The Mother of God appeared to a young Spanish prioress in the 16th century in Quito, Ecuador, asking her to suffer for the Catholic Church’s tribulations of the the 20th century. This is a Vatican-approved apparition of the Blessed Mother where Mother Mary actually told Ven. Mariana exactly what would happen to every sacrament. But Epiphany is all about the light that shines when the darkness is actually darkest. Where Christ has gone, so also will His Church follow. Bumper song credit: O Lux et Decus Hispaniae. (Oh light and glory of the Spanish peoples.)
Although Colorado’s Supermax is the federal prison that is featured on all the TLC shows, Colorado’s death row for our homegrown felons is actually on the Eastern Plains. For my second assignment as a priest, I was sent to a parish containing within her bounds that very Correctional Facility.
Upon arrival, I had a plan to reach not just the Catholics, but all the semi-professed Christians at the prison. I would hold a Bible Study called “What the First Christians Believed,” but not write “By Fr. Dave Nix” on the flyer. It was an immediate success. Many people from all denominations arrived. Great discussion ensued for the first two weeks. However, one non-dom felon with too much time on his hands (imagine that in America’s prisons) had learned…Hebrew. By week three, he jumped on my smallest inference to the Catholic faith, attempting to debate the meaning of New Testament Greek words transliterated into his Hebrew purview. By our fourth meeting at that enormous prison, a fight broke out between the Catholics and the Protestants. The guard arrived to protect me. No punches were thrown, but my cover was blown. As if the cassock hadn’t given it away, they now knew: I was a Catholic.
Numbers dwindled. Within three weeks, I was sitting in my Bible Study room with one man…a single black man from Brooklyn who was getting released in two weeks. That evening, we gazed across the hallway through the classroom windows to see another large room, filled with Muslims doing prostrations. Depressed, I asked him “Why do you think Islam is the number one growing religion in the world?” The man must have learned a lot in his prison sentence; He answered: “Because there you get what you see. No games with God. No loopholes.”
Rewind a few years earlier in seminary. I was saying to my friends that, as a priest, I would not have girls on the altar as acolytes. A formator overheard me and chimed in: “You wouldn’t want to be less generous than the Church.” Ok. I went away feeling corrected and, um, ungenerous.
But it hit me a bit later that the common ground between the two above stories is this: Is the mind of God found in the tradition of the Church or in the Church’s loopholes? Imagine that your 15 year old son or daughter had a curfew of 9pm, and “on very rare occasions” you allow her to come home at 11pm. What if she came home every night at 11pm and midnight? We would rightly conclude that there was something wrong with her sense of fatherhood.
Now consider that the Church has held a great many things sacred for many centuries, and how now dispensations are overruling. We must remember God’s words: “For I the Lord do not change.”—Malachi 3:6. Consider how, under great pressure from progressive bishops, Pope Paul VI hesitantly allowed communion in the hand to occasionally replace communion on the tongue in circumstances that almost seem to read “safe, rare and legal.” St. John Paul II was put under similar pressure to allow altar girls to occasionally join the army of boys on the altar. Dispensation…now become norm.
Did you know that the 1917 Code of Canon Law said that it is “forbidden” to marry a non-Catholic? The 1983 Code of Canon Law similarly says it is “prohibited” to marry a non-Catholic. Both codes refer to the dangers to salvation to the Catholic party (cf. Pope Pius XI’s Castii Conubii.) I’m not against the Church occasionally granting dispensations to a Catholic to marry a non-Catholic, but when was the last time you heard of a Tribunal reminding the couple that such norms are in place for the salvation of their eternal souls? Was the Apostle Paul’s admonition to be “equally yoked” purely the Revelation of an arbitrary Father? Or, is there any chance Our Father’s original plan was the most generous?
Liturgists (including Chief Liturgists) also need to consider whether rubrics be capricious…or from a reasonable God. For example, Vatican II reads that the Mass should be offered normally in Latin, but that the vernacular language may also be allowed. Which is the rule and which is the exception? Or, consider how Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes that even in apostolic times there was no precedent for the priest to face the people during the sacrifice of the Mass. Nowadays, however, that small loophole to the 2000 year-old Catholic (and Orthodox) norm has covered the globe. This was all for the sake of filling the parishes. Has it worked?
