Friday, October 18, 2013

The Real Deal: A Saint From Hollywood

Sister Antonia Brenner
I have never heard of this nun until today when I read her obituary.  Her life sounds like that of the saints from hundreds of years ago.  I pray for her soul and I pray to her, asking her to guide us and help us walk in the way of love she so beautifully exemplified.  So many of us are caught up in the politics of the Church, accusing each other of being bad Catholics, and often forgetting about what it means to live a life of service to God and men.  Sister Antonia Brenner shows us what it truly means to be Catholic and to imitate Our Lord.

This is from The Los Angeles Times:

Sister Antonia Brenner dies at 86; nun moved into Tijuana prison to tend to inmates

Guards and inmates in La Mesa penitentiary referred to Brenner as the prison angel. In the cellblocks she was known as 'Mama.'

Sister Antonia Brenner, a Beverly Hills-raised mother of seven who became a Roman Catholic nun and moved into a notorious Tijuana prison where she spent more than three decades mending broken lives, easing tensions and dispensing everything from toothbrushes to bail money, has died. She was 86.
Brenner, who had been in declining health, died Thursday of natural causes at the home of her religious order in Tijuana where her fellow sisters had cared for her in her final days, said Christina Brenner, her daughter-in-law.
She was born Mary Clarke in Los Angeles on Dec. 1, 1926, to Irish immigrant parents. Her father grew wealthy running an office supply business, and the family counted Hollywood stars such as Cary Grant among their neighbors. She married and raised four daughters and three sons, all the while becoming deeply involved in charity work.
In 1977, after her children were grown and two marriages had ended in divorce — a source of sadness that she rarely talked about — Brenner gave away her expensive clothes and belongings, left her Ventura apartment and moved to La Mesa penitentiary. She had delivered donations in the past to the prison, each visit filling her with compassion.
"Something happened to me when I saw men behind bars. … When I left, I thought a lot about the men. When it was cold, I wondered if the men were warm; when it was raining, if they had shelter," Brenner told The Times in a 1982 interview. "I wondered if they had medicine and how their families were doing. …You know, when I returned to the prison to live, I felt as if I'd come home."
Small of stature, with blue eyes peeking out from under her traditional black–and-white habit, Brenner cut a strikingly serene presence in the overcrowded prison of 8,000. She lived as any other inmate, sleeping in a 10-by-10-foot cell, eating the same food and lining up for morning roll call.
She would walk freely among thieves and drug traffickers and murderers, smiling, touching cheeks and offering prayers. Many were violent men with desperate needs. She kept extra toilet paper in her cell, arranged for medical treatment, attended funerals.
Guards and inmates alike started referring to her as the prison angel. In the cellblocks she was known simply as "Mama." "There isn't anyone who hasn't heard my lecture on victims," she said in a 2002 Times story. "They have to accept that they're wrong. They have to see the consequences. They have to feel the agony. ... But I do love them dearly."
When prayers didn't work, she took matters into her own hands. On more than a few occasions she broke up fights and quelled brewing riots. Sometimes her presence wasn't enough. In 2008, police opened fire on rioting inmates, killing more than 20. Brenner said she was in the cellblock at the time, but someone had locked the doors to the courtyard where the shooting occurred.
"I didn't know what was happening. That people were being killed," she said in an interview after the siege ended. "I was thinking, all over the world little children have to hear the sounds of guns. It's such a terrible sound."
Brenner was an energetic fundraiser who often visited Southern California to collect food and supplies. Few people said no, though sometimes she didn't leave them much choice.
Father Joe Carroll, who for many years ran the St. Vincent de Paul Village in San Diego, jokingly took to calling Brenner a "thief" for regularly clearing out his charity of donations.
"If I told her she couldn't have it, she'd just be smiling and giggling at me and putting it into her car and leaving," Carroll said in the 2010 documentary "La Mama: An American Nun's Life in a Mexican Prison."
A revered figure in Tijuana, where she counted police chiefs and politicians among her friends, Brenner was honored with the naming of a street after her outside the prison. In the late 1990s, she established her own religious order, the Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour. Tijuana Archbishop Rafael Romo said she possessed the qualities of a saint and said her death was a "terrible loss" for the city, the Tijuana newspaper Frontera reported.
Brenner often visited her family in Southern California, where she would regale her more than 45 grandchildren and great-grandchildren with stories about her charity work. "She was a tiny woman with a little fire and a lot of passion," Christina Brenner said. "We called her the Eveready battery. She wouldn't stop. She was always going."
She is also survived by her seven children, James, Kathleen, Theresa, Carol, Tom, Elizabeth and Anthony.
"You walk in her presence and you know you're in a different world," Carroll said. "Rhyme, reason — you can't rationalize why she did it. She has that one-on-one relationship with God."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Michael Voris Has Jumped The Shark

