Sunday, March 31, 2013

He Descended Into Hell

50% of RCIA Leaves the Church Within 5 Years

Some people join the Church, check it out, and then check out.  How to STAY Catholic:

Easter Harlem Shake

Some have notified me that what follows is sacrilegious.  I take comfort in the fact that in the same week that Pope Francis has been scorned by atheistic leftists for hating homosexuals and rad trad Catholics for being sacrilegious, I too have now, in the same week, drawn heat from the same camps for the similar reasons.  Perhaps I'm on my way to the papacy!  (God help me, but more importantly the Church!)

The video below is done outside Church, no holy water was really used, none of the items are blessed, it is a fun celebration of Easter with the servers who put in a ton of work since last Sunday.

Saint John Bosco was known for taking profane songs and reworking them into Catholic lyrics and so forth.  That's what we did with this - we took a secular song, in good fun, and used it to celebrate the joy of Easter.

My good priest friend, Fr. Meyer, made a vocations poster a few years ago based on the movie "The Matrix" - but everything on the poster was funnily worded back into Catholic imagery.  (i.e. "This film is rated "R" for "R"adical Catholicism).   Many people loved it, but of course some Catholics complained - "Fr. Meyer is the Devil."  Well, by its fruits a thing will be known, and nearly every seminarian in the seminary today knows of, loves, and most have a copy of the "Matrix Poster." 

Is the movie the Matrix profane - yeah.  Does that mean it can't be "baptized" and a positive spin put on, that's just dumb, and it is an angry Pharisaical mindset that says no.

As my Facebook avatar notes, "Haters gonna hate"

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Mark of the Beast

I just want you to know that if this is your sign then you are actively supporting my persecution, torture, imprisonment, etc.  Perhaps you know that already, and perhaps that warms your heart, but I wanted to make sure we're all on the same page here.
The French didn't wake up one morning and say "Hey, let's kill tens of thousands of Catholics" happened over time.  It was a process.

And HERE...WE...GO.  The volcano, simmering under the surface for so long, showing little eruptions here and there, being forcasted for decades by people with "eyes to see and ears to hear," people who have been pointing out that long ago we stopped using logic and reason, people who've noted words don't mean anything anymore, who've noticed an exponentially growing distaste for Truth, who've noticed that only charisma sways opinions anymore...

Of course nothing can defend homosexual sex.  When homosexual sex is described to people using proper anatomical terms, and when a discussion is had as to the fluids exchanged and so forth, most people are repulsed.

Of course nothing can defend "gay marriage".  The severely flawed argument is:
1) they love each other
2) they aren't hurting you

Of course that "marriage test" could apply to the following
1) a man and his cousin
2) a woman and three other men
3) a man and his daughter

And that is, of course, assuming that we still assume marriage is between PEOPLE (why, you ask, would it still be between people...because "it's ALWAYS been that way" screams the gay marriage activists...but where else have I heard that argument before...oh, I know, it is the same argument for keeping marriage between a man and a woman...)

"Slippery slope argument!!!" screams the liberal arts freshman, fully invigorated from his communications course on logical fallacies.  "Not so", however, because it isn't a slippery slope when there is NO SLOPE.  If Dave can marry Bill, Dave can marry Bill and Steve and Heidi and his cousin.

It is almost a line out of Animal Farm, but the motto in the U.S. is fast becoming "We are intolerant only of the intolerant" and it will soon get very bad indeed for those who are labeled "intolerant."

Interesting that the "=" sign today turned red and went viral because the symbol for the movement was blue with a yellow = before today.  It's as if the "redefining marriage" movement is now out for blood, and I believe they will soon begin seeking to slake their thirst.

The Church will get its act together, but it will be too late.  Priests and bishops will rally together and preach what needs to be preached with renewed vigor and unity, but it will be too late.  And that's okay because any Catholic who has read two minutes of Church history knows that persecution has always cleaned up the Body of Christ like nothing else.

My comfort in this showdown:

1) "If the world hates you know that it hated me first" - Jesus Christ
2) "The blood of the martyrs is the seedbed of the Church" - Tertullian

And why not finish it off with a little ditty from Revelation?

