Tonight’s podcast is from the Traditional Latin Mass for the Supper of the Lord (Cena Domini.) This sermon is about the connection between the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood, and why Jesus transfers His suffering and leadership to His priests. We will see that both the leadership and the suffering of priests are for the life of the world.
Myth #1: A priest can give you permission to skip Sunday Mass if you had a very busy weekend (for example, a Saturday wedding.)
Truth: Sunday Mass is part of the Third Commandment. A priest can not dispense you from God’s commandments. No sooner could a priest give a frisky married man a dispensation on the 6th commandment for his travels than he could give a person a dispensation for fulfilling a matter of Divine Law. I blogged recently on the different levels of authority here. If you are sick or having a baby or travelling (i.e Mass would be impossible) then there is no sin in missing Sunday Mass. In that case, you don’t need a priest to give you a dispensation. It stands in Canon Law for you to be honest but generous before God. 1
Myth #2: A bishop or a pastor can tell the assistant priest (or parochial vicar) that he is following too many of the Church’s rules at his personal or public Mass.
Truth: The priest is responsible for offering his own Mass worthily and well. In every pre-Vatican II Missal (probably going back 1,000 years or more) there are rubrics listed; any purposeful diversion from these imputes immediate mortal sin to the priest (not his bishop.) No one has proven to me that this has been abrogated doctrinally in the past 50 years. The priest is the extension of the bishop’s hand in the diocese, but he should be willing to lose his faculties before going against the tradition of the Church. The bishop is the chief liturgist of the diocese, but even documents after Vatican II like Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) give astounding power to the individual priest to follow the rules of the Roman Mass outlined in that document. If he has faculties, he needs no one’s permission to follow these rubrics. This includes protection of the Eucharist: For people in sin who come to Holy Communion, the priest should never embarrass the person at the altar-rail. Rather, he should pastorally try to convince them of life-reform behind close doors. Should the communicant ignore the priest, and should the communicant be in public sin, the priest is then allowed to refuse them Holy Communion. In the next year, we will see cases of bishops denying priests this right, but the Vatican ruled in a 2000 document that “no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it.” No ecclesiastical authority includes the Pope, since we’re talking about a matter of Divine Law that a man can not change. Nevertheless, I predict that more cases (like this one that happened even before Amoris Laetitia) will catch priests and bishops into similar Eucharistic and doctrinal divisions that many predict could cause schism in Rome. But first, I predict this story will first play out in the United States between bishops and probably more “neo-con” priests than even “trads,” based on simple demographics of who attends the Traditional Latin Mass.
Myth #3: A priest can be defrocked.
Truth: “Defrocked” is a silly Anglican term that the media mistakenly apply to Catholics. We have our own terms that you should know. First of all, even if a priest gets married, he remains a priest forever (See Ps 110 and Hebrews.) As you learned in Catechism, there are three of the seven sacraments that leave an indeliable (un-erasable) seal upon your soul: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders. Marriage will not continue in heaven (Luke 20.) Holy Orders will no longer be practicing the sacraments in heaven, but whether the priest go to heaven or hell, he is marked forever in his soul (for all angels and demons to see!) as a priest in heaven or hell. Again, “defrocking” is an Anglican term. We Catholics have some other terms for priests who are inactive:
—Suspension: This means the priest has the power to do the sacraments but no longer the right to do the sacraments (something extended by the bishop or Pope or head of his religious order.) Usually this priest got in trouble for something with his bishop. However, an untold amount of saints were also suspended for doing the right thing. For example, Padre Pio was suspended twice, once for 10 years. He was obedient, even though the authorities were unjust. This term is sometimes called “inactive” or “loss of faculties.”
—Laicization: This is a process whereby a priest asks for dispensation from his vows, usually in order to get married. Ultimately, only the Pope can give it, even if by rubber-stamping. But the paperwork still goes through Rome, even in these times of odd decentralization.
Myth #4: Priests love it when you say “Without you, we wouldn’t have the Eucharist!”
