Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

You have the words of eternal life

In the sixth chapter of  John’s Gospel we learn of the moment Jesus lost credibility in the eyes of the people. The crowds stopped following, and began to plot his death, when he claimed divinity. It seems people were happy endorsing him as a prophet but his claim to be ‘the bread of life’ who had ‘come down from heaven to do the will of the one who sent me’ left them cold.

This echoes our day;  many respect Jesus as one ‘good prophet’ amongst many but grow hostile at the idea of Jesus’ supremacy, a belief so central to authentic Christian faith. State that Christ is God incarnate, thus rendering all other faiths and creeds less credible, and modern man backs off and grows hostile. Pluralism, syncretism and relativism are the favoured positions of the secular age. Not unshakable confidence in divine revelation located in Jesus Christ.

There are two lessons I wish the modern church would learn from Christ’s failure in terms of worldly popularity. Because when we seek the popular vote and seek to court the world on her terms then fear soon prompts self defeating thinking.

1.  Jesus did not run after them

When the crowds revolt Jesus accepts that decision, albeit with a heavy heart.  Christ did not run after people in desperation, pathetically offering to water down God’s truth to appease them. Which is what certain prelates seem to be doing today in an attempt to placate a hostile culture. Jesus came to reveal God’s will not to win popularity contests. Therefore he told people what they needed to hear not what they wanted to hear and he stood by this quite regardless of whether the entire crowd cheered for him or bayed for his blood.

Here is a lesson for those challenging established doctrine in our day in a bid to look trendy and/or more compassionate. The Christian vocation is not to appease the world, watering down divine revelation that people might applaud. Our duty is to proclaim Christ crucified no matter the cost. And history backs this. It is saints and martyrs who stood by the Gospel who ever convinced the world of God’s truth. Not self serving and/or mealy mouthed politicians who sit light to faith and seek popularity and/or comfort; who play politics with the church.

2. Jesus has the words of eternal life

When the crowds abandoned him Jesus turned to the disciples and challenged them. This sacred challenge is, again, pertinent to our day. For Christ noted how even amongst his own followers were those grumbling about his teaching, believing it too hard to either accept or follow. Still Jesus did not cave into them but gave them, instead, the opportunity to leave as well. He knew that those grumbling did not really believe in him but would only later betray him. And they did.

Does this scripture not shed terrible light on those demanding the church change her established teaching to endorse modern values? It would seem we might still have disciples, even amongst clergy, who have lost faith and zeal in the Gospel. Who, having grown more convinced by the culture we inhabit, believe Christ’s teaching too rigid and hard and therefore impossible. John’s Gospel reveals they were always with us but they did not speak for Jesus Christ then, so I cannot see how they speak for him now. We must not be taken in by them.

Perhaps those claiming to be Christian but yet endorsing the thinking of the sexual revolution in truth need ponder afresh this challenge of Jesus? Can they accept his harder teachings or not? If not the honest thing would be to leave the church and admit you follow the world. The Gospel certainly suggests Jesus prefered to let them go than remain promoting false truth. Ultimately he chose a small but authentic following, the little handful gathered at the foot of the cross and who later gathered in an upper room, over endorsing a cheering crowd of semi-believers.

Simon Peter was different. He understood what was required. So he movingly turned to Jesus and said “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life“. Jesus not the crowd. Jesus not the culture. Jesus not me. Jesus alone. This is a vital moment revealing what intentional discipleship is about. Peter rejects all others voices and roots himself in Christ alone. He looks to the WORDS OF JESUS and they become the foundation of his faith.

Conclusion

What concerns me about the present crisis in the church is that we have amongst us prelates, in very high places, who would tell us that a need for mercy dictates change in doctrine; in favour of societal thinking and away from the words of Jesus Christ, (as regards remarriage after divorce).  I do not doubt these men have good intentions. I do not doubt they speak with sincerity. Certainly they appeal to the world and the press and the modern political elites. What I doubt is fidelity to the Gospel. For, in truth, there has been a creeping schism since Vatican II than is now threatening to split the church in two. And it is ever those taking the supposedly “progressive” path who look more and more like liberal protestants and less and less like Catholics in the conventional sense. Not only in their beliefs but in practice and worship and increasingly worldly arguments, suppositions and agendas.

