Sunday, October 19, 2014

Will the Next Synod on the Family Shift Its Attention ... to the Family?

The Synod on the Family of 2014 was like a big family fight. Prima facie, it appeared to be a divisive mess. Fortunately, we are only at the half-way point, and there is time for some regrouping and redirection. The Church is a family, and families learn from their failures, say sorry, offer their forgiveness, and grow. The Church can do the same.

The enduring document of the first part of the synod, the Relatio post disceptationem, had an all-too-Western problem: too much focus on controversial doctrine. It cannot change, but instead should be embraced for the anchor that it is in stormy times. Since the Church's teaching on homosexuality is already well-established in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and since the need for the faithful to respond with charity toward people struggling with same sex attraction is already quite clear in the Church's doctrine, and since Sacred Scripture is quite clear concerning the sinfulness of adultery, I suggest that the synod on the family that convenes next year shift its focus: to the family.

In that regard, I offer some suggested starting points for the next synod on the family:

  1. African bishops speak and Western bishops listen. Witchcraft, for instance, is a serious problem for the family in Africa. Do we care? We should. We are also in the body (cf. Hebrews 13:3). How do African bishops respond to witchcraft? How can we perceive its growing influence in our culture? That would be useful for the West to know. If I were a Western prelate, I would like to ask one of the African bishops, “Can you really trust a Satanist who says he is giving you back a stolen consecrated host?” 
  2. Edify the nuclear family. This is a synod on the family. Yes, more in this regard, please. Recognize the reality that war is all around us in both East and West, and that the nature of those problems vary depending on the culture, but that there is war on the family everywhere.
  3. Concerning homosexuality, I suggest that the synod be more realistic about the cultural attacks against the faithful, rather than offer platitudes such as “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation.” How can bishops and priests present a unified response to the threats posed to local churches when the radical gay agenda attacks parishes, Catholic schools, small business owners, and families legally (as happens in America and Europe) or with violence (as happens in South America).
  4. Regarding annulment, clearly there is need for reform of this process (as one can see in paragraphs 43-44 of the Relatio). Dioceses have different processes, some more excruciating than others. A meaningful reform of the annulment process could ensure consistency and efficiency. The synod should also focus on equipping pastors with the words to inspire sacrifice for those who are in irregular unions. The synod should further instruct pastors on how to advise the faithful to accept the decision of canon lawyers if the decision is that the first union is the marriage. The Church should also solve the problem of the lengthy administrative process. It should not take a decade to determine the validity of a marriage. A major starting point for reform could be preventative—instruct pastors to be more forthright with Catholics who are entering into high-risk unions (this seems to be reflected in the paragraphs 34-35 of the Relatio).
  5. How to strengthen the faith within families, empowering fathers and mothers to take a more leading role—as primary catechists—in the religious instruction of their children. The children, who are all too often forgotten as the fundamental good of married love. The Church should embrace more subsidiarity in religious instruction, shifting its focus to adult catechesis so that more religious instruction can take place in the home.
  6. Here’s a big topic: the family and the other sacraments. This has been a point on which Pope Francis has been outspoken. How often do the bureaucratic matters postpone the reception of the sacraments! This is a serious problem in the United States, where RCIA programs are often two or three years long. In other places, the order of the reception of the sacraments of initiation has been changed from the traditional baptism-confirmation-Eucharist. Placing confirmation after Eucharist needs to justify itself theologically and pastorally, and it does not appear to do so in either case. Is it not perhaps time to consider smoothing out the process for entry into the mystical body for those interested in conversion, and restoring the order of the sacraments of initiation for the benefit of the young?
  7. Our little ones are good, and we've gotten this look. ...
    ... and this one.
    'You aren't breastfeeding at Mass?!'
    Finally, it is obvious that some of the bishops are in the mood to do something really audacious. These appetites must be satisfied, I suppose. Very well. How about a scalding rebuke of those folks who give a merciless look to young families or even single moms who bring their kids to Mass? At least something in the next synod text addressing pedantic bloggers, who, as though they were the vox populi, clamor that the only place for a child is the cry room (good luck teaching good Mass behavior there). Now if we want to do something for the ostracized, how about a word of encouragement and welcome for parents of little ones. It seems abundantly clear that if one is a sinner, such a one is invited to come to Mass. It should be so. But what about those sinners who have no actual sin? Are they welcome? And their parents? Are they welcome too, even if the little ones are a bit noisy? Pope Francis says they are welcome. Perhaps this is where the language of “accepting and valuing” might be better applied here by the next synod.  

