Written works by Father Pilon

Father Pilon continues to write while in retirement.  Some of his works are posted under this site by going to the Priest tab then click on Father Pilon.

In addition, he writes on a site called https://littlemoretracts.wordpress.com/ and invites all our parishioners to visit the site to keep up with his work.  He also is providing his written work to TheCatholicthing.org which is another source if you would like to follow him.

Below is recent work on Joseph.

When God chose to come into the world, he did so in a way that reaffirmed the goodness of the divine plan for the family. If there ever was a single woman who was more capable of being a loving mother, guide and protectress of a child, it surely was the mother of God. And given her elevation, holiness and status as the mother of God, it would certainly be difficult to be her spouse, that is, to measure up to her as a spouse. But, while God chose to be conceived and born in a singular and exceptional way, the son of God was not to be raised by a single mother. Joseph was chosen to be her spouse and her loving partner in the raising of the most unique child that ever entered this world. Mary really didn’t absolutely need a spouse to be who she is. But Jesus evidently needed a father figure as well as a mother in order to be who he is as a man. So we can be fairly certain that while many men become husbands more or less by chance, there was nothing chance about the selection of Joseph to be the spouse of Mary and the foster father of Jesus. He was chosen, and chosen from all eternity. We don’t know much biographical data about Joseph, but we know a fair amount about him from what is told to us by the Scriptures, and this knowledge is not from simply from what it says about Joseph directly, but from what it says about the Patriarchs, the saintly models of bridegrooms and fathers and the general moral and spiritual teaching when related to what it means to be a good father and husband. Joseph was the culmination of all of this scriptural reference. And he would fulfill his appointed role not by receiving continual messages in dreams, but simply by being a good man, a good husband and a good father figure, just as he had learned all this from the Scriptures and from his biblical based culture. Joseph was the last of the Patriarchs, and self-evidently the greatest, since he was chosen to be the Patriarch who actually received the Messiah into his arms and into his care. Joseph was first of all a just man, which in scriptural terms means that he was a holy and virtuous man. He must’ve been exemplary in his holiness and virtue, the greatest of the Patriarchs in the sense also, for how else can we imagine him being chosen to be the husband of the holiest woman who ever lived and the foster father of the very son of God. God prepares people for their mission by his special graces, and the mission of St. Joseph was to love and care for the two most precious creatures that ever came into God’s creation. Jesus, because he was truly a Son of Man needed a mother to love Him and nourish his soul with the highest virtues by her teaching and example, and Jesus needed a human father to raise him and shape him in all the virtues and characteristics of true manhood. He needed a father figure to model his life on just as his heavenly Father is perfectly reflected in his divine person. That same divine person required the presence of a human father figure, and we can be sure that his human personality must have reflected the manhood of Joseph who was his guardian, his model, and his teacher in the ways of manhood. Joseph is also to be seen as the model husband, for how could we imagine that Mary would not have had a husband who would be a model for everyone else who becomes a husband. Joseph was the head of the holy family, and Mary obeyed him as all good Jewish women obeyed their husbands, and just as Jesus the son of God obeyed both his human parents. If it did not detract from Jesus’ divine dignity to obey human parents, surely it did not detract from the dignity of the mother of God to obey a human husband. But Joseph’s authority surely was the example of what Jesus was talking about when he said, “it cannot be that way with you.” Christian authority is simply service flowing out of love, not domination flowing out of power. Joseph, as husband, would have truly served Mary and Jesus in his daily activities. A good husband lives for his wife and children, just as a good wife lives for her husband and children. Joseph would serve Mary because he truly loved her with the greatest love, and such love only wants to serve, as Jesus would later teach his disciples and the human race. And Jesus must’ve witnessed this in Joseph, that is, how Joseph served Himself and Mary out of such great love and that he only wanted to love them through his role as father and husband. Joseph didn’t wed Mary because he was told in a dream that she was to be the Mother of God (holy ambition); that would more likely and almost did scare him away, except for the true reasons, which included obedience to God and his deep personal love for Mary, whom he desired to be his spouse, and for her divine child. And finally, Joseph must’ve been very self-effacing and humble. He simply could not have been the kind of father is always taking the spotlight before his son and wife. Indeed he would’ve only wanted Mary to be the focus of his son’s attention, and for obvious reasons. Being humble and self-effacing is not the path to success in today’s corporate society, big government and big business. People who work as small artisans and run small businesses are perhaps more likely to have such qualities than the moguls of government and large corporations, and their marriages are likely to be more successful. Surprise? St. Joseph would have wanted to keep Mary and Jesus in the spotlight, simply because he loved them, and because that love made him capable of seeing what they possessed and could offer to others. That certainly does not mean Joseph was a wimpy guy. No, he was a man who acted like a man and was thus ready to do whatever was necessary to protect and serve his most precious and most valued loved ones, no matter what the cost. In the end, he was called home before Jesus began his public life. He was not to be a diversion from Jesus’ mission or Mary’s. Maybe that is why he is patron of a good death. He was always dying to himself. Today he is held up as a model for what it means to be good father and a good husband. It all fits together for faith.

Powerful Article Written by Father Pilon

Dear Friends, a Mother Superior of a monastery where I teach the nuns St. Thomas, wrote to tell me that the following article I wrote for my blog was the best thing she had read from me and that she was going to pass it on to someone she knew who could use it at this time. She said it should get as wide a distribution as possible, so being her loyal subject – no one should disobey his superior in grace – I am passing it on in case you know someone who could benefit from a somewhat different perspective on suffering a fatal disease. I am not as sure as Mother that this is so great, and you know how sisters like to encourage their children. God bless.


The Healthy Side of a Cancer Edit


Pierce, O most sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of Thy love (St. Bonaventure)

When I was much younger, I used to think that it would be a good thing to have a sudden death, so long as I was in the State of Grace at the time. It seemed to me that there was a good side of a sudden and fatal heart attack in that one didn’t have to face the agony of death for more than a moment or two. As I’ve grown older, I no longer think that’s a particularly good Christian attitude towards death. It now seems to me as too much like a desire to escape the cross as a part of the Christian path to holiness. And how can I preach the cross and deny it for myself?

A few years back I was diagnosed with a peculiar kind of cancer which is rather slow-growing but nonetheless ultimately fatal. There’s nothing to get you thinking about life and death than being told that you have a fatal disease. Of course, it’s somewhat consoling to know that it’s not likely to be a quickly developing cancer, but nonetheless the idea of death does tend to stick around in one’s mind regardless of whether it’s going to be a slow process or a fast process. Everyone knows that death is inevitable, but when the actual sentence is handed down, it’s only normal that you would think more about it than you did during most of your life.

Nonetheless, prayerful reflection has led me to see a side effect of such diseases that is really quite healthy in terms of the way it makes one look at life. The Saints always understood this elementary truth which we plodders are slow to grasp. Indeed, one can read about it already in the Psalms. Everyone’s life is ultimately short, in comparison with eternity, and we need to make the most of it in preparing for eternity. From this time/eternity perspective, I won’t be making a list of things I’d like to do before the final struggle – you know like the movie, The Bucket List – make a list of places I’d like to see that I’ve never seen, things I’d like to do that I’ve never done. For a believing Christian, the death sentence should lead one to make a more healthy list of things to do that will give me a greater spiritual preparation enabling me to conquer in and with Christ the suffering that inevitably follows from the disease and ultimately the death it causes.

I’m not really all that good a sufferer, and just as I am convinced that chastity is not possible without God’s grace, so I’m even more convinced that a fruitful acceptance of suffering is not possible without God’s grace. Some Christians may find that chastity can be attained simply through the regular reception of the grace of confession and the regular reception of the Holy Eucharist on Sundays. But I think that a Christian approach to suffering requires much more. I think the spiritual life has to be greatly intensified, with much more frequent reception of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, and a much more intense prayer life to establish a more intimate union with Christ and his cross.

