The Year of Two Living Popes and One Unchanging Faith

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Popes Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and Francis

Does anybody remember that this is the Year of Faith?

It’s certainly been a historic year so far.

Our beloved Benedict, Pope Emeritus, handed the Church forward to his successor, Pope Francis. The Year of Faith has become the Year of Two Living Popes. 

It is one faith; one holy and apostolic Catholic faith. For those who will stop to think about it, that is a miracle in itself. Benjamin Disraeli, when asked what proof he could offer of God’s existence, replied, “The Jew, sir, the Jew.”  To that I would add that if anyone doubts the divinity of Jesus Christ, I would offer them the Catholic Church and its 2,000 year history of faithful teaching.

The Catholic Church has persisted through the fall and rise of more than one empire. It has survived the venality of some of its own popes. It has come through plagues, famines and times of great wealth. And it has, through all of it, kept the teachings of the Gospels intact and unblemished.

I don’t think there has been an day or an hour in all this great swath of history that the Church has not been under concerted and powerful pressure to re-write the Gospels to suit the passing moral fashions of the time. I think the reason for this is simple: The devil is real. There is a malicious personality out there who wants to destroy us through our own predilections to immorality.

We are not so much engaged in a war as we are the objects of a war. This malicious personality wars against us by aligning itself with our own fallen natures. It attempts to subvert us in our path to our ultimate calling as sons and daughters of the living God. We are the object of war making based in a hatred that is outside time.

But this evil, which seems so powerful and omnipresent to us who are in the soup of this life, is almost nothing in the halls of eternity. It is a vanquished foe whose only hold on us was broken at the cross. All we have to do is turn our faces away from the darkness and walk into the light.

The Catholic Church is the light, shining in the darkness of this world. Despite the undeniable fallenness of the people who govern it, the Church itself does not falter when it comes to providing the sacraments and teaching the teachings that show us the way to heaven.

This Year of Faith and two living popes — one reigning and one emeritus — is historic. But it is also part of the flow of the Church through history. Pope Benedict handed the Church forward and the Cardinals chose Pope Francis to take it up.

People who unwittingly are the mouthpieces for the devil yammer about how the Church must “change” its core teachings about life, love, sexuality and the common good or be found guilty of being “out of step with the world.”

Out of step with the world haters

Let’s think for a moment what they are demanding. What does it mean to be “in step” with the world?

“In step” with the world, as they define it, means that people are only human when those who have the power to do so define them to be human. It means that vast numbers of people may be killed at any time, for no reason at all.

Being “in step” with the world means that women and children are commodities to be bought and sold, raped and worked. It means that reducing women and children to objects and then using their rape, torture and murder as entertainment is a “right” that transcends any claims to their human dignity. Being “in step” with the world means that women’s bodies can be harvested for their eggs that are then sold online. It means that women’s wombs can be rented as surrogates.

Being “in step” with the world means “designing” babies that we will find good enough for our celestial selves to raise. It means discarding tens of other babies in this process to get the one perfect one we want.

Being “in step” with the world means destroying marriage, doing away with family as a unit that creates, nurtures and supports young human beings. It means that multinational corporations can pillage and destroy without restraint.

I could go on, but the point is that being “in step” with the world is being “in step” with decay, death and destruction. Being “in step” with the world is the exact opposite of what the Church is called to do.

The Catholic Church is not called to make the world comfortable in its sins. it is called to lead the world to redemption from its sins. 

The world may and does excoriate the Church for “being out of step” with its many killing machines. It may and does excoriate Catholics for following their Church. It may and does try to force us out of public life and silence our witness.

But the world will not prevail.

White crucifixion

Jesus said, “On this rock, I will build my Church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

This is the Year of Faith. It is also the year of two living popes.

But this year is, as all years are, the year of the One and only Jesus, Who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

What if Jesus had said yes to Satan?

 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

What would the world look like today if Jesus had said yes to Satan?

What if, when Satan offered Our Lord all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus had said yes?

What if, like the Saturday Night Live skit, dJesus, Our Savior had used his powers to force people to bend their knee to Him?

These questions strike to the heart of other questions. Why does God allow people to rape, torture and murder innocent children? Why would He allow cancer? Why doesn’t He stop us from harming one another so viciously?

Why, in short, does He tolerate a creation that rejects Him and what He has taught us to do and so often goes in the opposite and entirely cruel and destructive direction?

If He is God, why does He allow so much suffering?

I have heard people say things like this when they were in the extremities of pain and loss. Their question was not so much an accusation as it was a kind of prayer, a cry from the depths.

