Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Spiritual Formation and the Priesthood

Recent blogs and articles in the press concerning an Ordinariate priest have raised a number of interesting questions about the situation of married priests. This has led many to begin to ask some hard questions (and a few to make some unkind accusations). I am not about to comment on what has been written. I do not have all the information, and it is not my place to deal with the situation; that is the responsibility of my Ordinary, Bishop Steven Lopes, and those whom he chooses to have assist him. I would, rather, like to consider the situation in a very broad manner to help those of my flock who are wrestling with the issues involved to be able to think clearly and in a godly manner.

In my opinion, what has happened shows that we need to look deeply at the process of spiritual formation. It is not merely a question of whether a married man can be a priest, it is whether a man can be a priest and be married at the same time. These are two different questions and we need to keep them separate. The first question only regards the possibility; the second regards one's ability. Receiving these two sacraments at the same time is extremely rare in the western Church, and when done the great responsibility that both place on the man make each of them harder to accomplish. A man could be a good husband and father, but a lousy priest, and another man could be a great priest but a lousy husband and father. One does not equate to the other. I know some married priests who have said that their abilities as a husband and father would enable them to be a better priest. I am not sure that is necessarily the case.

Furthermore, we have another factor in this that cannot be ignored. We are not asking these questions a thousand years ago; we are asking them in the midst of a "sexual revolution" that has resulted in what is possibly the greatest mass confusion about marriage the world has ever known. Thus, we cannot use old paradigms to consider whether it is a good idea to have married priests. We live in a culture that is oversexed, and under-knowledged. We live in a culture that has no idea what the Church means when it talks about men as heads of their homes, and that means that it is highly likely that many men (even those in the Church--which does not exclude priests, married or celibate) do not understand it either. Couple this with the fact that the family is under great attack right now, and we have even more potential for problems.

Contrary to what many have said, it is not any harder to be a good husband or wife than it was in the past. The issue is that it is more confusing today because of all the static that exists in society around us. Therefore, the fact that marriage is a relationship of self-sacrifice is not as clearly grasped by as many people today as it was just a couple hundred years ago when most understood sacrifice better than we do now. The role of husband as head of the home means a role of self-sacrifice for wife and children; the role of the priest as head of his parish is a role of self-sacrifice for parishioners. Each one makes the other more difficult because the man is required to sacrifice in two different directions at the same time, and in today's context it is even more challenging to accomplish both and do them well.

I am going to be bold and say that when a married man is being considered for holy orders, for him to have a "good" marriage is not sufficient. "Good" in a society where vast numbers of people are cohabiting and where divorce is rampant is not a very promising category. From my own experience as a married Catholic priest (for almost 6 years now) and a married protestant clergyman (for 16 years before that), if my marriage had been "average" we would likely not be together today. We have gone through some difficult things in our years, and joining the Catholic Church (though a decision we rejoice over) was incredibly stressful. Only an extra-strong marriage could endure those challenges. That means that anything less than an "well above average" marriage cannot hold through the increased stresses that come upon a man in priestly ministry.

This is why the Apostle Paul said in the first century context that married clergy needed to be more faithful and holy than most (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2-5, and Titus 1:6). The very fact that he has to point this out says that not every man was qualified to be called to holy orders, and that the holiness in his home has to be higher than average if he is going to be able to fulfill the tasks of priestly ministry "for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's Church?" (1 Tim 3:5).

There are many who say whenever a problem arises, "there's one more reason not to have married priests in the Catholic Church". Does marriage changes a man's susceptibility to temptations? Would we get rid of any problems if all priests were celibate or would the same sins be committed in another manner? Those who think that is the solution are showing a complete misunderstanding of what the subject matter really is. Bad things do not happen merely "because" a man is married. They happen because of a man's own inner spiritual formation (or lack thereof). If a man is prone to losing his temper, does he more easily lose his temper because he is married? No, it is just more noticeable because we sympathize more for a wife and children who are yelled at than we do for, say, a cleaning lady, or another priest.

It would be foolish for us to imagine that any sin is caused by the fact that a man is married (as though marriage necessarily prevents a man from resisting temptation to sin). We could compare this to the priestly sexual abuse of adolescent boys (which is what the majority of today's scandals involve!). Was their behavior caused by the fact that they were celibate? No, of course not. Therefore, if those same men were not priests, they would still have likely given in to their inclinations. It is not the situation of "being a priest and being married" any more than it is the situation of "being a priest and being celibate". It is, like I said above, an issue of spiritual formation, which cannot be rushed ("Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor participate in another man’s sins; keep yourself pure" 1 Timothy 5:22).

