Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Michael Voris: Spiritual Warrior or Great Divider?

Michael Voris
Michael Voris of is a very controversial figure among Catholics.  He is a one-time fallen-away Catholic who has come back to the church in full force and formed his own internet media company whose self-proclaimed mission is "to promote the faith given to humanity by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God and the Messiah. This faith is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church led by the heir of Saint Peter, Pope Benedict XVI."  Sounds like a good thing.  The problem many have with him is that he seems to have a terrible habit of attacking fellow Catholics and specifically, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, i.e. priests and bishops.

I, like Michael Voris, am a "cradle" Catholic (I don't really like that term) who left and then came back to the Church after 38 years.  I could barely recognize the Catholic Church as the same one I had known as a child.  The church buildings looked completely different, with tables in place of the glorious high altars I had known as a kid, most of the statues seemed to have been removed, the magnificent Stations of the Cross had been replaced with little stick figure stations and many of the confessionals were now storage closets, to name just a few of the changes.  I was stunned at people's demeanor in church, from the kind of clothes they were wearing to the fact that no one seemed to have any qualms about holding loud and disruptive conversations before and after Mass (and sometimes during Mass), children playing with toys during Mass, and almost no one bowing or genuflecting in front of the Tabernacle.

These are the kinds of issues that Michael Voris speaks to, so he really captured my attention.  I felt like he gave a real voice to my feelings and frustrations.

Lately, though, I have begun to feel differently about the way in which Voris defends the Church.  He is a lot like talk radio in that he creates an "us versus them" mentality, and the "them", more often than not, is not even those in the secular world world who actively oppose the Church, but our own bishops and priests.  Voris actually seems to relish pointing out the spiritual failings of the bishops and priests of the "Church of Nice" as he calls it.

On January 3 Voris produced a video to explain the mission of his organization.   He entitled this, "Slaying Dragons."  You can watch the video here.  As he explains, he sees the role of the Church as basically a militant warrior destroying evil wherever it is found:
We are prepared to do battle against the forces of darkness .. namely the kingdom of Hell and Satan which hates humanity because we are God’s most precious and beloved creatures. As the Old testament says of God .. “it is my delight to strive with the sons of men.” Imagine.
Michael Voris says we should all look like
beat up warriors at the end of each day
In this statement Voris rightly points out that our enemy is Satan, but then he follows this up with saying that God delights to "strive with the sons of men."  Voris has us nodding in agreement with the first part of the statement, and then without realizing it, we are suddenly agreeing with him on a complete contradiction.

[UPDATE:  FidesSpesCaritas and Christine in the combox below pointed out that I have misunderstood this statement from Voris that "As the Old testament says of God .. 'it is my delight to strive with the sons of men.' Imagine.", and I believe they are right.  I think Voris was trying to make a positive statement about God's relationship with man and was actually using a bad translation of Proverbs 8:31 which says, "my delights were to be with the children of men."  I was very confused by Voris' statement because it is very similar to Genesis 6:3 which says, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man", which would seem to contradict Voris.   But upon reflection, I think Voris did mean this in a positive light, and he means God wants to be with man and yes, it is absolutely amazing that God chooses to have a relationship with sinful and weak human beings.  I apologize for misunderstanding and mischaracterizing Michael Voris' statement here.]

Michael further expounds on what he sees as the Church's role:
Its role is to fight .. its charter to attack and tear down the kingdom of Satan .. the empire of lies and falsehood and heresies that so dominate the world today .. in short .. the mission of the Church and Her members is to slay dragons.
The great commission given to the church by Jesus Christ is found in Matthew 28:19-20:  "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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  Yes, we are to do battle with the forces of darkness, but where did Christ tell us to "attack and tear down the kingdom of slay dragons"?  Is it our role to be like some great military hero, slashing and burning our way through the world?   Ephesians 6:12 says:  "This is not a wrestling match against a human opponent. We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, the powers who govern this world of darkness, and spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world."