On the other hand, it has become fashionable in certain circles for privileged people to ask questions like these as a method of self-justification or simply as a way to attack faith. This  nonsense of blaming God for our sins is becoming an increasingly accepted way to brush aside personal responsibility for our actions. Instead of acknowledging what we have done wrong, we point out that someone else is doing just as bad or worse.

Who better to blame for all the sins of humanity than a God who has the power to stop us from harming one another and will not do it? So, the fashion of the day is misplaced blame. We hold God accountable for human depravity.

But what would happen if God stopped us from sinning? What would have happened if Jesus had been the kind of conquering messiah the Jewish people wanted? What, in short, would happen if God was more like us?

I am the first to admit that if I was God every rapist and child batterer on this planet would be a pile of ash. Poof! And they would be on their slimy way to hell.

But God doesn’t operate that way, even when we wish He would.

He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. 

Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus said “No” to Satan’s offer of worldly power. He turned His back on the temptation to use His power for Himself, even for something as simple as turning stone to bread to eat when He was hungry. He said no to all of it, and by doing that took the first steps to the cross.

Our eternal salvation began with that series of “nos” to the prince of darkness and his tempting offers to make right with might.

The truth is that even when God directs us, he always leaves us the choice of saying no to Him. He sets before us life and death, and then He lets us chose. He gives us a radical type of freedom that allows us to literally do our worst, including mocking, criticizing and attacking Him.

When Jesus said no to the control of earthly kingdoms, He was also saying no to the use of force to convert us.

God’s Kingdom is made of free people who freely chose to follow Him. The narrow way is narrow precisely because so many people would rather go the way of power and license, of selfishness and greed rather than give themselves to a Lord Who chose suffering and death over all earthly power.

Why the cross? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross; beaten, tortured, mocked, naked and humiliated? Why was this necessary to save us? Why didn’t He just reach out and save us with a magical touch?

From the beginnings of Christianity to now the cross has been a scandal. It is the subject of mockery from today’s evangelical atheists just as it was the subject of mockery by the Romans. The Romans saw the cross as ignoble. It was shameful, a disgrace, to die in such a manner; proof that the person who suffered it was from the scum classes of society and essentially worthless. The idea that Christians claimed such a victim as their god was, to them, ludicrous.

Today’s atheists are not so class conscious. They hang their critiques on a distaste for the whole affair. They sneer at the bloodshed and suffering and rebuke Christians for what they claim is a morbid worship of death.

But in truth the cross was the greatest gift of love ever given to humankind. The cross was not the only way God could have saved us. But it was the only way He could have done it and left us free.

Frank Weathers, who blogs at Why I Am Catholic, published an interesting post a few days ago. He commented on the Saturday Night Live skit, DJesus, that mocked our Lord by casting him as a violent, vengeful killer who wreaked havoc on everyone who ever crossed Him. Frank raised the question, “What would things be like if Jesus had been this vengeful god the skit portrayed?”

I think another way to ask that question is, What would things be like if Jesus had said yes to Satan in the wilderness?

The answer is probably along the lines of Jesus as He is portrayed in the SNL skit, only much worse than anything we can imagine. People of the first century were accustomed to gods who hungered for power — over each other, and over human beings. Humanity had long worshiped various deities who craved death and demanded that their followers slaughter their children, captives and other helpless ones as sacrifices to them.

How is that so different from our current culture of abortion, euthanasia and meaningless wars? St Augustine said these early gods were in fact demons. If he was right, then it appears these same demons are working through people today. They have not changed their tactics. They have only changed their names and their arguments.

God doesn’t allow suffering. He allows us our freedom and we cause the suffering. God doesn’t rape and torture. He doesn’t send drones, tell lies and ignore the elderly, sick, poor and helpless in our midst. We do that.

What God does is allow us to choose who we will serve. Jesus was born in a stable and died on a cross to open a path to salvation and eternal life for us. He suffered all this because by suffering it  He could both redeem us and leave us free to reject the redemption He offered.

God lets us chose. He sets before us life and death and then He lets us chose. That is the way things are because on that day so long ago, Jesus made His own choice. He said “no” to satan and turned His face to the path that led Him to the cross.

Remember: Thou Art Dust

And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth … 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust …

I am going to die.

You are going to die.

Public Catholic has enough regular readers that it is a statistical certainty that at least one of us, perhaps more, will die this year.

Our souls, as the Scriptures say, will be required of us.

We have unbelievers who post on this board who tell us that nothing awaits us when we close our eyes on this world, that we will simply drift into the nothingness of non-existence, go back to the dust from which we came, and cease.

Our ending, according to them, will be our end.