I am not here seeking to criticize anyone in particular (and if you think that is my intent, you have gravely misunderstood what I have said); I am merely seeking to make sure that our thinking is clear when we struggle with news reports and blogger's claims, and giving some thoughts about how we can move forward. As is often my habit, I like to make sure that we are getting to the heart of the matter and not wasting our time with extraneous details. For those who can do something about this (especially my Bishop) I pray for you, and encourage others to do the same. May God be merciful to us as we seek to serve Him in all holiness.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Confusing the Fast

The concept of fasting was brought to my attention a number of years ago. I do not mean, by that, the "fact" of fasting, but exactly as I wrote: "the concept". I had already come across the fact of it a long time before. The concept itself, however, was an entirely different thing. The "concept" is the idea of giving up something that we want, for the sake of building up our personal resistance to sin. Now, most of us understand this concept, so it is not very new to the majority of you who are reading this. It was made clear to me, however, when I heard about a homeless man who had died of starvation. His was not a willing fast, but rather one forced on him by the circumstances. This made me realize that the same act of being hungry (both in starving by consequence of your circumstances, and intentionally choosing to fast) are different because the latter is done by choice. When we choose to fast, we are choosing to give up something that is good for us (more on the "good for us" part below).

This also made me take notice of the fact that just as easily as we choose to fast, we can choose not to fast. Therefore, if we can choose whether or not to fast, then we can also choose to fast only outwardly and not inwardly. In other words, we can fast by eating less food, but not actually have any clear spiritual benefit from it. Why does the Church tell us to fast? Well, because Jesus said to, right? Yes, but that is not the whole story. Fasting is a discipline that has numerous spiritual (and physical!) benefits, which we often do not think about. When we neglect the spiritual dimension of fasting, it becomes merely an empty action that does us little (if any) good.

There is another dimension (at least in America and other affluent countries) that makes our practice of fasting often fall short. When we become accustomed to "getting what we want", then fasting seems even more of a hardship than it really is. For those who were raised by permissive parents, and have been deprived of the grace of self-control, then fasting appears to us to be more than just a challenge, it appears to be something that is wrong. I recall being in a restaurant, and watching a 3 year old throw a temper tantrum once when she was told that the item she wanted for dinner was not available on the menu. "No you may not" is not a bad thing to say to a child once in a while (if for nothing else, than to teach them that life does not always give us everything we want!).

I have come across a new "twist" for the Lenten practice of additional fasting lately. Some have said "instead of fasting from good things, fast from bad things". One said he was going to fast from "cursing", and another said she would fast from "being rude". While I hope they do avoid cursing and being rude, that is not the idea of a fast. You are supposed to "repent" from bad behaviors (remember that word, "repent"? people do not like it much today) all the time; but when we fast, it is supposed to be from good things. This is because fasting from something good is a self-sacrifice that is done for the glory of God and the strengthening of our spirits. You are always supposed to avoid bad behavior (not just "give it up for lent"!).

What further concerns me is that it seems that people (especially in my home country of America) want desperately to find ways to avoid giving up the good things that they so enjoy. Let me make it clear that I do not know what their actual motives are (that is between God and them), but the way that some of them have described this "twist" on fasting, I think that at least some of this is motivated by less than holy desires. It appears that they do not want to go through the discipline of sacrificing their morning cup of coffee, or that tv show they like so much, and so they have sought for a way to be holy while avoiding the historic practice of the Church. So rather than "hunker down" and struggle through the challenge of giving up what they enjoy, it appears that many of them seek an artificial piety by saying "I'm going to fast from bad stuff".

In Mass recently (Friday after Ash Wednesday) the first reading was from Isaiah 58 where the Lord warns the people that they "seek [their] own pleasure". In other words, they were not fasting in the self-sacrificial manner that God required of them. He also shows them that godly fasting is more than from food; we are also supposed to give up other things that we enjoy (which can apply to everyone, including those who are not of the age determined by the conference of Bishops when fasting from mere food). We are also supposed to give up our personal time, and our possessions (either by giving them to someone in need, or by simply abstaining from them). The Lord tells us that this "is the fast that [He] choose[s]" for us to follow.

