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Archive for the ‘Adult Instructions’ Category

I am slowly deciphering some of the written materials left by the late Msgr. William J. Awalt. For review and comments, they are being posted at my BLOGGER PRIEST site.

http://bloggerpriest.com/category/awalt-papers/

Msgr. Awalt was the pastor of St. Ann’s Church in NW Washington , DC for just over 30 years, retiring in the year 2000. I was honored to preach at the Mass celebrating his 60th anniversary as a priest in 2007. His pastorate was marked by a deep devotion to the Eucharist and a never-ending preoccupation with preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith.

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Why Does the Fire Go Out?

People have their reasons, but there is no good reason for leaving the Church.  The majority in the area where I reside are probably Baptist and/or Evangelical.  Some of these communities target Catholics and many Catholics marry non-Catholics.  Not understanding their own tradition, many Catholics are inordinately moved by the music and preaching in Protestant churches.  Catholic reformed rituals might not be regarded as very entertaining.  Much of the music we sing is criticized as trite and unmoving.  When we borrow Protestant hymns or sing Gospel, it is usually a pale imitation of what our separated brethren have to offer.  Music enshrines preaching.  Particularly in the African-American community, services can go hours.  The importance of the minister is measured by his musicality and his effectiveness as a preacher.  Our gravity is upon the formulae of liturgy, not upon preaching. 

Masolino_Peter_Preaching2

Preachers and Priests, No Comparison?

Many priests were trained to keep homilies or sermons to ten minutes or less.  That is about the length of two or three MTV videos.  Time-wise, it cannot compare to the formation of the media or to the teaching sermons of our separated-brethren.  I knew one old man who went to Mass on Saturday night and to his wife’s Baptist church on Sunday.  He told me that he went to Mass for Holy Communion and to the Protestant church for good preaching.  This is a rather sad state of affairs.  Are we fully feeding our people?  Preaching outside the Catholic Church may be dynamic and meaningful; however, it is also fraught with religious error.

Sermons or Homilies?

I recall from preaching seminars that the priest should offer a homily based upon the Scriptures of the day.  This focus was understandable but I found the focus too narrow and absolutist.  The priest or deacon can preach upon the readings, the liturgical prayers themselves, upon the feast or memorial, or upon what his people (at that time and place) need to hear.  I had a vigorous dispute with a liturgist when I suggested catechetical sermons. It was and remains a contention of mine that many people stray to other faith communities because they really do not understand Catholicism and the full significance of the Eucharist.

Can Father Talk Too Long?

How long should the priest or deacon preach?  This depends upon many factors:

1.   What is the type of liturgy?

2.   What has to be said to make the message worthwhile?

3.   What is the capacity in patience and in comprehension of the listeners?

Given that Catholic sermons are usually shorter than Protestant counterparts, the priest might be able to amplify his instruction by linking his sermons from week to week.  He can also use the parish bulletin, special adult education and bible study, and invite people to use the cycle of readings themselves with missals they can take home.  If people look at the readings before Mass, their experience will not be cold when the priest or deacon speaks about them.  Instead of merely thinking about what Protestants have that we don’t, let us utilize our own strengths, the missal and the cycle of predetermined readings. 

Catholics might also do well to getting used to longer liturgies.  Of course, this runs counter to the Roman Rite tradition, known for being curter and more to the point than Eastern Rite liturgies and certain Evangelical Protestant services.  There is a basic dilemma with longer sermons, and that is the balance and rhythm of the Mass.  A long homily and a short Eucharistic prayer seems to switch the gravity away from the sacrament to the Word which is intended to dispose us for the sacrifice and Holy Communion.

I am concerning myself essentially with the Sunday homily.  Given work concerns and strained time issues, weekday Masses would probably have to remain little more than basic exhortations.  Such exhortations are similar to aspirations:  Jesus, Mary, Joseph save souls!  Do good and avoid evil!  Keep faith and hope alive!  Lord, have mercy on us!  God will not abandon you!

Messages Should Comfort and Challenge

Homilies more strictly revolve the Readings; however, sermons can touch upon all sorts of relevant topics.  Sermons might be moral exhortations, catechetical moments, inspiration rhetoric and stories, etc.  However, they should always connect the lesson, whatever the source, to the lives of the people listening.  The congregation should not be passive to the preaching but actively engaged.  A topic is explored, the message is ordered for coherence, examples or illustrations are made, and there is the immediate appliance.