I was once a loyal follower of Michael Voris. At that time I saw the Catholic Church as being in a state of chaos.  It seemed that many Catholics were hardly even aware or caring about the teachings of the Church. I saw priests and bishops who didn't seem to teach the truths of the Church anymore. Along came Michael Voris, excoriating them all with no holds barred. Bring it on!!! Voris came up with what I perceived to be the perfect label to describe the contemporary Catholic Church, the "Church of Nice", where everyone is always "nice", but there is no real preaching of the truth because they don't want to offend anyone.  According to the Gospel of Michael Voris, fear of offending people should never be the guiding force in our lives. We are the Church Militant, and that means we need to be spiritual warriors, fighting for the Truth of the Gospel, basically burning and slashing our way through the world.

After doing a total consecration of my life to the Blessed Mother, my perceptions and attitudes began to change, and I came to realize that Michael Voris did not have it completely right.  I have come to realize that our job as lay people is not, contrary to the Gospel of Voris, to right every wrong in the Church or society.  Our job is to right all the wrongs in ourselves, to be as brutally honest and uncompromising with ourselves as we can be.

Michael Voris often shows himself holding a sword, symbolizing that he is part of the Army of God and the Church Militant.  As he said in a Vortex from January 3, 2013:  "[The Church's] 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 member is to slay dragons."

Venerable Fulton Sheen, for whom Michael Voris claims a deep devotion, had a different take on this. He also spoke about the sword and war, but he said the sword needs to be pointed inward, not outward, and that the war is not with others, but with ourselves. The following is a quote from Bishop Sheen from a retreat he gave on St. Therese of Liseux:
We are fond of talking peace today, but all we mean by peace is lack of disturbance. Our Lord said, "I came not to bring peace." God HATES PEACE in those who are destined for war! And we are destined for war, spiritual war. We've forgotten that we're in a combat. We are in genuine combat. When our first parents were driven out of the garden of Paradise, God stationed an angel with a flaming sword, a two-edged sword that turned this way and that. Why? To keep our first parents from going back to eat of the Tree of Life and thus immortalize their evil. And the only way we can ever get back again into paradise is by having that sword run into us. It's flaming because it's love. It's two-edged because it cuts, and it penetrates. It's not the sword that's thrust outward to hack off the ear of the servant of the high priest as Peter did. It's the sword that's thrust inward to cut out all of our seven pallbearers of the soul, the pride and covetousness, lust, anger, envy, gluttony, and sloth.
In one of the recent interviews given by Pope Francis, he was asked, "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?"  His reply: "I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner."  We must all come to the same personal realization in our own lives.  We must turn the sword of God upon ourselves.    

As far as calling out other people as sinners, I refer to the words of our Lord:  "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye."  (Matt. 7:5).  Does this mean never denouncing the evils in society? Absolutely not. I regularly pray in front of abortion clinics and I will continue to do so as long as I am able. I have written many times on this blog about the many evils in our world and will continue to do so. Again, quoting Bishop Sheen (from his 1932 book, Moods and Truths):
Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons. We must be tolerant to persons because they are human; we must be intolerant about principles because they are divine. We must be tolerant to the erring, because ignorance may have led them astray; but we must be intolerant to the error, because Truth is not our making, but God's. And hence the Church in her history, due reparation made, has always welcomed the heretic back into the treasury of her souls, but never his heresy into the treasury of her wisdom.
Denouncing evil is far different from setting myself up as judge and juror over other individuals. Yet I fear that is exactly what Michael Voris and many like him have done.   Although Michael Voris often talks about the evils in society, he reserves his harshest judgment for the hierarchy of the Church, often calling them "cowards" and worse.

