Monday, January 19, 2009

Returning Home and Staying There

A parishioner recently emailed me the following question:
  • If it is not a requirement to be a Catholic to enter heaven then what can we say to fallen-away Catholics to bring them back to the faith if they are good, practicing Christians? What can we say to keep Catholics in the faith and not go astray?
The fact that it’s not a requirement to be Catholic to enter heaven only applies to those who are not accountable for being non-Catholic. For example, God would not demand Catholicity from an Indian in the Amazon jungle who had never even heard of Christ. But, the fallen-away Catholic, he has heard of Christ. More than that, he has received the fullness of Truth in the Church of Christ. He has turned his back on the Sacraments and our Eucharistic Lord. Jesus tells us, “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Lk 12:48). We have indeed been given much in this Catholic faith of ours, and when the master comes on a day we do not expect and an hour we do not know, we must be able to show him that we have been good stewards of it all.

Thus, it is a very serious thing to leave the Catholic Church, but we must also be as empathetic as possible with those of us who have decided to go elsewhere. It is often a very complicated set of circumstances that forces people to leave the Church. A lot of heartache and misunderstanding is usually involved. We have to listen to their story, let them have their say, and then patiently and charitably explain to them what is worthwhile and wonderful about the Catholic faith.

That is also, consequently, what I think encourages people to stay Catholic. That’s why I started the “Catholic Q&A” in the first place: to help people to see what is so Good, Beautiful, and True about this Church of which we are members. Some people are convinced by logic and reasoning, and there is certainly a place for that. But, all people are convinced by true happiness and joy. Let them hear the various arguments in support of Catholic doctrine, but let them also see a smile on your face. Let them see you get choked up over a Scripture verse. Let them see your peace as you return from Confession. Let them see your quiet reverence in the house of the Lord. This doesn’t mean putting on a show. It means being in love with the Lord and unabashedly Catholic. Such a witness is usually of tremendous reassurance for those who have left the Church, those who may possibly join, and all of us members who need a reminder from time to time of just how blessed we are.

If this happiness, this peace, this reverence is not yours, then pray for it and strive for it. We have to convert our own hearts and minds before we can convert the hearts and minds of others.

Peace of Christ to you,
Nicholas Hardesty
Director of Religious Education

Thursday, January 15, 2009

First Look at a Project I've Been Workin On

If any of you are wondering why I haven't posted very much here recently, the fact is, I've been working on a new website for my parish. It was one of the first things I decided I was going to do when I was hired as a DRE.

I think a website can be a very valuable tool for a parish. Most people probably go to parish websites to find out when that parish is having Mass, or when Confession is offered. But, if you can get them to stick around for a bit, then you can teach them a thing or two about the Catholic Church and hopefully compel them to become members of the parish.

Susan Burghart, a friend of mine from Phatmass volunteered to do some graphic design. Then she plopped it in my lap and it was up to me to scrape up enough of an understanding of html and css to add the content and the various pages of the website. It hasn't been easy, but I think that so far her and I have been able to put together a pretty good website.

Anyway, enough of the build up. Here it is:

Blessed Mother Catholic Church.

It's still a work in progress, but I would really appreciate your comments and feedback. I'm particularly fond of the "Links" page (which is a no-brainer if you know me or have spent more than 30 seconds looking at my sidebar). What have you always wanted to see in a parish website? What can I do to make it better? I'm opening myself up to your criticism, so please be kind. Remember: I'm a rookie at this.

NOTE: Apparently IE is not reading my CSS like every other browser does. Until I can figure out how to hack it into submission, the site is not going to look right on that browser. You should be using Firefox anyway ;)

Pax Christi,

ps: In case you're wondering what my last post was all about, I basically did that as a resource for me because I needed to link to this document from the CDF, but the only site that had the english translation now requires you to register to read their articles. SOooo, I posted it on my blog. I'm going to have to go through the Directory now and delete literally thousands of links to articles from that site. Ugh.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Letter on Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
May 17, 1979

The recent Synods of Bishops dealing with evangelization and catechesis have created increasing awareness of the need for perfect fidelity to the fundamental truths of faith, especially at the present time, when profound changes in human society and the concern to integrate the Christian faith into the various cultures require that a greater effort be made than in the past to make that faith accessible and communicable. This latter need, so urgent at present, requires that greater care than ever be given to safeguarding the true meaning and the integrity of the faith.