The words used in preaching vary upon the setting.  When the clergyman marries a couple, he speaks about the joy and hopes of the couple.  He might also challenge them to keep the marital act free from the corruption of lust and artificial contraception.  However, many Catholic ministers are afraid to rock the boat.  When a priest or deacon officiates at a funeral, his words emphasize the consolations of faith to those who mourn, the promises of Jesus our gentle shepherd in regard to eternal life, and the need to go on with our lives.  Again, many Catholic ministers are afraid of the conflict that comes with challenging the congregation to see the death as a warning about their own mortality and the need to reform before it is too late.  Even evil men are temporarily canonized and little is said about Purgatory.  A number in the pews no longer even believe in Hell.  Sunday homilies are often pampering and grossly approving because many clergy are afraid of alienating the numbers in the pews and depleting the money gathered into collection baskets. 

Need for Courage and Trusting Providence

I knew a priest in the South who tried to integrate the two churches he pastured, one white and the other black.  White parishioners complained to the bishop and the man found himself stripped of his parish, reprimanded for making trouble, and reassigned to a teaching position in a college far away.  Decades later he was still not allowed to return to parish ministry.  But God writes straight with our crooked lines.  This priest ended up teaching seminarians.  He inspired another generation of men in ministry to struggle for social justice. 

How often have we heard certain priests speak about artificial contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, or even about fornication and cohabitation?  Some men in ministry are afraid.  But what chance do God’s people have when their shepherds are passive and fearful?  The late Pope John Paul II echoed our Lord’s words of wisdom, “Be not afraid.”

It may be that the priest shortage and the clergy scandals have drained the energy resources and joy of our priests.  This needs to be remedied.  The core message of the Gospel is not exhausted or angry.  Priests who show enthusiasm or excitement about the Catholic faith and Gospel are the most effective.  It is also a mentality which breeds vocations.  Young men do not want to join a confraternity of tired old men who only go on because of cold duty and obligation.  We have to be on fire with the faith if we want those in the pews to ignite!  It is very hard for a priest to give what he does not have.  God’s servants should be so in love with God that this love spills over in their service of others.  Preaching should reflect a life of prayer and a drive to save souls!

The preaching should move God’s people to greater faith and acts of service to our Lord and neighbor.  It assists everyone to better understand the Eucharist and disposes us to receive the Blessed Sacrament.  We take what we have been given in Word and sacrament as we go out in mission to the world around us.

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RUPERT: I have a couple of questions for you. The Latin traditionalists oppose the Vatican II stress on Ecumenism. Is Ecumenism really Catholic or just a break from the long-standing tradition and teachings of the faith? It seems to me that Ecumenism, especially the so-called anonymous Christian business of the theologian Karl Rahner did much to undermine evangelization and missionary outreach. Is this not so?

FATHER JOE:

Father Rahner’s “anonymous Christian” has to do with people who sincerely seek to do God’s will, even as they suffer severe ignorance about his revelation to men. The mission mandate remains the same. Such ignorance should be dispelled so that all men and women might know the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his holy Church.

Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism – “It is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God” (3 #5).

One of the reasons why there is no perpetual teaching about Ecumenism is because the vast fracturing of the Christian communities is largely an event of the last quarter of the Catholic Church’s existence. Ecumenism was originally a word used to describe the unity between particular churches within Catholicism. Today it has to do with dialogue and cooperation with Christian faith communities that exist at varying degrees of separation outside the visible Catholic Church. I am somewhat at a loss in answering because it is not clear what you mean by Ecumenism.

Modern transport and communication has made the world a smaller place. By necessity the Church must have a more diplomatic and nuanced stance toward non-Christian religions, giving a special place of respect to Judaism. As for a fragmented Christendom, the Orthodox churches of the East and the Catholic Church of the West have valid sacraments. The singular defect of Orthodoxy is the denial of the full authority of the Holy See. The problem becomes more serious in regard to Protestant faith communities or those which are spin-offs of Christianity like the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Unitarians, Quakers, and others.

I suspect that many traditionalists are upset with a poorly disguised religious indifferentism that masquerades as Ecumenism. All churches and religions are not the same. Elements of the truth exist and are taught by non-Catholic faith communities; but these are often partial truths mixed with serious errors. In reference to Protestantism, these elements of saving truth were taken with them from their Catholic source. Notable among these elements is a faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the Bible, although the latter is edited down from the Catholic version.

