A Picture of a Strong Bishop in the Face of Suffering

On January 2nd, we celebrated the feast of St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen. They were bishops in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey) during the stormy period of the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. Despite the strong affirmation by the Council of Nicaea, the Arian heretics did not desist. Saints Basil and Gregory were strong forces for truth in the long battle to stamp out the heresy. When the emperor, Julian the Apostate, sought to compel bishops to admit Arian heretics to Holy Communion both these bishops refused to comply.

An interaction between St. Basil and the local prefect of the emperor shows forth an image of a strong bishopthat is rare today. Encountering St. Basil’s resistance, the prefect said,

“Are you mad, that you resist the will [of the emperor] before which the whole world bows? Do you not dread the wrath of the emperor, nor exile, nor death?”

“No,” said Basil calmly, “he who has nothing to lose need not dread loss of goods; you cannot exile me, for the whole earth is my home; as for death, it would be the greatest kindness you could bestow upon me; torments cannot harm me: one blow would end my frail life and my sufferings together.”

“Never,” said the prefect, “has anyone dared to address me thus.” “Perhaps,” suggested Basil, “you never before measured your strength with a Christian bishop” (from Butler’s Lives of the Saints).

The emperor backed down.

The lives of early bishops were filled with suffering, exile, and martyrdom.Thirty of the first thirty-three popes were martyred, two died in exile, and only one died in his own bed. It was a similar story with many ancient bishops, for example Athanasius, Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory. It’s hard to imagine many among the current leaders of the Church enduring such suffering. Many bishops and higher clergy today live comfortable, protected lives. Even less elevated clergymen live fairly insular lives, shielded from the ordinary struggles of the laity. Many of us have healthcare, housing, laundry services, prepared meals, and staff to handle many day-to-day matters. God bless all of our staff and God’s good people, who care for us so well.

There comes a point, though, when we clergy become soft, no longer able to relate to even small sufferings,let alone larger ones that might come from preaching the Gospel in an uncompromising and clear way. Failing to accept this suffering in our own lives, we fear to preach it to others.

Unlike St. Basil, who had felt he had nothing to lose, we modern clergy often think we have too much to lose. Indeed, the whole Church (at least in the prosperous West) fears we have too much to lose.We fear the loss of popularity, political power, and access; we fear the impact on our careers; we fear the loss of buildings, institutions, and programs as well as the money and power needed to sustain them. We seem to fear just about everything except the loss of our faith, which we are too willing compromise, ignore, or water down in order to keep the lesser things.

Ultimately, however, this world and the devil will never be satisfiedwith compromises we make until every last bit of our integrity is gone. Whatever time we buy through compromise is temporary; it is a pyrrhic “victory.” Despite all our attempts to fit in with the modern world, we are still closing churches and schools; Catholic charities are losing contracts; our members are continuing to drift away. The world cannot save us; being popular or up to date does not inspire faith or attract converts. Owning nice buildings is worthless if they are empty.

We end with a paradox.Acting out of fear that we have too much to lose will mean that we lose everything. Freely accepting that we have nothing to lose will mean that we gain everything, for we gain Christ Jesus and all that He promises us here and in the life to come.

But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you(Matt 6:33).

And anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it(Matt 10:38-39).

May St. Basil, St. Gregory, and all the heroes and martyrs pray for us, clergy and laity alike!

Some Proverbs for the Bishops Gathered in Rome

As the summit on sexual abuse begins in Rome, the prelates of the Latin Rite of the Church are reading from the Book of Proverbs in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours. Some of the proverbs listed in today’s reading are particularly appropriate to the task at hand.

He who winks at a fault causes trouble, but he who frankly reproves promotes peace (Prov 10:10).

There is tremendous pressure today to remain silent about sin and evil. Those who do speak of sin are often labeled judgmental and intolerant. Sadly, many Christians have succumbed to this pressure; nothing but trouble can result from such capitulation. The moral cesspool that is our modern age is stark evidence of this.

The correction of faults, frankly and with love, is an act of charity (St. Thomas Aquinas). Error and sin bring war and division, both individually and collectively, but God’s truth, lovingly proclaimed, brings peace by insisting on what is good, right, true, and beautiful.

We live in an age that turns a blind eye to evil. The world often celebrates it in visual entertainment, books, the news media, and music. One can see the destructiveness of the glamorization of evil simply by reading the news.

God’s law is His peace plan for this broken world of ours; it is His wisdom that will bring us peace.

It seems obvious that the failure to correct sin in others and the downplaying of sin are at the heart of this crisis. We pray for our Church leaders to clearly and confidently proclaim God’s law and to courageously correct and reprove error.

A fountain of life is the mouth of the just, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence (Proverbs 10:11).

