Saturday, September 26, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Joy springs from a grateful heart. Truly, we have received much, so many graces, so many blessings, and we rejoice in this. It will do us good to think back on our lives with the grace of remembrance. Remembrance of when we were first called, remembrance of the road travelled, remembrance of graces received… and, above all, remembrance of our encounter with Jesus Christ so often along the way. Remembrance of the amazement which our encounter with Jesus Christ awakens in our hearts."

--Pope Francis

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Quote of the Day

"But what is hope? Is it to be optimistic? No. Optimism is a mood. Tomorrow, you wake up with an upset stomach and you’re not optimistic, you see everything in a negative light. Hope is something more. Hope is something that endures through suffering. Hope knows how to suffer to bring forward a project. It knows how to make sacrifices. Are you capable of making sacrifices for a future or do you only want to live today and leave what comes to those who come after? Hope is fruitful. Hope gives life.... Hope endures suffering, it’s hardworking, it’s fruitful, it gives us work and it saves us from the throwaway culture. Hope that brings together, brings everyone together, because a people that knows how to bring itself together to look toward the future and build social friendship, as I said, despite thinking differently, this people has hope."

--Pope Francis

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pope Francis in America: Hope Amidst Crisis

by Justin Soutar

The long-anticipated visit of Pope Francis to the United States takes place at a critical juncture in the history of our nation. America is in profound crisis in many respects, and the symptoms of this crisis are painfully evident throughout our society and culture.

We have a crisis of leadership in Washington, where corrupt politicians continue to sacrifice the common good to the interests of a greedy few while threatening and bullying their principled colleagues into submission. We have a crisis of personal responsibility, in which people make excuses for their faults, rationalize away their sins and evil habits, and blame other people and circumstances for their problems. We have a socioeconomic crisis characterized by a yawning gap between rich and poor Americans, a high poverty rate and the near-total disappearance of a healthy middle class. We have a fiscal crisis with ever-increasing government spending fueling a runaway national debt, aided and abetted by a highly secretive and largely unaccountable Federal Reserve. We have a crisis of education, in which growing numbers of American citizens know little or nothing about the early history and development of our nation, the religious and moral values of the Founders, or the principles and philosophy undergirding our Constitution. We have a crisis of human life, in which abortion remains legal and subsidized by federal tax dollars while assisted suicide and euthanasia are being pushed at the state level. We have a crisis of religious liberty and moral conscience rights, in which millions of Americans are being forbidden to publicly practice their religion and compelled by federal mandate or judicial fiat to do what they know is wrong under penalty of heavy fines or jail time. We have a crisis of marriage and family life characterized by low marriage and birth rates and high divorce rates, widespread addiction to pornography, millions of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and single-parent households, and immoral homosexual relationships legally glorified as "marriages". We have a crisis of truth in which the public is deliberately misinformed about critical domestic, foreign, and environmental issues by a consumerist-driven mainstream media in order to advance the private interests of a handful of Fortune 500 business executives, while personal opinion and virtual reality have become substitutes for objective truth. And we have a crisis of love, in which many people relentlessly pursue their own interests and follow their own selfish desires in the name of "love" with little or no concern for the good of the other person or the wider community.

All of these various crises our nation is experiencing can be said to flow from two in particular: a crisis of faith in God and a crisis of moral values. America is losing her way because she has tossed her religious and moral compass overboard, recklessly abandoning faith and trust in God and foolishly refusing the sure guidance of His Law. She is being gradually transformed from a Christian country into a radically secularist one, with moral relativism replacing traditional Judeo-Christian moral norms grounded in natural law. Religion and morality, the two great pillars of the foundation on which our nation was built, are crumbling. Thanks to her own insanity and stupidity, America is now drifting into dangerous waters and risking the possibility of shipwreck.

It is in this dark and uncertain time in our nation's history that God, in His infinite mercy, sends us the brilliant light of His humble servant Pope Francis with the challenging and prophetic message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--a message of truth and love, a message of faith and hope, a message of repentance and conversion, a message of mercy and forgiveness, a message of personal responsibility, of respect for human rights, of peace and justice, of care for the common good, of the beauty of marriage and family life according to God's plan. The word of this Gospel message, conveyed by both word and example, will carry within it the power to revive our dying nation and restore our former greatness--but this power will only be activated if we the people of the United States listen carefully to the message, accept it in its fullness, take it to heart, and follow it faithfully in our daily lives. Let us pray that America will be receptive to this powerful, life-giving message and take it to heart so that it can rescue her from the path of self-destruction and lead her on towards a better future.

Copyright 2015 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Quote of the Day

"The present period of civilization seems marked by the long-term effects of a society administered by economic technocracy. The subordination of ethics to the logic of profit has tremendous resources and enormous media support. In this scenario, a new alliance of man and woman becomes not only necessary but also strategic for the emancipation of people from the colonization of money. This alliance must return to orientate politics, the economy and civil coexistence! It decides the habitability of the earth, the transmission of the meaning of life, the bonds of memory and of hope."

--Pope Francis

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Therefore, from the day we heard this, we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light."