If anyone can be saved no matter what the religion or if truth is subjective, then the need to evangelize would be seriously compromised. While we leave the ultimate judgment of others to God, we believe that the Catholic Church is the great mystery or sacrament of salvation. That is the essential meaning of the dogma that there is no salvation outside the Church. We cannot save ourselves. Only Jesus Christ is the redeemer and Saviour. The Church is his Mystical Body. The Church makes Christ present in his person and in his saving activity. Pope Benedict XVI refused to back down about this when certain Jewish leaders took offense at prayers that they should be enlightened to know Christ and to accept him. But he argued that we could not abrogate the heart of the Gospel. Many had unfortunately misconstrued statements of ecumenism from Pope John Paul II. Adding to the confusion has been the policy positions from various bishops, quite a few in the U.S., who have imprudently told their clergy not to evangelize or catechize potential Jewish converts.

When it comes to other Christian communities, we can dialogue so to better understand each other; however, Catholic teachings are not negotiable. We can work together for issues of justice and the needs of the oppressed and the poor. We have certain common faith elements and even orations, like Our Lord’s Prayer. But Catholics cannot take an active part in the rituals and services of Protestant communities. Similarly, while non-Catholics are welcome to attend Mass and even to make a spiritual communion, they cannot receive the Eucharist until or unless they are formally received into the Catholic Church.

It is important to remember that Jesus only founded ONE Church. That is the Catholic Church. The apostles were the first bishop-priests of the Church. St. Peter was the first Pope. While it sounds offensive to those who disagree, true ecumenism can never water down our conviction that Roman Catholicism is the TRUE Church.

Apologetics has sometimes been effective with certain more intellectual Protestant ministers like Scott Hahn. Of course they need humility to hear the Catholic position fairly. However, this form of debate is often missing or brushed aside by certain ecumenists. Ecumenical language tends to emphasize those things upon which there is consensus or agreement. However, it may be dangerous to ignore the crucial issues and practices that divide Catholics and Protestants.

The Catholic Church believes that the end of any debate or faith discussion is ultimately fixed. That is why Pope Benedict could speak to non-Christians about a dialogue where religious people in search of the truth can assist one another. He argues for clear reasoning and objectivity. He is not afraid because he firmly believes that genuine truth will bring sincere seekers to Jesus Christ and to the Catholic Church. He believes that only the Catholic Christian faith has the answers that most satisfy our longing for truth and meaning.

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baptism2x2ANTI-CATHOLIC ASSERTION

This spiritual decision for Christ cannot be identified with water baptism or with any so-called saving works and certainly there is no foundation for infant baptism.

SCRIPTURE MISAPPROPRIATION

John 3:3,7: “Jesus answered him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew (again), he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.'”

CATHOLIC TRUTH

This spiritual rebirth is intensely important for Catholics. Ours is no juridical imputation of righteousness; rather, we are literally remade into a new creation. Deleted from the pericope by our protagonist is this line, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Faith in Jesus and an abiding trust and obedience to him brings us to the baptismal font.

The Scripture citation here is still incomplete. It also states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (John 3:5). The font of life-giving waters is known as the “tomb and womb” of the Church. We die to our old self, to sin; and we are reborn to Christ and the life of grace. We become temples of the Holy Spirit and are configured to Christ’s likeness as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Our rite of initiation is not circumcision, but baptism into the name of the Trinity. Faith and baptism also makes us members of the new People of God, the Church of Christ. This theme of unity has always been important among the faithful. The Scriptures themselves narrate that sometimes whole households were converted to the faith (see Acts 16:15; 16:33; 1 Corinthians 1:16).

During this historical period and again with the development of second penance and regular confession, babies were also brought forward for initiation. The bond joining the members of Christ’s body was understood to be so intimate that parents and sponsors could make a profession of faith for a child who had not yet reached the age of reason. Mortality rates being high, this was of crucial emotional importance to parents and had eternal ramifications for the children.

Jesus himself had urged, “Let the children come unto me, and do not hinder them.” Over time, the final anointing of the baptismal ceremony was separated from the first part, often reserved for the visiting bishop. Similarly, first Eucharist was also delayed until the child was older.

When records are not available or when there is some doubt of validity, the Catholic Church will offer a conditional baptism to candidates seeking entry into the believing community. However, if their prior baptism in a Protestant community is deemed authentic, then they make an act of reception and subsequently receive confirmation and holy communion. Baptism is a one-time sacrament which forever configures a person to the Lord.

