WHY YOU CANNOT REMAIN AN EMPLOYEE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IF YOU ENTER INTO GAY MARRIAGE / RELATIONSHIP
Addressing news about a church cantor (chorister) who was terminated after entering into a gay marriage, Washington’s Cardinal Wuerl posted this on his blog:
Recently you may have heard stories in the news about how the employment of a person in public ministry at a local parish was no longer possible when he indicated that he would continue to openly live in contradiction to what the Church proclaims as true, specifically a civil “same-sex marriage.” Since mercy is at the heart of our Catholic faith, this outcome is unfortunate and I would like here to discuss the principles involved in this and other similar situations.
First, any person who struggles in trying to live according to the revealed truth of Catholic teaching should know the Church recognizes his or her dignity as created by God and that the person need not face life’s challenges apart from the grace of the Lord and his Church, which seeks only the highest good for everyone.
The Church recognizes that we all need to grow in faith and in closeness to the Lord. Simply acting contrary to Church teaching on occasion would not preclude serving as a ministerial employee or volunteer. For us to acknowledge that we are sinners, as we do, is to admit that occasionally we too have at times not lived up to the truth. On those occasions, we are expected to acknowledge our failings and seek to amend our lives in Christ.
However, if one persists or effectively insists that they are right and the Church is wrong, in the face of such irreconcilable differences it is not discrimination or punishment to say that continued ministerial service is not possible. It is not a question of personal private activity, but the social consequences of conduct which undermines the Church’s ability to fulfill her mission. When there is the potential for scandal that might lead people astray regarding the Catholic faith, continued service becomes untenable.
The purpose of our parishes, schools, ministries and other Catholic entities – “and the task of those who work for them – is to lead people to Jesus,” as I wrote last spring in my pastoral letter Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge (13). That purpose and task is challenged by a secular culture that is in contradiction to traditional concepts of marriage, family, the common good and objective right and wrong.
“Those who agree to assist the Church in her mission and ministries represent the public face of the Church,” and thus they have a special responsibility to “respect our Catholic identity and avoid behavior that contradicts the very mission of the Catholic institution” (14). The Catholic faithful, and the other people that our ministries serve, have a right to the Gospel and to receive authentic Church teaching (Redemptoris Missio, 44; Evangelii Gaudium, 14).
Conversely, people are denied that right, and our mission and Catholic identity can be compromised “either through explicit dissent, miscatechesis or personal conduct that tends to draw people away from the communion of the Church” (Being Catholic Today, 22). “When people are faithful and give good witness, they lead people to Christ. But when we give bad witness, we can lead people away from Christ” (16).
HOMILY OF ARCHBISHOP PALMER-BUCKLE AT THE 2016 DIACONATE ORDINATION CEREMONY (06-01-2016)
Sermon: My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I deliberately selected the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7, in which St. Luke the Evangelist gives us a very graphic account of how the Order of Deacons began in the early Christian Community. The Gospel for today is that of Wednesday after Epiphany.
POPE FRANCIS’ 24 VIRTUES FOR COLLABORATORS (21-12-2015)
PRESENTATION OF THE CHRISTMAS GREETINGS TO THE ROMAN CURIA
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
Monday, 21 December 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
Forgive me for not standing up as I speak to you, but for some days I’ve been suffering from a cold and not feeling too well. With your permission, I’ll speak to you sitting down.
I am pleased to offer heartfelt good wishes for a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year to you and your co-workers, to the Papal Representatives, and in particular to those who in the past year have completed their service and retired. Let us also remember all those who have gone home to God. My thoughts and my gratitude go to you and to the members of your families.
In our meeting in 2013, I wanted to stress two important and inseparable aspects of the work of the Curia: professionalism and service, and I offered Saint Joseph as a model to be imitated. Then, last year, as a preparation for the sacrament of Reconciliation, we spoke of certain temptations or maladies – the catalogue of curial diseases; today instead I would like to speak about “curial antibiotics” – which could affect any Christian, curia, community, congregation, parish or ecclesial movement. Diseases which call for prevention, vigilance, care and, sadly, in some cases, painful and prolonged interventions.
Some of these diseases became evident in the course of the past year, causing no small pain to the entire body and harming many souls, even by scandal.
It seems necessary to state what has been – and ever shall be – the object of sincere reflection and decisive provisions. The reform will move forward with determination, clarity and firm resolve, since Ecclesia semper reformanda.
Nonetheless, diseases and even scandals cannot obscure the efficiency of the services rendered to the Pope and to the entire Church by the Roman Curia, with great effort, responsibility, commitment and dedication, and this is a real source of consolation. Saint Ignatius taught that “it is typical of the evil spirit to instil remorse, sadness and difficulties, and to cause needless worry so as to prevent us from going forward; instead, it is typical of the good spirit to instil courage and energy, consolations and tears, inspirations and serenity, and to lessen and remove every difficulty so as to make us advance on the path of goodness.”
It would be a grave injustice not to express heartfelt gratitude and needed encouragement to all those good and honest men and women in the Curia who work with dedication, devotion, fidelity and professionalism, offering to the Church and the Successor of Peter the assurance of their solidarity and obedience, as well as their constant prayers.
Moreover, cases of resistance, difficulties and failures on the part of individuals and ministers are so many lessons and opportunities for growth, and never for discouragement. They are opportunities for returning to the essentials, which means being ever more conscious of ourselves, of God and our neighbours, of the sensus Ecclesiae and the sensus fidei.
It is about this return to essentials that I wish to speak today, just a few days after the Church’s inauguration of the pilgrimage of the Holy Year of Mercy, a Year which represents for her and for all of us a pressing summons to gratitude, conversion, renewal, penance and reconciliation.
Christmas is truly the feast of God’s infinite mercy, as Saint Augustine of Hippo tells us: “Could there have been any greater mercy shown to us unhappy men than that which led the Creator of the heavens to come down among us, and the Creator of the earth to take on our mortal body? That same mercy led the Lord of the world to assume the nature of a servant, so that, being himself bread, he would suffer hunger; being himself satiety, he would thirst; being himself power, he would know weakness; being himself salvation, he would experience our woundedness, and being himself life, he would die. All this he did to assuage our hunger, alleviate our longing, strengthen our weaknesses, wipe out our sins and enkindle our charity”.
Consequently, in the context of this Year of Mercy and our own preparation for the coming celebration of Christmas, I would like to present a practical aid for fruitfully experiencing this season of grace. It is by no means an exhaustive catalogue of needed virtues for those who serve in the Curia and for all those who would like to make their consecration or service to the Church more fruitful.
I would ask the Heads of Dicasteries and other superiors to ponder this, to add to it and to complete it. It is a list based on an acrostic analysis of the word Misericordia – Father Ricci did this in China – with the aim of having it serve as our guide and beacon:
- Missionary and pastoral spirit: missionary spirit is what makes the Curia evidently fertile and fruitful; it is proof of the effectiveness, efficiency and authenticity of our activity. Faith is a gift, yet the measure of our faith is also seen by the extent to which we communicate it. All baptized persons are missionaries of the Good News, above all by their lives, their work and their witness of joy and conviction. A sound pastoral spirit is an indispensable virtue for the priest in particular. It is shown in his daily effort to follow the Good Shepherd who cares for the flock and gives his life to save the lives of others. It is the yardstick for our curial and priestly work. Without these two wings we could never take flight, or even enjoy the happiness of the “faithful servant” (Mt 25:14-30).
- Idoneity and sagacity: idoneity, or suitability, entails personal effort aimed at acquiring the necessary requisites for exercising as best we can our tasks and duties with intelligence and insight. It does not countenance “recommendations” and payoffs. Sagacity is the readiness to grasp and confront situations with shrewdness and creativity. Idoneity and sagacity also represent our human response to divine grace, when we let ourselves follow the famous dictum: “Do everything as if God did not exist and then put it all in God’s hands as if you did not exist”. It is the approach of the disciple who prays to the Lord every day in the words of the beautiful Universal Prayer attributed to Pope Clement XI: “Vouchsafe to conduct me by your wisdom, to restrain me by your justice, to comfort me by your mercy, to defend me by your power. To thee I desire to consecrate all my thoughts, words, actions and sufferings; that hencefore I may think only of you, speak of you, refer all my actions to your greater glory, and suffer willingly whatever you appoint”.
- Spirituality and humanity: spirituality is the backbone of all service in the Church and in the Christian life. It is what nourishes all our activity, sustaining and protecting it from human frailty and daily temptation. Humanity is what embodies the truthfulness of our faith; those who renounce their humanity renounce everything. Humanity is what makes us different from machines and robots which feel nothing and are never moved. Once we find it hard to weep seriously or to laugh heartily – these are just two signs – we have begun our decline and the process of turning from “humans” into something else. Humanity is knowing how to show tenderness and fidelity and courtesy to all (cf. Phil 4:5). Spirituality and humanity, while innate qualities, are a potential needing to be activated fully, attained completely and demonstrated daily.
- Example and fidelity: Blessed Paul VI reminded the Curia – in 1963 – of “its calling to set an example”. An example of avoiding scandals which harm souls and impair the credibility of our witness. Fidelity to our consecration, to our vocation, always mindful of the words of Christ, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Lk 16:10) and “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes” (Mt 18:6-7).
- Reasonableness and gentleness: reasonableness helps avoid emotional excesses, while gentleness helps avoid an excess of bureaucracy, programmes and planning. These qualities are necessary for a balanced personality: “The enemy – and forgive me for quoting Saint Ignatius once again – pays careful heed to whether a soul is coarse or delicate; if it is delicate, he finds a way to make it overly delicate, in order to cause it greater distress and confusion”. Every excess is a symptom of some imbalance, be it an excess of reasoning or of delicateness.
- Innocuousness and determination: innocuousness makes us cautious in our judgments and capable of refraining from impulsive and hasty actions. It is the ability to bring out the best in ourselves, in others and in all kinds of situations by acting carefully and attentively. It consists of doing unto others what we would have them do to us (cf. Mt 7:12 and Lk 6:31). Determination is acting with a resolute will, clear vision, obedience to God and solely for the supreme law of the salus animarum (cf. CIC can. 1725).
- Charity and truth: two inseparable virtues of the Christian life, “speaking the truth in charity and practising charity in truth” (cf. Eph 4:15). To the point where charity without truth becomes a destructive ideology of complaisance and truth without charity becomes myopic legalism.
- Openness and maturity: openness is honesty and rectitude, consistency and absolute sincerity with regard both to ourselves and to God. An honest and open person does not act virtuously only when he or she is being watched; honest persons have no fear of being caught, since they never betray the trust of others. An honest person is never domineering like the “wicked servant” (cf. Mt 24:48-51), with regard to the persons or matters entrusted to his or her care. Honesty is the foundation on which all other qualities rest. Maturity is the quest to achieve balance and harmony in our physical, mental and spiritual gifts. It is the goal and outcome of a never-ending process of development which has nothing to do with age.
- Respectfulness and humility: respectfulness is an endowment of those noble and tactful souls who always try to show genuine respect for others, for their own work, for their superiors and subordinates, for dossiers and papers, for confidentiality and privacy, who can listen carefully and speak politely. Humility is the virtue of the saints and those godly persons who become all the more important as they come to realize that they are nothing, and can do nothing, apart from God’s grace (cf. Jn 15:8).
- Diligence and attentiveness: the more we trust in God and his providence, the more we grow in diligence and readiness to give of ourselves, in the knowledge that the more we give the more we receive. What good would it do to open all the Holy Doors of all the basilicas in the world if the doors of our own heart are closed to love, if our hands are closed to giving, if our homes are closed to hospitality and our churches to welcome and acceptance. Attentiveness is concern for the little things, for doing our best and never yielding to our vices and failings. Saint Vincent de Paul used to pray: “Lord, help me to be always aware of those around me, those who are worried or dismayed, those suffering in silence, and those who feel alone and abandoned”.
- Intrepidness and alertness: being intrepid means fearlessness in the face of troubles, like Daniel in the den of lions, or David before Goliath. It means acting with boldness, determination and resolve, “as a good soldier” (2 Tim 2:3-4). It means being immediately ready to take the first step, like Abraham, or Mary. Alertness, on the other hand, is the ability to act freely and easily, without being attached to fleeting material things. The Psalm says: “if riches increase, set not your heart on them” (Ps 61:10). To be alert means to be always on the go, and never being burdened by the accumulation of needless things, caught up in our own concerns and driven by ambition.
- Accountability and sobriety, finally: accountable and trustworthy persons are those who honour their commitments with seriousness and responsibility when they are being observed, but above all when they are alone; they radiate a sense of tranquillity because they never betray a trust. Sobriety – the last virtue on this list, but not because it is least important – is the ability to renounce what is superfluous and to resist the dominant consumerist mentality. Sobriety is prudence, simplicity, straightforwardness, balance and temperance. Sobriety is seeing the world through God’s eyes and from the side of the poor. Sobriety is a style of life which points to the primacy of others as a hierarchical principle and is shown in a life of concern and service towards others. The sober person is consistent and straightforward in all things, because he or she can reduce, recover, recycle, repair, and live a life of moderation.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Mercy is no fleeting sentiment, but rather the synthesis of the joyful Good News, a choice and decision on the part of all who desire to put on the “Heart of Jesus” and to be serious followers of the Lord who has asked us to “be merciful even as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Mt 5:48; Lk 6:36). In the words of Father Ermes Ronchi, “Mercy is a scandal for justice, a folly for intelligence, a consolation for us who are debtors. The debt for being alive, the debt for being loved is only repayable by mercy”.