So this lent, fast. Fast as the Church requires of you, but also fast from other things as well, for the penitence involved in such behavior is pleasing to our Lord, as well as beneficial to each of us. Just imagine with me what it would be like this coming Easter if everyone around you had taken advantage of the spiritual benefits of fasting, and had become more holy in their personal lives? What amazingly faithful parishes we would have. That would truly bring more people to Christ, and thus more glory to God.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Do Manfully (7)

I wrote a while back about the modern emasculation of men. Another thought came to my mind about this recently. I was thinking about we have become a society of sissies. We are easily offended at the slightest things today (and many even seem to enjoy being offended). The problem here is that there are things that we are supposed to be offended by, yet those often get forgotten. Instead we are usually offended by the most pitiful and petty things; things that should not even bother us--thus, we are sissies.

So when considering men, what makes a real man take offense? Should he be offended when someone insults his shoes or his favorite song? Should he be offended when he reads of the numbers of unborn children murdered in America every year? These are important questions to ask, because a weak man will be easily insulted and fall into foolish anger. A strong man, however, will aim at the godly virtue of self-control (and he will know when he needs to express offense, while still maintaining self-control).

Here are a few comparisons that might help us make things more clear.
1) Emasculated men are more offended when you insult their favorite beer, than when you insult the Eucharist. How does a godly and faithful man respond when someone makes a direct insult of the Holy Sacrament? He will not lash out in anger, but he will not also merely sit back and say "to each his own". He will consider whether he can do something to help the offense end, and whether he can aid the offender in repentance. When it comes to his favorite beer, however, he will not really care (even if they go so far as to insult a Guinness).
2) Emasculated men are more offended when you insult their sports team, than when you insult their parish. Even the Catechism warns us about idolizing the abilities of sports figures (which is exactly as I said "idolizing" and verges on idolatry [remember that sin? it is still a mortal one!]). Which does a godly man have more affection for? If he loves his "team" more than his parish, something is seriously wrong spiritually. A godly man will promote his parish (and the people in it) more than his "team" and the players in it. A godly man will joyfully associate with his fellow parishioners more strongly than with someone who likes the same "team".
3) Emasculated men are more offended when you insult their politician, than when you insult their bishop. How strongly do you defend your bishop--really? I hear people speak against bishops quite often today. In principle it does not matter if he has made a mistake (all of us do!), he is still your bishop, and you should treat him as being in the line of succession of the Apostles (since he is!). A godly man will put more time and effort into supporting his bishop than he will some politician (regardless of who the politician is). After all, a bishop has more impact on this nation than any politician (believe it or not!).
4) Emasculated men are more offended when you insult their favorite tv show, than when you insult the Bible. Men, do you love the Scriptures? Or does entertainment push the very words of God to the wayside? Which do you see as more important? Godliness will lead a man to be bold when it comes to speaking about, and protecting, God's words. When it comes to tv shows, though (which are done mostly by godless people who are only trying to line their own pockets), where is the eternal significance in them? Which would God have you defend?
These are merely some considerations. Things to consider when we are looking to grow in holiness and be the men that God has called us to be. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but it should get the conversation going in such a direction that we all start thinking about our priorities and our commitments. One more thing that I need to remind everyone about: seek to spend more time in prayer that God will help those who are men, and those who are future men, so to they may each accept the calling they have been given, and stand firm in the truth of God. As I said before, do manfully!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Real Problem

"Men can always be blind to a thing so long as it is big enough." G. K. Chesterton.
I have been thinking about this for a long time now. All right; here goes. I am going to go ahead and say it, even though I suspect that I am going to make a few new enemies. The "school shootings problem" is not about gun laws; it is not about tighter security; it is not about making mental health care available. It is not about any of these things. And the more that I read people screaming about problems that are "out there" the less convincing they are in what they are saying. People always scream about "out there" problems when the do not want to accept responsibility. The problem is not "out there". The problem is the schools themselves, and you do not heal a disease by protecting it. My grandmother used to say "if your recipe tastes like dirt, you don't make it the same way the next time" (only she did not use the word "dirt"). 

The "problem" that has led to students bringing guns to school and killing other students and staff is caused by the culture of the schools. Only when that culture is changed will the shootings stop. What, you may ask, is "that culture"? It is the culture of nihilistic abandonment. Nihilism teaches that there are no absolutes, there are no objective moral standards, and there is no point in anything. The result of this perspective being taught (whether intentionally or unintentionally) in public schools for the last 50 years (or more) can be nothing other than violent and immoral behavior. This leads, almost unavoidably, to children showing less and less concern for the well being of others. Once you teach them to hate God (which is what you are doing when you try to teach subjects from an atheist perspective [school subjects without God are, by nature, atheist subjects]), then the necessary consequence is that they will hate mankind.

When you tell each student, "you can be whatever you want to be" you set them up for failure and the resulting depression that goes with the realization of reality. When you tell each student that God is not a significant subject for knowledge, you destroy all moral objectives and stab at the heart of any faith that they may have had. When you tell each student that personal pleasure and individual fulfillment is all that matters, you create spiritual evil in their hearts (often, mistakenly, referred to as "mental health issues"). I attended public schools from elementary through my first two years of college, and I was (even back then) taught nihilism. It has only gotten worse today. People talk about bringing prayer back to schools, but prayer will not matter if you are also teaching children that God does not matter.

As the quote from Chesterton that I cited above shows, modern American society is blind to this problem because it is too obvious; it is staring everyone in the face. When there was a surge in postal workers being violent (and "going postal") the US postal service saw a need to change how they treated their employees; and many other corporations followed suit. Yet, today, when children are "going postal" the solution is not to fix the schools (oh no, don't touch the schools, it cannot be their fault!), the solution is always "out there". This is just a further denial of responsibility, because they do not want to give up nihilism. This is what nihilism has done to our children (and many of the teachers who were taught by it as well), but most refuse to admit it. Better security and tighter gun laws are not going to solve anything because they have nothing to do with the actual disease (and kids will just find another method to be violent).

I am crushed at seeing the violence. I sobbed in tears on Ash Wednesday as I watched events unfold in Florida. I thought many times "children should not be in a place where that can so easily happen". I laud those who want to "do something" about it, but most of what people are talking about doing is like giving a Motrin to a cancer patient; it only delays the inevitable, and it will not stop the real problem. I pray that America will see what the real problem is, and stop putting so much effort into swatting a fly while there is an angry bear in the house.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


He was not harsh about it, but he did speak with clear conviction: "I don't like the Catholic Church; it is mean to people. I like protestants better because they accept everyone." interesting observation; skewed, misconstrued, and confused, but still interesting! I heard this comment once many years ago, and came across someone recently who had the same perspective and it reminded me of that earlier conversation. Of course, one of the major problems in that perspective is that it makes a basic (unproven) assumption. That is the assumption that it is a virtue to "accept everyone".

The only living being I know of who genuinely "accepts everyone" who comes to him is not who you might expect. Although many (even Catholics) would quickly attribute this to God, that is not correct. It is, rather, the devil who has this trait. Yes, you heard me right: "the devil". How could we possibly imagine that God accepts and welcomes everyone without any discernment? He sends people to Hell, right? That does not sound like "accepts everyone"; not in the least. That means that He does not accept those who obstinately refuse to repent of their sin. Few would disagree with that (except maybe universalists who do not believe in Hell). It is the devil, rather, who says "yes" to anyone who comes to him. He's glad to have every soul possible (regardless of whether they are willing to serve Him or not). How can we, therefore, imagine that a trait of the devil has somehow become a virtue?

Now, having said this, I need to be clear that I am not advocating an exclusive Church of just a few perfect people; nothing of the kind. Yet, the "all are welcome" philosophy does not hold up under any serious scrutiny (and do not even get me started on that horrid hymn by the same name!). Either "all" means "all" or it means "something other than all". If "all are welcome" means that we have no boundaries on who is allowed to be an active part of the parish, then we have a problem here. I have heard (more than just a few times) comments in regard to the "all are welcome" concept that make it clear people think we should accept everyone and never encourage them to change their behavior. Those who have this opinion appear to believe that if we tell someone to change and repent, then we would be (somehow) saying that they are "not welcome" (which is not exactly accurate). The "all are welcome" philosophy is truly a dragon to be slain.

Let me ask, for the sake of argument, would there by anyone who would not "be welcome" at a Church that claims to believe that "all are welcome"? Would a suicide bomber be welcome? How about an unrepentant child molester; would he (or today "she" also) be welcome? Would anyone be comfortable with welcoming a person into their Church service who had the bubonic plague, or smallpox, or rabies? Of course not. Each of those people would be asked to make some change in their person or behavior before they would be "welcome". I am not exaggerating here. Rather, I am pointing out that everyone has some sort of a standard by which they determine who is genuinely and fully welcome in their Church.

Thus if we all have some kind of standard, what would be a good description of the basis of that standard? How about if I describe it as "those who will bring serious harm to the members of the congregation are not welcome"? Would that describe it well? I think so. Thus, here we are in a quandary. By what standard do we determine who is going to cause harm? Do we use an arbitrary case by case basis (and keep "niceness" as the underlying principle) that leaves us with no real clarity? Do we assume that it is only the extreme cases (homicidal maniacs and the like)? Or do we ignore the subject and hope we never have to deal with it (which is what many appear to do).

There must be something more solid and clear for us to use as a guide. It would seem that God's determining factor is primarily those who are impenitent (for that is who receives the discipline of excommunication). The Lord does not tell us to exclude those who struggle with their sins and are not perfect (they are precisely who the Church exists for, after all!), but He does tell us to exclude (i.e. not treat as "welcome" without their repentance) those who refuse to struggle, who give in, and then remain in their sins (cf. Matthew 18:17, Titus 3:10-11, etc.). Should that not also be our determining factor?

Therefore, I would ask once again. Who ever said that "welcoming everyone" is a virtue? I know many people who believe that, but when it comes down to it, I have never met someone who actually practises it consistently. You may ask about my own practises in my parishes. Do I "welcome" those who come to visit? Of course I do; exactly the way that Jesus welcomed those who came to Him. Which means I treat them as those made in the image of God; people who are called to turn from sin, and seek holiness (cf. Luke 18:18-25). If they are seeking penitence and want to be faithful to Christ, they are welcome (Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners -- to repentance!). If they want to stay in their sins, remain impenitent, influence others in the parish, and expect to be told all is well, then I am truly sad to say, they are "not welcome".

Monday, December 18, 2017


She looked depressed when I saw her after Mass, so I went over to ask her how she was doing. She seemed a bit reluctant to speak so I did not push, but after a few minutes I offered to make an appointment to speak with her some more apart from the crowd of people in the gathering area after Mass. First she said, “no thanks”, and then seemed to warm to the idea. When I asked her what time would work for her schedule she said something that stuck with me for a while. She asked, “Will you really meet with me to talk? Priests don't usually do that, do they?” It was her sincerity that made me think more deeply about what she was saying. She really wanted to know whether it was the norm for priests to sit down and talk to their people. Over the years, I have come to find out that this is the perspective of quite a few parishioners.

Many of the laity in the Church today do not believe that their priests are talking to them enough. They feel as though they have been left out in the cold and given little to no help in dealing with life's challenges. I have personally heard of a few instances where there were priests who did take the time to sit with their people and discuss the challenges that they were going through, but often the advice that they gave was problematic. More than once I have heard of priests who told parishioners that the sin that they were struggling with was “no big deal” and “did not need to be confessed”. The person's conscience was deeply scarred by this because they usually (trusting their priest's truthfulness) went away confused about what the Church meant when it said “no” while the priest was saying “yes”. In other words, the laity are usually not being given the opportunity to form their consciences in a godly manner so that they can know what is holy, and feel guilt when they fall into what is sinful.

Let me mention that I am a “dotted i’s and crossed t’s” kind of guy. I like everything done appropriately, and when I make a mistake or forget something, I lament my actions for quite a while. So when someone says something like “Pope Francis did ‘such and such’ wrong” I am concerned that things be done right. Yet, in that, I know that I must not jump to conclusions regarding the actions or beliefs of anyone at all (especially the Holy Father). I am not a pessimist or an optimist, per se, but rather a realist; because “that’s the way things really are”. So my inclination is to help the person think through the situation and try to find a path to holiness that enables each of us to deal with the challenges that are being thrown at us today.

With this whole fiasco about the apparent unorthodoxy of Amoris Laetitia and now the added layer of the Buenos Aires Bishop’s guidelines, I have heard numerous Catholics lamenting the consequences of this. I have also read a large quantity of articles regarding what this all does and does not mean for us. As a result, I have come to realize one thing: many of us (myself included) tend to seek the quickest and shortest way to deal with our circumstances, and rarely do we want to put in the harder (and more time consuming) effort. Traditionals will tend to believe the bad news about things that look modernist, even when they do not want to, and modernists will tend to believe the things that look traditionalist, even when they do not want to.

Therefore, I chose to grit my teeth, and wade through the daunting task (!) of actually reading what the Bishops of Buenos Aires said, as well as the Pope's actual response to them. I was a bit surprised that none of it was as extreme as it has been claimed by many. True, I wish it was more clear and direct on a few issues (the way that my own Bishop, Steven Lopes, has done recently). Yet, I cannot claim that they are advocating something that they are not. I cannot claim that they are clearly and intentionally contradicting Church teaching. To do so would be to assume that I have perfect knowledge and understanding of their intentions. Furthermore, if they are trying to create a situation where unrepentant Catholics in invalid marriages can receive the Sacraments, then they are not doing a very good job of it.

Their guidelines never say “they don’t have to repent, just go ahead and let them have the Eucharist”. In fact, they are carefully worded in such a way that it appears very difficult (though, unfortunately, not impossible) for anyone with that interpretation to squeeze that in there. Realize that there are a lot of “ifs” in the document, and that makes it clear that there are conditions. This made me ask the question, “have I been blinded to what they are really saying (because I am so concerned that they not teach something unorthodox) and missed the actual primary point that Pope Francis said was ‘the only proper interpretation’?” I think this may be the case. I do need to be clear here on a couple things: I do wish that both the Holy Father and the Bishops of Buenos Aires were more clear about what they were saying, leaving no wiggle room (dot your i's and cross your t's!), yet to assume the worst of their intentions because someone can find a way to twist it is positively sinful.

Let me explain this last comment a bit more in depth. If I say something that can be taken in more than one way, then I may be guilty of inaccuracy, but not necessarily am I guilty of intentionally trying to lead people into sin. Alternatively, if I say something that can be taken in more than one way, then it may be the case that I want my statement to be taken in more than one way, which is a bit odd, but still possible. Finally, if I say something that can be taken in more than one way, it may be that I am intentionally trying to be vague to allow for the worst possible interpretation of what I am saying—but who would actually do that? The first two options, yes, I can see that these may occur, but the third seems like utter foolishness (and who would imagine that his words would not eventually be noticed as such?).

To insist on perfect clarity in every statement that a person makes is asking quite a lot. When I preach a homily, I occasionally find myself needing to take a moment to clarify something that I just said, because I realize that it may be misunderstood. That does not, however, mean that my clarification will satisfy every single person in the pews (as the questions I occasionally encounter after Mass rightly show). How could a person ever be sure of all the possible interpretations (or misinterpretations) of his words? This is especially so when we are dealing with words written in another country with another set of circumstances and another type of culture. I honestly do not know the situation in Buenos Aires, or what they are currently dealing with. It is likely similar to our situation here in North America, but also not likely the exact same.

There is one other problem with this insistence on accuracy. If I apply this same judgment to the Holy Scriptures, then about half of them are unorthodox, for there are a multitude of places where the Bible is not as clear as I would like it to be! We must seriously consider this as a major factor in this situation. Even Jesus Himself said that He made statements that will be misunderstood by those whose motivations are not holy, and only rightly understood by those who are seeking for holiness (like with many of His parables). Do we want things to be intentionally vague and unhelpful – of course not, no one does. So then, yes, I will say again, that I would prefer that there was greater clarity. Yet, if we are looking for errors, rather than looking for truth, then we can easily find a lack of clarity in even the most holy of writings, the very written words of God Himself.

So, then, what is that point (and this goes back to the first paragraph of this post)? Priests need to stop giving out quick answers to everyone’s situation and actually spend some time sitting down and talking to people. They need to find out what their circumstances are and help the faithful to think through what the Church says about repentance, holiness, and the Sacraments (and the proper process and order for those to occur). That is, after all, what the Buenos Aires Bishops are clearly emphasizing in their guidelines: how to deal with complicated and unclear situations that Catholics, in this day and age, get themselves into. They did not say that priests can break Canon 915, nor did they say that everyone can decide for themselves whether they need to stop sinning (things that I have heard upset Catholics [who appear to have not read the guidelines] claim).

Are there unusual circumstances that priests need to deal with? A resounding “yes!” is the answer. Is everyone’s situation clearly able to be resolved? An even louder “no!” is the answer. Yet, we cannot treat every one Catholic in a bad marriage situation as though they are “obstinately persisting in manifest sin”. Marriage is under attack and large percentages of the faithful have not been properly taught how to do marriage right (mostly because, once again, their consciences have not been formed properly).