Keeping the “death sentence” pronounced by the doctors as the horizon against which one lives day to day is the key to achieving a kind of deeper love that embraces even the cross of Jesus. That’s a very healthy thing. It’s healthy for anyone at any age and in any condition, but it becomes much more likely to be recognized and engaged by one who is actually struggling with a fatal disease. That’s what I mean by one of the healthy side effects of the disease; that whereas one perhaps thinks little of preparing for death and the embrace of that ultimate cross when one is young and healthy, when the doctor tells you there’s nothing they can do for you that will actually destroy the disease, then you’re much more likely to embrace that healthy attitude of spiritual preparation.

Do we not believe that suffering has redeemed the world, that is, that redemption was brought about by the agony and death of God our brother? Hopefully the “death sentence” helps us finally to practice what we have always believed, that our suffering and death have positive meaning because they are connected in a mysterious way to that primordial act of our Savior. Soldiers in combat can develop a much more intimate bond of the love of friendship in their mutual suffering, in their suffering with each other and for the well-being of each other. Isn’t that also necessarily the case when it comes to our own suffering and Christ’s.

That truth alone preserves the sanity and holiness involved in the choice of Christian souls to become victim souls with Christ for the salvation of others. Without this understanding that Christ has chosen to call us into this deepest intimacy, an intimacy so great that his suffering becomes ours, which redeems us, and our personal suffering becomes His which brings great benefit to others, suffering is pure negativity and leads to despair or mindless resignation to the evil involved in it. Of course, our personal suffering doesn’t redeem others, for only Christ’s does that. But our deliberate suffering in union with Christ not only draws us closer to Christ in love, but it also merits great graces for others and will draw us into a more intimate union with them in heaven as well. This isn’t Catholic craziness. This is pure Catholic wisdom.

So why should we ever get bogged down in agonizing over the “death sentence,” which was, after all, pronounced in Eden and is only more immediately specified by the doctors. It’s so much better for us, joyful for us to simply make good use of it and focus on its healthy side.


R.M.A. Pilon

Sinless Mary

My question is this. Since Mary was “protected from sin” by her Immaculate conception, she remained sinless. But it had never occurred to me, before I heard your homily, that Adam and Eve were created without original sin too. OHMYGOSH!! Of course they were! Was Mary just so much a better person, or how did she withstand temptation in her long life? Her will was free too… right?

I guess I always figured avoiding sin was easier for Mary than the rest of us, and I easily identified with Adam and Eve because they seemed more human. But I don’t know what to make of the fact that they were actually immaculately conceived (sort of) too. Monica B

Answer: Let’s begin with your last sentence first. Adam and Eve were created, not conceived, in perfect innocence, with no stain of sin which could only come from their free wills. Moreover they were endowed with sanctifying grace from the beginning and were given all the necessary actual graces to remain free from sin. Their choice to disobey God was caused purely by their own free wills and not by any lack of God’s grace. As a result of the original sin, all their children, the whole human race, shared in the consequences of that sin. The most important consequence was the loss of sanctifying grace, a share in God’s supernatural life which makes one a child of God and capable of sharing God’s eternal life in heaven. Had they not sinned, we all would have inherited, by God’s dispensation, their gift of sanctifying grace along with an untarnished human nature. But when they lost their gift, it could not be handed down with the human nature we receive ultimately from them. Interestingly, when sanctifying grace would later be handed down, it would come through another’s humanity, the humanity of Christ by means of a material sign – baptism.

Likewise, as a result of their original sin, we inherited a fallen nature from them, no longer innocent, since we inherited Original Sin, not as a personal sin, but as a sin of our nature, a nature lacking Sanctifying Grace. Original Sin also causes our humanity to have a tendency to sin, which is the immediate result of the disorder introduced between body and soul by Original Sin. That same disorder is what causes the problems we have with intelligence (ignorance) and free will. We find these two human powers often overwhelmed by the lower powers, our appetites. Finally, this same disorder in our human nature is what causes both suffering and death. Adam and Eve were not subject to either of these evils by a special dispensation of God’s grace. But that gift too was lost along with sanctifying grace.

Mary, on the other hand, was truly conceived without original sin, just as her divine son would be in her. Her immaculate conception was itself a grace that came from God as the first fruits of the redemptive work of her son. In effect, God produced the effect – her redemption in the act of her conception when God preserved her soul from inheriting Original Sin from her parents – before the cause (Christ’s death and resurrection) in time. By her immaculate conception she was preserved only from sin, for we know she did inherit the physical effects of original sin since she would suffer and die. Christ could suffer and die only because he willed it; but Mary seems to have inherited certain effects of original sin, which are not in any way sins, in terms of suffering, death, along with the effects of ignorance and the necessity of perfecting her free will.

God certainly gave Mary special graces far in excess of any other creature, beginning with her immaculate conception and of course her divine maternity. In addition, God gave her tremendous actual graces to make it possible for her to remain free from all sin. Nonetheless, these graces did not take away her freedom; she had to exercise their freedom, like us, to accept those graces. In effect, the graces together with her free choices perfected her freedom. How God’s grace work’s with our free will to perfect us is a true mystery of faith.

Finally, it’s understandable in one way that we can identify more with Adam and Eve since we make bad choices by rejecting God’s grace. But we should also identify with Mary, because she is living proof that the grace of her son is even more powerful than the original grace given to Adam and Eve, and just as it was capable of preventing Mary from contracting Original Sin and enabled her to remain free from sin all her life, so it can help us, week as we are, to
overcome sin, beginning first with all mortal sin and gradually most of our venial sins, if only we cooperate like she did. Being our mother, she intercedes for all the help we need to conquer sin.

Pope Benedict and the Scandal Mongers (Conrad Black)

Behind the breathless predictions of the collapse of the Church is the incomprehension of its nature.

The Roman Catholic Church has so long been regarded by some as a satanic fraud emporium, and by many others as a shrieking anachronism of quaint, costumed celibates engaged in obscurantist hocus pocus, that many commentators have aggregated the dreadful outrages of the sex-abuse scandals into an existential crisis. For those who think Rome is a levitation and a trumpery anyway, the slightest ripple or turbulence will bring it down.

The history of the Roman Catholic Church is replete with grotesqueries of license and schism and the intermittent descent of the papacy and cardinalate into anthills of sodomy and corruption of every kind. The Orthodox Churches departed after about 500 years over doctrinal and jurisdictional problems; the Protestants apostacized nearly 1,000 years later, some from genuine moral outrage at Rome’s profligacy; but others, such as Henry VIII, for motives not steeped in righteousness. The condition of the Church must putrefy before large numbers of people desert it, and even then, they are not lethal enfeeblements.

Nothing that follows here is intended to mitigate in the slightest the evil of anyone who sexually abused children or adolescents entrusted to him. There are 440,000 Roman Catholic priests in the world, and several million other Catholic religious personnel, and they have had authority over hundreds of millions of children in all parts of the world for longer than the lives of anyone now living. Every potential complainant has been subject to group incentivization to retrieve incidents of abuse from the mists of their own memory (or imagination). And in the United States, the most rapacious mutants of the contingent-fee bar have been in overdrive for years seeking litigants. The great majority of official complaints are frauds, as with the infamous denunciation of Chicago’s late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, which was eventually exposed and admitted to be a blackmail attempt.

There are also gradations of abuse, from prurient curiosity, which is disgraceful but not criminal, to depraved and horrible episodes of aggressive coercion. It is rarely easy for a bishop to know at first how much credence to attach to a complaint. Just handing over anyone suspected or denounced by a party in interest, especially in the U.S., is likely to lead to more injustice than justice. It is not so easy as the critics imply to distinguish a matter of repentance, discretion, reassignment, and therapy from an incident to be reported to the police. That does not in the slightest excuse many cases of concealment from higher-ups and civil authorities. This was undoubtedly widespread in the United States and Ireland, but apparently not in other largely Catholic countries seemingly served by higher-quality episcopates, including Italy, Poland, Canada, and most of Latin America. (The Church retains responsibility for the souls of all adherents, including those guilty of the most repulsive acts; no sinner “is left behind.”)