Truth: We love the fact that you love Christ in the Blessed Sacrament more than us, but when you talk like that, it’s obvious you have a love of the Eucharist without a love of the priesthood. Here’s what I mean. The priesthood actually includes 3 munera or gifts: 1) Teach. 2) Sanctify (sacraments). 3) Govern. Most neo-cons and even many traditionalists want their priests to give them the sacraments their way (à la Burger King) and then to not ruffle their feathers with too much besides that. Well, we’re not sacramental ATMs. You don’t get the sacraments without us also teaching and governing. If you just want the Eucharist alone, go to a Communion Service. If you want to live the Holy Sacrifice and experience fatherhood in the future life of the Catholic Church, then raise chaste sons to become heroic, manly, loving, sacrificial priests who are at one and the same time both servants and leaders—and of course, great teachers. Then, the people will follow men who are not only experts of the sacraments, but experts on the human heart.
Myth #5: It is a good idea for a priest to pray his Psalms.
Truth: Praying the daily Divine Office (Psalm rotation) is mandatory. The public promise we take on the day of our ordination is even more binding that our daily Mass (except Sundays.) The Eastern Churches do not have her priests make such a promise, but the Roman Church does, and the idea that this only includes Matins (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer) is an urban legend. The new Divine Office requires the priest to pray the Psalms a total of 5 times a day. The old Divine Office requires the priest to pray the Psalms a total of 8 times a day (doing the whole Psalter of 150 Psalms every single week, in Latin.) This is actually not only the tradition of the Church, it is the faith of Israel: The Jews prayed the Psalms a total of 7 times a day, as mentioned in Psalm 118/119: “I will praise you seven times a day.”
Myth #6: Priests are the least safe people to have around your children.
Truth: Priests are statistically the safest people to have around your children. Before getting into statistics, let me apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for the thousands of priests who abused children and subsequently caused unknown numbers of Catholic families to leave the Church. I believe all those priests should go to prison for life. If they do not repent and confess in prison, they will burn in hell forever. There is no excuse for bishops who moved priests around. They shouldn’t retire in Rome. They should go to prison, too. You will hear no justification from me for this behavior, so I don’t expect the following statistics to heal the families who had someone commit suicide after being abused by a highly-trusted priest. But, we must also consider two things that the media is not telling us. First, pastors, priests and rabbis have the lowest rates of abuse of children. Teachers, doctors and farmers have the highest rates of harming children. Religious leaders are simply the safest. Among religious leaders, priests are statistically the safest. Non-Catholic Philip Jenkins at University of Pennsylvania has shown here that statistically, the rate of molestors among priests is 1.8%, lower than any other “profession.” Do you want to know who is the most dangerous people around your children? Male family members. Priestly celibacy is not the issue, especially since married men are statistically more likely to abuse children than unmarried. Most child abuse takes place within the home. The second issue that the media is silent about is the fact that 80% of the priests who molest children are homosexual. Even the USCCB was—at one point—transparent on this. Regarding the John Jay study, Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a member of the National Review Board, said here that the priest crisis revealed a “homosexual predation on American Catholic youth.” This is not shifting the blame. It’s simply showing us that celibacy is clearly not the problem, especially since celibacy automatically requires the highest levels of self control. I say to people all the time: “If you marry a pervert, you have a married pervert. If you ordain a pervert, you have a priestly pervert.” The real question is not married priests. The real question is why the bishops in the 1970s and 1980s filled their seminaries with homosexual men. But you probably won’t hear much about that in the Boston Globe.
Myth #7: A priest can live without a woman in his life.
Truth: A priest can not live without a woman in his life. That is why we have the strongest devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I have never known a priest who prays five decades a day to fall into preaching doctrinal error. Anyone (of any vocation) who prays 15 decades a day is nearly invincible against chastity falls. And yes, you can quote me on that. It’s not that God is counting how many prayers we pray. Rather, the tighter we are wrapped in the veil of the Immaculate Heart, the more shielded we will be from the missiles of the enemy that take down priests every day. Oremus pro invicem, let us pray for one another.
Can. 1245 Without prejudice to the right of diocesan bishops mentioned in ⇒ can. 87, for a just cause and according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop, a pastor can grant in individual cases a dispensation from the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance or can grant a commutation of the obligation into other pious works. A superior of a religious institute or society of apostolic life, if they are clerical and of pontifical right, can also do this in regard to his own subjects and others living in the house day and night. ↩
Bear with the background story before a bit of a show-stopper.
My good friend Msgr. Philip Reilly, founder of Helper of God’s Precious Infants is my hero of diocesan life. This Irish priest from NYC fasts all day (until 5pm) in front of an abortion mill in Brooklyn. God has closed over 60 abortion clinics due to his work. He trained the Franciscan Friars in sidewalk counseling. They believe he’ll be canonized (literally, not figuratively.) This man lives all three munera of the priesthood to the maximum! (See my last post to get that one.)
In any case, he was in front of an abortion clinic in Brooklyn when he could see the towers in Manhattan go down 14 years ago today. Msgr. Reilly had a priest friend in lower Manhattan at the time, and this is a little known (but true) Catholic story from this day in American history:
After the World Trade Center towers had been hit, several pumpers of men arrived to help the victims. Was it 50 firefighters? Was it 100 firefighters? Was it the north tower or the south tower? Msgr. Reilly is too busy to confirm all the facts of this story, but here’s the basics of his story:
Before the firefighters went into that burning building to try to save a few fellow Americans, one of those men saw this priest-friend of Msgr. Reilly. He said to him:
“Father, I think this fulfills the requirements
for a general absolution.”
Father agreed. All 50+ men got on their knees. All men received absolution. All men stood up and went into the tower. Every one of those firefighters died that day for our country.
These may not be Christian martyrs at the hands Islam, but they laid down their lives as Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”—John 15:13 Having received general absolution, and dying for our country—I bet every one of them was saved by Jesus at their particular judgment.
Today is the feast of the 17th century Jesuit, St. Peter Claver. He’s seen above in his untiring work in Cartagena, Columbia to the slaves who were brought there from Africa.
The “end of the priesthood” doesn’t mean that the Catholic priesthood is coming to an end. By “end,” I mean the final-end of something. As I wrote in the post The End of the Mass, “end” simply means telos or goal of its existence. What is the end of the priesthood? The answer: The glory of God and the salvation of souls.
What is the means to this end?
If you answer “the sacraments,” then you’re only a third correct.
The Catholic Church (even Canon Law) teaches that there are three munera (gifts or duties) to the holy priesthood that are necessary for the salvation of souls:
1) Teach (Teaching people the Faith.)
2) Sanctify (Sacraments)
3) Govern (Leadership)
Let’s look at the bad news in the Church and then we’ll get to the remedy.
The most shocking part of my priesthood has been the lack of respect from other Catholics, especially from pastors and parish-employees.
For example, when I was a parochial vicar (the #2 priest) at a campus ministry parish at Colorado State University in 2014, a 60 year old female employee was allowed by my pastor (the #1 priest) to have two nervous breakdowns against me. On 30 July 2014, she had her third nervous breakdown against me (this time regarding a disagreement on who should have access to the Eucharist in the tabernacle.) After numerous warnings, I called the police to have her removed. The police came and removed her. Later that week, she was so embarrassed that she threatened to sue unless the pastor fire me.
He took the bait and betrayed me. I was removed overnight like a criminal. Since I was physically gone, I could not tell our parishoners in-person that the reason for my removal was so silly. I told my parishoners what happened in an email. They weren’t happy with the decision of my pastor, and he knew it. The students were devastated at my departure, especially for such a trivial reason. Scrambling to maintain order, my pastor later put up on our parish website a set of pious lies (still up years later) where he stated it would be “awkward” for him to describe why I was ejected from campus ministry. “Awkward”? In campus ministry? hint, hint… He even quoted Scripture in pitting me against our Archbishop.
This was the first lie, however, because the Archbishop did not want to remove me from my post in campus ministry. The Archbishop and the Vicar for Clergy both told me that I was removed at the behest of the pastor, not the Archbishop as the parish website erroneously states. In fact, the Vicar for Clergy told me that the Archbishop purposely resisted removing me from campus ministry. After numerous phone calls from the pastor, however, the Archbishop felt he had to do his bidding.
Why would a relatively-orthodox priest do this to me? One man will never know another man’s intentions this side of the veil, but the solution seems obvious: If the students found out the truth, namely, that I was canned for keeping a boundary against an unstable employee, there would be upheaval. The other option would be to piously imply criminal behavior against me. Now, I know that sometimes pastors scapegoat their assistant priests when there’s a problem, but to lie using holy Scripture (as the above website does) goes a step further. I am reminded that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that it is “blasphemous to make use of God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death.”—CCC 2148
And to have your reputation destroyed by a brother priest is death. It had far-reaching effects: The very day I was removed, the Vicar for Clergy told me I could no longer hear confessions or offer public Mass. (In other words, I lost my faculties, which is usually reserved for civil criminals and doctrinal heretics.) Knowing I had done nothing wrong, I immediately got a Canon Lawyer who fought and got my faculties back. I strangely got an email two weeks later from my Archbishop saying: “I am sorry if you understood that you have no faculties as that is not the case.” However, a few days later, on 16 September 2014, my Archbishop gave me a letter saying that although I have my faculties, he would not give me another parish as things stood. 1
As I look back, I think that my former pastor pushed harder than he thought. He probably thought that scapegoating me with the screaming employee was going to be a small price to quiet the unrest at the parish. But his betrayal contributed greatly to the ending of my active priesthood in the Archdiocese of Denver… the very city where I was born, baptized and confirmed. Also, I suppose that good decisions are hard to make when you have a high-paid campus minister pushing for the assistant priest’s departure because I was “gunning for his job” as my pastor told me right before I left. (The young campus minister had to have a say in what I taught my students. I denied him this months prior.)
To my knowledge, most of the solid University students rejected the rumors that parish staff had spoken directly against me or started surreptitiously around me. I think the only lie that they nearly-all believed was that the Archbishop initiated my departure. I blog about this today because Canon Law 220 obliges me to counter publicized lies. It is not vengeance but justice that forces me to write. It’s really unfortunate I have to defend my good-name online against a priest. Christ surely did not want this of His priests. Still, Christ is the King of Canon Law, and I believe that Canon Law may require me to given an honest account online, especially after a dishonest account was up for so long.
One last thing to clarify: Why should employees at a parish be able to influence superiors to piously euthanize a young priest’s priesthood? One, because bill-paying pastors are afraid of even non-legitimage lawsuits after all the abuse lawsuits of the 1980s and 1990s. The pendulum has swung from protecting bad priests to attacking good priests. Two, when a young priest does more than the Mass—and tries to affect young people’s lives—he becomes a threat to the world of lay paychecks and the status quo of preaching.
If I ever get to the active priesthood again, I will continue to do more than just the sacraments, even if it costs me. Of course, Holy Mass is the summit of the Catholic priesthood but it is not the sum limit. Why? Because the sacraments are sacraments of faith. An American can receive Holy Communion at any parish, coast to coast on Sunday with almost no geographical hinderance, whether he be in sanctifying grace or not. Number of priests is not our first crisis. Concurrent with a return to the 1962 sacraments, I propose that priests again learn the art of teaching, of fatherhood, of leadership. Then we will see the salvation of more souls (and of course the inspiration of many more young men answering their God-given call to be a priest.)
I am a huge fan of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) but one of the reasons they succeed is because priests since Vatican II seem to be ordained to be sacramental-distributors at mega-parishes or dying parishes, but rarely with a placement in view of friendship and leadership being an integral part of the priest’s own salvation. The past 50 years have produced an unspoken ethos that creative thinking about the Gospel is best left to the laity. Thus, teaching, discipleship and even fatherhood follow suit.
Even organizations like “40 days for life” are actually doing the “duties” of the priesthood, but when priests exercise similar leadership of the “gifts” they have been given, they are often told to stop rocking the boat. Why? Because people have seen little priestly leadership the past fifty years. When faced with a Church bleeding priests, FOCUS and 40 Days for Life have become wound control—a great wound control—but a wound control nonetheless, taking responsibility to end Satan’s decent success in reducing priestly discipleship, teaching and inter-personal communion that could have effected the salvation of millions of souls in a better way, possibly even ending abortion if every priest and bishop had come together like 40 days for Life did.