And so may mercy guide our steps, inspire our reforms and enlighten our decisions. May it be the basis of all our efforts. May it teach us when to move forward and when to step back. May it also enable us to understand the littleness of all that we do in God’s greater plan of salvation and his majestic and mysterious working.
To help us better grasp this, let us savour the magnificent prayer, commonly attributed to Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero, but pronounced for the first time by Cardinal John Dearden:
Every now and then it helps us to take a step back
and to see things from a distance.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is also beyond our visions.
In our lives, we manage to achieve only a small part
of the marvellous plan that is God’s work.
Nothing that we do is complete,
which is to say that the Kingdom is greater than ourselves.
No statement says everything that can be said.
No prayer completely expresses the faith.
No Creed brings perfection.
No pastoral visit solves every problem.
No programme fully accomplishes the mission of the Church.
No goal or purpose ever reaches completion.
This is what it is about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that others will watch over them.
We lay the foundations of something that will develop.
We add the yeast which will multiply our possibilities.
We cannot do everything,
yet it is liberating to begin.
This gives us the strength to do something and to do it well.
It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.
It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter
and to do the rest.
It may be that we will never see its completion,
but that is the difference between the master and the labourer.
We are labourers, not master builders,
servants, not the Messiah.
We are prophets of a future that does not belong to us.
And with these thoughts and sentiments, I wish you a happy and holy Christmas, and I ask you to pray for me. Thank you.
 Spiritual Exercises, 315.
 Cf. Sermo CCVII, 1 (PL 38, 1042).
 “Missionary spirit is not only about geographical territories, but about peoples, cultures and individuals, because the “boundaries” of faith do not only cross places and human traditions, but the heart of each man and each woman. The Second Vatican Council emphasized in a special way how the missionary task, that of broadening the boundaries of faith, belongs to every baptized person and all Christian communities”, Message for World Mission Day 2013, 2.
 Missale Romanum (2002).
 PAUL VI, Address to the Roman Curia (21 September 1963): AAS 55 (1963), 793-800.
 Spiritual Exercises, 349.
 “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity… It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth” (BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate [29 June 2009], 1: AAS 101 (2009), 641); hence the need to “link charity with truth not only in the sequence, pointed out by Saint Paul, of veritas in caritate (Eph 4:15), but also in the inverse and complementary sequence of caritas in veritate. Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth” (ibid., 2).
 A style of life marked by sobriety restores “that disinterested, unselfish and aesthetic attitude that is born of wonder in the presence of being and of the beauty which enables one to see in visible things the message of the invisible God who created them” (JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Centesimus Annus [1 May 1991], 37); cf. AA.VV, Nuovi stili di vita nel tempo della globalizzazione, Fondazione Apostolicam Actuositatem, Rome, 2002.
 SAINT JOHN PAUL II, Angelus (9 July 1989): “The expression “Heart of Jesus” immediately calls to mind Christ’s humanity and emphasizes the wealth of his feelings: his compassion for the sick; his predilection for the poor; his mercy for sinners; his tenderness towards children; his strength in denouncing the hypocrisy of pride and violence; his meekness before his opponents; his zeal for the glory of the Father, and his rejoicing in the mysterious and providential plans of his grace… [it] recalls Christ’s sorrow over his betrayal by Judas, his distress due to loneliness, his anguish in the face of death, his filial and obedient abandonment into the hands of the Father. Most of all, it speaks of the love which flows unceasingly from his inmost being: infinite love for the Father and limitless love for mankind”.
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2015 CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR MESSAGE TO GHANAIANS FROM THE GHANA CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE (GCBC)
May the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!
My dear fellow Ghanaians, as we get ready to celebrate the feast of Christmas and New Year, I would like to share some reflections with you on the implications of the message of Christmas for our lives as Ghanaians.
Christmas and the Need for Peace
Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace. For us Christians, Christ is the Prince of Peace spoken of by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:6). At Christ’s birth, the angels spoke of peace: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk. 2:14). Christ, the Prince of Peace, gives his peace to this world in the Gospel of John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).
It is more than two thousand years since Christ left us physically for heaven, yet the peace that he spoke of remains an elusive phenomenon in our world today. We live in a world beset by all kinds of problems, including wars, even in the Middle East, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace.
But peace is not necessarily the absence of war. In many countries, including our own, there is no war, and yet there is no peace in homes and in families. There is no peace between brothers and sisters, between parents and children, between husbands and wives. There is no peace between rival political parties. As we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, we should remember that there is the need for us to strive to make peace a reality and not a mere dream.
A Major Obstacle to Peace: Corruption
If we wish to enjoy the peace brought by Christ, the Prince of Peace, then in the coming year we will need to tackle corruption, which is a major obstacle to peace. We cannot have peace in the country when we are engulfed by corruption. In this connection, I would like to go back to the view expressed by the Catholic Bishops in their Communique issued at the end of their Plenary Assembly in Sunyani in November 2013: “‘The love of money is the root of all evils and there are some who, pursuing it have wandered away from the faith..’ (1 Tim 6:10). This admonition of the Apostle Paul has a timely relevance for our Ghanaian society today. Money has taken the centre stage in all aspects of our life and this is having a telling effect on our society…The desire to make quick money and by whatever means possible is bringing a huge social cost and untold suffering to the poor and vulnerable in our midst. It is in this light that we note with sadness the growing inequalities in our society fueled by corruption and other forms of malfeasance in recent times”.
This admonition by the Bishops is as relevant today as it was in 2013. The love of money has given rise to unbridled corruption in our society. Corruption is found in different strata of our Ghanaian society. In this message, we shall give a few examples of this social canker.
Political corruption occurs when, in the attempt to pay back monies received from the sponsors of their electoral campaigns, politicians circumvent laid down procedures for awarding contracts or breach the tender protocols in government procurement. Corruption can also take place in the electoral process when illegal means are used to secure votes.
As the investigations of Anas Aremeyaw Anas and his Tiger Eye PI team have shown, some members of the judiciary are corrupt, allowing themselves to be influenced in their judgment by monetary considerations. Police corruption occurs when, instead of arresting offending drivers, some police officers let such people go for a fee. It is not uncommon to see our police personnel “shaking hands” with drivers at police barriers. Corruption also occurs in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) when many vehicles with all sorts of mechanical problems receive roadworthy licences from the DVLA when bribes are paid.
There is corruption also in some of our academic institutions. Today, in some instances, if one wants one’s daughter or son to get into a prestigious senior high school, one must be prepared in some cases to pay a bribe. The Computerised School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) was supposed to put an end to corruption in the admission of students to our schools. However, as the Bishops noted in their November 2015 Communique, this type of corruption continues in “a computer, programmed by a prone-to-corruption human being” who chooses schools for our students. In the senior high schools, universities and other tertiary institutions, some male lecturers offer inflated grades to female students in exchange for sex.