Sometimes Catholics are in marital situations where the other spouse has chosen a behavior which leads the first into a sinful situation. The first spouse wishes to repent, but for fear of having the marriage destroyed (especially when there are children in the home), he or she is torn with trying to discover what really is the greater sin in the circumstances. Should they make this decision on their own? No. They are supposed to go to their priest and ask him to help guide them in what is the best way to deal with the situation. Yet, precisely because we live in an age where priests flippantly throw out “pat answers” to their people (if they spend time talking with them at all, and many do not!), then priests need to hear the admonition of Amoris Laetitia (in spite of its vagueness), “accompany your people to help them figure out how to deal with life’s challenges, and use the process of reconciliation—first—and Eucharist—second—to lead them to faithfulness.”

I, for one, will take a stand right now and say that I am going to give the best assumption to Francis' intent in Amoris Laetitia (as my own Bishop, Steven Lopes, has already done). I am going to accept his statement that the Buenos Aires Bishops have made the proper interpretation, and not assume that they are saying something that they have not clearly said. If any of them come out and clarify that they are teaching something that contradicts the moral teachings of the Church, then we can deal with that at that time, until then, let us give each of them the grace that we ourselves wish to receive. Remember, we can know for certain that we will be blessed if we “[d]o nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3). Here below is the actual English translation of the text of the Buenos Aires Bishop’s guidelines, and Pope Francis’ letter to them. Please read it, and read it carefully.


Buenos Aires Pastoral Region

Basic criteria for the implementation of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia

Dear priests,

We have received with joy the exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which invites us, above all, to encourage the growth of love between spouses and to motivate the youth to opt for marriage and a family. These are important issues that should never be disregarded or overshadowed by other matters. Francis has opened several doors in pastoral care for families and we are invited to leverage this time of mercy with a view to endorsing, as a pilgrim Church, the richness offered by the different chapters of this Apostolic Exhortation.

We will now focus on chapter VIII, since it refers to the “guidelines of the bishop” (300) in order to discern on the potential access to sacraments of the “divorced who have entered a new union.” We deem it convenient, as Bishops of the same Pastoral Region, to agree on some basic criteria. We present them without prejudice to the authority that each Bishop has over his own Diocese to clarify, complete or restrict them.

1) Firstly, we should remember that it is not advisable to speak of “permissions” to have access to sacraments, but of a discernment process in the company of a pastor. It is a “personal and pastoral discernment” (300).

2) In this path, the pastor should emphasize the fundamental proclamation, the kerygma, so as to foster or renew a personal encounter with the living Christ (cf. 58).

3) Pastoral accompaniment is an exercise of the “via caritas.” It is an invitation to follow “the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement” (296). This itinerary requires the pastoral charity of the priest who receives the penitent, listens to him/her attentively and shows him/her the maternal face of the Church, while also accepting his/her righteous intention and good purpose to devote his/her whole life to the light of the Gospel and to practise charity (cf. 306).

4) This path does not necessarily finish in the sacraments; it may also lead to other ways of achieving further integration into the life of the Church: greater presence in the community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, engagement in ecclesial services, etc. (cf. 299)

5) Whenever feasible depending on the specific circumstances of a couple, especially when both partners are Christians walking the path of faith, a proposal may be made to resolve to live in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties arising from this option (cf. footnote 329) and offers the possibility of having access to the sacrament of Reconciliation if the partners fail in this purpose (cf. footnote 364, recalling the teaching that Saint John Paul II sent to Cardinal W. Baum, dated 22 March, 1996).

6) In more complex cases, and when a declaration of nullity has not been obtained, the above mentioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, a path of discernment is still possible. If it is acknowledged that, in a concrete case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), especially when a person believes he/she would incur a subsequent fault by harming the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia offers the possibility of having access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (cf. footnotes 336 and 351).

These sacraments, in turn, prepare the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.

7) However, it should not be understood that this possibility implies unlimited access to sacraments, or that all situations warrant such unlimited access. The proposal is to properly discern each case. For example, special care should be taken of “a new union arising from a recent divorce” or “the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family” (298). Also, when there is a sort of apology or ostentation of the person’s situation “as if it were part of the Christian ideal” (297). In these difficult cases, we should be patient companions, and seek a path of reinstatement (cf. 297, 299).

8) It is always important to guide people to stand before God with their conscience. A useful tool to do this is the “examination of con­science” proposed by Amoris Laetitia 300, specifically in relation to “how did they act towards their children” or the abandoned partner. Where there have been unresolved injustices, providing access to sacraments is particularly outrageous.

