The Book of Revelation Is a Sure
Guide to What Is Really Going On
by Msgr. Charles Pope, Community in Mission:
In the Office of Readings this Easter season, we are reading from the Book of Revelation. This choice might seem surprising, but there are good reasons for it.
While many suppose that the Book of Revelation is merely about the end of the world, it is about far more; it is also about what is happening right now. It was not written only for the end of the ages but for all ages. It is a book of glory that discloses the victory that Jesus has already won. Don’t get lost in lots of exotic theories; Revelation is a book of glory that prophetically declares what is really going on.
Its title in Greek is Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Apokalupsis Jesou Christou), which literally means “The Unveiling of Jesus Christ.” It is as if Jesus is pulling back the veil to show us what is really going on. He shows us the great drama of history and tells us that He has already won the victory. He declares that we should not to lose heart while the dust settles, while the wheat is separated from the chaff and the harvest is brought in.
We are too easily mesmerized or terrified by our limited view of history. We think that life depends on which political party wins, or whether a cure is found for some disease, or whether world leaders can reach rapprochement. But the battle is far higher and deeper than our little sliver of the early 21st century. It is far deadlier and is about more dramatic issues than what will happen to the GNP of the U.S. or which of the latest political theories will prevail.
This is a great drama between good and evil. It concerns the far more fundamental issue of where you will spend eternity. Yes, there is a great and cosmic battle in which we are all caught up; it is happening all around us. St. Paul says,
For we do not contend against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the high places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm(Eph 6:11-13).
Jesus is the Victor. Our King!
The Book of Revelation is speaking to the same reality. It unveils the true and cosmic battle. In so doing, it declares without ambiguity who the victor is: Jesus Christ our King, who has already won. There are only two kingdoms, two armies, two sides. You must decide whom you will serve: the prince of this world or the King and Lord of all creation.
Revelation opens with a vision of the glory of Jesus the Great Lord and Son of Man:
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead (Rev 1: 10-17).
Yes, here is our Lord Jesus in His resurrected and conquering glory! At the name of Jesus every knee shall bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11).
Yes, Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen (Rev 1:5-7).
We Must Resist
The second part of the Book of Revelation calls the Church and us as individuals to repentance and perseverance. The cosmic battle reaches the Church and individual disciples. The battle is in the Church and in the heart of every person. Thus, the letters to the seven churches. We are not to lose the love we had at first. We must be willing to endure hardship and persecution. We are to reject the fornicators and all those who propose any sort of sexual immorality. We are to resist syncretism and every form of false religion. We must resist all of the deep secrets of Satan; we must not be in any agreement with his ways. We must resist sloth and not fall back. We must resist lukewarmness and every sort of pride and self-satisfaction. The Church, clergy, and laity must fight the good fight, must persevere. We must endure hardship and always keep in mind the reward that awaits the courageous and the eternal disgrace that is coming to cowards and to all embrace the world, the flesh, and the devil.
John is then caught up into Heaven to see the glory of God and the heavenly liturgy. He has revealed to him what must take place soon. Historically, the Book of Revelation pointed to the destruction of Jerusalem and to the end of an era. Down through the ages, empires and nations have crumbled; eras and epochs have come and gone; only God’s Kingdom, as proclaimed and made sacramentally present by the Church, has or will survive.
Today we are arguably at the end of another era and epoch.
The West is crumblingand decadence abounds. Confusion about basic reality is so widespread that our current cultural situation can credibly be described as a lunatic asylum. Even within the Church, voices that should speak out prophetically are silenced by fear and infected by worldliness. There is among Church leaders, clergy, and laity a widespread softness and a feeling that the risk of speaking out is too great.
Here is the Answer.
The message of the Book of Revelation is a strong antidote to times like these as well as to times that have gone before and may well come after. The message is clear: be strong, be prepared, and be willing to suffer, realizing that no matter how powerful and glamorous evil may seem, Jesus is the victor. We must persevere and realize that we are swept up into a cosmic battle that is much larger than our current situation, but which reaches us nonetheless. We must choose sides. Don’t think that you can sit on the fence. Satan owns the fence and he is coming for you and will say, “You belong to me.”