When a little one makes some noise, the parent probably feels something like this (watch from 2:06-2:48):

Well, if you have a noisy little one, you are most welcome in my pew. I accept and value you. Speaking of noisy pews, one of my little ones once made a few big noises during the consecration a while ago. What was amazing was that she timed the double movement to concur with the elevation of the host and then that of the chalice. If only there had been bells! She would not have been noticed (except by me, who was holding her). Such is life, but I was really embarrassed. Someone looked at me and smiled genuinely, and I really appreciated it, and off I went for the clean-up. Sometimes, the necessities of married life, too, cause one to abstain from communion, as I did on that day.

I digress. Back to the synod. I hope that the prelates of the Church consider the media’s ability to communicate their message over the last 50 years, and that they consider the effects those distortions have had. If they cling to Christ’s Gospel on marriage and family, all will be well. If they try to be innovative, their work and ours becomes harder.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Great John Paul II quote from class today ...

Brief post today:

Dr. Waldstein discussing the fairness (i.e., beauty) of love shared this with us, and it is from John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope:

"As a young priest I learned to love human love. This has been one of the fundamental themes of my priesthood-my ministry in the pulpit, in the confessional, and also in my writing. If one loves human love, there naturally arises the need to commit oneself completely to the service of "fair love," because love is fair, it is beautiful."After all, young people are always searching for the beauty in love. They want their love to be beautiful. If they give in to weakness, following models of behavior that can rightly be considered a "scandal in the contemporary world" (and these are, unfortunately, widely diffused models), in the depths of their hearts they still desire a beautiful and pure love. This is as true of boys as it is of girls. Ultimately, they know that only God can give them this love. As a result, they are willing to follow Christ, without caring about the sacrifices this may entail."

Too good not to share. Pass it along. This is what is authentic. This is what young people truly want, rather than alluring but unsatisfactory and false forms.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Life Update: How you can help me in the meanwhile (please share)

Happy feast of St. Augustine to all. I just finished reading City of God this month. Here is a brief quote from it:

"But that grief which arises in the hearts of the pious, who are persecuted by the manners of bad or false Christians, is profitable to the sufferers, because it proceeds from the charity in which they do not wish them either to perish or to hinder the salvation of others. Finally, great consolations grow out of their chastisement, which imbue the souls of the pious with a fecundity as great as the pains with which they were troubled concerning their own perdition. Thus in this world, in these evil days, not only from the time of the bodily presence of Christ and His apostles, but even from that of Abel, whom first his wicked brother slew because he was righteous, and thenceforth even to the end of this world, the Church has gone forward on pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God."
St. Augustine, City of God, Book XVIII, Ch. 51

Continued from yesterday's post...

I Need Your Help
As I begin my studies and crunch the numbers financially, it’s difficult to see how this is all going to work out. Every penny of my stipend will be spent on rent. Books for this semester alone cost about $500. Moving across the country cost us about $5,000. And groceries are quite expensive for anyone who refuses to feed one's children that highly processed, cheap junk that will only make them unhealthy. More student loans are on the horizon, yet I know it will all work out because God is provident. My wife and I have had many patrons of our studies: my mom and dad, her mom and dad, siblings, grandparents, former professors, friends, and those many who hold us up in prayer. I would like to invite you to also become a patron of my studies. My pledge to you is that I will always be faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. I have already sworn an oath in this regard before my first year of teaching at Saint Joseph Academy. An oath is permanent; may God grant me the grace always to be faithful.

(I am not asking you to support us by giving us money. I know that times are difficult and there are those in the world who are in greater need of money. If you do wish to help me acquire the tools of the trade, I have on the right column a link to my Amazon theology wish list; that would be most helpful and most appreciated, but I would still prefer you buy a goat for some poor family.)

What I want to ask of you, dear reader, is this: If you know someone who needs tutoring help, please consider referring him or her to me using the links below. St. Paul was a tentmaker; many of the apostles, fishermen; I’m a teacher. (I'm also a darned good cook, but I've yet to make it big.) I am trying to build my tutoring business through WyzAnt, and I am set up for online tutoring services. This means that I have a web cam, access to screen-sharing and document-sharing software, and can tutor any student anywhere in the nation; all the student needs is a mic on the computer. It's not easy to support a family via tutoring, but if I get enough students, it will work. If I can tutor one student, that helps us a lot. If I can tutor ten or more students regularly, that helps us all the more.