These attacks began in the seminaries. Even Dr. Brandt Pitre (my favorite theologian teaching at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans who is a husband and a father) admits that most of the great Catholic apologists today are lay precisely because the seminaries eradicated the apologetics departments in the 1970s (in favor of “ecumenism” being taught to the Church’s ordinandi.) The New Evangelization talks a lot about spiritual fatherhood, but in practice it is in the hands of lay groups. I don’t have proof, but I have my suspicion why: Strong lay-leadership costs a diocese less investment than priestly communion, discipleship and leadership—a leadership that Jesus promised would bring some persecution. Standing by a priest in persecution may reduce one’s personal advance—ecclesiastically or financially.
But it wasn’t always like this: The priestly model of discipleship and leadership was effecting an unprecedented level of conversions in the missions of Africa and Asia for the hundred years leading up to Vatican II. In the Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, Dr. Kenneth Jones reveals that even in the United States, the teaching office of priesthood was taken seriously, but then trailed off. Priests who primarily fulfilled the teaching office in high schools and universities are seen in the below graph of Index of Leading Catholic Indicators. Notice the years:
What did the three munera (teach, sanctify and govern) of the priesthood look like through the centuries?
15th Century: St. Bernadine of Siena would have tent-revivals with up to 30,000 people in attendance. Known as the “Apostle of Italy,” this saint would preach for hours with scores of confessing-priests on hand. Notice that in his case, the Mass was not the means of evangelization but the end.
17th Century: St. Peter Claver preaches the Gospel to slaves collapsing off of slave ships before baptizing them if he finds a shred of faith. In the decades of his monotonous work and outrageous miracles, he baptized over 300,000 slaves. See picture at the top of this post. Notice that in his case also, the Mass was not the means of evangelization but the end.
20th century: Fr. Mateo Crawley of the Sacred Heart Fathers preaches the family enthronement of the Sacred Heart on 6 continents to possibly hundreds of thousands of people. He disciples priests all over Asia, teaching them about the Sacred Heart. As dozens of languages were spoken among them, he taught them in Latin, as it was the first half of the 20th century. Because they had all learned Latin in seminary, all of these priests understood him, and these priests took this discipleship and lit huge areas of Asia on fire with the love of Jesus Christ. Notice that in his case too, the Mass was not the means of evangelization but the end.
The Novus Ordo seems particularly geared to entertainment by the priest and blurred lines between laity and the priesthood. Thus, it is no wonder that the New Mass becomes the priest’s main interaction with the laity—his one outlet for creativity. But the saintly priests before Vatican II had to use their gifts and creativity outside of the sacraments to bring people to the sacraments.
The problem now is that the implementation of the new Mass will never be able to keep up with the entertainment of evangelical “Mega Churches” with which both are geared. So, we will continue to lose Catholics to those communities until we return to the roots of Peter and Paul’s way of worship (surely the primitive form of the Tridentine Mass.)
Jesus did establish the Mass when He said “Do this in memory of me.” To be sure, this is the most important work of the priest, but how can it make a man a good priest if he does nothing ex opere operantis for the salvation for souls? Nowadays, many priests who only offer the Mass will be honored by diocese-wide parties for being great pastors, simply for having never rocked the boat.
But if priests don’t step up to the altar for leadership-based teaching, then the Holy Spirit will still raise up heroic young families who will demonstrate leadership (governance) and teaching (also a duty of the priesthood.) Thus, we have the concessionary but powerful work of FOCUS, FMC, Endow, Totus Tuus, 40 days for life and the Augustine Institute.
Still, it is a trick of Satan to make people think of the priest as a magician who simply transforms things. This error misses the truth that the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and we will not see the Catholic Church rejuvenate until priests are ordained to do all three munera of the priesthood, for Jesus asked His priests to do more than the sacraments a few times a week:
- “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)
- “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:8)
- “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)
Notice those verbs include a lot more words than confect and absolve. A hypersacramental view has no place in the Gospel. Even the Council of Trent explains that faith must be demonstrated before the sacraments are administered. If we don’t return to teaching and exorcising, it could be the end of the priesthood!