Nor are these problems confined to Roman Catholic institutions. Unfortunately, an endless deluge of such disgusting allegations pours down on all types of child-care and education organizations. The Roman Catholic bishop of Augsburg has just offered his resignation for beating boys decades ago in his role as an educator. Any man above the age of 50 who went through most U.S. school districts, especially southern ones, and British and British-imitative schools, including mine in Canada, remembers secular school faculty who took an inordinate pleasure in thrashing the rears of young men, and in less violent but more unambiguously deviant attentions.

But none of these other organizations possesses the size, claim of divine service or legitimacy — or, to its opponents, sinister nature — of the Roman Catholic Church. Even if all the allegations of Catholic institutional child abuse were accurate, it would involve less than one percent of the clergy and young people who have gone through the Catholic school and social-aid systems. But it is a terrible problem, not only in itself, but because of the extent to which it has smoked out both the world’s papophobic death squads and the impartially voracious, equal-opportunity jackals of the world’s media.

As far as I can determine, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone was not stating much more than the obvious when he said that adult males who impose themselves sexually on young boys are likely to be homosexuals. But he did not realize that in this atmosphere this would be widely construed as imputing pederasty to all people of homosexual inclinations, though that is not what he said. Nor did a senior Roman Catholic churchman (quoted through an unnamed source by the New York Times) who compared anti-Catholic allegations and anti-Semitism mean to imply that pedophilic clergy were as innocent or as persecuted as Jewish Holocaust victims, nor that anti-Church accusations were led by Jews annoyed at the collapse of the spurious campaign that claimed Pius XII was a Nazi dupe. There are similarities in all kinds of bigotry without an exact equivalence in vitriol or depth of persecution.

It has been disappointing and irritating (but not surprising) that the New York Times has tried to set this controversy up as another Watergate, and with po-faced sanctimony reports each new weekly, unsubstantiated allegation of deviant clerical abuse in Moldova, Fiji, Timbuktu, Patagonia, and assumedly, the Moon. It wished to make it a war of a thousand cuts, escalating steeply and swiftly, on the Watergate pattern, to the destruction of the pope himself: the drumfire of endless outrage confected and displayed with pseudo-grave neutrality, from which debouches the tribal move to execute the chief. “The king must die”; regicide as tokenism, as liberal group therapy.

We have seen it all before. The Times’s story on the Wisconsin priest who molested a large number of deaf boys between 1962 and 1974 claimed that the priest had suffered no disciplinary action and that the present pope had prevented an ecclesiastical trial in 1996. The Smoking Gun exuded a tiny plume of the wrong color overnight, as the Vatican replied with almost unprecedented promptness accusing the Times of what amounted to premeditated and defamatory falsehoods. The Wisconsin priest had immediately been stripped of the right to celebrate the sacraments, and prohibited from unsupervised contact with young people. The assistant to Cardinal Ratzinger (as the pope then was), when asked about an ecclesiastical trial of him, replied that it would be impractical more than 20 years after the offender was deprived of his priestly functions, throughout which time he had lived unexceptionably, and as he would die of inoperable cancer before the trial could get very far (as he did).

The Times’s lynching party showed no recognition that the pope is elected by cardinals and serves for life and that the Holy See is a dictatorship that all are free to opt out of, but that none, and especially not secular media, can overthrow. The Times began with a refusal to publish a letter from New York’s Archbishop Dolan, and was revved up by the poster-girl for angry, Irish, semi-lapsed Catholic contemporary spinsterhood, Maureen Dowd, calling for a nun for pope, and ended with involuntarily donned, unrepentant sackcloth and ashes.

Benedict XVI has declared the Church to be ashamed and penitent, has met with victims’ and their families, has expedited investigative and corrective procedures, has opened up access for complainants, and has imposed fail-safe strict controls, without delivering his clergy to the howling cannibals. He has handled it all like the great, scholarly, courageous, and profoundly civilized man he is, with humility, dignity, and effectiveness. He should now decree a reasonable deadline for past complaints and start to lead the Church out of the fire, and close down the decades-long turning of the spit that the Church’s enemies had been ghoulishly preparing.

As the pope tries to amputate what is bad, the Church’s enemies are trying to take advantage of that process to destroy the entire institution. This too is a pattern. Pius XII’s wartime performance was quite inadequate, but he did save 850,000 Jews, as is now coming to light. No one else did that. This child-abuse crisis is shameful and evil and disgusting. Only the Church can stop, punish, confess, repent, and prevent recurrence, all on the scale required. It is doing so, late and over-cautiously. But secular witch-hunts and lynchings are not part of the solution, and if they continue, it may be almost time for a few Counter-Reformationist measures. The scorching unction of the Church’s more rabid enemies might become more bearable to them if the Church’s adherents reconsidered their advertising budgets. In the case of the Times, its guardian angel, Señor Slim, would surely fly to its aid again with another infusion of 14 percent yield, usurers’ junk bonds.

Behind the breathless predictions of the collapse of the Church is the incomprehension of its nature. Such comments were constant, though less stentorian, throughout the supposedly (and inevitably) “troubled and divisive” pontificate of John Paul II. Yet when he died, it had twice as many adherents as when he began. Over 2 million people came to Rome from all over the world for his funeral, including 74 chiefs of state or government (more than have attended all U.S. presidential funerals in history combined). Vocations and attendance at services are rising slowly, and are so far unaffected by these events, other than in Ireland (a country of 3.5 million people).

All Catholics know that those who stand between the terrestrial world that is familiar and that of the spirit that many dispute and that even believers can only darkly glimpse, are themselves just people, fallible and sinning. And the faithful depend and rely on the faith, not the other way round.

Almost all of the world’s practicing Roman Catholics, approximately 750 million people, whether born into the faith or, like me, converted to it from non-belief after losing faith in the non-existence of God, believe the same basic premises. There are sometimes authentic miracles, which make it logically possible for any miracle to occur, and spiritual forces are abroad in the world that cannot be accommodated by atheism, and atheism is a perspective that inevitably encourages excessive egotism and comparative ethical indifference. Thus does God exist. Jesus Christ, like a few others, was divinely inspired. He asked St. Peter to build a Church, and the Roman Catholic Church remains that church. We believe that the likeliest way, though not sure and not the only way, to be in the most direct contact possible with God is through the Roman Catholic liturgy and sacraments.

Roman Catholics do not think of our Church as a trend, a fad, or a high-quality brand, as of toothpaste or soft drinks, with a huge market share; it is the ark of eternal truth and man’s very best effort to date to explain the human project, an intellectual enterprise fundamentally beyond our abilities, as atheists acknowledge, while affecting scientific worldliness. Within reason, the conduct of individual clergymen, even when hateful, disgusting, and criminal, does not alter our desire to attend our parish churches, say our prayers, worship God discreetly, confess our sins to and receive the sacraments from, our ordained pastors, and repent our failings as assigned. And we believe, though many would not say it in exactly these words (of Cardinal Newman’s), that our consciences are God speaking within us, in a voice “powerful, peremptory, unargumentative, irrational, minatory and definitive.”

The vast concourse of us, the believers, is horrified by crimes in the clergy, particularly those that wound the defenseless and the susceptible. But they have little more impact on our faith than any other tragedy or the habitual violation of ecclesiastical counsels of perfection that we have all often ignored, such as against conventional sex as mere pleasure. The Roman Catholic Church remains as it has been for nearly 20 centuries: drafty but impregnable at the intersection of the world and the spirit. Christopher Hitchens is my brother, whether he likes it or I like it (and I find it a promising divertissement).

“Dissolution does but give birth to new modes of organization, and every death is the parent of a hundred lives.” The world and the Church “are like an image on the waters, ever the same though the waters ever flow” (the about-to-be sainted Newman). The personnel of the Roman Catholic Church is eminently fallible, but the Church is not impeachable, and certainly not by the dunciad of these unholy and unserious prosecutors.

Does Laicizing Clerical Pedophiles Truly Protect Children?