The seals, the bowls, and the trumpets of Revelation are but a further description of the cosmic battle and the wretched defeats that ultimately come upon the defiant and disobedient. God will not leave unpunished those who despise His Kingdom and His holy ones. These seven ordeals times three are a call to repentance to those who survive. They are also a manifestation of God’s justice and ultimate authority over history.
A crucial battle comes in Revelation 12, when the red dragon with seven heads and ten horns besets Mother Mary, who is also an image of the Church. But note this: the devil cannot prevail in the war that breaks out in Heaven. He is hurled to the earth, where he unsuccessfully pursues the woman (who is Mary and the Church). He is a big loser, and in a rage he continues to pursue us.
For the time being, the cosmic battle continues. But Satan rages, for he knows his time is short. He is a big loser.
But even losers still have an odd ability to dupe and impress foolish, gullible people. And so Satan still flashes the cash, makes empty promises, and dangles passing pleasures before us. Sadly, many of the worldly and unspiritual foolishly fall prey to his pomp and lies. Mysteriously, God permits this until the full number of the elect are gathered in.
And then comes the end:
And fire came down from heaven and devoured Satan and his armies and followers. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new.” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Rev 20:9-21:5).
Yes, it is good that we read the Book of Revelation. It is a pulling back of the veil, wherein the Lord tells us what is really going on and what the outcome shall be. He is telling us not to lose heart. “In this world you shall have tribulation, but have courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Be not dismayed, fellow Christians.
Do not be fearful of what is coming upon this world. Even if it is the end of the era or epoch, the Church has endured such sea changes before. Christ has already won the victory and has promised that the Church will remain indefectible. When the current foolishness has runs its course, we will still be here preaching the Gospel, even if we have become a small remnant and are preaching from jail!
Do not be fearful.
Do not be a coward. Preach boldly and with love. Continue to shine the light of the Gospel in the darkness. The Gospel will win; it always wins.
Don’t get lost in all the details about the Book of Revelation and miss its message. The message is one of victory in the midst of persecution and trial. It is a call to persevere. It is a pulling back of the veil to show us what the end shall be! Be strong, be courageous, be certain. Jesus has already won the great victory in the cosmic battle. The dust is still settling. But know for certain that Jesus has won and if you choose Him, so will you!
He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Rev 21:7-8).
Regardless of what you think is going on, this is what is really going on. Choose sides. I urge you to choose Christ with courage. Don’t look back. Come what may, Viva Christo Rey!
A Tribute to Mother Angelica
Father Levis and I meeting Mother Angelica the first time when we taped our first season of WEB OF FAITH in 1998.
By Fr. John Trigilio Jr., Confraternity of Catholic Priests:
Reverend Mother was very dear to me, like a beloved grandmother. Fr. Ken Brighenti and I anointed her last December for our most recent taping of WEB OF FAITH 2.0 Mother was a visionary, a pioneer, a maverick, an RN (real nun), a very dear friend and a very holy and devout Catholic Christian.
What you see is what you get. She was authentic. The real deal. No Political Correctness. Mother spoke her mind. She had no guile. She spoke “cor ad cor” (heart to heart) to every viewer and listener. Mother was a true Italian, as we all know. She had an Italian sense of humor and an Italian disposition. Very passionate and very expressive. But also very loving, affectionate and generous.
Foundress of Eternal Word Television (EWTN), Mother Angelica was like Christopher Columbus in that she was an explorer in a New World. While competing Catholic networks fizzled out quickly, EWTN has grown into the international and global media giant using cable and satellite television, broadcast and shortwave radio, internet and newspaper (The National Catholic Register).
She was kind enough to personally call and console my mom when my brother Joe had been killed by an underage drunk driver on 5 July 1997. My mother had already lost two of her five children and now Joe was number three. Mother spoke to her for 45 minutes. It was a great help and consolation. My mom frequently traveled with Fr. Bob Levis from Erie when we taped WEB OF FAITH and every time the Poor Clares and Mother Angelica were exceptionally hospitable and always made my mom feel at home and most welcome.
We watched with amazement as the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament was slowly built. Mother honored me, Fr. Levis and me by inviting us to the dedication and consecration of the shrine. The Mass brought tears to everyone’s eyes. I had not seen a communion rail used since my Confirmation in 1976 and watching the very devout and reverent reception of Holy Communion brought me to tears as well. Her fidelity to the Magisterium was exemplary and she proved the axion LEX ORANDI, LEX CREDENDI.
Reverent worship and orthodox doctrine are interrelated and interconnected. We’ve seen the destruction of faith caused by banal, pedestrian and irreverent liturgies and the heterodox nonsense taught in some seminaries and at the pulpits of some parish churches. EWTN was a light in the darkness, showing faithful Catholics that our 2,000 year old religion was and is an invaluable patrimony which believers deserve to share in its splendor and glory, not as some cheap, shabby and philistine fashion.
Three Holy Giants of the 20th Century
She made a few enemies, so did Christ. She also helped save many, many souls via EWTN. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope St. John Paul the Great and Mother Angelica are the three holy giants of the latter 20th century and early 21st. I mourn her death but rejoice in the legacy she has left behind. Mike Warsaw and Doug Keck and everyone at EWTN have been doing a phenomenal job since Mother was forced to retire for health problems several years ago. I am morally certain she will be one day be canonized as well. Her perseverance in trial and tribulation are as encouraging as was JP2. When Mother appeared on television wearing an eye patch and having half her face paralyzed, she was like Pope John Paul during his later years plagued by Parkinson’s, drooling and slurring his words, yet still giving Angelus talks when he could. Both of these holy people knew well the Crucified Lord and both embraced their respective crosses with dignity and with fidelity.
As a Priest, I hope and pray that I can imitate Mother Angelica’s deep and intense love of Jesus and His Holy Church. Requiescat in pace
He is Risen! Alleluia!
Dear Courageous Priest Subscribers,
You have been enrolled in a 900 Mass Novena being said by the missionary priests associated with the Seraphic Mass Association!
“…Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
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O blood and Water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, we trust in you!
By Fr. Richard Heilman, Roman Catholic Man:
“Because Pontius Pilate is the character in the Passion who is most like us.”
Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38a)
What follows was written over at “Whoever Desires.” I find this very compelling …
“Why does Pilate always get so much empathy from us?”
It would be easy, at this point, to start tossing around charges of anti-Semitism, charges which would allow us to feel a certain measure of moral superiority over those less enlightened than ourselves. Then we could pray like the righteous Pharisee, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, anti-Semites like Mel Gibson over there” (Lk 18:10).
Throwing around such charges is a way of doing precisely the same thing that blaming the Jews for the crucifixion once did: deflecting guilt from ourselves. I would suggest a far more troubling answer to the question, “Why do we empathize with Pilate?”
Because Pontius Pilate is the character in the Passion who is most like us.
Pilate is educated, Western, professional; he is not a sociopath, not some oriental despot, neither particularly poor nor fantastically rich; above all, he is no religious fanatic. The purity laws of the Jews, their concerns about idolatry, seem as foreign and irrational to him as they do to us. His concern is not for God’s honor but for, to borrow a phrase from the Constitution, domestic tranquility. He wishes the Jews would disagree without being so violently disagreeable.
Pilate is not bloodthirsty. Nor is he indifferent to justice. If given the choice, he would prefer that the innocent not die, but neither truth nor justice are his highest priorities. He is more concerned with keeping the peace and keeping his job. Pilate fears the passions of the crowd and the opinions of his superiors. He is a canny enough politician to know that it is best to stay the middle course. Even if the middle course is immoral—having Jesus beaten before he is released (Lk 23:13)—it is still moderate and centrist.
Pilate’s actions in the Gospels even have a way of bridging differences. He becomes friends with his onetime rival, Herod. In Luke’s Gospel, Herod is spiritual but not religious. He is curious about Jesus, not wishing him any harm at first, even eager to see him. But when he realizes that there is no religious novelty in Jesus, no quick fix, no sign; when the spiritual exoticism has worn off and Herod sees in Jesus only the prospect of unpopular moral commitment, he has no use for him.
Pilate recognizes no absolute standard of truth. “What is truth?” he asks (Jn 18:38), a question repeated in our own day often in such a tone as to imply that to answer would be offensive. Pilate, like so many of us, faced with perplexing truth claims and passionate religious differences, weighed down with a history of violence and error, takes refuge in a relativism that seeks simply to tolerate.
Pilate has a COEXIST bumper sticker on his car.
The problem with coexistence, however, is that it occasionally means sacrificing those who step too far out of the social order, those whose existence threatens our coexistence, whether they be innocent or not. Coexistence cannot tolerate one who says that coexistence is not enough, that there is a right and a wrong way of existing. Tolerance cannot bear one who says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6). Jesus came preaching love, not tolerance. The Gospels would have had a very different ending if his command had been, “Tolerate one another as I have tolerated you” (Jn 13:34).
We are like Pilate. We all desire to be thought of as moderates; we do not like our religion too extreme; we get nervous at words like “truth.” We know that such words have a way of stirring conflict, and we want peace.
I once had a conversation with a well-educated Catholic gentleman about what it takes to get into heaven, and he kept coming back to the idea that all it really takes is being a “decent” person. Such a belief is one of the tenets of “moralistic therapeutic deism,” America’s default interdenominational creed. We are mostly decent people, which means we are mostly capable of functioning in society without doing each other more than average harm. I would bet, however, that the crowd that cheered Jesus on Palm Sunday and turned against him on Good Friday were mostly decent people. Holy Week reminds us of just how awful the no-more-than-average-harm decent people do really is. Pontius Pilate was no monster; he was an entirely average man, faced with an impossible dilemma: allow an innocent man to die or risk insurrection. And yet, it is Pontius Pilate who orders Jesus to be killed.
We can sympathize with Pilate because he looks for compromise, because he is the Gospel’s most pragmatic character. We fear absolutes, and on Good Friday Jesus offers only the absolute. On Good Friday the prospects of a harmonious earthly kingdom are stripped away, like Jesus’ garments at the tenth station. All that remains is God, all that remains is the truth, and everything else is gone. If Pilate were to side with Jesus, he would be choosing the truth—and that’s it. Nothing more. In fact, he would be surrendering happiness and harmony, prosperity and peace.
But, surely, God wants us to have all those things, we say. Surely, God would not ask us to give up what we think we need for happiness.
On Good Friday, Pilate meets a God who offers us nothing but God. And he balks.
And we too are so in the habit of balking that we no longer see doing so as evil; in fact, we dress it up with names like tolerance and moderation and decency. Pilate’s actions in the Gospel are no less blameworthy than those of Caiaphas or Judas or the crowd, but we empathize with him because we ourselves would mostly prefer to send Jesus out of sight to be crucified and then post guards around the tomb.
By, Bradley Eli, M. Div., MA.Th
VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is saying belief that all men are saved has crippled missionary efforts and caused many Christians to leave the Faith.
An interview of the former Pope, conducted last year, is being published today in L’Osservatore Romano. In it the former pontiff is reaffirming the dogma that there’s only one true Church outside of which there is no salvation.
Discounting false churches that are founded on “assembly of men who have some ideas in common,” Pope Benedict says they cannot be “the guarantor of eternal life.”
Contrasting self-created institutions with the Catholic Church, Benedict clarifies, “The Church is not self-made; She was created by God, and She is continuously formed by Him.”
He refutes the modern notion that all men are saved, commenting that men of today have “the sense that God cannot let most of humanity be damned.”
Pope Emeritus notes that starting in “the second half of the last century,” mankind believed “God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized” or even let them go to a place of “purely natural happiness,” which the Church calls Limbo.
Benedict contrasts the zeal of “the great missionaries of the 16th century” who “were still convinced that those who are not baptized are forever lost” with the lackluster missionary efforts after the Second Vatican Council, when “that conviction was finally abandoned” by many.
The former pontiff affirms that the lost conviction that the Church is necessary for salvation causes “a deep double crisis.”
“On the one hand this seems to remove any motivation for a future missionary commitment,” he says. “Why should one try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it?”
Benedict also notes that many Catholics were scandalized by this presumption into leaving the Church, explaining, “If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals.”
He then attacks the faulty attempts to “reconcile the universal necessity of the Christian faith with the opportunity to save oneself without it.”
After dismissing Karl Rahner’s mistaken notion that most men are saved as anonymous Christians, Benedict turns to another popular theory. “Even less acceptable is the solution proposed by the pluralistic theories of religion, for which all religions, each in their own way, would be ways of salvation, and in this sense, in their effects must be considered equivalent.”
In saying all this, Pope Emeritus Benedict is affirming the constant teaching that the Catholic Church is the only true Church and is absolutely necessary for salvation.
By, Msgr. Charles Pope, adw.org
Too many Catholics are uncomfortable using the biblical and traditional words, “Repent,” convert and conversion. To repent means to change your mind and come to a new way of living. To convert means to turn from sinful ways or erroneous teaching.
But too many Catholics, including priests are uncomfortable using words like this. We used to speak of convert classes etc. But now many prefer abstract descriptions like, “Inquiry Classes” or the even more abstract “RCIA”
Many draw back lest they seem to suggest that others are wrong, “going wrong,” need to change, or, heaven forfend, “sinful.” Words like repent and convert more than suggest that there is right and wrong, true and false, sanctity and sinfulness, good and evil.
But the fact is, many, including us, need on-going conversion And a good number need outright conversion And a complete change of mind, heart and behavior.
Of course repentance and the call to conversion are a key biblical summons. repentance is not suggested, it is commanded, and without it we will not see the kingdom of God.
Perhaps a central reason for the embarrassment many feel at the call to repentance and conversion is that it runs a foul of a kind of “consumer Christianity” wherein faith is reduced to using God’s grace to access blessings but not to give one’s life over to Jesus Christ in love and obedience. Consumer Christianity targets “seekers” looking for enrichment rather than disciples. The heart of discipleship is, as Jesus says, is to “Deny yourself, take up your Cross, and follow me.”
But when faith is reduced to personal enrichment, true discipleship seems obnoxious and words like repentance, conversion, and concepts like self denial, and the cross are non-starters and rejected as negative, judgemental, and, to use consumer language, is bad marketing.
To be sure, the faith does enrich and words like repentance and conversion need not be accompanied with sour faces or with no reference to the joy of salvation. We need not act like the wild-eyed sidewalk evangelists screaming repent only as a tactic of cringing fear.
But as to the avoidance of any fear at all and the words repent and convert, nothing could be more unChrist-like, for Jesus led with the summons to repent. It was in the very opening words of his public ministry: He said, “The time is now! The kingdom of God is near! Repent, and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).
And why does Jesus lead with this? Because the joy and enrichment of salvation cannot be accessed except through repentance and conversion. Eternal Life cannot be accessed except through turning our back on this world and dying to it. Easter Sunday is accessed only through Good Friday.
Consumer Christianity cannot save. Repentance and conversion, even if not popular in marketing focus groups of “seeker-sensitive” mega-churches, must be recovered in the call and vocabulary of the Church. Watering down the very thing Jesus led with is no way to make true disciples.
Repent and be converted that the Gospel may fill you.
Concerning the decision of Notre Dame to honor Vice-President Biden and former Speaker Boehner with the Laetare Medal
STATEMENT OF BISHOP RHOADES
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
In response to many inquiries, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the diocese where the University of Notre Dame is located, offers the following statement about the granting of the Laetare Medal by the University of Notre Dame to Vice-President Joseph Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner:
The Laetare Medal is given by the University of Notre Dame in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society.’ Several months ago, Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., the president of the university, discussed with me his consideration of conferring the Laetare Medal upon Vice-President Joseph Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner, two Catholics who have served in public office for many years, elected officials of different political parties. Father Jenkins made it clear to me that in recognizing Vice-President Biden and Speaker Boehner, Notre Dame would not be endorsing the policy positions of either, but rather, would be honoring them for their public service in politics. I know that this honor is also an attempt to recognize two Catholics from different political parties at a time when our national politics is often mired in acrimonious partisanship. I appreciate Notre Dame’s efforts to encourage civility, dialogue, mutual respect and cooperation in political life.
