Thursday, November 15, 2012

Penance and Evangelization: Cardinal Dolan's Answer to Persecution

Many Catholics have been walking around in a kind of dazed state of mind since the re-election of President Barack Obama, an avowed enemy of the Catholic Church who stands against everything the Church teaches. Obama's re-election ensures that persecution of the Church will now be institutionalized in the government. It is a sure guarantee that all future laws will be in opposition to Church teaching and Catholics will be forced to choose between their Church and their country.

On top of that, we have lost all hope for our beloved country itself.  The United States is like a burning building in a 5-alarm fire.  We cannot save the building.  Our task now is to try to pull as many souls to safety as we can before the building burns completely to the ground.

However, the harder we work to save the souls trapped in the burning building called the United States, the more persecution we will receive from those who are, consciously or not, bent on destroying the Catholic Church and, in turn, destroying the country.

It is imperative to recognize that we are in the midst of a great spiritual war. There is no neutral ground in this war.  The GOP candidate in this last election tried to convince us it was all about the economy.  No, Mr. Romney, as bad as our economy is, that was not the pivotal issue.  This election was about the spiritual state of our nation, and you lost because you failed to recognize that fact.  The Democrats knew it and campaigned on the social issues such as abortion, contraception and homosexuality, and that is why they won.  As a result, the Culture of Death is now completely in charge of the United States of America.

The combatants in this spiritual war have been clearly defined.  One side is our secular, humanist society which rejects all spiritual, moral values and embraces a hedonistic lifestyle.  The other side is one that affirms life, supports traditional marriage and morality, and values every human being, especially those who are weakest and most vulnerable.  If you are not actively a part of the Culture of Life as it was called by Blessed John Paul II, then you are part of the Culture of Death.  There are no other options, no neutral ground.  No one is on the sidelines, everyone is in this fight.  If you are trying to coast and not get involved, then you have chosen the Culture of Death.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, perfectly described the current state of our nation in his book, Spirit of the Liturgy, published in 2000:
Law without a foundation in morality becomes injustice. When morality and law do not originate in a God-ward perspective, they degrade man, because they rob him of his highest measure and his highest capacity, deprive him of any vision of the infinite and eternal. This seeming liberation subjects him to the dictatorship of the ruling majority, to shifting human standards, which inevitably end up doing him violence . . . When human affairs are so ordered that there is no recognition of God, there is a belittling of man.
Moses receiving the
10 Commandments from God
Giving us a prime example, Cardinal Raztinger went on to discuss ancient Israel and their physical attainment of the Promised Land and how Mt Sinai - where God gave them the 10 Commandments and which represents God in the life of Israel - fits into the goal of the Promised Land :
It becomes clear that what took place on Sinai [the giving of God's law], in the period of rest after the wandering through the wilderness, is what gives meaning to the taking of the [promised] land.  Sinai is not a halfway house, a kind of stop for refreshment on the road to what really matters.  No, Sinai gives Israel, so to speak, its interior land without which the exterior one would be a cheerless prospect. . . . Sinai remains present in the Promised Land.  When the reality of Sinai is lost, the Land, too, is inwardly lost, until finally the people are thrust into exile.  Whenever Israel falls away from the right worship of God, when she turns away from God to the false gods (the powers and values of this world), her freedom, too collapses.  It is possible for her to live in her own land [representing freedom] and yet still be as she was in Egypt [the land of slavery].  Mere possession of your own land and state does not give you freedom; in fact, it can be the grossest kind of slavery.  And when the loss of law becomes total, it ends in the loss even of the land.

We in the United States have completely pushed our Creator out of our laws.  Our laws are no longer based on the Judeo-Christian ethic - on the 10 Commandments.  Our laws are based on how we feel and what we want.  I want my birth control, I want my abortion, I want to be able to marry anyone I choose, be it man or woman.  As we have just seen in two states - Colorado and Washington where recreational use of marijuana was legalized - we can now legally use drugs.  Just as we can kill our inconvenient babies, we are also on the edge of legalizing the killing of our elderly, sick and handicapped if they get in our way.  Physician assisted suicide was very narrowly defeated in Massachusetts, but suicide is already legal in Washington and Oregon and sure to spread to other states.