I can teach your son or daughter Greek or Latin, proper English grammar (do you know how neglected this subject is by modern education movements?), classical writing, geometry, and more. Have a foreign exchange student who is new to America and has never heard about God, but must pass her Catholic theology class? Does your child’s top college choice require SAT scores that seem out of reach? Do you yourself want to boost GRE scores for a master’s or Ph.D. program? Contact me through WyzAnt. Click on the link ( Click here for a flyer as well. You could also email me at thecharcoalfire(at)

And if the answer to all those questions is “no” there yet remains two small things you can do for us. First, use those buttons below to share this post with your friends on social media. Second, and most important of all, pray for me. This is an exciting time for me and for my family. We are all happy and grateful to God for this unique opportunity, and I look forward to being at the service of the Church and the Magisterium for years to come.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Life Updated: Where I am going

Continuing from my previous post, I write now about the coming four years. Next week, I am beginning my first semester of Ph.D. studies at Ave Maria University. I am really excited for my classes over the next four years, under such erudite scholars as Drs. Michael Waldstein, Gregory Vall, Steven A. Long, Fr. Matthew Lamb, and more. The more I read of their work, the more confident I am that Ave Maria is the best place to study theology at the doctoral level in the United States. We are finally here. We arrived early this month.

Now, anyone who knows about Ph.D. applications and high school teaching understands my sparse blogging over the preceding months!

Photo courtesy of Cedar Point, allegedly a pilgrimage site for thrill-seekers.
The previous year was nothing short of the Millennium Force (pictured). Last summer, I drove across the country visiting a number of universities. When I returned, I had a message from Dr. Vall asking me to reapply to Ave Maria’s Ph.D. program. I also submitted an article to the academic journal Nova et Vetera, which was accepted and is forthcoming (I will post an update when I find out its publication date). I retook my GRE’s, bringing my scores up above the 90th percentile across the board. I also began my fifth year teaching high schoolers. Last fall, I embarked upon another round of Ph.D. applications, and I waited anxiously in the winter for responses. I caught a mid-February flight out for interviews at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. Though school was canceled for two days because of snow, the faculty and staff graciously came into the offices to interview me. It seemed like the Institute would be where I would be, but I still had no definite offers yet. Two weeks later, I found out that Notre Dame’s highly competitive History of Christianity program was out of the question, and by the next day, so was Duke University. That day, Tuesday, my wife and I were talking in my office, sharing our anxieties. Agnes, my (then) 2-year-old, toddled in and, standing between us, said, “Mama Mary has a surprise.” Indeed, how could we worry? God is provident.

Two days later, I received the good news via email; I had been accepted to Ave Maria with a full scholarship and a stipend for four years. In our joy, we remembered Agnes’s words. “Out of the mouth of babes,” no? The following day, by mail, I found out I had also been accepted to the John Paul II Institute’s program, full scholarship and stipend. Decisions! Would that I could bilocate! Well, after an extensive comparison of the programs, I knew that Ave Maria—everything: faculty, coursework, resources, et cetera—was the best fit for my theological interests. I’m not so crazy about mosquitos, gators, and snakes, but I do love the daily storms, particularly after living in “boringly beautiful” Southern California.

Well, back to that roller coaster, Southern California is not so boring, especially during the drought of the century. Pray for rain. In May, my exit off the 5 became a nationally followed hashtag, and not in a good way. The #PoinsettiaFire, put a lot of things in perspective.
You will notice the embedded tweet, which shows the fire’s direction. The evacuation zone was one mile east of our apartment. That “wind” arrow: pointed right at us. When the fire was devouring acreage, I was stuck in San Juan Capistrano, 40 miles from my family, and all I could think about was getting home to them. That night, we did a precautionary evacuation and stayed with some friends who were gracious hosts for us. Several other dear families offered to host us as well. Officials later said that they thought the fire would burn all the way to the coast, but the next day, we mercifully got a change in wind direction, and so the fire was quickly brought into containment, thanks to the hard work of the firefighters. Sadly, one homeless person perished in the blaze. May his soul rest in peace.