Jesus warned that Satan and those who are evil often masquerade in sheep’s clothing, while underneath they are ravenous wolves (see Mat 7:15). Many in our world today who despise God’s wisdom attempt to conceal it with euphemistic or deceptive phrases such as pro-choice, pro-woman, no-fault divorce, reproductive freedom, euthanasia, and death with dignity.

Despite the cloak of pseudo-compassion, they ultimately peddle death and division. God’s wisdom, on the other hand, speaks to the dignity of every human life, to hope, and to the promise of eternal life despite difficulties in this world.

We pray that the clergy and leaders of the Church will be like a fountain of truth and justice. Sadly, too many pulpits have been silent; teaching on many critical moral issues has been lacking or even erroneous. Many prefer to speak of tolerance and love in vague and unmoored ways. Tolerance and love have their place, but only in the context of truth and concern for the ultimate good of souls (not necessarily their present comfort).

Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but he who restrains his lips does well (Proverbs 10:19).

In an age of non-stop communication and 24/7 news reporting, the sin of gossip is an almost ever-present temptation. Discretion appears to have been lost.

Our age is one of easy access to various media (e.g., movies, television, books, news, music), and on account of this sin is not wanting. We talk endlessly about other people’s business and often ignore our own issues.

Rare indeed are those who “restrain their lips” and limit their criticism to what is truly helpful unto conversion.

The Pope has warned in this crisis of the need for care in how we speak to it. On the one hand, there has been too much silence and the faithful are rightly finding their voices. However, all of us must restrain the impulse to speak with invective, undue anger, and cynicism; these can generate more heat than light. Many criticisms of the hierarchy are rightly deserved, but we should not fail to praise what is good, to pray for a miraculous conversion, and to assist in crafting solutions that will restore holiness to the Church.

Crime is the entertainment of the fool; so is wisdom for the man of sense (Proverbs 10:23).

Our culture often celebrates the sins of others as entertainment. Fornication, adultery, and all kinds of sexual misconduct are normalized—even celebrated—in books, movies, and on television.

It is the same with violence. Most adventure movies today glamorize its use to solve problems.

Where are the movies that depict wisdom, beauty, love, truth, chastity, and strong families? There are some out there, but they are far outnumbered by those that celebrate crime, violence, dysfunction, and sinfulness.

As the prelates gather in Rome, we must recall that we are dealing with a cultural issue, not just a Church issue. Our whole culture has turned foolishness into entertainment and proposes we not take grave error seriously. We pray that Church leaders will realize anew our obligation to return to the font of God’s wisdom as the source of truth. Pleasing the world by conformity to its language and narrative is neither our role nor our goal. Proclaiming God’s truth is our purpose and our mandate.

When the tempest passes, the wicked man is no more; but the just man is established forever (Proverbs 10:25).

The truth will out. Evil will not remain; it cannot last. Christ has already won the victory.

The foolish keep resisting; they laugh at God’s wisdom, dismiss the Scriptures, and reject Church teaching. When they are gone, though, we will still be here proclaiming Christ crucified, gloriously resurrected, and ascended to glory.

Though the Lord permits His enemies time to repent, their days are ultimately numbered—evil cannot last.

As the bishops gather, we pray that they will see the need to purge evil from the Church, to resist the pressure to succumb to the spirit of the age. Pray that they recall we will ultimately win only with loyalty to Christ Jesus. Persecution is not the worst thing in life; compromise with the world and dying in our sins is. The victory is in the Lord Jesus, who was crucified to this world, rose gloriously, and is reigning over a Kingdom that is established forever.

These are just a few proverbs that are particularly appropriate for our bishops as they gather. Please pray for them all.


Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Some Proverbs for the Bishops Gathered in Rome

The Office of Bishop

credit: J. Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

Fortuitously, the first reading for this Monday, which is the day that the annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Baltimore begins, speaks to the qualifications of a bishop. The full reading from Titus is as follows:

Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones and the recognition of religious truth, in the hope of eternal life that God, who does not lie, promised before time began, who indeed at the proper time revealed his word in the proclamation with which I was entrusted by the command of God our savior, to Titus, my true child in our common faith: grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior. For this reason, I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious. For a bishop as God’s steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled, holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents (Titus 1:1-9).

From this passage, note the following qualities of a good bishop:

The Bishop is Submitted and Sent. St. Paul writes to Titus, Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ …

In this matter St. Paul reflects on his own relationship to Christ, but because he is of the rank of bishop, his reflections apply to bishops whom he will soon describe. Paul sees his rank as that of a slave. He is not his own man; he belongs to God and is under His authority. Paul is accountable to the Lord. In our current crisis, many wonder to whom the bishops are accountable. Juridically, bishops are not accountable to one another but to the Pope. However, even if they never answer to the Pope, thy will one day have to answer to Christ!

