I must begin by telling you that I do not like to preach on Reformation Sunday. Actually I have to put it more strongly than that. I do not like Reformation Sunday, period. I do not understand why it is part of the church year.Reformation Sunday does not name a happy event for the Church Catholic; on the contrary, it names failure. Of course, the church rightly names failure, or at least horror, as part of our church year. We do, after all, go through crucifixion as part of Holy Week. Certainly if the Reformation is to be narrated rightly, it is to be narrated as part of those dark days.Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic.When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema.If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.For example, note what the Reformation has done for our reading texts like that which we hear from Luke this morning. We Protestants automatically assume that the Pharisees are the Catholics. They are the self-righteous people who have made Christianity a form of legalistic religion, thereby destroying the free grace of the Gospel. We Protestants are the tax collectors, knowing that we are sinners and that our lives depend upon God’s free grace. And therefore we are better than the Catholics because we know they are sinners. What an odd irony that the Reformation made such
readings possible.As Protestants we now take pride in the acknowledgment of our sinfulness in order to distinguish ourselves from Catholics who allegedly believe in works-righteousness.Unfortunately, the Catholics are right. Christian salvation consists in works. To be saved is to be made holy. To be saved requires our being made part of a people separated from the world so that we can be united in spite of — or perhaps better, because of — the world’s fragmentation and divisions. Unity, after all, is what God has given us through Christ’s death and resurrection. For in that death and resurrection we have been made part of God’s salvation for the world so that the world may know it has been freed from the powers that would compel us to kill one another in the name of false loyalties. All that is about the works necessary to save us.For example, I often point out that at least Catholics have the magisterial office of the Bishop of Rome to remind them that disunity is a sin. You should not overlook the significance that in several important documents of late, John Paul II has confessed the Catholic sin for the Reformation. Where are the Protestants capable of doing likewise? We Protestants feel no sin for the disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to confess our sin for the continuing disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to do that because we have no experience of unity.The magisterial office — we Protestants often forget — is not a matter of constraining or limiting diversity in the name of unity. The office of the Bishop of Rome is to ensure that when Christians move . . . (continue reading)
An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday . . .
The Lord’s descent into hell
“What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”
A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday
Almighty, ever-living God, whose Only-begotten Son descended to the realm of the dead, and rose from there to glory, grant that your faithful people, who were buried with him in baptism, may, by his resurrection, obtain eternal life.
(We make our prayer) through our Lord.
(Through Christ our Lord.)
Prepared by Pontifical University Saint Thomas Aquinas
Today, being the feast day of my beloved patron saint, Patrick, I post this for everyone’s edification and for the glory of the Triune God.
I bind to myself todayThe strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:I believe the Trinity in the UnityThe Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself todayThe virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.
I bind to myself todayThe virtue of the love of seraphim,In the obedience of angels,In the hope of resurrection unto reward,In prayers of Patriarchs,In predictions of Prophets,In preaching of Apostles,In faith of Confessors,In purity of holy Virgins,In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself todayThe power of Heaven,The light of the sun,The brightness of the moon,The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,The swiftness of wind,The depth of sea,The stability of earth,The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself todayGod’s Power to guide me,God’s Might to uphold me,God’s Wisdom to teach me,God’s Eye to watch over me,God’s Ear to hear me,God’s Word to give me speech,God’s Hand to guide me,God’s Way to lie before me,God’s Shield to shelter me,God’s Host to secure me,Against the snares of demons,Against the seductions of vices,Against the lusts of nature,Against everyone who meditates injury to me,Whether far or near,Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtuesAgainst every hostile merciless powerWhich may assail my body and my soul,Against the incantations of false prophets,Against the black laws of heathenism,Against the false laws of heresy,Against the deceits of idolatry,Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me todayAgainst every poison, against burning,Against drowning, against death-wound,That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,Christ behind me, Christ within me,Christ beneath me, Christ above me,Christ at my right, Christ at my left,Christ in the fort,Christ in the chariot seat,Christ on the deck,Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,Christ in every eye that sees me,Christ in every ear that hears me.
