“Trans” Baptisms – A Pastor’s Response to the Recent Vatican Document

I have been asked by numerous people what I think about the recent Vatican response on so-called “transgender” baptisms and other related questions. The original dubia (a list of questions) was submitted by His Eminence Mons.
José Negri Vescovo of Santo Amaro in Brazil.

My first reply was that I be allowed to read the document. Most discussion of this topic has been based on headlines and summaries by secular sources and some Catholic sources as well. Almost all the headlines say something to the effect, “Vatican Permits Transgender Baptisms.” Clearly, an unqualified approval of such baptisms, or of “transgenders”  serving as Godparents etc., is a severely flawed notion and a pastoral disaster. But is an unqualified “yes” what the document proposes? Let’s take a look.

Before quoting some details, my reply to those who sought my reaction is that I would interpret the document in a very strict manner and largely conclude that “transgender” baptisms, sponsorships etc., could rarely if ever be approved. For the sake of simplicity lets just speak of baptisms at this point, although the same thinking applies to other aspects of the question such as trangendered people being sponsors, godparents, or witnesses.

The document, while stating that such baptisms could theoretically be approved, sets some serious hurdles that must be cleared first.

The reply begins thus:

Can a transsexual be baptized? A transsexual – who had also undergone hormone treatment and surgery sex reassignment surgery – can receive baptism, under the same conditions of the other faithful, if….

(Note: this English translation from the Italian is unofficial).

So we see that theoretically Baptism can be given, but there are conditions! As a pastor, in the current cultural confusion regarding sexuality, I would feel obliged to interpret the conditions strictly so as to avoid confusion regarding Church teaching, seeming approval of the “trans” agenda, and scandal. A pastor must regard not only the needs of the individual, but must also protect the flock from error or heresy.

So what are the conditions laid out in the document? There are two in particular and we can consider them here in reverse order. A primary condition is stated as follows:

The following must be considered, especially when there are doubts about the objective moral situation in which a person finds himself, or about his own subjective dispositions towards grace. In the case of Baptism, the Church teaches that when the sacrament is received without repentance for serious sins, the subject does not receive sanctifying grace, although he receives the sacramental character. The Catechism states: “This configuration to Christ and to the Church, created by the Spirit, it is indelible; it remains forever in the Christian as positive disposition to grace, as a promise and guarantee of divine protection and as vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church.” 

The document then cites passages from St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine in the regard. It then continues:

So, even when doubts remain about the objective moral situation of one
person or on his subjective dispositions towards grace, one must never
forget the aspect of the faithfulness of God’s unconditional love, capable of generating even with the sinner an irrevocable alliance, always open to development. This is true even when there does not appear fully in the penitent an express desire for amendment….

But, in any case, the Church will always have to call them to live fully all the implications of the baptism received, which is always included and unfolds within the entire path of Christian initiation….

So we note that the document envisions the possibility of extending baptism to a “transsexual” (sic) even where they remain fuzzy on the serious error of such a stance. This is to offer the hope that baptism might clear away their error. However, note that the document says they are not sanctified by the Sacrament until they renounce the error of “transgenderism” and any other errors contrary to Catholic and Biblical teaching.

The document, while admittedly fuzzy on what degree of doubt can be entertained by the one baptized, it does conclude this section by declaring that the Church  must insistently “call them to live fully all the implications of the baptism.” Of course an essential implication of Baptism and Holy Communion is to believe all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God. This would include an understanding that theories of “transexualism” are neo-gnostic notions contrary to what God has plainly set forth in the nature of the human person. Human nature is received from God and cannot be refashioned or crafted anew by mere human creatures. “God made us, Male or female… (cf Gen 1:27). We are not permitted to  hurl back into God’s face what he has made us to be:

Woe to the one who quarrels with His Maker—an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing? ‘ ….The clay may not call into account the potter and say, “What are you doing?  (Is 49:9-10)

As a pastor, I could not in good conscience make light of the serious condition and error of a “transgendered” person who requests baptism. There must be a well-founded hope that he or she understands the true teaching of God and the Catholic Church (cf Canon 868) and realize that they are expected henceforth to abandon principles contrary to the faith and seek to live in accord with what is taught. I may well be more lenient to an infant whose parents are poor Catholics since the infant is not responsible for their parent’s bad behavior. But transsexuals are not infants and have made choices contrary to the faith. If they are not repentant of such choices and worldview, it is misleading for a pastor simply to overlook such an issue or, by silence, give tacit approval.

