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In Defense Of Pope Francis


 

It’s time. I’ve put off writing this for a while, but the time has come. In the past few months, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of attacks on our current Holy Father, Pope Francis. No big deal, right? After all, our culture isn’t exactly supportive of Catholic teaching. We live in a world where the pursuit of pleasure is generally regarded as a one of life’s priorities. What the Church considers good is often viewed by the world as evil. Is it any surprise that the world is going to reject and vilify the Holy Father, who is the visible head of the Church on earth? Of course not, but that’s not the reason why I’m writing this article. Sadly, the majority of the attacks that I’m seeing are coming from those within the Church. Oh, it’s those “Cafeteria Catholics” again, right? Not this time. The vast majority of attacks are coming from individuals who love Christ and His Church. What’s unusual is that their love is being expressed in anger, disrespect and language that is dangerously close to heresy.

Before the attacks start coming, let’s set the record straight. I love Christ and I love His Church. Please don’t call me a “modernist”, “liberal”, or “conservative”. I am a Catholic…period. I am also not smarter than Jesus, who founded a Church on the leadership of the Holy Father (Matthew 16:18-19). As a Catholic, I not only love Christ and His Church, but I love the Holy Father. Therefore, it only follows that I love and respect our current Holy Father, Pope Francis. In fact, that love is so real that it hurts me to see him treated with such disrespect (Catholics condescendingly calling him “Jorge”, “Bergoglio” or even “a heretic”). It hurts because these words are directed at my “Papa”, the individual that Christ placed in charge to help me get to Heaven. On a personal level, I can’t express enough gratitude to Jesus for leaving me a series of “Papas”, all with unique and different charisms. Each of them has drawn me closer to Jesus, by helping me to concentrate on different aspects of my spiritual life. Is Pope Francis’ style different than Pope Benedict’s? You bet. Was Pope Benedict’s style different than Blessed Pope John Paul II’s? Absolutely, and that diversity can be extremely beneficial. I have learned a great deal from each of them and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be stretched spiritually.

So, why do I feel the need to write this? Do I feel that any minds will be changed? Honestly, I don’t know. While I hope that it has a positive effect, I can’t control how other people think or behave. Whether it has an effect or not, I do feel that I need to try. In addition to being hurt by the disrespect shown to Pope Francis, I am also concerned for those Catholics who feel justified in propagating such attacks. In an attempt to promote reverence for Our Lord and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (which is a very commendable undertaking), some of these individuals are skating on some thin spiritual ice. The Vatican II Document, Lumen Gentium, is clear about the loyalty due to our Holy Father:

This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking. (Lumen Gentium no. 25)

I am grateful for the Lord’s gift of the papacy. When the Holy Father speaks, I listen attentively. When Pope Francis tells me that I need to pay greater attention to the poor and be more charitable to others, I obey him. Why?

Because I love Jesus and that’s what He wants me to do.

Altar Rails And Reverence

In recent years, there has been a trend to remove altar rails from Catholic churches.  This has even happened in my own parish.  I believe the idea is that the altar rail acts as a barrier between the priest and the people and removing them allows the congregation to participate more fully in the Mass.  In my opinion, altar rails and the practice of kneeling to receive Communion promotes reverence during Mass.  This is something very much needed in many parishes today.  Many Catholics have lost that sense of the Sacred when attending Mass and that’s sad.

Here’s an interesting article from the National Catholic Register about the resurgence of altar rails.  I’d be interesting in hearing your opinion.  Do you feel that kneeling to receive Communion helps you to be reverent or does it not matter?  Let me know…

A Great Day In Philly

Today I had the pleasure of visiting the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and meeting with Donna Farrell, the Director of Communications.  As someone who grew up and lived in the City of Brotherly Love for most of my life, this was really an honor.  Even though I now live in New Jersey, I’ll always be a “Philly Guy” at heart! 

Donna and I spoke discussed ways that we could possibly work together to bring the “Good News” of our Catholic Faith to an even larger audience.  I got to visit the Archdiocesan chapel, which was renovated under Cardinal Rigali’s leadership.  We met in the Cardinal Foley room, named after the familiar voice of countless Midnight Masses on TV (and who’s currently battling leukemia and could use your prayers).  We discussed how the Archdiocese is using social media to meet the people “where they are”.