Like the Israelites, we have lost the reality of Sinai - God's Law - and as Cardinal Ratzinger so presciently pointed out, this will result in the loss of our land.  The re-election of Barack Obama has sealed the deal. As I previously stated, the house is burning down.  We can't save the building, but we can and must try to save souls.

The question is, how did America go from a nation based on the Judeo-Christian ethic of the 10 commandments to one based on secular, humanist values?  Is it just coincidence that America's slide into degeneracy is simultaneous with the rejection of so many in the Catholic Church of Humanae Vitae?  The Catholic Church is the ark of salvation to the world, the salt of the earth, the city set on a hill.  If we reject the Law of God, the rest of society doesn't stand a chance.  And that is exactly what we have seen.  50% of the Catholic vote went for President Obama, the symbol of all that is wrong with America.  Just as it was Catholics who initially put Obama into office, so it was the Catholic vote that re-elected Obama.  And the Church and society will now pay the ultimate price.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan at the Bishops' Conference
The Catholic Church must come to repentance for what she has done and what she has failed to do.  And it would seem that the head of the US Bishops, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, is aware of this fact.  Cardinal Dolan gave a pretty amazing speech at the recent conference of US Bishops in Baltimore in which he emphasized penance and the New Evangelization. Cardinal Dolan's speech is one that can also benefit the faithful as well. We didn't see our usually jolly, wise-cracking Cardinal this time. He was very serious and reminded me of a general preparing his troops before sending them out to battle.   He began with telling the bishops that before trying to convert the Culture, they have to start with themselves and their relationship with the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ:  From Catholic World Report:
But I stand before you this morning to say simply: first things first. We gather as disciples of, as friends of, as believers in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, "the Way, the Truth and the Life," who exhorted us to "seek first the Kingdom of God."
We cannot engage culture unless we let Him first engage us; we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us.
The Venerable Servant of God, Fulton J. Sheen, once commented, "The first word of Jesus in the Gospel was 'come'; the last word of Jesus was 'go'."