I bind to myself todayThe strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,I believe the Trinity in the UnityThe Creator of the Universe.
And now, here is the “back story” of this famous prayer, quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
St. Patrick learned from Dichu that the chieftains of Erin had been summoned to celebrate a special feast at Tara by Leoghaire, who was the Ard-Righ, that is, the Supreme Monarch of Ireland. This was an opportunity which Patrick would not forego; he would present himself before the assembly, to strike a decisive blow against the Druidism that held the nation captive, and to secure freedom for the glad tidings of Redemption of which he was the herald.
As he journeyed on he rested for some days at the house of a chieftain named Secsnen, who with his household joyfully embraced the Faith. The youthful Benen, or Benignus, son of the chief, was in a special way captivated by the Gospel doctrines and the meekness of Patrick.
Whilst the saint slumbered he would gather sweet-scented flowers and scatter them over his bosom, and when Patrick was setting out, continuing his journey towards Tara, Benen clung to his feet declaring that nothing would sever him from him. “Allow him to have his way”, said St. Patrick to the chieftain, “he shall be heir to my sacred mission.” Thenceforth Benen was the inseparable companion of the saint, and the prophecy was fulfilled, for Benen is named among the “comhards” or successors of St. Patrick in Armagh.
It was on 26 March, Easter Sunday, in 433, that the eventful assembly was to meet at Tara, and the decree went forth that from the preceding day the fires throughout the kingdom should be extinguished until the signal blaze was kindled at the royal mansion. The chiefs and Brehons came in full numbers and the druids too would muster all their strength to bid defiance to the herald of good tidings and to secure the hold of their superstition on the Celtic race, for their demoniac oracles had announced that the messenger of Christ had come to Erin.
St. Patrick arrived at the hill of Slane, at the opposite extremity of the valley from Tara, on Easter Eve, in that year the feast of the Annunciation, and on the summit of the hill kindled the Paschal fire. The druids at once raised their voice. “O King”, (they said) “live for ever; this fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished.”
By order of the king and the agency of the druids, repeated attempts were made to extinguish the blessed fire and to punish with death the intruder who had disobeyed the royal command. But the fire was not extinguished and Patrick shielded by the Divine power came unscathed from their snares and assaults.
On Easter Day the missionary band having at their head the youth Benignus bearing aloft a copy of the Gospels, and followed by St. Patrick who with mitre and crozier was arrayed in full episcopal attire, proceeded in processional order to Tara.
The druids and magicians put forth all their strength and employed all their incantations to maintain their sway over the Irish race, but the prayer and faith of Patrick achieved a glorious triumph. The druids by their incantations overspread the hill and surrounding plain with a cloud of worse than Egyptian darkness.
Patrick defied them to remove that cloud, and when all their efforts were made in vain, at his prayer the sun sent forth its rays and the brightest sunshine lit up the scene. Again by demoniac power the Arch-Druid Lochru, like Simon Magus of old, was lifted up high in the air, but when Patrick knelt in prayer the druid from his flight was dashed to pieces upon a rock.
Thus was the final blow given to paganism in the presence of all the assembled chieftains. It was, indeed, a momentous day for the Irish race.
Twice Patrick pleaded for the Faith before Leoghaire. The king had given orders that no sign of respect was to be extended to the strangers, but at the first meeting the youthful Erc, a royal page, arose to show him reverence; and at the second, when all the chieftains were assembled, the chief-bard Dubhtach showed the same honor to the saint. Both these heroic men became fervent disciples of the Faith and bright ornaments of the Irish Church.
It was on this second solemn occasion that St. Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock from the sward, to explain by its triple leaf and single stem, in some rough way, to the assembled chieftains, the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. On that bright Easter Day, the triumph of religion at Tara was complete.
The Ard-Righ granted permission to Patrick to preach the Faith throughout the length and breadth of Erin, and the druidical prophecy like the words of Balaam of old would be fulfilled: the sacred fire now kindled by the saint would never be extinguished.