Put aside the appeal to mercy, that is not what this is about. My own desire for mercy means I would wholeheartedly support a change of practice in annulment procedure making them free to access, quick to make judgement and generous in helping people discern truth in their situation. But I cannot endorse abandonment of teaching rooted in the actual words of Jesus Christ. His teaching may be hard, even unpopular, but scripture it was ever thus. And if we stand for Christ then God will give us grace to fulfil his will. That is what having faith is all about.

I hope this shows why I applaud the Cardinals who have raised the dubia. Because, like them, I am suspicious of the motives of those seeking to  put aside the words of Jesus in favour of pleasing the world. Such voices do not seem to resonate with Peter, the rock on whom the church is built. And given that St. Peter himself, and all the saints and martyrs, stand in the tradition of believers who rigidly cleaved themselves to the words of Jesus, who am I to dismiss them? Who is anyone proclaiming the name Christian?

Those pushing for change need to do much, much better then to convince. And it would help their cause if they simply answered the dubia, for every day it goes unanswered it is only reasonable that people’s suspicions grow in intensity. That the feeling of naughtiness at play becomes more certain. For what are we to make of those pushing for change but who avoid clear explanation? Who operate only in the shadows of footnotes and not in the plain light of magisterial teaching. To quote Hamlet, something seems rotten in the state of Denmark..well the Vatican anyway. And we must pray it gets sorted soon. Would the silent bishops please stand up.

Tell us who has the words of eternal life? I say Jesus Christ.

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32 Comments

  1. Patrick Fahey

    Well said Father Ed. The Bishops are poorly selected and perform their duties even more poorly. The Diocesan system is broken, has becom protestant and anti-Catholic – Schism has already occurred. maintain your couragous stance – Tien tay Foy

    God Bless,

    Patrick.

    • Admin

      I am not sure that I would go as far as that Patrick, but certainly there are problems which are growing not receding and the elevation of safe middle managers, and running diocese like businesses, is not aiding but hindering the church.

  2. Tony Hill

    How is Christ’s assurance that His Church is divinely secured against all assaults to be construed in these dire circumstances? It seems to me that the Traditionalist Catholics are the least inclined to credit their Lord’s guarantee, and the most inclined to panic. Theological pessimism, like cultural pessimism, can become rather exhilarating and habitual and may be another subtle lure of Satan, no?

    • Admin

      Tony I think we see our Lord’s assurance at work. That the Dubia cannot be answered, that nothing formal can be written and all is done by nudge and wink suggests that life is getting very uncomfortable for those trying to change this doctrine. The magisterium is working then. But until the chapter comes to a close much damage, chaos and disunity result which is heartbreaking and totally unecessary. A grave crisis rages.

  3. David Knowles

    On Feb. 14th Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has stated, in explanation of Amoris Laetitia , that remarried people can be admitted to the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist.
    1. When they have a sincere desire to change their situation but cannot without causing further harm.
    2. Are unable to abstain from sex because this would endanger faithfulness and possibly affect the good of any children.
    3. He or she is in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently or decide otherwise without further sin.

    It seems to me that the cardinal, a cannon lawyer and moral theologian, has outlined a situation where there is only a choice between two evils and so the moral thing is to endure the lesser evil.

    • Admin

      And two days later Cardinal Muller rejected everything Coccopalmerio stated. There is the rub we have Cardinals giving different viewpoints which shows a civil war rages.

      • David Knowles

        When a shepherd is moving a flock of sheep he has to keep them together. He goes forward to call back those who run on ahead, even though all will eventually take that path. He goes back to bring along those who want to stay behind, even though all have been there.
        Unity is essential, but so is the journey. The pope is the shepherd, the church is the flock and the journey is the pilgrimage it makes.
        Francis is shepherd of the flock and pilot of the barque which Jesus will not allow the storm to overcome and Francis is custodian of the keys of heaven.
        Now is the time for prayer, patience and faith. The very last thing we must do is panic and despair like the apostles on the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps we should focus onthe words of Julian of Norwich. “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

        • Admin

          Would you have backed the Borgias as blindly?

          • David Knowles

            The Borgias were purely political animals concerned only with power. To compare Francis to AlexanderVI is grossly unfair.

          • Admin

            I wasn’t comparing them, they are indeed very different fish, I was pondering your tendency to ultramontanism and wondering how far it went.