Hence, those responsible in this matter must be extremely attentive to anything that might introduce into the general attitude of the faithful a gradual debasement or progressive extinction of any element of the baptismal Creed necessary for the coherence of the faith and inseparably connected with important practices in the life of the Church.

We think it urgently necessary to call one of these elements to the attention of those to whom God has entrusted the function of advancing and protecting the faith, in order that they may forestall the dangers that could threaten this faith in the minds of the faithful.

The element in question is the article of the Creed concerning life everlasting and so everything in general after death. When setting forth this teaching, it is not permissible to remove any point, nor can a defective or uncertain outlook be adopted without endangering the faith and salvation of Christians.

The importance of this final article of the baptismal Creed is obvious: it expresses the goal and purpose of God's plan, the unfolding of which is described in the Creed. If there is no resurrection, the whole structure of faith collapses, as St. Paul states so forcefully (cf. 1 Cor. 15). If the content of the words "life everlasting" is uncertain for Christians, the promises contained in the Gospel and the meaning of creation and Redemption disappear, and even earthly life itself must be said to be deprived of all hope (cf. Heb. 11:1).

But one cannot ignore the unease and disquiet troubling many with regard to this question. It is obvious that doubt is gradually insinuating itself deeply into people's minds. Even though, generally speaking, the Christian is fortunately not yet at the point of positive doubt, he often refrains from thinking about his destiny after death, because he is beginning to encounter questions in his mind to which he is afraid of having to reply, questions such as: Is there really anything after death? Does anything remain of us after we die? Is it nothingness that is before us?

Part of the cause of this is the unintentional effect on people's minds of theological controversies given wide publicity today, the precise subject and the significance of which is beyond the discernment of the majority of the faithful. One encounters discussions about the existence of the soul and the meaning of life after death, and the question is put of what happens between the death of the Christian and the general resurrection. All this disturbs the faithful, since they no longer find the vocabulary they are used to and their familiar ideas.

There is no question here of restricting or preventing the theological research that the faith of the Church needs and from which it should profit. But this does not permit any omission of the duty to safeguard promptly the faith of Christians on points called into doubt.

In the present serious situation, it is our intention to recall briefly the nature and various features of this difficult twofold duty.

To begin with, those who act as teachers must clearly discern what the Church considers to pertain to the essence of the faith; theological research cannot have any other aim in view than to investigate this more deeply and develop it.

The Sacred Congregation, whose task it is to advance and protect the doctrine of the faith, here wishes to recall what the Church teaches in the name of Christ, especially concerning what happens between the death of the Christian and the general resurrection.
  1. The Church believes (cf. the Creed) in the resurrection of the dead.
  2. The Church understands this resurrection as referring to the whole person; for the elect it is nothing other than the extension to human beings of the resurrection of Christ itself.
  3. The Church affirms that a spiritual element survives and subsists after death, an element endowed with consciousness and will, so that the "human self" subsists. To designate this element, the Church uses the word "soul," the accepted term in the usage of Scripture and Tradition. Although not unaware that this term has various meanings in the Bible, the Church thinks that there is no valid reason for rejecting it; moreover, she considers that the use of some word as a vehicle is absolutely indispensable in order to support the faith of Christians.
  4. The Church excludes every way of thinking or speaking that would render meaningless or unintelligible her prayers, her funeral rites and the religious acts offered for the dead. All these are, in their substance, loci theologici.
  5. In accordance with the Scriptures, the Church looks for "the glorious manifestation of our Lord, Jesus Christ" (Dei verbum, 1,4), believing it to be distinct and deferred with respect to the situation of people immediately after death.
  6. In teaching her doctrine about man's destiny after death, the Church excludes any explanation that would deprive the assumption of the Virgin Mary of its unique meaning, namely the fact that the bodily glorification of the Virgin is an anticipation of the glorification that is the destiny of all the other elect.
  7. In fidelity to the New Testament and Tradition, the Church believes in the happiness of the just who will one day be with Christ. She believes that there will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner. She believes in the possibility of a purification for the elect before they see God, a purification altogether different from the punishment of the damned. This is what the Church means when speaking of Hell and Purgatory.
When dealing with man's situation after death, one must especially beware of arbitrary imaginative representations; excess of this kind is a major cause of the difficulties that Christian faith often encounters. Respect must, however, be given to the images employed in the Scriptures. Their profound meaning must be discerned, while avoiding the risk of over-attenuating them, since this often empties of substance the realities designated by the images.