Behind the scenes at the Envoy Institute’s Apologetics Summer Camp
I always look forward to some rest & relaxation during the summer months, and the past several summers have proven to be among the best opportunities I’ve had to do that in a long time. That’s because each summer I have the privilege of hosting a large group of eager Catholic teens, young men and women ages 15-18, at the Envoy Institute’s annual Apologetics Summer Camp, held at Camp Kahdalea in Brevard, North Carolina (www.CatholicApologeticsCamp.com).
These camps are a blast, and I’d like to take a minute to tell you all about them.
The whole week is fun and rewarding for me personally, what with daily Mass, the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the camp (which is nestled in the foothills of the Pisgah National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina), and enjoying the company of my colleagues, Envoy Institute team members, and the camp staff, especially the warm and wonderful Catholic couple who own and operate the camp facility, David and Anne Trufant.
But best of all is that I get to spend time with the young Catholics who attended the camp, helping them learn the basics of their Catholic Faith, teaching them the art of apologetics, and mentoring them on how to successfully explain and defend their Catholic beliefs when they get to college and move on into adulthood.
That in particular is a truly inspirational and energizing experience, for which I am grateful to the Lord. I should also mention that I also have a huge time white-water rafting each year with the kids. But that’s another story for another time . . .
In June, 2010, when I announced that the Envoy Institute had launched its new Apologetics Summer Camp, the reaction from Catholics who heard about it fell into two general categories.
The first was, “Wow! That sounds like fun. How do we sign up for that?”
The second was, “Wow! What a great idea. How come no one ever thought of that sooner? How do we sign up for that?”
Judging from the rave reviews we received from the young people who’ve attended our first three summer camps, as well as the reactions we received from many grateful parents, the Envoy Institute Catholic Apologetics Summer Camp sure does live up to everyone’s expectations that it be both fun, educational, and spiritually life-changing. And that’s great, because that was our goal.
We promise the young people a beautiful, peaceful, fun place where they can enjoy plenty of exciting summertime activities (you know, things like archery, hiking, rock climbing, high-ropes, swimming, campfires, whitewater rafting, and more), as well as deepen their love for Jesus Christ and their knowledge of the Catholic Faith. Please check out our camp picture gallery to see what I mean!
In addition to all the outdoor activities the Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camp offers, our campers all take part in the week-long series of apologetics seminars presented by some of America’s leading Catholic apologists and authors, including teachers such as Mr. Jim Burnham, Mr. Ken Hensley, Dr. Paul Thigpen, Msgr. Stuart Swetland, Dr. Benjamin Wiker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Mr. Steve Wood, Mr. Ken Davison, Mrs. Melanie Pritchard, and Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. I also teach several courses each summer.
Our faculty of fascinating and erudite presenters teaches the young people each year the basics of hands-on, real-world Catholic apologetics on subjects including:
- “Apologetics 101: A Crash-Course in Explaining and Defending Your Faith”
- “Keeping Your Faith While Earning Your Degree”
- “The Godless Delusion: How to Prove Atheism Is False”
- “Have You Been Saved? And Other Questions About Salvation You Will Be Asked in College”
- “How to Answer Society’s Misconceptions About God and Religion”
- “Faith, Science, Evolution, and the Catholic Church — What You Need to Know!”
- “How I Almost Lost My Catholic Faith in College, and How YOU Can Avoid That”
- “10 Bible Passages Every Catholic Should Know When Talking to Protestants”
- “The Catholic Church and the End Times: What the Bible Really Says About the Rapture, the Anti-Christ, and a Bunch of Stuff Like That”
- “Evangelization by the Ounce: 10 Small But Very Effective Ways to Share Your Catholic Faith”
The lineup of topics offered each summer changes, depending on our roster of speakers, but the above list will give you a good idea of the kind of teaching the young people receive.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the students who have attended our first 3 annual Apologetics Summer Camps were spell-bound by the presentations and by the lively, free-wheeling question-&-answer sessions the presenters had with them after each talk.