A point of dogma needs to be made: It is not just pious devotion, but it is actually the dogma of the Catholic Church that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. Thus, in order to understand the generosity of the Fatherhood of God, we must consider the mind of the Church through tradition, through 2000 years, not just modern loopholes.
I think I could summarize Jesus’ message to the Pharisees in one sentence: “Stop playing games with God.” Jesus’ main message to the Pharisees was not to abolish the law (See Mt 5:17) nor overturn the necessity of the commandments for salvation (See Mt 19:17) nor even end liturgical sacrifice (1 Cor 5:7-8.) Living in a country with so many Protestant overtones, we nowadays tend to picture a Jesus who, being a bit of a flippant religious-cowboy, wanted to end the Jewish hierarchy. Even this is not true (See Mt 23:3.) Jesus admits that the Pharisees still remain on the “chair of Moses,” but “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (23:23). In other words, “Stop looking for the loopholes, and start living for God. He does not play human games based in human tradition.”
I believe there is a key to attract men to the Catholic Church. It’s to stop playing games with dispensations in the name of being “pastoral.” I’m not saying a system of hard-core rules is key to making disciples of all nations. Nor am I promoting those ultra-conservative men who talk to their wives like they talk to their daughters (both like slaves.) But think about what that man from Brooklyn recognized in those 20 young black men prostrating at the prison. He saw that these men were attracted to a way of life that was concrete. These Muslim men—most of whom grew up without fathers—suddenly found a solid and clear-thinking system of religion that did not require a PhD in theology to tell you the rules didn’t apply to you if you know how to play this or that theological game. No, those inner-city men had had enough childish games in their adolescence to land them in prison. Now, they had something clear-thinking, something the male mind longs for, even if it sunk its teeth into something as sick and violent as Islam.
If a religion without a loving Father (Islam) has attracted men without fathers, how much more will the plan of a loving Father change our nation if we can be clear-thinking and clear speaking? We don’t want to make Kouachi-brothers of a new militant-Catholic-bent, but see my point: How much more do Catholic men contain a capacity for reaching the inner-cities of America if we can become unafraid of a full Catholic vocabulary? The maternally-run suburbs of America could use some good men, too. We as Catholics have the unique ability to reveal both the mercy of God and the expectations of God to a hurting and very confused nation. The peace in the womb doesn’t begin with women. It begins with men exercising self-control and protecting the women in their lives. It is peace that Jesus seeks to give us, but not as the world gives it.
Most young Catholic men secretly long for coaches, priests and mentors who will actually believe in them as sons. Young men long to see their dads (biological and spiritual) keep the high bar, not found in the confessional of priests who tell the penitent that because his masturbation “is an addiction, it is not done with full consent.” That’s a copout of responsibility for one’s penitents. No man ever wanted to live within a “dispensation” of weakness. Rather, most young men actually respond to a tough coach who believes in them. They want to be told that they can reach the high bar of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They want to give their lives away with other brothers.
In July of 2007, Pope Benedict wrote Summorum Pontificum to again promote the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. He had a very interesting line in there: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” This is an important sentence because it shows that God, as Father, does not change His mind for His family, based on the fads and whims of the time. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”—Hebrews 13:8.
Mass attendance statistics are pretty good proof that our hearts resonate with something “eternal” more than “pastoral.” Why? Because there is protection and freedom in God’s eternal order found in the liturgy. There is protection in the house rules, the unfolding of the Universe, the beauty of the Church, the two-parent Family. Rules without relationship leads to rebellion. But relationship without rules leads to a surrender without content—indeed, a surrender that is short-lived.
To be sure, the Gospel is ever ancient and ever new, with new creativities of evangelization growing out of every century of the Church that were surprising and unexpected. But as GK Chesterton wrote: “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”
This was originally published under the title Why Pastoral Dispensations Lose Catholic Men.
This is a talk I gave tonight on the Cardinals confrontation of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia. It is canonical, not prophetic. It is based on public revelation, not private revelation.
I must admit that there is something attractive and even accurate to the thesis that the Apostles were buffoons before they had the full transformation that happened at Pentecost. First, Mother Angelica points out that they never seemed to catch anything on their own even as fishermen! “Jesus chose a bunch of stinky fishermen” she reminds us as to why God chose someone like her to be a cloistered-evangelist to the nations in founding EWTN.
