Wednesday, October 29, 2014

No Conversion Without Welcome

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30
I saw an interesting blog post entitled, "The Church's Essential Mission: Conversion, Not Welcome". You can read it HERE. The blog, "One Peter 5", is written by a Mr. Eric Sammons, who has some pretty impressive credentials.  He is "father of six children, author of three books, and Director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Venice in Florida."  He has appeared on "The Journey Home" on EWTN, "Catholic Answers", "Kresta In the Afternoon" "Catholic Answers" and other programs.  He hires himself out as a speaker.  Mr. Sammons is a convert to the Catholic faith from Evangelical Protestantism.

However, I must respectfully disagree with the blog post mentioned above.  Mr. Sammons' argument is stated in the first paragraph:
“All are welcome!”
You can hardly walk into a Catholic parish today without encountering this slogan. Not so long ago all the talk was about the “New Evangelization,” but that topic has been back-burnered in favor of “welcoming.” No one should feel excluded from the Catholic Church! Who is it, exactly, that has been complaining about feeling unwelcome? That’s usually left unsaid. Yet the current emphasis on welcoming people to the Church certainly implies, at the very least, that we have been in some way inhospitable in the past.
The welcome wagon movement has as a foundational principle the need for changes in the language of the Church. It posits two problems with the language of our first 1,981 years:
1) It’s too hard to understand, and
2) It makes people feel bad.
Mr. Sammons is upset with those in the Church who are "dumbing down" language to make it more understandable to people because he feels that simplifying language actually "undermines the work of salvation."  He gives an example:
They propose that the Church sought to explain the Trinity in ways people could understand, specifically by using Greek philosophical terms. However, a closer look shows that the Church was not primarily concerned with making the doctrine of the Trinity understandable. She was interested in making it precise. If the end goal is “understandable,” one usually ends up with a dumbed-down explanation which can easily lead to errors. But if the goal is precision, then although one might have to work to understand a concept, he can be assured of arriving at the correct understanding.
Mr. Sammons seems to feel that "understandable" and "precise" are mutually exclusive.  Mr. Sammons feels that the Church cannot be concerned with being "understandable" because trying to be "understandable" only leads to more error.  If people can't understand, that is their problem.  Mr. Sammons feels it is better to leave people completely in the dark than to try to speak in language to which they are more accustomed.

Mr. Sammons tells us that Jesus never tried to make things easier for people to understand.  In fact, according to Mr. Sammons, our Lord was purposely trying to hide the Gospel from certain people:
Nor do the Gospels attest that the desire to make language understandable is a priority for our Lord. After Jesus tells the story of the Sower in Matthew 13, the disciples ask him why he speaks in parables. Our Lord replies, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:11-13). Christ himself makes it clear that the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven” will not be understood by everyone, and there is nothing we can do about it. Concentrating our efforts to do so, then, appears to be for naught.
This excerpt from the Gospels has nothing to do with language. Jesus used every day language and situations in the parables which were easily understood by the people. Our Lord was hiding the meaning of these parables from the people at that time which was before His Crucifixion and Resurrection, before the Gospel was opened to the whole world. But does Mr. Sammons believe that there are groups of people in the world today from whom Our Lord is purposely hiding the saving message of the Gospel? Remember, Christ also told Peter, James, John and Andrew not to reveal His transfiguration on Mount Tabor until after His resurrection. However, this was most certainly not true after Our Lord rose from the dead. Our Lord made it very clear to the apostles, just before He ascended to heaven, that they were to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:16). The message of the Gospel is no longer hidden from anyone, as St. Paul tells us that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim 2:4).

If we are to take Mr. Sammons' argument to its logical conclusion, we would have to say that the Church should concentrate on "precision" and forget about "understandability" because (1) worrying about "understandability" will only lead to more errors, (2) if people cannot understand what the Church is saying for whatever reason, then it is out of our hands and they can all just quite literally "go to hell" and (3), there are actually people who are not supposed to understand the Gospel because Our Lord is not interested in saving them.

Certainly there have been and always will be those who will reject the saving message of the Gospel. That is a consequence of free will. But how can free will be involved if people are not even able to understand what the Church is saying? If I speak only English, and someone is trying to tell me something in Russian, is it my fault that I don't understand?