But we know this won’t happen because Christ’s promise will come true again: The Church will have priests of fatherhood and orders with leadership, perhaps looking something like the old orders of ransom. I’d encourage any young man reading this to obediently ask his superior (bishop or religious order superior) if, upon ordination, he will be allowed to exercise all three munera of Canon Law (teach, sanctify and govern.) The young man should then respectfully ask his superior or bishop if he’ll stick behind him when he is persecuted for hard teachings. If not, then know, young man, that you may possibly do more for Christ’s kingdom as a celibate contemplative or even as a husband and father who—at least—is allowed to teach his own children.
Up to this point, I had admittedly been through a lot of parishes in five years since my ordination. Like this parish, my departures came down to arguments with pastors regarding Extraordinary “ministers” of Holy Communion (EMHCs.) But this situation was different with all of the dishonesty. The sad thing is that I could have left peacefully like previous parishes. For example, my previous parish in Fort Collins—I was not fired from. I requested to leave it because of arguments surrounding EMHCs. My pastor and my previous bishop peacefully allowed me to move on to another assignment. Most everywhere, parish staff has always found me hard to work with. For this last parish, the honest announcement from the pulpit would have been: “Fr. Nix was dismissed for calling the cops on an employee” or even “Fr. Nix was dismissed by the pastor because the staff found him hard to work with.” But this would not have criminalized me, and the students would have known that my stubbornness would not justify the termination of a successful apostolate (10-40 hours a week in the confessional.) It is as if my superiors predicted that the young faithful students would see that my self-confidence (and even arrogance at times) was not a crime worthy of the punishment of overnight-removal. In fact, one Sunday between my calling the cops and my pastor dismissing me, he actually told me that I could stay if I apologized to the woman for calling the cops on her. I remember my response verbatim: “Not only will I not apologize. I hold you responsible for not protecting me.” And yet, to this day, I do not regret calling the cops to protect myself. Even if I’m wrong about that, the main point here is that I could have stayed if I had apologized, meaning there are no “awkward” explanations like their website says. I think that their nearly-ending my priesthood in Colorado was simply vengeance for me making staff feel inadequate. ↩
By a strange turn of events, I have to spend a day in Istanbul while trying to get home from Spain—even though it’s the opposite direction.
The reason this is especially strange is because these two countries were evangelized by the brothers James and John, sons of a Galilean fisherman named Zebedee. These two men became first century Apostles of Jesus Christ. Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder” because of their attitude towards life. After His resurrection, Our Lord sent St. James to Spain and St. John to Turkey (with His own Blessed Mother.) I flew from James’ land to John’s land today, and I’m tryıng to navigate a keyboard set up for the Turkish language at 9pm here in the city center of Istanbul.
Now, it’s a Muslim country. But did you know that for the first 500 years of Christianity, Turkey had a Christianity as booming and as heroic as the newly-converted Roman Empire? The two centers of Christianity in the first 500 years of the Church were Italy and Turkey. Constantinople was first evangelized by St. Andrew (Peter’s brother.) Turkey then became the home of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist. Years later it was the home to St. John Chrysostom, the Cappadocian Church Fathers and countless heros of Byzantine Catholicism. Except for Jewish converts, the most successful areas of conversion in the first 500 years of Christianity were Italy and Turkey. Roman Empire and Byzantine Glory.
Now Turkey is 0.2% Christian.
What happened? This great loss is usually blamed on Islam. It is true that the violent conquest of Turkey happened as early as the very century of Mohammed (7th century.) It was completed in the 15th century.
But Jesus is always faithful to His Church, especially in persecution, so something else happened.
We have to remember that Jesus speaks directly to the Turkish Churches in the book of the Apocalypse and warns:
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.—Rev 2:2-5
This was evidently not an empty threat from Our Lord. The light in Turkey would indeed extinguish. It was lukewarmness that sunk the Church here in Constantinople/Istanbul, just like it is 20th century lukewarmness that has nearly sunk the living Faith within the country I just walked across, Spain.