9) It may be convenient for an eventual access to sacraments to take place in a discreet manner, especially if troublesome situations can be anticipated. At the same time, however, the community should be accompanied so that it may grow in its spirit of understanding and acceptance, without letting this situation create confusion about the teaching of the Church on the indissoluble marriage. The community is an instrument of mercy, which is “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” (297).

10) Discernment is not closed, because it “is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can ena­ble the ideal to be more fully realized” (303), according to the “law of gradualness” (295) and with confidence in the help of grace.

Above all, we are pastors. This is why we would like to welcome the following words of the pope: “I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen [to the faithful] with sensitivity and seren­ity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church” (312).

With love in Christ,

The Bishops of the Region

5 September, 2016

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Vatican City, 5 September, 2016

To the Bishops of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region

Mons. Sergio Alfredo Fenoy, Delegate of the Region

Dear brother,

I received the document of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region entitled “Basic criteria for the implementation of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia.” Thank you very much for sending it, and let me congratulate you on the work that you have undertaken: a true example of accompaniment of priests…and we all know how necessary it is for a bishop to stay close to his priests and for priests to stay close to their bishop.

The bishop’s “neighboring” neighbor is the priest, and the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself begins, for us bishops, precisely with our priests.

The document is very good and thoroughly specifies the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no further interpretations. I am confident that it will do much good.

May the Lord reward this effort of pastoral charity. And it is precisely pastoral charity that drives us to go out to meet the strayed, and, once they are found, to initiate a path of acceptance, discernment and reinstatement in the ecclesial community.

We know this is tiring, it is “hand-to-hand” pastoral care which cannot be fully addressed with programmatic, organizational or legal measures, even if these are also necessary. It simply entails accepting, accompanying, discerning, reinstating.

Out of these four pastoral attitudes the least refined and practised is discernment; and I deem it urgent to include training in personal and community discernment in our Seminaries and Presbyteries. Finally, I would like to recall that Amoris Laetitia resulted from the work and prayers of the whole Church, with the mediation of two Synods and the Pope.

For this reason, I recommend a full catechesis of the exhortation, which will, most certainly, contribute towards the growth, consolidation and holiness of the family.

Once again, thank you for your work and let me encourage you to carry on studying and teaching Amoris Laetitia in the different communities of the dioceses. Please, do not forget to pray and to remind others to pray for me.

May Jesus bless you and may the Holy Virgin take care of you.



English translation courtesy ReligiĆ³n Digital in Madrid, Spain.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Shocked, but not Surprised

We are currently encountering a flood of "sexual misconduct" accusations. Almost daily we hear about someone else who has been accused. Hollywood producers, actors, politicians; all the movers and shakers seem to be in the cross hairs. The more I read about it, the more I am shocked by it. No, I am not shocked that is has happened, nor am I shocked by who is being accused. What shocks me is the fact that anyone is surprised by this. Just look at the sexual ethics that have been dancing across the movie screens for years and you can tell what their heads are filled with.

The actors and producers that have been deciding what we are entertained by have not been portraying things that they themselves do not want to see. They have been making these movies and tv shows that encourage a certain perspective on sexuality precisely because they want to encourage the rest of society to behave in a similar fashion. So, just to be fair, what type of behavior should we expect from people who make morally filthy movies? I know of no one who would say that Hollywood moguls should be sought after for their moral wisdom; and there is a reason for that.

The only other thing that I would say genuinely surprises me is that it took this long for these things to come to the surface. I would guess that the best explanation is that those who are making the accusations are not exactly themselves paragons of virtue. In other words, it does not appear that they are coming out because it is a holy and righteous thing to help someone caught in the grip of sin to overcome it and find the forgiveness of Christ. I cannot begin to imagine what their exact motivations are -- that is between God and them. Yet, I wonder how they would handle this if their motivations came from devotion to Our Savior Jesus Christ.

What can we take away from this? Once again I will say, "garbage in, garbage out". What are you pumping into your head? What things are you exposing yourself to? Are you offended and disgusted by immoral behavior, or have you gotten calloused to it? Do you now tolerate it because "everyone is doing it" (because that is likely what the "accusers" once did before they made their experiences public)? It seems appropriate to remind everyone of the quote "there, but for the grace of God, go I". Let us learn from this whole experience, and the failings of those who have been idolized for so long, and realize that we need to be even more diligent to protect our hearts and minds (and never forget the hearts and minds of our children!).