But rather than my telling you how the young people react to the Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camps, I’d rather let them tell you about it in their own words.
Here are just a few of the many comments we’ve received:
“This camp has been one of the most influential experiences of my life, for sure. I confess that my mom had to push me to come to this camp, and I wasn’t completely willing to come. But I am so glad I did. The speakers were amazing and spread their zeal and love for Christ and the Church to me and the other campers. This camp has inspired me and reawakened my love for God. . . . The memories will stay with me forever. Meeting peers who share my Catholic Faith has been such a blessing and I have forged so many genuine friendships. THANK YOU for this incredibly enriching experience!” — Anja
“It was wonderful to learn how to better defend my Faith and meet other committed Catholics. Everyone at the camp had a really fun time!” — Virginia
“There is no way for me to thank you enough for what you have given me and the rest of my new friends. This camp and the speakers have given me something that has and will strengthen my Faith and my love for God. The trips we took helped me to learn about myself and the love God has for me. I can guarantee that I will be back!” — Jonah
“This has been an awesome experience I will never forget. I have become strong in defending my Faith. Thank you again.” — Danitza
“Thanks for making this possible. The talks were profound and made a big impact. We had so much fun.” — John
“Thank you so much for giving us this amazing opportunity to grow in our Faith in the Church and in our love for Jesus. It has been an educational, mind-opening, experience — but most of all, FUN!” — Jesse
“I learned so much on how to explain my Faith this week! I’m actually excited to go home and share my Faith with all those who need to hear. Thank you again. I made so many friends.” — Emily
“I had a terrific and holy week! I can’t wait to start reading the books I received, written by the inspiring speakers I’ve been listening to.” — Reid
“I learned so much more about my Catholic Faith than I had ever known before. Thank you!” — Katie
“Thank you so much! It was such a blessing to be able to spend time with God and other like-minded Catholics in the North Carolina mountains. The talks were amazing and were filled with so much good information. I’m looking forward to going home and reading & studying my new apologetics books.” — Matthew
“This camp has truly been one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. It has helped me grow spiritually and allowed me to do so many new things.” — Bethany
“Thank you! The camp strengthened my faith as never before!” — Monica
“I have grown deeply in my love for Jesus Christ and the Church, His bride. Much thanks.” — Heather
Now, just imagine your teenager (15-18) learning how to explain the Catholic Faith more intelligently, defend it more charitably, and share it more effectively.
Sounds pretty good, huh?
Well, that’s not a “pie in the sky” idea, because the Envoy Institute’s Apologetics Summer Camp is here for you. Your kids will have a blast in the great outdoors, in a setting that’s close to heaven.
If you’d like to send them to our 4th-annual camp (August 8-14, 2013), please go to www.CatholicApologeticsCamp.com and check out pictures, informative video and other helpful info on the gorgeous camp Kahdalea.
Then, contact the Envoy Institute’s reservation department by calling 855-305-8982 (9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. EST, M-F) and reserve a spot for your son or daughter (or sons and daughters!).
Our booking representatives will be happy to provide you with all the information.
The Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camp is open to Catholic students ages 15-18. I lead the apologetics training, along with our superb team of experienced, qualified Catholic teachers. Apologetics books, informational handouts, and other reading materials are supplied to the students during the camp at no extra charge to the campers, as part of their camp tuition.
In between sessions, they’ll have ample opportunities to enjoy fun activities like whitewater rafting, rope climbing, hiking, archery, Ping-Pong, swimming, or just relaxing with a good book in the shade of a tree.
As you can imagine, now that the word is out about how great the Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camps are, you’ll want to act quickly and register your child(ren) as soon as possible, because we can only accommodate a maximum of 135 campers, and registrations for our 4th-annual (2013) Camp are filling up quickly. So, don’t delay!
God bless you!