"A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice, “Anyone who worships the beast or its image, or accepts its mark on forehead or hand, will also drink the wine of God’s fury poured full strength into the cup of his wrath, and will be tormented in burning sulfur before the holy angels and before the Lamb.  The smoke of the fire that torments them will rise forever and ever, and there will be no relief day or night for those who worship the beast or its image or accept the mark of its name." Here is what sustains the holy ones who keep God’s commandments and their faith in Jesus I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” said the Spirit, “let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.”

Revelation 14:9-12

Monday, March 25, 2013

"This New Pope is a Nice Change in Direction"???

I'm starting to reach a breaking point.  Not literally...but still...perhaps it is a sadness in realizing that, until the Parousia, we as Catholics will have to tolerate this stuff from both fellow Catholics and everyone else.

Pope Francis is, as you may or may not have heard, going to be celebrating Holy Thursday Mass in an Italian prison as opposed to the traditional St. Peter's Basilica setting of recent memory.

Out come the pretty little neat comfortable boxes - "this Pope cares about people" and "this Pope is a social justice Pope" from the Left and "this Pope hates tradition" and "this Pope is destroying the Mass" from the Catholic right.

Excuse me while I go vomit.

I am stoked beyond belief that the new Pope is celebrating Mass in a prison...I just don't know how much more I'll be able to take of people thinking this Pope is somehow a BREAK or a NEW DIRECTION

The narrative is this: as a Catholic you have to think one of the following
1) Big Papal Masses in St. Peter's Basilica are exactly what the world needs, while Papal Masses in prison are exactly what the world doesn't need...
2) Papal Masses in prison are exactly what the world needs, while big Papal Masses in St. Peter's Basilica are exactly what the world doesn't need.

How about this..."What the world needs is BOTH big solemn Papal Masses in St. Peter's Basilica AND Papal Masses in prisons!"

As a product of the Catholic 90's with burlap vestments, glass chalices, guitar groups, drums in the sanctuary, "our closing song today will be "Lean on Me"" etc.  Pope Benedict's return to chant, beauty, reverence, solemnity etc. WERE EXACTLY WHAT THE WORLD NEEDED.

But here's the thing: I celebrated Latin Mass once a week at the high school (more kids came to it than Mass in English), did the chanting thing (the kids loved it), but I also had Mass in nursing homes and prisons.

What was important at both places was the fact that everyone pitched in to make it as beautiful as possible, and it didn't matter that we were surrounded by vending machines, intrusive PA systems, etc.  It didn't matter that at neither place were we allowed to have real candles - everyone on the team pitched in and made those Masses as beautiful as possible.


That goes for so many other things about the papacies as well.

But people will have their comfortable boxes and the people who think we've just elected a "social justice Pope" will ignore the fact that Pope Francis is a doctrinal black belt who routinely issues roundhouse kicks to the face of all the hot button issues of our time.  And people will go on pretending that because Pope Benedict was known for issuing statements of the very same type that Pope Francis has been ignored for saying, that Pope Benedict is a cold-hearted monster.

And the militant right, refusing anything in the vernacular, will continue to see Pope Benedict as the messiah and Pope Francis as an angel of death sent to destroy all that Benedict "built up"

Let's remember what Jesus said to His Church - "Behold I am with you always, even until the end of the age."

Our Popes have always been what we've needed.  The people who always miss the party are the people who, like the crowds on Palm Sunday, had already decided ahead of time what kind of Messiah they wanted.

Have you decided, ahead of time, what type of Pope we need, or do you listen to the Pope's teaching, read his writings, and pray for him?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Benefit of Doctrinal Ambiguity

This past week, I was able to give a talk to the youngsters of an Indy-area Catholic High School.  It was a chastity/homosexuality talk, and it was good for me to be in front of high school kids again.  They were really great, even though they didn't have to be.

In my talk, I noted that there are two really loud camps in the homosexual debate -
1) the liberal left (you can't help but act on your attractions)
2) the religious fundamentalist right (you will burn in Hell for your attractions)

And I then noted, as we've discussed on here many times, in the middle is the Catholic Church.

A teacher came up to me afterwards (a really nice guy) and noted that most Protestants are not in the "religious right camp" and stand with the Catholic Church in the middle saying that attractions themselves are not sins.