In a recent Vortex episode released on September 11 and entitled, "Self Destruction", Voris quoted Pope Paul VI (not someone he normally lauds) in which the Pope said. "It is as if the Church were destroying herself."  This is from a speech given on December 7, 1968 by Pope Paul VI to Members of the Seminary Lombardo.  It is important to realize that this is a few months after the release of Humanae Vitae, in which many in the Church basically revolted against the Pope.   In my own opinion, the rejection of Humanae Vitae is the reason we have seen so much upheaval and chaos not only in the Church, but in the entire world.  You can read my post on this here.  

However, Michael Voris uses Pope Paul VI's statement as an indictment against Church leadership, as seen in this excerpt from the aforementioned Vortex episode:
Some are naïve yes. They don’t have the constitution of real men to stand up and call out what needs to be called out. So they profit, interiorly – in their own weak and damaged psyches by remaining in place where they perceive themselves to be popular and well liked.

Others refuse to see the damage because to do so would mean effectively the end of their clerical careers and advancement. They are perhaps aware in a dim fashion of the murder of the faith going on, but like their counterpart priests in the parable of the good Samaritan, they just cross over lanes on the road and walk on by the victim. So they too profit.

Then there are the real conspirators. These people HATE Christ and HATE the Church – they hate what She preaches, what she stands for and they are determined to destroy her from within.
You must understand, Michael Voris is not talking about those enemies who openly profess their hatred for the Catholic Church. He is talking about our ordained priests and bishops, the ones for whom we should be praying every day. In the very next sentence, he says they are "following in the line of apostolic succession from Judas." Michael Voris, who professes his love for the Catholic Church, makes his living by openly and unhesitatingly condemning, in the harshest of tones, the hierarchy of the Church he says he loves. He compares them to Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus Christ. I wonder if Voris realizes that although Our Lord was intimately aware of Judas' true intentions, he never once openly criticized or condemned him.

This is what St. Thomas said in the Summa Theologica regarding correction of prelates (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 4):
A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.

Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Timothy 5:1): "An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father." Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church.
All would have to agree that "gentleness and respect" are not hallmarks of Michael Voris when it comes to the bishops. Would Dionysius strike Michael Voris and turn him out of the Church?

Many use the example of the Apostle Paul correcting St. Peter to justify public and harsh criticism of the Church hierarchy. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that:
Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully.
Michael Voris does not reprove the elders of the Church either privately or respectfully.  It may not be his intention - only God can judge his soul - but Voris is sowing discord among the Church and encouraging the brethren to rebel against those whom God has put in charge of their souls.  

Is there ever a time when a prelate needs a public rebuke?  St. Thomas tell us this:
It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, "Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects."
Public rebuke, according to St. Thomas, is to be used only in times of "imminent danger" and "if the faith were endangered."  It is not to be used as a general rebuke on a daily basis, as Michael Voris does.  And again, it should be done "not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect."

I believe Michael Voris finally "jumped the shark" when he did a Vortex episode entitled, "The New Tone", released on September 25.  In this Vortex, Voris talks about the reaction to the interview Pope Francis did with La Civiltà Cattolica.  Voris starts out with his usual harsh rhetoric:
Lots of cowardly clerics are most delighted at the Pope’s interview because they feel and are even saying .. in so many words .. that they are now off the hook.
Voris then does something that, as far as I know, he has never done before.  He slams the Holy Father:
Unlike John Paul and Benedict .. who many of them just ignored when it came to stressing the importance of defeating these evils .. now they finally have a Pope who they can interpret to mean .. “Phew, glad we don’t have to mention those things anymore” as if they had ever in reality lifted one blessed finger to preach against these evils in the first place.
This statement is subtle, but it become much harsher as he goes along.  Voris then wonders aloud "exactly when and where was this 'obsession' on the part of Church leaders and her clergy on preaching about for example contraception, that so many church leaders are all rushing to the barricades now to foreswear."  I have heard this argument from many conservatives in the Church - we never hear these things from the pulpit anyway, so what is the Pope talking about?  I totally agree that we have not heard these matters discussed from the pulpit as we should.  And that has been harmful to the Church.

But this is a canard, because that is not what the Holy Father was speaking of.  Pope Francis was talking about how to reach out to those outside of the Church, and he was telling us not to keep hitting them over the head with things like abortion and homosexuality, but to reach out to them first and foremost with love and compassion, just as our Lord did.  Our Lord never told sinners how horrible they were.  The only sinners Jesus Christ ever publicly denounced were the Pharisees, and he accused them of hypocrisy. Does that mean there are no other sins? Of course it doesn't mean that. But it does mean that in reaching out to the spiritually wounded, we first of all have to address their wounds, not stand in judgment and pridefully look down upon them.

Remember, our Lord told the religious leaders that "tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you." Pride is the sin of Satan. Hypocrisy is the direct result of spiritual pride, and no sin - not sodomy, abortion, murder or any other sin - is worse than pride because pride says we know better than God.

What Voris calls a "new tone" is the same "tone" used by Jesus Christ when He walked this earth 2000 years ago. It is a tone of love and compassion. Christ's way was to first heal people and only then did He tell them "Go and sin no more." You don't hit someone when they're down. As the Holy Father told us in his next interview, "They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crushed under the weight of the present?" We first must lift the heavy weight that is literally crushing people, and then we can begin to talk about the sin in their lives.

However,  Voris sees nothing but evil resulting from this "new tone":
The churches are emptying out and closing and yet Church leaders are positively giddy about now being able to stop talking about the sins that send souls to Hell and start speaking with a “new tone”.

Again – how will the new tone, be anything different from the old current tone?

When Jane Fonda and Chris Rock are cheering on you and your new tone, you better watch out.
They aren’t cheering you on because they have suddenly had a Damascus moment and are agreeing with you. They are cheering you on because they hope or actually think that YOU now agree with THEM .. or at the very least can now be persuaded to come over to their side.
Voris doesn't even consider the fact that people like Jane Fonda and Chris Rock are actually now listening to the Pope, which is a huge step.  What caught the attention of the thief on the cross being crucified next to Our Lord?  Dismas had first joined in with the insults from the other thief.  But as Dismas watched Christ and saw that there was no condemnation coming from Jesus, but only love and forgiveness, it affected him so greatly that he was saved right then and there.  Will the world come to a Church that only offers it condemnation, or will they respond to love and acceptance of them as human beings?  Our Lord gave us the answer to that when He walked the earth.

This is what Voris sees:
They aren’t saying thank you for showing us the light so that we can now convert to the truth.

They aren’t saying thank you for bringing us to the realization of the paschal mystery and our path to salvation.
They aren’t saying thank you for bringing to them the light of revelation and the glorious mysteries of the Catholic Church.
They are saying thank you for giving them the moral license to now fire back at pro-lifers and faithful Catholics who have spent decades in front of the abortion chambers praying for the killing to end.
Only one of the two thieves repented and was forgiven.  Not everyone responds to the saving mercy of Jesus Christ.  So yes, there have been and will continue to be those who are trying to say that this Pope doesn't care about issues such as abortion and homosexuality, and they will use the Pope's words as weapons against Catholics. But there are also others who are saying thank you for trying to understand me, thank you for not condemning me. They are sensing a true love and acceptance, just as the sinners in Christ's time did, and they will be much more open to hearing the true Gospel than they have ever been before. An excellent example of this was an editorial in The New York Times, which I wrote about here.

Voris then makes a statement with which I could not agree more:
The issue is about saving souls. Every action done, every word uttered must be measured against this standard.
This is exactly right.  It all comes down to saving souls.  How do the words of Michael Voris stand up against this measure?

From Voris:
Will this encourage Jane Fonda to REPENT and become an authentic Catholic? Will she hang up her weapons of mass contraception and renounce a lifetime strategy of global population reduction through abortion and contraception?