Patrick Madrid, President and Founder
The Envoy Institute
Catholic Apologetics Camp
P.S. If you’d like to register your son or daughter (or sons and daughters) for this year’s camp, please act quickly! Call 855-305-8982 today (9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. EST, M-F) or make the reservations at www.CatholicApologeticsCamp.com. Thank you.
For at least the next month, we will be bombarded with a myriad of theories, speculations, and predictions about who will be elected the next pope. One name you will hear a LOT about in the coming weeks is Cardinal Tarcisio Pietro Evasio Bertone, S.D.B., who currently holds two important and powerful positions in the Vatican, Secretary of State and Camerlengo.
Already, the speculators and conspiracy-theorists are theorizing that Cardinal Bertone will be the next pope because, at least according to the dubious “prophecy of Saint Malachi,” the next pope after Pope Benedict XVI will be known as “Peter the Roman,” in part because his middle name, Pietro, is Italian for Peter. Some of these theorists are saying, Cardinal Bertone was “born in Rome.”
False. He was born in the Northern Italian town of Romano Canavese, in the Piedmont region, near the City of Turin.
Personally, I don’t buy into any of the hyped-up speculation about possible or probable papabili. My guess (and guessing is all anyone can do here) is that we will all be surprised by the election. For that matter, I’m not fazed by the speculation gyrations people are into right now. The Holy Spirit is in charge of this process and will write straight with the crooked lines we humans use.
So, all speculation and Saint Malachi stuff aside, I will point out something that I believe is a genuinely interesting factoid about Cardinal Bertone : Namely,that he is a Salesian of Don Bosco, and Saint Don Bosco, as you will recall, had a prophetic dream about a future pope who will guide the Catholic Church through a fierce storm of attacks into a respite of calm and peace.
In his dream, Don Bosco saw the Church as a great three-masted ship being moored securely between two towering pillars representing the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary. I think many Catholics today would agree that, however choppy the water may be right now, the Catholic Church seems to be headed straight into a dark and dangerous storm of gale proportions. Cardinal Francis George recently said as much when he commented prophetically that he expects to die in his bed, he expects his successor to die in prison, and he expects his successor’s successor to die a martyr’s death.
In several weeks’ time, once the new pope is elected, I may look back and laugh at this blog post. Very possibly someone completely unexpected will be elected (which, I tend to think is what will happen). And yet, for the moment at least, I am simply taking note of the fact that Cardinal Bertone is a Salesian, a disciple of Saint John Bosco. When it’s all said and done and we have our new pope, wouldn’t it be just a tad remarkable if the future pope whom Don Bosco saw in his dream turned out to be one of his own sons?
I had an oddly poignant experience on Twitter yesterday — I know, the last place you’d ever expect to encounter something poignant.
I was going through the list of people I follow and was removing those who are just trying to sell something, as well as all the self-proclaimed “marketing gurus,” “life coaches,” and political pundits. Just part of the necessary pruning and cleaning one occasionally must do in the world of social media platforms. Nothing new there.
But in the midst of this utterly banal chore, I came to the Twitter profile of Ginger, a Catholic woman whose profile picture I only vaguely remembered seeing before and whose posts I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. Opening her profile, I saw that her last several posts were from mid 2009 and were about her rapid decline from lung cancer. In one, she expressed how hard it was for her to deal with the shock of having just been diagnosed by her physician as “terminal.” A few posts later, her comment stream just . . . ended.
I Googled her name and saw that she died that summer, not long after her last post, mourned, no doubt, by many grief-stricken family and friends. She was only 41.
This brought back the sad memory of another Catholic woman I knew quite well and very much admired — a vibrant and vital young wife and mother of just 44 — who also died of lung cancer in September of that same year. A pang of melancholy rose up in me at that still-painful remembrance.
Gazing at Ginger’s picture, the mouse cursor poised over the “unfollow” button in her profile, I was moved by the realization that, even though she had died some time ago and I would therefore never see any further posts from her, still . . . by pressing “unfollow,” I would be, in a certain sense, letting go of her. It seemed strange that it should occur to me that way — after all, I never knew her personally. I was only aware of her existence through Twitter — a dim and superficial awareness of someone, to be sure. But still, there had been the slightest of connections there, albeit nothing more than pixels on a screen.