The interesting thing was that once the man started talking and fleshing out what he believed, it became clear that he
a) believed that his beliefs (and his ecclesial community's beliefs on the matter) are in line with the Catholic Church and
b) those beliefs were not actually in line with the Catholic Church

It is both a blessing and a curse for Protestants - the ability to not have to nail down cleanly what one believes in a Catechism.  The doctrinal ambiguity of Protestantism is often seen as a good thing by most Protestants because Catechisms are "Roman inventions", but in practice the ambiguity creates serious problems when trying to have serious conversations about matters of Faith.

Doctrinal ambiguity essentially turns one's own interpretation of Scripture into the Rosetta Stone for unlocking the mysteries of God.  In discussing Faith with other people, then, it becomes easy to say "Oh, I believe that too" or "I don't believe in that" because nothing is set in concrete - everything a person uses to understand God is locked inside one's self.

At the same time, and surely unsettling to Protestants, is the awareness that when relying on one's own interpretation of Scripture, there is nothing providing guidance from beyond one's self, external to one's self.

Doctrinal ambiguity has the appearance of being freeing, but when lived it would have to be quite unsettling and Hellish.

Thank God for the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Does the Church Spend 4.7 Billion on Charities?

I wrote about the Church appearing in the Economist last year here.

I received a solid follow up question tonight that I thought was worth addressing.

Among many things in the Economist article, they include a pie chart of estimated Church expenses

First of all it is important to note that the article is only talking about the Catholic Church in the United States.

Some comments about the concern that the Church only spent 4.7 billion on charity in 2010

1) health care IS A CHARITY in the mind of the Church.  We offer health care to the poorest of the poor.  I've worked in and with Catholic hospitals, have spoken with their presidents and looked at their numbers...I can promise you this...Catholic hospitals out lay BILLIONS on health care for the poor and for those who can not afford it.  One of the corporal works of mercy from Matthew, Chapter 25 is care for the sick

2) Catholic education, at the university, high school, and grade school level IS A CHARITY.  We've considered it a work of mercy to teach and instruct people both about the Catholic Faith but also about science, history, how to write, etc.  It is an agreed upon statistic that Catholic schools save U.S. taxpayers 9 billion dollars a year.  9 BILLION.  Where does that number come from?  If every Catholic Church closed its school and all the Catholic high schools closed right now, it would cost school districts 9 billion dollars to educate those kids in the public school system per year.  However, thanks to Catholic schools, that 9 billion can then be used on helping the poor, the sick, etc.

3) This is the biggest miscalculation of all though in this pie chart - spending money on clergy and nuns etc. is in UNCALCULABLE investment in charity.  What I mean by that is this - Mother Teresa "cost" the Catholic Church...what...perhaps 20,000 a year in "salaries" (and that is an extremely high estimation) and yet can you put a dollar amount on the charity that she did?  So on the financial ledger the Church has spent 20,000 on Mother Teresa and nothing on charity, but we all know that is a joke, Mother Teresa did millions (perhaps billions) of dollars in charitable work.

Then, let's factor in all the charitable work that a parish does that is never entered on the ledger either.  All the people we help, all the houses we build, the volunteering at food banks and other ministries.  On the ledger of the Economist, that would be $0 in, and $0 out, but most of the people that have been helped by Catholic parishes would say that there was a value to the help they received.

So lets add up the total amount of charitable work that is done by all the clergy, parishioners, nuns, etc...but we can't because it is probably in the trillions, or, more likely in the gazillions or whatever comes after trillion.

4) A fourth and final point here is that many, myself included, would argue that the "number spent on charity" in the Economist's chart should be $0.  What I mean by that is this: at my parish church, Annunciation Catholic Church, people put money in the collection basket.  If they put that money in the collection basket, they are not expecting me, as the priest and pastor, to go and pass that money on to another charity...the Church is a charity.  It would be wrong of me to give away money to other charities, when people are giving it to the Church to use.  If people wanted to give the money to other charities, they would, AND THEY DO, and we have second collections all the time, thus providing opportunities to give to other charities, or they can go write a check to Habitat for Humanity or whomever any time they please.  If someone gives you money as a charity, they want you to use it on what YOU do, they aren't giving it to you to give to other charities.

