Month: February 2019

PRAYING FOR AND DEVELOPING A SPIRIT OF PENANCE

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’.”(Matt. 16:24)

“Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1435)

A great spiritual writer once said that “we should never forget the sufferings of the Lord.” Penitential acts of self-sacrifice done for the love of God, that is, acts of penance, keep us very close to the Man of Sorrows whose sacrifice on the cross has been so advantageous to our eternal well-being. In view of the tremendous graces we have received through the merits of Jesus Crucified, we are called to live penitential lives in a love for God which has its foundation in forgiveness.

How do we lead this penitential life? – primarily through acts of the virtue of penance nourished by our contact with Jesus, our mediator, in the Eucharist. “Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. ‘It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins’ (CCC 1436).”

Frankly, I believe that one of the primary purposes of penance is to remind us that we owe everything to God – our ongoing acts of penance showing how grateful we are for His merciful love, and how much we wish to avoid offending God in the future. And this penitential mindset helps to keep us in the presence of God as we meet head on the challenges and difficulties of the day.

In a wonderful and helpful book that explains the powerful part penance plays in a well-grounded spiritual life, Dom Hubert Van Zeller states:

“People are discouraged from approaching penance because they see it from the wrong angle. They think at once of what they will have to do in the way of disagreeable hardship. If they thought of it as turning wholly to God, which is to see it from the right angle, they would be more ready to pursue its implications. They would in fact be spurred on to gather their whole selves together from the four corners of their particular earth and face about – away from self and towards God” (Spirit of Penance: Path to God).

Penance is a manifestation of our attitude towards sin and God’s mercy. Penance means we dislike sin. Penance means we are grateful to God for His forgiveness. Penance means we don’t want to loose our distaste for sin. Penance serves as an antidote to worldliness. Penance keeps a check on avarice. Penance means we want to make reparation for the injustice of sin. Penance means our love for God is manifested by an abiding sorrow for sin.

I think of penance as being similar to football practice. If you don’t practice and work hard in preparation for the game you’re most likely going to perform poorly on game day. Saint John Paul II says, “To do penance means, above all, to re-establish the balance and harmony broken by sin, to change directions at the cost of sacrifice” (Reconciliation and Penance, 26). Developing a spirit of penance, a spirit of sacrifice, a spirit of ongoing sorrow for our sins, therefore has a very important role to play in the Christian life. As Saint Paul says, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

But what is penance? Does penance mean that I eat spinach instead of carrots, that I sleep on the floor rather than my bed, that I wear a heavy chain around my waist?  “Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance” (CCC 1430).

In trying to understand what penance is, let me make three important distinctions which should prove to be helpful. Let us distinguish between repentance, penance and The Sacrament of Penance.

Repentance, in the Biblical sense, involves a “conversion of heart,” a turning away from sin and towards God. “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Repentance involves a profound sorrow for our personal sins and incorporation into the life of Christ which begins with baptism (where all our sins are forgiven and the life of grace is poured into our souls).

But how are we to maintain this conversion since the strong residual effects of sin still remain in us even after baptism? It is here that acts of penance have a helpful role to play. Penitential actions play an important role in maintaining our conversion, and in protecting us from falling back into sin. In Luke’s Gospel we read, “Bear fruits that befit repentance” (Luke 3:8). Exterior actions of self-discipline help us to achieve this goal. Indeed, acts of penance can be a profound sign of a deep, inward conversion (they certainly were in the lives of the saints).

But what is penance? According to Catholic theology, penance is a virtue. “St. Thomas Aquinas… says that penance is a special virtue which labors to efface sin and its consequences, inasmuch as sin is an offense against God. Wherefore penance is a part of justice, and, inspired by charity, it commands other subordinate virtues, in particular temperance, as exemplified in fasting, abstinence, [and] vigils…. Mortification, properly so called… depends on the virtue of penance, and mortification in the broad sense… depends on each virtue, inasmuch as each one rejects the vices that are contrary to it” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange). Repentance, then, is an act of conversion, whereas penance is a virtue (closely associated with justice, temperance and mortification) that helps – among other things –  to maintain our conversion and sorrow for sin lest we be tempted back into a life of sin.

“There exists…an efficacious means of removing those scars of sin, scars which do not permit God to communicate His life to us in abundance. This means is the virtue of penance. What is that virtue? A habit which, when it is well-rooted and a lively one, disposes us continually towards expiation for sin, and towards destruction of the results of sin….[I]t is above all an habitual attitude of the soul that keeps alive in us a regret at having offended God and a desire to make amends for our sins. It is this, as an habitual feeling, that ought to prompt our acts of penance” (Blessed Columba Marmion).