How do I know it was lukewarmness and not Islam that has extinguished the fire in the two countries of the Sons of Thunder? Because Spain is the only country in the history of the world that was conquered by Muslims and reconquered by Christians to again become a Christian country. This reconquest was done by a woman, Isabel “la Católica,” an outrageously beautiful name, considering she came from a line of 800 years of Catholic kings attempting that very reconquest of Spain that Isabel (a married queen who knit her children’s own clothes and rode horseback alone at night in the rain to quell uprisings) finished once and for all in the 15th century. She did it on horseback and in battle, but mostly on her knees.
The next three centuries then witnessed Spain evangelize most of the Western hemisphere. In fact, this deed was also due to Queen Isabel “the Catholic” who took a risk on Christopher Columbus. (She originally told him “No” and then sent her courier to inform him that she changed her mind when he was several kilometers outside the city.) Whether you like Christopher Columbus or not, the point is that Islam didn’t ultimately stop the greatest Catholic nation in history from producing St. Francis Xaviers. In fact, in some strange way within the permissive will of God, Islam helped the evangelization of the World.
Now, Spain has fallen to secularism harder than she ever fell to Islam. This may sound like an exagerration, but I promise the following is true: Almost every day on the Camino, a Spanish man or woman would see my Roman Collar and preach New-Age relativism to me (in Spanish) before I could ever explain the Gospel, or even say my name. What St. James and Queen Isabel won heroically—what Islam could not extinguish but strangely fueled—has been trashed by the heresy and lukewarmness from within the Church, not without, especially in the past 50 years.
I’m not much of a patriot for the country that St. John Paul II called “the culture of death” (the USA) but after travelling the world the past year, I can glorify God for the USA for this reason: We Americans have a hope for a renewal and restoration of the Faith which is greater than the hope of Spain or Turkey, (at least if grace keeps building on the nature of these countries’ attitude to Christ and His Church.) Yes, miracles can change anything overnight (like Mexico from the miracle of Our Lady of Guadelupe) but right now, I’m proud to be an American.
But if the Catholic Church in the land of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Turkey) can nearly collapse, we must move beyond our extreme presumption of God Almighty and return in sackcloth and ashes to Him. Better, we must return to our first love (see the quote from Apocalypse chapter 2 above.) We need Sons of Thunder to do the works those men did at first.
Why did Jesus call them Sons of Thunder, anyway? One example is this: When a Samaritain village rejects Jesus, St. James and St. John have an idea:
His disciples James and John…said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But (Jesus) turned and rebuked them.—Luke 9:54-55
In regard to that passage, we have all heard a thousand stupid homilies that go something like this: “The Apostles were Old Testament—all based in justice. But Jesus was about to teach them about love.”
Here’s two reasons why that’s a silly homily:
1) Has anyone ever considered how or by Whom the Apostles thought (or knew) that they had the power to call down fire anyway?
2) Jesus chose fighters, not lovers. He chose fighters to turn them into lovers. Lovers of “the brethren” as John wrote. Lovers of “Christ crucified” as Paul wrote. Christ needed fighters who believed in something, precisely so Christ could turn these fiery-fishermen into lovers of the peace that only Christ can give. He warned there would be no peace from compromise with the world.
Perhaps a 20th century fear of that zeal is why seminaries the past 50 years got so full of men acting out effeminate sexual-perversions. Apparently it was worth it for dioceses to keep the sacraments flowing out and the money flowing in towards these charming men at the pulpit. But the real test of a priest is how many men he has inspired to follow Christ into religious life or a holy seminary. The Sons of Thunder cared more about spiritual multipication than the numbers of money or popularity raised among those making sacriligious communions. Just google St. James and Our Lady at Zaragosa if you think discipleship among priests is a new idea.
Globally, we will see the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as she promised at Fatima. But how many souls will be lost before then? I believe that the USA, Africa and Asia will be called upon to bear the torch to rekindle the ancient faith in the world, but you must pray for priests who will be fighters and lovers…those who will fight the battle of love for the peace that only the cross of Jesus Christ can bring. Peace with God the Father comes only from the sacrifice of Christ—the only One who can reconcile us to a God who is infinitely holy. Divine Mercy and ancient Tradition.
The Church desperately needs priests who wıll not be simply charming and semi-orthodox, but Sons of Thunder.