St. Paul speaks of himself as a slave to Christ. Some may wince at the use of the term slave, but we who are in Holy Orders at any level are indeed slaves to Jesus. We are taken up by Him in Holy Orders as He wills, not as we will. When we lay down upon the cathedral floor, we gave our whole lives to Christ and said, “If you can use anything, Lord, you can use me!” Yes, we are slaves of Christ, and He will use us as He sees fit.

St. Paul also says here that he is an apostle. That is, he is sent, commissioned by Christ, to whom he owes his first allegiance. No priest or bishop can have an authority above Christ or in place of His. The Church is Jesus’ bride; the people are His. Bishops are “slaves” to whom He entrusts oversight—an oversight for which they will have to account.

The Bishop should be Saving and Strong. The text says that bishops should teach … for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones and the recognition of religious truth, in the hope of eternal life …

The bishop ministers for the sake (i.e. the salvation) of God’s chosen ones through his proclamation of the faith. He is called to instill the faith by the grace of God, a faith that saves not just pleases. The word translated here as “religious” is εὐσέβεια (eusebeia) and refers to a faith that is pious, godly, or devoted. Hence, the bishop’s role is to keep God’s faithful in a close, pious, and devoted relationship with God through the proclamation of the truth of the gospel.

The bishop must also, by this proclamation, instill hope. Hope is the confident expectation of God’s help in attaining eternal life. Hence, the bishop is courageous and summons others to courage and to the confident expectation of God’s help.

Too many bishops and priests today fall short when it comes to proclaiming he gospel courageously. They avoid subjects that they think are “too hard” for God’s people. Many seldom preach about or teach of sacrifice. Long gone are any real demands from the pulpit for things such as fasting or turning away from sin to live a life of virtue and obedience to Christ even at high cost. But hope is the confident expectation of God’s help. A bishop should confidently and courageously summon God’s people to walk in the truth!

The Bishop should be Steady in Speaking. The text says, … that God, who does not lie, promised before time began, who indeed at the proper time revealed his word in the proclamation with which I was entrusted by the command of God our savior …

The bishop has been entrusted with God’s word, which he is to speak. This is not something to be used simply to further his own projects; it is the word of truth from God, who cannot lie.

It is God’s “revealed” word, meaning that it is unveiled and should not be treated as strange, remote, or unfathomable. It is plainly disclosed and should be plainly spoken.

Finally, the word is “entrusted by the command of God.” Thus, the bishop is under command to preach and teach the word entrusted to him. As St. Paul says elsewhere, For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor 9:16)

The Bishop should Stabilize and Secure. The text says, … to Titus, my true child in our common faith …. For this reason, I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town …

A bishop must put in order the local Church that has been entrusted to him. Even if elements of the truth are already present, there must be a purifying of that Church so that it is more complete in the truth and the virtues and so that there is order, that things are “set right” and improved upon.

A bishop is also to appoint priests in every town to help him to keep order, to teach and insist on what is right. As St. Paul says elsewhere: But let everything be done in a fitting and orderly way (1 Cor 14:40).

The Bishop must be Steadfast in Sanctity. The text says, For a bishop as God’s steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled …

I think this list speaks for itself. I will not add to it except to say that that the bishop and his priests and deacons should themselves be chaste and insist that others be chaste as well. It seems that in our times this must be specifically stated, for there has been too much unchastity among the clergy and it has been knowingly been tolerated.

The Bishop must be Sound and Sure. The text says, … holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents.

A bishop must not only hold and teach the faith, he must refute opponents and dissenters. There is far too little of this today among bishops and priests. Too often, even if they are personally orthodox, they stand by silently while wolves confuse the faithful, deceiving them and leading them astray.

St. Gregory the Great lamented that too many of his priest were “dumb dogs” who would not bark, who would not drive away the wolves and warn the faithful. Too rare today are bishops who will rebuke dissenters and deceivers. Too often dissenters, deceivers, and liars are allowed easy access to the faithful. Our universities teem with false notions; often the truth itself is banished. Parishes are permitted to stray seriously from Catholic norms on laity and Catholic teachings on morality.

Bishops must get back into the business of refuting error and refusing to allow access to the faithful to those who would deceive them. He must refute with sound doctrine not merely with his own opinion. He must protect his flock from the wolves in sheep’s clothing, with their pernicious errors rooted in presumption and false tolerance.

Here, then, is just a brief commentary. As our bishops gather in Baltimore, please pray for them and for all the clergy of the Church!

Go with God, Cardinal Wuerl

On this significant day for the Archdiocese of Washington and the universal Church, I want you to know that I receive the news of the Holy Father’s acceptance of Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation with mixed feelings.

