Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 8, 2015 Column Father De Celles

Priest Shortage. I mentioned a few weeks ago that the next few months were going to be challenging for Fr. Kenna and I now that we have one less priest in the rectory (by the way, Fr. Nguyen is safely back in Viet Nam). This was brought home to me last week as I was sick a few days, as I tried to schedule visiting priests to assist this next week when Fr. Kenna will be on vacation, and as I tried to schedule visiting priests for Lent. Again I ask you to be patient with us, and warn you that from time to time I may have to make some unwanted, although temporary, changes to the schedule. For example, for lack of priests, next Sunday, February 15, I have to cancel all Sunday morning confessions. Please pray for your priests, for seminarians and for vocations to the priesthood.


Speaking of Sunday Confessions. Please remember that Sunday morning confessions are largely dependent on the availability of a priest. Many times a priest will start confessions late (less than 30 minutes before Mass) simply because his other obligations, including greeting parishioners after Mass, have detained him. In any case, even when confessions start late, we will normally end confessions once Mass has started.

Also, Sunday morning confession times are provided to meet the genuine needs of those who truly cannot attend on other days. Practically speaking, this means you should not plan to go to confession on Sunday merely because it is more convenient than some other time (e.g., Wednesday evenings, Saturday mornings and Saturday afternoons).


Scout Sunday. Next Sunday, February 15th, we will remember “Scouting Sunday” at the 10:30 Mass. I invite all boys and girls of the parish who are involved in any of the various forms of scouting (American Heritage Girls, Trail Life, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts or Venture) to join us, in your uniforms. After Mass there will be a small reception in the parish hall.

Please remember, even though the parish does not sponsor troops for all the various scouting organizations, all the boys and girls are beloved members of our parish and our Catholic Church. We are proud of all the good work they do in whatever organization they belong to, and we want to encourage them to take Christ into these organizations, to proclaim the truth and joy of the Gospel to all their friends.


Pope Francis. Last week I wrote about the confusion following our Holy Father’s recent off the cuff comments about large families, comments which seemed to contradict the Church’s doctrine. I’ve been thinking, praying, listening and reading about this over the last week and thought I might share some of what I’ve gleaned with you.

First of all, we have to remember, that we all make mistakes, and popes are no exception. Popes can teach with binding authority or even infallibly on matters of faith and morals, but they can also make mistakes in that arena, especially when they “teach” informally. Remember what Vatican II taught us (Lumen Gentium 25):

“…loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given…to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff…in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated.”

Although we must always respectfully consider what the Pope says, not everything he says has the same teaching authority, so that sometimes we don’t have to agree with or assent to it. So when the Pope speaks we ask ourselves: was it his “intention” to teach with “authority,” and if so, how much authority? To answer these questions we look at the words he used and circumstances in which he spoke to determine how he “manifest[ed]”  his intention. So, for example, when a Pope issues an Encyclical, and it contains a very carefully worded statement that begins, “In order that all doubt may be removed, …in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren, I declare that …,” he is clearly exercising his full teaching authority and intending that we assent to the teaching. However, at the other end of the spectrum, if he’s writing a letter to a friend, or giving an interview with a secular reporter, and speaks very informally and imprecisely, he clearly does not intend to be teaching with authority.

Much of what we hear or read about what Pope Francis says falls in this latter category. He has intentionally made himself more available to informal settings than any of his predecessors ever did. Moreover, new technology makes these informal remarks more accessible to more people than the more formal remarks of his predecessors ever were. So while the media or internet seems to give great doctrinal weight to his words, that is clearly not his intention. He is, it seems, using these “events” not so much to teach us precise doctrine, but to engage our interest, to begin a conversation. And in so doing, hoping to encourage those who have ignored our precise doctrine to perhaps reconsider.

This is a very different approach than any of his predecessors. Whether it will succeed or not, only time will tell. And we are free to respectfully disagree with this approach—this has nothing to do with authoritative teaching on faith and morals.

For many of us, who were used to the very careful, clear and scholarly style of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, this is a hard adjustment. They were very concerned that the doctrine of the Faith be precisely presented and clearly understood, and dedicated much of their pontificates to that. Francis, however, although he clearly accepts the doctrine they taught, has a different emphasis. So we shouldn’t expect his impromptu statements to explain doctrine with the same clarity of his predecessors.

But we’re not the only ones struggling with this. So is the media. Again, accustomed to the styles and intentions of Popes John Paul and Benedict, and often influenced by their own disdain for Church teaching, they misunderstand Pope Francis, and try to present him as opposing those popes, or changing doctrine. And then we make the mistake of taking the media’s interpretation to heart. How foolish we can be sometimes.

As I’ve said so many times, don’t believe everything you read or hear in the media. Hold tight to the official teaching, and don’t be so concerned about off the cuff remarks. No doctrine has changed. God bless Pope Francis!


Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles