Friday, December 28, 2012

Feast of the Holy Innocents: The Unjolly Side of Christmas

Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border.
Jeremiah 31:15-17

Although Christmas has become one of the biggest holidays of the year, the real message and meaning of Christmas has become so completely lost that we don't even call it by its rightful name anymore.  It is now a "holiday", a time of fun and festivities and parties, lights and glitter.  We forget the story of a husband and wife away from home, about to have a baby with nowhere to go, and the eventual birth of this baby in a lowly little manger.  We are so involved in our celebration of "Christmas" that we completely push God out of the picture.  As our Holy Father pointed out in his Christmas sermon, the story of Joseph and Mary finding no room in the inn symbolizes the place of God in our modern world and and in the lives of far too many individually, and by extension how we treat one another:
Do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for him. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have.
And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away.
If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the "God hypothesis" becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so "full" of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger.
* * *

Family members of Newtown's victims
What are the consequences of pushing God out of our lives, of allowing the material and profane to take the place that God should have, of having no time for anyone or anything other than our own wants and desires?  We recently saw one very visible result in Newtown, Connecticut when a young man shot 28 people to death, 20 of whom were only 6 and 7 years old.  We know the murderer spent his days playing violent video games and was involved with the occult, that he even had a website dedicated to Satan.  Our great adversary, whose main goal is to destroy us, had taken the place of God in the life of Adam Lanza, and as a result, evil invaded an elementary school in its worse form.

The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut was eerily reminiscent of that which took place shortly after the birth of Christ 2000 years ago.  December 28 is Feast Day of the Holy Innocents in which we honor those small children, all under the age of 2 years, who were massacred by King Herod in his quest to kill the Christ Child, whom he saw as a threat to his kingship.  As in the case of Newtown, this was a time when we saw evil at its ugliest, destroying innocence and purity.

It may seem strange to some that Holy Mother Church would have a feast day to actually celebrate these tiny martyrs, especially three days after celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior.  Christmas is suppose to be a time of joy, right?  "Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la", etc.  One day after Christmas, we celebrated the martyrdom of St. Stephen who was killed by stoning, and now we're celebrating the gruesome massacre of innocent babies.

What's with this Church?

The Feast of the Holy Innocents
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
I have copied  below an excellent homily on this subject that was posted on a website run by five Jesuit Priests called "Whosoever Desires."  They do not tell us who gave this sermon, but we are told it was "Delivered in St. Louis, Missouri at the Jesuit Formation Gathering 2010."  They entitled this post, "Feast of the Holy Innocents: A Homily".  I think this sermon really shows the seeming contradictions contained in Christmas, that it is not just egg nog and "good cheer", but as this sermons starts out, "the most complex season of the church year":
Christmas is the most complex season of the church year.
For the past few years at these formation gatherings, Paddy Hough has made us sing a song entitled the Seven Joys of Mary. It has an infuriatingly upbeat melody, several jolly Britishisms, and a list of seven purported joys that Mary experiences. Some of the joys are really stretching the concept of joy. One of them is Jesus being nailed to the Cross.
To hear the song once is to have it etched on your brain forever, and if you’ve not yet heard it then just wait, I’m sure it’s coming sometime in the next few days, perhaps even at this very mass. But what really bothers me about the song is the fact that it’s considered a joy to watch your son being nailed to a cross and even more stupefying is the fact that it’s a Christmas song. Christmas is all about the joy. But here we are with Jesus, still fresh from the womb and we’re already calling his crucifixion a joy. It’s enough to make you schizophrenic.
Lighting the Advent Candle, a contradictory mixture of
purple for penance and rose for joy
Whatever holy Englishman came up with those words, though, was onto something. Christmas is the most complex feast on the Christian calendar. Just judging by the liturgical colors one can see that it’s the least stable liturgical season of the year. If you include advent, and for the purposes of this homily I will, if you include the colors of advent we have the purples of pentinence, the blush of gaudete joy, the white of the star of David. And the red, yes, the red of the blood of the martyrs. All of this transpires over a period of a few weeks. This is not the seemingly unrelenting white of the fifty days of Easter. The Advent and Christmas seasons have a panoply of colors—and of experiences. Elizabeth, once barren, now conceives. Mary, unwed, yet betrothed to Joseph, also conceives. There’s no unalloyed joy in that annunciation. In one gospel passage, John the Baptist leaps for joy and then later on he languishes in prison.
The Stoning of St. Stephen
On Christmas day the whole world exults in joy over the birth of a child, then, typically, the next day we Christians remember the blood of the first martyr to die on behalf of our faith. On Christmas day, we remember a child born on an inky dark night pierced by a searing star, then only a few days later we remember the slaughter of a host of children—we wear the color of the blood of martyrs too young to know why they died the vicious death they did.
Christmas is the most complex season on the Christian calendar. The real Christmas story is not only the PG-13 affair we see so often on Christmas cards and in crèches. But the real Christmas also has all of the violence and darkness of rated-R film—Christ has not been born into a shake-up snow globe. He’s been born into this world of ours, full of inky darkness and complexity. Rather than the pastoral scenes of warmth and intimacy of the manger, we have a much darker reality unfold before us.
We place the celebration of the incarnation amidst a miasma of reds, purples and blacks. It’s as if to remind us exactly what sort of world is the setting for such an event as the incarnation. It’s a dark stage on which this drama first begins to unfold and to paraphrase a poem by Mary Karr, Satan spider-like stalks the orb of dark surrounding Eden, looking for a wormhole into paradise.
If there ever was a wormhole into paradise, then it’s the destruction of the holy innocents at the hands of Herod. Feeling threatened by some unknown king to come, Herod cracks open the happy orb of Eden; as soon as the new Adam is born we have a new Cain in Herod who dashes the skulls of the innocents against the rocks of fear and distrust.
Rubens' Massacre of the Holy Innocents
This is not the Christmas of fluffy sheep, kindly magi, and lowing cattle. The night of Christmas night is certainly silent but there in the silence is the still small scratching of evil at the doorstep. Silent night indeed. Christmas it would seem is a horror story worthy of Stephen King. It’s no wonder then that the secularization of Christmas replaces such images and stories as these with Santa Claus and Rudolph. The Grinch is about as dark as the secular world is willing to go, and even the Grinch has a miraculous change of heart—his heart grows three sizes and then he’s motivated to return all that he had stolen. No real lasting damage is done.
What Herod stole—the lives of all those children in Judea—cannot be replaced, even had he experienced a change of heart.
What are we to do with the story of the holy innocents? We could just breeze through it—and most do just that, since the story is only heard by those who go to daily mass. We could just disregard since it’s an event from just one of the gospels.
But to do so would be to miss one of the main themes of Matthew’s gospel account of the birth of Christ. Evil exists in the world and it will stop at nothing to counteract the good, in the form of God, who so desperately wants to enter our world and make his dwelling with us.
Strangely and perhaps even paradoxically, one of the Christmas messages is about the nature of evil in our world. On the flipside, and this is the good news of Christmas, the good, in the form of God who lives among us is at one and the same time very fragile and very resilient. God comes into our world as a infant—a human infant. One of the most helpless of all God’s creatures. Resilient in that he survives his escape into Egypt—a place not known for it’s hospitality towards the children of Abraham.
As religious men what do we take away from this complex situation? As companions of this fragile and resilient Jesus, what are we to do in the 21st century where God still desperately desires to pitch his tent among us?
In one sense, the holy family offers a model for religious life in the 21st century. Like Mary we are to ponder all of this complexity in our hearts. Like Joseph we are to father forth the good God who loves us. Mary notices everything and ponders all in her heart. Joseph shepherds the young family on what must have been a wild journey into the deserts of Egypt. Mary was no Pollyanna. Joseph was not a man ruled by his fears and anxieties, as was Herod. Our spiritual exercises teach us to contemplate the good alongside the bad. Our spiritual exercises also teach us to follow and pursue consolation—not a silly, postcard happiness—but a freedom from anxiety, a freedom from upsetting doubts.
At the end of this formation gathering we will recommit ourselves to our religious vows, and we could do very well to take Mary, Joseph and Jesus, The young holy family, as our guides and models for religious life in the 21st century. We heard yesterday that we, as Christians, are perpetually running. Paul says he’s run a good race, and we too must run faithfully.
Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt with the Christ Child
We are on the road to Egypt with the Holy Family. A road that is more unknown than known, more dangerous than it is peaceable. To ignore this would be to ignore the Christmas message—evil exists and good is fragile and resilient.
Thankfully our fragility is made even more resilient in the food we are about to consume. This is not the milk and cookies left out for Santa, but the body and blood of our savior.
* * * 
The Truth from heaven is always much bigger and grander and more complex than anything man can invent.  The story of Christmas is far more than a charming little children's story about angels and shepherds.  As was told in this most eloquent homily, it is the real story of "God, who so desperately wants to enter our world and make his dwelling with us" notwithstanding the fact that "evil exists in the world and it will stop at nothing to counteract the good, in the form of God."