There is corruption also in the workplace. In Ghana today, if a young and beautiful girl goes to look for a job, she may be lucky to be offered the job without ending up in bed with the potential male employer. There are people working in offices who want bribes before they offer their services to those who go there seeking assistance.
There is corruption also in the marketplace. Corruption takes place when pharmacists and others sell fake drugs on the market and when they intentionally sell expired drugs. Corruption takes place when certain types of traditional medicines that claim to be a panacea for all illnesses are sold to a gullible and ignorant public, wreaking a lot of havoc on them. Corruption takes place at the filling stations when petrol or diesel, adulterated with kerosene or some other stuff, is sold to customers.
There is corruption also in the media. Some media practitioners become corrupt when they take money from some people or political parties to disseminate news that is untrue and which even has the potential to heighten tensions among Ghanaians. Media practitioners, both state and private, should aim at being fair, honest, objective and circumspect in their coverage and reportage.
Corruption can also be found in sports. If the allegations of the bribing of referees and players in our local football competitions are true, then they will be good examples of corruption which should be investigated.
Chieftaincy is a sacred and revered institution in our country, and our chiefs are considered custodians and repositories of traditional wisdom. However, some chiefs of late are bringing the chieftaincy institution into disrepute by the excessive love of money. Some of them can sell the same plot of land to two or more people, and this often results in endless litigation. Such a practice constitutes corruption and should be condemned.
The practice of religion has sometimes been tainted with corruption. This happens when some of its practitioners see it as a means of getting money. Some religious leaders seem to be in the ministry primarily for money. For this reason, they use all sorts of means to extort money from the congregation. Sometimes they take advantage of their gullibility and extort monies from them. Some churches do not feel obliged to render accounts to their members. This is fertile ground for corruption. Some men of God today betray the confidence reposed in them by their flock. Some women in their congregations sometimes go to them trusting that, through them, they will find solutions to their problems, whether temporal or spiritual. However, some of them betray this confidence by making advances towards the women and having sexual relations with them. This also constitutes corruption.
The message of the Bishops’ Conference to all Ghanaians is that corruption, no matter where it occurs, is evil and its practice will not bring peace to Ghanaians. We should therefore endeavour to put an end to it. If there is corruption, it is largely because people are not acting with integrity wherever they are. Let us all try to put an end to corruption so that we can enjoy the peace that Christ has given to us.
In conclusion, it is the prayer of the Bishops’ Conference that Christ, the Prince of Peace, who brought joy during the first Christmas to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the angels, will bring you joy and peace. It is also our prayer that the coming year will be filled with joy and peace for each and every one of you as you endeavour to serve the Lord. May the joy of the first Christmas and of this Christmas be in your hearts always and may you forever share in the peace of Christ, the Prince of Peace.
On behalf of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, I wish you all a happy Christmas and a blessed New Year!
MOST REV. JOSEPH OSEI-BONSU,
PRESIDENT, GHANA CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE,
AND BISHOP OF KONONGO-MAMPONG.
HOW WE KNOW JESUS WAS BORN ON 25TH DECEMBER – THE WHOLE TRUTH
The Catholic Church, from at least the second century, has claimed that Christ was born on December 25. However, it is commonly alleged that our Lord Jesus Christ was not born on December 25. For the sake of simplicity, let us set out the usual objections to the date of December 25 and counter each of them.
OBJECTION 1: December 25 was chosen in order to replace the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a popular winter festival and so the Catholic Church prudently substituted Christmas in its place.
REPLY TO OBJECTION 1: Saturnalia commemorated the winter solstice. Yet the winter solstice falls on December 22. It is true that Saturnalia celebrations began as early as December 17 and extended till December 23. Still, the dates don’t match up.
OBJECTION 2: December 25 was chosen to replace the pagan Roman holiday Natalis Solis Invicti which means “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.”
REPLY TO OBJECTION 2: Let us examine first the cult of the Unconquered Sun. The Emperor Aurelian introduced the cult of the Sol Invictus or Unconquered Sunto Rome in A.D. 274. Aurelian found political traction with this cult, because his own name Aurelianderives from the Latin word aurora denoting “sunrise.” Coins reveal that Emperor Aurelian called himself the Pontifex Solis or Pontiff of the Sun. Thus, Aurelian simply accommodated a generic solar cult and identified his name with it at the end of the third century.
Most importantly, there is no historical record for a celebration Natalis Sol Invictus on December 25 prior to A.D. 354. Within an illuminated manuscript for the year A.D. 354, there is an entry for December 25 reading “N INVICTI CM XXX.” Here N means “nativity.” INVICTI means “of the Unconquered.” CM signifies “circenses missus” or “games ordered.” The Roman numeral XXX equals thirty. Thus, the inscription means that thirty games were order for the nativity of the Unconquered for December 25th. Note that the word “sun” is not present. Moreover, the very same codex also lists “natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae” for the day of December 25. The phrase is translated as “birth of Christ in Bethlehem of Judea.”[i]
The date of December 25th only became the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” under the Emperor Julian the Apostate. Julian the Apostate had been a Christian but who had apostatized and returned to Roman paganism. History reveals that it was the hateful former Christian Emperor that erected a pagan holiday on December 25. Think about that for a moment. What was he trying to replace?
These historical facts reveal that the Unconquered Sun was not likely a popular deity in the Roman Empire. The Roman people did not need to be weaned off of a so-called ancient holiday. Moreover, the tradition of a December 25th celebration does not find a place on the Roman calendar until after the Christianization of Rome. The “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” holiday was scarcely traditional and hardly popular. Saturnalia (mentioned above) was much more popular, traditional, and fun. It seems, rather, that Julian the Apostate had attempted to introduce a pagan holiday in order to replace the Christian one!
OBJECTION 3: Christ could not have been born in December since Saint Luke describes shepherds herding in the neighboring fields of Bethlehem. Shepherds do not herd during the winter. Thus, Christ was not born in winter.
REPLY TO OBJECTION 3: Recall that Palestine is not England, Russia, or Alaska. Bethlehem is situated at the latitude of 31.7. My city of Dallas, Texas has the latitude of 32.8, and it’s still rather comfortable outside in December. As the great Cornelius a Lapide remarks during his lifetime, one could still see shepherds and sheep in the fields of Italy during late December, and Italy is at higher latitude than Bethlehem.
SO WHY 25TH DECEMBER
- I) FROM THE BIBLE ITSELF: Now we move on to establishing the birthday of Christ from Sacred Scripture in two steps. The first step is to use Scripture to determine the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. The next step is using Saint John the Baptist’s birthday as the key for finding Christ’s birthday. We can discover that Christ was born in late December by observing first the time of year in which Saint Luke describes Saint Zacharias in the temple. This provides us with the approximate conception date of Saint John the Baptist. From there we can follow the chronology that Saint Luke gives, and that lands us at the end of December.
Saint Luke reports that Zacharias served in the “course of Abias” (Lk 1:5) which Scripture records as the eighth course among the twenty-four priestly courses (Neh 12:17). Each shift of priests served one week in the temple for two times each year. The course of Abias served during the eighth week and the thirty-second week in the annual cycle.[ii]However, when did the cycle of courses begin?
Josef Heinrich Friedlieb has convincingly established that the first priestly course of Jojarib was on duty during the destruction of Jerusalem on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av.[iii]Thus the priestly course of Jojarib was on duty during the second week of Av. Consequently, the priestly course of Abias (the course of Saint Zacharias) was undoubtedly serving during the second week of the Jewish month of Tishri—the very week of the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of Tishri. In our calendar, the Day of Atonement would land anywhere from September 22 to October 8.
Zacharias and Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist immediately after Zacharias served his course. This entails that Saint John the Baptist would have been conceived somewhere around the end of September, placing John’s birth at the end of June, confirming the Catholic Church’s celebration of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24.
The second-century Protoevangelium of Saint James also confirms a late September conception of the Baptist since the work depicts Saint Zacharias as High Priest and as entering the Holy of Holies—not merely the holy place with the altar of incense. This is a factual mistake because Zacharias was not the high priest, but one of the chief priests.[iv]Still, the Protoevangelium regards Zacharias as a high priest and this associates him with the Day of Atonement, which lands on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishri (roughly the end of our September). Immediately after this entry into the temple and message of the Archangel Gabriel, Zacharias and Elizabeth conceive John the Baptist. Allowing for forty weeks of gestation, this places the birth of John the Baptist at the end of June—once again confirming the Catholic date for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24.
- II) FROM BIOLOGICAL CALCULATIONS: The rest of the dating is rather simple. We read that just after the Immaculate Virgin Mary conceived Christ, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. This means that John the Baptist was six months older that our Lord Jesus Christ (Lk 1:24-27, 36). If you add six months to June 24 you get December 24-25 as the birthday of Christ. Then, if you subtract nine months from December 25 you get that the Annunciation was March 25. All the dates match up perfectly. So then, if John the Baptist was conceived shortly after the Jewish Day of the Atonement, then the traditional Catholic dates are essentially correct. The birth of Christ would be about or on December 25.
III) FROM MARY HERSELF: Sacred Tradition also confirms December 25 as the birthday of the Son of God. The source of this ancient tradition is the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. Ask any mother about the birth of her children. She will not only give you the date of the birth, but she will be able to rattle off the time, the location, the weather, the weight of the baby, the length of the baby, and a number of other details. I’m the father of six blessed children, and while I sometimes forget these details—mea maxima culpa—my wife never does. You see, mothers never forget the details surrounding the births of their babies.
Now ask yourself: Would the Blessed Virgin Mary ever forget the birth of her Son Jesus Christ who was conceived without human seed, proclaimed by angels, born in a miraculous way, and visited by Magi? She knew from the moment of His incarnation in her stainless womb that He was the Son of God and Messiah. Would she ever forget that day?[v]
Next, ask yourself: Would the Apostles be interested in hearing Mary tell the story? Of course they would. Do you think the holy Apostle who wrote, “And the Word was made flesh,” was not interested in the minute details of His birth? Even when I walk around with our seven-month-old son, people always ask “How old is he?” or “When was he born?” Don’t you think people asked this question of Mary?
So the exact birth date (December 25) and the time (midnight) would have been known in the first century. Moreover, the Apostles would have asked about it and would have, no doubt, commemorated the blessed event that both Saint Matthew and Saint Luke chronicle for us. In summary, it is completely reasonable to state that the early Christians both knew and commemorated the birth of Christ. Their source would have been His Immaculate Mother.
- IV) FROM EARLY CHURCH FATHERS: Further testimony reveals that the Church Fathers claimed December 25 as the Birthday of Christ prior to the conversion of Constantine and the Roman Empire. The earliest record of this is that Pope Saint Telesphorus (reigned A.D. 126-137) instituted the tradition of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Although the Liber Pontificalis does not give us the date of Christmas, it assumes that the Pope was already celebrating Christmas and that a Mass at midnight was added. During this time, we also read the following words of Theophilus (A.D. 115-181), Catholic bishop of Caesarea in Palestine: “We ought to celebrate the birthday of Our Lord on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen.”[vi]
Shortly thereafter in the second century, Saint Hippolytus (A.D. 170-240) wrote in passing that the birth of Christ occurred on December 25:The First Advent of our Lord in the flesh occurred when He was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th, a Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, which is five thousand and five hundred years from Adam. He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25th, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls.[vii]
Also note in the quote above the special significance of March 25, which marks the death of Christ (March 25 was assumed to corresponded to the Hebrew month Nisan 14 – the traditional date of crucifixion).[viii] Christ, as the perfect man, was believed to have been conceived and died on the same day—March 25. In his Chronicon, Saint Hippolytus states that the earth was created on March 25, 5500 B.C. Thus, March 25 was identified by the Church Fathers as the Creation date of the universe, as the date of the Annunciation and Incarnation of Christ, and also as the date of the Death of Christ our Savior.
In the Syrian Church, March 25 or the Feast of the Annunciation was seen as one of the most important feasts of the entire year. It denoted the day that God took up his abode in the womb of the Virgin. In fact, if the Annunciation and Good Friday came into conflict on the calendar, the Annunciation trumped it, so important was the day in Syrian tradition. It goes without saying that the Syrian Church preserved some of the most ancient Christian traditions and had a sweet and profound devotion for Mary and the Incarnation of Christ.
Now then, March 25 was enshrined in the early Christian tradition, and from this date it is easy to discern the date of Christ’s birth. March 25 (Christ conceived by the Holy Ghost) plus nine months brings us to December 25 (the birth of Christ at Bethlehem).
Saint Augustine confirms this tradition of March 25 as the Messianic conception and December 25 as His birth:
For Christ is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.[ix]
In about A.D. 400, Saint Augustine also noted how the schismatic Donatists celebrated December 25 as the birth of Christ, but that the schismatics refused to celebrate Epiphany on January 6, since they regarded Epiphany as a new feast without a basis in Apostolic Tradition. The Donatist schism originated in A.D. 311 which may indicate that the Latin Church was celebrating a December 25 Christmas (but not a January 6 Epiphany) before A.D. 311. Whichever is the case, the liturgical celebration of Christ’s birth was commemorated in Rome on December 25 long before Christianity became legalized and long before our earliest record of a pagan feast for the birthday of the Unconquered Sun. For these reasons, it is reasonable and right to hold that Christ was born on December 25 in 1 B.C. and that he died and rose again in March of A.D. 33.
Source: Dr. Taylor Marshall
[i] The Chronography of AD 354. Part 12: Commemorations of the Martyrs. MGH Chronica Minora I (1892), pp. 71-2.
[ii] I realize that there are two courses of Abias. This theory only works if Zacharias and Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist after Zacharias’ second course – the course in September. If Saint Luke refers to the first course, this then would place the birth of John the Baptist in late Fall and the birth of Christ in late Spring. However, I think tradition and the Protoevangelium substantiate that the Baptist was conceived in late September.
[iii] Josef Heinrich Friedlieb’s Leben J. Christi des Erlösers. Münster, 1887, p. 312.
[iv] The Greek tradition especially celebrates Saint Zacharias as “high priest.” Nevertheless, Acts 5:24 reveals that there were several “chief priests” (ἀρχιερεῖς), and thus the claim that Zacharias was a “high priest” may not indicate a contradiction. The Greek tradition identifies Zacharias as an archpriest and martyr based on the narrative of the Protoevangelium of James and Matthew 23:35: “That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar.” (Matthew 23:35)
[v] A special thanks to the Reverend Father Phil Wolfe, FSSP for bringing the “memory of Mary” argument to my attention.
[vi] Magdeburgenses, Cent. 2. c. 6. Hospinian, De origine Festorum Chirstianorum.
[vii] Saint Hippolytus of Rome, Commentary on Daniel.
[viii] There is some discrepancy in the Fathers as to whether Nisan 14/March 25 marked the death of Christ or his resurrection.
[ix] Saint Augustine, De trinitate, 4, 5.
Catholic communion is only for Catholics – cardinal Sarah
Earlier this month, Pope Francis stirred controversy when he expressed comments about intercommunion while addressing a gathering of Lutherans in Rome.
Responding to a question from a non-Italian Lutheran woman who voiced her regret that she couldn’t receive Holy Communion with her Catholic husband, the pope said that while he would never dare give permission for her to receive the Eucharist because it’s not his competence or jurisdiction, he said she should “talk to the Lord and then go forward.”
Owing to confusion over the pope’s words, we asked Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, for their opinion on the matter.
Cardinal Sarah offered initial comment, saying: “Intercommunion is not permitted between Catholics and non-Catholics. You must confess the Catholic Faith. A non-Catholic cannot receive Communion. That is very, very clear. It’s not a matter of following your conscience.”
His Eminence also responded to several questions:
1. Could a priest give Holy Communion to both husband and wife if he knows one is Catholic and one is not?
No, we give Communion to Catholics. Many priests have told me: “I give Communion to everybody.” It’s nonsense.
Sometimes, an Anglican who is very far away from his church for a very long period of time and who desires to receive Communion, can participate in Mass and receive Communion in the Catholic Church, where there is no sin, and he is properly married. Because they believe in the Eucharist, even if in the Anglican church is it not actually the Eucharist because there is no priesthood. But it is rare and would happen under very exceptional circumstances. This is something extraordinary and not ordinary.
But a Catholic cannot receive communion in the Anglican church, because there is no Communion; there is only bread. The bread is not consecrated, because the priest is not a priest. With the break of Henry VIII with the Catholic Church, priestly orders in the Anglican Church became null and void. So the consecration isn’t valid, and therefore it’s not the Eucharist.
And a wife who is Lutheran, or Anglican, and who is married to a Catholic man? If they go to Mass on Sunday, is it ever possible for her to receive Communion?
On the day of their marriage, the priest gave Communion to the Catholic husband and not to the Lutheran or Anglican wife. It’s the same if they go to Mass together, because there is no intercommunion: between Anglicans and Catholics, between Catholics and Protestants. If they go to Mass together, the Catholic can go to Communion but the Lutheran or Anglican cannot.
2. If we’re not unified in faith and doctrine, do you think opening the doors to intercommunion would undermine belief in the True Presence?
I think it would promote profanation. We cannot do this. It’s not that I have to talk to the Lord in order to know if I should go to Communion. No, I have to know if I’m in accord with the rule of the Church. It’s my conscience that says: “Go.” My conscience must be enlightened by the rule of the Church, which says that in order to communicate, I need to be in the state of grace, without sin, and have the faith of the Catholic Church. … It’s not a personal desire or a personal dialogue with Jesus that determines if I can receive Communion in the Catholic Church. How can I know that the Lord has really said: “Come and receive my Body.” No. A person cannot decide if he is able to receive Communion. He has to have the rule of the Church: i.e., being a Catholic, being in a state of grace, properly married [if married].
3. But some would say that opening the doors to intercommunion would be a way for the spouses to become more one?
But the Lord helps us to be one if we receive Him correctly. If not, it doesn’t create unity. We will eat our condemnation. St. Paul says: “Let a man examine himself … for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). Therefore, we don’t succeed in becoming one if they partake with sin, with disregard for the Body of Christ.
COMMENTS ALSO FROM BISHOP SCHNEIDER
Bishop Schneider was similarly forthright about the issue, saying the Church must be “very clear with the Protestants, not hiding anything.”
“We read in the Second Vatican Council document that real ecumenism is not irenicism, but sincere dialogue in which we hide nothing of our identity.” He added that any gesture which is “not clear, not sincere, and ambiguous will never help true ecumenism” on “every level.”
He said “pastors and shepherds” have to be “very careful” in their pronouncements not to “create ambiguity and confusion among the people,” leading them to believe that “Catholic and Protestant doctrine are basically the same, with only minor differences.”
“This is not true. It does not respond to reality or to the Gospel. All the truths of the Catholic Church are the truths of the Gospel. And those Catholic doctrines which Protestants deny are against the Gospel. We have to speak clearly.”
Regarding the pope’s words to the Lutheran woman, he also said it’s important not to exaggerate the infallibility of the popes. In his usual gestures and expressions, the pope doesn’t intend to “oblige, or to impose” the faithful to believe what he is expressing.
“I am convinced that Pope Francis is not against when someone says to him: ‘Holy Father, I do not agree with this expression. You have not said you oblige me to accept this, because it is not your intention to speak definitively. So we can be in a reverent dialogue with you to clear up these issues.’”
He added: “I think we need to be in a climate of dialogue which is free of intimidation. Otherwise, this will be an atmosphere of dictatorship, and I think Pope Francis does not like to be considered as creating an atmosphere of inquisition, dictatorship or persecution of someone who expresses reasoned thoughts and opinions.”
Pope Francis’ homily at mass at Bangui cathedral (29-11-2015)
On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s hurts. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness.
But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to “go across to the other side” (cf. Lk 8:22).
Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, he asks us to make the crossing with him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realize that making this crossing can only be done with him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is “good [and] instructs sinners in the way” (Ps 24:8). Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Those who evangelize must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to “cross to the other side” – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that he is in the boat with us. As he did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts his gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming his reassuring words: “Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer 33:14).