While I understand Notre Dame’s intentions in conferring the Laetare Medal upon Vice-President Biden and Speaker Boehner, I disagree with the decision. In dialogue with Father Jenkins about this matter some months ago, I shared with him my concerns with honoring the Vice-President. I believe it is wrong for Notre Dame to honor any “pro-choice” public official with the Laetare Medal, even if he/she has other positive accomplishments in public service, since direct abortion is gravely contrary to the natural law and violates a very fundamental principle of Catholic moral and social teaching: the inalienable right to life of every innocent human being from the moment of conception. I also question the propriety of honoring a public official who was a major spokesman for the redefinition of marriage. The Church has continually urged public officials, especially Catholics, of the grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that supports or facilitates abortion or that undermines the authentic meaning of marriage. I disagree with awarding someone for ‘outstanding service to the Church and society’ who has not been faithful to this obligation.
I realize that Notre Dame is trying to separate or distinguish the conferral of the Laetare Medal upon the recipients from their positions on public policies. I do not think this is realistically possible or intellectually coherent. To accomplish the goal of promoting cooperation, civility, and dialogue in American politics, I think it would have been better if Notre Dame had invited Vice-President Biden and Speaker Boehner to speak at Notre Dame on this topic rather than bestow an honor that can provoke scandal. My principal concern about this whole matter is scandal. In honoring a “pro-choice” Catholic who also has supported the redefinition of marriage, which the Church considers harmful to the common good of society, it can give the impression to people, including Catholics in political office, that one can be “a good Catholic” while also supporting or advocating for positions that contradict our fundamental moral and social principles and teachings.
Notre Dame serves the Church and my diocese in many exemplary ways and I strive to serve the community of Notre Dame through my active presence and involvement on campus. For the sake of the unity of the Church and the Church’s witness in society, I wish we could overcome disagreements which, at least in the public eye, can overshadow the good collaboration that goes on in other areas of Catholic life and mission.
We need to reflect more deeply on the meaning and significance of the bestowal of honors in relation to the Catholic identity and mission of our institutions. I would encourage Notre Dame and other Catholic colleges and universities to “raise the bar” in considering the granting of honors. I believe a higher standard is needed. There are many important values which we seek to teach, uphold, and live in our Catholic colleges and universities. These are the values we should look for in the lives of those we wish to honor. We should seek to honor those who act to protect human life and dignity from conception to natural death, who respect true marriage and the family, who promote peace, justice, religious freedom, solidarity, the integral development of the poor, the just treatment of immigrants, and care for creation. We should not honor those who may be exemplary in one area but gravely irresponsible in another.
If we honor Catholic politicians or public officials, we should make sure there is a basic consistency between their political decisions and sound Catholic moral and social teaching. We should not honor those who claim to personally accept Church teaching, but act contrary to that teaching in their political choices. We should choose for honors those whose lives and work are exemplary in witnessing to the Gospel and disqualify those who dissent from the truths and values we profess and hold dear. When we do so, when we “raise the bar,” so to speak, we not only avoid scandal, but we also have an opportunity to recognize and thank authentic witnesses to the Catholic faith for their fidelity. We also lift them up in a way that may inspire others to imitate their example.
Pope Francis is calling all of us to embrace the challenge of a missionary spirituality. He refers to “a sort of inferiority complex which leads to relativizing or concealing our Christian identity and convictions.” He also warns against a “spiritual worldliness that consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory.” I think this counsel is also relevant in decisions about conferring honors.
I recommend to all the document of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Though it does not directly address the issue of awards to public officials, I believe it gives important principles relevant to this matter and can be a helpful guide in discerning criteria for bestowing honors.
The Catholic Herald:
It is often said that once a new pope has emerged on to the loggia of St Peter’s, the cardinals’ thoughts turn almost immediately to the question of his successor. Pope Francis, although about to turn 80 at the end of this year, does not seem ready to run out of steam. Despite having part of a lung missing, he seems undiminished by a daunting schedule, which in fact he seems to relish. This, along with his obvious pleasure in his role, means that it is difficult to take quite seriously his own speculation that his papacy will be a short one. Nonetheless, nobody should be surprised that there is already much speculation about the identity of his successor.
Among the names being talked about is that of one cardinal elevated to the Sacred College by Benedict XVI, who is increasingly admired by those who wish to consolidate the legacy of the Pope Emeritus.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, relatively little known before the election of Pope Francis, has shown himself since as a key player in Rome. His name – pronounced Sar-AH and not like the English given name – reveals the French linguistic and cultural heritage which this son of the West African savannah imbibed at an early age from the Holy Ghost missionaries. Cardinal Sarah, a second-generation Christian, is a man who combines an authentic claim to come from the ecclesiastical margins so beloved of Pope Francis with a deep grasp of the cultural and theological patrimony which the old continent disseminated along with its political and economic hegemony.