I would therefore strictly interpret this response to the dubia document  and be highly reticent to offer baptism to a self-identified “transgender” individual without strong indications that they understand Church teaching and the requirement to repent of false thinking and live the truth of the Gospel.

The document says, “In any case…” that is, in all cases, the Church must call them to live faithfully the implications of baptism. Lacking this, I would delay baptism. Pastors cannot ignore or make light of the serious wounds with which people may often present upon arrival at the Church door. If a man thinks he’s actually a women, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Only the truth sets us free.

Consider another case to help further illustrate. A certain man approaches the Church requesting baptism by way of the Catechumenate. However, it comes to light that he is actively seeking divorce his wife. That wife approaches the Church and says that she is desperately trying to save the marriage, is seeking his cooperation in attending marriage counselling. There is a further urgency to save the marriage since they have two young children. Should a pastor simply overlook this and wave the man through to the Sacraments even though he is planning to act gravely against Church teaching on marriage, charity and the just demands that his young children not be the heirs to divorce and all its complications for them? As a pastor, I could not simply wave him through. I would delay the celebration of any sacraments until the matter can be resolved. Silence is tacit approval and simply celebrating sacraments under these circumstances is misleading and scandalous to others. The matter must be confronted prior to baptism.

The other “condition” to be met prior to baptising a “transgender” person is mentioned twice in the document. “Transgender” baptisms can be conducted only:

if there are no situations in which there is a risk of generating public scandal or disorientation among the faithful.

Well, the obvious answer here to any honest pastor is that there is always going to be a risk of public scandal in such a scenario. Scandal can be considered in two ways. First scandal can be thought of as the shock created by doing strange or sinful things contrary to Scripture. Scandal can also be thought as the end result of doing wrong things, namely, that people are no longer shocked as they should be and have settled down with sinful or unbiblical practices. Either way, the risk of scandal is enormous when the Church seems to affirm or tacitly approve what God teaches is wrong. So why would a pastor want to so mislead and confuse the faithful by even seeming to affirm what is a lie (a man cannot become a woman) and contrary to God’s design? In such a sensitive and confused climate a pastor must strictly interpret the “risk of scandal” clause here and almost never, except perchance in danger of death, even consider introducing practices that seem to affirm “transgender” ideology.

The document also cites the danger of “disorientation” among the faithful. Here too, how would the faithful not be disoriented if the local parish starts embracing this and other aspects of the sexual revolution? With all the emphasis today on this or that individual not being “hurt” or feeling “unwelcome” we have lost any focus on the common good. Pastors have to look out for their flocks, and not let them be carried away by all sorts of deceptions today. The Letter to the Hebrews says,

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings…  (Heb 13:9-10)

Indeed. So, to all those who have asked my thoughts on the latest dispatch from Rome, herein is my reply. The document is sadly sketchy in areas and seems to put a lot of hope in the effects of baptism even while saying that a baptism received under such circumstances does not confer sanctifying grace. However, it does give some guidance that I, as a pastor, think must be interpreted strictly and that the caution called for in this response to a dubia must be taken both strictly and seriously.

Homosexual Acts Cannot be Approved or Celebrated by the Church – Here’s Why

091614In recent years, homosexuality has frequently been in the news. An increasingly nationwide effort to make homosexual acts something to celebrate has gained great ground and sowed serious confusion even among those who describe themselves as Christian and Catholic. Hence, it is necessary once again to instruct on this matter and to reassert what Scripture plainly teaches and why the Church cannot affirm what the world demands we affirm.

An essential fact is that the Scriptures are very clear in unambiguously, uncompromisingly declaring homosexual acts as a serious sin and as disordered. “Disordered” here means that they are acts that are not ordered to their proper end or purpose. Sexual acts are, by their very nature, ordered to procreation and to the bonding of the mother and father who will raise the children conceived by their sexual intimacy. These ends or purposes have been intrinsically joined by God, and we are not to separate what what God has joined.  In the Old Testament, Scripture describes the sinful and disordered quality of homosexual acts by the use of the word “abomination,” and in the New Testament, St. Paul calls homosexual acts “paraphysin” (contrary to nature).