In James 4:7 we are told, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."  The most effective way to defeat Satan is not to go on the attack against all that we perceive to be wrong in others, but, as James the brother of Christ told us, to submit to the Will of God in our own personal lives.  We don't "attack and tear down" as much as we enlighten the world through the preaching of the Gospel.  That certainly does involve pointing out sin and evil in the world, but this must always be done with love and concern for the souls of others.  We are not told that we are the nuclear weapon of the world but rather, a light set on a hill.  A light illumines, it does not destroy.  Christ also called his followers the salt of the earth, salt being a preservative, not something which destroys.  As for any fighting that may be involved, Deuteronomy 20:4 says:  "For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you."  Jesus defeated Satan through His Death on the Cross.  He is the one who fights.  Our job is to preach His Message.

And please, we most certainly should not be attacking and tearing down one another in the Church, and yet Michael Voris seems to take particular delight in doing just this.

An example of Michael Voris' delight in attacking others in the church is a Vortex episode he did in December entitled, "Trendy Catholics."  You can watch this episode here.  This episode is promoted as follows:  "The clock is ticking on the Church of Nice. It won't be long now."  He referenced an article in the Economist magazine which said that Traditional Catholicism is becoming more and more popular in the Church:
Traditional Catholicism is all the rage .. at least in England.  But that is the case all over the western world. It’s avant-garde .. trendy .. almost like a hipster to actually bow before God and receive His Body and Blood on your tongue.  It’s fashion forward for priests to be in cassocks and nuns in habits. Oh My. Imagine the shock all and horror bouncing off the walls of the Church of Nice. Unable to hold or inspire their own flagging parishes .. where are these other “nut job” Catholics coming from.
Voris describes the Church of Nice as follows:
the saccharine syrupy hand holding ultra-feminized altar girl protestant hymn singing social justice priest facing with his back to God staring at the people staring back at him Church – in short practically every parish in the western world.
Is this really what Our Lord wants us to do, to attack fellow believers?  I am also very concerned about the blanket statement Voris makes here:  "in short, practically every parish in the western world."  By making this statement Voris is, in effect, setting himself up as judge and juror over the entire contemporary Church.  Painting the entire Church with one broad brush stroke is prejudicial to say the least and, as can be seen, leads to very judgmental thinking.  If we really believe that "practically every parish in the western world" is in spiritual trouble, shouldn't we, with great humility and mindful of our own sinfulness, be reaching out to them with love and compassion and praying that they will turn from error instead of just gleefully pointing out how wrong they are?

Voris recently produced another Vortex episode that I felt was even more cutting against fellow Catholics.  This one is entitled, "Dead Branches."  You can watch this episode here.  Once again, he is attacking what he has labeled the "Church of Nice," this time telling us that they are all dead branches that need to be thrown out.
Take a good look around the Church these days .. look up and down the disastrous parish life that predominates the Catholic life on the ground. Take a look at the educational establishment .. universities and local religious ed departments. Closely examine the sprawling infrastructures and bureaucracies that permeate every diocese and archdiocese. Take a good long look at them all .. and then prepare to say goodbye. There is simply no way in 20 years .. most likely less that this sprawling behemoth is still going to be around. It has simply abandoned its mission of saving souls and making saints and as such .. the need for it no longer exists.
There can be no denying the truth of what he says about the spiritual condition of many parishes and dioceses.  But should we be rejoicing over the fact that those who are running these institutions are going to "get what they have coming" as Voris says here:
For a crowd so bent on social justice .. it’s actually good to see a little meted out to them.  Not good that the faith has been eviscerated, but that many who have done the eviscerating get to see their life’s work crumble around them.  And so it will go, with ever increasing pace and rapidity as the next few years roll along.