Mr. Sammons has another argument against using language to make the church more welcoming:
The second attempt to change the Church’s language is more pernicious. It aims not just to make the Church’s language more understandable to modern man, but also to make it more acceptable to him. We see this in the desire to soften the Church’s language about sin, especially in the area of sexual morality. Less than a generation ago, St. John Paul II called the attempt of those who had divorced to later marry outside the Church “evil” (Familiarius Consortio 84), yet today such language is condemned in many quarters of the Church. People will only feel welcome and thus enter our doors, it is said, if we soften our language on the “hard teachings.”
Mr. Sammons seems to feel that unless the Church uses specific, theological language, truth and dogma will be lost.  He feels it is better to leave the teachings of the Church less understandable in order to avoid the loss of "truth."  I would like Mr. Sammons to show me one passage in the Gospel where Our Lord speaks to people using "theological" language.  He always used the language of the people, always speaking with words easily understood by the people.

Certainly I agree with Mr. Sammons that we must not use imprecise or incorrect words in order to make spiritual concepts easier to understand.  However, our world is basically biblically illiterate. Most people cannot even name the four Gospels. Knowledge of God and salvation is as foreign to most people as knowledge of quantum physics. In addition, people are just not as generally literate as they use to be. There is a reason why newspapers are now written at an 8th grade level. The Church, in her wisdom and guided by the Holy Spirit, realizes that she cannot reach people as she once did.

In answer to Mr. Sammons, here is an interesting video which was just made at the Synod of the family in which the fathers of the Synod discuss this very issue:

These Cardinals explain far better than I can why Mr. Sammons is wrong:

Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa: "I think language is something we have overlooked for a good while. We used language that is out of touch with the way people speak today. In the past, it was sufficient to say to people, "you are going to go to hell if you continue this way of life." Hell was a reality. It was something they knew, or they understood it. When you talk about hell today, people don't know what you are talking about. So I think the emphasis is shifting."

Cardinal Godfried Daneels: "We don't begin by accusing or stigmatizing but by talking. At a later stage you can take the person to a higher level. But beginning with accusation or a stigmatization is not good pastoral method."

Cardinal André Armand Vingt-Trois: "If the Church wants to address not only its members, but also others outside the Church, it must look for words and formulas that will allow it to be understood by those who are not already inside."

Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa: "All kinds of people came to Jesus. What did Jesus do? He opened the doors for them. He spoke the language that they understood and He converted them out of their sin. "Woman, did no one condemn you?" He wasn't saying you are okay, you were just caught out. He said, "Did no one condemn you? Neither do I condemn you." Which means that He could have condemned her for what she had done. But He didn't use that language of condemnation. And I think that's sort of the feeling that I get. Let's put our language in a way that is going to invite people to a conversion, to an experience of Christ which is going to be realistic and is going to make a change in their life rather than leave them going away with a terrible guilt conscience or something like that."

Cardinal André Armand Vingt-Trois: "When a physician makes a diagnosis, he has terms to designate exactly the disease in question, but if he uses these terms with his patient, he will not be understood. Therefore, he must explain the meaning of the diagnosis with words that are not technical words. In theology, it is the same thing. One has a precise theological vocabulary that is a science with a technical reference, and when one addresses people to announce the goods news of Christ, one does not teach them a theology course. One tells them the contents of the theology but with a vocabulary that can be understood."

Mr. Sammons writes, "picture finding a person drowning in quicksand. Would your first concern be greeting her cheerfully and making sure she feels comfortable in your presence?" Mr. Sammons thinks the first thing we need to do is make sure they understand the correct terminology of why they are in quicksand. Mr. Sammons also writes, "Today there are countless souls lost and drowning, and the mission of the Church is to set them on the right path to salvation." I could not agree more with that statement. But when someone is drowning, as Mr. Sammons says, do we look at them floundering in the water and start lecturing them on the dangers of whatever led to them to this situation? Don't we first have to pull them out before we can do anything else? When someone is drowning, that is not the time to give them swimming lessons. 
Our world is most definitely drowning in sin, and they can no longer hear the Voice of God. Holy Mother Church, as evidenced by the above video of various cardinals, realizes that her job has become to reach out to people who know nothing of God. The Catholic Church has truly become an alien culture in the world. Since the world no longer speaks our language, we must now speak in a language that they will understand. It is a daunting task, but with God, all things are possible.

And to answer the title of Mr. Sammons's post, "The Church’s Essential Mission: Conversion, Not Welcome," the truth is there can be no "conversion" without "welcome". Why should anyone come to a Church which he or she feels is standing in judgment and condemnation, and speaks in ways that no one can understand anyway. Our Lord said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17). That does not mean that Jesus did not show people their sins. He was always telling people "Sin no more." And certainly the Church must always define sin.

