Archive for the ‘Unity’ Category

On Our Separated Brethren

October 30, 2016

At the end of this month, four hundred ninety-nine years ago, a German Augustinian Catholic priest and theology professor sent the archbishop of Mainz a letter and a list of ninety-five statements disputing the Church’s teachings on indulgences. The friar later may have also posted his “ninety-five theses” as an invitation for debate on his university’s chapel door in Wittenberg. Events would snowball from there, with examinations and public debate, and ultimately an excommunication. That monk’s name was Martin Luther.

martin-luther-portriat-by-lucas-cranach-the-elder-1528

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Luther rebelled in the belief that he was calling the Church to holy reform, back to its original purity, freed from all false additions. But unlike St. Francis, whose radical devotion to the Gospel and the Church strengthened Christendom, Luther’s efforts brought about division which remains to our day. The “Protestant Reformation” gave rise to Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anglicanism, and their many denominational breakoffs, including Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists,  Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and others.

What do we as Catholics believe about the Christians in these non-Catholic communities and what does the Catholic Church believe about herself? The following excerpts on this subject are drawn from The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs #816-822):

The sole Church of Christ is that which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it…. This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.

The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism explains: “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.”

In fact, in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church – for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body – here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism – do not occur without human sin: As Origen wrote, “Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.”

However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities that resulted from such separation and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers…. All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.”

Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time. Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, … so that the world may know that you have sent me.” (John 17:21) The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.

Certain things are required in order to respond adequately to this call:

– a permanent renewal of the Church in greater fidelity to her vocation; such renewal is the driving-force of the movement toward unity;

– conversion of heart as the faithful try to live holier lives according to the Gospel; for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ’s gift which causes divisions;

– prayer in common, because change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name “spiritual ecumenism”

– fraternal knowledge of each other;

– ecumenical formation of the faithful and especially of priests;

– dialogue among theologians and meetings among Christians of the different churches and communities;

– collaboration among Christians in various areas of service to mankind. “Human service” is the idiomatic phrase.

Concern for achieving unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. But we must realize that this holy objective – the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ – transcends human powers and gifts. That is why we place all our hope in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

On Praying with Separated Brethren

November 21, 2015

This evening, I received an email from a concerned parish visitor who was responding to a pair of area ecumenical Thanksgiving services being promoted in our bulletin:

Dear Father. I was severely shocked and disappointed to see this in a CATHOLIC  bulletin.   I am a devout Roman Catholic visiting family in the area. Not only is this confusing to to parishoners. It is outright contradicting to Church doctrine. You have beautiful homilies, and seem to be a devout priest ! Which is why I’m so confused and outright shocked !!!  I will also be emailing the Bishop to address this issue with him.  God bless [F]ather. And may the Sacred Heart [guide] us both !  [-Signed-]

In case there is wider confusion and concern on this subject, here is the reply I sent.

Dear —,

Thank you for your note. Properly representing our Catholic Faith and preventing scandal are important to me and I’m glad you wrote me.

The Catholic Church calls Protestants our “separated brethren.” This is because we are united as brothers and sisters in Christ though, at the same time, divided in non-trivial ways. (I hope this teaching of the Church is clearly reflected through my preaching, for I believe our Lord desires all of his disciples and all people to come into full communion with his Catholic Church.) While Catholics and Protestants are certainly not in full communion with each other, we share and revere many of the same elements of Christian Prayer, Scripture, and Tradition. Without compromising on the truth, the Church allows Catholics to come together with other Christians for ecumenical prayer events such as the upcoming Thanksgiving gatherings you saw advertised in the bulletin.

This evening, I spoke with Mr. Christopher Carstens, our (solidly orthodox) diocesan director of liturgy, regarding your concerns. He confirmed that these ecumenical events are not condemned by the Church. In fact, The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism promulgated by St. Pope John Paul II in 1993 states that, “In liturgical celebrations taking place in other Churches and ecclesial Communities [i.e, Protestant churches], Catholics are encouraged to take part in the psalms, responses, hymns and common actions of the Church in which they are guests. If invited by their hosts, they may read a lesson or preach.” (#118) The upcoming area Thanksgiving ecumenical services are celebrations of this sort, consisting of scripture readings, psalms, prayer responses, hymns, and talks (without common communion.) And so, Catholics may feel welcome to take part.

Through our participation in such ecumenical events and gatherings, while remaining firmly and unabashedly Catholic, I hope that our separated brethren may be drawn from (perhaps) prejudice against Catholicism, to curiosity, to understanding, to attraction, and finally into full communion with Mother Church. Sharing the truth with love and showing love informed by truth through encounters like these will be key to the reunion of all Christians.

Thanks again for writing me with your concerns, which are hopefully now relieved.

God bless,
Fr. Victor Feltes

False Presumptions — Wednesday, 7th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

February 28, 2014

Readings: James 4:13-17, Mark 9:38-40

We must be careful not to cling to false presumptions about God’s activity regarding the present or the future. It is prudent to make plans for tomorrow and also good to strive for the reunion of all Christians into Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. However, James warns us not to be presumptuous about our plans (instead of remaining open to God’s will,) while Jesus reminds us that even those who “do not follow us” can ‘perform mighty deeds in his name.’ “Whoever is not against us is for us.” God is never against us, and (unusually) neither are our separated brethren.

Enduring Despite Scandal — 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 17, 2011

I know of a man who was called and chosen to lead, to preach, and to be a minister on behalf of Christ. Good and powerful things were done through his ministry and he was respected by many Christians. However, despite outward appearances, this man was a sinner (a great sinner,) and when his sins became known he brought great scandal to the Church. It was revealed that he had repeated stolen from funds collected for the poor. It also became known that he had betrayed Christ, his people, and his vocation in a vastly more terrible way. So terribly, in fact, that Jesus said, “It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”  (Better for him if he had never lived life outside his mother’s womb.) This man, who preached the gospel, who worked mighty deeds, who drew crowds to Jesus Christ, was the Apostle Judas Iscariot.

Could you imagine being one of those Christians who had been evangelized by the Apostle Judas? What if he had preached the gospel and ministered in your hometown? Imagine how your faith might be shaken by his sins. How tragic it would be if any Christians had parted ways with Jesus Christ, the apostles and the Church because of the scandal of this one man.

Though the one, apostolic, and Catholic Church is holy, she does contain sinners. Jesus said that there would be weeds that grow alongside the wheat. It has always been this way, and so it shall be, until the separating harvest at the end of the age. There have been terrible sinners among the Church’s popes and priests, her lay men and women; children of the evil one. Yet, these sinners, should not make us forget about the Church’s many canonized and uncanonized saints, the children of the kingdom, through whom far greater good has been done.

Like the mustard seed Jesus described, His Catholic Church, which began as a speck in history, has grown into the largest of plants, a peaceful dwelling place which brings together all peoples. And like the yeast in the dough that Jesus spoke of, the works and teachings of His Catholic Church have raised up the whole world for the better. For instance, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world and she has been the defender of universal human dignity through the centuries. The modern world accepts the concept of universal human rights as a given because the Catholic Church first championed human dignity by her teachings and deeds. Despite the sins of some of its members, let no one say that the Catholic Church has not been a source and a force for good in the world.

We see that Jesus foreknew what Judas was freely going to do. Jesus said, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (He said this in reference to Judas.) Why did Jesus, who knew all the while what Judas would freely do, permit him to remain in their company? One could rightly say it was because the Father had ordained it so, or that it was necessary to fulfill Old Testament prophesies, or so that the Son of Man and Savior of mankind would experience the human suffering of betrayal by someone who knew Him well and should have loved Him. Perhaps there are one thousand true reasons for it in God’s providential plan, but I am convinced that one of these reasons is this: So that in the future, whenever one of Jesus’ own betrayed Christ’s Church, be they a member of the clergy or laity, it would not destroy our faith in Christ.      Ultimately, the only person our Catholic faith depends upon is Him, and Jesus will never let us down.

For those who have been alienated from the Faith because of scandals, let us pray whatever the offense, that no Judas shall keep them away from Jesus Christ and His Church.

Peter Our Rock — February 22 — Chair of St. Peter

February 22, 2011

If you claim Jesus Christ as your Lord, then listen to His words. To those He sent to preach for Him, Jesus said this, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me.” (Luke 10:16) Today there are many people preaching many different things about what they think Jesus would have us believe and do. These varying opinions are well-intentioned and shared in good faith, by ministers from pulpits and in conversations between friends, but they cannot all be right. Unless it doesn’t matter what we believe or what we do, then this is a big problem. To whom should we listen? Is there anyone today for whom Jesus’ words are still true, “Whoever listens to you listens to me”?     Does anyone teach with authority, such that ‘whoever rejects their teaching rejects Christ?’ If not, we are lost; but if there is, where do we find this person?

On another occasion, Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” (Matthew 23:1-3) Today teachers usually stand in front of their classes to teach them, but teachers in the ancient world would teach sitting down. Their chairs symbolized their authority, like the “chairman of the board” or the “chair of the English department.”Jesus spoke of the Chair of Moses, the position of the authoritative teaching for old Israel. For His new Church, Jesus establishes a new chair, the chair that we celebrate today, the chair of St. Peter and of his successors the Popes.

St. Peter, like every Pope after him, was only a man. He wasn’t perfect and he was weak in many ways. But Jesus has built His Church upon this rock. When the Pope, as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals, he teaches it infallibly. For the good of the Church, the Pope is empowered by the Holy Spirit to teach the faith of Christ without error. Can popes sin? Yes, infallible does not mean impeccable, as various popes in history have shown, yet even these bad popes prove the faithfulness of God in preserving them from teaching errors. Of them Jesus would have said, “Do as they teach, but do not follow their example.”

Jesus knew that living the fullness of Christianity on earth required that He provide us with an infallible guide. Some Christians have held that the Bible alone is this guide, but the Scriptures do not interpret themselves, nor did the Bible books put themselves in the canon. Even the infallible Scriptures require an infallible Church, and an infallible Church requires an infallible voice.

Mark Twain is believed to have remarked, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Of course, it was not the father but the child who had changed, when he finally recognizing the wisdom of his father. Some people reject or ignore Catholic teachings as stupid, like those on the sacred dignity of all human life, or the teachings on human sexuality. Some people neglect the sacraments of the Church for years of their lives. Then, after gaining painful experience, they return with a new love and respect for our Holy Father’s wisdom, and the ways of our Mother, the Church. As wonderful as it is whenever people to come back to the Catholic faith, I would much prefer that you would know the greater joy and peace of remaining ever united to the rock of truth found only in our Church.

A Mystery Revealed — Trinity Sunday

June 2, 2010

You may recall my mention of one of my favorite professors at seminary, Dr.  Perry Cahall. And I remember him telling us one day in class, “If, someday when you’re a priest, I hear that you got into the pulpit on Trinity Sunday and tell the people, ‘You know, the Trinity is a mystery, and so there’s really nothing we can know or say about it…’ I will hunt you down like the dogs you are.” This is my first homily on Trinity Sunday, and I’m going to make sure I give Dr. Cahall no reason to come after me.

The Trinity is a mystery, but that doesn’t men we know nothing or can say nothing about this central mystery of our Faith. In Catholic theology, a “mystery” is not something which is unknowable to us, it is just something which our human reason could not have discovered on its own.

Imagine if you came upon a sophisticated and well-written mystery novel. It’s so good that you can’t put it down. But as you get towards the end, you discover that the last couple chapters of the book are missing. You noticed some clues as the story unfolded, but without those last pages you can’t figure out the identity of the one “who did it.” You might try to find the ending in another copy of the book, but what if no other copies existed and no one had ever read the ending before? Your only hope would be to speak with the author. The author could tell you the rest of the story. The author could unveil the mystery for you and reveal the identity of the one “who did it.” Like that in sophisticated mystery novel, our God has placed clues throughout creation and His Old Testament interactions with His People. Yet, it was not until the coming of Jesus that the “who done it” was plainly revealed: God, the Author of the universe, is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today I would like to talk about some common questions people have about the Trinity. For instance, how is God both one and three, and then what difference does the Trinity make?

Some people have trouble with the concept of the Trinity because they think it is the claim that “one equals three” in God. However, this is not what we believe about the Trinity. The number one does not equal the number three, not in God or anywhere else, and not even the omnipotent power of God can make a logical contradiction true.

We believe one God, comprised of three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is one What, as three Who’s. There is one divine nature, but three divine knowers, three divine willers, and three divine actors. We do not believe in three anonymous forces, but three loving persons. There is no God apart from or beyond these three persons.

Now the Father is not Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is not our Father. They are distinct persons. Yet, at the same time, each possesses the fullness of the divinity: perfect goodness, infinite beauty, perfect knowledge, infinite power, perfect mercy, and infinite love. We do not worship three gods, but three eternal persons who comprise one God.

The belief in the oneness of God was firmly instilled into the Jewish people. This conviction helped to keep Israel from falling into the worship of false gods and experiencing all of the evils that brings. For instance, Israel’s Canaanite neighbors were idolaters, who worshiped mere objects as gods that could make them happy. They practiced child sacrifice, killing their own children in hopes of receiving greater blessings in this life from the gods. And they had temple prostitution, in which promiscuous sexuality was as hailed as sacred.

Notice how our society has become more and more like those pagans as it has drifted from belief in the one true God. Our worship of objects which we think can make us happy is called materialism, or consumerism. Our human sacrifice, done in hopes of greater blessings in this life, is called abortion. And some have raised up sexual promiscuity as the way of greatest freedom and happiness.

The Jews were spared all of these evils so long as they clung to their conviction that “All gods are not the same, and we are to worship only one.” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even to this day, observant Jews pray a prayer twice daily called the “Shema Yisrael,” from a passage in Deuteronomy:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Jews remain Jews today because they do not believe that Jesus is the promised messiah, or the Christ, the one for whom they have been waiting. Sometimes they criticize Christians saying we are not really monotheists, but polytheists, who believe in three gods: “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”

Yet, revealingly, the word that God inspired in this Old Testament passage (“The Lord is one”) is not one of the words in Hebrew which always means numerical and solitary oneness (such as “yachid” or “bad”.)  Instead, the Holy Spirit selected a word which usually means a unified oneness: “echad.” This word (“echad”) is the same word used in Genesis, where God says of man and woman, “the two shall become one flesh.” In their union, the persons are as one being. And recall, God had said, “Let us make man in our image , after our likeness. …[And] God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” When husband and wife become a unified one, as one couple, in time, they are in the image and likeness of the Father, Son, and Spirit, who have are a unified one, as one God, eternally.

So what difference does the reality of the Trinity make for our lives? The Trinity shows us that God is not a solitary individual, isolated and alone. God is a loving communion of persons. This is the reality we come from, and this is the reality we are called to, in this life and the next.

In our post-modern age, some people talk about “the meaning of life” as if it were some kind of joke, or an unsolvable mystery beyond our capacity to discover or know. But we Christians believe we know the meaning of life, for it has been revealed to us. The meaning of life is the loving communion of persons. The loving communion of persons is what gives our lives meaning and it will be our primary delight forever in Heaven. Love is the reality we come from, and the reality we are called to.

‘Hear, O Church of God! The LORD is our God, the LORD is a unified one!  Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ Love the Lord your God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, and become like the God you love.

One Catholic Church — Tuesday, 3rd Week of Lent

March 9, 2010

In the first reading we hear the ardent prayer of an Old Testament Jew named Azariah who finds himself in a pretty hot spot. He fervently prays, “… O Lord, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant. [Save us for] the sake of Abraham, your beloved… to whom you promised to multiply … offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea.”

This was God’s covenant promise to Abraham, and God has indeed made Abraham’s spiritual offspring vast and numerous. Today, half of the people on earth claim Abraham as their father in faith—these are Christians, Muslims and Jews who all seek to worship the God of Abraham.

Yet Jesus prayed that all people would be one in Him, as one holy family of God—a diversity of persons sharing one perfect unity. To achieve this goal Jesus established one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, so that all may be one, as He and the Father are one. Our Church was established by Jesus, Himself, who said to Peter, our first pope, “You are rock, and upon this rock I will build My Church.”

Our Catholic family is made up of every race and reaches to every nation. To illustrate this, I would ask all high school students; freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, to stand up now. Imagine that these 146, or so, young men and women represent the world’s nearly 1.2 billion Catholics. Each one represents about eight million of our  Catholic brothers and sisters.

In the United States we have 68 million Catholics, but this is only 5.7% of all the Catholics in the world. I would now ask the male freshmen to remain standing and for everyone else to sit down. These guys represent the Catholics of the United States, plus the rest of North America and the Caribbean—just 9% of Catholics worldwide.

The freshmen can sit down and I would ask the male sophmores to stand up. This is Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands, totaling 11% of all Catholics.

You can sit and I’ll ask the senior males to stand. This is Africa’s Catholics, 12% of the Catholics in the world.

You can sit and we’ll have the male juniors and the female seniors rise. This is Europe, 27% of all Catholics.  (The pope is in there somewhere.)

You can sit and we’ll have our largest region of all, represented by the female juniors and the full sophomore class, please stand. This is Central and South America, where 39% of all Catholics live.

So, as you can see our Catholic family is far more diverse than you might have imagined. We are young and old, men and women, rich and poor, sinners and saints.

Our Catholic family not only spans the globe, it also spans the centuries. This is reflected in the ancient prayers we sing today, such as the Latin Sanctus and Agnus Dei, the Kyrie which is ancient Greek, and the Amen which is Hebrew.

Let me put this another way: Could I have one high school student please stand up. This one person represents about 13½ years, which is about how long you have had to explore and get to know about your faith. Now could all of the high schoolers please stand up. You represents all the years that the Church has been on earth, since 33 AD. Our Church has been around a lot longer than we have. You may be seated.

Roman Catholics make up the largest religious denomination in the United States.  However, it is said that the second largest denomination in our country would be former Catholics. Tragically, many Catholics leave the Church. Oftentimes, they experience one or two parishes and a couple of priests, in one region, of one country, over a handful of years, and they imagine that they have exhausted the riches of the 2,000 year-old worldwide Church and Faith of Jesus Christ. But in reality, you can explore the mysteries of Catholic beauty and truth for a lifetime and never exhaust them.

My message for you, with all passionate the urging of Jesus Christ, is this: always remain in the Church that Jesus Christ founded. Never walk away from the fullness of God’s family, but dwell in the household of God.

Sources:
Distribution of Catholic Population, by Region: 2000
USCCB: The Catholic Church in the United States At A Glance

Single-Minded Faith — Monday, 6th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

February 15, 2010

From the letter of St. James we hear that ‘God gives to all generously and ungrudgingly,’ yet in the Gospel the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign and received nothing. The Lord told them, “no sign will be given to this generation.”

Why didn’t the skeptical Pharisees receive what they asked for? As St. James says, they were men of two minds: “Yeah, we believe in the messiah and that he’s coming, but we’re certain that he’s not you!” Are we people of two minds in our lives of faith?

“Yeah, I hope for a renewal, a new springtime in the Church, but I don’t think much will change here in the United States.”

“Sure I want unity in our parish, but with the people we have to deal with it’s not very likely.”

“I really want my children to know Christ and to fall in love with the faith, but I can’t teach them very much.”

“Of course I’d like to be a saint, but I know the limits to my holiness and God ought to know and accept those limits too.”

Let us not be people of two minds. Let us pray and act with a single-minded faith, so that we may see, in this generation, the signs of Christ’s power.