Thursday, November 15, 2018

Quote of the Day

“Today we recognize that being able to forgive others implies the liberating experience of understanding and forgiving ourselves. Often our mistakes, or criticism we have received from loved ones, can lead to a loss of self-esteem. We become distant from others, avoiding affection and fearful in our interpersonal relationships. Blaming others becomes falsely reassuring. We need to learn to pray over our past history, to accept ourselves, to learn how to live with our limitations, and even to forgive ourselves, in order to have this same attitude towards others.”

--Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, no. 107

Saturday, November 3, 2018

ElectionWatch 2018: What Will Happen?

Continuing with a tradition begun in 2010 and continued in 2014, it's time (past time, really) for an ElectionWatch series of blog posts and articles offering insight and commentary on the 2018 U.S. congressional, senatorial, gubernatorial and state legislative elections. Although leap-year presidential elections are the "big shows" that generate increasingly huge amounts of political fundraising, campaigning, media attention and voter activity, I personally find the off-year elections a bit more interesting.

While millions of Republican, Democratic and independent voters regard presidential elections as the most consequential for our nation, the fact is that midterm elections are often just as influential, if not even more so, on the direction of our country. This is because our president, while head of the executive branch of government and director of national policy, is only one man, whereas the fifty state governors, ninety-nine state legislatures, one hundred senators, and 435 members of Congress do the lion's share of actual governing, thereby exerting tremendous influence on state and national policy by virtue of their offices and authority. Depending on the issue positions, agenda, and political affiliation of these lawmakers and executives, this influence is used either in support of or in opposition to the president's national policy goals. During the notoriously immoral and corrupt administration of President Barack Obama, for example, Republicans who took control of state legislatures, governorships, Congress, and the Senate provided an important check on the president's abuses of power by refusing to implement ObamaCare, suing the federal government over the unconstitutional HHS mandate, restricting abortion, protecting religious liberty, and enforcing immigration laws.

Yes, senators, members of Congress, governors, and state legislators are elected in presidential election years as well. However, the midterm elections provide a valuable barometer of national opinion across a wide range of issues, typically indicating voter support or lack thereof for the incumbent president and his agenda. In the historic 2002 midterms, Republicans expanded their majorities in both the House and the Senate due to voter approval of President George W. Bush's pro-life, economic and national security measures. As support for Bush's foreign policy waned, Democrats managed to narrowly take over Congress and pick up some state governorships in the 2006 election. The stunning Republican landslide victories of 2010 and 2014 were driven by massive public dissatisfaction with Barack Obama's abortion, healthcare, economic and tax policies.

What will happen in 2018? Will Republicans keep and strengthen their majorities in the House and the Senate as in 2002? Will Democrats seize control as in 2006? Or will something entirely different happen? To answer these questions in a meaningful way, we must attempt to combine historical perspective with an objective evaluation of the current complex situation in the United States.

We live in a country that is more deeply divided than at any time since the Civil War. Party lines have become fault lines segregating people with radically different values, issue positions, interests and income levels from each other. Republicans have become the party of traditional Judeo-Christian values and support for President Donald Trump, and Democrats have become the party of radical secularism and outright hatred of President Trump. Yet many Americans feel that neither party truly represents their interests. Civil discourse, the art of expressing one's opinions and convictions in a compelling yet respectful manner; and bipartisanship, the art of working together for the common good based on common values, have all but vanished from Washington, replaced by vulgar personal attacks and legislative deadlock. Meanwhile, many Americans, myself included, applaud President Trump's performance on certain issues such as abortion, religious liberty, the HHS mandate, court appointments, taxes, the economy, and (partially) immigration and foreign policy while taking issue with his decisions on renewable energy, environmental protection, and (partially) immigration and foreign policy.

Although it has certain unique aspects pertaining to our own time, our current national crisis is far from unprecedented, and history teaches that such profound wounds of division will be reflected in the election results. That said, it's tricky to predict what will happen on Tuesday night. On the one hand, Democrats are spending a ton of money to try to take over Congress, with the secular media and certain national opinion polls biased in their favor. But on the other hand, the economy is doing pretty well, which helps the Republicans. The latest polling averages from Real Clear Politics show Democrats winning a narrow seven-seat majority in the House of Representatives and Republicans holding on to the Senate, but as we saw with Hillary Clinton in 2016, the polls can be inaccurate. To offer my best guess at this point, I don't think we'll see a repeat of 2002 or 2006. I think something entirely different will happen: Republicans will maintain majority control of both the House and the Senate, albeit by extremely narrow margins.

Regardless of what happens, much is at stake in this election. The Democrats have vowed to impeach President Trump and force their own radically secularist agenda on our nation, and they will certainly attempt to do this if they achieve even a one-seat majority in the House. We need to pray earnestly for our country's conversion and healing, vote our values and leave the results in God's hands.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Reflection for the Solemnity of All Saints

"God says to you: Do not be afraid of sanctity, do not be afraid to aim high, to allow yourself to be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us allow ourselves to be infected by God’s holiness. Every Christian is called to sanctity (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 39-42); and sanctity does not consist first of all in doing extraordinary things, but in letting God act. It is the encounter of our weakness with the strength of His grace, it is to trust in His action that enables us to live in charity, to do everything with joy and humility, for the glory of God and in the service of our neighbor. There is a famous phrase of the French writer Leon Bloy, who in the last moments of his life said: “There is only one sadness in life, that of not being saints.” Let us not lose hope in sanctity, let us all follow this way. Do we want to be saints? All? The Lord awaits all with open arms. Let us live our faith with joy, let us allow ourselves to be loved by the Lord … let us ask for this gift of God in prayer, for ourselves and for others."

--Pope Francis, General Audience, October 2, 2013

Monday, October 8, 2018

Traitors to the Church

For several months now, the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world has been undergoing a particularly severe attack from the forces of evil. Radical secularist elitists in our government and the "mainstream" media have unjustly seized upon and magnified beyond all reasonable bounds the abominable crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors by a tiny minority of priests in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and their cover-up by several bishops--as well as the recently revealed accusations against former Cardinal, now Archbishop Emeritus Theodore McCarrick--in an unscrupulous attempt to smear the entire contemporary U.S. Church and to utterly destroy her good name in the minds of the general public. Similar but more extensive and more recent priestly sexual abuse revelations have emerged in Chile and Honduras. And in Europe, former U.S. nuncio to the Holy See Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano has publicly alleged that Pope Francis failed to act on prior knowledge of the accusations against McCarrick and has demanded his resignation from the papacy. This devastating coordinated assault of Satan against the Mystical Body of Christ has proven remarkably successful in achieving its wicked objectives, thanks in large measure to the domineering power and influence of the secular media. But the most disturbing aspect of this whole affair, and what has contributed greatly to the success and duration of this vicious anti-Catholic propaganda campaign, is that instead of taking up arms to defend Holy Mother Church from this demonic onslaught, millions of faithful and well-intentioned Catholics have been tricked by the Enemy's lies into turning against their own Mother and are now (even if unknowingly) fighting the Church as traitors with the Enemy's weapons and on the Enemy's side!

Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has rightly exposed the voluminous Pennsylvania grand jury "report" on priestly sexual abuse for what it is: an elaborate hoax consisting of two true accounts of abuse by priests buried among hundreds of unsubstantiated cases that cannot be admitted to court. Donohue has also drawn attention to the vicious anti-Catholicism of the fake report's mastermind, Pennsylvania Attorney General Joshua Shapiro. He has unmasked Mr. Shapiro's pretense of justice and fairness by pointing out his failure to investigate the far more serious sexual abuse problems within other religions and especially within our public school system. It should be perfectly clear to any objective observer that both this salaciously detailed "report" and the language accompanying its press release were designed to inflame public outrage against the American Catholic Church. Furthermore, the timing of its publication suggests a calculated plan to discredit the Church's moral authority in advance of the 2018 Congressional elections. And that is exactly what has happened. The needle of truth was cunningly buried in a haystack of lies, and with abundant oil poured on by the secular media, the resulting conflagration has been spectacular. But eventually, the fire will burn itself out, and all that will remain is the needle.

How appalling it has been to see millions of American Catholics sharing in the general public's explosion of irrational and unjustified anger against the Church! These well-intentioned Catholics have made the terrible mistake of trusting and accepting the secular media's heavily biased reporting on the matter without question, apparently forgetting that the secular media is controlled by the Church's enemies--their enemies. Their righteous indignation is irrational and unjustified because they have nowhere to direct it. They're angry with priests, but most of the priests who committed these crimes and sins against children and teens are either dead, retired, or laicized and in prison; more than 99 percent of priests currently serving the U.S. Church have never abused a child or teen. They're mad at bishops, but most of the bishops who conspired to cover up these crimes and sins are either dead or retired, and nearly all (if not all) of the bishops currently serving the U.S. Church have never engaged in such cover-up. And they're incensed at Pope Francis (who has increasingly become a scapegoat for many of the Church's problems) for allegedly mishandling the situation, but nearly all of the crimes and sins took place during the reign of Pope Saint John Paul II, many years before Francis was elected pope. Angry Catholics, some of whom have abandoned the Church altogether, have been sucked into the secular media drama and have become unwitting pawns in Satan's army.

