The Saints and the Cross Episode 11: St. Padre Pio

Today’s episode is on St. Padre Pio and persevering through this period of exile. He is a saint who achieved high levels of sanctity and was given great blessings and gifts from God, including the stigmata. He suffered tremendously, often at the hands of others because of these extraordinary gifts. During this time as we struggle with being exiled from the Real Presence in Holy Communion and public celebration of the Mass, he is an example to us of how to persevere and endure suffering.

Many feel abandoned by the Church, but the reality is, the hierarchy has failed the flock since the inception of the Church. The battle for the renewal of the priesthood will come and is being fought by some at present, but in this present exile, we need to focus on conversion of heart, deeper prayer, and making reparations–including for the hierarchy–so that Christ can unleash great graces into the world for the salvation of souls. Lord willing, we will come out of this period strengthened in faith, hope, and charity so that we can live the mission He has given to each one of us in order to draw all peoples into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity.

First Article at Crisis Magazine: Flight of the Lady-Bishops

**I know I haven’t been keeping up with the blog lately. I have multiple writing projects going at present, so I’ve been giving my attention to those over regular blogging. Below is the first piece I’ve published at Crisis Magazine.

***It should be noted, that while I published an article today respectfully disagreeing with my bishop, I will be making a holy hour for him before daily Mass today. I tell everyone who is frustrated with priests and bishops that the starting place for renewal is in prayer, fasting, and penance.

In mid-January, it was made public that His Excellency Bishop Barry Knestout (my local ordinary) had made arrangements with the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia to allow an invalid consecration of a female “bishop” at St. Bede’s Catholic Church in Williamsburg. The public outcry was so intense that the Episcopalians chose to move the event to a nearby Protestant church in order to avoid further division within the Catholic faithful of the diocese.

It should be noted that Bishop Knestout does have the authority under canon law to make prudential judgments concerning the use of diocesan property for ecumenical events. The issue many Catholics had with the decision did not have much to do with the bishop’s authority, but rather the possible impact on the ministerial priesthood and further erosion of the faithful’s understanding of the priesthood in an age marred by scandal and corruption.

For the last two years, the Church has been shaken by reports of clerical sex abuse, corruption, greed, and systematic cover-ups. All of these sins of the clergy have undermined the sacred office of the priesthood—especially the office of bishop. It is the bishop who is entrusted by Christ with the fullness of Holy Orders in order to teach, govern, and sanctify the people of God. Yet the faithful’s understanding of who it is that the priest represents—what his sacred role is within the Church—has been greatly damaged as a result.

These scandals are symptomatic of a much deeper problem. The Church is facing a crisis of faith, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed out in his recent letter on the scandals. This crisis is most evident in the number of Catholics who deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly 70 percent deny the Real Presence. The state of the priesthood today and the lack of belief in the Real Presence are inextricably linked since Holy Orders and the Holy Eucharist are bound together in the same reality. One would not exist without the other.

In response to the scandals and decades of poor catechesis, many Catholics have begun to take a rather distanced or indifferent approach to the priesthood. When potential solutions are proposed, many Catholics argue in favor of women’s ordination—which, as the Church has taught clearly and consistently for centuries, is ontologically impossible—or lifting the celibacy requirement on Latin Rite priests.

Read the rest over at Crisis Magazine.

Mass is Boring?!

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It is something that many Catholics hear often from others: “Mass is boring”. Their reasons for feeling this way are varied: the Homily, music, tradition, to the movements of the Mass themselves, bore them. If there is something we Catholics know how to argue about and disagree on it is the Mass. I have no desire to jump into the “Liturgy wars”. I have plenty of my own opinions that are my own and not universal and I am no fan of Marty Haugen or Dan Schutte music, but those fights accomplish little and continue to muddy the waters for those Catholics who really do not understand the Mass. In fact, I would argue that the number one problem for those Catholics who are bored at Mass is that they just don’t understand what exactly is going on during the Liturgy. In my mind, it is impossible to be bored at Mass if you truly grasp what is unfolding. So, I want to briefly explain the Mass from a theological understanding without getting too deep, so that I bore people who do not share my love of reading Church documents and the Summa.

When God created the Heaven’s and the earth, he made everything in a free act of love. This action, referred to in theological terms as exitus, is God sharing of Himself. In this sharing, God intended that His creatures would return to Him in love and worship through charity and faith. This is referred to as reditus. This essentially means that the created order is meant to return to God. Theological terms can be fun, right?! The first thing for us to keep in mind is that we were created to return to God in love and admiration. This is what we were made for. God wanted to share Himself with us and wants us to return to Him in that love. Pretty simple!

Now, how exactly does God want us to return to Him? Yes, there is a clear answer. He desires our worship through the only acceptable sacrifice, namely Christ’s Crucifixion and our obedience. On the night He was betrayed, Our Lord began a new Passover, so that His body (yes, His actual body) could be left with the Church that was to be founded by Him and led by Peter. Jesus was fulfilling His mission as High Priest in that He would become the new Paschal Lamb that had been sacrificed through the Levitical priesthood. He did this through the establishment of the Holy Eucharist and by His Paschal Mystery. He was the new sacrifice and he made a total act of obedience to the Father that we are to emulate. In fact, His sacrifice transcended the previous sacrifices of the Jews because Christ being both God and man he entered into the veil of the Holy of Holies. Meaning, he brought the sacrifice of Himself before the Father in Heaven for His people. Pretty amazing stuff! The Old Law had a prescribed liturgical form and sacrificial ritual that had been commanded by God, beginning with Abraham. Christ completed that ritual through His own Crucifixion and established the New Law, which is what most of us are familiar with in the Catholic Church.

How is this connected to the Mass? Well, the Mass as we know it today was formed over centuries of tradition. The Holy Eucharist has been celebrated from the very beginning of the Church, as is evidenced by the writings of the Early Church Fathers. The actual rites have undergone changes here and there, but the reality has been the same. The purpose of the Mass has always been the same. First, we are living what St. Thomas Aquinas called the virtue of religion. When we go to Mass we fulfill our purpose in life to give right worship to God. Remember how I explained reditus? The Mass is our return in love to the Most Holy Trinity. Second, we offer sacrifice. The Mass is often referred to as The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that is because Christ commanded that we offer sacrifice to the Father through the Holy Eucharist. Third, we are entering into communion with the actually body of Christ through our reception of the Holy Eucharist. Let’s look at each of these points individually.

First, by virtue of our Baptism and entry into the visible structure of the Church (membership in the Church) we are called to worship and glorify God. The largest action of charity we make in our lives is to attend Mass. It is there that we return to the Father in thanksgiving for all He has given us and seek reparation for our sins (we do this in the Sacrament of Penance too). This is also why the Mass is not about us. That’s right, the Mass is not about me or you. It is not a time for the choir to perform a concert, for me gain recognition for my working in the parish, or for the priest to dazzle an “audience”. The Mass is entirely about the Mystical Body gathering together to praise God, offer sacrifice, and move deeper into communion with Him. This is even more crucial in understanding when we realize who precisely is presiding over the Mass and who is present with us during the Liturgy.

Second, the Mass is the sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary. No, we do not re-crucify Christ. Rather, we offer the glorified Body of Christ present in the Heavenly sanctuary, which is made present on our altars. The priest offers the sacrifice in the two forms of bread and wine. That is because in the Old Law, sacrifice was bloodless flesh separate from the blood. In a sacrificial understanding they must be separate. This does not mean only receiving the precious Body is invalid. The flesh contains the blood and Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity in its entirety. It just must be separate during the sacrificial portion of the Mass. Now there are differing schools of thought on my next point, but I am Thomistic in my school of Theology. Thomists would say that it is Christ Himself presiding over the Mass and offering sacrifice to God. That’s right, Jesus Christ Himself offers our Mass. He offers Himself to the Father along with the Mystical Body of Christ, through the visible ordained priest. Mass isn’t so boring anymore, is it?! Not only that, by virtue of the reality of Heaven reaching our altars, the Church Triumphant, the souls and angels in Heaven are also present. There is an invisible company of witnesses present at every single Mass. It’s incredible!

Third, Christ left His body, under the guise of bread so that we may reach out and touch His body that was broken for us. We enter into an intimate union with Christ that unites us body and soul to Him every single time we receive Holy Communion. He is physically with us for the 15 minutes or so it takes for our body to digest the consecrated host. Christ loves us so much that He wants nothing more than to be united with every aspect of what makes us human. So when someone asks you if you have a personal relationship with Christ you can reply that you have the most intimate relationship with Him by virtue of the Holy Eucharist. This is one of the key issues that separates us from our Protestant brethren. Our churches house the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The King of the Universe dwells in our Tabernacles and waits for each one of us. That is how He always wanted it to be and that is why He left us His body in the Holy Eucharist.

This, in a very short blog post, is what we participate in when we go to Mass. The Mass is not where we are entertained. The Mass is where we enter into the presence of Jesus Christ. It is where we offer our love and devotion to the God who made us and died for us. It is where Christ reaches down and physically touches us in our brokenness. It is where we can unite our own sufferings to His. The Mass is quite literally the most important thing that we do in our lives. The next time you are at Mass meditate on what is actually going on. Approach the Holy Eucharist as if you were bowing down before the King of Kings, because that is precisely what you are doing. It is quite impossible to be bored at Mass when you know what is taking place.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper and Edward Sri’s A Biblical Walk Through the Mass.

Catholics Must Say “No” to Ideology

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There is a disconcerting trend that I observe daily in social media. It is that many Catholics have mistaken their ideology for authentic Catholic faith. This is most typically combined with a misunderstanding of the ordering of politics in regard to the Faith. Many place their political leanings or personal preferences before the Church. This is greatly anti-Catholic, undermines our ability to communicate effectively, and hampers our ability to evangelize the world.

What is the Church? The Church is the visible sign to the world of the reality of the Blessed Trinity. It is Christ’s body made present through the ordained priesthood and sharing of the worshipping community most realized in the Eucharistic presence. In that sign to the world the internal reality of the life-giving Holy Spirit is at work. When we publicly rebuke Satan and enter into Baptism we are not joining an institution. We are joining a communion of believers who are “one body” due to the physical breaking of Christ’s body on our altars. We agree to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s life and death as we descend into or under the waters of Baptism. We are cleansed of our sins and we put on a new man, or as St. Cyril discusses in Lecture 20 of his catechetical series, we are clothed in a new garment.

What are the implications of our Baptism? First, the Catholic understanding of the Church is greatly anti-individualistic. What many Catholics in our country fail to grasp is that rugged individualism is diametrically opposed to Catholic identity. This is one of the many reasons so many Catholics do not understand Pope Francis. They are viewing the Church with an American lens, rather than through authentic Church teaching and history. We are members of a monarchy and a communion. It isn’t just a community, it is a communion that is connected and conformed to the Blessed Trinity through the glorified, crucified, and risen Christ. That means that nothing we do is done in isolation. It means that our very lives belong to Christ first and our neighbors second. The Church is the realization of Christ’s command to love God above all else and our neighbor’s as ourselves. We literally live that commandment in the life of the Church.

The Church’s understanding of communion, does not take away the unique dignity and gifts of the individual person, however, there is a proper ordering of such gifts. Any gifts or mission that God gives each of us stems from our life within the Church and they are meant to be used to further bring the world to Christ. We are representatives of the Church and Christ’s mission to the world. We never act in isolation or separate from our identity as a Catholic. We belong to the visible structure of the Church by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. We all partake in Christ’s mission of bring the world in conformity to the Blessed Trinity.

This has far reaching implications for how we interact with the world. All that we do should point towards the eschatological end of all people, namely that we are made for Heaven. When we fall into the trap of ideology, we greatly hamper this call and misinterpret and misrepresent the Church. In fact, it can blur our thinking and proper understanding of good and evil. I saw an article this morning that was so grossly misleading about the situation with Bishop Finn that I saw nothing but ideology. Bishops make mistakes and sin. He made some really bad decisions. We must be able to reason through situations, rather than always assume they oppose our ideology. He did not resign because Pope Francis is on the hunt for “conservatives” (this is ideology in the Church, politics are not theology), rather this Bishop mishandled the sex abuse scandal in his diocese and had to resign.  This is reality. We pray for him and those who were harmed in the process. If we cannot see this situation for what it is, then we have fallen into the danger of ideology.

This is an issue throughout the Church and is not reserved to circles who put their “conservative” ideas before the faith. This has been a major issue on the more Left leaning side since they cannot abandon their desire for sexual freedom that is diametrically opposed to both revelation and tradition. People who support the grave evils of abortion, contraception, and attacks on marriage have placed their own preferences and ideology above Christ and the Church. That is why a satirical site can write an article that this ideology seeks to remove Christ from the Blessed Trinity. Satire is always close to the truth.

Heresy is a partial truth that is taken as the whole. This is the danger of ideology. When we connect ourselves to an idea and make it the yardstick for all of our beliefs we very quickly fall into heresy. The Church is the balance between competing extremes. She has always walked a tight-rope in a world that prefers extremes to truth and reality. If we want to walk this tight-rope then we must live our lives with a clear understanding of our Baptism and the communion we are members of.

First, in our lives we are being conformed to the Blessed Trinity.  That means our lives are united to the mysteries of Christ’s life and death; meaning the Cross. We are asked to sacrifice and give completely. That means abandoning ourselves to what Christ and the Church teach. It means that we are obedient even when we don’t want to be or a teaching is hard. The great internal mystery of the Cross is that Christ gave himself in total obedience to the Father. This is what we are called to. Our sacrifice is an internal act of obedience to the Holy Trinity through our external actions of charity and sacrifice.

Second, we must place the Church first. The Church is a 2000 year old body and her teachings are vast. We must, in humility, accept that we are not the Magisterium. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the very soul and life of the Church. That means it is God who is acting in her teaching. We do not know better than God. It is crucial that we abandon our ideology if it contradicts the teachings of the Church. Humility is one of the ways we are conformed to the mysteries of Christ.

Third, we must not publicly declare that our ideology is representative of the Church’s teaching. We need to be absolutely sure that we know what we are talking about when we engage in discussions about the Church. Our political leanings, no matter which party, is not fully in line with Catholic social teaching. In fact, both parties in the U.S. contradict social teaching at some level. Of course, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, marriage, etc. supersede certain teachings by virtue of their gravity. The point is that no political party in the U.S. is Catholic and we should not delude ourselves.. In fact, while the American experiment has been a great one, there are many aspects that are in opposition to the Church. I already mentioned that individualism contradicts the idea of communion.

Fourth, we have an obligation to our neighbor. This is what Pope Francis is getting at. By virtue of the communion we are members, we have an obligation to care of the poor, persecuted, and suffering. It is not something that we leave to political powers. It is up to me and you to care for the “least of these”. That means we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and figure out how we should be serving our local community and family.

Fifth, the Church’s moral teaching is clear, concise, and available for all to read. Study it and know it. If you are struggling with a certain teaching then pray about it and seek guidance from an orthodox priest. We are not above the moral law and we must learn that love means obedience, even when it is hard. Christ submitted in obedience to death on a Cross in love of the Father. Do we really think that sexuality or our individualism is greater than that sacrifice?

Sixth, the Church is large and it is much larger than our ideology. Pope Francis’ decisions are complex, as are actions in dioceses, and Magisterial offices. When a Bishop or somebody else resigns it is not always because of whatever ideology you subscribe to. Pray and trust. We must all be mindful that we are not misleading other people by our words and actions.

We are Catholics and that means we are members of something greater than politics or ideology. Politics serve their purpose, but in subordination to our theology. We must live our lives cognizant that how we represent the Church can harm others and ourselves. If we are going to publicly share our faith (we are all called to share the Good News), let’s make sure we know what we are talking about. We have the greatest gift to offer the world: The Holy Eucharist. By virtue of our Baptism, we get to touch the broken and glorified body of Christ. We get to eat his body in order that we may be spiritually in communion with him and united in a physical reality in which God uses our senses to reach us. We must engage the world through the eucharistic communion that we are united in through the Mystical Body. THAT is our center. It is love Himself who is on our altars. We have the answer to the pain of the world. We have the answer to the meaning of life. It is time for Catholics to abandon ideology and return to the mission: Bringing the world to the glory and charity of the Blessed Trinity. We must say “no” to ideology.

Veiling and the Real Presence of Christ

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I got an excellent lesson from Our Lord in humility and following His will for me this past Friday.  My husband and I attended a University of Notre Dame Chorale concert at a local parish.  It was extraordinary and my first experience of culture since I had my daughter 2.5 years ago.  It was the type of music that makes the soul soar.

As we were heading to the concert, I took out my chapel veil to place around my neck.  My husband asked me why I was going to wear it.  I said that the concert is to be held in the Sanctuary.  The Presence of Christ does not change just because it is not Mass.  Our Lord asked me to veil in His Presence and that includes concerts.  My husband understood.
We both noticed that, even though, the majority of the attendees of the concert were Catholic, the vast majority did not even genuflect towards the Tabernacle as they entered the pew.  This church, which is really a cathedral, has the Tabernacle front and center.  It is adorned with candles and angels.  You cannot miss it.  As we went to leave, the same things happened.  Everyone filed out as though they were at a Concert Hall and not in the Presence of the Holy of Holies.  My husband and I were both stunned.
I don’t know what Christ’s purpose is in asking me to veil other than for my own need of humility.  Perhaps he also wants those of us who do veil to remind others that He is Present: body, blood, soul, and divinity, in Catholic sanctuaries.  This is a sharp contrast from our Protestant brothers and sisters.  We take Jesus at his word in John 6.
My husband and I ended up attending Sunday morning Mass at this same parish, it is not our home church.  It turned out that Monsignor preached on the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  How fitting! This filled me with great joy and it was a welcome Homily considering the staggering statistics that 70-80% of Catholics do not accept the Church’s infallible dogma that Christ is fully present in the Eucharist.  We are not ingesting a wafer.  We are eating (gnawing is closer to the original text) on the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.  We are united body and soul more perfectly to Him.  What a great grace!  What strength we are given in being allowed to receive Him bodily.  We must always remember His Presence when we enter a Catholic Church.
At times it can be difficult for me to veil.  I become self-conscious, but veiling is how Christ eats away at my pride.  So if there is ever an event in a Catholic sanctuary, I will be veiled.  You can count on it!

My daughter was trying my veil on yesterday.
My daughter was trying my veil on yesterday.

The Foot of the Cross

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November is the month in the Church when we remember and pray for the dead.  The month begins with the Solemnity of All Saints to celebrate the men and women who have gone before us and who pray for us from Heaven.  Then All Souls is on the 2nd, which is dedicated to the dead and most especially those souls in Purgatory.  My parish has had a major influx of priests this year.  This summer we had a different priest each weekend because our priest was very ill.  A very good friend of mine died in July and I needed to have a Mass said for the baby we lost in February.  It happened that this past weekend is when those Masses were said.

 
In the middle of all of this, I quite unexpectedly had my first duty as a Eucharistic Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC) to the sick in the hospital.  I have had this ministry since June, but I live in an area that is only 2% Catholic so there have not been any Catholics in the hospital on my weekends.  I was surprised to be called to this ministry.  I prayed and genuinely asked The Lord if he was serious.  Me?  I am not exactly the confident type that likes to walk into complete strangers’ hospital rooms.  I am also very sensitive and struggle greatly with fears of death.  After intense prayer, I felt like He was surely calling me to minister to the sick.
 