We get a fascinating insight into both of these strains in his personality through his book-length interview with French author Nicholas Diat, published last year in English translation as God or Nothing. After a biographical section, where the cardinal traces his career from the early years in a round, one-room brick hut in rural Guinea which was his family’s only possession to his present position as head of the Vatican’s liturgy dicastery, the book offers reflections on the theological issues which today affect the Church’s internal cohesion as well as the vitality of its missionary outreach.
Both sections are inspiring, revealing Cardinal Sarah as a man of profound and serene contemplative temperament along with dynamic capacities for action and an astonishing courage which tackles controversial questions head-on.
These qualities of talent for action and fearlessness were perhaps what made John Paul II choose him as the world’s youngest bishop in 1979, aged only 34, for the country’s capital city and metropolitan see of Conakry.
The Church in the former French colony had long been in conflict with the radical, Marxist regime of dictator Sékou Touré. Robert Sarah had grown up in the early days of the regime, shortly after independence, attending junior seminary in neighbouring Ivory Coast, then major seminary in Guinea, before completing his studies in France and Rome. As priest and bishop, his energetic fighting of the Church’s corner so irritated Touré that at the time of the strongman’s death in 1984, the prelate was found to be at the top of his target list for arrest and execution.
Archbishop Sarah guided the Church through the turbulent changes of regime which followed. He felt so worn down by the task that he began to take a retreat every two months during which he fasted from food and water from three days. “This life of solitude and prayer helped me to recharge and return to battle,” he says in God or Nothing. Nevertheless, he felt so embattled that in 1990 he drafted a resignation letter to the Pope. A mentor persuaded him not to send it.
In 2001 he was called to Rome as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. In that role he had demonstrated sufficient firmness and competence to be entrusted by Benedict XVI with a delicate mission to the Church in Africa.
It would seem that the law of celibacy was being largely flouted among the clergy of the Central African Republic, and the complicity of the hierarchy in the situation was too flagrant to be ignored in Rome. In 2009 Archbishop Sarah led an investigation on the ground which claimed no lesser a head than that of the archbishop of the country’s capital, as well as the president of the country’s bishops’ conference, as well as numerous other highly placed clerics.
It may have been the combativeness of the Guinean prelate which led Benedict to choose him in 2010 for the post of president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, responsible for promoting and co-ordinating the Church’s charitable and humanitarian outreach. The following month he received the cardinalatial red hat. Cardinal Sarah reveals that the German pope told him he had made the appointment “because I know that of all people you have the experience of suffering and of the face of poverty. You will be most capable of expressing tactfully the Church’s compassion and closeness to those who are poorest.”
Tact and compassion, however, were not to be achieved at the expense of the outspoken witness of the new cardinal to the truth as he saw it. Within months of his nomination he became embroiled in a public row over Caritas International, the umbrella organisation which federates the activities of Catholic charities and development agencies worldwide. Cardinal Sarah was determined to strengthen the Catholic ethos of the organisation and apply the principles set out in
Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate. The decision not to renew the mandate of director Dr Lesley-Anne Knight was followed by the imposition of new statutes giving the Vatican greater oversight over Caritas.
The changes provoked Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the patron of Caritas, to echo the concerns of the many within it who were aggrieved in a manner which implied criticism of Cardinal Sarah as well as of the then Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. In those days Cardinal Rodríguez did not have the clout he now enjoys, and Cardinals Sarah and Bertone prevailed.
The change of pope spelt trouble for some high-ranking prelates, but not for the Guinean cardinal, whose credentials in a Church of and for the poor could not be called into doubt. When Cardinal Sarah was moved from Cor Unum it was to take a step upward, in a post concerned with one of the most disputed issues in the contemporary Church, that of liturgy.
