By Msgr. Charles Pope • Community in Mission:
My yoke is easy.
A familiar Gospel gives us a short theological teaching on suffering and the cross:
Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matt 11:28-30).
On reading a passage like this, two problematic reactions are possible. One is to react resentfully, thinking, “There’s nothing light or easy about the burdens I have to carry!” Another is to simplistically conclude that if one just follows Jesus, all one’s troubles will vanish. This is a recipe for future disappointment and resentment.
Both of these reactions should be avoided. Jesus gives us here a balanced teaching on the role of suffering and the cross that is best understood in its subtleties.
I. There is a yoke and there is a burden in following Jesus
Jesus uses these very images; He does not exclude them. A burden is a weight that must be carried. We do not grow or gain in strength by reclining on a couch. We grow and gain in strength by carrying the weight of our duties. Burdens, though unpleasant, are necessary for growth.
A yoke is a device that helps us to carry our burdens. Consider an ox pulling a wagon. A rope around its neck would kill it, and so a wooden truss is built to distribute the weight across the front of its body. Some yokes permit two oxen to pull a load together. Horses sometimes wear a leather yoke that goes around their midsection. People who transport water from wells seldom carry pails with their hands as it is too painful for any extended period of time. Instead, they use a wooden beam, carved to fit their shoulders, with pails hanging from it.
A yoke does not lighten the load; it just makes it easier to carry. Jesus indicates that we who would follow Him will not have a life that is free of burdens; there areburdens and thus there is the need for a yoke.
II. His yoke is “easy”
The common English translation of “easy” fails to capture the subtlety of what the Lord is conveying. The Greek word use is χρηστὸς (chrestos), and it refers to what is suitable, useful, well-fitted, or beneficial—not merely “easy.”
Consider how old shoes can be a blessing because they fit us perfectly; new shoes sometimes cause blisters until they (and our feet) adjust to each another. A good carpenter would work carefully to craft the yoke to the contours of the animal or to the shoulders of a human being. Only after these adjustments would the yoke be said to be chrestos (well-fitting).
One can almost picture Jesus, as a carpenter, doing this sort of work quite frequently. One can also whimsically imagine a sign hanging outside Jesus’ shop: “Well-Fitting Yokes Sold Here!”
Spiritually, Jesus is indicating in this text that while He does have a yoke (or cross) for us; it is suitable for us and will bring benefit. The burdens and yokes He has for us are not suffering merely for the sake of suffering. If carried and accepted with faith, they will benefit us. Each of us needs certain yokes and burdens, crosses and sufferings, in order to grow, be humbled, and gain wisdom. The Lord has crafted these yokes and burdens for us carefully. They are for good, not ill; for growth, not diminishment.
III. My yoke, my burden
Jesus is careful to refer to “my yoke” and “my burden.” For indeed, not every suffering we endure is from Him.
Frankly, we pile a lot of extra burdens on ourselves that He neither wills for us nor wants for us. Surely our sins bring us extra burdens, but beyond this there are many things that are good in and of themselves but which are not what God asked us to do.
Some of us undertake projects and efforts that are good and beneficial to others, but we do not ask God if it is His will that we do them. Perhaps God would tell us that He has other things for us to do, that He doesn’t want us to spend time doing things He has reserved for others and then end up not being able to do what He has designed for us.
And thus we must discern carefully what the true yokes and burdens are for us. God gives us the strength for those yokes and burdens, not for the yokes and burdens of our own design.
The Meanest Thing Jesus Ever Said
The Gospel from Wednesday’s Mass (Wed. of the 33rd Week – Luke 19:11-27) is known as the “Parable of the Ten Gold Coins.” It has an ending so shocking that, when I read it at Mass some years ago, a young child said audibly to her mother, “Wow, that’s mean!”
I’d like to look at it and ponder its shocking ending.
Today’s parable is like Matthew’s “Parable of the Talents,” but with some significant differences. In today’s parable, ten people each receive one gold coin. We only hear the reports of three of them (as in the Matthean account): two who show a profit and one who shows none.
Another difference is the interweaving of another parable (let’s call it the “Parable of the Rejected King”) within the story. Here is a shortened version, including the shocking ending:
A nobleman went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return. His fellow citizens, however, despised him and sent a delegation after him to announce, “We do not want this man to be our king.” But when he returned after obtaining the kingship … [he said] “Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me” (Luke 19:12,14, 27-28).
In analyzing a text like this I must say that I was disappointed at the silence of most commentaries with respect to this ending. The shocking phrase “slay them before me” goes largely unremarked.
The Church Fathers seem to say little about it. I was, however, able to find two references in St. Thomas Aquinas’s Catena Aurea. St. Augustine said of this verse, Whereby He describes the ungodliness of the Jews who refused to be converted to Him. Theophilus wrote, Whom he will deliver to death, casting them into the outer fire. But even in this world they were most miserably slain by the Roman army.
Hence both Fathers take the verse at face value, even declaring it historically fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Josephus indicated in his work that 1.2 million Jews were killed in that dreadful war.
Historically fulfilled or not, Jesus’s triumphal and vengeful tone still puzzles me. If this verse does refer to the destruction of 70 A.D., then how do we account for Jesus’s tone here when just a few verses later He wept over Jerusalem?