“To resist the enemy’s temptation, which leads first of all to light faults and then to graver ones, Christ Himself told us that we must have recourse to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  And then the temptation will become the occasion of meritorious acts of faith, confidence in God, and love of God” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange).

But what if we do fall back into serious sin? It was for this possibility that Jesus established the Sacrament of Penance so that mortal sins committed after baptism could be forgiven through the ministry of the priest, following a profession of our contrition for such sins and a firm purpose of amendment. At such time the priest normally prescribes a specific penance (often in the form of certain prayers) for the penitent. Obviously, the Sacrament of Penance is a huge ally in our fight against sin. Even vexing venial sins can be placed under the powerful light of purification this sacrament provides.

Besides protecting us from sin, the virtue of penance can also be exercised as an act of charity towards our neighbor. “In virtue of our incorporation into Christ…we are all members of the same body of Christ. Since our works of satisfaction can contribute to the welfare of others, will not our charity help us to do penance, not only for ourselves but likewise on behalf of our brethren? Is not this the best means of obtaining their conversion or, if they have turned to God, their perseverance? Is not this the best service we could possibly render them, a benefit worth infinitely more than all the temporal goods we could confer upon them? Thus, to atone for our neighbor’s faults is but to carry out the will of God who having adopted us as His children commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves” (Father Adolphe Tanquerey).

Finally, acts of penance can reduce or even eliminate our period of purification in Purgatory. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains” (CCC 1473). “[E]very sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin” (CCC 1472).  “A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain” (CCC 1472). As Father Tanquerey explains, a “prompt and wholehearted penance” assists us in this life to make satisfaction for the “temporal punishment” that remains after sin is forgiven. He adds that “expiation on earth is easier since this is the acceptable time for mercy” and it is “more fruitful” since our acts of satisfaction are also “meritorious,” and therefore “a source of grace and greater glory.”

It seems to me a distinction can also be made between involuntary and voluntary penances. All the suffering and hardships, all the trials and tribulations, that come our way each day, if accepted with patience and resignation, out of love for God, out of sorrow for our past sins, can be considered involuntary – but nevertheless very meritorious –  penances. The Catechism states: “Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance” (CCC 1435). But to those involuntary penances, we can add our own planned penances, such as kneeling for thirty minutes before the Blessed Sacrament, fasting, a work of mercy, or some other sacrificial act of penitential value (see the partial list at CCC 1437). Every sacrificial act done for the love of God, attesting to the good fruit of a repentant heart, is a meritorious act of penance, supernatural in value, advancing us on the path to the Eternal Life merited by Jesus Christ for us.

A spirit of penance can therefore lead to great holiness. “It is the denying of self,” says Dom Hubert Van Zeller, that is the substance of penance.” He adds that “true penance is the surrender of the whole self to God.” Van Zeller points to some of the great effects produced by authentic Christian penance:

“When the activity of penance is properly launched in grace, the soul will begin to show signs of greater detachment, greater understanding of Christ’s Passion, greater resignation to the difficulties of life, and greater insights into the ways of the spirit and the problems of other people. The human nature of the soul, freed by penance from so much that is material, and directed towards purposes that are spiritual, comes increasingly to live at its highest level…the soul’s real life is detached from this earth, and finds its true element in God” (Spirit of Penance: Path to God, p. 101).

Beautiful penance, says Father Faber, planet earth is the place for beautiful penance. Everything we do can be offered up to God as an act of loving penance, as reparation and atonement for our sins, as a manifestation of our sorrow for sin, and as a means to root out the disorders in our soul. “Penance is,” says Father Adolphe Tanquerey in his monumental work The Spiritual Life, “the most effective means for cleansing the soul of past faults and even for guarding it against future ones.” Penance can also greatly assist our neighbor! As the angel at Fatima proclaimed, “PENANCE, PENANCE, PENANCE.”

In summary, we are called to lead penitential lives in order to break any attachment to sin. According to the great Father Olier we should pray to the Holy Spirit for the spirit of penance. In union with “the atoning Christ within us,” says Father Olier, we can become quite proficient in making meritorious acts of penance of great value for ourselves and our neighbors.

May you be blessed with the peace that comes from practicing the virtue of humble penance.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References:

  1. Catholic Bible Dictionary (Doubleday). See entry on Repentance.
  2. Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine.
  3. Theological Dictionary (Herder and Herder). See entry on Penance and the attitude proper to penance.
  4. The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life by Father Garrigou Lagrangr, Vol. I. See Chapter 20.
  5. Christ, The Life of the Soul by Blessed Columba Marmion, Chapter 4.
  6. The Spiritual Life by Adolphe Tanquerey (TAN). A comprehensive discussion on penance, pages 340 -361. The quotes from Father Olier contained herein.

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PRAY FOR THE GRACE OF FINAL PERSEVERANCE

THE GREAT SACRAMENT OF CONFESSION

Jesus said [to the apostles], “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-23)

Here, in my opinion, is a sure sign that you are on the right path – that is, on the path that leads to Heaven. Conversely, I would maintain that it is a sure sign that something is amiss in your spiritual life if you devalue this essential means of sanctification. In short, I maintain that  it is a sure sign that you are on the path leading to Eternal Life if you dearly value the Sacrament of Confession.

Our lives are in need of continual purification – this due not only to the weakness of our nature corrupted by the effects of original sin but also due to the corrupting influence of the world – and there are special purifying graces in Sacramental Confession that not only forgive our sins but also strengthen us to fight the good fight. We need these graces.

The Sacrament of Confession, established by Jesus after his Resurrection (see John 20:22-23), is the most assured means to root out sin and impurity from our lives. The other day I was listening to a talk given by Father Michael Scanlan of Franciscan University, and he mentioned in his talk that he had never met a priest who hadn’t seen amazing things occur in the confessional.

When we walk out of the confessional we are forgiven, renewed, empowered and protected from evil. Confession is truly an awesome sacrament! 

While Pope, Saint John Paul II drew attention to the healing power of Confession, saying:

“It [sacramental Confession] also performs an authentic ‘spiritual resurrection,’ restores the dignity and the good of the life of the children of God, the most precious of which is friendship with God.”

“It would be illusory to desire to reach holiness, according to the vocation that each one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and sanctification,” that, together with the Eucharist, “accompanies the path of the Christian towards perfection.”

“Penance, by its nature,” he explained, “involves purification, in both the acts of the penitent who lays bare his conscience because of the deep need to be pardoned and reborn, and in the effusion of sacramental grace that purifies and renews.”  (May 29, 2004 Catholic New Agency)

Consider it a great treasure – indeed, an invaluable treasure – that you have such easy access to this Sacrament. Treasure it. Desire it. Don’t fear it, for it is a dear friend. Be so happy to confess your sins and faults. This Sacrament will take you where you want to go, “upward, onward,” to Eternal Life! 

Tom Mulcahy

Ref. I am relying most particularly on Father Lallemant who says on page 50 of The Spiritual Doctrine that Confession produces “great purity of heart,” and also that it “is a matter of moral demonstration that nothing conduces more to the progress of souls than confession and daily communion….”

Photo attribution: Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles by Duccio di Buoninsegna, circa 1309-1311 (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

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GOD EXISTS BECAUSE GOD IS LIFE

                                             

                                         ” I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14)

We are caught up in the simple but precise argument that if there was nothing to begin with how could there be anything at all? And the core of our argument is that the existence of God is “an imperative of metaphysical reasoning,” or even of simple logic.

Wilhelmsen states that “the metaphysics of being is simultaneously the Philosophy of God.” Such a statement finds correlation in the Bible, where God is revealed to Moses as I AM (Exodus 3: 14 ). And Jesus says –  rather amazingly –  that he is “the life” (John 14:6 ). In other words, God is that very beginning, or that very unbeginning, the absence of which there would simply be nothing.

The “Supreme mystery,” then, is the mystery of a Being whose very essence is to exist. The philosopher says that God exists simply in virtue of Himself, so that God is the pure act of existing. “God affirms himself as the absolute act of being in its pure actuality” (Etienne Gilson).

Father Garrigou-Lagrange, a great scholar of St. Thomas Aquinas, explains that:

“God is the eternally subsisting being. God, then, is not only pure spirit, He is being itself subsisting immaterial at the summit of all things and transcending any limits imposed by either space or matter or a finite spiritual essence. Now, because God is the self-subsisting being, the infinite ocean of spiritual being, unlimited, unmaterialized, He is distinguished  from every material  or spiritual creature. The divine essence is existence itself, it alone of necessity exits. No creature is self-existent; none can say: I am being, truth, life, etc. Jesus alone among men said: “I am the truth and the life,” which was the equivalent to saying, “I am God” (Providence, 70-71).

Another scholar, quoting Jacques Maritain, says that “the act of existing is the key to St. Thomas’s philosophy, and it [being] is something super-intelligible which is revealed in the judgment I make that something exists. ‘This is why, at the root of metaphysical knowledge, St. Thomas places the intellectual intuition of that mysterious reality disguised under the most commonplace and commonly used word in the language, the word to be…that victorious thrust by which it [being] triumphs over nothingness.'” Our affirmation or intuition of being, then, leads us to “the affirmation of Being Itself, God” (Wilhelmsen).

The Incarnation is the revelation that Jesus is LIFE! One day Jesus revealed his glory to the apostle Thomas, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6). As the Pulpit Commentary explains, “I am the Life [means that Jesus is] the life eternal, the Possessor, Author, Captain, Giver, and Prince of life.”