Raise such men in your families.
Do we walk this Pilgrimage of life alone? Or perhaps alone with God? On the Camino in Spain, I frequently hear young and old people say “Well, everyone has his own Camino!” Indeed, St. John Paul II said that each person is a particular image and likeness of God. So, yes—that means everyone’s pilgrimage through life is equally particularized and beautiful. But I think the phrase “Everyone has his own Camino” would have confused JPII a little since he came from a tight-knit Polish family and group of friends, seminarians…notwithstanding the tremendous loss he suffered.
Furthermore, that phrase would have never been heard on this Spanish pilgrimage 800 years ago. Why? Because they always went in communities and families. This Protestant-individualization of walking through life “Me and Jesus” is actually relatively new. Even in the early Church writings I see the Church mentioned as much as Christ was mentioned.
I’ve made some serious mistakes of thinking I could walk through my priesthood in lone-ranger mode. For example, I was betrayed by a brother priest. When people found this out, he quickly ascribed his own decision to his superiors, and later to his subordinates. I had no defense system against these lies because I didn’t control the communications. I wimped out in self-defense.
But my bigger mistake was having jumped-in alone years ago. St. Thomas Aquinas defines pride as biting off more than you can chew. This was exactly my sin in waiting so long to join a community that believes the same things as I do, which I’m finally seeking.
Archbishop Chaput would always say, “Your faith is personal, but never private.” So also, everything on this Camino of Life remains communal—personalized but not private. I now want to live a public witness of faith—not just helping others—but in need of others I can trust, too. This I have learned, being sick on pilgrimage.
Yes, even the disciples were sent out only two by two.
In Luke 24, Jesus is found walking the way to Emmaus not with one, but with two “Cleopine” disciples. There is a particularization to each person’s “Life-Pilgrimage,” indeed—but never a total isolation…not even for those called to the hermetic life. (Hermits must be those who live in the deepest communion with the Church triumphant, militant, and suffering.)
This communal aspect of our “Life-Pilgrimage” is seen in the painting above, Road to Emmaus, by Jan Wildens. Notice that Cleopas is not walking with Jesus alone. It is three of them, just as in Luke 24. Some believe Cleopas’ fellow disciple of the Lord was Cleopas’ wife!
In any case, Emmaus starts this way: Christ is already risen from the dead, but the couple is in a state of despondency. Christ reveals Himself and their hearts burn. They long…but only later are they completed in Him.
One of the strangest lines in the account is when Jesus “acted as if He were going farther, but they urged Him strongly, saying, ´Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.´” (Lk 24:28-29) Why did Jesus act as if He were going to keep going? I haven´t read the Church Fathers on this, but I’ll give my own guess:
He could go far beyond us. He could leave us in the dust, but He chooses to remain in the Eucharist and in the saints to walk this path with us. He shows us we have to wait for others.
Jesus shows the apostles the means not to stop suffering, but to suffer well when He sends the Holy Ghost. He promises to walk with them, not to give them all the answers about why they “have here no lasting city.” (Hb 13:14) Since mankind’s fall out of paradise, it never was meant to be lasting, anyway.
This is why St. Peter reminds us strangers and sojourners that we shouldn´t get attached to a titillating, crumbling city on earth: “Beloved, I urge you, as sojourners and exiles, to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul…Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” (1 Pt 2:11,21.)
That word steps is so important for pilgrimage theology. The avoidance of illicit pleasures isn’t just extinguishing desire, à la Buddhism, so our hopes for more, say, chocolate don’t go unfulfilled. Rather, it’s about the simple avoidance to attachment to Babylon when the Heavenly Jerusalem awaits. Yes, have children in Babylon! Enjoy the fruit of the land! But Jerusalem, not Babylon, is your home.
To launch from Babylon to Jerusalem, we ironically need to go about it with friends—despite the danger of attachments to unhealthy friendships. Yes, we must walk it with Christ and others in order to not become attached to the sweet, ephemeral, glittery rivers of Babylon (read: Madison Ave., or our own egos.)
What is this Heavenly Jerusalem? That will be part 5…A few more steps before we make it there (scheduled for our arrival in Santiago.)