But this, quite simply, is not true. I doubt very much that the nonbelievers who say it actually believe it. They use it as a ruse to hide behind when dealing with the existential miseries that their bankrupt philosophy imposes on them. It is an odd and sad outlook on life that finds its comfort in a studied hope for annihilation.

The truth is, there is no death for us. We are immortal beings who will live on past our bodies. Most of us sense this in a deep and incontrovertible way that can either comfort or torment us, depending on what we do with this innate knowledge of our own natures.

God is real. I have felt and known Him. I experienced His Presence in my life as an inpouring of love that I neither expected or sought.

But — and this is something that so frightens unbelievers that they invariably become angry when you say it — the devil and his evil are also real. It is not fashionable to say that. I’ve had members of the clergy chide me and tease me for believing it. But I do not doubt the reality of a malicious personality that hates the light and craves annihilation. I have felt his presence, too.

“If you eat of the fruit, you will not die” he told the woman, and like all really effective lies, this one was partial truth. You will not die … today. That was the truth of it. Turn your back on God. Defy Him. Do your own thing. And you will not die … today.

God lies, Satan told the woman, just as he tells us today. God lies to you when He says “Thou shalt not kill, lie, steal, commit adultery or covet.” He doesn’t mean it when He says “Put no other gods before Me.”

He lies. Because he doesn’t want you to have the pretty things of this world, to be able to enjoy the sexual pleasures He created for you, to live as you choose with your own free and preeminent will. He lies, and you are a fool for listening to Him.

Because you are not dust. You are the Lord of creation, the master of your fate, the god of your own life. There is nothing to fear because there is nothing that matters. At the end of our days, there is nothing but nothing. We stop. And we rot. We are carrion meat that walks for a time. So we should, again as the Scriptures say, eat, drink and be merry.

Like all effective lies, this one contains a bit of truth mixed in with the untruth. “Eat and you will not die … today.”

“Ignore God now and there will be no reckoning … today.”

Because you are dust, and you will die, regardless of how you live. You can run ten miles a day and your heart will still stop at some unknown time in your future. You can eat spinach and beans and forego fast food and steak, but your arteries will still cease to pump blood on some day you don’t know yet.

You can break every moral precept in the Scriptures, and you will not die … today. You will live for a time and you may even appear to triumph over those who do not indulge their darker natures as you do. There will be no reckoning … today.

But God is real. He gives us every opportunity to turn to Him and live life His way. He lets us choose. He sets before us every day life and death, and He lets us freely choose which of these we want.

That is what Lent is about. It isn’t a matter of giving up candy or foregoing wine for forty days. It is not about wearing ashes on our foreheads like religious jewelry or meatless Fridays.

Lent is about conversion. It is about renewal by means of awareness that we need to be renewed. The penances of Lent are signposts to guide us to a knowledge that we are but dust and we have sinned, but that we are also immortal beings who will one day stand before the God Who made us.

Lent is a time of turning again to the roots of our being. It is going back to the garden and acknowledging that we too “are naked and ashamed” before God. We, too are, to paraphrase St Peter, “sinful men and women.” But instead of crying out as Peter did, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We can say, “come close to me Lord, for I am your broken child.”

The difference is the cross. The difference between despair and trust is the certain knowledge that we are bought at a terrible price and we do not have to be masters of our own fate. We do not have to feel our way blindly through life with no idea of what is right and wrong. We do not have to die an eternal death. We can have life, and have it abundantly. Because of the cross.

Lent is a time of penance and reflection in which we take an honest look at ourselves and our tawdry righteousness. Lent is for turning back to the One who can save us from ourselves. We are preparing to go to the cross where we will stand in solidarity with the rest of humanity, united in our sinfulness and our great need of Him and His redemption.

Lent is not about giving up candy and meatless Fridays. It is rather our gentle foretaste of Gethsemane.

Pray the Seven Sorrows of Mary for America

Our Lady appeared in  Rwanda before the 1994 Genocide. 

The apparitions began in 1981 in a village named Kibeho and continued through 1989. Our Mother warned the people of Rwanda of the coming genocide and urged them to turn away from evil with repentance, prayer and fasting. She specifically urged them pray the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

This is a special prayer formulated around the seven major sorrows of Our Lady’s life. Our salvation is based at least in part in her willingness to suffer alongside her son. She gave Him to us in a very real way at the Wedding of Cana where she asked Him perform His first miracle. This action set Him on His ministry and the path that both He and His mother knew would lead to the cross.