If these misguided Catholics in and out of the pews are de facto foot soldiers of the Evil One in his war against the Church, much of the blame lies with their commanding officers in Catholic media. For a number of years now, many supposedly independent Catholic journalists and media outlets in the United States have been allowing the radically secularist "mainstream" media to dictate both the content and the priority of their own stories, merely contenting themselves with approaching this news "from a Catholic perspective." The problem with this approach is that, as mentioned above, the secular media is controlled by the Church's enemies, whose agenda is diametrically opposed to Catholic faith and moral values. Catholic media executives should set their own agenda based on their religion and make their own decisions as to which stories merit their attention and how much, if any, attention a given story should receive. By slavishly following the lead of the secular media with regard to coverage of past sexual abuse by Catholic priests, Catholic journalists and pundits have played into the hands of the Church's enemies and dragged millions of hapless Catholics along with them. The crimes and sins of a few dozen U.S. Catholic priests and the complicity of a few Catholic bishops in the latter half of the twentieth century should not be today's front-page news for months on end in any media outlet, much less a Catholic media outlet! The real "scandal" here is that Catholic media "leaders" have granted wildly disproportionate coverage to an ugly chapter of the Church's past that should be left in the past, thus fueling the anger of their consumers and aiding and abetting Hell's war on the Church.

When the allegations against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick first surfaced this past summer, the Catholic press initially expressed some healthy skepticism regarding their credibility. If the young Father McCarrick had actually abused seminarians back in 1971, how were these misdeeds so successfully kept secret for nearly fifty years--and how did this priest subsequently manage to rise through the church's ranks to the upper echelons of the hierarchy? The suggestion that the accusations might be false was clearly on the table for a moment. Unfortunately, the Catholic media quickly allowed itself to be swept into the secular media's hostile rush to judgment, abandoning critical thinking and a sense of perspective in favor of a presumption of guilt that offends seriously against justice and charity. Had Catholic journalists acted in accord with the charity, justice and prudence their faith teaches, not to mention respect for the truth, they would have reserved judgment on the McCarrick case, assuming the former cardinal's innocence until the results of the Church's investigation were in hand. Today's Catholic journalists would do well to remember that back in the 1950s, the great Italian mystic and canonized saint, Pio of Pietrelcina, was temporarily removed from public ministry while the Church looked into a credible allegation of sexual misconduct against him. Within two years, Padre Pio was acquitted and returned to public ministry. Not every priest, bishop, or cardinal accused of a sin and crime is actually guilty. Archbishop Emeritus McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals because Pope Francis asked him to do so as a procedural requirement for the Church's investigation process; however, his resignation is not necessarily an admission of guilt. My impression of McCarrick over the course of many years has always been a man of quiet strength and radiant joy, a passionate and articulate defender of the faith, indeed a saintly man, and I cannot reconcile the current charges against him with his apparent sanctity. I will continue to assume that he is a holy man who has been falsely accused of wrongdoing, unless and until the Church's findings indicate the latter.

It's time well-meaning American Catholics recognize they've been duped into treason, abandon the Enemy's side and re-direct their volleys of righteous indignation at the proper targets: anti-Catholic activists in our government and in the secular media. We're commanded to love our enemies, but we should NEVER trust or follow them! If your innocent mother was unjustly attacked by enemies bent upon her total destruction, wouldn't you defend her with every fiber of your being? The Church is our Mother, and she is in this exact situation at this very moment. We Catholics must speak out and take every action within our power to defend Holy Mother Church against the malicious accusations of her radically secularist enemies in government and the secular media. We must defend our holy priests and bishops against fictitious charges; we must defend Pope Francis against the false accusations of Archbishop Vigano. Above all, we must pray unceasingly for the Church as well as for the conversion of her enemies. This is a public relations battle, a battle for the Church's reputation, a cultural battle, but above all it is a spiritual battle. As Ephesians 6:12 says, "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the present darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places." May we fight valiantly for the Church at this critical time with boundless trust in the protection and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Michael the Archangel and all the Heavenly host, confident in Christ's promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her.

Copyright 2018 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Reflection for Labor Day



"God's fundamental and original intention with regard to man, whom he created in his image and after his likeness, was not withdrawn or cancelled out even when man, having broken the original covenant with God, heard the words: 'In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread'. These words refer to the sometimes heavy toil that from then onwards has accompanied human work; but they do not alter the fact that work is the means whereby man achieves that 'dominion' which is proper to him over the visible world, by "subjecting" the earth. Toil is something that is universally known, for it is universally experienced. It is familiar to those doing physical work under sometimes exceptionally laborious conditions. It is familiar not only to agricultural workers, who spend long days working the land, which sometimes 'bears thorns and thistles', but also to those who work in mines and quarries, to steel-workers at their blast-furnaces, to those who work in builders' yards and in construction work, often in danger of injury or death. It is likewise familiar to those at an intellectual workbench; to scientists; to those who bear the burden of grave responsibility for decisions that will have a vast impact on society. It is familiar to doctors and nurses, who spend days and nights at their patients' bedside. It is familiar to women, who, sometimes without proper recognition on the part of society and even of their own families, bear the daily burden and responsibility for their homes and the upbringing of their children. It is familiar to all workers and, since work is a universal calling, it is familiar to everyone.