Opening of Second Vatican Council
He then quoted Blessed John XXIII at the opening of the Second Vatican Council in which Blessed John XXIII emphasized the need for evangelization.
Fifty years ago, on October 11, 1962, Blessed John XXIII courageously convened the Second Vatican Council "the greatest concern of which," he insisted, "is that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously." (Allocution on the occasion of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudet mater ecclesia).
We gather for our plenary assembly in our nation's premiere see, at the close of the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops, still near the beginning of the Year of Faith. Both occasions have the same origin, the same goal expressed by Blessed John XXIII: the effective transmission of the faith for the transformation of the world.
Cardinal Dolan then quotes from our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI on the importance of re-evangelizing ourselves before we take on the world, and that we should do this not just once but as an ongoing process:
Here's an especially striking example from his [Pope Benedict XVI] first ad limina address: "Evangelization," the Successor of St. Peter noted, ". . . appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ's truth."
To put even more emphasis on the need for the bishops (and the laity) to start with themselves when it comes to evangelization, Cardinal Dolan quotes from the final message given at the last Synod of Bishops. As he says, evangelization starts with a call to conversion of ourselves:
As we bishops at the just concluded Synod of Bishops confessed in our closing message:
"We, however, should never think that the new evangelization does not concern us as Bishops personally. In these days voices among the Bishops were raised to recall that the Church must first of all heed the Word before she can evangelize the world. The invitation to evangelize becomes a call to conversion." 
"We Bishops firmly believe that we must convert ourselves first to the power of Jesus Christ who alone can make all things new, above all our poor existence. With humility we must recognize that the poverty and weaknesses of Jesus' disciples, especially us, his ministers, weigh on the credibility of the mission. We are certainly aware – we bishops first of all – that we can never really be equal to the Lord's calling and mandate to proclaim His Gospel to the nations. 
We… do not hesitate to recognize our personal sins. We are, however, also convinced that the Lord's Spirit is capable of renewing His Church and rendering her garment resplendent if we let Him mold us." (Final Message of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God, October 28, 2012)
The New Evangelization reminds us that the very agents of evangelization – you and me -- will never achieve that abundant harvest Blessed John XXIII described unless we are willing and eager to first be evangelized themselves. Only those themselves first evangelized can then evangelize. As St. Bernard put it so well, "If you want to be a channel, you must first be a reservoir."
Sacrament of Confession
At this point, Cardinal Dolan touches on a subject that we have rarely heard in our churches in recent decades:  the need for penance and the sacrament of penance.  His Eminence has recently been speaking of this fairly often, and I give him much credit for doing so.  Our personal conversion cannot take place without recognition of and penance for our own sin.  Without penance, people forget they are sinners.  Without penance, we are unable to be a witness to the world of the saving message of Christ's Gospel.  Cardinal Dolan seems to be taking concrete steps to get this message to the Church.
I would suggest this morning that this reservoir of our lives and ministry, when it comes especially to the New Evangelization, must first be filled with the spirit of interior conversion born of our own renewal. That's the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a penitential heart, and our own full embrace of the Sacrament of Penance.
"To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance," declared the council fathers in the very first of the documents to appear, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. (SC, n. 9)
​To be sure, the sacraments of initiation - - Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist - - charge, challenge, and equip the agents of evangelization. Without those sacraments, we remain isolated, unredeemed, timid and unfed.
​But, the Sacrament of Reconciliation evangelizes the evangelizers, as it brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer his invitation to repentance -- a repentance from within that can then transform the world without.
What an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.
​We became very good in the years following the Council in calling for the reform of structures, systems, institutions, and people other than ourselves.That, too, is important; it can transform our society and world. But did we fail along the way to realize that in no way can the New Evangelization be reduced to a program, a process, or a call to structural reform; that it is first and foremost a deeply personal conversion within? "The Kingdom of God is within," as Jesus taught.
​The premier answer to the question "What's wrong with the world?" "what's wrong with the church?" is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization or global warming . . .none of these, as significant as they are. As Chesterton wrote, "The answer to the question 'What's wrong with the world?' is just two words: 'I am,'" 
* * *
 We kneel in the Sacrament of Penance because we are profoundly sorry for our faults and our sins, serious obstacles to the New Evangelization. But then we stand forgiven, resolute to return to the work entrusted to us - as evangelizers of the Gospel of Mercy. 

Cardinal Dolan next made a statement that has energized many Traditional Catholics, but will leave many average Catholics in [and out] of the pews scratching their heads and wondering what he is talking about:
The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent. Our pastoral plan offers numerous resources for catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance, and the manifold graces that come to us from the frequent use of confession. Next June we will gather in a special assembly as brother bishops to pray and reflect on the mission entrusted to us by the Church, including our witness to personal conversion in Jesus Christ, and so to the New Evangelization.
I personally find this very exciting. The Church has never discontinued Friday as a day of penance.  Friday has always been a day of penance in the Church because it is the day our Lord died, and doing penance keeps the great Saving Sacrifice of our Lord central in our lives.  The traditional penance was to abstain from meat.  But in trying to free the laity from rules and regulations, Bishops came to the conclusion that Catholics should be able to decide their own penances.  The result was no one did anything.  Most Catholics in these times are not even aware of Friday as a day of penance and, in fact, many believe Friday penance is no longer required.  This is truly tragic because it has led directly to the loss of awareness of Christ's great sacrifice on the Cross and the reason for that sacrifice - our sins.  Without penance, the Church starts to die, and the society dies with it.