Technically, we equate the “born again” experience with baptism, although it can be personally affirmed with confirmation and a more full sharing in the gift of the Holy Spirit. We might also experience an exaultation at prayer which might give an emotional high or a special satisfaction to our faith. Christians baptized in the Catholic Church, even as infants, who seek and receive baptism in Protestant churches are in fact disavowing their prior baptism. What they are saying is that our baptism is null-and-void and that Catholics are not Christians nor are they “saved”, to use their language. This is a terrible happenstance. Catholics were the first Christians and Catholicism is the TRUE Church. We love and pray for our Protestant brothers and sisters; we join their chorus in praising God for giving us such a wondrous redeemer as Christ; however, we cannot rejoice in the ignorance of our own or the bigotry which steals them from our ranks.

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collar2Recently someone made much of the apostle Peter being married as a witness against compulsory celibacy for priests. I challenged, show me where in the bible it says that Peter “traveled and preached with his wife”? Maybe I am having a senior moment? I have no recollection of any such passage that suggests he and his wife had a team ministry!

Priests and religious vow celibacy freely, not because marriage is bad, but because it is so good. Celibacy becomes a wonderful gift, freely embraced, as a sacrifice for God and his holy people. Jesus was celibate. St. Paul not only practiced it but encouraged it. The celibate priest becomes a sign of contradiction of the kingdom of Christ to a hedonistic world. It is not a rejection of love, but a selfless abandonment to divine love as manifested in service to God’s people, the Church. It is not a calling for everyone.

I know of no references of Peter traveling and preaching with his wife; the bible does mention Peter’s mother-in-law. While this indicates that he was married, do we ever encounter her? What was her name? Did they have any children? Her absence from these texts might lend one to think that she experienced some mishap and passed away. Be this as it may, the Catholic Church has never hidden the fact that Peter and other religious leaders of the Church were married. Indeed, the Catholic Church had a married clergy all the way up to the 12th century. The Fourth Lateran Council was quite decisive in mandating compulsory celibacy for any who would be priests of the Roman or Western Rite. The Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, to this very day (in Europe and the Far East) have an optional married clergy. These priests are in full union with Rome. Also, in our own nation many Protestant clergy, Lutheran and Episcopal, have entered into the Roman Catholic priesthood, even though they are married and have families. Those who are raised in the Western rite realize that celibacy is a special gift and a particular charism of our priestly experience. It is a sign of a wondrous single-hearted love. One of the fruits of this sacrifice is the availability that a priest can give to his prayers, study, and service.

No one forces a young man to become a priest or brother. There is no coercion for a woman to become a nun. They know that vows of poverty, obedience, and celibacy are part of the package. If God gives a person a vocation in the Catholic Church, we believe that he will give them the graces and gifts to follow this life. The majority of men who leave the priesthood to get married ultimately have failed marriages. Promises are made to be kept. The problem is not the Church or God; the dilemmas are people unwilling to surrender their lives fully to Christ.

The Catholic Church also recognizes the right of people to get married. However, the Church has a right of her own to regulate her ministries. Permanent deacons, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Catechists, Readers and/or Lectors, Acolytes, and Lay Evangelists and Ministers all serve the Church and may be married. Would the critic demand compulsory matrimony? I hope not. Those who opt for priesthood in the Roman Rite also freely embrace celibacy. This is no less than what St. Paul did. After listing all the various rights that a follower in Jesus possesses, he acknowledges that he has chosen not to use these rights for himself.

[After listing the right to marry among many other freedoms, St. Paul says] “Yet we have not used this right. On the contrary, we endure everything, so as not to place an obstacle to the Gospel of Christ. … I have not used any of these rights, …” (1 Corinthians 9:12,15).

[After speaking about marriage] “This I say by way of concession, however, not as a command. Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: It is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, …” (1 Corinthians 7:6-8).

[Advice to Virgins and Widows] “Now in regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that. I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:25-31).

There is evidence from the early Church that many bishops and priests, although married, practiced perpetual celibacy.

[More on virginity] “So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better” (1 Corinthians 7:38).

[About a widow] “She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she remains as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:40).

[Celibacy is a sign of the kingdom!] “His disciples said to him, ‘If the case of a man with his wife is so, it is not expedient to marry.’ And he said, ‘Not all can accept this teaching; but those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born so from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made so by men; and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let him accept it who can’” (Matthew 19:10-12).
I believe the celibate priesthood is superior to a married clergy precisely for the reasons that the Church does. If any would challenge this, I would ask, do you think that the Magisterium is capricious in this demand? No, there are good reasons to maintain the tradition.

I will be 50 years old in a few days. I have been a priest for over 22 years. I am a normal heterosexual male. I have always safeguarded my purity. The older I get, the more convinced I become in the teachings and disciplines of the Church. I am convinced that the celibate priesthood is a treasure we must maintain no matter what the critics might say. Most priests I know love their celibacy and would change nothing about it.

Yes, I really believe this and so does the Church. Indeed, the word “vocation” was once reserved to priesthood and religious life precisely because of the celibacy or virginity element. Most people will get married and have sexual relations; those who pursue the evangelical counsels and embrace a single-hearted love of God have been called to something higher, more spiritually perfect.

Despite the rampant criticism of celibate priests, married priests are not morally impeccable either, and I could cite from history all sorts of self-righteousness and hubris on their part, too. Ministers with wives and families in other denominations also have problems. Half of all Lutheran ministers are divorced. We all need humility, lay and clergy alike. We especially need humility in regards to the teachings and disciplines of the Church. Humility would have us submit to her wisdom on such matters. Men who are generally called to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church are given the grace of celibacy as a gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no conflict between the mind of Christ and the use of the keys by his shepherds.

The statistics reveal a high divorce rate for clergy who drop out to marry. One can also look to the rolls of organizations which illicitly employ married priests for ministerial purposes. The rate of failed marriages has varied from 50 plus % (in the 1960’s and 70’s) to 30% (more recent defections). We generally do not share such reports or figures.

A man can have a wife and serve God. No one disputes this. That is why we have thousands of married clergy, deacons in the Catholic Church. All of us are called to serve God. But, no one has a right to priesthood. No one deserves or merits ordination. Priestly vocations are pure gratuities from God but granted and affirmed by the Church. She has every right to specify mandatory celibacy. Why is it that critics cannot appreciate this right of the Church to manage her own ministries? Why is it that people who are not priests want to tell priests that they should be married or have the right to be married? I gave up that option when I answered God’s call. I am happy. Most priests accept it.

Sorry if I sound harsh, but along with most priests I know, we find this subject upsetting. We embraced our celibacy as a gift to the Lord FOR GOD’S PEOPLE, and yet many of them bemoan the fact. If those in the pews (and/or who have stopped going to Mass) cannot be appreciative, why will they not stop being busy-bodies in trying to tell celibate priests how to live and to define their priesthood? The true selfishness is with the apologists for married priests. The cry for married clergy is insulting to every celibate priest. We experience the heights of both divine and “human love” without having to commit ourselves to a single person or to engage in acts of sexual intercourse. The problem here is not the Church’s prohibition against married priests (which) is not absolute; but rather, those who malign as worthless the value of celibate love lived out by priests in imitation of our Lord Jesus and of many of his apostles like St. Paul and St. John!

God keeps his promises and so should we. If a priest is faithful to his prayer life and ministry he can know both happiness and peace. The time of decision is before ordination, not afterwards. We all know times of loneliness, but the “aloneness” of a priest is something entirely different. He is comfortable in his own skin. He needs no other human being to compliment or to perfect himself. He is a priest and priests render sacrifice. He offers the Mass and in his celibacy he offers his own flesh with that of Christ. Daily he says to God, I belong entirely to you. He expresses this devotion and love of God in his service of the flock. People should want such priests and settle for nothing less!

I know the gentleness that should be shown to individuals. But when I speak about the priesthood as a whole, there can be no compromise. Priestly celibacy has a powerful eschatological meaning. It points to the kingdom that is breaking into our world. It best manifests our solidarity with the poor and the marginalized. It is no curse, but can become the engine that fuels the priest’s spiritual life and efforts at service. His focus is narrow and he looks upon his bride, the Church, without distraction. He goes where he is sent. He does what God and his bishop tells him to do.