In the midst of all this media flurry over the failure of the Catholic Church’s officials in the past to quickly “defrock” priests who were guilty of the heinous sin of sexual abuse of children, one question never seems to be actually addressed – “how does a decree laicizing such a priest in any way protect children?” The reason the question is never asked surely cannot be that the question is unimportant. One reason it is never asked is that the underlying but never stated assumption has to be, at least for the lawyers and reporters, “yes it does.” But I can immediately think of at least two other reasons why the question is never asked and more than one argument why the real answer is more likely “no, this process does not really safeguard children.” It safeguards only the Church.

Another reason this question is ignored today may be that the people who are feeding this firestorm are not at all interested in that question simply because their immediate purpose is to discredit the Catholic Church and hold it up to ridicule. It’s most interesting that this onslaught on the Catholic hierarchy, now including the Pope, is happening after the Catholic Bishops in this country, – with the assistance of the Vatican that has streamlined its ancient procedures precisely to laicize such clergy – have moved to safeguard children in concrete ways that have dramatically reduced the incidence of this terrible crime by Church employees of any kind and have made our schools and other activities the safest environments in the country for children. Each year the public school system alone has thousands of such cases, while in the Catholic Church, there are now only a few credible incidences each year. No institution can guarantee that the crime will never happen under its auspices, but the Catholic Church has come close to that promise.

However, the people feeding this firestorm are not interested in this effort of the Church because their real motives go beyond protecting children. The media like AP and The New York Times have their own agenda, i.e., discrediting a whole Church that they find an recalcitrant obstacle to the transformation of the morals of modern society, and of course the media today feeds on any story that has traction with a lot of people who hate the Catholic Church, the last respectable bigotry even among the intelligentsia.

Then there are the lawyers who have their own agenda for wanting to discredit and defame the Church’s officials in this matter and who are feeding most of the stories to the press as part of their legal game plan. Their litigation plan today, when the number of cases in this country have virtually dried up, is to somehow put the Vatican, the Pope and his subordinates in Rome, in the dock and hopefully gain access to a whole new source of income for their clients and for themselves. These trial lawyers, remember, often receive at least 40% of the proceeds.

In 1989, I appeared on the Larry King Show with one of the main players in this whole lawyer driven assault today on the Church and its assets. His name is Jeff Anderson. I was there because the Bishop’s Conference refused to cooperate in providing this man a platform to advertise his services countrywide, and the producer of the show literally begged me to come on the show so that Mr. Anderson would not have a burden free opportunity to present his wares with no opposition from anyone in the Church. In between the show segments, Mr. Anderson made it quite clear to me, even at that early date, that his ultimate target was the Vatican, and that he was convinced the Catholic Church had to be forced to alter its very structures in order to have greater accountability, which his whole attitude assured me that he was mainly talking about accountability to lawyers like himself.

There are a number of lawyers like Anderson who see the Vatican treasuries as the potential mother load for their clients and for their own coffers, so they have a very powerful monetary interest in making sure this attack continues unceasingly in the press. It is basic legal practice today for these trial lawyers to publicly defame their targets in the press first and then either try for a settlement or go on to trial with the potential jury pool contaminated by their press feedings. Their real problem in this strategy for this particular target is the diplomatic immunity of the Vatican as a sovereign state, and their only way of getting around this seems to them to be to so discredit the Church that our Supreme Court will eventually remove that immunity. Thus, the press has to be used unrelentingly until their first goal is attained.

The second reason people may not be interested in the question under discussion here is likely due to simple ignorance of the Church’s laws and of the process and the effects of laicization coupled with understandable anger at the lack of vigilance of some bishops in dealing with these clergy in past years. One can see this ignorance in the tendency of these press stories to speak of “defrocking” priests, a term which applies more aptly to the Protestant tradition of dealing with their ministers than with the Catholic approach. Defrocking literally means to forbid someone to wear ministerial garb, and by extension it means to deprive the ordained minister of the right to exercise any functions of office, priestly or administrative. For a Protestant minister, to be defrocked means effectively to be deprived of the office itself and not just the functions of the office, since Protestant theology sees the office as something conferred purely extrinsically and not something intrinsically permanent. It’s similar to being elected to a civil office which office is lost when the person is recalled by a vote or voted out of office.

In the Catholic Church things are much more complicated. Ordination to the priesthood, according to Catholic doctrine, confers a permanent office intrinsically on the ordained which even the Church herself cannot abolish. It is like the sacramental seal of Baptism which even apostasy does not eradicate in the soul of the apostate. What the Church can abolish is the right to exercise that office, but even here not totally. What it can do absolutely is to forbid the defrocked priest to exercise that office in any way under pain of mortal sin, and it can likewise render the effects of certain sacramental actions null and void, such as the performance of marriages and the normal absolution of penitents. However, even the Church cannot render invalid the consecration of the Eucharist at a Mass, just as it cannot dissolve a valid marriage after it is contracted. The Eucharist would be valid but it would also be illegitimately and sacrilegiously celebrated by a “defrocked” priest. The defrocked priest would be committing a mortal sin by this action. Nor does the Church choose to render invalid – though it could – the absolution of a dying person by a defrocked priest, if no other priest is available, and it grants this temporary right for the sake of the dying person.

But defrocking is not the same as laicization. Defrocking refers to the office, and simply means the priest cannot legitimately exercise its functions, while laicization refers to removal from the clerical state of life. There is no parallel for this in the Protestant world since their ministers do not change their state of life at their ordination. They may choose to remain celibate, but this has noting to do with their Church. Catholic priests, on the other hand change their state of life from that of a single person to that of a cleric consecrated by the promise of lifelong celibacy. There are exceptions to this today, but they are beside the point here. Moreover, when the man enters the clerical state, his diocese takes on certain obligations to provide the priest certain benefits related to the living of the priest, his income and housing, his health care, his pension income and housing. The Protestant minister who is defrocked has no right to any of these things from the diocese or communion of churches to which he belongs. The Catholic
priest who is merely “defrocked” or deprived of the functions of office, continues to have such a right. To be deprived of these things, further action is required by the diocese in which the priest is formally accepted (incardinated) by the bishop as a priest of that diocese. This process is initiated by the diocese but is actually effected by a decree by the Vatican. Laicization simply returns the cleric to the lay state and deprives him of the right to the benefits mentioned above. In short, the Church is no longer responsible for the living of the laicized priest, nor for his future actions.

The Church has always hesitated to laicize priests, and for some good reasons. First, the fact that the priest, and even more importantly, the bishop, is laicized does not, as mentioned above, totally nullify the sacramental powers of the ordained minister. In the case of a laicized bishop, for instance, he retains the actual power to ordain both priests and bishops, even if he cannot exercise that power without committing grave sin. That is a formula for schism. In the case of priests, they can still validly offer Mass, although only sacrilegiously and gravely sinful, and that only expands a potential for quasi-schism, and we know that in this country today we have some former priests, some laicized and some simply AWOL, operating little home churches for their friends and neighbors. Not laicizing can sometimes lead to restoring a priest to his office, perhaps after some discipline, which in most of these cases is good for the priest and for the laity who will be served by the reformed priest. We have always had alcoholic priests and the easy solution would have been to cut them loose by simply laicizing them. But this would not solve their problem, especially with no income to get help, and the Church would rightly be charged with heartlessness if it acted like this. Many such priests have been rehabilitated with Church support and have returned to a fruitful ministry.

But one may well question if this is a good policy when dealing with any priest who is guilty of violating a child or youth sexually. Can these men be rehabilitated like the alcoholic? At one time, not so long ago, the Church’s hierarchy was convinced that this could be done, and they were convinced of this by psychologists and psychiatrists who were honestly convinced that they could rehabilitate such men. It was perhaps hubris on their part and naiveté on the part of at least some bishops, but to charge either blanketly with criminal negligence is to ignore the evolution of this problem’s treatment. Most people in the past saw this disorder as a serious mental derangement rather than a crime, just as we see some murderers as not as criminals but gravely deranged mentally.