Neither Scripture nor theology provides sufficient light for a proper picture of life after death. Christians must firmly hold the two following essential points: on the one hand they must believe in the fundamental continuity, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, between our present life in Christ and the future life (charity is the law of the kingdom of God and our charity on earth will be the measure of our sharing in God's glory in heaven); on the other hand, they must be clearly aware of the radical break between the present life and the future one, due to the fact that the economy of faith will be replaced by the economy of the fullness of life: we shall be with Christ and "we shall see God" (cf. 1 Jn. 3:2), and it is in these promises and marvellous mysteries that our hope essentially consists. Our imagination may be incapable of reaching these heights, but our heart does so instinctively and completely.

Having recalled these points of doctrine, we would now like to clarify the principal features of the pastoral responsibility to be exercised in the present circumstances in accordance with Christian prudence.

The difficulties connected with these questions impose serious obligations on theologians, whose function is indispensable. Accordingly they have every right to encouragement from us and to the margin of freedom lawfully demanded by their methodology. We must, however, unceasingly remind Christians of the Church's teaching, which is the basis both of Christian life and of scholarly research. Efforts must also be made to ensure that theologians share in our pastoral concern, so that their studies and research may not be thoughtlessly set before the faithful, who today more than ever are exposed to dangers to their faith.

The last Synod highlighted the attention given by the bishops to the essential points of catechesis with a view to the good of the faithful. All who are commissioned to transmit these points must have a clear view of them. We must therefore provide them with the means to be firm with regard to the essence of the doctrine and at the same time careful not to allow childish or arbitrary images to be considered truths of faith.

A Diocesan or National Doctrinal Commission should exercise constant and painstaking vigilance with regard to publications, not only to give timely warning to the faithful about writings that are unreliable in doctrine but also and especially to acquaint them with works that can nourish and support their faith. This is a difficult and important task, but it is made urgent both by the wide circulation of printed publications and by the decentralization of responsibilities demanded by circumstances and desired by the Ecumenical Council.

At an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II approved the present Letter, decided upon at an Ordinary Meeting of this Sacred Congregation, and ordered its publication.

In Rome, at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on May 17, 1979.

Franjo Cardinal Seper,

+Fr. Jérôme Hamer, O.P.,
Titular Archbishop of Lorium

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Novena to Stop FOCA

I recently received the following email and thought I would pass it along. I don't know from whom it originates, but it's a good idea nonetheless:
  • Please consider uniting with others in this 9 day prayer from Jan 11- 22. FOCA explicitly overrides any state laws that limit abortion or protect the unborn child. Let us make a shield of prayer to clothe and protect children in the womb.

    For those of you who do not know, the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) is set to be signed if congress passes it on January 21-22 of 2009. The FOCA is the next sick chapter in the book of abortion. If made a law then all limitations on abortion will be lifted which will result in the following:

    1. All hospitals, including Catholic hospitals will be required to perform abortions upon request. If this happens Bishops vow to close down all Catholic hospitals, more then 30% of all hospitals in the United States.
    2. Partial birth abortions would be legal and have no limitations.
    3. All U.S. tax payers would be funding abortions.
    4. Parental notification will no longer be required.
    5. Perhaps most importantly the government will now have control in the issue of abortion. This could result in a future amendment that would force women by law to have abortions in certain situations (rape, down syndrome babies, etc) and could even (as in China) regulate how many children women are allowed to have.

    Needless to say this information is disturbing, but sadly true. As Catholics, as Christians, as anyone who is against the needless killing of innocent children, we must stand as one. We must stop this horrific act before it becomes a law.

    The Plan: To say a novena (9 days of prayer) along with fasting starting on January 11th. For Catholics, the prayer of choice will be the rosary with intentions to stop the FOCA. For non-Catholics please pray your strongest prayers with the same intentions, also for nine consecutive days.

    The hope is that this will branch and blossom as to become a global effort with maximum impact. Just do three things:

    1. Pass this letter to 5 or more people
    2. Do it soon.
    3. Start the novena on January 11th and pray for nine
      consecutive days (please also fast for at least two days during the novena)

    Thank you for uniting your efforts with others.
Prayer is one of our best weapons at this point. Our president sure won't be of any help.

Mary, Mother of the Unborn .... pray for us.

Pax Christi,

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Update on the Health of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things and undoubtedly one of America's greatest priests and theologians is in very ill health and may very well be dying. Here are some updates on his health that I have been able to find on the internet.

On Dec. 5th, Fr. Neuhaus himself wrote the following note at the end of his article "The Religion Business":
  • I cannot begin to respond to the deluge of assurances of prayer and concern about my health. Please be assured that I am grateful and count mightily on being remembered by you before the Throne of Grace. Or, as Catholics are wont to say, on your storming the gates of heaven. The nature of the cancer is beginning to come into clearer focus, and I hope to have more details in short order. Meanwhile, I will, please God, continue to be as engaged as possible in the work of First Things and other apostolates, even as I am compelled by grace to know more deeply our solidarity within the Body of Christ.

Since then, there have been further developments. From the First Things blog:
  • So many have asked after the health of our editor-in-chief, Richard John Neuhaus, that it seemed best to post this note on our website.

    Fr. Neuhaus is in the hospital here in New York. Over Thanksgiving, he was diagnosed with a serious cancer. The long-term prognosis for this particular cancer is not good, but it is not hopeless, either, and there is a possibility that it will respond to the recommended out-patient chemotherapy treatment.

    Unfortunately, over Christmas, he was taken dangerously ill with what seems to be a systemic infection that has left him very weak. Entering the hospital the day after Christmas, he was sedated to lower an elevated heart rate and treatment was begun for the infection. Over the last few days, he has shown some signs of improvement, and there is a reasonable expectation that he will recover from this present illness—sufficiently, we hope, that he will be able to begin the chemotherapy for the cancer.
    Fr. Neuhaus is not able at the moment to receive visitors or speak on the telephone or answer his mail, and he has requested that no flowers, candy, or other get-well presents be sent—just your prayers for his quick recovery.

From Kathryn Jean Lopez over at The Corner:
  • His friends and family are keeping vigil and he was administered last rites shortly after midnight. Fr. George Rutler, who gave him the Catholic Sacrament, says that “he is not expected to live long” and suggests “that it is appropriate that prayers be offered for a holy death.”

    Fr. Neuhaus has come close to this moment before and been back. If it’s his time: Go in peace. He's a man who has loved and served His Lord. When he leaves this world, his vast intellectual and spiritual body of work will have a long life here.

    Speaking of his archives: Fr. Neuhaus might agree with his brother priest on the appropriate prayer for him. Fr. Neuhaus might say, if he could right now, what he's already written:

    • We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, but we typically become tongue-tied and nervous when the discussion turns to a good death. As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word "good" should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good.

      Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances. What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied. But all our progress and all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent.

      Death is the most everyday of everyday things. It is not simply that thousands of people die every day, that thousands will die this day, although that too is true. Death is the warp and woof of existence in the ordinary, the quotidian, the way things are. It is the horizon against which we get up in the morning and go to bed at night, and the next morning we awake to find the horizon has drawn closer. From the twelfth-century Enchiridion Leonis comes the nighttime prayer of children of all ages: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take." Every going to sleep is a little death, a rehearsal for the real thing.