"And yet, in spite of all this toil--perhaps, in a sense, because of it--work is a good thing for man. Even though it bears the mark of a bonum arduum, in the terminology of Saint Thomas, this does not take away the fact that, as such, it is a good thing for man. It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man's dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man--a good thing for his humanity--because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes 'more a human being'."

--Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Laborem Exercens (1981), no. 9

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Quote of the Day

Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.

--Nelson Mandela (1918--2013)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Reflection on the Feast of the Visitation


"God visits us in the womb of a woman, mobilizing the womb of another woman with a song of blessing and praise, with a song of joy. The Gospel scene bears all the dynamism of the visit of God: when God comes to meet us He moves us inwardly, He sets in motion what we are until all our life is transformed into praise and blessing. When God visits us, He leaves us restless, with the healthy restlessness of those who feel they have been invited to proclaim what He lives, and is in the midst of His people. This is what we see in Mary, the first disciple and missionary, the new Ark of the Covenant who, far from remaining in the reserved space of our temples, goes out to visit and accompany with her presence the gestation of John...

"With Elizabeth, today too we wish to anoint her and greet her by saying 'Blessed is she who has believed', and continue to believe in 'a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord'. Mary is thus the icon of the disciple, of the believing and prayerful woman who knows how to accompany and encourage our faith and our hope in the distinct stages we must go through. In Mary we find the faithful reflection not of a poetically sweetened faith, but of a strong faith, especially at a time when the sweet enchantments of things are broken and there are contradictions in conflict everywhere.

"And we will certainly have to learn from that strong and helpful faith that characterised and characterises our Mother; to learn from this faith that knows how to get inside history so as to be salt and light in our lives and in our society.

"The society we are building for our children is increasingly marked by the signs of division and fragmentation, leaving many people out of play, especially those who find it difficult to obtain the minimum necessary to lead a dignified life. A society that likes to vaunt its scientific and technological advances, but that has become blind and insensitive to the thousands of faces that are there along the way, excluded by the blind pride of the few. A society that ends up establishing a culture of disillusionment, disenchantment and frustration in many of our brothers, and even anguish in many others due as they experience the difficulties they need to face so as not to lose their way...

"Faced with all these situations, we must say with Elizabeth, 'Blessed is she who has believed', and to learn from this strong and helpful faith that characterized and characterizes our Mother."

--Pope Francis, Homily, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, 2016

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

"Purification and fruit belong together; only by undergoing God's purifications can we bear the fruit that flows into the Eucharistic mystery and so leads to the marriage feast that is the goal toward which God directs history. Fruit and love belong together: The true fruit is the love that has passed through the Cross, through God's purifications. 'Remaining' is an essential part of all this. In verses 1-10 the word remain  (in Greek menein) occurs ten times. What the Church Fathers call perseverantia--patient steadfastness in communion with the Lord amid all the vicissitudes of life--is placed center stage here. Initial enthusiasm is easy. Afterward, though, it is time to stand firm, even along the monotonous desert paths that we are called upon to traverse in this life--with the patience it takes to tread evenly, a patience in which the romanticism of the initial awakening subsides, so that only the deep, pure Yes of faith remains. This is the way to produce good wine."

--Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Part One: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. 262

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Reflection on the Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord

Icon of Christ the Pantocrator, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
(Photo by Andrew Shiva)

"Amid our silence, our overpowering silence, the stones begin to cry out (cf. Lk 19:40) [1] and to clear the way for the greatest message that history has ever heard: 'He is not here, for he has been raised' (Mt 28:6). The stone before the tomb cried out and proclaimed the opening of a new way for all. Creation itself was the first to echo the triumph of life over all that had attempted to silence and stifle the joy of the Gospel. The stone before the tomb was the first to leap up and in its own way intone a song of praise and wonder, of joy and hope, in which all of us are invited to join.

"Yesterday, we joined the women in contemplating 'the one who was pierced' (cf. Jn 19:36; cf. Zech 12:10). Today, with them, we are invited to contemplate the empty tomb and to hear the words of the angel: 'Do not be afraid… for he has been raised' (Mt 28:5-6). Those words should affect our deepest convictions and certainties, the ways we judge and deal with the events of our daily lives, especially the ways we relate to others. The empty tomb should challenge us and rally our spirits. It should make us think, but above all, it should encourage us to trust and believe that God “happens” in every situation and every person and that his light can shine in the least expected and most hidden corners of our lives. He rose from the dead, from that place where nobody waits for anything, and now he waits for us – as he did the women – to enable us to share in his saving work. On this basis and with this strength, we Christians place our lives and our energy, our intelligence, our affections and our will, at the service of discovering, and above all creating, paths of dignity.

"He is not here… he is risen! This is the message that sustains our hope and turns it into concrete gestures of charity. How greatly we need to let our frailty be anointed by this experience! How greatly we need to let our faith be revived! How greatly we need our myopic horizons to be challenged and renewed by this message! Christ is risen, and with him, he makes our hope and creativity rise so that we can face our present problems in the knowledge that we are not alone."

--Pope Francis, Homily at Easter Vigil Mass, March 31, 2018

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Holy Week Reflection

"God cannot simply ignore man's disobedience and all the evil of history; he cannot treat it as if it were inconsequential or meaningless. Such 'mercy,' such 'unconditional forgiveness' would be that 'cheap grace' to which Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly objected in the face of the appalling evil encountered in his day. That which is wrong, the reality of evil, cannot simply be ignored; it cannot just be left to stand. It must be dealt with; it must be overcome. Only this counts as true mercy. And the fact that God now confronts evil himself, because men are incapable of doing so--therein lies the 'unconditional' goodness of God, which can never be opposed to truth or the justice that goes with it. 'If we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself', writes Paul to Timothy (2 Tim 2:13).

"This faithfulness of his means that he [Jesus] acts not only as God toward men, but also as man toward God, in this way establishing the Covenant irrevocably. So the figure of the Suffering Servant who bears the sins of many (Is 53:12) goes hand in hand with the promise of the new and indestructible covenant. This planting of the covenant in men's hearts, in mankind itself, in such a way that it can no longer be destroyed, takes place through the vicarious suffering of the Son who has become a servant. Ever since, standing against the whole flood of filth and evil is the obedience of the Son, in whom God himself suffered, and hence this obedience always infinitely surpasses the growing mass of evil (cf. Rom 5:16-20).

"The blood of animals could neither 'atone' for sin nor bring God and men together. It could only be a sign of hope, anticipating a greater obedience that would be truly redemptive. In Jesus' words over the chalice, all this is summed up and fulfilled: he gives us the 'new covenant in his blood'. 'His blood'--that is, the total gift of himself, in which he suffers to the end all human sinfulness and repairs every breach of fidelity by his unconditional fidelity. This is the new worship, which he establishes at the Last Supper, drawing mankind into his vicarious obedience. Our participation in Christ's body and blood indicates that his action is 'for many', for us, and that we are drawn into the 'many' through the sacrament."

--Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Part Two: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (Ignatius Press, 2011), pp. 132--134

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Sunshine and the Clouds: Five Years with Pope Francis

Today we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis's election to the papacy. I recall five years ago watching EWTN's live broadcast of the conclave proceedings in Rome, where on a cold and rainy late winter evening, white smoke poured forth from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and we were all surprised by the cardinals' choice of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. His simple faith and humility, charity and joy, his ability to communicate profound truths in accessible contemporary language, and the fidelity of his personal lifestyle to the Gospel of Christ immediately won our affection and esteem. With his extrovert personality and his emphasis on God's unfailing mercy, Francis promptly established himself as a charismatic leader of the universal church in the mold of John Paul II, drawing the attention and admiration of a vast global non-Catholic audience, elevating public interest in the church, and encouraging many fallen-away Catholics to return to their spiritual home.

Unfortunately, within the past five years since his accession to the Chair of Saint Peter, dark clouds of doubt, misunderstanding, suspicion, error, and confusion have gathered within the church to dim the blazing light of Pope Francis, leading an increasing number of good and faithful Catholics to view him as incompetent or even heretical. Some doubt his ability to govern the church effectively in these difficult times. Others misunderstand the meaning of his words and actions, viewing him as somehow "too liberal". Yet others suspect that Francis secretly intends to lead the church away from the deposit of faith. Still others erroneously believe that Francis has openly broken with the magisterial teaching of his predecessors by imposing heretical moral doctrines on the universal church. And finally, widely varying and conflicting interpretations and applications of the pontiff's words and actions across the worldwide church have left tens of millions of Catholics confused as to what Pope Francis really wants in terms of church policy and pastoral practice.

Many Catholics are blaming Pope Francis himself for this situation, claiming that his ambiguity, vagueness, and laxity with regard to church doctrine and practice is the source of the misunderstanding and confusion clouding his pontificate, and that his failure to clarify doctrine and set strict boundaries for pastoral practice is allowing the situation to continue, thus endangering the salvation of many souls. Francis' beautiful and lengthy post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) serves as the central proof of this thesis. As I've been observing this papacy develop and unfold during the past few years via Catholic and secular media coverage, paying attention on the one hand to the tremendous controversy surrounding this signature document and on the other hand to the actual words and deeds of Pope Francis--who, like all popes before him, is capable of making certain kinds of mistakes and may rightly be criticized for them--it has occurred to me that, in all fairness, the real source of the controversy is not Francis himself, but rather those Catholic dissidents (a.k.a. heretics), anti-Catholic organizations and pressure groups, and secular journalists and media pundits who are manipulating Francis's papacy with their own agenda in mind.

For an obvious example of this, those heretics and immoral activists (including some bishops) who for many years have been pushing the church to admit to Holy Communion divorced and remarried couples who are willfully living in mortal sin have interpreted certain passages of Amoris Laetitia as finally granting that long desired permission, and that this is what Pope Francis actually wants. The secular media has jumped on this and proclaimed it to the ends of the earth as gospel truth. By doing so, these pressure groups and their mouthpieces in the secular media have not only missed the real point of Amoris Laetitia and of Francis' papacy in general, but they have generated clouds of confusion and controversy to obscure his pontificate, calling into question his personal holiness and casting doubt on his intentions and his leadership in the minds of many faithful Catholics.

Those who accuse Pope Francis of doctrinal ambiguity and pastoral vagueness should re-read the full text of his opening address at the Synod on the Family in October of 2015. In that address, he beautifully spelled out perennial church teaching on the family and warned the bishops against numerous temptations to which they had been subject during their previous two weeks of discussion, including the temptation "to ignore the deposit of faith" in the development of pastoral practice. The ideas that Francis is out to change timeless doctrines of the Catholic faith, and that Amoris Laetitia is meant to be interpreted heretically, authorizing heretofore forbidden pastoral practices that violate Catholic moral teaching, are ridiculous. These ideas are concoctions of the aforesaid pressure groups and journalists who want the church to conform to their own agenda. They, not Francis, are responsible for the confusion regarding Francis' pontificate and the direction in which he is really trying to lead the church. From this perspective, it is entirely understandable why the growing chorus of calls for doctrinal and pastoral clarification addressed to Francis by well-meaning lay folk, priests, bishops, and cardinals have been met with a deafening silence. Why should the pope spend time and energy clarifying what he himself did not confuse?

Divine mercy is the proper hermeneutic for understanding Francis' papacy. He knows that we human beings are all sinners, so through his words and actions, he is reaching out to everyone and inviting everyone to experience God's mercy in their own lives, in whatever situation they find themselves in, through repentance and conversion. He wants pastors to go to the peripheries of their local churches and of human society and find creative ways to bring people who have fallen into the darkness of sin back into the light of God's grace. This is exactly what a Jewish rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth did two thousand years ago, and His ministry too was fraught with controversy as the religious leaders of his time made false accusations against him. Ultimately, however, Christ was vindicated--and eventually, Pope Francis will be vindicated as well.


Copyright © 2018 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Quote of the Day

"What kind of ground are we? What kind of terrain do we want to be? Maybe sometimes we are like the path: we hear the Lord’s word but it changes nothing in our lives because we let ourselves be numbed by all the superficial voices competing for our attention; or we are like the rocky ground: we receive Jesus with enthusiasm, but we falter and, faced with difficulties, we don’t have the courage to swim against the tide; or we are like the thorny ground: negativity, negative feelings choke the Lord’s word in us (cf. Mt 13:18-22). But today I am sure that the seed is falling on good soil, that you want to be good soil, not part-time Christians, not “starchy” and superficial, but real. I am sure that you don’t want to be duped by a false freedom, always at the beck and call of momentary fashions and fads. I know that you are aiming high, at long-lasting decisions which will make your lives meaningful. Jesus is capable of letting you do this: he is 'the way, and the truth, and the life' (Jn 14:6). Let’s trust in him. Let’s make him our guide!"

--Pope Francis, Address to Young People at Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 27, 2013

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reflection for the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

 "To begin the year by recalling God’s goodness in the maternal face of Mary, in the maternal face of the Church, in the faces of our own mothers, protects us from the corrosive disease of being “spiritual orphans”. It is the sense of being orphaned that the soul experiences when it feels motherless and lacking the tenderness of God, when the sense of belonging to a family, a people, a land, to our God, grows dim. This sense of being orphaned lodges in a narcissistic heart capable of looking only to itself and its own interests. It grows when what we forget that life is a gift we have received – and owe to others – a gift we are called to share in this common home....

"Celebrating the feast of the Holy Mother of God makes us smile once more as we realize that we are a people, that we belong, that only within a community, within a family, can we as persons find the “climate”, the “warmth” that enables us to grow in humanity, and not merely as objects meant to “consume and be consumed”. To celebrate the feast of the Holy Mother of God reminds us that we are not interchangeable items of merchandise or information processors. We are children, we are family, we are God’s People."

--Pope Francis, Homily, January 1, 2017

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO!

by Justin Soutar

(NOTE: This article originally appeared in the November 2017 edition of The Shamrock, the quarterly newsletter of Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Lexington, Virginia.)

“’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will’” (Lk. 2:14). This joyful proclamation of the Angels on the night of Christ’s birth more than two thousand years ago has continued to resound uninterruptedly through the ages in the Church’s liturgical tradition, in the pages of Sacred Scripture and in the hearts and voices of countless believers. Early in the Church’s history, this biblical text was developed into the great liturgical hymn of adoration, thanksgiving and petition known as the Gloria. Our current English Mass translation accurately reflects the centuries-old original Latin: “Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.” As Latin Rite Catholics, we sing or recite the Gloria not only during the Christmas season, but also on most Sundays and all solemnities and feasts of the liturgical year when the Church summons us to full-throated praise of the triune God.

The angelic Christmas carol hints at the twofold purpose of the sacred liturgy, which is to glorify God and to sanctify ourselves. From ancient times to the present, liturgical music—always sung and often accompanied by musical instruments—has played an essential role in achieving this dual purpose. Sacred music has the power to elevate the mind and heart to God and to express thoughts and prayers in ways that the spoken word simply cannot. As then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger put it in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that spontaneously turn into song.” This comes into clear focus when we look at the Old Testament Book of Psalms, the great musical prayer book of ancient Israel which has shaped much of the Church’s liturgical and musical tradition. Intensely personal and written for specific situations, while also universal and timeless, the Psalms are classic expressions of adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and petition representing the full range of human experiences in relation to God.

The Second Vatican Council underscored the essential link between church music and the words and actions of the liturgy, referring to the former as “a sacred chant wedded to words” that “constitutes a necessary and integral part of solemn liturgy.” In other words, music is not something extraneous added on to the liturgy like icing onto a cake; rather, it’s a key ingredient of the liturgy itself, and “the more intimately church music is linked with the liturgical action the holier it will be.” Following Vatican II, the Church identified three specific degrees of music within the liturgy. The first and highest degree is sung dialogue, with the priest’s greeting or prayer followed by the people’s reply (e.g. “The Lord be with you,” “And with your spirit”). Gregorian chant, which “should have the chief place in liturgical functions” according to the Council, is our mainstay for liturgical music of the first degree. The second degree includes the remaining prayers of the Mass, and the third and lowest degree is hymns and songs. According to the Instruction on Music in the Liturgy issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1967, the second and third degrees may not be used unless the first is in place.

A distinctive element of Catholic worship is the belief, and the fact, that during Mass we unite our voices to those of all the Angels of heaven, participating for a few brief moments in their endless hymn of praise to the Lord of all creation. Our solemn liturgical celebrations of the Nativity of the Lord at Christmas and the Resurrection of the Lord at Easter are moments when the Gloria rings out anew with intense joy and gladness, as accompanied by the organ, bells and other musical instruments, we join with the hosts of heaven in singing the celestial music that penetrated our sad and weary world on that holy night more than two millennia ago. May this year’s celebration of Christ’s birth renew our gratitude to God our Father for the priceless gift of His Only-Begotten Son and for all of the blessings, graces, and good things He has given us through Him and in the Holy Spirit.


Copyright © 2017 Justin D. Soutar.

ENDNOTES

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 136.
[2] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium, Chapter VI: Church Music, no. 112. From The Second Vatican Council: The Four Constitutions (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2013), p. 50.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium, Chapter VI: Church Music, no. 116. From The Second Vatican Council: The Four Constitutions (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2013), p. 51.
[5] Marguerite Mullee Duncan, “High Notes in Hymnals,” Crisis, April 1998, p. 22.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent Reflections

Last Sunday we Catholics began a new liturgical year, entering once again into the season of Advent, which is a period of preparation for the celebration of Christ's birthday. In our increasingly secularized neo-pagan society, which now kicks off its own celebration of the Christmas holiday right after Halloween, Advent generally functions as a sentimental preview of Christmas and a time of frenzied preparations characterized by seemingly endless shopping, decorating of homes and schools and offices, greeting card writing and exchanging, gift wrapping and giving, holiday music and concerts, cooking and baking of meals and treats, partying and entertaining. By the time Christmas Day actually arrives, millions of people have had their fill (or more) of the Christmas season as secular society celebrates it, have entirely missed the real (that is, the sacred) purpose of the holiday, and are ready to return to normal everyday living again, often with feelings of exhaustion and emptiness. That's a shame!

While none of the above mentioned cultural aspects of the holiday are bad or wrong in and of themselves, the problem is that our secularized society's whole approach to Christmas is backwards. Our dominant culture has no interest in, or reverence for, the true meaning of Christmas, which is the birthday of the Christ Child, the Eternal Son of God who became man in order to liberate us from the shackles of sin through His Passion and Resurrection. On the contrary, through the encouragement of rampant consumerism and hedonism, its chief aim is to make the big retailers as much money as possible. The essential religious and spiritual nature of Christmas has been completely gutted, replaced by the superficial material and commercial aspects.

Our secular culture did not used to be this way. Eighty years ago when my grandparents were growing up, it would be unthinkable for any shops or grocery or department stores to be open on Christmas Day. Today, this is not only commonplace, it is widely accepted and even expected. Christ is no longer part of civil society's Christmas celebration; thus, it's not surprising that even the word "Christmas" and the traditional greeting "Merry Christmas" are now used less and less frequently in public, replaced by generic terms such as "holiday season" or "Happy Holidays," as this devolves increasingly into a "multicultural" celebration of all of the religious and secular holidays that happen to coincide with Christmas but have little or nothing whatsoever to do with it. Our post-Christian secular society has fallen into idolatry, replacing the worship of the Christ Child with the worship of money and material things. Hence the incessant clamor and the frenzied pace of the "Christmas season" that is in full swing from November 1 to December 25--part of what Cardinal Robert Sarah has termed the "dictatorship of noise."

By contrast, the Catholic Church's liturgical season of Advent is a sacred time for prayer and quiet reflection as we prepare to celebrate Christ's birth. In fact, during this holy season, the Church calls us to reflect on three different ways in which Christ comes to us: in history, majesty, and mystery. The four Sundays of Advent symbolize the four thousand years humanity in general, and the Chosen People in particular, waited for the coming of our Savior and Redeemer following the Original Sin of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. During Advent, we recall and re-live to some extent these long ages of waiting, waiting for liberation from sin and looking forward to the Lord's coming into our fallen world. And yes, at the conclusion of the Advent season, we will celebrate the miraculous virginal birth of Christ in a shepherd's cave near Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago, which forever changed the course of human history.

However, there is more to Advent than simply recalling and re-living Christ's humble and hidden coming in the distant past. During this season, we also anticipate and look towards Christ's glorious and public future coming, His Second Coming as Judge of the world at the end of time. While we know for certain that Christ will come again, we don't know exactly when this Second Coming will take place (although Christ Himself has revealed to us certain signs that will precede the Day of Judgment). Just like the ancient peoples who were awaiting the promised Messiah's first coming, but weren't sure exactly when it would happen, we are now awaiting Christ's promised return. Therefore, we are summoned to live in a state of vigilant preparedness by rejecting sinful ways, growing in our relationship with the Lord, and faithfully fulfilling our obligations to God and to one another. For many centuries, Christian believers expressed this interior attitude of vigilant anticipation of Christ's return by facing east toward the rising sun during the celebration of Mass.

But in addition to his past and future comings, there is a third, less visible, but no less important, coming of Christ for which we must prepare during Advent: his coming into our hearts and our lives right here in this present time. If we don't allow Christ to be born in our hearts through grace, filling us with peace and joy and empowering us to grow in genuine love for God and for each other, then our celebration of Christ's historic birth loses its meaning--and furthermore, we will not be prepared to meet Christ our Judge at the end of our lives or at the end of the world. During this season of Advent, we can prepare a fitting place for Christ within our hearts through prayer and reflection, the reading of Scripture, the worthy reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist, and practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Surrounded by our secularized culture's pervasive anti-Christian parody of Christmas, it may take some real effort to get ourselves mentally and spiritually immersed into the true spirit of Advent and to live this season in a truly meaningful way. In contrast to the noise and frenzied pace of "the holiday season," Advent is a time of watching and waiting, a time of hopeful anticipation, a time of yearning for the Lord to come and free us from our sins. Certainly, living Advent properly does not exclude material preparations for Christmas such as shopping, decorating, gift giving and the like within reasonable limits, but these external things should be done within the context of our spiritual preparation for the three comings of Christ.

Since the true spirit of Advent is obviously incompatible with the secular spirit of the holiday season, it's not enough simply to make a little room for Jesus in our lives while allowing the attitudes and dictates of secularized society to guide our Christmas preparations. As Catholics, we should be explicitly countercultural, rejecting the profanation of the sacred feast of Christ's birthday while planting the seeds of a vibrant new Christian culture for future generations. Keeping an Advent wreath on the kitchen table or an Advent calendar on the refrigerator, listening to a CD or MP3 of Advent music, erecting a Nativity scene in our house or front yard, waiting until closer to Christmas to set up the tree, and preparing within our hearts a personal birthday gift for Jesus are small but significant things we can and should do to prepare our hearts and minds for a spiritually profitable celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. When Christ comes, may he truly find us awake and ready to meet Him.

I wish you a blessed and grace-filled Advent season!