I hope you will understand that he has been a spiritual Father to me since 2006 when he came to Washington as our Archbishop. I have flourished under his leadership. He appointed me in 2007 as pastor to my current parish, which I love so much. I have served him and the Archdiocese on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, the Priest Personnel Board, and as a Dean. I have also been the coordinator for the Traditional Latin Mass and worked closely with the Communications Office for many years. He called an Archdiocesan Synod in 2014 and has carefully implemented its decrees, and drafted many helpful policies, both financial and pastoral, that have assisted this archdiocese to be ship-shape. He has also founded a minor Seminary here and our vocations to the priesthood are vigorous, currently 75 men are in formation for us.

This very blog of the Archdiocese was his idea and when he asked me to write for it I had no idea that it would reach so far. My writing has never been micromanaged and only twice in ten years was I ever asked to remove a post I had written. I am grateful for the support, encouragement and platform I have received.

In all these ways and more I found him to be a top-notch administrator, careful, just, cautious and measured; even if, at times to a fault. Sometimes I wanted him to be passionate and fiery about this or that issue! Though some in recent news cycles have called him arrogant and extravagant, I have found him to be often shy and very aware that a bishop does not have unlimited powers. His lifestyle, from my limited vantage point was not extravagant but simple, even austere.

In this sense, it causes me special sadness that he resigns under a cloud where many see only what they know from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. We can never forget the victims of sexual abuse by clergy and we owe them every effort to eradicate predators from clerical ranks. And whatever the findings of the Grand Jury, accurate or inaccurate, I can say that, in his time here in Washington, Cardinal Wuerl has been very serious in enforcing the policies of the Dallas Charter and ensuring the safety and flourishing of the young people under our care.

However, even prior to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report there were problems that arose with Cardinal Wuerl’s response to the revelations about Archbishop McCarrick. He presented an institutional and legal face and spoke mostly by issuing disclaimers. He seemed to see the crisis as something to manage as an administrator more than a father and shepherd.

I would have preferred if he could have been less protective of the institution of the Church and been more like a grieved shepherd, angry that one of his predecessors had abused some of his flock, even his seminarians and young priests; angry that two other bishops had paid hush-money and not informed him or warned him. I wish I could have heard him tell God’s people that he was angry and disgusted and was going to move heaven and earth to get to the bottom of this scandal; that he would lead the charge to fight for us all so that this would not happen again.

Only late in the crisis did Cardinal Wuerl come to see that such a stance was what people needed and looked for. A few weeks ago, he wrote to God’s people in the Archdiocese a letter asking forgiveness for anything he had done to cause hurt. It was a beautiful letter and many in my congregation wept as I read it, (including me); others applauded. It was a breakthrough and a time of healing.  

Yet from early on, Cardinal Wuerl became the national face of this crisis and a kind of lightning rod for people’s justified anger at the McCarrick case. At some point being the face of the crisis  took on a life of its own and there was little or nothing the Cardinal could say or do to ameliorate this. I think, in many ways, a number of other bishops and clergy deserve greater scorn and scrutiny.

It is clear that there were numerous attempts to inform the Church of the concerns regarding Archbishop McCarrick that were brushed aside or received scant attention from bishops and Church officials both here in this country and going right to the top in Rome.

Only recently has Rome agreed to allow a thorough investigation to begin. I applaud this, since the allegations are serious and need investigation. This is not merely so that justice will be done, but also to be sure that clerical abuse is no longer tolerated or overlooked at any level. The current victims of clerical sexual abuse surely deserve such an investigation to be thorough and credible.

About a month ago, Cardinal Wuerl asked to meet with us, his priests, to discern with him if resignation was the best path forward for healing and progress for the Archdiocese in this situation. We sadly, and with great respect for him, came to the consensus that such a time had come. We were moved to be included in that discernment and he was clearly moved as well. It was a time of truth, but also of respect, concern, admiration and mutual charity.

The Cardinal went to Rome last week with the report that it was a time for new leadership in Washington and requested that the Holy Father now accept the resignation he had tendered almost three years before on his 75th Birthday. This morning the Pope has announced that acceptance.

As you can see, in his statement this morning Cardinal Wuerl reiterates his apology and his request for pardon for any past errors in judgment. He also wishes to present his resignation as a sign of love for the people of this Archdiocese and prays it will be a way forward toward healing for victims and resolutions that will further protect God’s good people.

I pray that none of you will forget the many ways the Lord has blessed us through Cardinal Wuerl. It is too easy to demonize people we have not met or when we are angry, even justifiably so. But the Cardinal is a human being, and one of God’s sons. He deserves and requires our love and prayers as he departs. Whatever errors in judgment have occurred, please remember his request for forgiveness.

I have known and worked with Cardinal Donald Wuerl over the years and it is very painful for me to see him go, especially under these circumstances. As I said, he has been a spiritual father and leader, and has confirmed me in my own ministry for the past 12 years. Go with God, Cardinal Wuerl, go with God.


What’s A Bishop to Do? A Pondering of the Role of the Bishops in Questions of Public Policy

As a priest I am very careful to avoid the trip wire of partisan politics. The Catholic faithful are currently a very politically divided lot. One thing is sure, if I speak to a topic in a way that is perceived as taking sides in a political matter,  I will be loved by about 40%, hated by about 40% and 20% will have no idea what I am talking about.

Another factor is that it’s not always easy to decide what a political issue is. Many of the critical moral issues of our day have woven themselves into the political fabric of our times. I may intend to speak against abortion but some insist that I am just a shill of the Republican Party. I may quote right from the catechism regarding the duties of this nation to immigrants and some will say that I’m just a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party. Now I surely will and do speak to the moral issues of these days, but I have to be very careful to stick to the issue, since people are very prone to listen with partisan, rather than Catholic ears. But honestly, it is a very difficult balance.

Then too, there are just some issues I should stay away from. I am not an expert on every public policy matter. I am aware that reasonable men and women differ on the best policies to deal with concerns of Americans. There are questions about the size and role of government, the proper level and way of taxing, the degree and extent of necessary welfare reform, the percentage of affordable housing in a given area,  etc….,   many reasonable people just differ on these things. Is it my role as a priest to opine on these topics?  Should the pulpit be used to weigh in on these things?  How about the bulletin?

Recently here on the blog there was a discussion about Cardinal Wuerl’s interview on Fox News Sunday  and his reflections on the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Many people in the comments box wanted him to specifically denounce the repeal of DADT. TO be sure, the question of homosexual activity is a moral issue, and the Cardinal articulated that. But DADT is a policy question. For 17 years now the military has allowed Gay people to serve, but insisted that their sexual preference be kept private for the sake of morale. Such has been the policy and it appears that this policy is going to gradually change.

Now what’s a bishop to do in cases like this? Is it sufficient for him to restate the Church’s position on the wrongfulness of homosexual acts and stay out of policy debates? Or should a bishop articulate a clear position, for or against, on a policy like DADT? What is most prudent and effective? What are the limits?

A matter of prudential judgment – The fact is, not all bishops agree on those limits. This is because determining those limits is a matter of prudential judgment. Judgments such as these vary from person to person, from issue to issue, and from region to region.

Whose ox? Even many of those commenting on last week’s blog and wishing for a more direct denunciation of DADT by the Cardinal, would probably be far less happy to hear him or another bishop indicating support for legislative efforts such as the DREAM Act or giving a negative opinion on the Arizona immigration law. Some might even opine that the bishops were overstepping their role in making such comments or that they don’t really understand the issues involved.

What is most prudent? So, on the one hand, people on both sides of the political aisle are often eager to draw the bishops into matters where reasonable people debate. On the other hand, when the given bishop does not take the desired side, they are often said to have over-stepped their authority, or that they are excoriated as being “just a bunch of left-wingers,” (or)  “just operatives of the Republican Party.”  Does all this really help the bishops in the end to preach the Gospel? Or does in merely cause them to be labeled and written off as mere political opponents with political motives?

I do not ask these as merely rhetorical questions. As stated the answer to many of these questions is matter of prudence. That the Church should annunciate moral principles is clear. When and to what extent the clergy should opine on matters of policy and legislation is less clear and requires great prudence. If all we do is annunciate principles we risk merely preaching abstractions and generalities, and this is akin to irrelevance. However if we clergy go too far into policy and legislative details we may well over step into an area that rightfully belongs to the laity, to experts and to the political process.

As a concluding example to this pondering I want to quote from an article by Deal Hudson who critiques the Bishops for not being more hawkish on the principle of subsidiarity. Then I want to ask some questions:

U.S. district court judge Henry Hudson, responding to a suit brought by Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, recently ruled the new health care law unconstitutional. Hudson found the legislation represented an “unchecked expansion” of congressional power. He explained that Congress does not have the authority, even under its power to regulate interstate commerce, to force a citizen to purchase private insurance coverage…..

When I first commented on the Virginia decision, I noted that no official response had been released by the USCCB. That remains the case. But with the likelihood that the Obama administration’s version of universal health care will be dismantled either by the Supreme Court, the Congress, or both, the USCCB should be looking for other ways of reaching the same goal….

While the bishops objected vigorously to the presence of abortion funding in the legislation, they seem untroubled by the question of its general constitutionality, one that comports closely with the principle of subsidiarity as articulated in Catholic social teaching….

Commentators on the Catholic culture wars focus on abortion, marriage, and homosexuality while completely overlooking the deep divisions over subsidiarity and the role of government in seeking the common good.

But now that a state court has found that the principle of individual liberty is violated by the health-care legislation, the questions of subsidiarity and individual liberty again come to the fore. As this case, and perhaps similar cases, moves toward the Supreme Court, the USCCB will no longer be able to duck questions about expanding the power of the federal government.

It’s a good moment in our nation’s history for all of us to take a fresh look at our founding documents. And while we are at it, Catholics can lay them alongside the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and note how a limited government with a separation of powers, as well as a respect for individual liberty and free enterprise, is not antithetical to what is found there.[1][2]

In effect Mr Hudson wants to draw the US Bishops into the debate about the size of Government. He of course is free to do so and to seek, as he does, to influence them to weigh the principle of subsidiarity more heavily in their thinking.

However I wonder how prudent it would be for the bishops to be drawn into a debate about the size and role of government here in America. We are a democracy wherein the electorate exercise considerable influence over the size and role of government and the level of taxation, if they choose to. Is it really the role of bishops to determine the extent and role of government in a free democratic republic?

It is surely appropriate for the bishops to speak to the principles of subsidiarity, and solidarity and to encourage balance in an over all sense. But if Mr. Hudson wants them to enter the healthcare debate with a “subsidiarity ruler”  this may be more difficult. Consider some of the following:

1. What is the exact and best level of subsidiarity to be sought? I know its the lowest possible level. But what is the lowest possible level?

2. Can everyone agree and find the lowest level?

3. Is this the federal government?

4. Is it state government?

5. Is it purely private companies?.

6. Or is it a combination?

7. What combination?

8. Do reasonable people disagree?

9. Then who is right?

10. Who is to decide?

In other words, What’s a bishop to do?It is perhaps easy for the Mr Hudson to want to draw the bishops in on this question. But of course he would want them to agree with his level of subsidiarity. Reasonable men do differ on what the proper level of government involvement is. Liberals generally want a higher level and conservatives a lower level. I tend to be fearful of big government and would wish to limit its scope. Am I right? What is the metric we are to use here to gauge proper subsidiarity? What is level should the bishops use? Or is it enough for them to set forth the principles of Solidarity and Subsidiarity, and for lay people, (such as Mr. Hudson), to take these principles into the public arena and influence policy as they see fit? Should bishops reject the healthcare bill on the basis of subsidiarity?

Is that wise to apply the principle to a specific piece of legislation when the exact metric for subsidiarity isn’t even clear? Or is it best for the bishops to allow the political process to make that determination of the proper balance between solidarity, subsidiarity and the proper scope and role of government.

What’s a Bishop to do?

Now these are actual questions I am asking. I would like to know what you think. I would ask that simple attacks on the bishops be kept out. What I’d like to do here is to ponder what is prudent and perhaps discuss some norms and limits.

Here the Pope articulates some Catholic Social Principles including subsidiarity.

It is the Decision of the Holy Spirit and Us….On the Council of Jerusalem and the Catholicity of the Early Church

In the first reading at Today’s Mass (and all last week at daily Mass) we have recounted for us the Council of Jerusalem which scholars generally date to around the Year 50 AD. It was a pivotal moment in the history of the Church since it would set forth an identity for the Church that was independent per se from the culture of Judaism, and it would open wide the door or inculturation to the Gentiles. This surely had significant impact upon evangelization in the early Church.

Catholic Ecclesiology is Evident here: I want to set forth in this article the proposition that we have reflected here a very Catholic model of the Church in terms of how a matter of significant pastoral practice and doctrine is properly dealt with. In effect what we see here is the same model the Catholic Church has continued to use right to our own time. What is evident here and in all subsequent Ecumenical Councils is a gathering of the Bishops presided over by the Pope which considers a matter and may even debate it. If necessary the Pope resolves debates where consensus cannot be reached. Once a decision is reached, a letter is issued to whole Church and considered binding.

All these elements are seen here though somewhat in seminal form. Let’s consider this First Council of the Church in Jerusalem of 50 AD. beginning first with the remote preparation –

1. Bring in the Gentiles! – The Lord, just before he ascended gave the Apostles the great commission: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). Hence, the Gentiles are now to be summoned  and included in the ranks of discipleship and of the Church.

2. But it looks like the Church was mighty slow in beginning any outreach to the Gentiles. It is true that on the day of Pentecost people from every nation heard the Sermon of Peter and 3000 converted. By they were all Jews (Acts 2). In fact it seems the Church did little at first to leave Jerusalem and go anywhere, let alone to the nations.

3. Perhaps as a swift quick in the pants the Lord allowed a persecution to break out in Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7). This caused the gospel to begin a northward trek into Samaria at least. Samaritans however are not usually considered Gentiles, since they were a groups that had intermarried with Jews in the 8th Century BC. There is also the Baptism of an Ethiopian Official but he too was a Jew.

4. Fifteen Years  ?!  The time line of Acts is a bit speculative however if we study it carefully and compare it to some of what Paul says (esp. in Galatians) it would seem that we are dealing with over 15 years before the baptism of the first Gentile! If this is true then it is a disgrace. There were of course strong racial animosities between Jew and Gentile that may explain the slow response to Jesus’ commission. It explains but does not excuse it.

5. Time for another kick in the pants. This time the Lord went to Peter who was praying on a rooftop in Joppa and by means of a vision taught him that he was not to call unclean what God had called clean. The Lord then sent to Peter an entourage from Cornelius, a high Roman military official who was seeking baptism. He, of course was a Gentile. The entourage requests that Peter go with them to meet Cornelius at Cesarea. At first he is reluctant. But then recalling the vision (kick in the pants) that God had given him he decides to go. In Cesarea he does something unthinkable. He, a Jew, enters the house of a Gentile. Peter has learned his lesson and been guided by God as the first Pope to do what is right and just. After a conversation with Cornelius and the whole household, and signs from the Holy Spirit, Peter has them baptized. Praise the Lord! It was about time. (All of this is detailed in Acts 10)

6. It is a true fact that many were not happy with what Peter had done and they confront him on it. Peter explains his vision, and also the manifestation of the Holy Spirit and insists that this is how it is going to be. While it is a true fact these early Christians felt freer to question Peter than we would the Pope today, it is also a fact that what Peter has done is binding even if some of them don’t like it. What Peter has done will stand. Once Peter has definitively answered them, they reluctantly assent and declare somewhat cynically: “God has granted life giving repentance (even) to the Gentiles!”  (Acts 11:19)

7. Trouble Brewing – So, the mission to the Gentiles is finally open. But that does not mean trouble is over. As Paul, Barnabas and others begin to bring in large numbers of Gentile converts some among the Jewish Christians begin to object that  they were not  like Jews and began to insist that they must be circumcised and follow the whole Jewish Law, not just the moral precepts but also the cultural norms, kosher diet, purification rites etc. That is where we picked up the story in today’s Mass.

8. The Council of Jerusalem – Luke is a master of understatement and says “Because there arose no little dissension and debate….” (Acts 15:2) it was decided to ask the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem to gather and consider the matter. So the apostles and some presbyters (priests) with them meet and,  of course,  Peter is there as is James who was especially prominent in Jerusalem among the apostles and would later become bishop there. Once again Luke rather humorously summarizes the matter by saying, “After much debate Peter arose” (Acts 15:7). In effect Peter arises to settle the matter since (it would seem) that the apostles themselves were divided.  Had not Peter received this charge from the Lord? The Lord had prophesied: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift you all like wheat but I have prayed for you Peter, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32). Now Peter fulfills this text as he will again and every Pope after him. Peter clearly dismisses any notion that the Gentiles should be made to take up the whole burden of Jewish customs. Paul and Barnabas rise to support this. Then James (who may have felt otherwise) rises to assent to the decision and asks that a letter be sent forth to all the Churches explaining the decision. He also asks for and obtains a few concessions.

So there it is, the First Council. And that Council like all the Church-wide Councils that would follow was a gathering of the bishops, in the presence of Peter who works to unite them. A decision is then made and a decree, binding on the whole Church,  is sent out. Very Catholic actually. We have kept this Biblical model ever since. Our Protestant brethren have departed from it for they have no Pope to settle things when they dispute. They have split endlessly into tens of thousands of denominations and factions. When no one is pope every one is pope.

A final thought. Notice how the decree to the Churches is worded: It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us (Acts 15:28). In the end we trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in matters of faith and morals. We trust that decrees and doctrines that issue forth from Councils of the Bishops with the Pope are inspired by and authored by the Holy Spirit Himself. And there it is right in Scripture, the affirmation that when the Church speaks solemnly in this way it is not just some bishops and the Pope as men, it is the Holy Spirit who speaks with them.

The Church – Catholic from the Start!

When Did the Resurrection Become Dogma?