Best of Pope Benedict # 5

5) Light of the World - A conversation with Peter Seewald, October, 2010
Condoms are okay now?

Peter Seewald, at the time an atheist, was granted two book-length interviews with then Cardinal Ratzinger - Salt of the Earth and God and the World.  The books were tremendously successful.  Five years after Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, the two again sat down for a third book-length interview.  For their third interview, Seewald was a baptized Catholic, having converted to Catholicism almost exclusively due to his previous two conversations with Cardinal Ratzinger.  

What drew all of the attention was the apparent bomb-shell which wasn't.  Pope Benedict was asked about a comment he made on his plane trip to Africa in 2009 where he again reminded the media that the Church is opposed to the use of condoms in fighting the spread of AIDS because they only make the problem worse.  It is best to read the entire answer from Pope Benedict, along with Seewald's follow up question:

"The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim.

Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids.

I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering.

In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work.
This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man's being.

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.
That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Peter Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Pope Benedict: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

Despite the media reporting instantly and everywhere that the Church had changed its teaching based on this statement by Pope Benedict, what we have here is the Pope simply using what most would say was a poor example to talk about people experiencing a beginning of a warming of one's heart to the Christian message by first starting to show signs of respecting the other person.  Given its context, the example by the Holy Father was probably not the best, but of course the Vatican would, moving forward, reiterate a ton more how the Pope was not saying that the Church's teaching had changed at all.

To refocus briefly on the content of the Pope's answer, it is important to note that no one does more for the poor, no one is more involved in the care of AIDS victims in Africa than the Church.  If something were going to make the problem better, the Church would be all ears, but it is clear that condoms do not work practically, nor do they do anything but damage the person spiritually either.

Some other great quotes from Light of the World

"I believe that celibacy becomes a very meaningful sign, and above all becomes possible to live, when priests begin to form communities.  It is important for priests not to live off on their own somewhere, in isolation, but to accompany one another in small communities, to support one another, and so to experience, and constantly realize afresh, their communion in service to Christ."

"Science itself is now gaining an insight into its limits, that many scientists today are saying: "Doesn't everything have to come from somewhere?" and that we have to pose this question again.  A new understanding of religion is reemerging because of this."

"Someone didn't just one day invent the liturgy, but that it has been growing organically since the time of Abraham."

"Being human is like a mountain-climbing expedition that includes some arduous slopes.  But it is by them that we reach the summit and are able to experience for the first time how beautiful it is to be."


Monday, March 11, 2013

Great Benedict Moments #6

6) Letter to Catholics of Ireland, March 19th, 2010

Pope Benedict will be a Pope long remembered for his work in trying to do the nearly impossible - repair the Church's reputation on the sex-abuse front.  Prior to his election, many pundits would have been 100% positive that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger would have been about the worst person to pick in terms of ability to help reach out to those victimized by members of the clergy.

Those pundits could not have been more wrong.  Pope Benedict did much to stream-line rules and regulations dealing with sexual abuse by priests, making it much easier for priests to be disciplined more intensely and more quickly.  Pope Benedict also went out of his way to meet with victims as part of his papal visits to countries (including an unscheduled stop in the United States).  

In 2010, Pope Benedict also made news on this front through his authoring of a letter to the Catholics of Ireland, a nation that, much like the U.S., has been rocked by very public and horrific priest abuse.  

In the letter, Pope Benedict first let the Irish Catholics know that he brought the Irish bishops in for a meeting.  In that meeting, it is well-known that the gentle Benedict essentially laid into the Irish bishops for their handling of cases in the past.  

Pope Benedict also lets the Irish Catholic Church know why he chose to write the letter, stating: "considering the gravity of these offences, and the often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in your country, I have decided to write this Pastoral Letter to express my closeness to you and to propose a path of healing, renewal and reparation."

