A Message for Pastors

St. Augustine and a Unified Voice

As part of the cycle in the Office of Readings in the Roman Breviary each year we read excerpts from the sermon On Pastors by St. Augustine. The sermon is divided into 12 daily readings in which the great saint is exhorting a unified voice among Christ’s shepherds. Today we concluded the cycle with St. Augustine reminding us of the primacy of St. Peter (and his successors) and the need for unity among all the shepherds, a unity that must be ordered to the Shepherd. St. Augustine says, “All (shepherds) should speak with the one voice of the one shepherd, so that the sheep may hear and follow their shepherd; not this or that shepherd, but the one shepherd. All should speak with one voice in Christ, not with different voices. Brethren, I beg all of you to say the same thing, and to have no dissensions among you.

In this statement, one can find many levels of meaning. One that is particularly relevant today is the need for a unified voice in the sacred liturgy. When using the word “voice” here, it should be taken in the unified sense of the Shepherd speaking through the Act of the liturgy. It is not a voice but the Voice that speaks and this is most especially true with regard to the Holy Mass we celebrate. With this image in mind, we should recall that there should be unity in the celebration of Holy Mass from one parish to the next and one diocese to the next and one priest to the next. Such was the point made by Denis Crouan in his book entitled, The Liturgy after Vatican II: Collapsing or Resurgent? With all of the liturgical deviations that have become commonplace, by both the traditionalists and the progressivists, the Voice that speaks in the liturgy has been effectively stifled. Rather than being the unified Word spoken by the Voice of Christ, most liturgies today have become the whim of the parish priest.

In 2004, Cardinal Arinze addressed the various deviations and called all priests to celebrate the Sacred Mass as set forth by the Church. In this document, he reiterated the norms found in the General Instruction that have been in effect since Vatican II, norms that have been widely ignored. In the document, he reminds us that we are “servants” of the Liturgy, not its master, and thus all distortion should be set aside so that “the saving presence of Christ in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood may shine brightly upon all people.” In other words, every Mass must speak the Word of God clearly and consistently without interference from one shepherd to the next. This must be so even in the smallest of details which can detract from the Message and thus promote dissension.

After reading St. Augustine, I opened our local Catholic Newspaper and found a picture of a new pastor being installed at his parish who was wearing the stole over the chasuble (see LI Catholic photo below by Gregory Schemitz). For some reason, this practice began to grow during the 80s and 90s, even though the General Instruction was specific in this area. Yet this particular liturgical abuse is still happening despite the fact that, in 2004, Cardinal Arinze (section 123) and, in 2011, our own bishop (section 2) reminded priests that, “The chasuble is to be worn over the alb and stole.” The lack of equivocation can be clearly seen in the photo as two have the stole under the chasuble and two have it on top. While some may see this as trivial or nit picking, it is only one small example or a much larger epidemic that plagues the Church today. Particularly at a time when Religious Liberty has been deteriorating in public circles, the Church more than ever must speak with One Voice, that is, the Voice of the Shepherd.

May all who participate in the Holy Mass do so in accord with the sublime dignity and obedience it deserves!


St. Vincent de Paul

Servant to the Poor

Today we celebrate St. Vincent de Paul whose remains are in Paris France. Many have heard of the saint but few consider themselves his followers. Blessed feast day to all those enrolled in St. Vincent de Paul societies and the professed members of the Congregation of the Mission. Today more than ever we need those who imitate the great saint in living out the works of mercy: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsy etc. In the course of history, no institution has done as much for the poor as the Catholic Church, which is filled with saints like St. Vincent. May God raise up many more!


The Numbers

Anything to Keep the Numbers Up

For several decades, the gauge of a successful parish rested on the numbers of people in the pews. The more people who came to church each week, the more the parish was called a success. In fact, many still see this particular number as the measure of success. To this end, there are many programs that do everything to get people to go to Holy Mass despite the fact that they do not really believe it is important to be there. Thus, we require families in schools and religious education programs to attend but such attendance is taken only as a check on a list to finish the program. No one is really asking about the quality, just the quantity. Of course, part of the problem has to do with the ability to measure -- how can we objectively measure a quality Catholic?

Unfortunately, what we have seen in the last few decades to fill the pews has been more along the lines of being like sales people than shepherds of souls. The theory is that if you get them there the Holy Spirit will do the rest. Parish leaders have tended to tell people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. Or they have tended to implement programs that may have been filled with content contrary to the Faith. For some time, anything and everything was seen as good so long as it kept people coming to the parish. For the most part, groups were allowed to do whatever they wanted and experiment with different approaches. Those that had “mass appeal” were considered the better programs and were replicated in other places. Liturgies became parish specific and the content of prayers and songs became extemporaneous. It soon became an environment where the golden rule was “make sure you do not offend anyone.”

Because everything that tickled the ear was deemed suitable, no one checked the content of programs, songs, text books, and the like for doctrinal integrity. If it was generally liked and accepted by popular vote, then keep using it. The effect over time has been a deterioration of Catholic knowledge and a loss of contact with the core essentials of Catholicism. And now that the catechetical illiteracy is at its highest, the task seems daunting to those who must reel in the mistakes and abuses.

As often happens at points like this in history, it may be time for some contraction in order to re-instill the Splendor of Truth. It is always wiser to work closely with the 12 and 72 before trying to deal with the 5000. If we merely attempt a sales pitch loaded with pithy statements or gather together a shallow cross section of baptized pagans on the premise of fulfill a requirement, then we will see a growth in a depth and love of the core essentials. The effect will only be that the frustration and decline will continue to grow. In this regard, we are truly at a crossroad.

As we approach the Year of Faith and are called to a New Evangelization, it is a good time to work on addressing the breakdown. Due to the fact that the faithful were not fed the substance of our Teaching for several decades, they easily have grown lax in their practice and love of the Faith. The expectation of many who were products of the 70s, 80s, and 90s is that we should do anything to keep people from leaving. But at what cost? If people in the pews do not know or live the Faith, do we call that a success? As part of the Year of Faith, an instrument should be developed that measures the Catholic quality of those in the pews. Those currently in the pews should constitute the core group. Based on this test, we can ask, “Is the core group ready for the task of Evangelization?” It may mean having fewer people for a while but it would make the New Evangelization more effective in the long run.

Tolerance or Patience

God’s Ways are not Our Ways

Looking at the world today, particularly in the American context, one cannot but notice the moral decline. As the secular dominance in the political and cultural sphere continues to expand we must acknowledge that secular humanist dominance is the reason for the decline. The irony is that much of what is problematic today is given approval in the public sphere due to the repeated calls for tolerance.

In admitting that the secular worldview permeates all levels of education and formation today, we must take into account the secular call for tolerance and the impact it has in moral formation. Forgetting the question as to wether or not the secularists actually practice tolerance themselves, the reasoning behind tolerance is to allow attitudes and behaviors to flourish without interference or guilt. As certain behaviors and attitudes spread, they can then be evaluated. But with tolerance as the primary premise, all acts and attitudes must be taken as initially neutral in the moral realm.

The danger we face as Catholics is that many believers now embrace the tolerance model as the starting point. Once indoctrinated into this worldview, the believer projects tolerance onto God. Many today subconsciously believe that God “tolerates” Sin because human beings can do no better. Even more problematic is that the worldview develops a mistaken understanding that God is indifferent toward moral evil. It is what gives rise to the many who reject the coming judgment and conclude that all will be in heaven. In the tolerant model, sin proliferates and all continue to believe that all things are equal before God.

The error is that God is not tolerant but patient. His patience is ordered toward the Salvation of the soul. The time we are given in this life is meant for conversion and the one converted must constantly seek the grace of Christ so as to live in true freedom. God’s patience is offered as our opportunity to become virtuous and overcome Sin. For many today, there is little acknowledgment of the need for spiritual growth and conversion. As Catholics, we need to recapture the language of patience and preach the coming Judgment. By emphasizing God’s patience, we can implicitly recapture the notion that His patience also has limits and will be exhausted when we reach the end of our earthly journey.


And Forgetting

Each year on the anniversary of 9/11, many pause to remember those who died tragically that day. As part of these memorials, there have been many touching tributes in which the names of the deceased are read. We all know that memories are an important part of the grieving and healing process. But memories of the deceased alone are not enough. Because tragedy is not limited to one religion, these memorials have become increasingly secular and so all we have are our memories. In the secularization process, we are now reaching an outer limit that will bring us to either hope or despair. With Christ in our memories, there is hope. Without Him, there is only despair.

How soon we forget in remembering? How many remember the full churches 11 years ago? There were no planned services… just people coming to God. In the aftermath of such a horrible tragedy, churches across the country were filled to overflowing, and rightfully so. As has been the case in every generation, the most important memorial in the light of human frailty is the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Yet in accepting the secular grieving process, we have eliminated the memorial of Jesus from the memorials planned.

If the secular continues to dominate the memorial process, is there anything other than despair left in our future?

The Altar of Sacrifice

A Consecrated Space!

The parish church of Our Lady of Victory in Floral Park New York recently underwent renovations, which included the installation of a new Altar. Last evening, the new Altar was consecrated by the bishop in a beautiful and ancient rite. At the heart of the rite is a moment when the bishop consecrates the new Altar using Sacred Chrism. In a very visual manner, everyone realizes that the new Altar is something very different and, in addition to the Altar, the chrismation is extended to the walls of the church. After attending this rite, one can easily see the reason why all Sacraments should take place in a church.

Every Catholic should attend the dedication and consecration of a church at least once in order to better appreciate the sacredness of the space where Holy Mass is celebrated. Too often today, there has been a growing complacency with regard to the church building and many people no longer recognize it as a wholly different and sacred place. Through the consecration and dedication of a church, we come to realize that a Catholic church is not just another edifice but one specifically consecrated for worship. And it is the liturgical rite of consecration that makes it clear we are entering a sacred space.

Just Wondering

In Praise of Immorality

There have been repeated interruptions of national speeches this week in which raucous applause breaks out in support of widespread and horrendous moral evils. Was I the only one horrified by this public jubilation in support blatant evils?

Pride and Joy

Georgetown’s Finest

Having watched the speech given by the pride and joy of Georgetown University School of Law at the convention, all that can be said is that the Church hierarchy should start being more direct and public with regard to Church Teaching during this very challenging period of history. Even if it were possible to pare away all the ad hominem rhetoric and impassioned speech, we would still be left with a catechetically illiterate generation in which the Truths of human existence are unimportant and summarily dismissed in any conversation on topics of morality.

In reading the “comments” people post on various news websites, there is an undeniable anger and hatred toward the Truth (and the Church) -- and it is these characteristics that were at the heart of the speech last night. In this context, should leaders in the Church speak the Truth and become the target of such anger and hatred (which it is evident we already have), we must remember that the same happened to Jesus. But speak the Truth we must!

“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and other every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” -- Matthew 5:11-12

The Hole in the Donut

The Devil Tends to Fascinate

I enjoy following some of the commentary from Fr. Robert Barron on his youtube channel. In recent weeks, he typically releases a new video about once each week. The number of hits typically levels off around 15,000, which probably represents his regular followers. However, give a video the title, “The Devil” and the number jumps by more than 10,000. Despite our fascination with the Devil, which one professor I had likened to our fascination with the hole in the donut rather than the donut itself, to understand the whole of our Faith, we do need to know more on this topic. Here is his commentary:

Fr. Benedict Groeschel

Apology Accepted

While in academic circles is it complete acceptable to speculate and ponder certain theories, I am not sure what Fr. Benedict Groeschel was thinking when he made his comments the other day regarding abuse. Yes, it is possible to theorize and even speculate but one would expect that a man with his academic credentials would realize that his comments were simply off base. I am sure his failing health played a factor and that his comments were really different than his thoughts on the matter. Fortunately he has retracted the statement and apologized for his error.

September Returns

Summer Coming to an End

After a brief hiatus for the various summer events, it is time to get the blog up to date. Among the things that happened recently, Cardinal Dolan offered the benediction at the Republican National Convention. Unfortunately, the secular stations either cut to commercial or the commentators spoke over him. For the record, he is going to give a benediction for the Democrats as well. Here it is for those who missed it: