Pope Francis and the Problem of the Eldest Son

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Last week as I watched Pope Francis address Congress and our nation a thought dawned on me. Since Pope Francis’ election I have watched as certain groups within the Church and outside of the Church get themselves tied up in knots because of what he says and how he says it. These people are varied in their reasons for displeasure with our Holy Father, and some love a Pontiff who does not exist and who is a product of their own imagination. The latter are those in the mainstream media who love that he blesses and kisses babies and the disabled, but ignore his strong pronouncements on the Church’s moral teaching on abortion and “gay marriage”. There is another group entrenched in the heresy of Americanism that lashes out for what the Pope says about capitalism, without really understanding what the Pope means. Specifically, that a capitalism that uses people as a means to an end is evil; not necessarily capitalism that is rightly ordered. And finally, we have a group within the Church that greatly endangers itself by its irrationality, fall into calumny, and hardening hearts. It is this last group that I want to address in this post.

It is true that at times Pope Francis is not clear in his comments and at times it can be hard to understand precisely what he means. There have been moments early on in his Pontificate when he made comments about those serving in the pro-life movement that hurt many people. I understand. And the manipulation of his words by people inside and outside of the Church has made our mission more difficult at times. The “who am I to judge?” quote, which is taken entirely out of context by so many, has been thrown in most of our faces when it comes to moral issues in the West. I get it, but I want to consider something in light of the Pope’s recent visit to the U.S.

Pope Francis does not need to really worry about those of us who grasp and try to live the Church’s moral teaching. We are sharing that truth in our families, communities, and in social media. By the light of faith and the gift of human reason, we are able to understand why the Church teaches as she does on issues that are counter-cultural. We understand why life is sacred and that every human life is endowed with dignity given by God from conception to natural death. In other words, we are not lost. We have the light of Christ leading us. Pope Francis knows that you and I will go to Scripture, the Catechism, and Church documents in order to understand and defend her truths.

Now, most of our culture is being led astray by Lucifer. They have believed his lies and now live in ignorance and with dying or dead souls. This is even more tragic when baptized Catholics persist in these lies, especially in a public manner. Pope Francis addressed some of these people in Congress and our nation throughout his various speeches. When someone has hardened their heart or grace has left them, as is the case with mortal sin (yes, that’s how serious it is), it is difficult to reach those people. In fact, stating moral law to those people who are either deceived or willfully dissenting can accomplish very little. Why?

The reason is that what these people need is grace. If their soul is dead, then they need grace to enter their lives again. If they have never experienced grace, then they need the supernatural gifts of faith and grace. This first begins in a movement from God, but then the person has to be willing to accept this gift. God does not force us to love or follow Him. He preserves our free will completely. It is true that some people return or enter the faith through learning the moral truths of the Catholic Faith. By and large, however, this is not the case. In order for conversion or reversion to occur, a person must have an encounter with the Living Christ whether it be a slower process like St. Peter or a knocked off the horse experience like St. Paul. No matter how it happens, that encounter must take place first.

With that in mind, what is Pope Francis trying to accomplish? Since he knows the orthodox are well taken care of, he is reaching out to those who have either fallen into error or who have always lived in error. It’s not that he is encouraging sin. Anyone who takes the time to follow the Holy Father’s message in its entirety knows this to be true. Rather, he is sharing the power of Christ with the world. When people see Francis’ life, they wonder where it comes from and that answer is Jesus Christ. Then people can begin to look for Jesus. In coming to know and love Jesus and through Baptism grace pours into the soul and makes it easier to come to the fullness of truth, including the moral law. In fact, it is impossible to come to the Church without faith and grace. What occurs in the supernatural life is not up to us. We are mere messengers. A fact that many seem to forget. Conversion takes time. Real conversion comes with falls along the way and many trips to the Confessional.

It is important for those of us who know the truth to avoid falling into bitterness as the eldest son did in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In fact, let’s take a quick look at that beautiful Parable:

Then he said, “A man had two sons and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

It is the last part of the this Parable that is most instructive for this particular discussion. The father says to the son: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” This is really at the heart of Pope Francis’ Papacy. He knows that we are well taken care of. The last few popes have fought the Culture of Death. Whether it agrees or not, much of our culture is aware of what the Catholic Church teaches on these issues. If we solely focus on the “culture war” we run the risk of disengaging our audience because we resort to screeching at high volume to get our point across. Instead, we need to show people to Christ, so that they can come to the truth found in the moral teaching of the Church. We can’t put the cart before the horse. A person who has been steeped in relativism is not going to understand the Church’s teachings without the light of faith and grace.