Attempts by some to reinterpret Scripture to mean something else are fanciful, at best, and  use theories that require twisted logic and questionable historical views in an attempt to set aside the very plain meaning of the texts.

Likewise in the wider culture, among those who do not accept Scripture, there has been an increasingly insistent refusal to acknowledge what the design of the human body plainly discloses: that the man is for the woman, and the woman is for the man. The man is not for the man, nor the woman for the woman. This is plainly set forth in the design of our bodies. The outright refusal to see what is plainly visible and literally built into our bodies is not only a sign of intellectual stubbornness and darkness (cf Rom 1:18, 21), but it also leads to significant issues with health, even to deadly diseases.

And we who believe in the definitive nature of scriptural teaching on all aspects of human sexuality are not merely considered out-of-date by many in our culture, but are being increasingly pressured to affirm what we cannot reasonably affirm. Cardinal Francis George recently expressed the current situation in this way:

In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger [1].

Whatever pressures many may wish to place on the Church to conform, however they may wish to “shame” us into compliance by labeling us with adjectives such as bigoted, homophobic, or intolerant, we cannot comply with their demands. We must remain faithful to scriptural teaching, to our commitment to natural law, and to Sacred Tradition. We simply cannot affirm things such as fornication and homosexual acts and reject the revelation of the body as it comes from God.

What some call intolerance or “hatred” is, for us who believe, rather, a principled stance wherein we see ourselves as unable to overrule the clear and unambiguous teaching of Holy Scripture. And this teaching exists at every stage of revelation, from the opening pages right through to the final books of Sacred Writ. The Church has no power to override what God has said; we cannot cross out sentences or tear pages from the Scripture. Neither can we simply reverse Sacred Tradition or pretend that the human body, as God has designed it, does not manifest what it clearly does.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church announces this principled stance with eloquence and with an understanding of the difficulties encountered by those with same-sex attraction:

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. 

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (CCC 2357-2359).

We can speak no other way. We do not detest those of same sex-attraction, but we as a Church owe them the same truth we have always proclaimed as coming from God, and out of respect we must  hold them to the same standards of chastity by which all must live.

There can be no sexual intercourse for any who are not in a valid heterosexual marriage. We cannot give approval for it; we do not have the power to do this, no matter how insistent, forceful, or even punitive the demands that we do so become. This will not change because it cannot change.

Homosexuals are not being singled out in this matter. As we saw in yesterday’s post, fornication (pre-marital sex) is also set forth by scripture and tradition as a very serious mortal sin (cf Eph 5:5- 7; Gal 5:16-21; Rev 21:5-8; Rev. 22:14-16; Mt. 15:19-20; 1 Cor 6:9-20; Col 3:5-6; 1 Thess 4:1-8; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Heb 13:4). It cannot be approved no matter how widespread its acceptance becomes. One standard of sexual norms applies to all people, whatever their orientation.

Sadly those of unalterable same-sex attraction have no recourse to marriage. But all of us bear burdens of one sort or another, and not everyone is able to partake in everything life offers. For the sake of holiness, heroic witness is necessary, and many of those with same-sex attraction do live celibately and give admirable witness to the power of grace.

God must have the final word in this. And so I present to you here some selections from Sacred Scripture that clearly teach against homosexual acts. The witness of Scripture in this regard is very consistent across all the ages of biblical Revelation. From the opening pages of Holy Writ to the final books, homosexual acts, along with fornication and adultery, are unambiguously forbidden and described as gravely sinful. In addition, homosexual acts, because they are contrary to nature and to the revelation of the body and the nature of the sexual act, are often described as acts of depravity or as an “abomination.” Some consider such words unpleasant or hurtful. I understand, but they are the words that Scripture uses. Here is a sample of Scriptural teaching against homosexual acts:

  1. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Leviticus 18: 22).
  2. If a man lies with a male as with a female, both of them have committed an abomination (Lev 20:13).
  3. Likewise, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah depicts, among other things, the sinfulness of homosexual activity. It is too lengthy to reproduce here in its entirety, but you can read about it in Genesis 19.
  4. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct (Romans 1:18ff).
  5. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6-9).
  6. The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, for those who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.(1 Timothy 1: 8-11).

And this is the testimony of Sacred Scripture. To these could be added other passages, along with a long list of quotes from the Fathers and from Sacred Tradition, with Councils and other teaching documents from the earliest days of the Church until today.