As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Lk 19:41-44).
Certainly a variety of emotions can sweep over even the God-man Jesus, but let me also suggest some other contextual and cultural considerations that frame Jesus’s startling and “mean” words (Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me).
1. Jesus was speaking in the prophetic tradition – Prophets often spoke this way, using startling and often biting imagery and characterizations. Though many today try to “tame” Jesus, the real Jesus spoke vividly, in the prophetic tradition. He often used shocking and paradoxical images. He spoke bluntly, as prophets do, calling his hostile interlocutors hypocrites, vipers, children of the devil, whitewashed tombs, evil, foolish, blind guides, and sons of those who murdered the prophets. He warned them that they would be sentenced to Hell unless they repented; He laid them out for their inconsistency and hardness of heart. This is the way prophets speak.
In speaking in this “mean” way, Jesus was firmly in the tradition of the prophets, who spoke similarly. Thus, in understanding these harsh words of Jesus’s, we cannot overlook the prophetic context. His words, which seem to us to be angry and even vengeful, were expected in the prophetic tradition from which He spoke; they were intentionally shocking. Their purpose was to provoke a response.
Prophets used hyperbole and shock to convey and frame their call to repentance.And while we ought not to simply dismiss Jesus’s words as exaggeration, we should not fail to see them in the traditional context of prophetic speech.
Hence Jesus’s words were not evidence of vengeance in His heart, but rather a prophecy directed at those who refused to repent: they will die in their sins. Indeed, their refusal to reconcile with God and their neighbors (in this case the Romans) led to a terrible war during which they were slain.
2. The Jewish culture and language often used hyperbole – Even beyond the prophetic tradition, the ancient Jews often used all-or-nothing language in their speech. Although I am no Hebrew scholar, I have been taught that the Hebrew language contains far fewer comparative words (e.g., more, less, greatest, fewest) than does English (and many other languages). If an ancient Jew were asked if he liked chocolate or vanilla ice cream more, he might reply, “I like chocolate and I hate vanilla.” By this he really meant “I like chocolate more than I like vanilla.” When Jesus said elsewhere that we must love Him and hate our parents, spouse, and children (e.g., Lk 14:26), He did not mean that we should hate them vengefully. Rather, this was a Jewish way of saying that we must love Him more.
This background explains the ancient Jewish tendency to use hyperbole. It is not that they did not comprehend nuances; they just did not speak in that manner, instead allowing the context to supply that “hate” did not mean literal hate.
This linguistic background helps to explain how the more extremist elements of prophetic language take shape.
We ought to be careful, however, not to simply dismiss things as hyperbole. We who speak English may love that our language allows for greater nuance, but sometimes we are so nuanced in our speech that we say very little. At some point we must say either yes or no; we must be with God or against Him. In the end (even if Purgatory intervenes) there is only Heaven or Hell.
The ancient Jewish way of speaking in a rather all-or-nothing manner was not primitive per se. It has a refreshing and honest way of insisting that we decide for or against God, that we decide what is right and just.
Thus, though Jesus’s words were harsh they did make an important point. For either we choose God and live, or we choose sin and die spiritually. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
3. Jesus was speaking to hardened sinners – The audience here is important as well. As Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, He was entering hostile territory. The sinners and unbelievers He encountered were very rigid and had hardened their hearts against Him. Hence, Jesus’s words must be understood as strong medicine.
One can imagine a doctor saying to a stubborn patient, “If you don’t change your ways, you’ll die soon and I’ll see you at your funeral.” While some may consider this to be poor “bedside manner,” there are some patients for whom such language is both necessary and appropriate.
Because Jesus was dealing with hardened sinners, He spoke bluntly. They were headed for death and Hell and He told them so.
Perhaps we, who live in these “dainty” times, who are so easily offended and so afraid of giving offense, could learn from such an approach. There are some who need to hear from priests, parents, and others, “If you do not change your ways, I do not see how you can avoid being sentenced to Hell.”
4. A final thought—a theory really—that some have advanced – According to this theory, Jesus was referring to an actual historical incident and using it to disabuse His listeners of their fond thoughts of a new king. After the death of Herod the Great, his son Archelaus went to Rome to request the title of king. A group of Jews also appeared before Caesar Augustus, opposing Archelaus’s request. Although not given the title of king, Archelaus was made ruler over Judea and Samaria; he later had those Jews who opposed him killed.
Kings are often despots – Because many Jews thought that the Messiah (when he came) would be a king, some were hoping that Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem in order to take up the role of an earthly king. According to this theory, because the people were pining for a king, Jesus used this fearsome parable as a reminder that earthly kings are usually despotic. Jesus was thus trying to disabuse them of the idea that He or anyone else should be their earthly king.
While this theory has a lot to recommend it, especially historical precedent, it seems unlikely that the Gospel text would use such an historically localized event to make the point. Jesus was not just speaking to the people of that time and place; He is also speaking to us. Even if this explanation has partial historical context, the meaning needs to be extended beyond one ancient incident.