Pope Benedict proposed several solutions
1) That the Church in Ireland embrace the Lenten season as a time for renewal
2) That the Church in Ireland turn to Eucharistic adoration 
3) He also let Irish Catholics know that the Vatican would be conducting visitations (translation: the sheriff is coming, and hears are going to roll) 
4) He proposed a nationwide mission for all of the priests and bishops of Ireland to attend for renewal as well 

It was another major move by the Pope to assure Catholics that while the crimes can't be undone, he, as Pope, was continuing to work vigorously to fix all that could be fixed moving forward.  As he noted in conclusion to the letter:

"Since the time when the gravity and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions first began to be fully grasped, the Church has done an immense amount of work in many parts of the world in order to address and remedy it. While no effort should be spared in improving and updating existing procedures, I am encouraged by the fact that the current safeguarding practices adopted by local Churches are being seen, in some parts of the world, as a model for other institutions to follow."

His constant and passionate tackling of this issue on all fronts, and his refusal to run from the problem but to instead run at it will, in my opinion, put Pope Benedict's handling of the sex-abuse crisis on a short list of what history will remember to be his legacy.

We Inerrupt This Top 20 List for Breaking News From Rome...

My brother Tony was chosen to do the first reading at tomorrow morning's Mass held in St. Peter's Basilica at 10 am Rome time, 5 am Eastern Time.

Click here for a nice write up from Fox59

Typically the Vatican will call the Pontifical North American College to ask for help with various liturgical functions throughout the year.  The Pontifical North American College is located about a 4 minute walk from St. Peter's Basilica, and is packed to the gills with English speaking seminarians, English fast becoming one of the main languages of the Universal Church.

Tony was called into Msgr. James Chechio's office (the Rector of the seminary) yesterday morning and told, with a jolly laugh, "Hollowell, the Vatican called, and they are looking for someone to do the first reading.  I picked you.  The whole world will be watching...don't screw up"

The Indianapolis Star did a nice article this morning for the story.  Click here to view the story

Click here to view the program for tomorrow AM's Mass

Tony will read, in the presence of all the Cardinals, from Isaiah 61:

"The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;
to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord,
a day of vengeance for our God;
to comfort all those who mourn and to give them
for ashes a garland;
for mourning robe the oil of gladness,
for despondency, praise.
But you, you will be named ‘priests of the Lord’,
they will call you ‘ministers of our God’.
I reward them faithfully
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their race will be famous throughout the nations,
their descendants throughout the peoples.
all who see them will admit
that they are a race whom the
Lord has blessed."
For those interested in watching the event, it can be seen live on EWTN at 4:30 am (replayed at 7 pm), you can also watch on your computer by clicking here

Please pray for Tony.  He's excited to be part of such a historic moment for the Church!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Benedict's Best...# 7

7) World Communications Day, January 24th, 2010

"Priests, Thou Shalt Blog!"

Pope Benedict issued a clear call for priests to start evangelizing the "digital continent" in his World Communications Day address in 2010.  Priests have answered his call in great numbers!

The Holy Father noted: "All priests have as their primary duty the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, and the communication of his saving grace in the sacraments."  The Holy Father continues: "The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul's exclamation: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel"

"Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis."

"Who better than a priest, as a man of God, can develop and put into practice, by his competence in current digital technology, a pastoral outreach capable of making God concretely present in today's world and presenting the religious wisdom of the past as a treasure which can inspire our efforts to live in the present with dignity while building a better future?"

"To priests in particular the new media offer ever new and far-reaching pastoral possibilities, encouraging them to embody the universality of the Church's mission, to build a vast and real fellowship, and to testify in today's world to the new life which comes from hearing the Gospel of Jesus, the eternal Son who came among us for our salvation."

"To my dear brother priests, then, I renew the invitation to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications. May the Lord make all of you enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the new "agorà" which the current media are opening up."

I don't know how a priest doesn't listen to this advice from the Holy Father.  This one speech got me from never considering blogging to doing it full force, and, several years after starting, only now do I fully realize how prophetic the Holy Father was.

If your priest doesn't blog and doesn't evangelize the digital continent, offer to help!

Best of Pope Benedict #8

8) Anglicanorum Coetibus, November 4th, 2009

"Get your swimming trunks on Anglicans, it's time to swim the Tiber!"

Just as he did with the SSPX, Pope Benedict also did a TON to reach out to the Anglicans to help them enter back into the Catholic Church more easily.