And you know what?  I got the same good feeling that I got when I toured the Miraculous Medal Shrine a few weeks ago.  Donna and her staff are good people who really care about their duties.  It’s obvious that this is not just “a job” for them, but a vocation.  These are difficult times for Catholic dioceses and they could use your prayers.  Mistakes have been made, apologies issued, people are hurting.  However, we can’t ever forget that the bishops are the modern day Apostles and they have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

Knowing how dedicated these folks at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are, I’d like to suggest that you follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  In addition, Cardinal Rigali also has his own Facebook fan page.  Please keep our friends at the Philadelphia Archdiocese, our bishops and all diocesan workers in your prayers, as theirs can be a very difficult job!

How Can A Person Be Born Again?

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit(Jn 3:1-5).

In yesterday’s segment of our Biblical journey to the one, true Church, we looked at the Great Commission, when Jesus directed the Apostles to make disciples of all the nations through baptism and teaching.  I discussed the fact that we’re now looking for a Church that baptizes its members.  While many churches fall into that category, it is often treated as a symbolic act and not deemed necessary for salvation.  Looking at the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, however, makes it very difficult to draw that conclusion.  Based on our evidence so far, it really appears that the Church established by Christ will view baptism as a requirement for salvation.

How did the first Christians feel about this?  When we look at the writings of the early Church Fathers, we see much support for the necessity of baptism:

“Without baptism, salvation is attainable by none.” (Tertullian)

“If any man does not receive baptism, he does not have salvation.” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)

“[According to] apostolic tradition . . . the churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal. This is the witness of Scripture too” (St. Augustine)

So far, the Catholic Church is very much in the running and her position will grow stronger as we look at the next few passages.  In my next post, we’ll discuss one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings which is also one of His greatest gifts.

Tomorrow: The Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:48-66)

The Great Commission And The Importance Of Baptism

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  (Mt 28:18-20).

Although we now know that Jesus founded a Church and that this Church is the guardian of truth, we still don’t know the identity of that Church.  With thousands of Christian churches to choose from, where do we begin?  Fortunately, by looking at some more clues we can narrow down our list of choices.

In today’s passage, known as the Great Commission, Jesus instructs the Apostles to carry on His work of making disciples.  The Lord is clear when He lists the way that this should be done:

1.  Through baptism.

2. By teaching the future disciples to observe all that Jesus has commanded.

Jesus’ mention of baptism as a requirement for discipleship is an important clue when trying to find the one, true Church.  In fact, in Saint Mark’s version of the Great Commission, he adds emphasis to the importance of baptism with the words, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16).  While many Christian churches baptize their members, not all of them consider baptism to be a sacrament and necessary for salvation.  Our list of potential churches has just gotten A LOT smaller!

Tomorrow: Jesus confirms that baptism is necessary for salvation (John 3:1-5)

Jesus Founded A Church

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”   (Mt 16:18-19).

As we approach the halfway point in our journey to finding the one, true Church, let’s look at some of Jesus’  most famous and important words.  In our last segment, we looked at the fact that the Church is the ultimate guardian of truth.  Today, we see that Jesus founded this Church under the leadership of a specific individual.  Saint Peter, the head of the Apostles, is entrusted with the “keys to the kingdom” and is given the power to make authoritative decisions on earth that will be upheld in Heaven.  Recognized as the first pope, Peter led the early Christian Church with the same Christ-given authority as Pope Benedict XVI does today.  When we analyze Jesus’ words to St. Peter, it becomes apparent that we’ve just eliminated a number of churches, as they just don’t hold up when compared to the Bible!

In the next stop on our trip, we’ll look at the “Great Commission”, when Jesus instructed the Apostles to “make disciples of all nations”, through baptism and authoritative teaching.  It will give us an another critical clue and bring us closer to discovering the TRUE Church!

Tomorrow: The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)

The Church – The Ultimate Guardian Of Truth!

If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’   If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.  Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven  (Mt 18:15-18).

In yesterday’s post,  I looked at how the Holy Spirit protects the Church from teaching error.  The words of Jesus are clear as He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide His followers to the truth.  As further evidence that this protection is with His Church and not necessarily with individuals, let’s take a look more of the Lord’s words.

If one disciple sins against another, Jesus provides a course of action.  First, the wronged party should inform the guilty party in private.  If that is ineffective, Jesus recommends “two or three” witnesses be utilized.  If even that doesn’t work, take the matter to the Church.  If the sinner still refuses to repent…you can use your imagination, but I wouldn’t want to be that person!  The Lord further emphasizes the fact that the Church has the authority to make earthly decisions that will be upheld in Heaven.  That, my friends, is what I call authority!  From this, we can conclude that the Church we’re looking for can teach authoritatively and make binding moral decisions.

Due to the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, we’ll take a break from our journey for a few days.  When we resume on Tuesday, we’ll look at the most important passage covered thus far!

Next Tuesday: Jesus founded a Church (Matthew 16:18-19)

Letting The Holy Spirit Guide You To The Truth

But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming (Jn 16:13).

Now that we’ve established that God wants us to know the truth and that the Church is the guardian of that truth, we need to look at some important words from Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, the Lord tells us that the Holy Spirit will guide us to the truth.  Initially a comforting statement, further reflection makes us wonder how this is possible.  What if you and I both ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and end up with different versions of the truth?  In reality, this is a common problem which occurs in many Christian churches.  The idea of personal infallible interpretation of the Bible (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) falls apart the minute any 2 Christians disagree about a doctrinal matter!  If the Holy Spirit is guiding us to ALL truth, then no two believers could ever come up with conflicting beliefs.  There must be something else to Our Lord’s promise…

If the Church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tm 3:15) and the Holy Spirit will “guide us to all truth” (Jn 16:13), then doesn’t it follow that the guidance of the Holy Spirit must lie with the Church and not with individuals?  As we continue our search for the one, true Church, we need to find a Church which claims to teach authoritatively under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

Tomorrow: A look at Church authority (Matthew 18:15-18)

How Do We Find The Truth?

But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tm 3:15).

Yesterday, we looked at the Biblical passage stating that God wants everyone to be saved and to know the truth.  Now, let’s look at how we go about finding the truth.  As Christians, we know that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”, but how does that fact help us to live our lives in accordance with His Will?  We need a set of guidelines to help us make moral decisions, based on His truth.

Fortunately for us, the Bible gives us the answer.  While many Christians believe that the Bible is the ultimate resource for determining the truth, the Bible actually tells us otherwise!  In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul reveals that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth” (see verse at beginning).  While that provides us with some useful guidance, it begs the question, “Which church?”  After all, there are thousands of Christian churches that put forth conflicting teachings.  By definition, you can’t have multiple, conflicting “truths”.  What now?

In order to determine which Church will lead us to the truth, we need to investigate further.  Tomorrow, we’ll let the words of Jesus point us in the right direction!

Tomorrow: (John 16:13)

What Is Truth (And How Can We Find It)?

I don’t normally make it a habit to quote Pontius Pilate, but his cynical quote really fits this topic.  “What is truth?” is a question that every Christian should ask himself, as its pursuit should be our main mission in life.  In the dictionary, truth is defined as “conformity with fact or reality”.  When it comes to faith, the Modern Catholic Dictionary (Fr. John Hardon, 1999, Eternal Life Press), defines revealed truth as “disclosure by God of Himself and His Will to the human race”.  While that answers the question of “what is truth?”, it still doesn’t tell how to discover the truth.

I recently wrote an article for Catholic Lane entitled, “A Biblical Roadmap To The One, True Church“, in which I presented 10 Scripture passages which take us from Point “A” (There is ONE absolute truth) to Point “B” (the Catholic Church contains the fullness of that truth).  Over the next several days, I’ll be discussing each of these passages in detail.

If you’re Catholic, you should be familiar with these passages as they provide a strong validation for our beliefs.  If you’re not Catholic, I recommend that you use them as a standard by which to measure your own church.  As I state in the article, it is my belief that only the Catholic Church fits all of these Biblical requirements.

I hope you’ll join me as we search for the truth in order that we can echo the words of David, “Teach me, LORD, your way that I may walk in your truth (Ps 86:11)!

Tomorrow:  1 Timothy 2:3-4