To those who like to object that Jesus himself never spoke of homosexual acts, I would give these three responses:

  1. It was not a disputed matter among the Jews to whom he preached.
  2. Jesus said to his apostles, “He who hears you hears me.” And therefore Jesus does speak through St. Paul and the other epistle writers.
  3. The same Holy Spirit that authored the Gospels also authored the Epistles. There are not different authors or levels of authority in Sacred Writ. What St. Paul says is no less authoritative or inspired than what the evangelists recorded.

The teaching of the Church regarding the sinfulness of homosexual acts, fornication, and adultery cannot change, attested to as they are in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The Church can only offer the truth to all the faithful and to all in this world, along with her promise of God’s mercy to those who seek repentance and who now desire to live chastely. To those who refuse, she continues to give warning and to pray both for conversion and for rescue from the deceptions of the world and the evil one.

Cardinal George summarized well both the reason we cannot approve homosexual acts and the solution of celibacy for those of same-sex attraction: The biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations [2]. Clear and concise. Thank you, Cardinal George.

For more information and support for those who have same-sex attraction, see here: Courage

Pope St. Gregory Speaks from Antiquity to Our Synod and All Clergy

The quote below is from Pope St. Gregory the Great in this Pastoral Rule. I use this passage in every priest retreat I preach to summon the priests to courage and admonish us all that we will account to God for what we do and what we fail to do. This passage was assigned for today’s (Sunday October 8) Office of Readings and couldn’t occur at a more perfect time with the Synod in process. For many who reach out to me and numerous brother priests, the Synod and things leading up to the synod has thus far been a source of great discouragement and confusion. 

I ask all of you to pray for the Synod participants and also for clergy and religious everywhere to listen to God’s Word and proclaim nothing contrary to it. May clergy of every rank and place heed what Pope St. Gregory declared that we will be held accountable not only for we say at a moment like this, but also if we remain silent at a moment like this. Here are St. Gregory’s words are as follows:

A spiritual guide should be silent when discretion requires and speak when words are of service. Otherwise he may say what he should not or be silent when he should speak. Indiscreet speech may lead men into error and an imprudent silence may leave in error those who could have been taught. Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men. As the voice of truth tells us, such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who flee by taking refuge in silence when the wolf appears.

The Lord reproaches them through the prophet: They are dumb dogs that cannot bark. On another occasion he complains: You did not advance against the foe or set up a wall in front of the house of Israel, so that you might stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord. To advance against the foe involves a bold resistance to the powers of this world in defense of the flock. To stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord means to oppose the wicked enemy out of love for what is right.

When a pastor has been afraid to assert what is right, has he not turned his back and fled by remaining silent? Whereas if he intervenes on behalf of the flock, he sets up a wall against the enemy in front of the house of Israel. Therefore, the Lord again says to his unfaithful people: Your prophets saw false and foolish visions and did not point out your wickedness, that you might repent of your sins. The name of prophet is sometimes given in the sacred writings to teachers who both declare the present to be fleeting and reveal what is to come. The word of God accuses them of seeing false visions because they are afraid to reproach men for their faults and thereby lull the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. Because they fear reproach, they keep silent and fail to point out the sinner’s wrongdoing.

The word of reproach is a key that unlocks a door, because reproach reveals a fault of which the evildoer is himself often unaware. That is why Paul says of the bishop: He must be able to encourage men in sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For the same reason God tells us through Malachi: The lips of the priest are to preserve knowledge, and men shall look to him for the law, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. Finally, that is also the reason why the Lord warns us through Isaiah: Cry out and be not still; raise your voice in a trumpet call.

Anyone ordained a priest undertakes the task of preaching, so that with a loud cry he may go on ahead of the terrible judge who follows. If, then, a priest does not know how to preach, what kind of cry can such a dumb herald utter? It was to bring this home that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of tongues on the first pastors, for he causes those whom he has filled, to speak out spontaneously. – From the Pastoral Guide by Saint Gregory the Great, pope (Lib. 2, 4: PL 77, 30-31)

To my fellow clergy, may our silence not condemn us, and may we faithfully preach and heed what God commands. The responsory from today’s office says this.

I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners shall return to you.

– My tongue shall sing of your justice.

Sinner Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass – A Homily for the 27th Sunday of the Year

There is an urgency and clarity about today’s Gospel that is often lacking in modern Christians, including the clergy. In this Gospel, the message is urgent, provocative, and clear: there is a day of judgment coming for every one of us and we simply must be ready. The message is a sobering one for a modern world that is often dismissive of judgment and certainly of Hell. Yet Jesus says clearly that the Kingdom of God can be taken from us for our refusal to accept its fruits in our life.

Parables used by Jesus to teach on judgment and the reality of Hell are often quite vivid, even shocking in their harsh imagery. They are certainly not stories for the easily offended. And they are also difficult to take for those who have tried to refashion Jesus into a pleasant, affirming sort of fellow rather than the uncompromising prophet and Lord that He is.

No one spoke of Hell more often than Jesus did. Attempting to reconcile these bluntly presented teachings with the God who loves us so, points to the deeper mysteries of justice and mercy and their interaction with human freedom. But this point must be clear: no one loves us more than Jesus does and yet no one spoke of Hell and its certainty more often than Jesus did. No one warned us of judgment and its inescapable consequences more often than did Jesus. Out of love for us, Jesus speaks of death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. As one who loves us, He wants none of us to be lost. So He warns us; He speaks the truth in love.

Historically, this parable had meaning for the ancient Jews that had already come to pass. God had established and cared for his vine, Israel. He gave them every blessing, having led them out of slavery and established them in the Promised Land. Yet searching for the fruits of righteousness he found little. Then, sending many prophets to warn and call forth those fruits, the prophets were persecuted, rejected, and even murdered. Finally, God sent His Son, but He too was murdered. There comes forth a sentence: He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times … Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. By 70 AD, Jerusalem was destroyed; the Temple was never to be rebuilt.

The Jewish people are not singled out in the Scriptures, for we all, like them, are a vineyard, and if we are not careful, their story will be our own story. We, like the ancients, have a decision to make. Either we accept the offer of the Kingdom and thereby yield to the Lord’s work and bring forth a harvest, or we face judgment for the fact that we have chosen to reject the offer of the Kingdom. God will not force us to accept His Kingship or His Kingdom. We have a choice to make and that choice will be at the heart of the judgment we will face.

Let’s take a closer look at the Gospel and apply it to the vineyard of our lives.

I. THE SOWING – The text says, There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.  Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.

Note the care and providence of the landowner (God) who has given each of us life and every kind of grace. The image of the vineyard indicates that we have the capacity to bear fruit. This signifies the many gifts, talents, and abilities that we have been given by God.

The hedge calls to mind the protection of His grace and mercy. Though the world can be a tempting place, God has put a hedge of protection around us that is sufficient to keep us safe from serious sin, if we accept its power.

But note, too, that a hedge implies limits. And thus God’s protective graces, though sufficient, mean that we must live within limits, within the hedge that keeps the wild animals of temptation from devouring the fruits of our vine.

The tower is symbolic of the Church, which stands guard like a watchman warning of dangers to us who live within the boundaries of the hedge. And the tower (the Church) is also standing forth as a sign of contradiction to the hostile world outside, which seeks to devour the fruit of the vineyard.

That the landowner leases the the vineyard is a reminder that we are not our own; we have been purchased at great cost. God and God alone created all these things we call our own. We are but stewards, even of our very lives. We belong to God and must render an account and show forth fruits as we shall next see.

But this point must be emphasized: God has given us great care; He has given us His grace, His mercy, His very self. As the text from Isaiah says, What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? God loves us and does not want us to be lost. He gives us every grace and mercy we need to make it. The Lord says, As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez 33:11) This must be emphasized before we grumble too quickly about the subsequent judgment that comes. God offers every possible grace to save us. It is up to us to accept or reject the help.

II.  THE SEEKING – The text says, When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.

There come moments in our lives when God looks for fruits. Remember that He is the owner and the fruits are rightfully His. He has done everything to bring forth the fruit and now deserves to see the produce of His grace in the vineyard of our life, which is His own.

And what fruits does the Lord seek? The values and fruits of the Kingdom: faith, justice, mercy, peace, forgiveness, chastity, faithfulness, generosity, love of the poor, love of one’s family and friends, even love of one’s enemy, kindness, truth, sincerity, courage to speak the truth and witness to the faith, and an evangelical spirit.