“My hour is not yet come.” Jesus told her when she asked Him to help with the wine. “My hour” meaning the road to the cross. It was a wedding. He was probably happy. Having a great time. And His mother was asking him to leave all the joys of normal life and begin the long painful ministry that would lead to His torture and death. Then, as at Gethsemane, He did the human thing. He tried to postpone. “My hour has not yet come.”

But His mother ignored Him. “Do as He tells you.” she told the wine stewards. And Our Lord obeyed her. He did what His mother asked.

Think, for a moment, what courage it took for this mother to give her son to the ages. Think of the young Mary, taking her baby to the Temple for the first time. Her tiny baby boy. Imagine how proud and thrilled she must have been. Then Simeon tells her that “this child” will be the cause of much wrath and that He will be pierced by a sword that will pierce her soul, as well.

How hard that must have been, to have her joy dashed with this prophecy. But she needed to know. God answered Simeon’s prayer by allowing Him to see the Messiah before he died, and at the same time, used him to prophesy this terrible future to Mary.

She knew what she was doing when she asked Jesus to perform that first miracle at Canna. She also knew exactly what He meant when He said, “What does this have to do with us? My hour has not come.” She was woman, all women, the new Eve, undoing the harm of the old Eve by not failing this terrible test. “Do as He tells you,” was a prophetic instruction to the stewards and an instruction to us as well as them. “Do as He tells you,” she told the stewards, and her words echo down the centuries to us today. “Do as He tells you,” she says to us.

It was also a commissioning. She didn’t argue with Jesus. She just turned to the stewards and told them to do as Jesus told them. Our Lord responded by doing what His mother wanted. He began his ministry at that moment. She gave Him to us by this act, set Him on the path of ministry that led to our salvation.

This is the how the Seven Sorrows of Mary are the story of our salvation, bought with blood, suffering and sacrifice. Jesus turned His back on the human temptations to use His power for worldly glories during his forty days in the desert. His mother sent Him forward into His ministry at the Wedding at Cana. And He, by His actions there, sanctified marriage and made it a sacrament of love.

These Seven Sorrows are what Our Lady instructed the people of Rwanda to pray when she appeared to them at Kibeho from 1981 to 1989. She warned them, specifically, of the carnage and bloodshed to come if they didn’t pray, fast and repent.

God was there, even in this harbinger of hell that was the Rwandan genocide. He sent His mother to warn the people of Rwanda and to give them a way out.

I believe the message of Our Lady of Kibeho is a good one for Americans today. We stand in the shadow of six months of senseless slaughter by sad individuals acting in service to the devil. We will talk later about mental health services and legal reforms. But anyone who thinks the devil hasn’t had his hand in this is simply not seeing the obvious.

I am going to pray the Seven Sorrows of Mary for the families who’ve lost children to these murders this past six months, beginning with the parents and families in Connecticut. I am also going to pray for America. 

We all need to repent our support of violence, whether it’s in video games, movies or music. We need to repent our hate-filled invective against other people who simply disagree with us. We need to repent the violence and the murder in our hearts when we allow the culture wars to push us to hate. We need to repent the broken marriages and shattered families, the tantrums and curses and cruelties we commit and tolerate.

Without conversion, America will commit suicide. It is in the process of doing that now. We are Christians. We have the only solution, the only salvation there is. We need to live it daily and hourly. Only after we cleanse ourselves can we hope to share this great Hope with others.

You can find directions for praying the Seven Sorrows of Mary here, if you would like to join me.

 

Christian Persecution: It is Time for Christians to Stand Together

Do you read the stories?

Christians burnt alive, beheaded, stabbed, crucified, shot, gunned down. Christians tortured, imprisoned, raped, sold into slavery. Christians unable to work, forbidden to worship, forbidden to train new priests. Bibles, crucifixes, religious medals banned.

Have you lived the discrimination?

Christians mocked, ridiculed, belittled, slandered. Christians constantly forced to defend their faith in the face of aggressive jerks who feel an entitlement to force their way into private conversations, push themselves onto web sites and chat rooms to denounce the faith and belittle anyone who has the temerity to refer to Christ in public.

Have you seen the bigotry?

Christianity and Christ Himself, belittled, slandered, mocked, reviled and constantly lied about in a repetitive way by people who evidently feel an entitlement to leapfrog into any discussion or situation and unburden themselves of their verbal offal.

Have you seen this? Are you aware of it? Do you understand what it means?

We are at a fulcrum. If we do not stand for Christ now, here, in America, there is a tsunami of persecution out there under the water, waiting for all Christians, everywhere, including here.

It is time, it is past time, for us to stop sniping at one another over our narcissistic God ownership issues.