Just what part of the “good news” has she suddenly embraced, so much so that she is praising the Vicar of Christ on earth? Same types of questions for Chris Rock and all the other cultural elitists who have lived against and even actively fought against the truth with every fiber of their beings for most of the lives.
Michael Voris, do you think your method of accusing and attacking them will bring them to Christ? Doesn't seem to have worked so far, and there is no evidence it ever will. But Pope Francis, following in the footsteps of Our Lord, has gotten their attention. They are listening to him, just as sinners listened to our Lord. That is HUGE and should not be dismissed.

The following statement is where I feel that Voris has finally jumped the shark.  He is now not only attacking the bishops as he has always done, he is going after the Holy Father as well:
But at the end of the day .. the Church is Christ’s. Not the pope’s .. not the bishops or any other cowardly clerics.
In the above statement, Voris is saying that we don't need to listen to the bishop or even the Pope.  Voris is including Pope Francis with the "cowardly clerics." Voris is right when he says the Church is Christ's. And no, the Pope did not speak ex cathedra in these interviews. But does that mean we can just dismiss these words as if they were never said and go right on as we always have with no reflection? The Pope is not just another politician, he is not just another man. He is the Vicar of Christ, the actual human representative of Christ on earth. Whenever he says anything, be it ex cathedra or not, it is important that we listen to him and reflect on the meaning of his words. We should never dismiss the Pope because he says something that doesn't fit in with our way of thinking. Maybe, just maybe, there is something we need to learn.

This is how Michael Voris ended this Vortex episode:
She is His Bride .. and He will not suffer forever Her mourning in the marketplace and desecration of Her altars and confessionals.

He is allowing this scourge of contradiction and humiliation .. of being mocked and laughed to scorn by Her enemies .. to bring about salvation for some souls .. some where at some time.

In the meantime .. amidst all the verbal and emotional stoning going on .. stand fast –while the faith is full of mystery, it is also quite simple.

Loving God means more than just feeling a certain way. He Himself has told us what it means – if you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Yes, Michael Voris, Our Lord did say that if we love Him we will keep his commandments.  He also said the two most important commandments are to love God with our whole mind and heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Is a barrage of constant condemnation a way of loving our neighbor, or is it more loving to reach out to them on a level they can understand as our Lord did?  Jesus never condemned sinners, and yet during His physical lifetime, He saved more sinners than we will ever know.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, Our Holy Mother gave us the example of how to react to things we don't understand. Most of the time she did not understand the events in her life or the words or actions of her Son. Did she sit in criticism? Did she protest and say, you know, there really is a better way of doing things. Why can't you wait until I'm married before I become pregnant? Why don't you allow me to give birth at home where it is more comfortable? Why do I have to flee to Egypt when you could just stop Herod from killing the babies? Why do you answer me so harshly when I ask you to help out at the wedding when the wine runs out?

The world is in a terrible state. Billions of souls are at stake. Obviously whatever we have been doing up to this point hasn't been effective enough. Do we follow the example of people like Michael Voris and attack other Catholics, including our bishops and even our Holy Father? Our Lord warned us that "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand." (Matt. 12:25). Do we continue to listen to those who are dividing us against one another?

Or could it just possibly be that the Holy Spirit is trying to point us in a new direction? Are we so prideful that we can't listen to the Vicar of Christ on earth and ponder his words as our Holy Mother showed us?

I am not questioning the sincerity of Michael Voris and his followers and all who think like them. I was one of them not that long ago. But think about it: is " trapping and exposing lies and falsehoods" what the Gospel is about? "Gospel" literally means "good news." Lies and falsehoods are not good news.

It is our job as the recipients of God's forgiveness and mercy to bring that same forgiveness and mercy to the rest of the world. That is what our Holy Father is trying to tell us. Is it merciful to expect a man with crippled legs to walk? Is pointing at him and telling him that he has useless legs going to convince him that we have the answers he is looking for?

Or is the answer to make ourselves available to the saving and transforming Grace of Christ into our lives, allow that flaming sword of the Holy Spirit to cut away all in us that is opposed to God, and then draw people to us when they see us living a life of grace?

The Little Flower gave us these words which we would do well to contemplate:

O Jesus, my whole strength lies in prayer and sacrifice; these are my invincible weapons, and experience has taught me that the heart is won by them rather than by words.

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