In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission. First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice. Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due. Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice (cf. Jer 33:15). He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings. And he sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it shall be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jer 33:16). Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice. This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.
The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love. In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8). In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God who is love. In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and woman, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realize that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great. For this reason I echo the prayer of Saint Paul: “Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women” (1 Th 3:12). Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: “See how they love one another, how they truly love one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7).
Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail. After announcing to his disciples the terrible signs that will precede his coming, Jesus concludes: “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). If Saint Paul can speak of a love which “grows and overflows”, it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel. It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show his great power, his incomparable glory (cf. Lk 21:27) and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love [and peace]!
To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens. May the Lord deign to “strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Th 3:13). [Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Love. Peace.] Amen.
PASTORAL RESPONSE TO PORNOGRAPHY
“A clean heart create for me God.” (Ps 51:12)
As pastors of the Catholic Church, we offer this statement to give a word of hope and healing to those who have been harmed by pornography and to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms.
In the confessional and in our daily ministry and work with families, we have seen the corrosive damage caused by pornography-children whose innocence is stolen; men and women who feel great guilt and shame for viewing pornography occasionally or habitually; spouses who feel betrayed and traumatized; and men, women and children exploited by the pornography industry. While the production and use of pornography has always been a problem, in recent years its impact has grown exponentially, in large part due to the Internet and mobile technology. Some have even described it as a public health crisis. Everyone, in some way, is affected by increased pornography use in society. We all suffer negative consequences from its distorted view of the human person and sexuality. As bishops, we are called to proclaim anew the abundant mercy and healing of God found in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and through his Church.
The audience of this statement is broad because pornography affects so many people’s lives and requires a collaborative, concentrated effort by all of us to counter its harms. The statement itself is addressed primarily to parents, clergy, diocesan and parish leaders, educators, mental health professionals, and all those in positions to help protect children from pornography and heal the men, women, and young people who have been harmed by its use. We also hope the statement will be helpful for men, women, and young people who themselves view pornography, whether occasionally or habitually, or who have been victimized by pornography. Finally, we speak to religious allies and all people of good will who want to work together toward a culture of purity that upholds the dignity of every person and the sacredness of human sexuality.
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POPE FRANCIS ON MINISTRY AND LIFE OF PRIESTS
Pope Francis on Friday (20-11-2015) spoke to a conference marking the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s decrees on the ministry and life of priests and on priestly training, noting priests’ role as coming from the community and being for the community.
The conference on Presbyterorum ordinis and Optatam totius was organized by the Congregation for the Clergy, and Pope Francis began his Nov. 20 address calling the two decrees “a seed, which the Council sowed in the life of the Church,” and which have “become a vigorous plant.”
He noted the importance of the Congregation for the Clergy having competence over seminary formation (an innovation of Benedict XVI), because “in this way the dicastery can start to deal with the live and ministry of priests from the moment of their entrance into seminary, working to ensure that vocations are promoted and cared for, and may blossom into the lives of holy priests. The path of sanctity of a priest begins in seminary!”
Pope Francis began his address, delivered in the Vatican’s Sala Regia, from “ the relationship between priests and other people … given that the vocation to the priesthood is a gift that God gives to some for the good of all.”
He reflected on Presbyterorum ordinis’ use of a text from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Priests, who are taken from among men and ordained for men in the things that belong to God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, nevertheless live on earth with other men as brothers amid brothers,” and urged: “Let us consider these three moments: ‘taken from among men’, ‘ordained for men’, and ‘present among other men’.”
A priest, Pope Francis said, “is a man who is born in a certain human context: there he learns the primary values, absorbs the spirituality of the people, grows accustomed to relations.”
“Priests also have a history, they are not ‘mushrooms’ which sprout up suddenly in the cathedral on the day of their ordination.”
“It is important for formators and priests themselves to remember this and to know how to take into account this personal history along the path of formation … this means that one cannot become a priest, believing that one has been formed in a laboratory, no; he starts in the family with the ‘handing on’ of the faith and with all the experiences of the family.” He added that each vocation is personalized, “because it is the concrete person who is called to discipleship and the priesthood.”
The Pope added that the family, the domestic Church, is the “center of pastoral work” and the “firest and fundamental place of human formation, which can germinate in young people the desire for a life concieved as a vocational path, to be trod with commitment and generosity.”
“A good priest, therefore, is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history, with its riches and its wounds, who has learned to make peace with this, achieving the fundamental serenity proper to one of the Lord’s disciples. Human formation is therefore a necessity for priests, so that they learn not to be dominate by their limits, but rather to put their talents to use.”
A priest is “a man at peace” who diffuses serenity, “even at strenuous moments, transmitting the beauty of a relationship with the Lord.”
“We priests are apostles of joy: we announce the Gospel, which is the quintessential ‘good news’; we certainly do not give strength to the Gospel … but we can favour or hinder the encounter between the Gospel and people. Our humanity is the ‘earthen vessel’ in which we conserve God’s treasure, a vessel we must take care of, so as to transmit well its precious contents.”
The Pope urged priests against “loosing their roots”: a priest “always remains a man of the people and the culture that have produced him; our roots help us to remember who we are and to where Christ has called us. We priests do not fall from above but are instead called by God, who takes us ‘from among men’, to ‘ordain us for men’.”
The second point, Pope Francis stated, is ‘for men’: “This is fundamental point in the life and ministry of priests. Responding to God’s call, we become priests to serve our brothers and sisters. The images of Christ we take as a point of reference for our ministry as priests are clear: he is the ‘high priest’, at the same time close to God and close to man; he is the ‘servant’, who washes the feet and makes himself close to the weakest; and he is the ‘good shepherd’, who always cares for his flock.”
These three images, the Pope reflected, show that “we are not priests for ourselves, and our own sanctification is closely linked to that of our people, our anointment with theirs. You have been anointed for your people. Knowing and remembering that we are ordained for the people, the holy people of God, helps priests not to think of themselves, to be authoritative, not authoritarian; firm but not hard; joyful but not superficial: in short, pastors, not functionaries.”
He recalled that “St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, said: ‘Where there is mercy, there is the spirit of the Lord; where there is rigidity there are only his ministers’. The minister without the Lord becomes rigid, and this is a peril for the people of God. Pastors, not functionaries.”
The mission of priests benefit “the people of God and all humanity,” Pope Francis said, adding that “human formation, as well as intellectual and spiritual formation, flow naturally into pastoral formation, providing tools, virtues, and personal dispositions. When all this harmonizes and blends with a genuine missionary zeal, along the path of a lifetime, the priest can fulfil the mission entrusted by Christ to his Church.”
“Finally, what is born with the people must stay with the people. The priests is always ‘among other men’: he is not a professional of pastoral ministry or evangelisation, who arrives and does what he has to do – perhaps well, but as if it were a profession like any other – before then going away and living a life apart. One becomes a priest in order to stay in the midst of the people,” he said.