Well, there you have it. I am interested in your thoughts. Because the commentaries I consulted seemed rather silent on this, I am hoping that some of you have read commentaries worth sharing. Likewise, perhaps you know of some other quotes of the Fathers that I was unable to find.
Is Jesus being mean here? No. Is He being blunt and painfully clear? Yes. And frankly, some of us need it. In these thin-skinned times we may bristle at such talk, but that’s our problem. Honesty and a clear diagnosis are far more important than our precious feelings.
We are at war for our own souls and the souls of people we love. We are at war for the soul of this culture and nation. And like any soldier, we must train to fight well.
By Msgr. Charles Pope, Catholic Register:
There is a growing consternation among some Catholics that the Church, at least in her leadership, is living in the past. It seems there is no awareness that we are at war and that Catholics need to be summoned to sobriety, increasing separation from the wider culture, courageous witness and increasing martyrdom.
Jean-Léon Gérôme, “The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer” (c. 1863-1873)
It is long past dark in our culture, but in most parishes and dioceses it is business as usual and there is anything but the sober alarm that is really necessary in times like these.
Scripture says, Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle (Psalm 144:1). Preparing people for war — a moral and spiritual war, not a shooting war — should include a clear setting forth of the errors of our time, and a clear and loving application of the truth to error and light to darkness.
But there is little such training evident in Catholic circles today where, in the average parish, there exists a sort of shy and quiet atmosphere — a fear of addressing “controversial” issues lest someone be offended, or the parish be perceived as “unwelcoming.”
But, if there ever was a time to wear soft garments, it is not now.
The Church of the 1970s-1990s was surely well described as the era of “beige Catholicism” (a term coined by Bishop Robert Barron, and not by way of flattery either). Those of us who lived through that era, especially in the 1970s, remember it as a time when many parish signs beckoned people to “come and experience our welcoming and warm Catholic community.” Our most evident desire was to fit in and be thought of as “normal.” Yes, Catholics were just like everyone else; and we had been working very hard to do that, at least since the early 1960s when John F. Kennedy was elected. Catholics had finally “made it” into the mainstream; we had been accepted by the culture.
Church architecture and interiors became minimalist and non-descript. Music and language in the liturgy became folksy. Marian processions, Corpus Christi processions, many things of distinctive and colorful Catholicism all but disappeared. Even our crucifixes disappeared, to be replaced by floating “resurrection Jesus” images. The emphasis was on blending in, speaking to things that made people feel comfortable, and affirming rather than challenging. If there was to be any challenge at all it would be on “safe” exhortations such as not abusing the environment or polluting, not judging or being intolerant, and so forth.
Again, if there ever was a time to wear soft garments, it is not now. It is zero-dark-thirty in our post-Christian culture. And while we may wish to blame any number of factors for the collapse, we cannot exclude ourselves. We who are supposed to be the light of the world, with Christ shining in us, have preferred to hide our light under a basket and lay low. The ruins of our families and culture are testimony to the triumph of error and the suppression of the truth.
More than ever we need to shift toward being distinctive from the culture we have refused to critique and call to reform. More than ever our faith needs to shine brightly and clearly in our churches and communities.
And if a world now accustomed to great darkness calls our light harsh, so be it. If our light does not shine, there is no light at all. Our Catholic faith is the sole and last hope for this world. It has always been so.
Simply put, it is time for clergy to prepare themselves and God’s people for sacrifice.Seeking to compromise with this culture is now unthinkable. Our only recourse is to seek to lance the boils. And the culture will cry foul. And we who do the lancing will be made increasingly to suffer. But we have to be willing to embrace and endure such suffering in increasing ways in the months and years ahead.
We are at war for our own souls and the souls of people we love. We are at war for the soul of this culture and nation. And like any soldier, we must train to fight well. We must study our faith and be more committed than ever. We must also know our enemy and his tactics, and we must be prepared to suffer — and even to lose our life.
We have to retool and provide every opportunity to get clear about our faith. Sermons and other teachable moments must sound a clear call to personal conversion and to battle for souls and to stop treating lightly the sinful disregard for God’s law in our families and communities.
Our bishops especially need to shift into another mode entirely. Collectively and currently they seem more interested in protecting what little we have left, than summoning the Catholic people to battle. Priests too seem loath to summon people to anything challenging or uncomfortable. The image of Peter trying to keep Christ from the Cross comes to mind. Peter said, “This shall never be for you!” And the Lord severely rebuked him saying that he was thinking as man, not God, and was in the service of Satan.
And what of us? The Church cannot even seem to ask people to attend Mass on a Holy Day if it is on a Monday or a Saturday. It is apparently too much to ask people to come to Mass two days in a row. If that be the case, who will summon them to withstand and vigorously protest unjust and evil laws, even if it means financial penalties or even jail? And blood martyrdom? It hardly seems likely that most clergy today would counsel readiness for such a thing or even be close to being ready ourselves. Bishops or priests who do so can expect to be called reckless and imprudent in shy and soft times like these. The cry will surely go up, “It is not yet the time for such things!”
But if not now, when?
Scripture says, If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? (1 Cor. 14:8). It cannot simply be priests who must make this call. Parents and other leaders need to sound it as well. Yes, parents need to prepare their children for more than a career. They need now to prepare them for difficult days ahead — days that will include persecution and even martyrdom if they decide to follow Christ unambiguously.
Am I wrong? I sure hope so. But we can no longer, as a Church, sit idly by and hope things just magically get better. As a culture, and even in segments of the Church, we have sown the wind, and now we are reaping the whirlwind.
Many, these days, like to criticize the Church of the past for any number of failings. But I wonder how the future members of the Church will remember the Church in our times. Columnist Joseph Sobran, writing over 15 years ago, wondered the same thing and wrote:
[Catholics of the future] certainly won’t accuse us of excessive zeal. They might be shocked by our lukewarmness, our cowardice masquerading as tolerance, our laxity, our willingness to countenance heresy, sacrilege, blasphemy, and immorality, even within the Church itself, our eagerness to ingratiate ourselves with the secular world …(Subtracting Christianity, p. 268)
Yes, I too wonder. From St. Peter to Constantine there were 33 Popes. Thirty of them were martyred and two died in exile. Countless clergy and lay people too were martyred. It is hard to imagine the Church in the decadent West being willing to suffer so. Surely our brethren in many less affluent parts of the world are dying in large numbers. But I wonder: After all these years of “comfort Catholicism”, would the average American parishioner or clergyman be willing or able to endure such loss?
It is time, past time, to retool. It is time to prepare for persecutions that will get bolder by the month and year. The dark movements that marched in under the banners of tolerance never meant it. And having increasingly gained power, they are seeking to criminalize anyone who resists their vision. No tolerance for us. Religious liberty is eroding, and compulsory compliance is already here. The federal courts increasingly shift to militantly secular and activist judges who legislate from the bench.
When will we as a Church finally say to the bureaucrats who demand we comply with evil laws: “We will not comply. If you fine us we will not pay. If you seek to confiscate our buildings, we will turn maximum publicity against you, but we still will not comply. If you arrest us, off to jail we go! But we will simply not comply with evil laws or cooperate with evil.”
Right now, most of us can barely imagine our clergy standing so firm. Quiet compromises and jargon-filled “solutions” will be a grave temptation to a Church ill-prepared for persecution.
Call me alarmist or call me idealist, but I hope we find our spine before it is too late. It is usually a faithful remnant that saves the day in the Biblical narrative. I pray only for the strength to be in that faithful remnant. Will you join me too? Let’s pray and start retooling now. Only our unambiguous faith can save us or anyone we love. Pray for strong and courageous faith.
© 2015 EWTN News, Inc. Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register. Published on 08/21/2016
By Msgr. Charles Pope, National Catholic Register:
Never forget: Those who suffer for proclaiming the faith, and for living it boldly, are of highest honor in the Kingdom of God.
I was surprised and grateful for the wide readership and support on an article I wrote here at the Register recently: Comfort Catholicism Has Got to Go. In it I argue that clergy and other leaders in the Church need to retool and prepare God’s people for increasing persecution and martyrdom. I note that the Church, both clergy and lay, is largely unprepared to meet the coming challenges to our faith and religious liberty, many of which are already here.
But firmly resisting or refusing to comply with immoral and unjust laws, whatever the consequences, is simply not in the mindset of most Catholics who have long been content (and even counseled) to get along with everyone, to be pleasant and nice, and to blend into the American experience.
The strong emphasis has been that God is here to comfort us and would surely not ask things of us that are too difficult. Martyrdom (both red and white) has usually been thought a thing of the past or for other nations — but not here, not in America. I argue that those days are vanishing, if not already substantially gone.
Some, predictably, responded that I am alarmist and that things are not so bad. I wonder if they are living in a parallel universe, or some isolated place. Ask believing photographers, caterers, bakers and pharmacists if things are bad or not. Ask healthcare providers and healthcare workers if things are just fine. Ask employers who provide healthcare benefits. Many of them have already been compelled to act against their religious beliefs or be forced out of business.
If things are “not that bad”, why are we being summoned to courts, threatened with fines by government, and being forced as Christians to sue for our rights? What are pharmacists in Washington to do who are required by law to provide abortifacient “emergency contraception”? The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal. Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent spoke of this refusal — and the law that now stands — as “an ominous sign” and goes on to show how those who are concerned at the steady erosion of religious liberty have good cause to be concerned.
We are winning some of our cases, but other significant cases in places like Washington State and California have delivered serious blows to religious liberty and seek to further marginalize Christian churches and groups from participation in the national conversation and commonwealth that is theirs as American citizens. The Washington case has no appeal and a Catholic pharmacist has to risk losing his livelihood by refusing to comply.
I argue that a pharmacist should take that risk. But we in the Church have not really prepared our people for this. It is time to do so. We must resist the temptation to hide our faith under jargonistic “solutions” that are usually a mere compromise with evil and unjust laws.
THE 5 STAGES OF PERSECUTION
For those who think examples listed here are just odd situations and not really indicative of where we are as a culture, I would like to represent something I wrote on almost four years ago: The Five Stages of Persecution. The five stages are not unique to me. They come from the world of sociology and political theory and are commonly observed in cultures that eventually turn against segments within them.