But as Pope Francis said, the Church is a field hospital. And a hospital never turns anyone away. In fact, the more ill someone is, the more right that person has to be a patient. It doesn't matter what the patient understands or doesn't understand about his illness. As Our Lord said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick." (Mt. 9:12). And as Cardinal André Armand Vingt-Trois explained, "When a physician makes a diagnosis, he has terms to designate exactly the disease in question, but if he uses these terms with his patient, he will not be understood . . . when one addresses people to announce the goods news of Christ, one does not teach them a theology course. One tells them the contents of the theology but with a vocabulary that can be understood."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Do We Abandon the Church in Stormy Waters?

This video of ships being tossed around and almost capsized by massive ocean waves is basically what many have characterized as the condition of the Catholic Church following the Synod on the Family.  With the ending of the Synod, the Catholic blogosphere and certain "catholic" media are telling us that the Church is in a major crisis and that Church hierarchy, including and maybe most especially Pope Francis, are trying to destroy the Church.  Michael Matt and Chris Ferrara put out a video in which they actually said Pope Francis may well be the "worst pope ever" and we might have to start thinking in terms of "anti pope."

Michael Voris did a video in which he reported that Cardinal Burke accused Pope Francis of harming the Church. A few days later Voris pulled the video and actually did a mea culpa, saying he did not want anyone to think he, Voris, was in any way publicly criticizing the Pope. Some of those who are normally critical of Voris were instead applauding him for this move, while the normal Voris supporters harshly criticized him. The world truly was upside down. However, both groups need to really rethink their positions. Yes, Voris said he will not publicly criticize Pope Francis, but just two days before he released a video of how Catholics should react if the entire Church hierarchy, including the Pope, is unfaithful to Christ and His Church.

From Voris:
"So let’s just say for discussion that the pope is a bad pope and is very opposed to the traditions of the Church."
Many will say that Voris isn't actually accusing the Pope of anything. He is just proposing a scenario. Well, he then proposes more "scenarios", all of which he has stated, more times than I can count, represent the actual state of the Church:
Let’s just say there is a cabal of wicked and evil bishops and cardinals in cahoots with him to overthrow the Church.
Let’s just say there are many other cardinals and bishops who through a willful ignorance and cowardice and naïveté are going along with this because they actually believe it is better to accommodate the world than to fight the evil in it.
And let’s just say most dioceses in the world have succumbed to one degree or another to the evil and most of them are unfaithful in varying degrees.
Let’s just say most Catholics no longer believe the Catholic faith, which must be believed totally.
And let’s just say most leaders in the Church, including the pope, are no longer Catholic in any meaningful manner and want wholesale changes that touch on the very heart of the faith.

We know that Voris believes all of the above because he has certainly stated these things enough times. So it is only logical to assume that he also believes Pope Francis is a bad pope, although he refuses to "publicly" state so.  Voris somehow thinks it is okay to attack every part of the body but the head.  It is okay to cut off toes, fingers or even whole arms and legs, stab and slash at vital organs, beat with bats and sticks, etc., but just don't touch the head.  Voris actually has the gall to say the following:
"I have dedicated the remainder of my life to serving the Church and to have to consider that I did something that brought some harm to Her makes me heart sick."
Voris is the guy who told everyone to stop financially supporting their parishes and dioceses. Voris is the guy who said Cardinal Dolan is evil and going to hell. Voris is the guy who said most bishops are "homosexualists". Voris is the guy who said the average Catholic sitting in the pew is "Catholic In Name Only." It seems to me that his entire "apostolate" is all about destroying the institutional Church, which he has said is on its last legs and needs to be destroyed.

It should be pointed out that the answer Voris gives to the above "scenarios" is that we should remain "faithful." My question is: faithful to what? If we are to believe Voris, this is no Church left to which we can be faithful.

Not to fear. In a video a few days later, Voris has given us the answer. There is a group of people who can always be trusted to never go off the rails and lead us astray. It is "the faithful Catholic media" of which Voris is a proud member. Never mind that Voris' own bishop will not allow him to use the word "Catholic" in his organization's name. That guy is just part of the false "Church of Nice" anyway and no one should listen to him. In fact, the very fact that Church hierarchy rejects Voris only gives him more credibility, because "faithful Catholic media" can only be faithful if they are separate from the Catholic Church, as Voris tells us:
"You simply cannot have a Catholic Media run by the Church. It must be free and independent—a free press, a free Catholic press—beholden to nothing but the truth."

