Columbus calling for "restraint" in consecrating bishops whose lifestyle might offend "the wider church" — a resolution immediately ignored when a second openly cohabitating gay man was nominated for bishop of Newark.

So this is the liberal Christianity that was supposed to be the Christianity of the future: disarray, schism, rapidly falling numbers of adherents, a collapse of Christology and national meetings that rival those of the Modern Language Assn. for their potential for cheap laughs. And they keep telling the Catholic Church that it had better get with the liberal program — ordain women, bless gay unions and so forth — or die. Sure.

Note: This is a post from my original blog from 14 July 2006.