Planned Parenthood Clinic, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Our world is becoming more godless by the day, and as a result, is becoming more evil by the day.  What civilized society has ever had legal killing fields, also known as abortion clinics, as we have.  What culture has ever been so determined to destroy the family, without which no society can function?  We are now talking about arming our teachers with guns in order to keep our children safe, and not even questioning how we have ever got to this point.  We rightfully mourn the tragic killing of our children in Connecticut, but we blithely walk by abortion clinics which are killing our children by the thousands every day, and think nothing of it.

From the Holy Father's Christmas message:
If God’s light is extinguished, man’s divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God’s image, to which we must pay honour in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century.
Only if God’s light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be. On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is "Emmanuel", God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man.
Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Was Scrooge Right?


Credit:  Hurtroad.com

The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen. For a CHILD IS BORN to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace: he shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom; to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and for ever: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.  Isaiah 9




Rockefeller Center
Christmas Holiday time in New York City is visually spectacular.  Despite the normally lousy weather this time of year, we get tons of tourists who come to see the City and all the lights and decorations.  We have the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center (believe it or not, it is actually still called a Christmas tree) and the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.  Almost all of the office buildings in the city put up their own decorations both inside and out.  I avoid Times Square as much as possible, but I think they even decorate this most pagan of all places.  People walk around "oohing" and "aahing", and saying, wow, ain't Christmas holiday time grand.

Then of course there is the music.  What would Christmas the holidays be without Andy Williams (God rest his soul) singing "Most Wonderful Time of the Year":

It's the most wonderful time of the year 
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer" 
It's the most wonderful time of the year 
It's the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings 
When friends come to call 
It's the hap- happiest season of all

 
More modern songs are ones like Mariah  Carey singing "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (stop, stop, I'll talk!)  There are the perennial movies like "White Christmas" and "It's A Wonderful Life" ("look, Daddy, an angel got his wings!"), and all the countless renditions of "A Christmas Carol" (my favorite is the first one I ever saw, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.")  

There are the endless parties we are invited to, and the Christmas Holiday cards that we send out, the shopping and gift wrapping, and egg nog.  

There is one big problem with all of this:  none of this has anything to do with actually celebrating Christmas.  I'm sort of glad so many have switched to calling this time a "holiday" instead of Christmas, because it ain't Christmas!  The story of Christmas is about a married couple who are away from home when the wife is about to give birth.  There is no room for them in any of the inns, and they are forced to go to a dark, dirty manger where the baby is born, and in which there is only a feeding trough to use as a crib, and torn rags in which to wrap the baby.  The amazing thing about this story is this little baby is the great Creator God of the Universe who has come to earth to rescue His creation from damnation.   The world at large is completely ignorant of this momentous event save for a few despised shepherds and oriental Kings.  There were no Christmas trees, no tinsel and lights, no Rockettes dancing, not even any angels receiving their wings.  Yet the reality is much bigger and more spectacular than anything we now call "Christmas."  