As you will see, persecutions do not come out of nowhere. They build in a culture over time until they boil over into often-horrific acts wherein those who inflict them actually feel justified in what they do.
As we consider the descriptions of the five stages, it is hard to argue that we are not well into the fourth stage here in America and edging into the final stage.
Here, then, are the five stages. My commentary focuses on religious persecution.
Stage 1. Stereotype the targeted group
To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number and generalize it to describe the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on the observation of a limited sample.
And thus as the 1960s and 1970s progressed, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians were often caricatured in the media as “Bible thumpers,” simpletons, haters of science, hypocrites, self-righteous, old-fashioned, and backwards.
Catholics, in particular, were also accused of having neurotic guilt and a hatred of or aversion to sexuality. We were denounced as a sexist institution filled with clergy who were sexually repressed, homosexuals, or pedophiles. We were labeled an authoritarian institution stuck in the past, one with too many restrictive rules.
Basically, as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward, repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotype, we are a laughable — even tragic — group caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the “shackles” of faith.
To be sure, not everyone engages in this stereotyping to the same degree, but those are the basic refrains. And the general climate of this sort of stereotyping sets the foundation for the next stage.
Stage 2. Vilify the targeted group for alleged crimes or misconduct
As the stereotyping grew in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary, and just plain mean and basically bad people.
The history of the Church is also described myopically as little more than a litany of bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades and inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story: that the Church founded universities and hospitals, that many of the great scientists were priests, that the Church was a patron of the arts, and that she preached a gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbaric times in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. The critics won’t hear any of that — or if they do, they’ll give the credit to anyone or anything except the Church and the faith.
As with any large group, individual Catholics and other Christians will manifest some negative traits — but stereotyping, vilifying, and crudely and indiscriminately presuming the negative traits of some to be common to all is unjust.
Yet all of this has the effect of creating a self-righteous indignation toward believers and of making anti-Catholic and anti-Christian attitudes a permissible bigotry for many today.
Stage 3. Marginalize the targeted group’s role in society
Having established the (false) premise that the Church and the faith are very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the critics proceed in the next stage to relegate the role of the Church to the margins of society.
To many in secularized culture, religion is seen as something that must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns, etc. within the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.
In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly, or in any way bring his or her Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go. Out with Christmas trees. Even the colors red and green during the “Holiday Season” are forbidden in many public schools!
Do not even think of mentioning Jesus or of publicly thanking him in your valedictory address; you could very well have a judge forbid you to do so under penalty of law. You may thank Madonna the singer, but not the Madonna.
The LGBTQIA club is welcome to set up shop and pass out rainbow-colored condoms at the local high school, but Christians had better hit the road. No Bibles or pamphlets had better see the light of day anywhere in the school building. Separation of Church and State, you know…
Stage 4. Criminalize the targeted group or its works
Can someone say HHS Mandate or Washington State Pharmacy Case?
But even prior to these and other egregious attempts to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our right to practice our faith openly. An increasing amount of litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.
In addition to some of the cases noted above, some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information about or referrals for abortion and just like the pharmacists above, to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e., the abortifacient known as the morning-after pill). Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not place children with gay couples. In 2009, the State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization, and running of Catholic parishes. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they planned to mention God in their addresses. (More details can be found here.)
Some of these attempts to criminalize the faith have been successfully rebuffed in the courts, but the number and frequency of the lawsuits, and the time and cost involved with fighting them impose a huge burden. It is clear that attempts to criminalize Christian behavior is a growth sector in this culture and it signals the beginning of the steady erosion of religious liberty.
Many indeed feel quite righteous, quite politically correct, in their work to separate the practice of the faith from the public square.
Stage 5. Persecute the targeted group outright
If current trends continue, Christians — especially religious leaders — may not be far from facing heavy fines and/or incarceration.
Already in Canada and in parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Catholic doctrine on homosexual activity.
In this country there are greater provisions for free speech, but as we have seen, there is a steady erosion of our religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are very familiar with having to spend long periods in court defending basic religious liberty. The persecution takes forms that are increasingly heavy from the loss of employment, lawsuits, large fines, and ultimately jail for those who refuse to comply.
Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four are pretty well in place. One may wish to “whistle past the graveyard,” but it looks like we’re pretty well set for stage five. You decide.
This is why we need to prepare.
For those who think God would not allow or demand this of us, remember: God has slated some ages, and place and people for persecution since day one. Jesus did not exempt himself from this and, enduring the world’s hatred told us we would be hated too (e.g. John 15:18-25). And the Book of Revelation says:
If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people. (Revelation 13:10)
So the Lord does appoint some to suffering and martyrdom of various degrees, for the sake of the faith, and asks us to endure. None of us seeks this, but to some of us in this more militantly secular culture, persecution with increasing intensity and frequency will come. But never forget: Those who suffer for proclaiming the faith, and for living it boldly, are of highest honor in the Kingdom of God.
Stand firm in your faith.
© 2015 EWTN News, Inc. Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register. Published 09/07/2016
Msgr. Charles Pope Prayerfully Protesting Outside a Planned Parenthood Clinic
Msgr. Charles Pope: I am prayerfully protesting the imminent opening of a Planned Parenthood mega Center not far from my parish in Washington DC. Please join me in prayer that this terrible facility will never in fact open; pray also that many thousands of children will be saved. Please Lord, not here, not anywhere! Last year Planned Parenthood reports having killed 327,653 children through abortion nationwide. It calls this slaughter “abortion services.”
By Msgr. Charles Pope, Community in Mission:
One of the less edifying aspects of the Summer Olympics in Rio is the attire of the women’s beach volleyball players from Western countries. Most of the women wear a tiny bikini with the bottom being especially tiny. (I do not show a picture here because I deem it immodest to do so. Instead, I show a picture of some of the men, whose attire I mention below.)
Frankly, playing volleyball in a tiny bikini seems quite unnecessary. I would argue that it detracts from the sport because it distracts from the sport. The attention doesn’t seem to be drawn to the ball, shall we say. I would further argue that the attire encourages the focus not even on the women, but on certain aspects of the women’s bodies.
I can understand that swimmers (male and female) wear tight and sometimes abbreviated swimsuits to lessen drag in the water. Gymnasts, too, often wear brief and/or tight clothing to improve their performance and maximize the mobility of their limbs. The clothing is thus at least somewhat performance related.
But I can see no performance enhancement brought about by the wearing of tiny bikinis. Some will point out that the bikini top in question acts as a sports bra. Fine, but men wear supportive attire, too; but they do so under their shorts, not out in the open.
The Egyptian women’s beach volleyball player shown in the above photo illustrates that it is possible to compete quite well without wearing a bikini. One could argue that having short sleeves and shorter leg coverings might be cooler for the players. The impact on performance of wearing the hijab is debatable, but it is worn tucked in and did not seem to bother the women who wore it. These women played and competed well in a sport that is relatively new to their country and region.
Men’s beach volleyball attire also illustrates that near nudity is not required to play the sport well. The men do not play wearing tiny swimwear. They wear ample shorts along with t-shirts or tank tops.
I realize that each time the question of modesty has come up on this blog there are some readers who want to dismiss such discussions and emphasize the right of people to dress as they please. They believe that any sexual temptation aroused is almost wholly the fault of the viewer, not the one wearing the attire.
Modesty should avoid excessively burdening people. It seeks a middle ground wherein the one who dresses and the other who sees share responsibility. The one wearing the attire should not be burdened with difficult requirements, nor should the viewer be burdened by facing undue temptation. Mutual charity and concern are the goals.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of modesty as protecting the mystery, chastity, and dignity of the human person.
Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. … Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. … Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet (CCC 2521-2522).
As always, comments are appreciated, but I have found in the past that discussions about modesty are often difficult to have in a way that is helpful or charitable. Reasonable people may differ on the details of modesty. Modesty does involve a range of options, influenced by circumstances and the sensibilities of cultures. I have articulated here that I see no need for tiny bikinis in this sport and that I think more modest attire is important. If you disagree, please explain the relationship you see of the brief bikini to the sport, considering that men in general and women from other cultures who compete do not see the need to wear so little. If you agree, please remember in your comments that the imputation of motives to individuals is a sketchy and usually uncharitable thing to do. Everyone, please use care when commenting.
By Msgr. Charles Pope, Community in Mission:
There been much tension regarding the Mass as both a meal and a sacrifice. A necessary corrective was introduced in the past twenty years to rectify the overly strong emphasis, heavily advanced during the 1970s and 1980s, on the Mass as a meal. The purpose of the corrective was to bring back needed balance with the root of the Mass: the cross and the overall paschal mystery.
While we cannot dismiss the idea of the Mass as a meal, we must understand what sort of meal it is. When most people today hear the word “meal,” they do not think of a holy banquet or wedding feast, but more of an informal meal. And informality in American culture has become very informal indeed! We rarely dress up anymore; formal banquets, black-tie dinners, and the like are rare.
Thus our understanding of the Mass as a meal is colored by our culture’s informal definition, which is not intended in the Church’s understanding of the Mass. Permit, then, some of the following correctives:
I. The Mass is a meal, but it is no ordinary meal. The Mass is a sacred meal or banquet (Sacrum Convivium) and also the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb, for which one should be properly clothed (see Rev 19:6-9; Matt 22:12-13). This meal is not an informal one; it is a great banquet that should be esteemed and for which one should be prepared.
There are many people today who emphasize the “table fellowship” that Jesus had with sinners. They argue the Eucharist should be open to all, Catholic or not, saint or (even the worst) sinner. It is true that Jesus was often found at the table with sinners, where He ate with them.
But the Last Supper, at which the Eucharist was first given, was not just any meal; it was a Passover meal. The Passover meal was not an open one; it was a family meal and one rooted in the Jewish faith. People were instructed to celebrate this meal with their own families. And while several smaller or poorer families could come together for the meal, that was the exception rather than the norm.
Hence, the Last Supper is not to be compared to the open “table fellowship” Jesus had with sinners. Only the Apostles were formally gathered for the Last Supper.