To the horror of Archbishop Rowan Williams, Pope Benedict issued "Anglicanorum Coetibus" which essentially allowed Anglicans to keep their liturgy as they have celebrated it since leaving Rome, and still join the Catholic Church.

Numbers have yet to be tabulated, but reports have continued to roll in over the past few years of more and more Anglicans "swimming the Tiber" and joining the Catholic Church, especially as various groups within the Anglican Church have allowed for female bishops and for those living in same sex civil unions to become bishops as well. 

Best of Benedict #9

9) Caritas in Veritate - Charity in Truth, June 29th, 2009

This encyclical certainly was the most controversial of Pope Benedict's three.  Some felt that it had undue influence from the Roman Curia at large because at times, it has been suggested, the encyclical seems to lack the tone and topics that are considered the style of Pope Benedict.  

Much of the encyclical deals with the Church's social to help the poor, how laws ought to be prioritized, the dignity of workers, the respect for life, etc. etc.
What does strike me as odd is the specificity of some of the programs that Pope Benedict lays out in terms of how to help those in developing countries; this is not typically a hallmark of his other writings.  The fact that much of the encyclical contains more specific suggestions for implementing Catholic social teachings seems to be contradicted by the introduction to the encyclical itself, where we read, "The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim "to interfere" in any way in the politics of the States" (10).  Beyond this discrepancy, I see nothing controversial in the letter, and rather see it as Benedict situating authentic Catholic Social Teaching WITHIN and from the HEART of the Church, not something engaged in by Catholic guerillas in third world countries.  

The most controversial suggestions of the encyclical was a reference made to "globalization".  The Holy Father noted: "A sustained commitment is needed so as to promote a person-based and community-oriented cultural process of worldwide integration" (42).  Some of course read that and feared that the Holy Father was referring to some kind of one-world government, and thus added fuel to the fire of those who already saw the Church as the "Whore of Babylon" of the Book of Revelation.  As always, a careful reading of the context of the discussion reveals that such a simplistic understanding of what Pope Benedict was calling for simply misses the boat and is reductionist. 

Memorable Moments From Benedict's Papacy #10

10) Pope Benedict Lifts the Excommunications of 4 SSPX Bishops, January 21st, 2009

The Society of Saint Pius the Tenth (SSPX) is a group that views the Second Vatican Council to have been a definitive break from the Tradition of the Church, and thus an invalid Council.  They have broken away from the Church because they refuse to acknowledge the Council's status.

Pope Benedict worked very hard to bring the SSPX back into the fold of the Church, and things under Benedict vastly improved, but, as of now, the Society has not rejoined the Church.

One gesture that the Holy Father made was to lift the excommunications of four bishops from the SSPX, and he did this in January of 2009.

The letter from the Vatican to the SSPX notes that:
"On behalf of the faculties expressly granted by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, in virtue of the current decree, I lift the censure of excommunication latae sententiae to Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta declared by this Congregation on July 1, 1988, while I declare null of juridical consequences, as of today, the decree released in the past.”

The lifting of the excommunications drew serious media fire when it was realized that one of the bishops had made some very problematic statements about the Holocaust.  The Southern Poverty Law Center notes:

"anger has centered on the Pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of Holocaust denier and SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson, an Englishman who runs the SSPX seminary in La Reja, Argentina. Just a few days before the Pope issued his decision, Williamson appeared on Swedish television claiming that the Nazis did not use gas chambers to murder people. “I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against — is hugely against — 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler,” he said in the interview. “I believe there were no gas chambers,” he added."

Rome made a statement noting that the Holy Father had no idea about the Bishop's position.  Rome quickly demanded that Williamson recant his position.  CNN reported that "The Vatican says it has ordered a controversial bishop who denies the Holocaust to "distance himself" from his views "in an absolutely unequivocal and public manner." 

Williamson apologized, but in a vague way, and his apology was denied.  

Several years later, in October of 2012, Bishop Williamson was eventually booted out of the SSPX altogether.   

The incident was probably the worst of Benedict's Papacy, and I'm sure something that continues to haunt him.  For all those who have caricatured the Holy Father, because of his being forced into the Hitler Youth while a young German boy, as a Nazi, etc. this only added fuel to the fire.  It was a sad event in the Holy Father's otherwise awesome effort to bring back the lost sheep of the SSPX.  