Top: View of the Pacific from the 1. Dude!
Bottom: Totally by chance and too cool not to share. Do you see it?
Photos taken by the Clarkes
June brought an end to my three years at JSerra and one more visit up to Northern California to see my in-laws. (Don't worry, you two! We'll be back!) On the way back, ‘why drive down the 5,’ we thought, ‘when we can take the glorious 1? When will we have this chance again?’ We drove back down the 1 and camped in Big Sur, which was my daughters’ first camping experience. Agnes still likes to tell the story of how in the middle of the night, we were awakened to a “crinkle, crinkle,” and, after I shined the light out of the tent, what did I see, but a “smunk”! He stuck his tail straight up and … then he walked away. Learned my lesson about leaving the trash bag out. How did I not notice? Rookie. If you see Agnes any time soon, she will tell you this story.

The highlight of the summer, though, was finding out that we are expecting Baby Clarke no. 3, due in February!

By mid-July, I had finished my recordings for the Biblical Greek class I’m teaching at JP Catholic. We packed up the van and set the trip meter to “0.” (I cannot believe how expensive it is to move one’s belongings across the country.) We rented a relocation pod, packed it to the top, packed the van full, and sold or gave away the rest. The Scriptures say, “There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). I think this may have been a copyist’s omission; the original may have also added, “Nay, more than this, there is a friend who helps pack and clean during moving week.”

One more to come tomorrow ...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Life update -- Or, On why I am the most inconsistent blogger ever ...

Cordial greetings, dear reader(s). I am sorry for my inconsistent blogging. You should at least know what I have been up to, right?

The California Years
The last 5 years (arrived: 7/31/2009; departed: 7/31/2014) have been a blur, a most blessed blur. My wife, daughter, and I moved from Ohio to California so I could begin teaching the faith to the young. I love California. To be honest, I never thought I would love Southern California. To me, the idea of L.A. seemed like hell on earth, but after I moved out there, I fell in love with San Diego, and, in a most bizarre turn of events, I found myself actually enjoying the greater L.A. area. It's a great place to be Catholic. It's a long way from my beloved Virginia, but San Diego feels like home. I started out teaching 6th graders through 12th graders for two years at a K-12 in San Marcos, St. Joseph Academy. What wonderful families with which God has blessed that school! I still miss them and wish them all the best.

Life was hard. My ride to work: the Pacific Surfliner.
Image from
2011, in particular, was a year of big changes, a banner year: the highlight of the year, no question, was when my second daughter, Agnes, was born; I also joined the adjunct faculty at John Paul the Great Catholic University to teach Biblical Greek I and II; and Fr. Vincent Gilmore, O.Praem., hired me to teach theology full time at JSerra Catholic High School. For the last 3 years, I have been commuting via rail to San Juan Capistrano to teach at the high school during the day and back to teach Biblical Greek at JP Catholic in the evenings. My classes have been recorded at JP Catholic and I continue to administer to the course online to talented biblical theology students, who no doubt are on to great things. The graces of these past three years have been copious. Teaching at JSerra brought the unique privilege of working side-by-side not only with many talented teachers and administrators, but with Norbertines such as Frs. Charbel Grbavac, Damien Giap, David Gonzales. A shout out to all my former students. They know they can email me if they ever have one for the "question box." As the sacristan, I had the unique privilege of attending daily morning Masses and being cut to the heart every Monday by Fr. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. If you ever have the chance to hear Fr. Chrysologus, er, I mean, Fr. Sebastian, do not miss it! I think he speaks on the radio from time to time. My wife and I were so moved by the Norbertines' preaching and their holiness that we began attending Mass at St. Michael's Abbey in Orange County twice a month. If you are in the area, make a pilgrimage to the abbey. I would really encourage you to support them, materially and spiritually. I know many folks who live nearby who have never gone. Trust me, if you knew what I know of them, you would sacrifice all the discomfort of a lengthy drive and go. I only wish there were Norbertines everywhere.

But why have I not been blogging? Well, what had been occupying me was a bit of a secret.

Enough for now. More on this to come ...

By the way, be sure to check out my article in the print edition of the Sept./Oct. Lay Witness on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Some of my more devoted followers (i.e., mom) may wish to subscribe to this magazine as I continue to write for them regularly.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Required Reading Today: The CDF's Statement on the LCWR's Recent Activities

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, "speaking rather bluntly," has some strong remarks for the LCWR leadership on the doctrinal assessment, on the honoring of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, and on the LCWR's infatuation with the neo-gnostic "Conscious Evolution." He is right; he does speak rather bluntly, but this is necessary from the Church at this time. The National catholic Reporter's coming reaction--meltdown?--should be rather interesting. As for me, I'll be reading Fr. Z.