In that moment, an image from the movie Titanic arose in my mind; the one in which Rose is lying on a piece of floating debris holding on with one hand to the now dead Jack, almost entirely submerged in the frigid water. As she lets go of his hand, he sinks slowly into oblivion. True, those two were illicit lovers. In Ginger’s case, well, she was someone I had ever even met or spoken to before, much less known personally.
And yet, for a few brief, uncanny moments, my mind was pervaded by that poignant image of Rose letting go of Jack’s hand.
I pressed “unfollow,” and in so doing said a kind of electronic “goodbye” to a sister in Christ I never knew, except through the medium of an ephemeral, tenuous, and insignificant collection of pixels on my computer screen. And then, I said a prayer for the repose of her soul.
How strange, it seems to me, and how perfectly fitting at the same time, that the Lord makes use of even something as casual and (seemingly) inconsequential as Twitter to remind the members of His Body of their connection to each other.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.
(Originally published on February 2, 2011.)
UPDATE: About a month after I wrote this piece, I was speaking at a Catholic parish, and Ginger’s grieving husband came up to me to say how touched he had been to read it. We embraced. I can’t begin to explain how hearing his words made me feel.
Over the last 25 years that I have traveled around the country speaking at Catholic parishes I have had the occasion to listen to countless sermons from countless Catholic priests. Some of those sermons were limp and lackluster, a great many were quite good — rich in scriptural and practical wisdom and insights — and a few were so compelling that they remained in my mind. This sermon is one of those. Perhaps some of you will agree with me.
This sermon contains no flashy rhetoric. In fact, quite the opposite — the delivery is calm and sedate. But its content was electrifying. I know, I was present in the church, sitting in the back pew, and I saw how it caused everyone in the church to catch his breath (“can he really be saying these things?!”) and listen.
The uneasiness of the parishioners was palpable. I was actually surprised that no one got up and stormed out or stood and shouted defiantly at the priest. After Mass I told him, “I’ve been Catholic for 52 years now, and that was one of the most courageous sermons I have ever heard. Thank you for being willing to stand up and say what you said.” I was told that day by a parish staffer that there were many Catholic Democrats in the congregation. I wonder if this message will affect the way they vote in two weeks.
The priest is Father John Fitch. The church is Epiphany Cathedral in the Diocese of Venice. And the subject of his sermon is, of all things, politics. Politics and moral issues and how so many Catholics today have become more Democrat than Catholic and more Republican than Catholic. It’s a powerful message. I hope you’ll not only listen to it and think about it but also share it.
The disapproval many Protestants have toward the Catholic custom of displaying religious statues and images is fueled by a suspicion that Catholics must be engaging in idolatry by worshiping those statues (forbidden in Exodus 20:3-5 and Deut. 5:6-9). Take it from me. This misconception is far more widespread than you might think.
About 20 years ago, as I arrived at a suburban Chicago parish where I was to conduct an apologetics seminar that evening, I noticed a life-sized statue of Our Lady of Fatima prominently displayed on the rectory lawn.
Directly in front of her statue were three smaller statues of Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta — the children to whom Our Lady appeared. Their statues were kneeling in prayer, hands folded and heads bowed before the larger statue.
Turning to Karl Keating, who was in the car with me, I joked, “What a great religion Catholicism is! Not only can we worship statues, but our statues can worship statues.”
We chuckled at the absurdity of the thought.
I repeated this sarcastic quip during the seminar and, predictably, the Catholics in the audience laughed. Some folks, though, seemed puzzled by the laughter. The reason? As I discovered during the Q&A session, they actually believed that Catholics do worship statues. I had a good opportunity, then and there, to explain the biblical teaching about religious images in the Catholic Church.
The following explanation is excerpted from my book Does the Bible Really Say That? Discovering Catholic Teaching in Scripture (Servant Books):
Admonitions against idolatry appear throughout Scripture (e.g., Numbers 33:52, Deut. 7:5, 25, 9:12, 12:3; 2 Kings 17:9-18, 23:24; 2 Chron. 23:17, 28:1-3, 22:18-25, 34:1-7). In 1 Corinthians 10:14 St. Paulwrote, “beloved, shun the worship of idols (Romans 1:18-23).
God condemns the sin of idolatry, whether in the form of worshipping statues, or stock options, or sex, or power, or a new car, any thing as an idol. But He does not prohibit religious images provided they are used properly. For example, in Exodus chapter 25 God commands Moses to carve statues of angels.
“The LORD said to Moses . . . you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. . . . There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:1, 18-20, 22; cf. 26:1).
This shows clearly that there are circumstances in which religious images are not merely permissible but actually pleasing to God. Another example is the rather humorous incident described in 1 Samuel 6:1-18. In Exodus 28:31-34 the Lord commanded that Aaron’s priestly vestments be adorned with images of pomegranates. In Numbers 21:8-9 He commanded Moses to fashion the graven image of a snake that would miraculously cure poisonous snakebites (a mysterious foreshadowing of the cross of Christ [cf. John 3:14; 8:28]). And in 2 Kings 18:4, when the people began worshipping the bronze serpent, the King immediately destroyed it. What once was a legitimate sacred image had become an object of idolatry. (A cautionary tale for anyone tempted toward superstition or idolatry).
And notice what God told Solomon as he constructed the Temple: “’Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.’ So Solomon built the house, and finished it.” (1 Kings 6:12-12-14).
This statement is important because the Templecontained a vast number of statues and images including angels, trees, flowers, oxen, and lions (cf. 1 Kings 6:23-35, 7:25, 36). Solomon’s decision to include these religious images came from the gift of wisdom God had blessed him with (cf. 1 Kings 3:1-28). And far from being displeased by such images, “the LORD said unto him, I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually” (1 Kings 9:3).
Obviously, God would not have blessed Solomon and “hallowed” his temple filled with statues and images if He did not approve of them — further proof that images can be good when used to order our minds toward God and heavenly realities.
Remember too that St. Paulcalled Christ “the express image” of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). The Greek word here for “image” is eikonos, from which we derive the word “icon.”
Just as we keep pictures of our family and friends to remind us of them, we also keep statues and images in our homes and churches to remind us of our Lord, Our Lady and the Saints.
Additional passages to study:
1 John 1:1-3
Related Catechism Sections:
Awhile back, The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating and deeply saddening article exploring the reasons behind the Kennedy Family’s staunch pro-abortion position.
Believe it or not, Ted Kennedy used to be pro-life.
So how did he and all the other prominent Kennedys swing so far in the wrong direction? For that matter, what about some of the other Catholic pro-abortion zealots in (or recently in) high public office, such as Nancy Pelosi, Mario Cuomo, and Tom Daschle? What happened to them?
(NB: I originally posted this blog entry on January 2, 2009. Given all the chattering right now from Catholics who feel they can vote for pro-abortion candidates with impunity and without compromising their Catholic identity (and without committing sin), I post it again because of its pertinence to the late Ted Kennedy’s life and legacy, such as it was.)
This article alleges that it was was an intentional, systematic, concerted effort on the part of a group of dissenting Catholic theologians (including Fr. Richard McCormick, Fr. Charles Curran, Fr. Joseph Fuchs, Fr. Robert Drinan, and Fr. John Courtney Murray), who spent a good deal of of time with the Kennedys in the mid 1960s employing bogus moral theology arguments to convince them they could “accept and promote abortion with a clear conscience.” Once this was accomplished, these same Judas priests undertook to literally coach the Kennedy’s on what to say and how to vote in favor of abortion in their public lives.
Given the Kennedys’ enormous influence over American politics, it’s diabolically logical for those dissenting Catholic theologians to have targeted this renowned and respected Catholic family for “conversion.” They were in the perfect position to persuade other Catholics, and even many Protestants, that it’s okay to be pro-abortion.