The leadership of these dioceses around the nation can fool themselves all they want that they have developed some new marketing plan or restructured evangelizing platform ..and give it all kinds of corporate sounding jingo names like parish “clusters” and new “collaboratives” .. neither of which by the way is a term from canon law .. but does sound very Madison Avenue .. go ahead and keep kidding yourselves. The old modernism is vanishing like the morning dew .. thank God. These people who have bought into this fake Catholicism and promote it until their dying breath have wreaked havoc on untold millions upon millions of souls .. betrayed Our Lord and are now receiving their just desserts.
And while it’s a pity that they made these choices .. it is NOT a pity that it has come to this. How can Our Blessed Lord continue to bless dead branches.  They must be cut off and thrown into the fire .. and that is exactly what is happening and frankly .. too bad it didn't happen sooner.
We absolutely do need to hold the Church hierarchy accountable for their actions.   Should we be rejoicing when they get their "just desserts?  Should we be saying "too bad it didn't happen sooner"?  Shouldn't we instead be praying that they will repent of any wrongdoing, and shouldn't we mourn the choices they made instead of applauding their destruction?  Voris would have us believe that the Church hierarchy is our enemy.  But St. Paul specifically tells us in Ephesians 6:12:  "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Michael Voris comparing the hierarchy of the
church to dead branches and saying they must be burned up
It is most definitely not the job of the laity to label our bishops and priests as "dead branches" that "must be cut off and thrown into the fire."  How can the Church survive when we are attacking one another in this manner?

It is an interesting contrast to look at how our Lord treated his betrayer, Judas Iscariot.  He always knew Judas was going to betray him.  But that didn't stop Jesus from treating Judas just as he did all the other Apostles.  In fact, Christ even honored Judas by making him the treasurer, entrusting him with money.  At the last supper, Jesus washed Judas' feet and even gave him Communion with the other apostles.  All of this, we can be sure, was Jesus' way of attempting to draw Judas to repentance.  And when Judas finally got his "just desserts", did our Lord take joy in it?  Hardly.

Voris defends his statements with the following:
Think of all the human misery .. temporal and especially eternal that most assuredly would have been prevented if this demonic mischief and chicanery had been exposed and cleared away with sooner.
We should never refer to any human being as "dead branches" as Michael Voris has done.  That is the equivalent of condemning a person to hell.  The only one who can make that judgment is God.  Only God knows the state of a person's soul and what they are capable of.  We know that the greatest enemies of the Church can sometimes become our biggest saints, as in the case of St. Paul, who was actually killing Christians before he repented.  We need to be in prayer for the souls of those whom we think have gone off the track.

In this Vortex episode, Michael Voris actually makes the following statement about the hierarchy of the Catholic Church:
Too much of the establishment in the Church have turned to dead branches and the sooner they are cut off and become fuel for the fire .. the better for the rest of the vine.
David spares Saul's life
Michael Voris is talking about priests and bishops - men ordained by the Holy Spirit - when he says they are dead branches who should be "cut off and become fuel for the fire."  Michael might do well to look at the story of David and Saul.  Saul was anointed the first king of Israel and was a total failure at it.  David was then chosen to replace him, and Saul reacted by trying to have David killed.  At one point David had a chance to kill his mortal enemy, Saul, and David was urged to do so by his men.  But David's answer to this was, "The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord."

Our Catholic bishops and priests have been specially ordained by God.  We have no right in making any judgments about their souls and hoping for the day that "they are cut off and become fuel for the fire."  We certainly need to call them out when they are disobedient to the Church, but we must never, never rejoice in their destruction.

We live in very evil times when the Church is under attack.  And we undoubtedly have enemies inside the Church as well as outside.  But it is not our job to judge any one's soul and then to actually rejoice when they "get what they deserve."  Our Lord showed us how to treat our enemies in the very fact that he did not rejoice but mourned the fate of Judas, the one who betrayed him.

I supported Michael Voris and his organization for a long time.  And he does some good work.  But his penchant for attacking the hierarchy of the Church has really started to bother me. I have personally been guilty of this sin as well, and I truly repent of that  I hope Michael Voris will do the same.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Try Not To Judge The Priesthood By The Priest

Alec Guinness in "The Prisoner"
I recently saw a truly great movie with Sir Alec Guinness (a Catholic convert) made in 1955 that, up to now, I never even knew existed.  It is called "The Prisoner",  about a Cardinal in an unnamed Communist country who is arrested by the government and charged with treason.  If you wish to watch the movie online, you can do so on Youtube.   This is a very powerful movie, and I recommend you take 90 minutes to watch it.