Pope Francis is not an anti-pope or threatening the Church. He is welcoming the Prodigal. He is showing people to Christ, so that the Church makes sense. We forget that we have grace and faith while the majority of people in our culture do not. The Church is foreign and they look at us with blindness. They can’t see until they see Christ. It is not that Francis is leaving us behind or leaving the faith behind. He is being a Shepherd. He is welcoming the lost into the fold, and telling the Mystical Body to rejoice when people return or join us. Just because Francis doesn’t constantly mention our favorite pet issue, does not mean he is wrong. He is leading in a way we may not fully understand, but we can trust that he is doing his best to reach out to the world and bring people to Christ. That is his job on top of leading the Church. So, let us rejoice that wounded, suffering, and lost people are looking for Christ. Let’s go to the celebration instead of sulking or living in bitterness. Praise be to God for reaching the lost. God bless.

Catholic Exchange: The Maternal Love of Our Lady and the Church

The Church celebrates two Marian feast days in August: Assumption and The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is an inextricable link between the Church and Our Heavenly Mother, Mary. In fact, much of what has been said about the Church can also be applied to Our Lady. One of the closest connections between Our Lady and the Church is in the sanctifying maternity of both.

Mary carried Christ for the salvation of the world, just as the Church carries Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Mary has always been an example to the Church that is only superseded by Christ Himself. Lumen Gentium 53 states:

The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer. Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. She is “the mother of the members of Christ . . . having cooperated by charity that faithful might be born in the Church, who are members of that Head.” Wherefore she is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity. The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Sharing in the Priesthood of Christ

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One of the ways to grown in faith and understanding of the mysteries of Jesus Christ is to meditate on the Divine Offices that he fulfills by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. These offices are understood within the framework of the covenant God established through the People of God in the Old Testament. The offices of priest, prophet, and king were figures of Christ to come because they were forms of mediation God used through human beings in the Old Covenant. Some examples of these offices would be Melchizedek in his priestly offering of bread and wine, Isaiah as a prophet, and David as king. All of the offices reach their fulfillment and transcendence in the life of Jesus Christ in that he became the ultimate mediator while also dwelling as God with us. The theology behind these offices of Christ is complex, so I only want to focus on one major aspect of the Priesthood of Christ and our participation.

What exactly do we mean by priest in this context? In a most basic sense and one that would conform to a Levitical understanding, a priest offers sacrifice. This is clearly seen and understood by Catholics in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that is offered by the ordained priesthood with the participation of the laity. Jesus Christ himself was the ultimate sacrifice in offering up himself on the Cross for our sake. Christ’s sacrifice was two-fold. First, he paid the ultimate price for our sin through his acceptance and conquering of death by virtue of His own death. This is very important, but his deeper sacrifice was an offering of obedience to the Father’s will internally. In doing so he ushered in a new era of internal obedience to the Father that allowed the reception of the Holy Spirit among his people.

That means Christ’s ultimate sacrifice in obedience to the Father’s will is the very same sacrifice that you and I are called to by virtue of our Baptism. In our Baptism, we agree (or our parents agree) to enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we may be conformed (to be like) to the life of the Blessed Trinity. In entering into the mysteries of Christ, we agree to become living sacrifices to the Father. This is one of the ways that we baptized members of the Church participate in the common priesthood of Christ. This is not to be confused with the ordained priesthood of Christ which helps form the hierarchical, sacramental, and sacrificial structure of the Church in which the laity are members. We participate in the common priesthood because we offer sacrifices in love to others in our daily lives as Christians.

Christ’s entire life was a sacrifice to the will of the Father. You and I are called to do the same in our actions of self-emptying love that we perform daily. We are called to be a living-sacrifice within our own vocations whether it is serving our children, spouses, neighbors, or co-workers. In doing so we are sharing the common priesthood of Christ with the world. All of our actions and sacrifices point ultimately to the High Priest of Jesus Christ, not ourselves. Throughout Scripture, Christ constantly pointed to the Father and in our own lives, we must point to the Blessed Trinity as the loving God who guides us through grace and the communion of His Mystical Body.

In John 37-38 Jesus says: “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” And so it is the very same call that you and I have by virtue of our Baptism. We are not only members of Christ’s Church, we also share in his mission and priesthood. Every time we choose to sacrifice in love, we are offering as Christ has called us to do through the mysteries of his life and glorious resurrection. We offer ourselves to our glorified Lord who is High Priest of Heaven and earth.