Pope Francis then reflected on the particular ministry of bishops, saying that one can often hear priests complaining that he called his bishop with a problem, and “the secretary, the secretary told me he is very busy … he cannot see me for three months.”
In response to such a situation, Pope Francis had two pieces of advice for bishops: have time for your priests, and spend time in your diocese.
“A bishop is always busy, thanks be to God, but if you, a bishop, receive a call from a priest and cannot take it because you have so much work, at least pick up the phone and call him and say: ‘Is it urgent? Not urgent? Well, come this day …’, so that you feel close. There are bishops who seem to move away from priests … Proximity, at least one phone call! This is the love of a father, fraternity.”
His second point for bishops, spend time in your diocese, he demonstrated by caricaturing a bishop saying, “No, I have a conference in that city and then I have a trip to America, and then …” But Pope Francis reminded them that “look, the decree of residence of Trent is still valid! And if you do not like to remain in the diocese, resign, and travel the world doing another very good apostolate. But if you’re the bishop of that diocese, have residence there. These two things, proximity and residence. But this is for us bishops! One becomes a priest in order to say in the midst of the people.”
“The good that priests can do arises above all from their closeness and their tender love for people. They are not philanthropists or functionaries, but fathers and brothers. The fatherhood of a priest does so much good,” Pope Francis said.
He reflected on how priests are called to make concrete God’s love for the people, and turned to Confession.
“Always you can find ways to give absolution. This is good. But sometimes, you cannot absolve. There are priests who say: ‘No, this I cannot absolve, go away’. This is not the way. If you cannot give absolution, explain and say: ‘God loves you very much, God wishes you well. To come to God there are so many ways. I cannot give you absolution, but I give you a blessing. But return, always return here, for whenever you return I will give you a blessing as a sign that God loves you’. And the man or the woman goes away full of joy because they have found an icon of the Father, who never refuses; in one way or another, they have been embraced.”
The Pope then offered as an examination of conscience for priests, to ask “Where is my heart? Among the people, praying with and for the people, involved in their joys and sufferings, or rather among the things of the world, worldly affairs, my private space?”
He concluded his address by calling the conference to offer its work to the Church as a useful reflection on Vatican II’s words on the priesthood, “contributing to the formation of priests … configured always to the Lord.”
PRAYING FOR THE DEAD – WHERE IT IS IN THE BIBLE
Mere reason suggests there must be a purgatory. So many people seem to be good, but not so greatly good that they should be for Heaven at once. Again, not nearly all are so evil as to deserve Hell. So there should be a means of purification and paying the debt of temporal punishment for those not for Hell, nor for Heaven at once.
For many Catholics in English-speaking lands, belief in the ability of the living to help the dead through prayer and sacrifices often falls prey to cultural suspicion about the Church’s belief in Purgatory because most English-speaking Catholics live in countries whose culture is primarily Protestant. As a rule, Protestant Christians believe neither in Purgatory nor in the living person’s ability to be of assistance to the deceased. This is because at the time of the Protestant Reformation, among numerous other texts, Martin Luther removed from the Bible that section which teaches that there is great value in praying for the dead.
The text reads, “He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the Resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin” (2 Mac 12:43-6). This text from Maccabbees, which Protestant bibles do not contain, conveys the scriptural basis for the Church’s belief that some of those who have died who will be saved have not yet achieved heaven (i.e. they are in Purgatory), and that the living can provide help for those souls by performing prayers and sacrifices.
Catholic faith holds that we can indeed continue to care, help and express generosity toward people even after they have died through prayer. Because the Book of Maccabbees ranks among those texts that Luther been [sic] edited out of the scriptural canon, Protestantism is bereft of this consoling ingredient of our Christian patrimony. In Christian lands that are primarily Protestant, the Protestant sense of the futility of praying for the dead has easily entered into the popular consciousness, regrettably causing even some Catholics to question the practice. It behooves pastors not only to clarify this belief for their flocks, but to encourage the growth of the Catholic observance of praying for the dead and in particular, of offering Masses of the dead.
It must be acknowledged that the Church has a very limited understanding of the specifics related to Purgatory, yet Church teaching on the existence of Purgatory is made clear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church , articles 1030-32, which begins with “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (1030). The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned (1031) .
Ancient Christians believed in the practice of praying for the dead. Many locations in the ancient catacombs reveal passages marked into the walls reminding the living to pray for the dead. St Monica begged her son, St Augustine, to pray for her after her own death. In 1439, the Second Council of Florence acknowledged that some souls must still expiate for past sins after their death and they do so in Purgatory. The 16th-century Council of Trent, legislated “that purgatory exists, and that the souls detained therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar”.
Catholic faith is unambiguous in its belief that those who die without mortal sin but with many of life’s imperfections still unhealed will experience a time of perfect healing from sin and brokenness and a time for whatever expiation from sin the merciful God requires of a soul before that soul may enter Heaven. Further, the Church has been clarifying for centuries that prayers, sacrifices and most particularly, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, are of assistance to those souls who are in Purgatory.
Several extracts from the Mass reveal the Church as she understands her ability to be of help to the dead. In the First Eucharistic Prayer at Mass we pray: “Remember also, Lord, your servants N. and N., who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace. Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light, and peace. (Through Christ our Lord. Amen)” The Second Eucharistic Prayer reads: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the Resurrection and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face”. When Eucharistic Prayer 3 is used in Masses for the Dead, the following is prayed: “To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom. There we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord through whom you bestow on the world all that is good”. Each of these liturgical prayers officially acknowledges that some of the dead who will be saved are not yet in Heaven and that the Church’s prayers are helpful to them.
The understanding then, that prayers, sacrifices and particularly the offering of the Mass helps the souls in Purgatory, prompts one to ask why in the world a Catholic would choose to memorialize a deceased person by making a gift of flowers or a charitable contribution to an agency instead of arranging to have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered for that person’s soul. Certainly flowers provide solace for the survivors, and the Church urges all toward acts of charity, so these are good and holy gestures that should not be eliminated. But they should not run competition with the pious practice of having Masses offered for the dead as well. The greatest favor anyone can make to a deceased person is to have the Mass offered for them; nothing surpasses this in efficacy.
The Catholic Church always Commemorate the feast of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls day) on November 2, it is especially important to recall the Church’s teaching that there is indeed a Purgatory in which the souls of the saved but imperfect are awaiting the fulfillment of their purification and healing, and that these souls can be greatly helped by the prayers, sacrifices and Masses offered by the living. This is an aspect of the Catholic patrimony that must not be forgotten or de-emphasized. Justice demands that our brothers and sisters in the faith who have died find in us faithful friends who acknowledge that It is indeed a good and pious thing to pray for the dead.
May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God always rest in peace. Amen