Note, too, that the text says he sends servants to obtain the produce. Here also is evidence of God’s mercy. Historically, God’s “servants” were the prophets. And God sent the prophets not only to bring forth the harvest of justice, but also to remind, clarify, and apply God’s Word and warn sinners. God patiently sent many generations of prophets to help Israel.

It is the same for us. God sends us many prophets to remind, clarify, apply, and warn. Perhaps they are priests or religious, parents, catechists, teachers, or role models. But they are all part of God’s plan to warn us to bear fruit and to help call forth and obtain some of those very fruits for God. Each in his own way says, as St. Paul did in today’s second reading, Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (Phil 4:8-9).

Yes, God seeks fruits, and rightfully so. And He sends His servants, the prophets, to help call them forth in us.

III. THE SINNING – The text says, But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.  Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.  Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Thus, despite all God has done by sending His servants, the prophets, the tenants reject them all, and with increasing vehemence. Their hearts grow harder. The landowner (God) even goes so far to demonstrate his love and his will to save, that he sends his own son. But they drag him outside the vineyard and kill him. Yes, Jesus died outside the city gates, murdered for seeking the fruit of faith from the tenants of the vineyard.

And what of us? There are too many who reject God’s prophets. They do so with growing vehemence and abusive treatment. Many today despise the Church, despise the Scriptures, despise fathers, mothers, friends, and Christians in general who seek to clarify and apply God’s Word and to warn of the need to be ready. It is quite possible that, for any of us, repeated resistance can cause a hardening of the heart to set in. In the end, there are some, in fact many according to Jesus, who effectively kill the life of God within them and utterly reject the Kingdom of God and its values. They do not want to live lives that show forth forgiveness, mercy, love of enemies, chastity, justice, love of the poor, generosity, kindness, and witness to the Lord and the truth.

We ought to be very sober as there are many, many today who are like this. Some have merely drifted away and are indifferent. (Some, we must say, have been hurt or  are struggling to believe, but at least they remain open.) Still others are passionate in their hatred for the Church, Scripture, and anything to do with God, and they explicitly reject many, if not most of the kingdom values listed above. We must be urgent to continue in our attempt to reach them, as we shall see.

IV. THE SENTENCING – The text says, What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes? They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

Here then is the sentence: if you don’t want the Kingdom, you don’t have to have it. At one level, it would seem to us that everyone wants the Kingdom, i.e., everyone who has any faith in God at all wants to go to Heaven. But what is Heaven? It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. It is not just a place of our making. It is that place where the will of God, where the Kingdom’s values are in full flower. But as we have seen, there are many who do not want to live chastely, do not want to forgive, do not want to be generous to and love the poor, do not want God or anyone else at the center, do not want to worship God.

Self exclusion – Having rejected the Kingdom’s values, and having rejected the prophets who warned them, many simply exclude themselves from the Kingdom. God will not force the Kingdom on anyone. If you don’t want it, even after God’s grace and mercy and His pleading through the prophets, you don’t have to have it. It will be taken from you and given to those who do want it and appreciate its help.

The existence of Hell is rooted essentially in God’s respect for our freedom, for we have been called to love. But love must be free, not compelled. Hence, Hell has to be. It is the “alternative arrangement” that others make for themselves in their rejection of the Kingdom of God. At some point, God calls the question, and at death our decision is forever fixed.

Yes, Hell and the judgment that precedes it, are clearly taught here and in many other places by Jesus (e.g., Matt 23:33; Lk 16:23; Mk 43:47; Matt 5:29; Matt 10:28; Matt 18:9; Matt 5:22; Matt 11:23; Matt 7:23; Matt 25:41; Mk 9:48; Luke 13:23; Rev 22:15; and many, many more). This is taught by a Lord who loves us and wants to save us, but who is also well aware of our stubborn and stiff-necked ways.

What is a healthy response to this teaching? To work earnestly for the salvation of souls, beginning with our own. Nothing has so destroyed evangelization and missionary activity as the modern notion that everyone goes to Heaven. Nothing has so destroyed any zeal for the moral life or hunger for the Sacraments, prayer, and Scripture. And nothing is so contrary to Scripture as the dismissal of Hell and the notion that all are going to Heaven.