So, to the extent that we can speak of the Mass as a meal, it is not an ordinary one with a “come-one, come-all” and/or “come as you are” mentality. It is not informal. It is a sacred meal that should be received worthily, celebrated with reverence, and which is integrally linked to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote substantially on this topic back in the late 1990s, and I presented and reflected on his writings here: Worthy Reception.
II. The Mass is not a reenactment of the Last Supper. It surely includes aspects of the Last Supper (most crucially the words of Institution of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist).
But these aspects of the Last Supper are summarized and referenced, not reenacted. If it were truly a reenactment, then when the priest says that Jesus gave thanks, blessed and broke the bread, and gave it to them saying, “This is my body …”, he should send the host around immediately. And then when he takes the chalice and utters the words of consecration, he should tell all the people to drink from it immediately.
A literal reenactment might also require that we all recline on the floor on our left elbows at low, U-shaped tables. The Last Supper was not served at a modern, American-looking table, or even at one as Da Vinci imagined it. And perhaps the priest should recite the lengthy, priestly prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, as recorded in John’s Gospel. Maybe a foot-washing should take place at every Mass. But even if we don’t absolutize the notion of reenactment, the point remains that the Mass is not a re-staging of the Last Supper.
Even at the Last Supper, in giving us the words of consecration Jesus points beyond the Last Supper itself. He says of the Bread, “This is my Body, which will be given up for you.” Thus He points beyond the meal to the cross. He says of the wine in the chalice, “This is the cup of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant, which will be shed for you and for many …” Here, too, He points beyond the meal itself to the cross.
Hence, while the connection of the Mass to the Last Supper is clear, it is not the only or even most important connection. The meal itself points to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. And since at Communion we receive a living Lord (not a piece of dead flesh), the Mass also points to the resurrection.
III. When the priest speaks the words of Consecration at Mass, he is not addressing the congregation. This is another common point of confusion today. Not only is the Mass not a mere reenactment of the Last Supper, even when the priest speaks the words of Consecration at Mass, he is not addressing the congregation. These words, like all the words of the Eucharistic prayer, are directed to the Heavenly Father. They serve as a kind of basis and context for our sacrifice. When saying these words, the priest is speaking in the person of Christ and indicating that this act of our worship, as members of the Body of Christ, is united to the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.
The essential point is that the words are directed to the Father. For a priest to gaze intently at the congregation and/or show the bread dramatically as he says the words of Consecration is to send the wrong signal, because it is not the people who are being addressed.
In the rubrics, the priest is directed to bow a little (parum se inclinat) as he says the words. He is not to be like an actor on a stage reenacting the Last Supper with all sorts of gestures and engagement of the faithful as if they were the Apostles. He is to bow as he speaks to the heavenly Father of what Jesus did and said in the institution of the Eucharist.
To reiterate, the entire Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to the Heavenly Father. Thus we are not “pretending” or reenacting the meal that was the Last Supper.
IV. What most makes the Mass a meal is the food that we receive. The food we receive is Jesus the Lord, who feeds us with His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. O sacrum convivium in quo Christus sumitur! (O Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received!) It is not necessary or even essential to engage in theatrics or to insist that the altar look like a simple, modern meal table (though noble simplicity has its place).
Thus the Mass is truly a meal as well as a sacrifice. But we must understand that the meaning of the word “meal” in the context of the Mass is distinct from some of our modern notions. It is a formal, sacred, exclusive meal for those of the household of faith who are in a state of grace. Proper attire and formality should be balanced with noble simplicity. And although the Last Supper is surely integral to the Mass, it is not merely reenacted; it is taken up in its essence (not merely in its external aspects), which points to the cross.
By Msgr. Charles Pope, Community in Mission:
7 Traits of Merciful Fathers
I. The merciful father loves the mother of his children.
One of the most merciful things a father can do for his children is to love their mother with tender affection and gentle, protective support. Children bond with their mother very closely, especially in their early years. They are reassured by seeing love, tenderness, and support shown to their mother.
In contrast, when children see their mother dishonored or, even worse, abused by their father, they are easily struck with fear and a sense of dread.
How beautiful is this mercy of a father! It also helps his sons understand how to treat women, and helps his daughters understand how men should treat them.
II. The merciful father attends to his own healing and maturity.
All of us have character defects and “issues” that affect others around us. Some have anger issues; others are too fearful and non-assertive. Some have problems with drinking; some with pornography. Still others can be lazy or impatient.
A father can show mercy to his children by working on whatever ails him and thereby avoid inflicting frustration and pain on his children. Scripture says, They made me keeper of vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept (Song 1:6).
It is a work of mercy for a father (and a mother, too) to work through his own issues and thereby spare his children pain. There is an old saying, “If I get better, others get better too.” In doing this, not only are children spared pain, but they are better able to grow in virtue.
III. The merciful father does not allow his career to eclipse his vocation.
Whatever career a man has, his vocation as husband and father is more important. And while the two are not wholly separate (since a father provides for his family), there is far more to being a father than being a breadwinner.
Children need their father in their lives, not merely off in the distance sending money. It is a great work of mercy for a father to cherish his children and to share in their lives. It is a necessary component of their maturity for him to manifest the masculine genius of being human even as their mother manifests the feminine genius.