While the medical community back then also considered homosexuality as a mental sickness, the issue of molesting children was put in a more serious category of mental illness by the medical community, and the Church which trusted that community did the same. You treated these people medically and rehabilitated them. They were seriously wrong not in seeing this as mental illness but in thinking that such men could be rehabilitated sufficiently to place them back in their ministry. They were scandalously wrong if they assumed that these men in general had no freedom and were therefore not criminals. There were especially and terribly wrong when they kept sending these men back for more treatment and then moved them back into parish work, again and again.

One related fact to the Church’s dealing with these issues is the whole issue of homosexuality in the priesthood. Only a very small percentage of the cases we know of involved true pedophilia, the sexual exploitation of young pre-pubescent children. The vast number of such cases involved homosexual relations with teenage boys, and this was the problem for the Church. While it is true that not all homosexual men get involved with teenage boys, it is also true that a lot of homosexual priests did. They can call it by another name, ephebophilia, but the
fact is that the vast majority of these cases involved homosexual relations with teenage boys. Now if the only safe solution is laicization of the pedophile priests, which the Church does do these days, what about the other homosexual priests who say they are not involved with kids but who are active homosexuals. There is no test to positively assure these men will not get involved sexually with youths, and the Church would, from a legal defensive posture, be pushed to force laicize any priest who is homosexual in orientation to absolutely safeguard her young people. The Church hesitates to do this, rightly or wrongly, because she does not want to equate the crime of sexual abuse with children to the simple presence of a homosexual orientation, which degrades both the crime itself and the innocent priest.

Now let’s move on to the real question at hand, does laicization of even the worst offenders in any way guarantee the safety of children? I am not questioning the wisdom of the Church in laicizing these men, for her own sake, to remove the scandal caused to the laity and to avoid potential future law suits, but I am simply asking what such a process does to benefit the children themselves out there in our society. We are talking here about forceful laicization, against the will of the priest, for many of these men, like a lot of other former catholic priests, simply leave on their own without seeking laicization from the Church. But when any such men, men guilty of abusing children, leave the Church’s supervision, laicized or not, they do not suddenly become no threat to children, unless they are in prison. They simply become potential dangers to children for whom the Church is no longer responsible, at least legally responsible for their future conduct. From a legal and financial standpoint, their departure, legal or not, is a definite plus for the church. But exactly how does this separation from the Church and her responsibility to supervise her priests, even her defrocked but not laicized ministers, safeguard children in any way? They are now simply “out there,” totally devoid of any supervision by anyone, unless they are on criminal probation, and then only minimally as most communities are well aware today.

When the Vatican in the past would in some cases recommend other disciplines rather than simple laicization was it simply covering up for the Church or favoring the guilty priest? Or was it perhaps recommending a discipline that would have maintained at least some supervision of these men, for instance that they be carefully monitored to have no contact with youth, no exercise of public sacramental ministry, not even going out anywhere without a companion who would assure they got nowhere near youth. Interestingly this would have left the Church legally more vulnerable than simple laicization, that is, liable to further law suits if she failed to exercise this supervision diligently.

Today, we hear calls for permanent electronic ankle monitors for such threats to the children of our society, a good idea, but it is questionable whether this will survive the courts and the costs of monitoring, given the numbers of such predators out there today. But the Church could do this without the state’s permission, and could do even more by providing a human monitor as well whenever such a priest left his place of residence, which could more easily be located far from children. Would such supervision not provide much greater safety to children than simply cutting such men loose, with no income, no insurance, no possibility of much of a livelihood as a sexual offender, and absolutely no supervision?

One of the ironies of the Jeff Anderson story is evidently that some time ago his own 8 year old daughter was abused by a psychological counselor who had been a Catholic priest but was either laicized or simply left the Church. If he was laicized, this process obviously did not protect his daughter from a predator, nor even prevent the former priest from becoming a child counselor. Would it not have been better, assuming the priest had been willing, for him to have
remained under Church discipline, assuming that he had a bishop who would do so rather than simply him being cut loose to eventually harm this little girl and who knows how many others?

I would think it would be the wiser thing today, for honest lawyers and victims, to insist that the Church, who accepted these men into the priesthood, take greater responsibility for their supervision now above all, and not simply void itself of all responsibility. The threat of further lawsuits would be formidable in maintaining strict oversight of such men as threats to children, and the threat of losing all benefits, income, insurance, pension, by any violation of the strict rules of supervision might better motivate at least some of these “defrocked” priests (deprived of all public ministry) to cooperate. In short, I understand why the Vatican may once have recommended this course in some cases, for those least likely to harm others if properly supervised.

What I don’t understand is why lawyers and the public are not insisting on this today. Take care of at least some of your own problems, Catholic Church. In fact, that is exactly what many families of victims were once asking for, just remove the priest from ministry and then supervise him carefully. They were interested in saving other children and they instinctively understood that it did more harm than good to simply throw these predators out into the public arena where they would have no one watching them or restraining them. It was only when they were ignored by Church officials that they turned to the courts.

But the question raised here is simply not being addressed at all by these lawyers or by the public who read these one sided attacks on the Church being fed to the press by these lawyers and by others who have their own agendas in undercutting and savaging the Church and her present leaders. Some reporters are likely just pawns who can’t see how they are being used. You have a good story line, just run with it until the public gets tired. Who cares any more in the world of journalism about serious investigation of the truth? Maybe the children who will not be helped by all this yellow journalism will some day.

R. M. Pilon

Toward Passive Euthanasia (Fr. Ted Pacholczyk)

In recent years, some medical practitioners have suggested that death from dehydration may not be such an unpleasant way for patients to die. This conclusion, however remains rather doubtful. Thirst and appetite are very primal drives. Anyone who has ever done a voluntary fast knows well the discomfort that arises from even a single day of fasting.

Thus; we ought to consistently maintain a presumption in favor of providing nutrition and hydration to patients in our care, using all reasonable and effective (or “proportionate”) means at our disposal to nourish and hydrate such patients, whether by spoon feeding or by tube feeding.

The intense pains of dehydration and starvation have been graphically described by patients who were previously in a so-called “vegetative state” and had their feeding tubes withdrawn. Kate Adamson, who was in a vegetative state due to a stroke, and later came out of it, recounted her experience in an article she wrote:
“I was half listening to a talk radio broadcast about a 40 year-old woman in Florida, Terri Schiavo, who was going to be starved to death. This Woman had been disconnected from her feeding tube. She was without food for eight days.

“Suddenly the broadcasters had my full attention. When I was paralyzed, I, too, had a feeding tube disconnected for eight days, and I knew what that felt like. Her husband had been saying that being starved was a relatively painless way to go. I nearly shouted at the radio dial, “That is not true. That is a lie. You ought to try it!”

When Adamson was interviewed on “The O’Reilly Factor” she provided further details:

O’Reilly: “When they took the feeding tube out, what went through your mind?”

Adamson: When the feeding tube was turned off for eight days, I thought that I was going insane. I was screaming out in My mind, “Don’t you know I need to eat?’ I Just wanted something, The fact that I had nothing, the hunger pains overrode every thought I had.

O’Reilly: So you were feeling pain when they removed your tube?. –

Adamson: “Yes. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. To say that -especially when Michael (Schiavo) on national TV mentioned last week that it’s a pretty painless thing to have the feeding tube removed – it is the exact opposite. It was sheer torture, Bill.”

Elsewhere, she described the obsessive thirst she felt when her feeding tube was removed;

“I craved anything to drink. Anything. I obsessively visualized drinking from a huge bottle of orange Gatorade. And I hate orange Gatorade!”

Patients in a vegetative state are clearly a “voiceless” population of humans, unable to advocate for themselves. Another voiceless group includes patients facing dementia. Because individuals with dementia are apparently “out of it,” they may also be unable to communicate coherently regarding any discomfort or pain they may experience. The assumption may be too facilely made by health care professionals that because people are demented, they no longer can truly experience suffering, pain, hunger or thirst.