But rather than panic or despair, we ought to get to work and be more urgent in our quest to win souls for Christ. Who is it that the Lord wants you to work with to draw back to Him? Pray and ask Him, “Who, Lord?” The Lord does not want any to be lost. But, as of old, He still sends His prophets (this means you) to draw back anyone who will listen. Will you work for the Lord? Will you work for souls?  For there is a day of judgment looming and we must be made ready for it by the Lord. Will you be urgent about it, for yourself and others?

Photo Credit: Jean-Yves Roure

This video features the words of an old spiritual: Sinner please don’t let this harvest pass, and die and lose your soul at last. I made this video more than a year ago and in it there is a picture of Fr. John Corapi preaching. Since I made it long before his recent “troubles,” please do not attribute any implication from me by its inclusion; it is simply indicative of the “age” of the video.

What Are Our Pets Really Saying? Perhaps they express the longing of all creation.

080614I am often struck by the mystery of the relationship that dogs and cats have with their owners. While I realize that we humans do a lot of projecting of what we want their behavior to mean, it still remains a deeply mysterious reality to me how our pets come to “know” us and set up a kind of communication with us.

Dogs, especially, are very demonstrative, interactive, and able to make knowing responses. Cats are more subtle, but my own cat, Daniel, knows my patterns and also knows how to communicate when he wants water, food, or just a back rub. He’s also a big talker, meowing all day long to greet people and get attention from them.

As I say, this interaction with our animals is a mysterious thing. I do not raise this to suggest they are on a par with us intellectually or morally. Scripture is clear enough that animals are given to us by God and that we are sovereign stewards over them. And while it is never right to abuse animals, it is right that we make use of them in appropriate ways and even make use of some of them as a food source (cf Gen 9:1-3).

But animals, especially our pets, are also to be appreciated as gifts from God. Scripture is also clear that animals will be part of the renewed creation that God will bring about when Christ shall come again in glory:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).

In Revelation, John speaks of speaks of seeing a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1), and he describes Christ from his judgment seat finally saying, Behold, I make all things new (Rev 21:5). I have little doubt that animals will share in that recreated and renewed kingdom where death shall be no more (Rev 21:4).

Part of the Kingdom! Without elevating pets (no matter how precious) to the full dignity of human beings, it is not wrong to think that they will be part of the Kingdom of God in all its restored harmony and beauty.

Perhaps in the mystery of our interaction with pets, God is giving us a glimpse of the harmony we will one day enjoy with all of creation. Scripture says,

For indeed, creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).

Yes, creation itself is eagerly waiting the day when God says (in the words of an old spiritual), Oh preacher fold your bible, for the last soul’s converted! And then creation itself will be set free from its bondage to death and decay and be remade into its original harmony and the life-possessing glory that was once paradise.

Perhaps the mystery of our pets is that they are ambassadors for the rest of creation, a kind of early delegation sent by God to prepare the way and the connections of the new and restored creation. Perhaps they are urging us on in our task to make the number of the elect complete so that all creation can sooner receive its renewal and be restored to the glory and harmony it once had. Who knows? But I see a kind of urgency in the pets I have had. They are filled with joy, enthusiasm, and the expectation of something great.

Joyful expectation! Yes, I have powerful memories of the dogs of my youth running circles around me, running to greet me when I arrived home, and jumping for joy when I announced a car ride or a walk. Even my cats of recent years, though more subdued, saunter over to meet me at the door with a meow and an arched back, rubbing up against my leg. And when I see this joy and expectation in my pets the words of Romans 8 (above) will sometimes come to mind: creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

All deep mysteries to be sure, but surely pregnant with meaning for us, humanity and all creation, for the birth of a new creation.

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Photo Credit Above: This is a picture I took of my brother’s Alaskan Malamute, Kaila, lying down with the family parakeet in early fulfillment of Isaiah 11 (quoted above)!

Some Basic Facts and Clarifications about the Angels

100114Jesus affirms the truth that we have guardian angels: See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father (Mat 18:10). On the Feast of the Guardian Angels, we consider the beautiful truth that God assigns each of us an angel to have special care for us; it is a sign of His very specific love for each of us as an individual. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has much to say on angels. Here are just a few verses:

The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels … In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God … From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God (CCC #s 334-336 selectae).

All this said, it is important to recall that to some extent we have sentimentalized the role of the angels in current times, and have drifted from the biblical testimony regarding them. I would like to propose a few corrective ideas to balance the sentimental notions we may have. I do not say that sentiment is wrong, just that it needs to be balanced by the deep respect we ought to have for the angels.