Children want their father’s support, encouragement, and approval. A young man deeply needs his father’s model. He also needs his father’s affirmation as he grows into manhood. There is perhaps no greater mercy than for a son to hear his father say, “I’m proud of you; you’ve done well.”
A daughter delights in twirling her skirts and in being the apple of her father’s eye. He models for her the love of a man who loves her for her own sake, without lust. This can help her learn to distinguish love from lust and to develop the self-esteem that will help her to navigate the complex years of courtship and to discern a good husband.
A man who is more wedded to his career than to his family is too seldom around to have these crucial effects, which are far more precious than the extra money or additional possessions earned by long hours at the office.
Be careful, fathers. Career can be big on the ego and it can easily ensnare you. Home life may be less glamorous and less immediately rewarding in terms of money, but there is no greater satisfaction than to have raised your children well. The rewards will be enormous for both them and you. And this is a very great mercy.
IV. The merciful father is the spiritual leader of his home.
He establishes the structures of grace. In our culture, too many men leave the spiritual and religious lives of their children to their mother. But Scripture says,Fathers … bring up your children in the training and discipline of the Lord (Eph 6:4). This does not mean that the wife has no role, clearly she does.
A father is to be the spiritual leader in his home, sanctifying his family (see Eph 5:25-27). He should be the first one up on Sunday morning, summoning his children to prepare for Holy Mass. His wife should not have to drag him along to Mass. He should read Bible stories to his children and explain their meaning. He should teach them God’s law. While his wife should share in this, the father ought to lead.
Surveys show that the highest predictor (by far) of children going on to practice the faith in adulthood is whether their father practices the faith.
A father should also seek to establish his household with the structures of grace. He should live under obedience to God and insist that his children do likewise. This makes for a home that, while not free of sin, makes it easier to live the Christian faith rather than more difficult.
All of this is a great mercy that a father extends to his children. Through his leadership, a father molds his family into the beloved community where God’s justice and mercy are esteemed and exemplified. By God’s grace this mercy reaches his children.
V. The merciful father listens and teaches.
It is a beautiful work of mercy for a father to actively listen to his children and to give them his undivided attention whenever possible. It bestows on them a sense of dignity, because they see that what they say and think matters to their father. And it reassures them that he cares for their welfare and what is happening in their lives.
After listening, a father should also respond and teach, giving his children guidance. Too many children today are not being taught by their parents, especially regarding the critical moral issues of our day. If parents do not teach their children, someone else will! And that “someone” is not likely to be an individual with godly views. More often it will be some pop-star, musician, or teen idol. Perhaps it will be a gang leader or a rogue school buddy. Maybe it will be the police officer or a judge in a legal proceeding.
Fathers, it is a great mercy to teach your children. You have their best interests at heart. You want what is truly good (not merely apparently good) for them. Their lives will be much simpler and more productive if you insist that they do what is right from an early age. Otherwise, hardships and painful lessons await them. Show them mercy. Instruct them in the ways of the Lord.
Scripture says, Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). He who raises a fool does so to his sorrow, And the father of a fool has no joy (Prov 17:21). A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the mother who bore him (Prov 17:25).
When a father brings up his children in the discipline of the Lord, it is mercy not only to them, but to others as well!
VI. The merciful father praises and punishes.
Children are delighted to get their father’s esteem and approval. They love to be praised, especially when they believe they have done well.
A paradoxical form of mercy is for a father to punish his children. The purpose of punishment is to allow the child to experience in a small way the consequences of his transgression so that he does not experience the full and more painful consequences later. Scripture says,
My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son … For what children are not disciplined by their father? … We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Heb 12:5-11).
And thus punishment, properly understood, is a great mercy, because it saves children from great woes later on. Clearly, punishment cannot simply be a father venting his anger or exacting revenge. Punishment is not for the benefit of the father; it is for his children’s sake.
VII. The merciful father uses his authority and has his children’s long term interests in mind.
The cultural revolution of the late 1960s was not just about sexuality, drugs, and feminism; it also ushered in a wide-scale rejection of authority from which we are still reeling. And it is not just that those under authority reject it, but that those who have authority have become reluctant to use it. Too many clergy and too many parents do not make necessary decisions, enforce important policies, or punish when appropriate. Too many who have lawful authority are more concerned with being popular; they do not want to risk being questioned or resisted.
Authority involves a lot of effort and brings with it a great deal of stress. Many seek to avoid all this and thus those who need leadership and guidance often do not get it. Scripture says, And indeed if the trumpet gives an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? (1 Cor 4:18)
Whether they like to admit it or not, children need their father to be strong and to lead. And when he does this it is a great mercy. It may not always be appreciated in the moment, but most children eventually recognize with gratitude the leadership of their parents, of their father.
Every leader needs to know that he will sometimes take some heat for his decisions, and he must be willing and courageous enough to make those decisions anyway. A father must remember that he has to be more concerned with his children’s long-term interests than with their current, short-term happiness. Their anger or discontent in the present moment will usually be replaced gratitude and relief in the future.
A good father will mercifully hold the tension of the moment and keep his children’s best interests at heart. He will serve their true good (not merely their apparent good) through the use of his authority and through his decisions on their behalf. And this is a very great mercy!