We have Christ’s disciples’ obvious sins, like Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus. And yet, after the Resurrection, Jesus does not say “Peter, about denying me three nights ago…You can still remain my disciple, but I’m going to have to pass-along this whole first-Pope thing.” No. After the threefold denial, Jesus gives Peter on that Sunday beach of the resurrection a full three attempts to move from simply liking Him (φιλεῖς με) to actually loving him (ἀγαπᾷς με.) Peter is embarrassed that he can’t honestly answer that he had any form of unconditional love for his friend who just died for him.
Jesus sees Peter’s humility and is not worried. Our Lord simply says: “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep.” He knows that Peter will live up to the task. Peter had trusted in himself and fallen hard. But now, Peter is humbled enough to lead the Church…and Peter himself would be led to a cross where he would one day die, believing he was not worthy to die in the same shape as the Son of God. His executors agreed, and turned him upside down.
But it wasn’t just their bad fishing skills or their sins that made the Apostles look like buffoons. Without any blasphemy to the saints (and yes, the saints can be blasphemed) the evangelists made it clear that the Apostles occasionally answered as buffoons:
Jesus said: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.—John 4:11-14
Come on. Really. They thought that Jesus Himself didn’t actually know that asleep people wake up? Apparently not. No other explanation suffices.
or consider how obtuse they are later on the boat:
And [Jesus] cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.—Mark 8:14
I can hear Homer Simpson saying to Chief Wiggum “I understaaaaand.” Yes, they were apparently thinking about food when Jesus said something as spiritual as “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” This paints a picture of men astoundingly obtuse to the spiritual sense of things.
But now I want to consider some evidence that the Apostles were not buffoons. First of all, of all Ancient Near-East nations, very few tribes were as literate as the Jews in the first century. Children began memorizing the torah with honey on the letters at very tender ages. In fact, they had a large part of the Hebrew Scriptures memorized by the time they were 12 years old. We live in a time when most priests can not even name the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, so we tend to project our poor catechesis on the Apostles. But the Apostles would have know the Jewish faith, salvation history and the Hebrew Scriptures through and through and through, long before they met the Son of God face-to-face. This is a historical reality, not a pious hope. Just ask any well-read Israeli about first century life out there.
The Apostles were fishermen by trade. But originally they had “tried out”(like all 12 year old Hebrew boys at one point) to become a rabbi. This happens by being chosen at the age of 12 or so by a rabbi to be one who learns from him for years. Many years earlier, the Apostles had probably tried out but failed. But they had failed only compared to the real brainiacs of the day. This means that the Apostles would have had a large chunk of the entire Old Testament memorized long before they took their consolation prize of fishing (irony of ironies, considering which rabbi ended up choosing them as adults.)
But we must get rid of this idea that the Apostles were blue-collar morons if we really want to understand 1st century rabbinical Judaism. In fact, the parents of the Apostles expected them to be religious warriors to liberate Israel from Rome! How do we know this? Because half of the Apostles reflect the names found only in the family of Judas Maccabeus, the last family and book of the Old Testament. Notice that half of the Apostles come from Maccabees in the Old Testament (Simon x 2, Judas x 2, John x 1.) In fact, only the latter is found anywhere besides Maccabees in the whole Old Testament! 1
But now let’s fast forward to some grown Apostles: Peter’s brother is Andrew, and today is the feast of St. Andrew (30 November). The above picture is him instructing one of his early disciples, assumedly in modern-day Turkey. Similarly, it was Andrew who first introduced his brother Peter to Jesus Christ:
One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus.—John 1:40-42b
What was Andrew doing before he brought Peter to Jesus? Although Andrew may not have gone to sit from a rabbi in one of the main yeshivas (schools, ישיבה, literally meaning “sitting,” as you sit at the foot of a rabbi) we often forget that he was already following the greatest prophet of the old and new Testaments: John the Baptist. John the Baptist was not Jesus’ schizophrenic cousin in the forest like some movies portray him to be. John the Baptist is he of whom Jesus said “No man born of woman is greater than him.”—Matthew 11:11.
Notice two paragraphs above that Andrew introduces Peter to Jesus very very early in John’s Gospel. In fact, it happened in chapter one! How do we know that St. Andrew was already following St. John the Baptist before meeting Jesus? Because just a few verses before that, Andrew follows Jesus at the very referral and command of John the Baptist (Andrew’s first own master and rabbi) to do so. Notice that this happens just before what I described two paragraphs above:
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.—John 1:35-37.
Can you imagine those three years of walking next to Jesus under a tree and eleven annoying-but-beloved friends? They must have wondered: What would Jesus say next? Where would He lead them? What miracle would come next? Which Pharisee would He anger today? Life would have been pure adventure. And yet, and yet…after the crucifixion, they are left with little faith. Those Apostles are hiding out for fear that they will be the next crucified Galileans, after their master and rabbi was mercilessly tortured and laid in the earth. Some messiah to liberate Israel from Rome!
But after they experience the Risen Christ, everything changes. They now believe. I believe that the greatest proof of the Resurrection is that 11 fearful men, literally hiding from the authorities on the first Holy Saturday, are the same men that traverse the globe and are now responsible for the fact that there are 2 billion Christians on the earth. How else could Galilean fishermen have gone from as far West as Spain (St. James) and as far East as India (St. Thomas) if they had not stuck their fingers into the nails of the Risen Jesus or the fist into His side? They were truly transformed. (Oh, and some say that Thomas made it all the way to China, but I won’t weigh in on that here.)
They have perfect knowledge of Christ at the resurrection, but the perfection of charity comes at Pentecost with Mary at their side, giving them all boldness and miracles to begin the full transformation of the world! So, yes, I do believe that there was a transformation in the lives and hearts at the Resurrection and even more at Pentecost. Perhaps even the personalities of the Apostles after the Resurrection and Pentecost are a bit changed. Either way, grace perfects nature without destroying it.
Because of this, we can be encouraged by the many falls of the personalities of the Bible when we consider how faithful God is to us, even when we are not faithful. Not that we want this to lead to presumption on God’s mercy, but St. Therese said: “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall. Only how many times you get back up.” In fact, this is truly exemplified in the many stupid decisions of the Apostles before Pentecost, and how Jesus does not only refrain from retracting His love, but He doesn’t retract His friendship, either. In fact, even their leadership as bishops and Pope of the early Church remains untouched despite all their personality flaws (impetuous, hungry, sleepy, dull, angry, etc) much like what you encounter in priests today, even in the confessional! As long as they kept the true faith and transmitted it as Christ gave it, falls among the first bishops and pope could be endured.
But we also have to put together the facts to see that the Apostles were not buffoons before Pentecost. They came from arguably the most literate culture ever on the fact of the globe (the Jews, even under occupation) and had memorized more books of the Bible by the age of 12 than most American Catholics will even read in the Bible their whole life. They were following the second greatest prophet to walk the earth, St. John the Baptist, before they were instructed on the beach by Yahweh Himself for three years, long before Pentecost. So, yes, the Apostles made some stupid comments in the Gospels and even some serious sins, but they were the most highly-educated fishermen that you ever did meet.
Burial spot of St. Andrew's body that I snapped off the Amalfi coast, Pascha 2016.
This should show any Protestant why it was wrong to take Maccabees out of the Bible, and that first century Jews surely considered it canonical if half of the parents of the Apostles would name their kids after names found only in Maccabees. ↩
Are you an American Catholic or a Catholic American? Why the Catholic Church will last forever, but not the United States.
A small percentage of Catholics today are celebrating the Feast of Christ the King. Another small percentage of Catholics in the world today are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the revolt of Martin Luther. Where do you fall? Let this podcast help you decide.
Luther’s rebellion against the Apostolic Faith turns 500 years old, and yet some Catholics actually consider his “reforms” to be a cause of admiration and celebration. Instead of theological alarms, lets just do some myth-busting of bad European history. Let’s consider the truths of German history, both medieval and 20th century.
The First Myth to be busted is that Martin Luther was a gentle, reforming monk. The truth is that by any modern standards, he was a sociopath. Like Hitler, Luther chose to incite violence by declaring that “Jews and Papists are ungodly wretches. They are two stockings made of one piece of cloth.” He once wrote a book called The Jews and Their Lies (seen below) in which he stated that because God struck the Jews, “We are at fault in not slaying them.”