In the early hours of the resurrection appearances on the first Easter Sunday news began to be circulated that Jesus was alive and had been seen. These reports were, at first disbelieved or at least doubted by the apostles. Various reports from both women and men were dismissed by the apostles. But suddenly in the evening of that first Easter Sunday there is a change and a declaration by the apostles that the Lord had truly been raised. What effected this change? We will see in a moment. But first note the early reports of the resurrection and how they were largely disregarded:

  1. The women who go to the tomb first discover it empty (Mat 28:6; Mk 16:6; Luke 24:5; John 20:2). The Gospel of John, which is most specific indicates that Magdalene went straightway to Peter and John and speaks anxiously, not of resurrection but of a stolen body. Peter and John hurry to the tomb to investigate. But meanwhile the other women have had a vision of an angels who declare that Jesus had risen and that they should inform the apostles. They depart to do so.  Here is first evidence though the risen Lord had yet to appear.
  2. Peter and John arrive at the tomb after the women had departed. They saw only the empty tomb but it was clearly not grave robbers for the expensive grave linens were lying outstretched. Peter’s reaction is unrecorded but the text said, John saw (the grave clothes outstretched) and believed (Jn 20:8). Exactly what he believed is not clear. Did he believe what Mary had said? Or does the text mean he came to believe in that moment that Jesus had risen? It is not clear but let us suppose that he has come to believe that Jesus has risen. Does this mean that the Church now officially believes that Christ has risen because one of the apostles (one of the first bishops) believes it? It would seem not. That will have to wait for later in the day. Peter and John depart the tomb.
  3. Mary Magdalene had followed Peter and John back to the tomb and, after they leave, Jesus appears to her. Here is the first appearance of the risen Christ. Does this now  mean  that the Church officially believes that Jesus is risen? It would seem not. That will have to wait until later in the day. For scripture testifies that Jesus appeared elsewhere to the other women who had gone to the tomb but that when Mary Magdalene and the other women report that they had seen Jesus risen, the apostles would not believe it (Mk 16:11; Luke 24:11) Hence, though we have appearances we cannot yet say that there is any official declaration by the Church that Christ is truly risen.
  4. Jesus appears also to two disciples (not apostles) who are journeying to Emmaus that late afternoon. At the conclusion of that appearance they run to tell the apostles who, once again, do not believe it (Mark 16:13). So now we have had at least three appearances but no official acceptance by the Church’s leaders (the apostles) that there is any truth to these sightings.

So when does the resurrection become the official declaration of the early Church? Up till now the stories had been rejected by the apostles as fanciful or untrue. Even the possible belief of one of the 12 (John) was not enough to cause an official declaration from the early Church. What causes this to change? It would seem that, after the early evening report by the disciples returning from Emmaus, Peter slipped away, perhaps for a walk or some other purpose and according to both Paul (1 Cor 15:5) and Luke (Luke 24:34) the risen Lord appeared to him privately and prior to the other apostles. Peter then reports this to the others and the resurrection moves from being doubted to being the official declaration of the Church. The official declaration is worded thus:

The Lord has truly risen indeed, he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)

The resurrection is now officially declared. Notice, the world “truly” (some texts say “indeed”). It is not an officially attested fact that Jesus has risen. Neither Magdalene, nor the women in general, nor the disciples from Emmaus could make this declaration for the Church. It took the college of apostles in union with Peter to do this. Hence the dogma of the resurrection becomes so on very Catholic terms:  The first bishops (the apostles) in union or in Council with the first Pope (Peter) make this solemn declaration of the faith.

It is a true fact that the Lord upbraids them later for being so reluctant to accept the testimony of the others (Mark 16:14). He calls them “hard of heart” for this reluctance but he does not undermine their authority to make the official declaration for in the very next verse he commissions the apostles to go forth and preach and teach in his name. Surely the Lord was not pleased after he had promised many times to rise from the dead that they were so slow to listen to the voices of the first witnesses. Should they not have concluded it was the third day and that the Lord had promised to rise and connected the dots? Did he have to personally appear before they would believe? Alas, it would seem so. Jesus’ first bishops were not perfect men, far from it. But they were the leaders he had chosen, knowing their weakness. So too for today, the Church’s leaders are not perfect and may take far too long at times to make decisions or give clearer teachings or impose necessary discipline. But, in the end it is they who are nonetheless commissioned to teach officially.

Finally it should be noted that one of the apostles, Thomas, was absent. Even after the official declaration of the Church went forth he still refused to believe (Jn 20:25). Here too the Lord is merciful to him but in the end is clear that Thomas has fallen short. And Thomas has fallen short in a more egregious manner for he has refused the collective and solemn declaration of the Church. He has not merely disbelieved the testimony of one or a few disciples. Jesus goes on to declare blessed those who accept the solemn testimony of the Church though they have not seen him with earthly eyes (Jn 20:29).

Gloria TV News

Today’s news.

The USA is not the only nation to struggle over illegal immigrants. England too wrestles with the question of amnesty.

A Bishop needs to clamp down on Women’s Religious Community over flawed notions of ministry to Homosexual Persons

The Latin American Information Agency demonstrates continued hostility to Church Teaching

Italian Bishops scold the Prime Minister