In the meanwhile, please read the statement, available here.

Interesting excerpt from the CDF document on "Conscious Evolution":

"The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery.
"My concern is whether such an intense focus on new ideas such as Conscious Evolution has robbed religious of the ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia. To phrase it as a question, do the many religious listening to addresses on this topic or reading expositions of it even hear the divergences from the Christian faith present?"

This is the woman the CDF mentions explicitly in the letter. See if you can find anything in this about "the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery"; that is, if you can make it through the video!

Update: The meltdown has begun. Commonweal takes an early shot. Still waiting on the NCR op-ed reaction, but they have their news story up, which includes a brief statement from the LCWR.

A few early reactions from Twitter ...




The Women's Ordination Conference is, of course, all over this story...

and the RCWP too...

Note well that the vitriol among the dissenters does not reflect the tone of the statement released by the LCWR itself:
Archbishop Muller's opening remarks released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accurately reflect the content of the mandate communicated to LCWR in April 2012. As articulated in the Cardinal's statement, these remarks were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed. The actual interaction with Cardinal Muller and his staff was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging.
Those who divide believers by new and strange teachings should take note that they are not always able to quickly corral the dispersed sheep.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Highlights from the Canonization Mass - (a VERY distant view)

If you were in similar shoes as mine, which, alas, were not in Rome yesterday, I hope you enjoyed watching EWTN's production of the Mass of canonization as much as I did. (I think there's still an opportunity today to watch it on EWTN if you missed it.) The Vatican seriously needs to update the Congregation for the Causes of Saints page, and I hope they undertake to do it soon; I had hoped to find something to share on Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II there, but I could not. I did, however, find online separately the "libretto" for the Mass itself (the English biography of John XXIII is on p. 13 and that of John Paul II is on p. 31).
Naturally, some of the highlights for me were the Gospel chanting in Greek (since I teach Biblical Greek) and of course the formula of canonization and the homily below. Note well, social media users, that when invoking the prayers of these two new pope saints, the correct way to say it in Latin is not ora pro nobis, rather, orate pro nobis, otherwise, your Latin teacher friend may start trolling you, saying things like 'ora is "pray! [you one person]" while orate is "pray! [y'all]".'

Sancti Ioannes XXIII et Ioannes Paule II, orate pro nobis!

Formula of Canonization

For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Ad honorem Sanctæ et Individuæ Trinitatis, ad exaltationem fidei catholicæ et vitæ christianæ incrementum, auctoritate domini nostri Iesu christi, beatorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli ac Nostra, matura deliberatione præhabita et divina ope sæpius implorata, ac de plurimorum fratrum Nostrorum consilio, Beatos Ioannem XXIII et Ioannem Paulum II Sanctos esse decernimus et definimus, ac Sanctorum catalogo adscribimus, statuentes eos in universa Ecclesia inter Sanctos pia devotione recoli debere. In nomine Patris et filii et Spiritus Sancti.

and now the homily of Pope Francis ...

Holy Mass and Rite of Canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II

Homily of Pope Francis

St. Peter's Square - Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), April 27, 2014

At the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which Saint John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.

He had already shown those wounds when he first appeared to the Apostles on the very evening of that day following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection. But, as we have heard, Thomas was not there that evening, and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he replied that unless he himself saw and touched those wounds, he would not believe. A week later, Jesus appeared once more to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room. Thomas was also present; Jesus turned to him and told him to touch his wounds. Whereupon that man, so straightforward and accustomed to testing everything personally, knelt before Jesus with the words: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, cf. Is 53:5).

Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.

They were priests, and bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.

This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we have heard in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47). It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.

This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us. John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, Saint John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader, guided by the Holy Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; for this reason I like to think of him as the the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit.

In his own service to the People of God, Saint John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Thomas Aquinas: Did Christ Endure All Suffering?

Bosch's Christ Carrying the Cross
The Christological treatises in the Summa Theologica make excellent Lenten reading. If you are looking for something for the short time remaining in Holy Week, I recommend question 46 in the tertia pars for today and question 50 for Holy Saturday.