When patients with dementia are brought to the hospital because they can no longer swallow, some physicians will be aggressive in persuading the family not to give an IV or put in a G-tube.

They may suggest that it will only prolong the person’s death forcing him or her to live a “low quality of life.”

In one such scenario that I am aware of, a physician indicated to the family that If an IV were given, the patient would likely perk back up and live for perhaps another year or two, but, he continued, what would be the point? In a different case, another physician stated that the cause of death would indeed be dehydration and not the patient’s disease,. but he still advocated declining an IV so that the patient would die. Decisions like these, when assisted hydration would be non-burdensome and effective, are sometimes termed “passive euthanasia!

When someone dies from dehydration, of course, it is not always an example of passive euthanasia. In some instances, tube feeding will be ineffective or cause significant complications like vomiting or chronic infections: In these circumstances, declining assisted nation or hydration may be a reasonable choice, not with an intention of ending life, but acknowledging that unduly burdensome or ineffective treatments may be legitimately refused.

This hearkens back to statements by both Pope John Paul II in 2004 and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2007, which noted that the administration of food and water (whether by natural or artificial means) to a patient in a “vegetative state” is morally obligatory except when they cannot be assimilated by the patient’s body or cannot be administered to the patient without; causing significant physical discomfort. Recognizing that dehydration is a painful way to die serves as a helpful starting point to assist family members in addressing the nutrition and hydration needs of their loved ones who may find themselves in compromised states or approaching the end of life.

Fr. T. Pacholczyk it the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.
– Wisdom 1:14

When St. Francis of Assisi was told by his physician that he had but a few weeks at most to live, he is reported to have cried out almost in joy, “Welcome Sister Death!” The great saint had by then been suffering terribly for some time, not only from a general failure of his health, but also from the holy stigmata which he had received many years before, and which was causing him increasingly great physical pain. Death then, was surely a relief for the poor man from his long sufferings in this world, but this alone cannot fully explain his attitude toward death which is so curtly expressed in that mysterious phrase, “Sister Death.”

Death has this strange ambiguity about it, and not just for a great saint like Francis but for any Christian whose faith is sound. Sound faith makes Christians think of death in terms the world at large simply cannot understand. We understand death, certainly, to be an evil in itself, not created by God as Wisdom assures us, but the result of Original Sin. But for faith-filled Christians, death is, nonetheless, not simply an evil, but an evil which has been transformed by Jesus Christ into a positive reality for the Christian, a true good in the supernatural order. This is surely what he is expressing when he refers to death as “Sister Death.”

Now a non-Christian, even a pagan, might be able to welcome death as a kind of “benefit” when it is an escape from terrible suffering in this world; but that would not make death a positive thing, something that has the character of a good, but it would be only the lesser of two evils. But for St. Francis, death was more than that, it was something to be embraced when it’s time had come, positively welcomed, whatever the circumstances of life, and that is what he meant when he addressed death, as “Sister Death.” It was but his expression of the Christian faith that molded his outlook on everything, including death itself, the same faith that should mold our attitudes toward life and death.

Our first reading today declares death to be an evil in the order of creation, introduced not by the Creator, but by the rebellion of the creature made in the image of the Creator. God is all life, life with no mixture of anything that is evil, anything even remotely related to what we know as death. Man was created to be imperishable because man was created as God’s true image, and God is imperishable; so only the gift of life was at the heart of God’s act of creation. Man was meant to given glory to God as the living image of God in creation. So death was never part of that divine plan. Death was caused not by the Creator but by man’s refusal to be the true image of his creator, the image of the living God. Death was caused by sin. When man sinned, he introduced death into God’s good creation, and death always remains an evil on the level of nature itself, something man naturally and rightly abhors as a creature who was made for life, unending life.

But for the Christian, even death itself has been transformed by the saving mission of Jesus Christ who is the Lord of Life. We believe, as Christians, that death has been conquered and transformed by the Lord of Life. In many ways, Jesus showed us his own abhorrence of death as a natural reality. He raised the dead back to life; he wept at the death of Lazarus, he sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prepared himself for the Cross on which he would die for our sins. As the new Adam, he hated death more than any man, for he did not bear the weight of his own sins, but the weight of ours which merit death. He was pure innocence, pure life as God had created the first Adam; death had no claim on him.

But the Christian doctrine of redemption involves a total transformation of man, bringing good out the evil caused by man’s Original Sin, the punishment of death, which by Christ’s cross is made to yield to life, indeed become the very means by which Christ will restore man to his original relationship to God, as the living image of the imperishable deity. The Great Father of the Church, St. Irenaeus of Lyon, taught this already in the 2nd Century when he wrote, “Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.”

What a mystery that God should choose to use death, the very punishment for sin, to be the vehicle to restore this imperishable Life of God to man. When Jesus died on the Cross, his death conquered death and produced an effect which is the opposite of death. His death, on the level of nature, produced an effect that is not only the opposite of death – life – but did so on the level of the supernatural, for it did not cause a natural life to be restored, but the life of grace, an infinitely higher order of life, the life which is God’s life in the human soul.

But this mystery of death producing life does not end with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christians do not escape death any more than they escape suffering in this world. What happens is understandable only in terms of what happened in the case of Jesus, the Lord of Life. We die, but our death is not an escape from something, like the suicide of euthanasia, but a transformation into something even greater, a passage into the Life that never ends, the Life that was but planted as a seed in our Baptism, but can only come to full blossom as the result of our death, the passage from one life to another, from the lesser to the greater. It was this holy thought that filled St. Francs with such joy when at last his time had come to make that blessed passage to Life Eternal, and he welcomed the means for this passage by referring to it as his sister, “welcome Sister Death.”

Unbelievers only abhor death and can find nothing really good to say about this reality. At best, the godless praise death only in despair, as a kind of lesser evil, an escape from a life too painful to bear, but not as a passage to anything else. Some half-believing Christians today sometimes seem to mimic this attitude of total unbelief in their attitude toward death. They do not think of death as “Sister Death” because they no longer have a supernatural vision of life and death. The half-Christian does not think of their real life as the Life received in Baptism, the Life that cannot be destroyed by death, but only ushered in fully by death. They do not think of death as “Sister Death” because they rarely think of Christ as “Brother Life.” St. Francis thought of little else, and the man or woman who shares the same faith is more like Francis than their contemporaries who believe nothing of this, and for that reason, he or she can say with St. Paul, or St. Francis, O Death where is thy sting.” If we truly believe that Christ is Life, and that He has transformed death itself in to a gateway to Life, then this will also be our faith filled response to death, when at last God chooses to call us to share in His eternal, imperishable and fully beatifying Life: “Welcome Sister Death!”

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

When I was attending parochial school, many, many years ago, we used to pray regularly for the conversion of Russia and China where Christians were being persecuted and martyred for their faith. Those prayers made us much more aware of the terrible situation of our brothers and sisters in Christ in those far off lands, and prayer helped us to experience the solidarity of the Church in her suffering. Had we not been made to pray for the suffering faithful of those unfortunate nations, we would not have been aware of the reality of religious persecution in our day, because the denial of religious freedom, and the persecution of Christians for their religion, were not big interest items for the news managers in our society then, and still is not a hot issue for them today.

So praying for persecuted Christians, in addition to the help of our prayers for the persecutred themselves, also benefitted us who prayed in two ways: first, it made us aware of the widespread persecution of Christians ignored by our media and government; and, secondly, it made us understand that we were bound to those suffering people by our common humanity and by our faith which obliged us to pray and work for their freedom and their human rights.

The fact that most of our national politicians and our national news managers still do not really care about religious freedom, at least for for Christians, has been made abundantly clear in recent times. You may recall that during the first war with Iraq, Desert Storm, neither the news media nor the government got all that upset when American soldiers, who were defending Saudi Arabia from possible aggression, were denied the right to even use the Bible, or conduct private services in the desert. Saudi Arabia, of course, has no religious freedom for Christians, but it has lots of oil, and so our national interest in their oil made us cooperators with Saudi Arabia in denying our own military the right to worship God as Christians, so long as they remained there to defend the oil we need from that country.