From Tom McFeely over at Free Republic:
  • Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things, is currently undergoing treatment for cancer in Manhattan’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

    Father Neuhaus disclosed his cancer at the end of this post on the First Things website in early December.

    The Daily Blog spoke today with pro-life advocate Chris Slattery, who visited Father Neuhaus yesterday afternoon at the hospital.

    “I got a call yesterday morning from his office, saying that he was put in on the weekend and please go visit him,” said Slattery, who is founder and president of Expectant Mother Care.

    Said Slattery, “He’s clearly had a serious recurrence of a new cancer. It’s going to require some immediate chemotherapy. He was in a lot of pain.”

    Slattery said that Father Neuhaus could speak only a few words during their visit because he was heavily sedated in order to help him regain strength prior to undergoing chemotherapy.

    “And for a man of that intellect, it’s just torture for him to be unable to really communicate,” said Slattery, who noted that Father Neuhaus was hospitalized several years earlier for the successful treatment of another cancer.

    “I think what he’s got is a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is completely unrelated to the previous cancer he had some ten years ago, which was a colon cancer,” Slattery said. “He wrote a book about his experiences — I visited him in the hospital then too — he was near death with that cancer. He wrote a book called, ‘As I Lay Dying,’ which describes his mental state as he was going through that treatment. It’s a very edifying book. It’s a good time for people to check back on that book.”

    Staff from First Things as well as his sister from Valparaiso, Indiana, are visiting with Father Neuhaus while he’s in hospital, said Slattery.

    Slattery is optimistic about Father Neuhaus’s prognosis.

    “My mother, my father and I have all been treated for cancer in that same hospital, Sloan-Kettering,” he said. “He’s got top care there. They’re going to give him the best treatment he can get in the world there.”

    Added Slattery, “I just don’t think it’s his time, the Church really needs him. He’s one of the most brilliant churchmen we have. He’s been named one of the 100 most influential Americans by U.S. News & World Report, and in my book he’s one of the top two or three priests in the country in his understanding of the Church and the faith, intellectually and theologically.”

    Said Slattery, “So we have to pray for him.”

UPDATE: This came this morning, from Joseph Bottum, Editor of First Things:
  • Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009

    Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away today, January 8, shortly before 10 o’clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and the next day, in the company of friends, he died.

    My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

    I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away. Funeral arrangements are still being planned; information about the funeral will be made public shortly. Please accept our thanks for all your prayers and good wishes.

    In Deepest Sorrow,
    Joseph Bottum
    First Things

UPDATE #2: Funeral arrangements for Fr. Richard John Neuhaus:
  • A Funeral Mass will be celebrated for Father Richard John Neuhaus at the Church of the Immaculate Conception—414 E. 14th Street, New York City—on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 10 a.m.

    Bishops and priests who wish to attend are asked please to inform Nathaniel Peters (by e-mail or phone 212-627-2288) by Sunday afternoon, January 11, at the latest.

    A Christian wake service in the form of a Vigil for the Deceased will be celebrated at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Monday evening, January 12, at 7:30 p.m. Clergy who plan to attend are asked to sit with the congregation.

    In lieu of flowers, donations are requested for Fr. Neuhaus’ work, the Institute on Religion and Public Life, online at this page or by mail to:

    Institute on Religion and Public Life
    156 Fifth Avenue
    Suite 400
    New York, NY 10010

To learn more about Fr. Neuhaus' life and work, see his short bios at Wikipedia and Right Web, and a collection of his works at the Ratzinger Fan Club. First Things also has a collection of photos, audio, and video.

Our country is worse off without this man. Please don't forget to pray for him.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus ... requiescat in pace.

Pax Christi,

Saturday, January 03, 2009

G. K. Chesterton on the New Year

  • "The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."

-- G. K. Chesterton, "January One" from Lunacy and Letters

A fitting quotation as we start the New Year. If you had never existed before, how would you organize your life today? Born anew, what will you do differently? Leave a comment and let me know.

Pax Christi,
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