So should Catholics now fear that there is a snake under every rock threatening to destroy the Church?  Do we stop trusting the Church hierarchy and start trusting people like Michael Voris and Michael Matt and Chris Ferrara?  Has the Holy Spirit abandoned the Church and left us to fend for ourselves?

Those who say we must reject Church hierarchy need to be reminded of the words of Jesus Christ as recorded in Luke 10:16.  This is what Our Lord told not just Peter, but ALL of the apostles, of whom Catholic bishops are the direct descendants: "Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me." The "you" spoken of in this verse is not referring to "faithful Catholic media" but to Church hierarchy. Jesus Christ specifically says that to reject the authority of Church hierarchy is to reject Him. Yet, this seems to be exactly what Michael Voris is proposing.

Our Lord told us (John 15:5) that "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."  For those who think they can be independent from the church, Our Lord warned in the next verse: "If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." And as Luke 10:16 shows us, the only way to truly remain in Christ is to accept the authority of His Church.

Michael Voris and those who defend him would answer that they are not talking about being separate from the Church, but just from those in the corrupt hierarchy.  But is it really possible to make our own personal judgments and separate ourselves from the hierarchy of the Church and still remain in communion with the Church?

Even though they are sinful, fallible men, we cannot separate Church hierarchy en masse from Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we have to accept every word that comes from every individual bishop and priest.  But as Our Lord said, to deliberately separate ourselves from earthly Church authority is to separate ourselves from the true Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.  

We need to remember that Our Lord gave the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter, NOT to the laity and not to "faithful Catholic media". There was no clause to this agreement between Peter and Christ that this would be binding only as long as Peter acted in a certain way. Why? Because Peter and his successors and all of Church hierarchy are, in effect, nothing more than puppets. This is not saying that they give up their free will in their personal lives. They are still fallible human beings who are as capable of losing their salvation as any of the rest of us. (And because of their positions, they are actually judged much more severely than the laity.) But our Lord told us that the Holy Spirit is the One who is really pulling the strings in the Church, and even when it seems like He is asleep in the boat as Jesus Christ was with the apostles, He is still in charge. That is why Jesus said that when we reject Church hierarchy, we are rejecting Him. We cannot just decide on our own that we can no longer trust those put in charge by the Holy Spirit. We never have the right to become our own magesterium.

I find it interesting that none of those who are condemning Pope Francis for leading the Church astray have quoted from his final speech to the Synod. You can read the entire speech HERE, and I would strongly suggest it. Pope Francis directly addressed those statements from the Synod that seem to have been in conflict with Church teaching, and how we should deal with this. Here are just a few excerpts:

"Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.
Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).
And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.
The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.
Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.
And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.
We have been given an ironclad promise by Jesus Christ that the gates of hell will never prevail against His Church.  The night before He was crucified, just a few short hours before He was arrested by the Sanhedrin, Our Lord told His Disciples (John 14:1):
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
In that same chapter of John 14, Jesus said (verses 16-18):
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you, and shall be in you.  I will not leave you desolate: I come unto you.
Many have accused me of being an ultramonatist, which means I believe the Pope can do no wrong. I do not have faith in any man, not even the Pope. But I do believe the words of Jesus Christ who told me that He gave the Keys to the Kingdom to Peter, and that He will never cease to work through Peter.  Our Lord never told me I had to rely on my own weak and sinful judgment.  He said I need to do is trust in Him, and He will never allow me to go astray.  Michael Voris is actually right - we do need to remain faithful.  But that means being faithful to Holy Mother Church, not to "catholic media" or anyone else who is apart and separate from the Church.

Proverbs 3:5-8:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.

This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
We live in very evil times, and the Barque of Peter is thrashing wildly on the troubled seas. Now is not the time to decide the Church is not seaworthy. Now is just when we should be trusting even more deeply that Our Lord is in charge and will not allow His Church to be destroyed, either from within or without. It is not up to us to stand in judgment of those in authority. If we really feel they are not fulfilling the duties of their office, as St. Paul wrote in I Timothy 2:1-3:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Our first Pope, St. Peter, wrote (I Peter 1:5-6)
In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
As Pope Francis reminded us at the Synod:
So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).
When you are feeling lost and afraid, go before the Blessed Sacrament and realize that there is nothing to fear.  Our Lord has conquered all.

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