1. Angels have no bodies – They are not human and never have been human. Human beings never become angels or “earn wings.” Angels are persons, but persons of pure spirit. Hence they have no designation as either male or female. Since we have to envision them somehow, though, it is not wrong that we portray them with masculine or feminine qualities. But it is important to remember that they transcend any such distinction.

2. Angels are vast in number – The prophet Daniel was granted a vision of Heaven and said of God, gloriously enthroned,  A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him (Dan 7:10). A hundred million angels! Of course these were only the angels Daniel could see, and it is really just another way of saying that their number is vast, beyond counting.

3. Angels are ranked hierarchically – The term “choir” of angels denotes not a musical group, but rather a rank. Tradition gleans, from both Scripture and custom, nine ranks (or choirs) of angels in three groups of three ranks each: Seraphim, cherubim, and thrones remain closest to God and serve primarily in Heaven itself (and among them the seraphim are closest to God’s throne (Is 6:1-7)). Dominions, virtues, and powers exert various governing powers; they organize the angels and the cosmos (to include nature) and they hold the power of the evil one in check. And finally principalities, archangels, and angels are those most directly involved with humanity; they also act as intermediaries between us, God, and Heaven.

4. Biblically, angels are not the rather fluffy, charming creatures that modern portraits often depict – In the Bible, angels are depicted as awesome and powerful agents of God. Many times the appearance of an angel struck fear in the one who saw him (cf  Judg 6:22; Lk 1:11; Lk 1:29; Lk 2:9; Acts 10:3; Rev. 22:8).

  • Angels are often described in the Bible in warlike terms: they are called a host (the biblical word for army), they wage war on behalf of God and His people (e.g. Ex 14:19; Ex 33:2; Nm 22:23;  Ps 35:5; Is 37:36; Rev 12:7).
  • While they are said to have wings (e.g. Ex 25:20; 1 Kings 6:24;  inter al), recall that they do not have physical bodies so the wings are an image or symbol of their swiftness.
  • They are also mentioned at times as being like fire (Ex. 3:2; Rev 10:1).
  • And what about those cute little “cherubs” we have in our art, those cute, baby-faced angels with wings and no body? Well, read about the real cherubim in Ezekiel 10. They are fearsome, awesome creatures, powerful and swift servants of God and more than capable of putting God’s enemies to flight.
  • And this is my main point: angels are not the sentimental, syrupy, cute creatures we have often recast them to be. They are awesome, wonderful, powerful servants of God. They are His messengers and they manifest His glory. They bear forth the power and majesty of God and are to be respected immensely. They are surely also our helpers and, by God’s command, act on our behalf.

5. What then is our proper reaction to the great gift of the angels and in particular to our guardian angel? Sentimental thought may have its place, but what God especially commands of us toward our angel is obedience. Read what God said in the Book of Exodus:

Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him (Ex 23:21).

So our fundamental task is to hear and heed the voice of our angel. How, you might ask do we hear the voice of our guardian angel? I would suggest to you that we most clearly hear the voice of our angel in our conscience. Deep down, we hear God’s voice; we know what is true and what is false. In terms of basic right and wrong, we know what we are doing. I am convinced that our conscience interacts with our guardian angel. Now be careful: we like to try to rationalize what we do, to explain away our bad behavior, to make excuses. But in the end, deep down inside, we know whether what we are doing is right or wrong. I am sure it is our angel who testifies to the truth and informs our conscience.

God’s command is clear: listen to and heed this voice. Respect this angel whom God has given to you, not so much with sentimental odes, but with sober obedience.

6. Finally, and perhaps controversially, as I have noted on this blog before, though we often think of angels in “choirs” singing, there is no scriptural verse that I have ever read that actually describes them as singing. Even in the classic Christmas scene in which we depict angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” the text actually says that they SAY it, not that they sing it (cf Luke 2:14, in which the verb used is λεγόντων (legouton) = saying).  If you can find a Scripture text that describes the angels as singing, please share it. But I’ve looked for years and can’t find a single one. It’s not a big point, and I am aware that some get almost annoyed by my mentioning this, since it seems almost instinctive to us that angels DO sing! My point here is simply to report the silence (not denial) of Scripture on this common notion. Perhaps singing is a special gift given only to the human person.