I am a Public Catholic. People who hate Jesus, or people who hate the Catholic Church, often seem to view me as the receptacle for their hatred and spleen. I think I may have heard every repetitive, factually inaccurate bit of pamphleteering claptrap anybody ever used to attack Christianity, Jesus, or the Catholic Church. I’ve heard it all. Several times a week. For years.

I do not reply in kind. I try to answer what are unreasonable attacks with reason. I use facts against lies. I do my best to answer gently and to keep on answering, even if it means I have to say the same things over and over again.

I never, ever, ever try to poke holes in other Christian’s beliefs. I do not feel called to deliver long-winded analyses as to why their particular denomination is wrong. I don’t do it because I think this kind of behavior is both nonsensical and destructive.

I am going to say this as clearly as I can:

There is only one Jesus.

We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’ve said before on this blog that I think that if we had the power to judge, no one would ever go to heaven. We’d all condemn one another to hell. I believe that’s the truth of it.

We are fallen people, living in a fallen world. These attacks on one another at a time when we need to unite and stand together are a symptom of the burden of original sin that we all carry. They are, to be blunt, the devil’s work, his weapon against us that we use on one another. If we are arguing over these silly things with one another, we are also wasting time, energy and intellect that we could be using to speak for Christ.

Almost all the attacks on the Catholic Church which I have to deal with are based on claims that are factually untrue. The same goes for the many attacks that I hear against Christianity as a whole and Jesus in particular.

I believe that in both instances — the attacks on the Church, and the attacks on Christianity — the people who do it are really acting out their own narcissism. If they were even slightly interested in the truth they would have checked these things out themselves.

Christianity is aggressively attacked all over the world, including here in America. It is ignoble that we are arguing over whose church is the best while Christians are dying for Jesus in Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, and parts of Asia.

Millions of Christians will go to sleep tonight under the blood moon of Persecution. Christians in America allow Jesus to be mocked reviled and slandered and duck their heads in shameful silence. The courts push every mention of Christianity to the corners of life. The HHS Mandate puts the government itself in the business of forcing the church to abandon its teachings or face crippling government fines.

What does it take to get our attention?

If we don’t stop bickering among ourselves and stand for Christ as one redeemed Christian people, we may well be the generation that lets freedom of religion pass from the face of the earth.

It is time, it is past time, for us to grow beyond our narcissistic claims of God ownership on behalf of our various denominations. It is time for Christians to stand together.

Slander Is Murder With Words

Slander is murder with words. It can lead to social death for its victims.

It’s also a mortal sin.

You can go to hell for it.

Do you understand what I’m saying? I’m talking hell. Eternity in torment. Unending separation from light, love, hope and mercy.

If what I’m saying is true, and 2,000 years of Christian teaching says that it is, then there are a lot of people who are placing their own immortal souls in danger for the bitter pleasure of destroying other people with words.

I’m not talking about venting to your best friend or your spouse over your dreadnought of a boss. I’m also not talking about idle gossip. What I mean here is the deliberate, malicious verbal destruction of another person for gain, pleasure, entertainment or self-righteous self-satisfaction. I mean slander.

We, as a society, have become so inured to slander that we actually indulge in self-righteous anger at those who won’t join us in our verbal slasher parties. I’ve had long, circular debates with people who email me all day demanding that I call the president a communist or the anti-Christ. I’ve been challenged because I refer to those who think abortion should be legal as “pro choice” unless I am given evidence that they are, in fact, pro-abortion. I’ve lost count of the times someone or other has jumped on me because I refuse to say more than I know about another person’s beliefs or motives.

I could go on and on with this, but the specifics of my experiences don’t matter. I just use them to illustrate the obsessively aggressive nature of  the slander-with-us-or-else crowd.

When did being pro-life devolve down to the level of calling other people ugly names? When did it stop being about the sanctity of human life and become about us vs them? When?

When did opposing or supporting a political figure because of his or her policies cease to be how we engage in public debate? When did calling public figures names become more important than discussing the issues?

When did lies — and these things are lies — become so easy for us?

I’m not talking to the atheist/secularist crowd. I’m talking to Christians; to the people who sing Holy, Holy on Sundays and claim they serve a Risen Lord.

We do not have the privilege of indulging our fallen natures in public discourse. The dark satisfaction we get from slandering another person to the point that it becomes a form of social murder is straight from the pit. It does not make us righteous before God and it certainly does not bring the Light to the darkness of our world.

Do not allow yourself to become so angered by the vast injustices of our world that you fight those injustices in ways and with tactics that align you with the darkness. Do not fight satan with satan’s weapons.