In one sense it is true that we cannot walk in another man’s shoes; knowing what he feels and the demons that confront him. I would hesitate to publicly judge the souls of priests who leave ministry. Nevertheless, in another sense, every priest wears the shoes of the apostles who were instituted as priests by Christ. Could it be that the priest, who abandons his ministry for marriage and/or cohabitation, opts to walk barefoot and unprotected? The Roman rite insists that a priest is shod (wears shoes or sandals) at Mass. The tradition of Rome is that a working man puts on his working shoes or boots. The work of a priest is the Mass and so he puts on his shoes. When he takes his shoes off, his work is over. Priests who leave ministry for marriage have taken off their shoes. They have walked off the job. Hopefully there will be other priests to take up the work and to care for the people who were abandoned.

Charismata are gifts freely given from God. The charism of celibacy is given to any and all who are called to the priesthood in the Roman rite. Those who would deny this would be at odds with Catholic ecclesiology. God works in tandem with the Church he established. The Holy Spirit gives efficacy to the sacraments. Jesus extends his ministry through the shepherds he has appointed. God gives his servants what they need. This interaction is guaranteed by the keys given to St. Peter. Celibacy may be a greater sacrifice for some men than for others; however, God would not give a man such a vocation without also filling his heart and mind with the graces to fulfill it. God is not oblivious to the demand for compulsory celibacy in the West. Indeed, such long-standing traditions are regarded as guided by divine providence. While the requirement for celibacy is technically a discipline of the Church; it has accrued significant doctrinal elements over time— particularly in terms of the identification with Christ and the bridal analogy of the priest at the “marriage” banquet we call the Mass.

If it seems that not all priests are equipped with the charism of celibacy my response would be two-fold. First, while I once thought that a man could be confident in his vocation when he heard the bishop call his name, I am no longer so presumptuous. There was a story from a few years ago about a priest laicized by Rome because he was designated by the Mafia to become a priest so that he could better smuggle drugs in and out of the country. There is a similar dilemma with the priests who are pedophiles and pederasts. They should never have been ordained. Formation and psychological investigations should weed such men out. Child molesters, homosexuals and men lusting uncontrollably for women should not be ordained. Second, God gives his gift of celibacy, but the man must be properly disposed. That means that he is open to the charism, is in a state of grace and he values celibacy. What God gives the man; he must in turn, give back to God as a gift. Celibacy is a real sacrifice that honors God and benefits his people. It is an eschatological sign of the kingdom.

If priests fail in their single-hearted love, the fault is theirs— not God’s and not the Church’s demand for celibacy.

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ANTI-CATHOLIC ASSERTION

The Catholic Church wrongly teaches that we can be saved by works and sacraments. Penance and rosaries are of no avail. We can gain no merits by crying to heaven, lengthy prayers, periods of fasting, required church attendance, pilgrimages, the monastic life, or the sacraments. Works are only the fruit of faith. The believer does not work for salvation; it is precisely because he is already saved that he does good works. If he remains in his sins, then there has been no change, and his faith is a pretense.

SCRIPTURE MISAPPROPRIATION

Romans 3:28: For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.

Galatians 2:16: . . . yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by the works of the law shall no one be justified.

CATHOLIC TRUTH

Anti-Catholics often purposely quote verses while leaving out adjacent words which might nuance matters more in the favor of Catholicism. Take for example the citation from Romans, we read in Romans 3:31: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” It would seem that Hebrew customs and traditions (including the works of the law and the commandments) could very well be a element in their newfound faith in Jesus. The dichotomy is between those who place works over faith, as if the latter is inconsequential. Faith and works are as two sides of a single coin. However, it should be mentioned that the law mentioned here is particularly the Jewish Law; an exact parallel cannot be drawn by works as they emerge under the New Covenant of Christ. Catholics understand works as a participation in Christ’s meritorious or saving activity. Christ lives in the believer through grace and anything the Lord does in us belongs essentially to him. All saving merit belongs to Christ, yes; but greater is he who lives in me than he who lives in the world. Our faith in Christ is necessarily realized and actualized, not only manifested, in the life of charity and obedience. It is not simply a stagnant profession of faith in response to the Word.

The core of his contention is that works possess no saving merit. The Catholic would agree, if such works were separated from our faith in Christ. The Scriptures render a view quite different from what the critic of Catholicism contends:

Matthew 6:4: [Giving alms] “. . . so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6: [Prayer] “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:18: [Fasting] “. . . that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 16:27: [Deeds] “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.”

Romans 2:6-10: [Works done] “For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”

1 Peter 1:17: [Works done] “And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”

2 Timothy 4:8: [Righteous life] “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

While Catholics follow a contextual approach, we can still quote verses back to those who use Scripture proof texts in a fundamentalist manner. Here are two of my favorites:

“All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:12-13).