As Wikipedia says, "The Cardinal was based on Croatian cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, who was a victim of a show trial staged by the communist regime led by Josip Broz Tito[2]and on Hungarian cardinal József Mindszenty, who was also the victim of the communist-staged show trial, while the communist regime was fronted by Mátyás Rákosi and Árpád Szakasits."  In the movie, the Cardinal is arrested immediately upon completing a High Pontifical Mass.

Here is the trailer for the movie:

The Cardinal in the movie is also a famous war hero who fought against the Nazis in WWII.  As a loyal Prince of the Church, he is adamantly anti-Communist, and therefore a threat to the government who wants to discredit and then execute him.  But to do this, they must get him to confess to crimes he did not commit.  The person put in charge of interrogating the Cardinal is someone who had fought alongside the Cardinal in WWII and knows him to be a man of high moral values.  He realizes that the usual threats of physical torture and even death will not work, so he resorts to psychological torture by using sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and generally trying to confuse his mind.  He eventually succeeds in convincing the Cardinal that he did indeed betray the people and the government, and because the Cardinal is such a good and holy man, he readily admits to crimes that he believes he committed but in reality did not.  At the end of the movie is a scene in which a prison worker looks at him with great disappointment, and Alec Guinness tells him, "Try Not to Judge the Priesthood By The Priest."

I think we would all do well to take this advice.  The priesthood, instituted by Jesus Christ, is a sacred vocation charged with saving souls.  We would all be doomed to eternal damnation without the Catholic priesthood.   Who could hear our confessions and absolve us from the sin which damns our souls, who could change bread and wine into the the life-giving sacrament of the Eucharist?  Who could confirm us?  If how we spend eternity is the most important question in our lives, and I believe it is, Catholic priests are the most important and invaluable people on the earth because we cannot attain eternal life in heaven without them.

Just as there seems to be an attempt in our world to destroy everything that is good and right and holy, such as the family, there has been and continues to be a war to stamp out the Catholic priesthood which is so indispensable to the salvation of our souls.  This war against priests, and in effect against the Church, played out in full force in the January 27 edition of the New York Times, as seen in an editorial written by Frank Bruni concerning an upcoming book by Garry Wills.  Mr. Wills calls himself Catholic but yet constantly rails against the Pope and the Magesteruim of the Church.  Both the book and this editorial are nothing less than diabolical in tone, and could have easily been dictated by the devil himself.   The editorial is entitled "Catholicism's Curse."