The purpose of our lives as Christians is holiness. It is for us to become saints. When someone asks us what the meaning of life is, we can reply with: “To be a saint”. It is as simple and as difficult as that. One of the ways we grow in holiness, besides frequent reception of the Sacraments and prayer, is to offer sacrifice in our lives to God and others. Our example is the love of the Blessed Trinity. It is within the Blessed Trinity that the Father gave over His Son in love, the Son obediently accepted death, and the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Church for the sanctification of the world. All of these actions are self-emptying and in obedience to love who is God. As we go about our days, let us keep the common priesthood and our High Priest in mind that we may live our lives in self-emptying, sacrificial love to the Trinity and our neighbor.

Why Baptism during Lent?

This past Sunday’s readings were a strange connection of Baptism and the desert (for the Western Church).  We heard about the flood when God wiped out the evil of the world and saved eight righteous people.  Yes, the narrative is a pre-figurement of Baptism.  The waters of the flood cleanse the earth. We also see that the penalty for sin is death.  After hearing about Noah, we then hear that Christ was driven by the Spirit out into the desert for 40 days (notice 40 in both Scripture passages) to be tempted.  The reading did not include the fact that this occurred after Jesus’ own baptism.  So the question is, why is the Church talking about Baptism alongside Jesus’ temptation in the desert?  After all, isn’t Lent about being in the desert?  To answer these questions we need to take a look at what Baptism does to the believer.

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Baptism is a renunciation of sin that is caused by God. God infuses us with the supernatural virtue of faith so that we may desire to abandon sin and follow him.  He moves us to change and we choose that change.  We must choose to conform our lives to Christ and be so united in the mysteries of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  God gives us the grace to do so.  We cannot act until he acts. What is Christ doing in the desert?  He is showing us how to turn away from sin so that we may follow him.  The three sins Christ is tempted by are related to his three divine offices of priest, prophet, and king.  These are the very same offices that we share in when we become members of the Mystical Body (I will write posts about this in the future). Jesus is the High Priest who offers the pure sacrifice to the Father of his body and his obedience. He is the High Prophet who comes to share and reveal the Father.  Finally, he is the King of the Universe.  He reigns over all.  By our Baptism we are called to share in these offices of Christ our king, prophet, and priest.  In order to do so, we must do battle with sin.  We must reject Satan, just as Christ has done in the desert and through the Cross. Christ does battle with Satan after the Baptism in the Jordan.  We must battle Satan in this life after our own Baptism.  So Christ is showing us how to follow Him.  The sanctifying grace of Baptism allows us to begin that journey.

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Lent is a reminder of our spiritual struggle.  In that wrestling we are reminded of our Baptismal promises and the promises given to us by Christ.  We already possess living water within us, even as we wander in the dry heat of the desert.  At Easter we will renew our baptismal promises and once again renounce Satan, just as Jesus does in the desert.  That means that our Lenten journey is inextricably linked to our Baptism.  Lent is a time for us to renew our battle stance against Satan and to enter more fully into the mysteries of Christ’s life, namely his temptation and then his eventual Paschal Mystery.  I will focus on Baptism and the Paschal Mystery during Holy Week.

What I want us to keep in mind is that Lent is not just about giving up something.  It is about going into the desert and doing battle, just as Our Lord did.  It is to constantly say “no” to Satan, just as we did (or our parents did) at our Baptism.  When we entered into the Mystical Body of Christ, we were saying “yes” to Christ.  That “yes” also includes entering into His death.  For now, we need to once again focus on our death to sin.  We have chosen life over death. This side of the veil is a desert of sorts, but Christ has torn open that veil and conquered sin and death.  We must persevere.

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Throughout this Lenten season, the Church is reminding us that Satan has been conquered.  Through our Baptism we are united to Christ.  The desert of this life is flowing in abundant springs through our Baptism.  Even though we are in the desert of this life, we always proclaim love and hope.  The battle is won.  Let us remember as we do penance, pray, give alms, and fast that this is a time of renewal.  It is a time for us to be strengthened against Satan.  Through the grace of our Baptism, we are able to reach the ultimate goal, which is Heaven.  On first glance the desert and the flood seem at odds, but in actuality they reflect the deepest reality of the Christian life.

Some recommended reading:
Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Life of Christ by Ven. Fulton Sheen