I was a relief worker, so I have been around extreme suffering, but nothing could prepare me for what I experienced this past Saturday evening.  The first family that I saw were in good spirits.  It made it easy for me.  I was nervous and unsure of myself.  There was a woman who was ill, her husband, and their son present.  The husband needed to get on the road because he did not like to drive in the dark.  I did the short version of prayers. It went well.  The gentleman gave me a tip and that surprised me greatly.   I promptly put it in the basket at Mass on Sunday.
 
The second family I went to was completely different.  First, they were in the hospital room directly across the room my 2 year old was in in August.  They were an elderly couple.  The woman barely spoke English and suffered from dementia.  The husband was trying to explain to his wife that I was there to pray with them and give them Holy Communion.  She spoke in German.  Eventually we calmed her down and I began.  I only had one host left because there had been 3 people in the previous room and I had only brought 4.  I had to break it in half.  As I did so, a voice clear as day in my head said, “You should not be doing this, you are a woman.”  I struggle with being an EMHC because my husband and I are more traditional, but I know that I am called to this ministry.
 
I wasn’t expecting attacks from the enemy.  I should have been.  Given that I am directly confronting  suffering and bringing Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity given out for us.  It solidified my belief that I need to wear a scapular.  Our Lord is not going to question  me in a moment I am ministering to His sick.  He is not going to accuse me.  I should probably take holy water with me next time too.  To be quite honest, it took it out of me.  I was exhausted by the end.  For those who don’t believe in the Devil, you know him when you hear him, trust me.  He is usually much more subtle and operates in temptations, but occasionally, he comes out in force.
 
This couple desperately needed Holy Eucharist.  The gentleman  was 91 and struggling mightily with his wife’s illness.  He felt alone.  His wife was confused and in tremendous pain.  He began to tell me about his life.  He has truly suffered.  He was in the Nazi Navy and had survived his U-boat being sunk by a US ship.  He was rescued by a US Navy Destroyer and brought to a POW internment camp in the US, where he stayed for 4 years.  After the war ended he went back to Germany and to his wife.  Even after all he had endured he wanted to live in the US.  After a few years he was able to get a job in Virginia and he and his wife emigrated.  His wife has been ill for 20 years.  He did not know what to do.  He did not want her alone in a nursing home.  So this elderly man was trying to care for his sick wife on his own.  It reminded me how the fringes of our society (as Pope Francis talks about) are the unborn and the elderly.  It made me deeply sad.
 
Even with all of his suffering, he always trusts in the “Good Lord” as he referred to Our Lord.  I stood and listened to him,  amazed by his life story.  He gave me a hug.  Even though it was hard, this is clearly where Our Lord wanted me.  I am a Navy Vet myself and I happily listened to him talk.  He thanked me in  German and I returned with “you’re welcome” in German; one of the three words I know of German.  His wife told me “good-bye” in German, as did he, and I returned the German.  If there is one thing I learned living in Europe and being a linguist, even if you do not know a language, people greatly appreciate you trying their native tongue.
 
I left and met my husband and daughter for dinner.  I was emotionally drained and my heart hurt for that suffering couple.  I have seriously prayed for them and the other family every day since.  Being an EMHC to the sick is going directly to the foot of the Cross.  It is meeting people in their affliction and brokenness.  For those few minutes, I share in that pain and bring them the only help available: Our Lord in His Real Presence.  It is a humbling experience.  I feel wholly unworthy and truth be told, I walked out of the hospital unsure that this is where God wanted me.  Given that my response has been prayer, I think that this is where He wants me, but it is a very hard ministry.
 
The Lord calls us out of our comfort zone to serve him.  I have not gone into the deep of other people’s suffering since my 9-11 relief work days.  I never expected to be called back in after all I endured in the years that followed.  I may not fully understand what He is up to in my life right now, but he is also healing my own brokenness in some way.  And so I will persevere and continue to bring Him to those in need.
 
What are some ways Our Lord has called you into the deep?