St. John Vianney in the Confessional,
where he would often be
16-18 hours each day
Cardinal Dolan ends his speech by stressing, along with penance, the virtues that spring from penance:  humility and love. It is very hard to be proud when you are aware of your own sins. When we are repentant and humble, the Holy Spirit can then fill us with His Love and Compassion for men and use us to preach God's Gospel of mercy and salvation:

We work at giving our people good examples of humble, repentant pastors, aware of our own personal and corporate sins, constantly responding to the call of Jesus to interior conversion. Remember the Curé of Ars? When a concerned group of his worried supporters came to him with a stinging protest letter from a number of parishioners, demanding the bishop to remove John Vianney as their curé, claiming he was a sinner, ignorant, and awkward, St. John Vianney took the letter, read it carefully ... and signed the petition!
As I began my talk this morning, my brothers, so I would like to end it, with Blessed John XXIII.
It was the Sunday angelus of October 28, 1962.The message the Holy Father delivered on that bright Roman afternoon never even mentions the phrase New Evangelization.  But it strikes right at the heart of the mission entrusted to each of us as shepherds.
"I feel something touching my spirit that leads to serenity," Good Pope John remarked. "The word of the Gospel is not silent.  It resonates from one end of the world to the other, and finds the way of the heart. Dangers and sorrows, human prudence and wisdom, everything needs to dissolve into a song of love, into a renewed invitation, pleading all to desire and wish for the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ. A kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love and peace."
How could we not see it alive in those holy men and women of every time and place, the heroic evangelizers of our faith, including most recently St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Marianne Cope?

We have beheld it in the Church's unrelenting corporal and spiritual works of mercy, in the heroic witness of persecuted Christians, in the Church's defense of unborn human life, the care of our elders and the terminally ill, advocacy for the unemployed, those in poverty, our immigrant brothers and sisters, victims of terror and violence throughout our world, of all faiths and creeds, and in our defense of religious freedom, marriage and family.

And, I have suggested today, that as we "come and go" in response to the invitation of Jesus, we begin with the Sacrament of Penance.  This is the sacrament of the New Evangelization, for as Pope Benedict reminds us, "We cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire to conversion." (Homily for the Opening of the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops).

With this as my presidential address, I know I risk the criticism. I can hear it now: "With all the controversies and urgent matters for the Church, Dolan spoke of conversion of heart through the Sacrament of Penance. Can you believe it?"
 
To which I reply, "You better believe it!"
First things first!

Confessional used for storage
My hope is that these are not just words, but that Cardinal Dolan will follow up these words with actions.  I hope that he will reimplement abstinence on all Fridays throughout the year, not just Lent.  I hope that under his direction we will start hearing about the Sacrament of Confession on a regular basis, and that Churches will start offering this Sacrament on a daily basis as most Churches did in the past.  Maybe churches will revert the confessionals they have turned into storage places back into confessionals where people can be pulled from the jaws of hell. 

Of course, if you're going to preach about the Sacrament of Confession, that means preaching about the reason for this Sacrament - sin.  No more general sermons about "being nice" and "loving everyone".  Certainly we need to hear about God's mercy and love and about extending this love to others, but we also need our priests to hold up the mirror and show us our sins.  We need to hear about the evils of birth control, cohabitation, homosexuality.  We need the priests to tell us that missing Mass on Sunday without excuse is a mortal sin and puts our souls in eternal danger.  We need to hear about the reality of hell.  And we need to hear that we must be in a state of grace to receive the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord in communion. 

Holy Mother Church has given us the tools and weapons that are necessary to fight the spiritual war in which we are all involved.  But if we don't use what we have been given, we will be defeated and many, many souls will be lost. 

We can't save the United States. That ship has sailed.  Let us be about the business of pulling souls from the fires that surround us, starting with our own soul.

2 comments:

  1. very long post but very good! I just recently discovered your blog. It's wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brevity is definitely not my strong suit. I could use an editor.

      Thank you for your kind comments. If there is anything that is edifying here, I give all the credit to our Blessed Mother.

      Delete

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