Since Christmas has been emptied of all its real meaning, which has to do directly with the eternal salvation of our souls, many are trying to fill it up with something else.   They talk about all the "good feelings", the "good will among men" (a misquote from the original which says "peace among men of good will"), the "sweet, childlike innocence of Christmas."  One phrase that really grates on me is "Christmas is for children."



It all sounds good, but it is actually a deception that diverts us from the true meaning of Christ coming to earth.   

Alistair Sims as Ebenezer Scrooge
An agnostic, of all people, Jamie Lutton, wrote an article for The Capitol Hill Times regarding what she and many others see as the "true meaning of Christmas.  She entitled her article "Why Dickens’ ‘Carol’ is the most important Christmas tale".  Does that kind of take you by surprise?  Bet you thought it was the little baby in Bethlehem who was the "most important Christmas tale."  Nope, it's the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited not by the Christ Child, but by three ghosts who show him his evil ways.  Now it's interesting to note that "A Christmas Carol" is a story of redemption, and it absolutely does involve a child.  The Christ Child is replaced with Tiny Tim.  Scrooge is redeemed not through saving grace but by learning to become compassionate and caring.  Scrooge then actually saves Tiny Tim, in direct opposition to the story of the Child who comes to earth to save us.  The Christ Child is, at best, only a tangential part of Dickens' story of salvation.  

The author of the article starts out by telling us that we have an American, Washington Irving (who was a Freemason) to thank for "saving" Christmas, which was basically dying out in England:
When Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in 1842, the holiday was nearly dead in modern England. Christmas was celebrated by the rural and poor, but frowned upon by employers. It took an American, Washington Irving, to praise Christmas to the highest, mourning the loss of the great traditions in this new modern age.
Dickens admired Irving. In earlier writings, such as “Sketches by Boz,” Dickens made much of the “strain of goodwill and cheerfulness,” that this holiday did more to spread good will among neighbors than any preaching or homilies.
Note she calls Christmas a "holiday"  and says this "holiday did more to spread good will among neighbors than preaching or homilies."  That should be our first clue that something is not right here.  Christmas is a holy day, which is an enormous difference.  The purpose of a "holiday" is fun and relaxation, not spiritual growth.  We should ask why Washington Irving, a Freemason who by nature is opposed to anything Christian, would mourn the loss of "Christmas traditions"?  Could it be that these "great traditions" actually obscure the meaning of Christmas and that is why he mourned their loss?

The author of the article then gives us the background and reason why Dickens wrote this story, which is actually kind of interesting:
Dickens came to write “Carol” while at a low ebb. His previous book had not been popular and he was struggling. He was working on nonfiction pamphlets about the horrendous working conditions of children in Manchester. But the visions of Ignorance and Want that he saw on the faces of the starved, overworked and ragged children inspired him, and he worked backwards from the scene in which the Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge those children to compose the whole tale.
He “laughed and wept and laughed again” as he walked 15 to 20 miles a day in the streets of London, composing the story in his head, then locking himself away from friends and his family for weeks.
Now comes one of the punchlines of the article.  Charles Dickens is "Father Christmas":
It was an immediate hit. Instantly plagiarized onstage and sold in bootleg editions, the story made Dickens little money in its fancy first printing. But it made him famous. When he died decades later a little girl was heard to say, “Mr. Dickens is dead? Is Father Christmas dead as well?”
The author then basically says that the reason "Christmas" has lost its "soul" is because it has gotten too "elaborate."  Being an agnostic, I would not expect her to be aware of the fact that the real meaning of Christmas is not Tiny Tim but the Christ Child.  The soul of Christmas had already been  lost when Dickens gave us the false redemption story of Ebenezer Scrooge.  I believe the reason we have become "elaborate" is because we are trying so hard to replace the real meaning of Christmas with lots of glitter and glamour, instead of looking in a lowly manger in a small, practically unknown part of the world.
Christmas is more elaborate today than it was even 75 years ago. We have all noticed mention of the holiday creep up on TV and in stores as early as Nov. 1. Its commercial appeal is a chance for retailers to persuade us to buy presents for each other, cook elaborate meals, travel, etc. So the soul of Christmas is often forgotten in the haste of spending money. There are social pressures to conform to, even if gift giving has become an onerous duty.
The author now tells us how we can recapture the "true meaning" of Christmas.  She feels it is not about turning to the Christ Child, but to do basically what Scrooge did:
Stop and think about your life. Live in a thoughtful fashion, filled with compassion. Have hope and love your fellow man.
Then comes the kicker:
Christmas Day is just the focus of this spirit.
Christmas is "just the focus of this spirit?"   This is the deception that occurs when we separate ourselves from God.   Everything becomes all about good feelings and little else.  We completely forget what we were told by the prophet Isaiah, as recorded in Isaiah 9:
Credit:  fb-designz.blogspot.com
The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen. For a CHILD IS BORN to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace: he shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom; to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and for ever: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Christmas is not about Tiny Tim saying "God Bless us everyone."  Christmas is about the birth of a King who has come to destroy sin and death and establish peace upon the earth.  Charles Dickens completely obscured this message with his little tale of Scrooge and Tiny Tim.