    • David here is a similar situation to the one Cardinal Coccopalmeria outlined. It is based on a real life scenario of someone known to me albeit it no longer exists. Very, very severely disabled wife being cared for at home and fit husband both in their late thirties. Children still living at home. Sex no longer possible for the couple and hasn’t been for many years. Even physical closeness (cuddling, arm round shoulder etc) just not doable. Both spouses are entirely mentally capable and both realise the huge distress this situation is causing but, for the husband, his enormous physical loneliness is also impacting upon their family life from time to time because he is upset and sometimes snappy with his wife and the kids are picking up on this. He meets an old school friend who is now divorced and she makes it clear she would like to rekindle more than friendship, effectively he has the offer of strings free sex and a healthy woman to look after him and provide him with cuddles in the odd hour or so he can get off. He knows that if he could have this physical release and relief from loneliness it would make him a better carer and a better parent. Obviously no one is going to criticise him too harshly if he gave into temptation once or even a few times and that would be something which could be confessed and absolved I would imagine possibly with a fairly light penance from a compassionate confessor. However if he were, once having fallen, to say that he cannot abstain from sex with this old school friend because, without the relief it affords him, the welfare of his children and possibly his wife would be endangered does that then make it a moral thing to endure the lesser evil i.e, his adultery? And, if not, how is this situation different to the one outlined by the Cardinal?

      • William Tighe

        “However if he were, once having fallen, to say that he cannot abstain from sex with this old school friend because, without the relief it affords him, the welfare of his children and possibly his wife would be endangered does that then make it a moral thing to endure the lesser evil i.e, his adultery?”

        CANON XVIII.-If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.”

        – The Council of Trent, 13 January 1547

      • David Knowles

        I think you should ask him not me

        • If this is your response David you are dodging the issue. You have shown yourself to be extremely capable of analysis and debate and you are obviously well read. So tell me whether you personally think the situation I have outlined differs from the one posited by Cardianl Coccopalmeria. And, if so, how.

    • Mike

      David it is interesting that those 3 justifications of Archbishop Coccopalmerio concern the individual. If you read Pope St John Paul II’s Exhortation ‘Familiaris Consortio’ his overriding concern is for the indissolubility of marriage and that the faithful will not be led into sin by the example of others. Protestants look to the relationship of the individual with God as being paramount. Catholics believe that the Church was instituted by Christ to act as the shepard of the faithful. That is why Archbishop Coccopalmerio’s comments are not helpful.

    • William Tighe

      Exactly how, Mr. Knowles, is what Cardinal Coccopalmerio wrote, as you have quoted, compatible with Chapter X of the Council of Trent’s “Decree on Justification,” which was promulgated on 13 January 1547?:

      “CHAPTER XI.

      On keeping the Commandments, and on the necessity and possibility thereof.

      But no one, how much soever justified, ought to think himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one ought to make use of that rash saying, one prohibited by the Fathers under an anathema,-that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified. For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou are able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able; whose commandments are not heavy; whose yoke is sweet and whose burthen light. For, whoso are the sons of God, love Christ; but they who love him, keep his commandments, as Himself testifies; which, assuredly, with the divine help, they can do. For, although, during this mortal life, men, how holy and just soever, at times fall into at least light and daily sins, which are also called venial, not therefore do they cease to be just. For that cry of the just, Forgive us our trespasses, is both humble and true. And for this cause, the just themselves ought to feel themselves the more obligated to walk in the way of justice, in that, being already freed from sins, but made servants of God, they are able, living soberly, justly, and godly, to proceed onwards through Jesus Christ, by whom they have had access unto this grace.

      For God forsakes not those who have been once justified by His grace, unless he be first forsaken by them. Wherefore, no one ought to flatter himself up with faith alone, fancying that by faith alone he is made an heir, and will obtain the inheritance, even though he suffer not with Christ, that so he may be also glorified with him. For even Christ Himself, as the Apostle saith, Whereas he was the son of God, learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and being consummated, he became, to all who obey him, the cause of eternal salvation. For which cause the same Apostle admonishes the justified, saying; Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air, but I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a cast-away. So also the prince of the apostles, Peter; Labour the more that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. For doing those things, you shall not sin at any time. From which it is plain, that those are opposed to the orthodox doctrine of religion, who assert that the just man sins, venially at least, in every good work; or, which is yet more insupportable, that he merits eternal punishments; as also those who state, that the just sin in all their works, if, in those works, they, together with this aim principally that God may be gloried, have in view also the eternal reward, in order to excite their sloth, and to encourage themselves to run in the course: whereas it is written, I have inclined my heart to do all thy justifications for the reward: and, concerning Moses, the Apostle saith, that he looked unto the reward,”

      which is followed by these canons, among others:

      “CANON XVIII.-If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.