And this strategy worked so well that, today, it is virtually impossible to find a Catholic politician holding national public office who is pro-life. Thanks to these dissenters and those Catholics they duped, “Catholic” is synonymous with “pro-abortion” in politics.
Read here how this hideous transformation was accomplished:
Ms. [Caroline] Kennedy’s commitment to abortion rights is shared by other prominent family members, including Kerry Kennedy Cuomo and Maryland’s former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Some may recall the 2000 Democratic Convention when Caroline and her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, addressed the convention to reassure all those gathered that the Democratic Party would continue to provide women with the right to choose abortion — even into the ninth month. At that convention, the party’s nominee, Al Gore, formerly a pro-life advocate, pledged his opposition to parental notification and embraced partial-birth abortion. Several of those in attendance, including former President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, had been pro-life at one time. But by 2000 nearly every delegate in the convention hall was on the pro-choice side — and those who weren’t simply kept quiet about it.
Caroline Kennedy knows that any Kennedy desiring higher office in the Democratic Party must now carry the torch of abortion rights throughout any race. But this was not always the case. Despite Ms. Kennedy’s description of Barack Obama, in a New York Times op-ed, as a “man like my father,” there is no evidence that JFK was pro-choice like Mr. Obama. Abortion-rights issues were in the fledgling stage at the state level in New York and California in the early 1960s. They were not a national concern.
Even Ted Kennedy, who gets a 100% pro-choice rating from the abortion-rights group Naral, was at one time pro-life. In fact, in 1971, a full year after New York had legalized abortion, the Massachusetts senator was still championing the rights of the unborn. In a letter to a constituent dated Aug. 3, 1971, he wrote: “When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”
But that all changed in the early ’70s, when Democratic politicians first figured out that the powerful abortion lobby could fill their campaign coffers (and attract new liberal voters). Politicians also began to realize that, despite the Catholic Church’s
teachings to the contrary, its bishops and priests had ended their public role of responding negatively to those who promoted a pro-choice agenda.
In some cases, church leaders actually started providing “cover” for Catholic pro-choice politicians who wanted to vote in favor of abortion rights. At a meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., on a hot summer day in 1964, the Kennedy family and its advisers and allies were coached by leading theologians and Catholic college professors on how to accept and promote abortion with a “clear conscience.”
The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book “The Birth of Bioethics” (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion.
Mr. Jonsen writes that the Hyannisport colloquium was influenced by the position of another Jesuit, the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a position that “distinguished between the moral aspects of an issue and the feasibility of enacting legislation about that issue.” It was the consensus at the Hyannisport conclave that Catholic politicians “might tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order.”
Father Milhaven later recalled the Hyannisport meeting during a 1984 breakfast briefing of Catholics for a Free Choice: “The theologians worked for a day and a half among ourselves at a nearby hotel. In the evening we answered questions from the Kennedys and the Shrivers. Though the theologians disagreed on many a point, they all concurred on certain basics . . . and that was that a Catholic politician could in good conscience vote in favor of abortion.”
But can they now? There are signs today that some of the bishops are beginning to confront the Catholic politicians who consistently vote in favor of legislation to support abortion. Charles J. Chaput, the archbishop of Denver, has been on the front lines in encouraging Catholics to live their faith without compromise in the public square. Most recently in his book “Render Unto Caesar,” Archbishop Chaput has reminded Catholic politicians of their obligation to protect life.
The archbishop is not alone. The agenda at November’s assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops included a public discussion of abortion and politics. The bishops’ final statement focused on concern about the possible passage of the “Freedom of Choice Act,” and referred to it as “an evil law that would further divide our country.” The bishops referenced their 2007 document, “Faithful Citizenship,” which maintains that the right to life is the foundation of every other human right. In it, they promised to “persist in the duty to counsel, in the hope that the scandal of their [Catholic congregants'] cooperating in evil can be resolved by the proper formation of their consciences.”