Mr. Bruni starts by telling us that he and Mr. Wills have nothing against priests.  Mr. Bruni says he has met many good priests who, according to Mr. Bruni, are good in spite of, and not because of, the Catholic Church:
“I HAVE nothing against priests,” writes Garry Wills in his provocative new book, “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition,” and I’d like at the outset to say the same. During a career that has included no small number of formal interviews and informal conversations with them, I’ve met many I admire, men of genuine compassion and remarkable altruism, more dedicated to humanity than to any dogma or selective tradition.
You know there is a "but" coming, and here it is:
But while I have nothing against priests, I have quite a lot against an institution that has done a disservice to them and to the parishioners in whose interests they should toil. I refer to the Roman Catholic Church, specifically to its modern incarnation and current leaders, who have tucked priests into a cosseted caste above the flock, wrapped them in mysticism and prioritized their protection and reputations over the needs and sometimes even the anguish of the people in the pews. I have a problem, in other words, with the church’s arrogance, a thread that runs through Wills’s book, to be published next month; through fresh revelations of how assiduously a cardinal in Los Angeles worked to cover up child sexual abuse; and through the church’s attempts to silence dissenters, including an outspoken clergyman in Ireland who was recently back in the news.
Mr. Bruni would definitely not agree with the advice given to us by Sir Alec Guinness and in fact, Mr. Bruni believes we must judge the priesthood by the priest.  I wonder if he feels that way about other institutions.   What about pedophiles who have been caught in police departments, teachers, government officials, the Protestant ministry, the Hasidic community, all at much higher rates than among Catholic priests?  Shouldn't we be judging these institutions by the same standards Mr. Bruni wants us to use with the Catholic priesthood?  The fact is that pedophilia is found everywhere in our culture and it is a very sad fact that this includes the Catholic Church, as Mr. Bruni does not hesitate to point out, and yes, bishops did mishandle many of these cases:
LET’S start with Los Angeles. Last week, as a result of lawsuits filed against the archdiocese of Los Angeles by hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by priests, internal church personnel files were made public. They showed that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony’s impulse, when confronted with priests who had molested children, was to hush it up and keep law enforcement officials at bay. While responses like this by Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals have been extensively chronicled and are no longer shocking, they remain infuriating. At one point Cardinal Mahony instructed a priest whom he’d dispatched to New Mexico for counseling not to return to California, lest he risk being criminally prosecuted. That sort of shielding of priests from accountability allowed them, in many cases across the United States, to continue their abusive behavior and claim more young victims.
Mr. Bruni continues on with a description of Cardinal Mahony's handling of abusive priests and then launches into an attack on the Vatican:
Church officials and defenders note that Cardinal Mahony’s gravest misdeeds occurred in the 1980s, before church leaders were properly educated about recidivism among pedophiles and before the dimensions of the child sexual abuse crisis in the church became clear. They point out that the church’s response improved over time. That’s true, but what hasn’t changed is the church’s hubris. This hubris abetted the crisis: the particular sway that abusers held over their victims and the special trust they received from those children’s parents were tied into the church’s presentation of priests as paragons.
And this hubris also survives the crisis, manifest in the way that the Vatican, a gilded enclave so far removed and so frequently out of step with the rest of the world, clamps down on Catholics who challenge its rituals and rules. Much of what these dissenters raise questions about — the all-male priesthood, for example, or the commitment to celibacy that priests are required to make — aren’t indisputable edicts from God. They’re inventions of the mortals who took charge of the faith.
I'm assuming Mr. Bruni would say it was hubris that caused Our Lord to choose an all-male priesthood in the Apostles.  Mr. Bruni also seems to reject Matthew 16:19 in which Our Lord said to St. Peter, our first Pope, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  No doubt Mr. Bruni would see this as the epitome of hubris and an "invention of mortals".

As an example of the hubris of the Catholic Church, Mr. Bruni tells us about the "injustice", as he sees it, that has been done to an Irish priest who is in active rebellion against the Magesterium of the Church:
And yet with imperious regularity, Vatican officials issue their relished condemnations. These officials are reliably riled by nuns, a favorite target of their wrath. And they’ve been none too pleased with an Irish priest, the Rev. Tony Flannery, 66, who was suspended from his ministry by the Vatican last year and informed, he recently said, that he could return to it on the condition that he publicly express his endorsement of a range of official positions that he had questioned, including the exclusion of women from the priesthood. Last Sunday he broke a long silence to say that the Vatican had threatened him with excommunication and to call its approach toward him “reminiscent of the Inquisition.”
Among the Vatican’s issues with him was his stated belief in a 2010 article that the priesthood, rather than originating with Jesus and a specially selected group of followers, was selfishly created later by a “privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves.”
Mr. Bruni now presents us with the fiction of Garry Wills, who asserts in his new book that the priesthood was not given to us by Jesus Christ, but an invention by mere mortals, and that the priesthood was actually opposed in the early Church. Mr. Bruni also feels that the Church needs to have a more democratic government:
That may sound like an extreme assertion, but the new book by Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winner who has written extensively about Christianity and the church, says that at the start, Christianity not only didn’t have priests but opposed them. The priesthood was a subsequent tweak, and the same goes for the all-male, celibate nature of the Roman Catholic clergy and the autocratic hierarchy that this clergy inhabits, an unresponsive government whose subjects — the laity — have limited say.
Mr. Bruni and Mr. Wills now completely toss out Vatican I, which said that the teachings of the Magesterium, which is guided by the Holy Spirit, are infallible:
“It can’t admit to error, the church hierarchy,” Wills told me on the phone on Thursday. “Any challenge to their prerogative is, in their eyes, a challenge to God. You can’t be any more arrogant than that.” 
Mr. Wills makes an outright attack upon the priesthood and Mr. Bruni agrees, trying to tell us that the abuse crisis proves that the Church and the world would be much better off without the Catholic priesthood:
“We Catholics were taught not only that we must have priests but that they must be the right kind of priests,” he writes in the book, which argues that priests aren’t ultimately necessary. “What we were supposed to accept is that all priesthoods are invalid ones except the Roman Catholic.”
That’s an awfully puffed-up position, and there’s a corresponding haughtiness in the fact that bishops can assign priests to parishes without any real obligation to get input or feedback from the parishioners those priests serve. This way of doing business in fact enabled church leaders to shuttle priests accused of molestation around, keeping them one step ahead of their crimes.
It has also helped to turn many Catholics away from the church, while prompting others to regard its leaders as ornamental and somewhat irrelevant distractions. They cherish the essence and beauty of their religion. They just can’t abide the arrogance of many of its appointed caretakers.
The arguments made in Mr. Bruni's editorial and Mr. Wills's book about the Catholic priesthood and the teachings of the Catholic Church are not only specious, but they are dangerous to our souls.  This is not to say that there are not problems within the church.  The church is filled with sinners.  We all have fallen natures and live in a fallen world.  We need spiritual guidance and correction, and we get it all the time from the Magesterium.  Certainly if the priests and bishops who now stand accused had put themselves entirely in line with the teachings of the Church, the abuse crisis would have never happened.