      CANON XXI.-If any one saith, that Christ Jesus was given of God to men, as a redeemer in whom to trust, and not also as a legislator whom to obey; let him be anathema.

      CANON XXII.-If any one saith, that the justified, either is able to persevere, without the special help of God, in the justice received; or that, with that help, he is not able; let him be anathema.

      CANON XXVII.-If any one saith, that there is no mortal sin but that of infidelity; or, that grace once received is not lost by any other sin, however grievous and enormous, save by that of infidelity ; let him be anathema.

      CANON XXIX.-If any one saith, that he, who has fallen after baptism, is not able by the grace of God to rise again; or, that he is able indeed to recover the justice which he has lost, but by faith alone without the sacrament of Penance, contrary to what the holy Roman and universal Church-instructed by Christ and his Apostles-has hitherto professed, observed, and taugh; let him be anathema. ”

      These are solemn and infallible declarations concerning the Catholic Faith, declared under penalty of anathema; and anyone who makes assertions contrary to them, be he pope, cardinal, or David Knowles, falls under that anathema.

      It is well, also, to recall the words of Benedict XVI in his highly important Address to the Roman Curia “In whatever ways the Faith is expressed; however new its presentation; whatever theological refinements and developments may be the gifts of the centuries … it must always be a formulation with the same sense and the same meaning.”

      The pope is not an “oracle,” free to alter the faith as he pleases; neither is Cardinal Coccopalmerio or anybody else.

      • David Knowles

        Gee I’m really scared!

        • David that is a flippant and unhelpful remark and really not worthy of you. I note that you have not yet responded to the scenario I outlined above and I expect you are thinking about it but I would like to hear from you when you have done so.

          • David Knowles

            Mary,
            Yes it was flippant no I apologise to William.
            However anathemas affect me that way. I have commented further on this.
            As regards the situation you have cited the man is not remarried and is still with his wife and as you say if he sins then the sacrament of reconciliation is available to him.
            The cardinal’s example relates to a second marriage and each second marriage situation is different and has to be examined on its own merits.
            The particular details of each case affect the degree of culpability and only in the kind of situations outlined by the cardinal and various other bishops conferences can individuals be offered the sacraments.

          • Admin

            What do you say to those who suggest there is a real danger of clericalism in AL. That when you need “experts” to make decisions on behalf of laity then things are open to corruption and unecessarily conplicated and counter to the Gospel.

        • David Knowles

          Vatican II did not see the need to support its conclusions with anathemas. No modern church council or synod with any Christianity would do so because the anathema, like the burning of heretics and the invoking of maledictions has quite rightly been consigned to the history books.
          At Trent there was a magnificent reassertion of the sacrifice of the mass and other doctrines in the face of the Protestant reformation. However with regard to some of its pronouncements there was a tendency to overstate and overblow. Like all councils it was not perfect and has to be read in the context of its time when ‘Christians’ on both sides of the religious divide treated there adversaries with barbarism, torture and murder. Trent is as much a product of its time as VaticanII which was also affected by the era in which it was convened.
          I don’t think that the hurling of 16th century anathemas is at all helpful.

          • Mary B

            Noted David, but the overwhelming impression you gave was that you were entirely dismissive of the teaching authority of the Church whether supported by anathema or not. And that is entirely unedifying . Further Dr. Tighe is quite correct when he says that those teachings even ignoring the anathematisation are still binding .

  4. Andrew

    So perhaps they need a real cannon lawyer instead of a canon lawyer to sort them out.

  5. Tony Hill

    For what purpose or for whom is the Eucharist, since it was instituted expressly in order that sins might be forgiven ? Is it indeed a prize for the perfect (AL, of course) or, at least, for the shriven only? What was Christ’s record on turning away (on grounds of their unworthiness) sinners who approached him ? Did he not rather seek them out and go to dine with them? How in truth are we to measure the entitlement of any who presume to take Communion?

    Love III by the majestic George Herbert has always struck me as touching the heart of the Eucharist. I ask again (because I have raised the point on here before without reply), what constitutes “obstinate perseverance” in grave sin within Can.915 and how that, as a subjective criterion, can be assessed objectively in the context?

    Above all, I would like someone to explain to me as an interested agnostic what the Eucharist does or is (if I have framed that question properly). I have not seen the point set out clearly anywhere in the debate.