Here's to hoping that one day unity is achieved with all of those who have left the Church founded on Peter.

Best of Benedict #11

11) Jesus of Nazareth, September 15th, 2008

 Pope as "Non-Pope" Author?

No one would dispute Pope Benedict's prolific writing ability nor would anyone doubt his theological genius, but people were surprised for a couple of reasons when he released his first installment of his "Jesus of Nazareth" trilogy.

1) People were first of all surprised that the Holy Father would write it "not as Pope, but as a theologian.  This was surprising to many because most don't understand what the papacy is, and thus also don't understand what the papacy isn't.  Pope Benedict used the release of "Jesus of Nazareth" as a teaching moment to say the Pope can wrestle in the realm of theology and search for truth without it being necessarily ready-for-dogma tried and tested.

Pope Benedict notes in his foreword: "It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search "for the face of the Lord."That's called humility!

2) People were surprised by the "theological stiffness" of the book.  I've even had seminarians tell me they've tried reading the book, but have found it inaccessible.  I would imagine that the average lay person, not blessed with the gift of receiving 6-8 years of theological formation in the seminary, would pick up the book, give it a go, and put it back down again shortly thereafter.

So why is the book so dense?  His foreword tells us everything we need to know about what he was doing in writing this book.  In a phrase, Pope Benedict was trying to show the world that biblical scholarship can be redeemed by Catholicism.

What is biblical scholarship?  Biblical scholarship is the researching of archaeology, culture, language, etc. and analyzing and deconstructing every word in the Bible for its original meaning.  Biblical scholars, especially in the last two hundred years or so, have advanced to the point where they can literally write PAGES about even just a single verse from the Bible.  This approach to analyzing Scripture for every last detail is known as the "Historical Critical Method."  The Historical-Critical Method has been largely ignored by Catholics, mostly because we believe the Church helps us understand what the Bible is speaking to us anyway.  It makes more sense for Protestants to be more caught up in each word when the Bible is their sole source for discerning God's voice.

Pope Benedict, as a scholar himself, wrote Jesus of Nazareth to show Protestants and Catholics how to do the "Historical Critical Method" the right way.  He explains:

"As historical-critical scholarship advanced...the figure of Jesus became increasingly obscured and blurred...the reconstructions of this Jesus...became more and more incompatible with one another...Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air."

Indeed, having had to read and study some of the "Historical-Critical scholarship" in the seminary, I can tell you it is often very cold, scientific, and often the understanding of who Jesus is and so forth varies wildly from one "researcher" to the next.  It also gives the impression that you have to speak Aramaic, Greek, and Latin if you really want to know what the Bible is saying.  

Pope Benedict doesn't rain on the parade of the folks who love the "historical-critical method" and who never seem to leave the library; he notes "The historical-critical method - let me repeat - is an indispensable tool...but it does not exhaust the interpretive task."  Translation: the "historical-critical method" give us an important part of the picture, but it doesn't give us the whole picture.

He finally notes "I have merely tried to go beyond purely historical-critical exegesis so as to apply new methodological insights that allow us to offer a properly theological interpretation of the Bible.  To be sure, this requires faith, but the aim unequivocally is not, nor should be, to give up serious engagement with history."

Whereas most of Pope Benedict's writings and works, before, during, and hopefully after his papacy, are written to the average lay Catholic, this Jesus of Nazareth trilogy was written specifically towards theologians to help show them a way out of the trap of simply trying harder and harder to be "historically critical" and to remind them that Faith in Jesus is always just as important in the endeavor of reading the Bible as the science, history, and language in which the texts were written.  

Catholicism is a Faith for peasants and scholars alike.

Pope Benedict wrote two further installments in the series a few years later.  In 2011, he released "Holy Week: from the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection" just in time for Lent (to the relief of many priests who are always looking for help in writing Lenten homilies!).

He like-wise bailed out preachers with his 2012 release of "The Infancy Narratives" in the run up to Advent. 

The Church will be mining these works for centuries to come, and the books will forever be considered ground-breaking moments in Catholic biblical scholarship.