Likewise, there continues to be little coverage from the media and little protest from our government – from our government over the ongoing persecution of Christians in China, especially since that country became a major trading partner with us. The economy is our only national interest there. Oh, the politicians mouth a few condemnations now and then, but it is clear that the US government plans to do nothing of any consequence to promote religious freedom, or political feredom for that matter, because it might endanger our economic interests in China, which also holds a huge amount of our national debt.

As a result of this silence and inaction on the part of the powers that be, most Americans seem unaware that Christians are being persecuted in China, or that Christians have no religious freedom in places like Saudia Arabia, where we are still poised to ask our soldiers to be ready to die for the Saudi’s independence, and their oil. Note that there is no campaign to end religious persecution in China as there was on the part of the media, our government and political activists to end aparteid in South Africa, a campaign that succeeded in gaining political freedom for the disenfranchised majority of native South Africans. Why do we not see the same effort when it comes to religious freedom of billions in China and the Muslim countries? Because religious freedom does not eman much to those who control the media and those who rule in our government.

As a result the Christians in China, and other places, today must feel very abandoned. Like the Apostles in the boat in today’s Gospel, they are riding out a storm that threatens their very lives, and they must feel very alone. Of course, because they are Christians, they know they are not alone in the boat, for the Lord is always with them. But at times he must seem asleep, and unconcerned about their fate. That is the ultimate test of faith for the martyrs of every age; the Lord may seem, like the rest of the world, not to care about what happens to them.

But the point of the Gospel is that the one who is in the boat is never unaware or unconcerned about what happens to his creation, and above all what happens to his disciples. If we really believe that the one who was in that boat is the Eternal Son of God, then we know that nothing escapes his providence, not even when he slept in the boat, or slept as an infant in his Mother’s arms. He was still at work as the Word through whom all things were made, the Wisdom of God through whom all things are rightly governed and directed to their appointed ends. Even when our neighbors do not care, our own brothers and sisters, God is there, and God’s will cannot be frustrated.

But then comes the crunch. It may be that God’s will is that we accept the Cross the world has given us, as it was His will to accept the Cross given to Him by which we are redeemed. Here we can only trust that His will that we accept the Cross is the result of love, and not indifference. The proof of this love, for Christians, is the love that led Jesus to Calvary. He has loved us unto His own death, our suffering, our death cannot mean nothing to Him. Whatever he permits in our lives, it must be seen in terms of that awful love that suffered Calvary on our behalf.

This belief of Christians in the universal providence of God and the love that God has for all his creatures, and especially for those who have become his children in Christ His Son, is the great consolation in trials of very kind. The Martyrs go to their death in peace, because they believe in this special love of the Father for the Son, and for those who have become Sons of God in the Son. It is a love the world cannot understand, because the world knows indifference more than love, and naturally tends to attribute to indifference what it does not understand.

The Christian also at times does not understand, feels abandoned by everyone, as did Christ in the Garden. But the Christian believes and trusts in that same love that Jesus knew from the Father. It was never just his own love of the Father that sustained Him, but above all it was his knowledge of the Father’s love for Himself that enabled Christ to be abandoned by all his disciples and fulfill the destiny of the Cross where he was alone, separated from everything, except this knowledge of the Father’s love. That was all he needed to embrace the Cross, and it’s all any of us needs in order to accept the crosses in our own life. It sustained the martyrs of yesterday, and sustains the martyrs today. It is the life-giving refuge of all who are abandoned by this world.

Today, we are learning that unconcern about religious freedom elsewhere endangers our own religious freedom here. It’s becoming clear today that the same powers that care little about violations of religious freedom abroad, also have little respect for religious freedom here at home. It’s logical; it makes a certain perverted sense. So, the Catholic Church and observant Catholics are now confronted with an attack on our religious freedom by our government. Not only is there little interest or protest by the secular powers, but even many Catholics seem incapable of understanding what is happening to their Church, and many seem to approve of it. What’s the big deal, they say, if Catholic institutions ar forced to provide financial support for birth control and abortion? The question itself reveals how little religious freedom means to them, and how far down the road we are to losing other freedoms as well.

And so today we also pray, but now for our religious freedom, and we pray in a special way during this fortnight of prayer sponsored by our Bishop. Hopefully this prayer will not only gain God’s grace in our struggle, but will make us more aware of the importance of this freedom and how it is being undermined by our government. And secondly it may give us an even greater sense of solidarity with the those everywhere who are being persecuted for their religious faith, and hopefully it will move more and more Christians to get involved in this struggle for our own religious freedom. We might do well to remember the warning of a Protestant German pastor during the Nazi persecutions when so many did not care: they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew; then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out. We need to speak out loud and clear, while we still have the freedom to do so.

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

I repeat we are full of confidence, and would much rather be away from the body, and at home with the Lord. This being so, we make it our aim to please him whether we are with him or away from him.

In the First letter of St. Peter, the great Apostle gives this command to all generations of Christians: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” But what is this hope of Christians? St. Paul summarized this hope in these beautiful lines from Second Corinthians that we just listened to: to be at home with the Lord. That is Paul’s hope, and the hope of any man or woman who professes to be a Christian, our hope is to be at home with the Lord. What else could it possibly mean to be a Christian, than to have this hope of being one day at home with Christ? So intense is this desire of Paul, and so confident His hope, that he is willing to be separated for a time from the body to be with Christ, for while we are in the body, we are in exile from our true homeland. Paul wishes that the second coming would take place while he is in the body, but if that is not to be, then he accepts the temporary separation from the body, until the resurrection, so much does he desire to be at last at home with the Lord.

The Christian is like the children of Abraham wandering in the desert, with no true homeland in this world, awaiting the homeland God will give them. In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read these lines: But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Heb. 11:16) The spiritual offspring of Abraham who have no homeland in this world, are those reborn in Christ. Unlike the natural descendants of Abraham who eventually were given a homeland, the spiritual descendants remain till the end of time dispersed throughout the world, exiles from their true and better homeland which is heaven.

Of course the natural offspring also were to be given the better homeland, and there was a mortal danger involved in their attachment to an earthly homeland. You will recall how Samuel resisted their desire for a king, for the danger was that they would then become like all other nations, and would confuse their temporary home, the earthly promised land, with the homeland that God really had prepared for them. And this indeed turned out to be exactly the case. And so God had to graft a wild branch, the branch of the gentiles, onto the vine of Christ to make them jealous, and in this mysterious way one day He is to bring them to that promised land which is not the fruit of human of human labor, but the gift of God in Christ.

The danger for the spiritual descendants of Abraham is much the same as it was for his natural offspring, that we will confuse this temporary home and homeland for the better, heavenly homeland, where at last we will be at home with Christ. Paul is determined to keep his hope fixed on that heavenly homeland where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. He does so by keeping his heart fixed on Christ, that is, by charity, which makes him love the Lord more than his own body, which includes then his citizenship in this world. Because Paul’s heart and hope are fixed on the heavenly homeland, because he so intensely desires to be at home with Christ, nothing in this world can shake his confidence: we walk by faith… we are full of confidence.

Those who fall into the trap of making this world their true homeland are full of confidence, only so long as nothing goes drastically wrong in their life in this world. We saw this in the decade of the 90″s with the booming economy in that decade and the over-confidence it generated among many people, until, things started going wrong. Then we had the 9/11 catastrophe and a few years later the bursting of the bubble created by the wild decade-long speculation in real estate. With the collapse of the good times, we found out once again how fragile prosperity is in this world.

But this reality check inevitably happens, in less dramatic ways, in each of our lives: the loss of one’s job, a sudden serious health problem, the death of a loved one. Sooner or later, these things make us see the uncertainty of this world in making us happy, and then, hopefully, we realize once again that man was not made for bread alone. Great confidence suddenly is changed into insecurity and fear of the future, fear for one’s life, fear of death, fear of suffering, fear of life itself.

It is all this that Paul says does not bother him in the least – he is full of confidence because his hope has never been rooted in this world, but in the greater homeland, and his desire is simple: to be at home with Christ. Paul’s life is not easy; he is persecuted by pagans and his fellow Israelites, and even rejected by some of his own Christian converts who ridicule and slander him. His life is constantly threatened, and yet he is full of confidence. He has but one judge, and thanks be to God is the very one who died for his sins, Christ the Lord. He is full of confidence because he leads his own life by one principle, “ to please him whether we are with him or away from him.” Even Paul’s visions have perhaps ceased, and now he feels his exile from Christ all the more; but he is full of confidence because he has this one aim in his life, to please him before whose tribunal he will render an account of his life and ministry. No other human judgement means anything to Paul.

What a wonderful thing to have this full confidence in Christ, and it should be our confidence as well as Paul’s. It will be our confidence if, first of all, we refuse to locate our true citizenship in this world, and consider ourselves exiles so long as we are away from the Lord. In this vision of faith, even death itself is gain, and not something to be feared, even though it is so contrary to our natural desire to live in the body.

And secondly, this confidence will be ours if we truly live our lives with that same single aim of St. Paul, to do everything so as to please him who has loved us unto death, in the hope that one day we shall be in our true home with Christ. If we so live our lives based on the love of Christ, consciously to please him, we need not even fear the final judgement, for He who has loved us is our judge. So long as we live in this world according to His will, to please him, are confidence is not presumption, but is genuine hope that trusts not in ourselves, but in Him who has died and risen for us.

Corpus Christi 2012

Do this in memory of me.

A good friend lost her husband rather suddenly some years ago to a deadly and rapid form of cancer. I have noticed over all these years how she continues very diligently to preserve his memory. As one might expect, in various places she has photos of their wedding and other special events in their life, the birth of their only child, their vacations, whatever reminds her of the happiness and the gift that their love had been for her over the years.

But I also noticed one day that She continued to wear her engagement and wedding ring, and she does so to this day, 15 years later. She is a religion teacher at one of our Catholic High Schools, and so she knows quite well that she is no longer married and quite free legally and morally to marry again. But I suspect that these must be the most special treasures she has from him, the special signs of his love for her, the reminder of their conjugal union which made them one in the most intimate way possible in this world, and the happiness they shared through their married love and life. She obviously treasures those rings, and knowing her, I think she may well wear those rings till her own death, because they are very physical signs by which, in a certain sense, he continues to accompany her in this world.

The Church also has an enduring treasure from her bridegroom who also died a sudden and awful death, but there is a huge difference in that he did not leave his bride a widow. The Church’s marriage with Jesus is truly forever, in this world and in the next, and it is the only marriage that is absolutely unending There are other reason that this marriage union is quite different and much more wonderful than marriage in the human sense, first of all, because the Church’s bridegroom was not just a man, but God made man. And her bridegroom rose from the dead, and continues to live with her, but not exactly as He did before. He is now in such a condition in his humanity that this world alone can no longer be His home, for our Bridegroom has ascended so high that we cannot be totally with him, or He with us, until we ourselves, the whole Church, has been transformed by the glory and elevated to that higher existence of Heaven, which is his, and our final dwelling place.

Nonetheless, while Jesus has in one very real sense gone beyond this world into eternity, and while we one day hope to follow Him, still, in another very real and wonderful way, he has not left us entirely and He remains with His bride always until the end of time as he promised His Apostles: And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world. Amen. (Matt. 28:20) His continuing presence and activity on our behalf here in this world is the true mystery that the Bride continues to live here on earth, the mystery of her tremendous lover’s abiding presence, even while he has truly gone ahead to provide for our eternal life with Him in His Father’s Kingdom. His greatest memento and our greatest treasure is not something he left behind, but is in truth Himself, always with us, always abiding in His Church and in each of us, even while He has gone ahead to provide an eternal home where we shall be united with Him forever.

So Jesus is not with us simply as a memory, but He is present with us, and for us, in an even more wonderful way today than before his Paschal Mystery. The treasure the Church, as Bride, possesses from Him, the memorial that is more than a memorial, is of course the Holy Eucharist, and it is this greatest of His gifts, and this mystery of his powerful presence that we the Church, the Bride of Christ, celebrate today in a most special way on Corpus Christi. The Holy Eucharist is not like the wedding ring worn by a widow, for the Church is truly never a widow, and this gift of the Holy Mass and Holy Communion is not a mere thing that reminds us of someone who once was our great lover, who was once present with us on earth as man, who once shared our life, but no longer does. His remembrance is not a thing at all; but a wonderfully new and permanent presence of Himself who has loved us unto death, and beyond death, and Who continues to be with us, and indeed in us, to the end of time, through this Holy Sacrament of His body and Blood.

The Church’s sacrament of Christ’s Body and blood will inevitably seem strange to outsiders, but it should not be so strange to any believing Catholics who are a deep lovers of Christ as their Lord and as their Spouse. And this unique spiritual Marriage with Christ, like human marriage, is not, cannot ever be a purely spiritual thing, but in a most wonderful way involves the union of the whole persons of the spouses, body and soul, spirit and matter. Indeed, we would have a hard time even conceiving of a true marriage that does not involve the bodily presence and as well as the soul or spirit.

Thus Christ has left us a wonderful memorial of his person and His love-unto-death, and beyond death, but just as it is not a purely spiritual presence nor is it purely a memorial, for his bequest to us is the living union between Himself and us, Christ and His Church, most especially every time we celebrate the holy Mass. For that reason the memorial aspect of the Mass, which recalls the past love of Christ for us on the Cross, where he gave his body and blood for our redemption, and where he sealed the marriage bond with us, is meant only to arouse our love for Him, so we can more powerfully receive His very real presence with us here in the Eucharist. And His presence now in the Eucharist is totally real, for in this holy sacrifice and sacrament he becomes flesh and blood for us, to feed us with his glorified humanity so that he can prepare us body and soul to be with Him one day, body and soul, forever, where he now dwells in his full glory forever.

When we celebrate Mass, offer His sacrifice in union with Him and then receive the Lord the in the Eucharist, the very concrete bodily way in which he gives himself to us reminds us most powerfully of the act of sacrificial love by which he redeemed us, by giving up His body and soul, where he loved us unto death so that we might live with Him, in Him forever. Yes, His body and blood present on our altar by His personal consecration, first reminds us of His Cross, and of the bodily sacrifice by which he saved us from eternal death. We believe that His sacrifice is renewed on our altars in a most wonderful and mysterious way, by Him. He makes his Body and blood present under the signs of his death for us, and He himself feeds us, feeds us with Himself through these very same gifts so that we may live forever in Him, as he lives already lives in us. His body and blood testify to this truth, that ours is a truly real and unending marriage, involving a human love caught up in His divine love, a union of the whole of us with the whole of Him. All this, of course, remains utterly mysterious even for us who believe, mysterious as to how all this is accomplished by Him. And yet, the fact that this is taking place here and now in the holy Mass is as certain to a Catholic believer as is the existence of this physical world that we live in and pass through to eternity.

This greatest of gifts was foretold and prepared for in the manna of the desert that carried the Israelites into the Promised Land, for Christ is our true Manna. And it was prefigured also in the sacrifices of the Old Testament6 that were fulfilled and utterly surpassed by the Sacrifice of Christ on the Christ. Christ Himself is the treasure we possess in our Churches, and in our bodies during the Eucharistic liturgy, just as the Law was carried in the Ark which led Israel into the Promised land. His Body and Blood is our spiritual food, making us forever one with Him who has loved us unto death, and continues to love us and is with us until the end of time in this most holy sacrament, and will love us as his own flesh forever in His Father’s Kingdom. Today, then, most appropriately, the Church cries out everywhere in this world, O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine. May that praise be the ring we bear on our persons, the prayer we carry with us, all the days of our life, Amen.