    I stress that all the questions I raise above are not advanced in a faux-naif spirit. I truly want to know. To my shame as a lapsed cradle Catholic I do not have the answers.

    • Admin

      The Ordinariate liturgy is very helpful in this regard. The act of penitence comes not at the start of Mass but after the homily, that is after God’s word has been pondered. And the prayer offered spells out exactly who communion is for, laying down the requirements for us all.

      Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins,
      and are in love and charity with your neighbours,
      and intend to lead a new life,
      following the commandments of God,
      and walking from henceforth in his holy ways:
      draw near with faith, and make your humble confession to almighty God.

      So, as the church has ever taught, a sinner who seeks the Lord in fullness may approach the altar. There is no problem at all for the divorced here, please note. However if a divorced person enters a new sexual relationship without an annulment, which by definition must be adulterous given that they previously freely promised to be faithful to a spouse ’til death us do part’ then an obvious problem arises. How can they be sorry for the sin of adultery if they have no intention of ending the adulterous relationship? We all know from confession that a desire to sin no more is part of the deal. Now certainly the world may no longer be scandalised by remarriage years later etc… but the original marriage service really is quite clear in spelling out to us that the marital bond is only severed in death. And that is the thorny issue. Not least as Christ himself gave the teaching on which this is based.

    • William Tighe

      “For what purpose or for whom is the Eucharist, since it was instituted expressly in order that sins might be forgiven ? Is it indeed a prize for the perfect (AL, of course) or, at least, for the shriven only? … How in truth are we to measure the entitlement of any who presume to take Communion?”

      It is the infallibly defined teaching of the Catholic Church, so defined by the Council of Trent (under anathema), that while venial sins are forgiven by contrition and reception of the Eucharist, reception of the Eucharist for those who have committed mortal sins, is received beneficially by “the shriven only.” We are, of course, not to judge the spiritual condition those who do otherwise – although surely this is a matter for discussion with one’s confessor – and the culpability of such individuals who do so unshriven while in a state of mortal sin is known only to God – but you did, Mr. Hill, use the word “entitlement;” and so only those have been shriven are “entitled;” and those who receive it knowingly in a state of mortal sin are in the fearful condition of “eating and drinking judgment/condemnation to themselves” (cf. I Corinthinans 11:29), any obscure oracular pronouncements to the contrary notwithstanding.

  6. Tony Hill

    A PS. My question on “obstinate perseverance” is this, I suppose: if someone repeatedly fails to live up to God’s available grace is that person to be deemed obstinate or, rather, weak? If the latter, does their weakness debar them from the Eucharist?

    Does AL anywhere say that those obstinately persevering (perhaps to be defined, since we crave objectivity, as that class of persons loudly/flagrantly announcing or manifesting their contempt for any condemnation of adultery) should be admitted to the Eucharist?

  7. Tony Hill

    Thank you, Father, and thank you, Dr Tighe, for your assistance with these thorny matters. Your references to the Ordinariate Liturgy, the Council of Trent and St Paul are very illuminating as to the nature and purpose of the Eucharist as instituted by Christ.

  8. David Knowles

    Fr.
    Why is it that an accusation of ultramontanism is only made when when people support Francis?
    Ultramontanism was far more common among the supporters of his more reactionary predecessors.

    • Admin

      I imagine it is because he seems at times to ask the faithful to choose between his ideas and what the church has always taught….

  9. Mary B

    David, thanks for that and your gracious response. I don’t agree with you however about the situation I have posited. Yes, of course, he can confess and be absolved just as a remarried couple who have resolved to live as brother and sister so they can be readmitted to the sacraments can confess and will be absolved if they fail in that resolve, that’s not the issue. The issue here is that what the Cardinal is saying is that because it is “impossible” for the couple in the situation he puts forward to abstain from sex then they needn’t and can still approach the sacraments. I am saying that the situation of the married man I have put forward is exactly the same. Indeed it might be argued, on a very rigorous interpretation, that, as it is very rare indeed for fault all to be on one side in any divorce, he is in even more need of mercy because he has done nothing to bring about the situation in which he finds himself . By analogy with the Cardinal’s example it follows that the married man in my example can commit adultery (the lesser moral evil) and need not repent before reception of Holy Communion. In other words for him it isn’t a sin. I ask again do you think that is a correct analysis and if not why not? And, if you accept it is an accurate analysis do you personally think it is OK for him to do so?

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