Few, if any, would have predicted that someone so closely associated with the “Ratzingerian” agenda would be appointed to this post just as the fortunes of the
Ratzingerian party were manifestly ebbing in Rome. Indeed, it had been given out as virtually certain that the post of prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship would go to Archbishop Piero Marini, a known opponent of Benedict’s strategy for the liturgy. Archbishop Marini, a fluent Spanish speaker, is known to be close to Pope Francis. Why, then, was he thwarted of his rumoured ambition to take the reins of the Church’s liturgical life, in favour of a cardinal who has given voice to the very Ratzingerian (and un-Marinian) conviction that “one cannot encounter God … without trembling, without awe, without profound respect and holy fear”?
As a child in Guinea Robert Sarah saw the Vatican as an ‘unreachable summit’ (Photo: AP)
The answer is probably that Francis, who has on several occasions had to learn painfully that not even a pope can exercise absolute control over the curial machine, realised that it was not in his interest to provoke a backlash by an appointment so manifestly contrary to the orientations of his predecessor, in a domain that is not one of his priorities. He does not want to re-ignite liturgy wars. And so his charge to the new prefect was a masterful example of his technique of firing a salvo in apparently opposite directions: “I want you to continue to implement the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council … [and] to continue the good work in the liturgy begun by Pope Benedict XVI.”
Paradoxically, Cardinal Sarah’s profile has become noticeably higher in a pontificate which might be thought uncongenial to his theological temperament. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the family synods of the last two years, where he became an outstanding spokesman both on the synod floor and in writing for those who are resisting attempts to open access to the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried – a change advocated forcefully by Cardinal Walter Kasper and others and to which Pope Francis has been thought favourable.
We will discover what the Pope’s decision on the matter is within a few weeks now, by all accounts, unless he chooses to avoid the difficulties of the decision by opting for studied ambiguity. But there was no ambiguity in Cardinal Sarah’s position. The African was adamant that no change was possible to the discipline since this would be tantamount to a repudiation of the Church’s constant doctrine. It may have been him that Cardinal Kasper had in mind when he made some rather ill-judged remarks about the admissibility of African opinions on the questions of sexual morality which so preoccupy the developed world today. Cardinal Sarah has been no less forthright in equating the agenda of liberalising theologians to cultural imperialism from an arrogant and decadent West.
Along with his position at the synod, Cardinal Sarah’s book has contributed to his assuming a position as something of a standard bearer for Catholic orthodoxy in a Church where many things now seem uncertain. And so it is that many are now talking about him as a possible papabile, whenever the next conclave may be.
How realistic is this? In God or Nothing, he talks of how as a boy the Vatican seemed to him an unapproachable pinnacle. The book reveals him to us as a truly humble man in love with the transcendent God whom he serves in action and approaches on his knees in contemplation. He surely does not nourish personal ambition to ascend that lonely pinnacle himself. But might the Church decide that she needs that combination of the fearless man of action and the awe-filled contemplative at the helm?
It is difficult to imagine that those who desire to reinvigorate the theological legacy of Benedict XVI could gain so significant a victory in a conclave held now. Every consistory held under Pope Francis – and one is expected later this year – dilutes their strength within the Sacred College.
Cardinal Sarah’s outspokenness on issues such as homosexuality, which has become a shibboleth for Western secular morality, would mean that electing him would be seen as a direct challenge to what appears to be the emerging world order. Not all cardinals are ready for this. When he compared Western liberal ideas on sex and gender to Nazi propaganda and Islamist terror, he infuriated liberals, who see him as largely responsible for torpedoing efforts to get the synod to adopt “a more pastoral tone” on homosexuality. But he also probably scared off some conservatives who prefer a less confrontational approach.
One thing we have learnt in the last three years is that there are fewer certainties in the Church than we thought. I certainly won’t be putting money on having a pope from the West African savannah, but only a foolhardy pundit would rule it out. Cardinal Sarah is only nine years younger than Francis, so his eligibility will probably diminish if Francis remains as Pope beyond a few more years. That said, the prospect of a short reign can be seen as an advantage in a fraught situation – this was certainly the case for Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005. Still, whoever emerges as pope from the next conclave, one thing I think we can be sure of is that the voice of Robert Sarah will be listened to in its deliberations.
Fr Mark Drew holds a doctorate in ecumenical theology from the Institut Catholique. He is priest in charge of the parish of Hornsea in Middlesbrough diocese