But the author of our article feels that the story of Scrooge is the real reason why we are still observing Christmas at all:
Some historians believe that this story, and this story alone, is responsible for our continued observance of Christmas. It revived very old customs that had been on the verge of dying out. But there is an urgent subtext that drives this tale, and it is in the mouth of Scrooge when he says to a group of businessmen who came to him for a donation to the poor, “If they had rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Hmm.  I wonder if this author, who declares herself an agnostic, supports birth control, abortion and euthanasia.  Most likely she does, and there is certainly no better way to "decrease the surplus population" than these methods.  At least Scrooge allowed people to die on their own.  We in our society have no problem with hastening the death of the unwanted by  doing the actual killing, in the same manner as the author now describes the English doing to the Irish:
This was a popular contention spurred by the influence of Thomas Malthus, a pernicious science essayist of the late 18th century, who argued that poor people were a social burden to all and should die. This is partly why so many Irish died in the Irish Potato Famine a few years after “A Carole” was written. The English government, which had controlled and occupied Ireland for centuries, took the position that these poor and starving people were surplus and a burden. Millions of Irish died by inches of starvation, even as their country was exporting food. The English government stopped charitable organizations from helping the Irish.
This story was Charles Dickens’ rebuke of this kind of thinking. He shows the reader the Cratchet family, with many children and one, Tiny Tim, dying by inches because he did not get enough food or medical attention. Even now, some of the more heartless among us would sneer at such a family, blaming the parents for having too many children.
Now an agnostic, who by definition doesn't know what is true and not true, and certainly doesn't look to  our Lord for her salvation, tries to tell us the real meaning of Christmas, and why we give gifts to one another:
We often forget what Christmas is about. The gifts we give each other were intended to stand in for gifts given Jesus in the New Testament. Even a confirmed agnostic like myself can see the value in that old story.
"That old story"???  
Let us be compassionate to each other, see past the blinding and thick commercial haze that covers this holiday, celebrate our affection for each other and open our hearts to all. As Dickens wrote, “We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
"We choose this time?"  No, I don't think it's about us choosing this time.  This time was chosen by our Lord and it's about a whole lot more than "celebrating our affection for each other and opening our hearts to all."  This is an almost a defamation of what Christmas is about.  The story of Scrooge is one of self redemption.  The real story of Christmas, in complete contrast, is our Lord and Creator coming to earth to redeem helpless man who is completely unable to redeem himself.

I think in some ways Ms. Lutton is correct.  We can probably lay a good part of the degeneration in the observance of Christmas at the feet of Charles Dickens and his creation, Ebenezer Scrooge.  Dickens promoted the message of "good feelings."   I don't know if he consciously tried to do it, but Dickens in effect attempted to replace the Christ Child with Tiny Tim, and the gospel of Christ's redemption with the gospel of self redemption contained in these words: "Stop and think about your life. Live in a thoughtful fashion, filled with compassion. Have hope and love your fellow man."

The words of "O Holy Night" explain it well:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!