--Colossians 1:9-12

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Article Heritage Series #5: "The Grand American Puppet Show"

Two years ago this month, I started this "Article Heritage" series here on my blog, in which we step back from the present moment just for a bit and take a retrospective look at some articles from my early days as a freelance writer, meaning articles from the years 2005 to 2007. It's been eight months since the last installment of this series, so once again we're overdue for another. Here is a rather light-hearted satirical piece I wrote in the summer of 2007 in which I poked some fun at the corrupt and dishonest 2008 presidential campaign, which was already well underway at that time. Now, eight years later, I wouldn't have to change very much to make the article accurately describe the even more corrupt and dishonest 2016 presidential contest, since Hillary Clinton is unfortunately once again the presumptive Democratic nominee thanks to her unrelenting lust for power and her supposedly opposite number on the presidential stage, real estate magnate Donald Trump, is one of her own financial supporters and not much different from her on the issues despite his bold rhetorical efforts to appear genuinely Republican. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger (and Hillary), Trump is a wealthy and corrupt establishment politician essentially devoid of character and morals who's putting on a brilliant act to dazzle his audience in an attempt to grasp the office of the presidency for the rewards it offers. What a charade. God save us from another unscrupulous career politician for president. I don't think our country can handle it. Of course, the current presidential race is not simply a replay of the 2008 contest; the remarkable ascendancy of principled citizen statesmen and Tea Party leaders Ben Carson, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio despite mainstream media attempts to ignore and sideline them adds an interesting dynamic to the 2016 campaign and offers the tantalizing possibility that a God-fearing man of character and principle may actually win the Republican nomination this time around. But that's a serious topic that deserves a serious article. For now, here's my classic humorous piece from 2007, which originally appeared on the website Political Cortex and on my Newsvine page in March of 2008:


The Grand American Puppet Show

by Justin Soutar
July 6, 2007


            Each year, it seems, the Grand American Puppet Show is getting longer, and the assortment of characters more diverse and talented. This time the curtain was lifted in the middle of 2006, more than two years before the Grand American Puppet Choice Day—er, excuse me, Election Day. The first two characters to appear on stage were New York Senator Hillary Clinton, representing the Democratic Party, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, representing the Republican Party.  

Indeed, with the bold and surprising appearance of the latter, all pretensions to making the quadrennial presidential race look like anything more than a puppet show were stripped away. Governor Schwarzenegger is not eligible for the presidency because he is an immigrant to the United States and our Constitution forbids immigrants from becoming president. However, such inconvenient realism and outmoded respect for tradition—as well as that obnoxious entity called the law of the land—must not be allowed to interrupt a good show. Since the national audience at large did not know whether to laugh, cry or cheer for Schwarzenegger, he has receded to the back of the stage—but only temporarily. More on him later.

            Meanwhile, Senator Clinton has basked in the spotlight on the left side of center stage for more than a year now thanks to piles of money from her loyal puppeteers (narrow special interest groups). Somehow her lackluster performance has managed to draw applause from no less than forty percent of the jaded American audience. But this should not be taken to imply a positive judgment in her regard. The popularity Clinton has attained is more a reflection of American war weariness, disillusionment with the neocon-hijacked Republican Party, a desire for change, and her demagogic manipulation of these feelings than it is a reflection of her own skill.

            Though he must take second place to Hillary Clinton, North Carolina Senator John Edwards is the most accomplished puppet of all. His splendid wealth as a lawyer and his cadre of devoted puppeteers have kept him on the stage. While Senator Edwards’ beaming smile and ethereal manner have delighted spectators, his hypocrisy has triggered more than a few cases of nausea and vomiting. It is plainly obvious to almost his entire audience that Edwards is a corrupt playboy living in a world far removed from the average American, who says one thing and does another, who cares for nothing so much as enjoying his life and wealth. Since he is the leading puppet, Edwards would make the worst possible president.

            Delaware Senator Joe Biden, who is also a lawyer, is fairly well-known for his attempts to reach the dead center of the stage. Senator Biden serves on numerous Senate committees where he has the opportunity to lead debates and introduce legislation. On almost every Senate bill, whether it deals with abortion or the minimum wage or defense spending, he has voted both ways or refused to vote, making it hard to pin down his positions on the issues. Biden’s act has chiefly consisted of two features: precariously walking the tightrope near center stage on all issues and keeping an eye on the performance of his more admired fellow puppet Obama. With this dangerous combination of moves, Biden fell to the stage floor and is likely to never fully recover.

            Another Democratic candidate may be more appealing in some ways, and even sincerely straining to be more than just a puppet, but he is also out of touch with his audience in important areas. The fact that Illinois Senator Barack Obama hails from the Midwest rather than from the tightly-knit, super-rich, over-educated East Coast intellectual establishment is a major plus that has brought him cheers. Yet while Senator Obama has captivated Americans with his youth, his vision for the future of America and the prospect of breaking the two-hundred-twenty-year-long chain of white presidents, his support for abortion and homosexuality has alienated the growing number of morally conscious Americans, resulting in many catcalls. Early in 2007 the popularity of Obama’s performance threatened to push Hillary from left center stage, but her puppeteers quickly came to the rescue with more funds.  

Finally, Tennessee Senator Al Gore is down but not out. After spending eight years across the street from the Chief Puppet’s Mansion (the White House), the temptation to power will likely urge him to claim a spot on the stage. Senator Gore has had lots of time to polish his ability as a puppet. He seized a golden opportunity to expose this talent to the entire nation and world when he refused to concede the 2000 presidential election, a sparkling recital which drew praise and derision. In recent years Gore has established a considerable reputation for his efforts to raise public awareness of global warming and his dedication to replacing American dependence on petroleum with alternative energy sources. Like many Democrats he also sings the song of plenty, smoothly promising to guarantee every American the necessities of life with a heap of taxes garnered mainly from the rich (but not, of course, from the pockets of Gore or his rich cronies). These acts have won significant applause from like-minded Americans. However, Gore’s demagoguery seems to be a reflection of that of Edwards.

            In general, the Republican contenders for president have been even more lackluster. Unlike Senator Clinton, who has steadily held a place in the spotlight, the Republicans have taken turns occupying the right-hand area of center stage. The prime selling point for Arizona Senator John McCain is that he has the distinction of being the only well-funded candidate with a reliable record of opposition to abortion. In addition, Senator McCain is a genuine Vietnam War veteran who spent five years in the hellish conditions of a Communist prison camp. He was the first serious Republican hopeful to draw the audience’s interest in 2006 with his condemnation of torture of al-Qaeda suspects abroad. Despite McCain’s backing for the Bush administration’s “War on “Terrorism” policy and its war in Iraq, his Congressional efforts at immigration and campaign finance reform have earned him a reputation for bipartisanship. Moreover, the soft-spoken, smiling man can aver a greater amount of integrity than any of the other candidates. While his combination of heroism, principle and charm seems irresistible, McCain’s age and the fact that his honesty keeps him from fulfilling his puppet potential have nudged him towards the rear of the stage.

            McCain was followed by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has spent lavishly on his campaign in an effort to win the hearts and cheers of American spectators. By flashing his own cards of integrity and commitment to values, Governor Romney gradually elbowed McCain to the side. The hard core of American neocons has cheered him on with uncontrollable excitement. Nevertheless, from the large majority of Americans Romney’s act has drawn a rather subdued reaction—and not just because he is a Mormon. His record of egregious flip-flopping on the issue of abortion and his calls for a further increase in defense spending fail to resonate with most Americans. Romney is a puppet of neocon warmongers and war profiteers whose patriotism and hatred for terrorism is confined to their pocketbooks.

            In turn, Romney has vied with New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, a power-hungry demagogue whose leadership record is nothing short of abysmal. He has defended all uses of excessive force by the New York police, declared the air at Ground Zero safe when the fires were still burning after 9/11, and attempted to serve an illegal third term as mayor. Though his puppeteers have created quite an impressive performance that some Americans have applauded, he is far too similar to President Bush on foreign policy matters to ever be elected by a plurality of the American people. His presidency would be focused on expanding public access to abortions and on a disastrous foreign policy of war for oil, both of which only benefit the rich entrepreneurial (puppeteer) class.

            The most recent Republican candidate to rule the stage is former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. His apparent surge in popularity is a result of excessive positive attention from the mega-corporate media. However, the strikes against Mr. Thompson are many: he is a lawyer, a longtime Washington lobbyist for big businesses such as General Electric and Westinghouse, a staunch advocate of the “War on Terrorism” and the war in Iraq, and he served as legal defense for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of lying to federal investigators about the Plame affair. The appearance of Thompson on right center stage suspiciously coincided with the climax of Libby’s trial, his conviction, and his pardon by President Bush. While this man is generally pro-life and favors limited government, the familiar moves of his dance and his ties to the same puppets that are controlling the current Bush administration have led to persistent boos from the overwhelming majority of the American people.

            Americans are clapping for these mediocre puppets because no better performers have been invited or admitted to the stage. The puppeteers are not interested in offering a presidential candidate dedicated to rock-solid moral values and imbued with common sense who actually will meet the needs of America, as that would ruin their silly presentation. Take Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, for example. He is a fervent pro-lifer, a defender of traditional marriage, a champion of fiscal discipline, had the common sense to turn against the Iraq war after supporting it for several years, disapproves of President Bush’s domestic wiretapping program, and favors stricter border security. On all these varied issues, Senator Brownback can count on steady backing from a clear majority of American voters. Because he is in general a committed, principled statesman rather than a puppet of special interests, he has been shunned by the puppeteers and all but forced offstage. The fact that Brownback was even briefly admitted to the rear of the stage in early 2007 was recognition of his approval of NAFTA and his vote for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

            The Republican and Democratic parties, which run this show, are taken far too seriously by tens of millions of Americans. Indeed, one should not expect gaily reveling parties to conduct the urgent business of the country. Both the Republican and Democratic charades are meant to divert American attention from the well-greased lobby networks busily moving and shaking national politics. Neither has the true interests of the country in mind. The parties are the subtle opiate of the masses, serving as channels for popular discontent to forestall rebellion and revolution—the most dreaded enemies of our freedom and democracy, according to the rich puppeteers. Yet most Americans still cling to the parties as if to salvation because each one represents some of the policies our country needs. At the same time, a steady diet of puppets and parties does not make for a healthy nation.

In 2006 the puppet extravaganza took an interesting twist when longtime Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, a registered Democrat who supports abortion and the Iraq war, officially left his party to become an “independent” senator. Thus Senator Lieberman is the only puppet to occupy dead center stage, even though the central limelight is off for the moment. Neocons love Lieberman for his continual defense of Israeli policies and the Iraq war, and he is respected by Republicans and Democrats as a thinker willing to cross party lines—although in fact he is a pawn of special interests on both sides. No one has been discussing him as a presidential hopeful and he has not mentioned a desire to enter the race. However, the affable Lieberman may be a politician anticipating the future, a puppet quietly waiting for the right moment to storm the stage and do his dance. With so many special interest groups tied to him, he is almost certain to step out from the shadows and “surprise” Americans in the 2008 Grand American Puppet Show. Lieberman’s unusual renunciation of political affiliation could well be a ploy to gain widespread American support in a run for higher office. Recall the 2004 event, in which Howard Dean was expected to win the Democratic primary but instead we received the surprise of puppet extraordinaire John Kerry. My guess is that Lieberman will either be selected by Hillary or the Republican candidate as a running mate, or that he himself will win the Democratic nomination for president and take Hillary as his running mate.

            Furthermore, this upcoming 2008 Election Day will be more of an authentic Grand American Puppet Choice Day than any previous presidential election. The 2006 Congressional election served as a dry run for this makeover. In more than a dozen states across the country on November 7, 2006, newly installed electronic voting machines failed to work properly, and secrecy holders were dispensed with. Even worse, the citizens were deceived by mysterious signs stating that their polling place had been moved. All these unprecedented elements are part of a grand scheme to transform the presidential election into a true farce and prevent the people from choosing their demagogue. In 2008, American voters will attempt to choose a particular puppet as president, but the already tested forms of trickery will be employed to swing the election in favor of the opposite puppet. This puppet will then have the audacity to claim that he (or she) is the choice of the American people.

            This is where California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger could come back onstage and begin stealing the show. Perhaps he will wait to put on his act until the 2012 American Puppet Show rolls around. Like Giuliani, Governor Schwarzenegger is an ambitious, self-centered politician as well as an exceptionally cunning demagogue who would love to gain the most powerful political office on earth. But in order for him to do so, a Constitutional Amendment allowing a legal immigrant to become president would have to be passed by two-thirds of the United States, or thirty-four states. Schwarzenegger realizes that few states would agree to change a longstanding, widely accepted law that our nation’s founders established for sound reasons. Therefore, voting tricks to the rescue! Schwarzenegger’s puppeteers fiddle with the voting machines and, voila—to the nation’s semi-bewilderment, the Presidential (Puppet) Immigration Status Amendment passes. From that occasion onward, Americans will have, for all practical purposes, lost control of their nation.

            With each quadrennial American Puppet Show in recent decades, Americans have been subjected to a more and more entertaining spectacle. The 2008 extravaganza is certainly a cut above previous shows. Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, our presidents now enjoy the fine life while uncontrolled big business and technological development speed America down the highway to disaster. When the next Grand American Puppet Choice Day finally rolls around, Americans may find themselves so dazzled, bored, and stupefied that they will reject not only the finalists, but the entire masquerade. The greatest tribute to the talent of the Grand American Puppets on Puppet Choice Day would be a hearty burst of laughter from all three hundred million Americans.


Copyright © 2007 by Justin Soutar. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Quote of the Day

"The spirit of prayer gives back time to God, it steps away from the obsession of a life that is always lacking time, it rediscovers the peace of necessary things, and discovers the joy of unexpected gifts... Prayer flows from listening to Jesus, from the reading of the Gospel. Do not forget, every day to read a passage of the Gospel. Prayer flows from intimacy with the Word of God."

--Pope Francis

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Great Civil Rights Movement of Our Time

A national, ecumenical week of prayer and fasting for the end of abortion and the closure of Planned Parenthood began yesterday, August 22, the feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and will conclude on Saturday, August 29, the feast of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist. A variety of Catholic and Christian pro-life organizations are working together to co-sponsor this praiseworthy and timely initiative in response to the recent unsavory video revelations of how America's largest abortion provider really operates behind the scenes. This is an excellent example of true ecumenism, in which Christians of different denominations can collaborate on the basis of their common faith and shared moral values (in this case, the right to life of innocent unborn children) to achieve a common goal (in this case, the end of abortion and the demise of the U.S. abortion cartel). A noble attempt was made on Capitol Hill early this month to cut off all federal funding to Planned Parenthood, and while such political action is vitally important, it will not succeed unless we implore heavenly assistance through prayer and fasting. The battle to end the atrocity of abortion is not simply a political and legal fight against a powerful murder corporation and its allies in the federal government. More fundamentally, this is a moral and spiritual campaign against the Devil and his evil angels who want the slaughter of innocent children to continue. Therefore, we must deploy spiritual weapons and obtain the assistance of heavenly powers--God, our Blessed Mother, the good Angels, and the Saints--in order to effectively combat and defeat our spiritual enemies who are the real driving force behind the abortion industry. And when millions of us unite to pray and sacrifice for the same intention, our prayers and sacrifices are that much more effective. All U.S. Catholics and Christians are encouraged to participate in this important effort. For prayer resources and more information, please go to

The fight to end legalized abortion here in the United States is indeed the great civil rights movement of our time, and it has many parallels with the battles against the evils of slavery and segregation that plagued our nation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, respectively. Both were grave violations of the natural law and human dignity that remained a legal part of our society for many years. Both threatened the unity of our nation. Both stubbornly resisted numerous attempts to eradicate them even as public pressure against them continued to build over time. And both were finally defeated by church-based mass movements of millions of like-minded Americans of different denominations who prayed and took action under the unifying leadership of a respected advocate for their cause. For the abolition of slavery, that great leader was Abraham Lincoln; for de-segregation, it was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The only weakness with the current pro-life movement is the lack of a single unifying leader who appeals to everyone regardless of denomination. We do have some wonderful leaders within our movement such as Father Frank Pavone, Dr. Alveda King, and the Reverend Clenard Childress who are working tirelessly and effectively for the pro-life cause, but their appeal is mainly limited to those who are already pro-life. I think we're going to need a powerful and charismatic religious leader to rally our movement for the final push to victory. If Dr. Ben Carson were to win the Republican nomination and the presidency next year, he would fill the vacuum splendidly. In any case, after more than four decades, upwards of 55 million unborn children killed, a majority of Americans self-identifying as pro-life, more and more Planned Parenthood abortion mills shutting down each year, the glaring failure of ObamaCare to increase the national abortion rate, a substantial pro-life majority in both houses of Congress, and the enormous negative publicity generated by the Center for Medical Progress video expose, the American pro-life movement has now gained sufficient momentum that its goal of restoring Constitutional protection for the God-given inalienable right to life of all innocent unborn children in this country is actually within reach in the foreseeable future. We are winning, but we must not give up until we reach the finish line.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Admittedly, not everyone is called to the radicalism with which so many true Christians--from Anthony, father of monasticism, to Francis of Assisi, down to the exemplary poor of our era--have lived and continue to live their poverty as a model for us. But, in order to be the community of Jesus' poor, the Church has constant need of the great ascetics. She needs the communities that follow them, living out poverty and simplicity so as to display to us the truth of the Beatitudes. She needs them to wake everyone up to the fact that possession is all about service, to contrast the culture of affluence with the culture of inner freedom, and thereby to create the conditions for social justice as well."

--Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth--Part One: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (Doubleday, 2007), p. 77

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Synod on the Family: Perception v. Reality

by Justin Soutar

(Note: This article previously appeared on the website Catholic Online June 16, 2015 at                                                           
and on the website Catholic365 July 1, 2015 at )

In recent months, some devout and well-meaning Catholics have been organizing and sending petitions to Pope Francis urging him not to change the Church's teachings on marriage and the family during the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family scheduled for this coming October. Most, if not all, of these petitioners are basically good, faithful Catholics who sincerely try to believe everything the Church teaches and strive to practice their faith with admirable consistency. At a time when the Church is under enormous and constantly growing pressure from an increasingly secularist world society to change her teachings on morality, human life and sexuality, marriage and the nuclear family, these loyal sons and daughters of the Church are full of concern that their Holy Mother will cave in to the wishes of her enemies—or, that she is in fact already beginning to do so, as evidenced by the controversial midterm report issued by the Extraordinary Synod last fall. These apparently rock-solid Catholics see themselves as faithful defenders of the one true Church of Christ against the malignant forces of heresy and radical secularism. Their goal is to ensure that the Church of our time will continue to faithfully adhere to and proclaim her 2,000-year-old doctrines on marriage and family life in all their splendor and integrity.

False Assumptions

But these otherwise praiseworthy and well-intentioned Catholics appear to have overlooked the fact that they have grounded their seemingly noble campaign on a few blatantly false assumptions. One of these assumptions is that the Bishop of Rome has the ability to make changes to the Church's teachings as he sees fit. If that were true, the teachings would have been changed many times by 265 Popes throughout the last 2,000 years, and the deposit of faith would never have survived intact to our own day. As Catholics, we believe that the office of the Successor of Peter is protected in a special way by the charism of infallibility, which means that the Pope is incapable of erring when teaching the whole Church on a matter of faith or morality. Pope Francis can no more change any part of the Church's doctrine than could Pope Benedict XVI, or Saint John Paul II, or any of the other Popes preceding them.

Another false assumption undergirding this petition campaign is that Pope Francis himself, in his heart of hearts, is intending to change Church teachings on marriage and family life to accommodate modern viewpoints, or is at least considering doing so under pressure from a handful of heterodox bishops, clergy, and laity. Nonsense. Anyone who really knows this man knows better than to even think such a thought. From his earliest days as a Jesuit priest right up to the present, and often amid difficult and hostile circumstances, Bergoglio's spoken and written words demonstrate an unswerving commitment to Catholic orthodoxy. Anyone who reads his homilies, letters, addresses, interviews, and other public statements as priest, bishop, Archbishop and Pope can verify his record as a faithful son of the Church in that regard. There is no talk whatsoever of changing any part of Catholic doctrine to better suit modern tastes. On the contrary, Bergoglio's clear affirmations of traditional Church teaching on all manner of topics is both refreshing and reassuring.

But the worst assumptions of all by these Catholic petitioners are 1) that the Church herself has the ability to change some of her teachings, and 2) that she is actually going to do this at the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family, that it will be a “heretical” Synod. Both these fears are groundless. To begin with, the Church cannot change any of her teachings any more than the Pope can do so. As Catholics, we believe that the charism of infallibility is bestowed not only on the visible Head of the Church on earth, i.e. the Pope, but on the Church herself as a whole as well. We believe that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from teaching error. Specifically, the Church is infallible when the Pope, and the bishops united with him, declare that such and such a doctrine of faith or morality is to be definitively held by all the faithful.

An Advisory Body

Secondly, it should be pointed out that the primary task of the Synod of Bishops—a relatively new institution in the Church which was created by Blessed Paul VI following the Second Vatican Council—is to advise the Pope on matters of Church governance and discipline, and thereby to assist His Holiness in applying Church doctrine to current pastoral situations throughout the universal Church. The purpose of the Synod is to foster greater collegiality within the Church by facilitating more effective collaboration between the Pope and the bishops in the governance of the Church. By means of the Synod, bishops from every part of the Catholic world in union with Rome freely and frankly communicate to the pontiff the problems and concerns of their particular Churches, along with their discussions and opinions on such problems and concerns, related to a certain theme chosen by the Holy Father (i.e., “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”). The Pope listens to all of this feedback and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, uses it to make wise and sound decisions for the future of the Church.

The Holy Father then communicates his decisions to the bishops and the whole Church by means of a written document called a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, in which he “confirms his brothers” (cf. Luke 22:32) in their faith and issues binding pastoral guidelines. Such an infallible papal document is the only text having anything to do with a Synod that carries official magisterial teaching and decision-making authority for the whole Church. As a representative institution, the Synod of Bishops is first and foremost an advisory body to the Holy See; it has no decision-making authority or magisterial teaching authority apart from the Successor of Peter. Thus, the idea that a Synod can alter Church doctrine is contrary to the fundamental nature of the Synod itself as an advisory organ. Every few years, the Pope calls his brother bishops to meet with him in the Vatican for a few weeks to hear what they have to say. The bishops do not go to Rome to help the Pope change Church teaching, which he can’t do anyway—and even if they were to try to abuse the Synod to that end, their efforts would come to nothing thanks to the charism of infallibility.

Unofficial Documents

Upsetting and misleading as some of its statements were, the highly controversial 2014 Synod midterm report issued last October was not an official teaching document of the Magisterium and was never intended to be treated as such. It was nothing more than an inaccurate and heavily biased summary of the bishops' discussions up to that point that reflected a heretical agenda by certain groups of people who are attempting to manipulate the Church's internal affairs in order to advance their own agenda. Such attempts to influence the Church to change certain of her teachings have been made by rebellious bishops, priests, and laypeople on numerous occasions over the course of 2,000 years—most recently in the decades following the Second Vatican Council—but none have ever proven successful. In each case, what actually happened was that those bishops, priests, and laity who pridefully rejected certain Church doctrines found themselves ipso facto estranged from their Holy Mother—i.e., instead of changing Church teaching to suit their own ideas, they found that they had voluntarily renounced their membership in the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church and were now marked for all time as heretics and schismatics.

Although not an official teaching document itself, the final report of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod clearly reaffirmed traditional Church doctrines on marriage and family life and the incompatibility of certain lifestyles with Catholic moral teaching, thus offering considerable reassurance to the troubled and confused faithful that the Synod on the Family is indeed on track to fulfill its mission. Even the three most controversial paragraphs in the document, nos. 52, 53, and 55, did not attack Catholic doctrine or indicate that the norms regarding reception of Holy Communion are about to be changed in any significant way; nos. 52 and 53 merely called for close theological examination of sacramental and spiritual Communion in regard to those who are divorced and remarried. It does not necessarily follow that there will be any change in the current discipline. Pope Francis will certainly listen to and consider the recommendations he is given by theologians who are commissioned to study the subject, but it is he who will make the final decision for the whole Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Following the Second Vatican Council, many Catholic theological experts urged Paul VI to approve the use of artificial contraception by Catholic married couples. The pontiff proceeded to write and publish his magnificent encyclical Humanae Vitae, which explicitly reaffirmed unchangeable Church teaching on the matter, and the rest is history.

Myth v. Reality

Catholic doctrine cannot change; that much is clear. Church discipline and pastoral practice, on the other hand, is subject to a certain degree of flexibility in order to suit the needs of different times; therefore, it has gone through various, necessary, and occasionally even significant revisions over the past two millennia, usually as a result of Church councils and for purposes of reform. This legitimate mutability of discipline has some people very worried at present. One of the chief fears of the good Catholics referred to above is that, as a result of the upcoming Synod, traditional Church teachings on marriage, family life, and mortal sin will be severely undermined by the official approval of new pastoral practices that directly contradict the teaching. But, as with the other false assumptions discussed above, it is simply not possible for this to occur. Official Church discipline must always reflect official Church doctrine; it cannot be altered to the point where it flies in the face of Church teaching. The discipline can only change within the narrow limits set by canon law. For example, a Catholic who is conscious of being in the state of mortal sin has always been forbidden to partake of Holy Communion until he or she receives the Sacrament of Penance. That norm cannot and will not be changed by Pope Francis or the upcoming Synod.

On the other hand, however, as a result of fallen human nature, the implementation of ecclesiastical discipline is not always a straightforward affair. As with Church doctrine, so also with Church discipline throughout history certain bishops, priests, and laypeople have attempted to substitute their own preferences for what the Church says, based on some excuse or other. This is exactly what happened with the Second Vatican Council, when all manner of heretical notions and illicit practices were justified under the vague mantle of "the spirit of Vatican II." Although the teachings of the Council itself were entirely orthodox and the liturgical, pastoral and disciplinary changes it introduced were fully in accord with those teachings, the general public perception of the Council was a far cry from the reality of what the Council Fathers officially said and did. As a result of this unfortunate discrepancy between the myth and the facts of Vatican II, the post-Conciliar period was marked by a great deal of confusion and difficulty for the Catholic Church. Heretical ideas proliferated among the hierarchy, clergy and laity; liturgical experimentation knew no bounds; millions left the Church, no longer recognizing their beloved Mother; small groups of schismatic traditionalists claimed to be the remnant of the “true faithful.” Blessed Paul VI, who had brought the Council to a successful conclusion, famously lamented that “the smoke of Satan has entered the Church.” At least for a time, the Bride of Christ appeared to have lost her way.

Here we must acknowledge that there is in fact a certain real danger for the Church at the present moment in her history. This danger is that—just as happened with the Second Vatican Council--certain bishops, priests, and laypeople will view the Synod on the Family through the colored lenses of their personal whims and wishes, and as a result will end up saying and doing anything they please using "the spirit of the Synod" as a cover. Unfortunately, those in the secular news media, which is increasingly hostile to the Church, have already embedded in the public mind their own grossly inaccurate portrayal of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod as the first clear step by the Church hierarchy toward a radical transformation of Catholic doctrine and discipline on the subjects of marriage and family life. By projecting this false and misleading image of the Synod on the Family—which is the brainchild of Pope Francis and has nothing whatsoever to do with changing Church teachings—unscrupulous journalists are raising vain expectations among the Church's enemies, including heretical dissenters, of official doctrinal and disciplinary changes that cannot and will not take place, while providing fresh fodder for schismatic traditionalist conspiracy theorists who claim that the Church is “going heretical” and that they are the sole remaining guardians of orthodox doctrine.

Reasons for the Synod

Given the considerable risks involved, one may ask why Pope Francis has called this Synod on the Family—an unusual double Synod at that—and what he hopes to accomplish by it. As someone who grew up in a closely-knit Italian family in Argentina, Francis understands the critical importance of the traditional nuclear family in God's plan for human society in general and for the Church in particular. He is painfully aware that this traditional family unit, the basic cell of society, is under tremendous attack and facing many difficult challenges in our increasingly secularized contemporary world. He realizes that the Church has a duty to reaffirm the truth of her beautiful teachings on marriage and family life and to examine how these timeless teachings should be applied to Catholic families and family members within the context of the present situation. Thus, Pope Francis has called this Synod primarily for pastoral reasons, in order to reassure modern Catholic families that the Church is there to offer them meaningful help and sound guidance in addressing the challenges they currently face.

As to what he hopes to accomplish through this Synod, clearly Pope Francis wants to strengthen intact Catholic families in order to help them more fully live out their beautiful witness of God's plan for marriage and family life in an increasingly individualist and radically secularist environment. At the same time, Francis wants the Church to more effectively reach out to the hundreds of millions of Catholics who are in mortally sinful "irregular situations"--e.g., drug addicts, those who are cohabitating, married couples who use artificial contraception, the divorced and remarried, those in homosexual relationships, those who no longer practice their faith, and so forth—in order to invite them to experience the Lord's mercy by repenting of their sins and returning to full communion with the Catholic Church. In this regard, Pope Francis simply wants the Church to do what Christ would do, which is to seek out sinners and call them to repentance and conversion—to go in search of the lost sheep that have strayed from the fold. Francis correctly perceives that the modern Church has grown a bit lax in this area, with many of her shepherds preferring to stay comfortably inside the fold with the "good sheep" while ignoring and forgetting about those wayward sheep in the wilderness who are in danger of being lost forever. Thus Francis, an experienced and genuine pastor, wants Church leaders to step outside of their comfortable offices and their comfort zones, to reach out to the peripheries of their parishes and dioceses and invite the lost sheep to return home.

In this context, the Synod on the Family is meant to help rebuild a worldly and weak Church, first by strengthening good Catholic families that are “inside the fold,” and secondly by healing and repairing many of those wounded and damaged Catholic families that are “lost in the wilderness”—the latter to be accomplished primarily by inviting many individual grave sinners to repentance and conversion. Altering Church doctrines on marriage, family life, and sin will not be part of this equation; nor will the basic norms currently in force regarding the proper reception of Holy Communion see any significant change. So regardless of unfortunate misunderstandings and misperceptions that swirl around the Synod on the Family generated by media pundits, heretics, and schismatics, and regardless of serious problems that may arise with its implementation, it is the opinion of this author that the Synod itself—like the Second Vatican Council—is the fruit of a genuine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who “leads us into all truth” (cf. John 16:13), who protects the Church from teaching error, and who in every age is the real Protagonist of needed reform and renewal within the Mystical Body of Christ.

Opposing Viewpoints

As a result of last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Pope Francis is keenly aware of two opposing viewpoints within the Church today: there are some who correctly understand and heartily support his Christ-like mission to have the Church reach out more effectively to sinners, and there are others—misled by the mainstream media and their own irrational fears of doctrinal changes—who reject this courageous initiative for seemingly laudable reasons, preferring to take shelter within the secure confines of the Church they have always known and which they are afraid to lose. Francis himself neatly summed up this dichotomy and the merciful mission of the Church in his homily to newly created Cardinals on February 15, 2015:

There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation....

The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the ‘outskirts’ of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: ‘Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners’ (Lk 5:31-32).

A Divine Institution

So while the petition drive currently underway to Pope Francis may in one respect be considered a hopeful sign of certain lay Catholics' fidelity to Church doctrine, it is a wholly unnecessary, quite useless, and ultimately misguided endeavor. If the Church were exclusively a human institution, built on the sand of fallible human ideas and protected and defended by human effort alone, their grave concerns about her future would indeed be fully justified. The Church, however, although comprised of weak and sinful human members, is fundamentally a divine institution, built by Christ Himself on the Rock of Peter, and we have His word that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (cf. Matt. 16:18). The fundamental problem with these otherwise good Catholics who are pleading with Pope Francis not to change Church doctrine on marriage and family life is that they do not really fully believe that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from teaching error, nor do they really fully trust that God is in command of His own institution. Because of this reprehensible lack of faith and trust, at the root of which is the original sin of pride, these Catholic fundamentalists run the risk of refusing to obediently submit to the magisterial teaching authority that God Himself has established and guaranteed, and instead taking it upon themselves to decide what the Church should do and teach. They share this lack of faith and trust in common with schismatic traditionalists, and in fact are just one step away from joining their ranks.

These worried and fearful Catholics would do well to reread certain parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and rediscover the basic truth that the Church ultimately belongs not to us, but to the Lord. As Pope Benedict XVI candidly declared not so long ago in his final General Audience address of February 27, 2013, at a time when many Catholics were filled with grave concern for the Church’s future: “I have felt like Saint Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee:…there were also moments when the waters were rough and the winds against us, as throughout the Church’s history, and the Lord seemed to be sleeping. But I have always known that the Lord is in that boat, and I have always known that the barque of the Church is not mine but his. Nor does the Lord let it sink; it is He who guides it.” We should also recall the oft-repeated words of Saint John Paul II, the simple words of Christ Himself: “Do not be afraid!” This is not a time for illogical fears and useless anxiety, but rather a time for renewed faith and lively hope. Instead of wringing our hands anxiously about what may happen to our Holy Mother the Church in the near future, let us take this wonderful opportunity of the Synod on the Family to renew our faith and trust in God, who will continue to protect His Church and guide her safely through the storms of temporary difficulties to the glory of eternal life.

Copyright © 2015 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Quote of the Day

"The starting point of salvation is not the confession of the sovereignty of Christ, but rather the imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which he brought about his kingdom. The one who accomplishes these works shows that he has welcomed Christ’s sovereignty, because he has opened his heart to God’s charity. In the twilight of life we will be judged on our love for, closeness to and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters. Upon this will depend our entry into, or exclusion from, the kingdom of God: our belonging to the one side or the other. Through his victory, Jesus has opened to us his kingdom. But it is for us to enter into it, beginning with our life now, by being close in concrete ways to our brothers and sisters who ask for bread, clothing, acceptance, solidarity. If we truly love them, we will be willing to share with them what is most precious to us, Jesus himself and his Gospel."

--Pope Francis

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Few Reflections on the Presidential Race

With the first Republican presidential debate having been held last night and broadcast live on national TV, the contest for the 2016 presidential election is now well under way, and things are a bit crazy at this point on the GOP side of the political aisle.

In the last two months, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump has rocketed from obscurity to the head of the pack, "trumping" all his rivals in the latest polls. Although this development was unexpected by many observers including myself, it really isn't too surprising considering the enormous sums of money Trump has to spend on his campaign, the attention he is getting from the mainstream media, and his rather formidable persona and ability to speak out clearly on many of the issues facing our country. That said, Trump has a number of serious liabilities that I believe will result in his popularity declining steadily over the coming months as we approach the Republican presidential primary elections. His major problem is that he is a super-wealthy establishment politician like John McCain and Mitt Romney, and polls indicate that the American people are sick and tired of such career politicians. Obviously Trump can talk a great game on many issues dear to conservatives, but can the American people really trust him to do what he says he'll do if he buys the nomination and if he manages to snatch the White House away from Hillary Clinton? I would say no. Someone who hails from the top one percent income bracket and uses his millions to buy the presidential election simply will not serve the interests of the average American or the best interests of this country. There is also a disturbing lack of consistency regarding Trump's positions on important issues such as abortion. Granted, Trump has bellowed that he would shut down the federal government, if necessary, to defund Planned Parenthood. But apparently several of his campaign managers have ties to the abortion industry. And then there are some very legitimate questions and doubts about Trump's character and values, including whether all of his money was earned honestly and so forth. Basically, I think the more closely people scrutinize Trump, the more problematic facts they will learn about him and the less they will think he is truly fit to serve our country as president.

Unfortunately, the Conservative Action Fund, an excellent political fundraising organization that I respect and support, has just announced that it is endorsing Donald Trump for president. I am shocked and disappointed that this organization has gotten caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment and fallen victim to "Trumpmania." In my opinion, the CAF should retract this foolish, emotion-driven endorsement of an untrustworthy establishment politician and instead make the rational decision to endorse a trustworthy conservative who can decisively defeat Hillary Clinton in the next election such as Ben Carson, Marco Rubio or Rand Paul.

It was good to hear that Senator Rand Paul did so well at the debate last night. I can't help but like and admire this guy. He's a man of principle, and unlike many of his corrupt Republican colleagues, he never compromises his principles for the sake of expediency or political gain. And he's a man of action who fights like a bulldog in the Senate to get things done while many of his  colleagues slumber in comfortable inaction under the spell of the Obama administration. In my mind, Senator Paul is one of only three candidates who should be seriously considered for the Republican nomination because of his upright character, sound issue positions, and ability to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Another, perhaps even better candidate with that winning combination would be Senator Marco Rubio; although he's a little down in the polls at the moment, that can change and probably will. He has appeal and charisma, he's a faithful Catholic, he raises the exciting possibility of our nation's first Hispanic president, and he would automatically defeat Hillary Clinton by winning a large share of the Hispanic vote.

As some of my readers are aware, I am a staunch supporter of Ben Carson for the Republican nomination and the presidency because he is a well-respected, trustworthy and articulate conservative leader of devout Christian faith and traditional moral values with the right positions on critical issues who will decisively defeat Hillary Clinton by winning a large share of the black and Hispanic vote. Since May of last year, I've been involved with The 2016 Committee (formerly the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee), the fantastic super PAC that's been working hard on Ben Carson's behalf (but separately from his official presidential committee, in accordance with federal election law) to make sure he a) runs for president, b) wins the Republican nomination, and c) wins the White House. We've accomplished the first goal already and are currently focused on the bigger challenge of the second. Many are calling Ben Carson a longshot, but recall that Barack Obama himself was also a longshot for his party's nomination eight years ago, when everybody was certain that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee. We're using the same entirely legitimate strategy that Obama successfully employed to snatch the Democratic nomination away from his richer and more powerful rival Hillary Clinton in 2008. That strategy involved early fundraising and grassroots organizing in key primary election states at least two years ahead of the actual primary elections. The candidate who actually wins the Republican nomination for president won't necessarily be the one with the most money to spend or the one who surges highest in the polls; it'll be the one who is best organized, the one with the most volunteers and the greatest number of individual donors, the one can most successfully mobilize the grassroots and turn out the vote. That candidate is Ben Carson.

Although I did not see last night's debate, I read that Carson did very well in it, and that as a result of his performance, he has now moved from the fourth to the third most popular Republican presidential candidate. This is great news which indicates that Carson's candidacy is continuing to steadily gain momentum. I firmly believe that, if it seriously intends to defeat Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democrats nominate next year, the Republican Party must reject weak establishment Republican In Name Only candidates like Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie and instead choose to unite behind a trustworthy conservative and citizen statesman like Ben Carson and make him their standard bearer in 2016. Many other Republican contenders can excite the party's base, but only Ben Carson can walk into a room full of liberals, give an extemporaneous thirty-minute speech and receive a standing ovation at the end of it. This guy is special. He's authentic, intelligent, compassionate, and a great communicator who can speak the truth to people's hearts as no other Republican candidate for president can do. Our country needs his leadership. I hope and pray that he will win the Republican nomination, and I encourage all my readers who are not already doing so to support him for president.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Quote of the Day

"The scene described here is concerned with the way Peter no longer looks at Jesus but has earthly elements in view. Naturally, then, by any reckoning of probability, he is bound to sink as soon as he gets out into the water. But he has left out of this the essential point, that he has been called by Jesus, who is the Lord. Together with him, and by his power, in relation to him, he will so to speak be able to walk right over even what is deadly in this world."

--Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), God and the World (Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 240

Friday, July 24, 2015

Quote of the Day

"I also think of the gift of the Ten Commandments: a path God points out to us towards a life which is truly free and fulfilling. The commandments are not a litany of prohibitions – you must not do this, you must not do that, you must not do the other; on the contrary, they are a great "Yes!": a yes to God, to Love, to life. Dear friends, our lives are fulfilled in God alone, because only he is the Living One!"

--Pope Francis

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fr. Robert Barron Appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles

It was just announced yesterday that Pope Francis has appointed Father Robert Barron, the well-respected rector of Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. For some reason, this announcement took me by surprise, although it really shouldn't have because Father Barron is an excellent and faithful priest with a good reputation who will make a fine bishop. A typically upbeat and outgoing native of Chicago, he is well trained theologically and an effective teacher of our faith to modern Catholics and non-Catholics alike, qualities evident to the millions who have enjoyed his TV series Catholicism and other products of his Word on Fire Ministries. As someone who grew up mainly in the L.A. Archdiocese, I am delighted to see Father Barron sent there to help shepherd that vast flock of the Church's faithful as a successor to the Apostles. Los Angeles is even bigger and more diverse than Chicago and the weather and climate are very different, so let's keep Bishop-elect Barron in our prayers as this will be a significant adjustment for him. Now I won't be surprised if he's appointed Coadjutor to Archbishop Jose Gomez a few years down the road and eventually ends up succeeding him as head of the L.A. Archdiocese. But all in good time and if God wills it.

Praise the Lord! This calls for a Te Deum.