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).

This second citation so troubled Martin Luther that he extracted the entire book of James from his bible! Later Protestants restored it while ignoring its content.

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The misuse of the Scriptures, twisting verses into contrived apologetical schemes for purposes of refutation or to shore up dubious opinions is increasingly common. Catholics are reminded to be careful in their study of the bible, acknowledging that there is an authentic interpreter (the Church) and that we have a living tradition that includes the writings and homilies of the ancient fathers and the saints. Catholics tend to interpret passages in a contextual manner that does no injustice to the Word of God. Certain fundamentalists will pick-and-choose verses with little consideration about what they are actually addressing or the inherent language and cultural peculiarities attached to them. The Internet itself is full of sites where individuals parrot the anti-Catholic arguments of those in the last century who saw the immigrants from Catholic lands to be the sub-human mongrels castoff by a Europe that was glad to be rid of them. It is ironic that the new “know-nothings” sometimes include the descendants of these poor Catholic refugees, adopting the prejudiced arguments used against their forebears. The fallen-away Catholic betrays all for which they sacrificed and forfeits the fullness of truth as proclaimed by the true Church of Christ. It is unfortunate, but true, that the bible can be erroneously used to prove all sorts of nonsense. Opponents of Catholicism reject the Pope and yet in the same breath give themselves his authority and infallibility over religious truth. More so than the Pope would ever claim, they make themselves the absolute masters of religious truth, contradicting themselves and the past. By contrast, the Pope is the servant of the Word, not its master. Their conceit drives them into the role of the only tolerated interpreter of the Scriptures. Such a position is flawed because it is a lie. Depending upon their agenda, the meanings of verses might even vacillate.

Bible study, particularly if it is badly organized, can become a similar sharing in ignorance. If the leader of the group is strong and the other members consist of largely dependent personalities, he will have no trouble dictating to them what passages mean. “I think this passage means this, thus it only means this.” If they are somewhat stronger of character, then there is a tendency to make bible interpretation rather relativistic. “I think that passage means this, you think it admits that, and someone else the other thing.” Of course, if the traditional Catholic interpretation is given then that must be wrong, after all, they will say, Catholics are always wrong and are not true Christians. The anti-Catholic fundamentalist has ruptured himself from the Church and from her living witness during the centuries. Old heresies and false paths are blindly taken again. All our ancestors in faith are reduced to fools who have nothing to contribute to the searcher of truth today. What a terribly impoverished view of faith and of the Scriptures!

Many of the modern Christian denominations and cults claim the bible as their own and yet disagree about what it teaches. One television evangelist claims every Christmas that Jesus was not God. He does so while quoting verse after verse from the bible and swinging the book around like a sword. Others stress the divinity of Christ to the point of negating his humanity. Unitarians would fall into this category and indeed, they reject the whole concept of a Trinity. Mormons prize the bible along with purely human works, and yet they reject strict monotheism and argue for the pre-existence of souls. Some claim priests while others insist that no one participates in the priesthood of Christ. Certain sects will deny the need for baptism entirely while others will argue from Scripture for an improper form. Others will say that it is required, but only for adults. They might even reduce baptism to a hollow rite of initiation with no mention of its orthodox elements: the infusion of sanctifying grace; rebirth as a new creation in the image and likeness of Christ; and becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit, a member of the family of God and the Mystical Body of Christ. Some only accept baptism that is done by full immersion. Some sprinkle with little regard as to whether water touched each candidate. One minister was in the news recently for only putting his wet thumb upon the foreheads of his people and calling it baptism. Some believe in a literal rapture (although such a Protestant teaching was unheard of until recent times). Some believe that there will be a thousand-year reign and a second trial for all. Certain Calvinists use their bibles to prove that most people are predestined for hell, no matter what they do. Others use the bible to show that there is no hell and that everyone will be saved. This final view is even making headway into the camp of poorly catechized Catholics. Is Jesus really going to invite into his kingdom all the unrepentant murderers and abortionists, adulterers and fornicators, thieves and oppressors of the poor? I would not bank on it. Nevertheless, all these views and practices emerge from churches that claim the bible as their own.