The Church is not the cause of the crisis.  It was and is caused by those who refuse to abide by the divinely inspired teachings of the Church.  To throw out the priesthood is truly to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  It is to quite literally throw away our eternal salvation.

We all must be very careful when we speak against priests.  From
IN his epistle to the Christians of Smyrna, St. Ignatius, Martyr, says that the priesthood is the most sublime of all created dignities: "The apex of dignities is the priesthood." St. Ephrem calls it an infinite dignity: "The priesthood is an astounding miracle, great, immense, and infinite." St. John Chrysostom says, that though its functions are performed on earth, the priesthood should be numbered among the things of Heaven."
According to Cassian, the priest of God is exalted above all earthly sovereignties, and above all celestial heights-----he is inferior only to God. Innocent III says that the priest is placed between God and man; inferior to God, but superior to man. St. Denis calls the priest a Divine man. Hence he has called the priesthood a Divine dignity. In fine, St. Ephrem says that the gift of the sacerdotal dignity surpasses all understanding.
For us it is enough to know, that Jesus Christ has said that we should treat his priests as we would his own person: "He that heareth you, heareth Me; he that despiseth you, despiseth Me." Hence St. John Chrysostom says, that "he who honors a priest, honors Christ, and he who insults a priest, insults Christ." Through respect for the sacerdotal dignity, St. Mary of Oignies used to kiss the ground on which a priest had walked.
St. Francis
Yes, we have a troubled priesthood in many ways.  But have we contributed to it by not honoring our priests as they deserve?  They are here as representatives of Jesus Christ.  As quoted above and taken from Luke 10:16, Jesus Christ said:  "He that heareth you, heareth Me; he that despiseth you, despiseth Me."  We need to look beyond the priest as a man and see our Lord himself.  We need to keep in mind that the priest is here to save our souls.  If we were on a lifeboat in the middle of an ocean and that lifeboat was our means of salvation, we would treat it with great respect.  When our priests fall, it is not our job to condemn them. It is our job to pray for them, just as St. Francis did.  From
Francis was not a reformer; he preached about returning to God and obedience to the Church. Francis must have known about the decay in the Church, but he always showed the Church and its people his utmost respect. When someone told him of a priest living openly with a woman and asked him if that meant the Mass was polluted, Francis went to the priest, knelt before him, and kissed his hands -- because those hands had held God.
Try not to judge the priesthood by the priest. 


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