O night divine, O night when Christ was born;

O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Satan is the arch deceiver.  He is always ready to supply us with deceptions, anything that will divert our attention from what is real and from our Creator.  I enjoy watching Scrooge movies, and will continue to do so.  But I'm not about to let anyone tell me that this is the "most important story of Christmas."  The most important story of Christmas - the only story of Christmas was given to us by the angels in Bethlehem:


May you have a most blessed and holy Christmas season.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Father Z Saga: Part II

Yesterday I wrote about my saga with Father Z in which I had left a couple of comments on Father Z's blog about the declaration of Venerable Pope Paul VI.  To recap, many of his readers posted some pretty nasty comments, second guessing and criticizing the Pope's declaration.  

These are excerpts:
Pope Paul VI was no hero to anyone but the Masons. The nightmare of his Papacy has not ended for the average Catholic in the world today. . . .His pride and obstinate refusal, unto death, to reverse his errors is only an example to others for what NOT to do. God have mercy on his soul!
* * * 
I see things like this and my eyes glaze over. More reason to ignore about anything coming out of Rome. 
* * * 
But objective observation suggests that John XXIII was naive and impetuous, and that Paul VI was vascillating and easily manipulated. Both were frankly out of their depth in dealing with the acute and pre-planned machinations of the liberal and Modernist elements at work during and more importantly after Vatican II. 
I was appalled at remarks like these coming from those who consider themselves to be good and devout Catholics.  But Father Z seemingly had no problems with these comments as he allowed them to stand with no editorial comment of his own and no apparent editing.  

The reason these comments upset me is because they deny Christ's promise when He gave the keys to the Kingdom to St. Peter and all of his successors.  Now it's very possible for a pope to be a failure in his personal life.  We, unfortunately, have seen such examples in our 2000 year history.  But it is impossible for a Pope to mislead the Church, as I have stated several times on this blog.  The Vicar of Christ cannot resist the guidance of the Holy Spirit in his papal duties.  That is the unbreakable promise that we were given by our Lord.

But you wouldn't know that by the comments left on Father Z's blog.  These readers are either ignoring or are not cognizant of the fact that these popes were personally chosen by the Holy Spirit to guide and lead the Church.  We are not talking about elected politicians, or even men voted in as Chairman of the Board.  We are talking about the Vicar of Christ, who is personally chosen by the Holy Spirit.  Father Z's readers are telling us that these Popes were not up to the task they were given.  They were "out of their depth" as one person stated.  It is their fault the Church is in a state of crisis.  If that is so, then our Lord lied to us when he said He would never leave or forsake us.  And He certainly didn't know what he was doing when He chose these men to lead his church.

This is the kind of stuff I expect to find on right-wing conservative websites that border on or are actually sedevacantist. But instead I find this on the most popular Catholic blog on the Internet, and on a site to which many Traditional Catholics regularly go. We get the idea that these readers think they themselves would have made much better popes than Venerable Paul VI or Blessed John Paul II.  

In my comment on Father Z's site, I stated my disagreement with those who were so critical.  After letting my comment sit "in moderation" for a while, Father Z released it with his own editing and comments.  I tried not once but twice to state my agreement with one reader who supported Venerable Paul VI, and Father Z deleted my comments each time after holding them "in moderation."  You can go back to my original post to get that full story.  

When I finally posted asking Father Z why he had treated my comments as he did, he deleted that post but sent me an email stating:
Say it in a separate comment.  Also, I don't allow discussion of my moderating or editorial choices.  Period.  It wastes my time and everyone else's.  Blessings, Fr. Z
Instead of saying it on Father Z's blog, where I am at his mercy as to whether and how it is posted, I decided to say it on my own blog, even though it gets only a tiny fraction of the attention it would get with Father Z.

Yesterday, Father Z "sort of " answered me on his blog.  Now you could say it was just a coincidence and that it has nothing to do with me.  But he posted this after I did my posting on our "saga", so you make the call.  He stated the following:
I am the benevolent dictator of this blog. I cast aside registrations at a whim. I delete or edit comments at my pleasure. I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t permit discussion of my decisions. That is a waste of my time. When the blog starts to be more work than pleasure, I get cranky. Were this a group blog… and if it develops into a group-moderated blog – then I would adjust. Until then, I am absolute benign dictator. So, if I am consistently deleting everything you want to say… rethink how you are saying what you want to say. Most of the time, folks, it is style, not substance that get’s things deleted. Style and my mood. There… I said it. But what else would you expect from a dictator?
So Father Z says he is a "benevolent dictator."  I've heard the term before, but I decided to look it up just to make sure of its real meaning.  This is how Wikipedia defines it:
Benevolent dictatorship is a form of government in which an authoritarian leader exercises political power for the benefit of the whole population rather than exclusively for the benefit of himself or herself or only a small portion of the population. A benevolent dictator may allow for some democratic decision-making to exist, such as through public referendums.
If that is the case, if "benevolent dictator" means one who exercises power "for the benefit of the whole population" rather than just for himself, then Father Z is misusing this term, as he plainly tells us "I delete or edit comments at my pleasure.  I don't have to explain myself."  He is not thinking about the benefit of others, but purely how he feels, as he readily admits.  And as Father Z said, his power is "absolute", which does not allow for any "democratic decision-making" as a truly benevolent dictator would.

I actually have no problem with Father Z, as a blogger, maintaining complete control over his blog.  Most bloggers do, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  As I said in my first post, he is under no obligation to publish my comments or anyone else's, and he certainly doesn't have to give a reason why he does or does not do something.

EXCEPT. . .

Father Z is not just any blogger.  He is an ordained Roman Catholic priest.  Even though he is American, his diocese is actually in Italy.  He has special permission to live apart from his diocese and thus has no parish of his own.  He has no parish duties, no Masses he must say every day, no time when he has to hear confessions, baptize, marry or bury people.  That is certainly not to say that he doesn't do these things, but that he is not bound by any set schedule except what he makes for himself.  His ministry seems to pretty much consist of what he does on his blog, which is not inconsiderable considering the fact that he reaches probably millions every day.  He does an extensive amount of traveling, and probably comes into contact with many more people than the average diocesan priest does.  He has been a weekly columnist in his past life and has appeared on Fox News.

But with all of this comes a great deal of responsibility.  He is a celebrity in the Catholic world.  Many, many people look up to him as a spiritual leader.  He very often gives advice on spiritual matters.  When he gives his point of view on events, he is a sort of "E.F.Hutton":  people listen.   I think that it is safe to say that many people will listen to him before they will listen to their own parish priest or bishop or even the Pope.

Father Zuhlsdorf's statement that "I delete or edit comments at my pleasure" is a little disconcerting.  This is his ministry.  His "pleasure" should not play any part in it.  He has the same responsibility as any parish priest does, to lead his flock on the straight and narrow path to their Creator.  The difference is that he has a worldwide flock.  He shouldn't be doing anything on his blog that is a "whim."  This is not about him having "fun" or providing "pleasure" for him.  This is an electronic ministry given to him in an age when so much that is coming from the Internet is highly destructive to our souls. I would hope that he is praying about every word that appears on his blog, as he will be answering for it all, just as any priest has to answer for his ministry.  He should be a dictator only in the sense that he does not swerve in any way from the vows he took as a priest.  He should be a dictator when it comes to allowing nothing on his blog that is not in conformity with Church teaching.  He can't be constantly worrying about offending people, but neither should he dismissively cast anyone aside just on a "whim" or "mood."

I feel somewhat uncomfortable posting this.  Who am I to be preaching to a priest and telling him what to do.  Nothing that I say carries any weight at all, and Father Z is certainly not answerable to me in any way.   But he is answerable to God, just as any priest is.  And because of his vast influence, he has even more responsibility.  "To whom much is given, much is expected."  "Whims" "moods" and "pleasure" will not be taken into account.  Our Lord certainly didn't conduct his ministry according to how he felt on any certain day, and neither, for the sake of the souls entrusted to them, should any of his priests.

One other thing - why, Father Z, are you doing a luxurious cruise in Lent?

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