The Gospel of Matthew, according to Irenaeus, was written while Peter and Paul preached in Rome (61 to 67 AD). Other authorities place it after the Gospel of Mark, around 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed. The other gospels, Acts, Revelation, and the assorted letters were complete by 100 AD. Many other books were considered by some to be inspired. Persecution and distance kept the Church from effectively gathering the books and judging their canonical status. The peace of Constantine (313 AD) gave the Church the opportunity to begin doing this. Scrupulous study, prayer, and dialogue (all guided by the Holy Spirit) led the bishops to affirm a canon of approved biblical books by 397 AD. The New Testament, as we know it, had come into existence. Christ gave something of his authority to the Catholic Church so that people might truly understand the Word of God and not succumb to the empty prattle of men. The living tradition of the Church with all its past testimony of the fathers and the saints, its early art and catacomb inscriptions, its various regulations, etc. would create an umbrella of understanding around the Scriptures. Forsaking the Church, Protestant reformers and their churches would cast aside centuries of authentic Christian life and teaching to find their own way. What they forgot was that Jesus was the Way and the Truth and the Life. Jesus was still very much with his Catholic Church. Some have lost their way entirely and can no longer be called Christian. Others still look to Jesus with love but only possess partial truth and much that is erroneous. Some of these find their way back home, as with notable converts to Catholicism in recent years.

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1. Those things taught directly by the bible, either explicitly or implicitly.

2. Those things transmitted through sacred traditions that develop and complement reveal truths while not contradicting the biblical testimony.

3. The guiding presence of the Holy Spirit promised by Christ to safeguard his Church (John 14:16,26).

4. The abiding presence of Christ in the Church as he had promised (Matthew 28:20).

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angelssaintsEphesians 2:19: So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, . . . .

Acts 12:7: . . . and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands.

Hebrews 1:14: Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?

Luke 15:10: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Those of our family of faith in heaven are actively concern about our well being. Insofar as God allows, they intercede on our behalf. We honor the saints as our friends and even name the angels among our heavenly protectors.

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mary3110Luke 1:26-35: In the sixth month the angels Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband? And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Luke 1:48: “. . . for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, . . . .”

Mary is the mother of Jesus. This truth is attested by the Scriptures and universally held. However, a few verses later in Luke it is written that all generations will honor her. The Catholic Church still venerates her as the blessed Virgin, the Mother of the Redeemer who is now the Mother of the Redeemed. Fundamentalist churches tend to respond to Mary with silence or with a quick rebuke that she was “only” the mother of Christ. Ours is the Church where the prophecy is fulfilled! Yes, she is a creature like us, although “full of grace” and preserved from sin, but she is the Mother of the whole identity of her Son. Her Son is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. As with all mothers, her maternal role never ceases. Truly, she is “blessed among women”! Our honor of Mary imitates that of heaven. As for her assumption, there is precedent in the Old Testament. Unlike Jesus, she is not taken up by her own power but by that of her Son.

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motherteresaJames 2:22-26:You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Matthew 7:21: “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven.”

Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Both faith and good works are necessary for salvation. This is the witness of Scripture. Martin Luther was so possessed by his “faith alone” theory that he even translated the word “alone” into his version of the bible. When told about his error, he responded that he would not remove it even if an angel from heaven were to tell him to do so. Catholics rightly contend that faith must be actualized with charity. We profess and make real our faith, not only with an assent of the mind and our words, but with our heart and our actions. Christ is only “our personal Lord and Savior” if we exercise necessary faith and good works. The incarnation of Christ, first into human flesh and now into our souls by grace, allows him to perpetuate his ministry through our lives. Good works have merit precisely because the Lord living in us ultimately performs them. Since faith and good works are required, it becomes an imperative that we reject the view of Luther. It does make a difference what we believe. The consensus on this issue from modern day Lutherans and Catholics is evidence of a positive development in mainline Protestantism upon this issue as well as a reconciliatory stance from Catholicism.

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popeincense2Rev. 8:3: And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.

Psalm 141:2: Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!

Incense is only one of the ceremonials in Catholic ritual and worship that is validated by the bible. The fragrant smoke proved quite practical in outside processions against the pungent smells of the city streets. Sanitation not being what it is today, incense proved quite helpful on this account in old Rome. While there are references to the use of incense in the bible, some of the early Christians avoided it because of cost and because it was also used by the pagans. After paganism was extinguished, this was no longer a concern. The smoke of the incense is a symbol of our prayers and our offering. It rises into the air just as we hope that our prayers will be taken up to the throne of God for a hearing.

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