St. Thomas Aquinas asks whether Christ endured all suffering (STh., III q.46 a.5), and, to my surprise, he says no, reasoning that since the soldiers did not break the legs of Jesus, he did not endure every human suffering. That makes sense, of course; he is the lamb of sacrifice; to have broken his legs would have done violence to the typological significance of his paschal offering.

But the key to reading St. Thomas is to wait for the nuances of his response: Christ did not endure the species all sufferings (ad specim), some of which are mutually exclusive. Generically, however, he did endure all sufferings (secundum genus passus est omnem passionem humanam). This, Thomas says, is threefold. First of all, he suffers from every type of person: from Gentiles and Jews, men and women, rulers, their servants, and the mob, friends and acquaintances.

Secondly, from the sufferings possible for a man to endure. St. Thomas explains that "Christ suffered from friends abandoning Him; in His reputation, from the blasphemies hurled at Him; in His honour and glory, from the mockeries and the insults heaped upon Him; in things, for He was despoiled of His garments; in His soul, from sadness, weariness, and fear; in His body, from wounds and scourgings."

Finally, regarding Christ's totality of suffering in the members of his body, I will again let St. Thomas speak for himself:

In His head He suffered from the crown of piercing thorns; in His hands and feet, from the fastening of the nails; on His face from the blows and spittle; and from the lashes over His entire body. Moreover, He suffered in all His bodily senses: in touch, by being scourged and nailed; in taste, by being given vinegar and gall to drink; in smell, by being fastened to the gibbet in a place reeking with the stench of corpses, which is called Calvary; in hearing, by being tormented with the cries of blasphemers and scorners; in sight, by beholding the tears of His mother and of the disciple whom He loved.

Did Jesus suffer every suffering? No, and yes. Oh, yes! Read St. Thomas during this sacred Triduum; he'll help you prepare for the joy of the resurrection.

Pie pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo Sanguine,
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Meditation on St. Joseph and a Special Prayer Request

Prayer: The Litany of St. Joseph

A lot of people like to point out that St. Joseph had original sin, because in how we think about the Holy Family he stands in somewhat sharp contrast to the sinless Ever-Virgin Mother of God and the Christ Child, Who Himself is true God, co-eternal with the Father. I have been guilty of this, too, but the more I think about it, to speak in such a way about St. Joseph is irreverence before the mystery of the man. How many more words much more worthy could we multiply about him, chosen by the Father to be protector of the only-begotten Son and spouse of the Immaculate?

Rather than declaring St. Joseph's sinfulness, Scripture affirms that he was a "perfect man." St. James says, "if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also" (3:2). When I read this, I think of St. Joseph. After all, not a word of his is recorded in Scripture, yet the Son of God obeyed his every word. The Son of God commands his angels as the work of his hands, and the Theotokos, too, is queen over them, yet the angels bring God's messages to Joseph by dream.

When Jesus said to the Twelve, who were wondering who was greatest, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (Mk 9:35), I wonder if he perhaps learned this lesson observing his marvelous protector. What can I say for this silent son of David, who raised the silent Lamb that was led to the slaughter?

I only wish I could be more like St. Joseph, and so on this day I prefer to bow in stillness before his mystery and let my demons be terrorized.

Special Prayer Request:
Please pray for Fr. Ray Ryland, a priest in Steubenville whom I love dearly. He fell at St. Peter's Catholic Church there and may be dying. According to a Catholic Answers update, "Barring a miracle, he is not expected to recover." He is a former University of San Diego faculty member and a former Episcopal minister, whose ordination to the Catholic priesthood was approved by Cardinal Ratzinger. Read more about his story here. I will always remember two things about Fr. Ryland: his powerful homilies and the joy with which he celebrated the Mass. He is a holy man, and he and his family need your prayers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

TCF Quoteboard: On Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

"Almsgiving heals the irascible part of the soul, fasting extinguishes the concupiscible part, and prayer purifies the mind and prepares it for the contemplation of reality. ..."
St. Maximus the Confessor, Centuries on Love, 1.79

This seems to be more or less the monastic thought on the matter: If we struggle with anger, fear, envy, and similar passions or sins, we ought to give alms. If we struggle with intemperance, gluttony, lust, drunkenness, and similar passions or sins, we ought to fast. If we struggle with pride, vainglory, distraction, error, curiosity, and similar passions or sins of the mind, we ought to pray.

An image depicting the passions, like an unbridled horse.
It says, "And so, desire carries me along."
This has long been an image of the one ruled by the passions.