Later, his invective became even more violent against Jews, for he declared: “They are our public enemies.” In his second to last sermon before dying, on 18 February 1546, Luther gave what he called his “final warning” against the Jews. This was all a precursor and inspiration to Hilter’s “Final Solution.” In the 1930s, the first major wave of violence against German Jews was called Kristallnacht, crystal-night, or night-of-glass, named because of how many Jewish store-fronts were shattered. After this initial violence, “Bishop” Martin Sasse, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany “applauded the burning of the synagogues [for]…on November 10, 1938, on Luther’s birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany.” Heinrich Himmler, head of Hitler’s SS, wrote of his admiration of Luther throughout the Holocaust. In fact, almost every anti-Jewish book printed in the Third Reich quoted Martin Luther as a major impetus to eradicate the Jewish people. 1
We reach the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s revolt against the Catholic Church. Some Catholics are actually going celebrate this heretic who hated Jews! I hope that none of my readers would celebrate this major-inspiration to the Holocaust. Even secular history will judge those who do.
As a side note before we get to our second short study, it should be noted that there were many heroic Protestants in the Holocaust who stood up to the Nazis and paid the ultimate price of discipleship, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The Second Myth to be busted is Pope Pius XII, the Pope during the Holocaust. Let me say first that I am not sure if most of the bishops of Europe stood as courageously against the Third Reich and axis powers as they should have. Perhaps Pius XII could have issued more documents, letters and admonitions of resistance to the European people against the Nazi Regime and Mussolini. However, the facts speak louder than speculation: The current, online Jewish Virtual Library holds that Pope Pius’ XII saved 860,000 Jews, many of whose descendants are still alive all over the world today. This Pope was truly a Christian man during the holocaust, not “Hitler’s Pope” as he was dubbed. His saving of 860,000 Jews was an inspiration to people of the early 20th century, both Jewish and Christian alike.
One such Jew who knew that he was not Hitler’s Pope was the chief Rabbi of Trieste (Rome) when Mussolini was in power. Rabbi Israel Zolli was his name. He was a devout and serious Orthodox Jew as well as a learned scholar of the Talmud and of Semitic literature. Perhaps because of this, Pope Pius XII was able to lead him to see Jesus as the fulfillment of all Hebrew Prophesy. This great rabbi of Rome ended up becoming a Catholic. Rabbi Zolli was baptized by Pope Pius XII himself. Below, Rabbi Israel Zolli is found walking on the right. To the left is Fr. Gosselino Birola, the priest who hid Rabbi Zolli from the Nazis on the grounds of the Gregorian Institute during WWII.
Surely a foreseen objection to this blog post is the Inquisition. I have seen two numbers for how many people died in the Inquisition, both from Jewish sources. The first number is around 2,000. The second number is 31,912. Although it is not a defense, it must be noted that only conversos were tried. (Conversos were those who had faked conversion to Catholicism.) Although it may not be defended, the reality is that Communism in any day of the 20th century killed this many people in a matter of about a week. Furthermore, even if we take the liberal estimate of 30,000 dead from the Inquisition, realize that surgical abortion kills that many (31,000) people in ten days in the United States alone. Worldwide, the oral contraceptive pill probably kills about 30,000 new human beings in a little less than four hours. Again, no murder is good. But the numbers must be put into perspective on the Inquisition against the rest of world history. The religious war started by Martin Luther took about 200,000 lives even before he himself had died. ↩
The entire story of Jews and Catholics meet: God marries His people in today’s Gospel, Matthew 22.
Kibeho, Rwanda, where Mary appeared in 1981 in a Vatican-approved apparition, preaching (among many things) the renewal of the ancient 7-sorrows Rosary.
Who caused the crisis in the Church? I did.
“I hereby commit to staying engaged with the suffering of the world, as long as I am alive and as much as I am able.
I commit to this because on the cross no tear is cried in vain, no ache in the heart is unfruitful.
If I will gaze, wide-eyed, at the suffering of the world AND lean in, I will begin to learn what it is to be human, and I will see Jesus.
And there is no other way of being a Christian for me anymore. None whatsoever. If I don’t suffer with/for the world I might as well quit.
If I believe the Gospel—if Jesus really did come to heal me and the whole human race—then I commit to being a vessel of that healing.
His mercy is deep and wide enough for the entire world. Healing humanity is why He lived and died. How can I live for anything else, and how can I not die for it?”—Audrey Assad