On another occasion Jesus encountered a grieving woman, Martha, whose brother Lazarus had died, and Jesus said to her (before raising Lazarus back to life): I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). This profound pronouncement of Jesus demonstrates that he “possesses the absolute sovereignty over life and death” that is “the sole prerogative” of God (ICSB).

CONCLUSION: God is life, or, as the Bible says, God has LIFE in himself (John 5:26). “God is the ultimate Possessor of life per se” (Pulpit Commentary). This is a great mystery, but it is a mystery confirmed by Scripture and human intelligence, and St. Paul warns that our minds are darkened if they don’t rise to a knowledge of God (Romans 1: 19-22; ICSB). So, we return to the ultimate philosophical question, Why is there something rather than nothing?, and we must conclude that nothing can produce nothing! And it is only because God IS (that is, because God is ETERNAL LIFE, the eternally subsisting Being) that we hold on to life day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Our present “to-be-ness” is completely dependent on Him who IS I AM. And in this light we can come to see in a more penetrating way that God has the power – as the eternal custodian of life –  to raise up our mortal bodies on the last day (John 6:40). 

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The Paradoxical Structure of Existence by Frederic D. Wilhemsen; Providence by Father Garrigou-Lagrange; Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics under the title, “Principle of Causality” beginning at page 120; The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Etienne Gilson; Existence and the Existent by Jacques Maritan; and Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.

Image: Moses and the Burning Bush, circa 1450-1475, attributed to Dieric Bouts, Public Domain, U.S.A.

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CARDINAL MULLER ISSUES A MANIFESTO CORRECTING DOCTRINAL ERRORS

 

INTRODUCTION:   I have set forth below in its entirety the just released Manifesto of Faith by Cardinal Gerhard Muller who was the Vatican’s Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012-2017. Under each numbered portion of the Manifesto below I have provided a very short commentary in italics.

                                         

 

                                   Manifesto of Faith by Cardinal Muller                                      

                  “Let not your heart be troubled!” (John 14:1)

In the face of growing confusion about the doctrine of the Faith, many bishops, priests, religious and lay people of the Catholic Church have requested that I make a public testimony about the truth of revelation. It is the shepherds’ very own task to guide those entrusted to them on the path of salvation. This can only succeed if they know this way and follow it themselves. The words of the Apostle here apply: “For above all I have delivered unto you what I have received” (1 Cor. 15:3). Today, many Christians are no longer even aware of the basic teachings of the Faith, so there is a growing danger of missing the path to eternal life. However, it remains the very purpose of the Church to lead humanity to Jesus Christ, the light of the peoples (see LG 1). In this situation, the question of orientation arises. According to John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a “safe standard for the doctrine of the faith” (Fidei Depositum IV). It was written with the aim of strengthening the Faith of the brothers and sisters whose belief has been massively questioned by the “dictatorship of relativism.”

1. The one and triune God revealed in Jesus Christ

The epitome of the Faith of all Christians is found in the confession of the Most Holy Trinity. We have become disciples of Jesus, children and friends of God by being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The distinction of the three persons in the divine unity (CCC 254) marks a fundamental difference in the belief in God and the image of man from that of other religions. Religions disagree precisely over this belief in Jesus the Christ. He is true God and true Man, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. The Word made flesh, the Son of God, is the only Savior of the world (CCC 679) and the only Mediator between God and men (CCC 846). Therefore, the first letter of John refers to one who denies His divinity as an antichrist (1 John 2:22), since Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is from eternity one in being with God, His Father (CCC 663). We are to resist the relapse into ancient heresies with clear resolve, which saw in Jesus Christ only a good person, brother and friend, prophet and moralist. He is first and foremost the Word that was with God and is God, the Son of the Father, Who assumed our human nature to redeem us and Who will come to judge the living and the dead. Him alone, we worship in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Only and True God (CCC 691).

Commentary: The Pope signed a document last week, cosigned by Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar Mosque, which stated that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions” are “willed by God in His wisdom,” a statement that many felt was doctrinally troubling. Here Cardinal Mueller is reasserting that Jesus Christ is “true God” and the “only Savior of the world.”

2. The Church

Jesus Christ founded the Church as a visible sign and tool of salvation realized in the Catholic Church (816). He gave His Church, which “emerged from the side of the Christ who died on the Cross” (766), a sacramental constitution that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved (CCC 765). Christ, the Head, and the faithful as members of the body, are a mystical person (CCC 795), which is why the Church is sacred, for the one Mediator has designed and sustained its visible structure (CCC 771). Through it the redemptive work of Christ becomes present in time and space via the celebration of the Holy Sacraments, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Holy Mass (CCC 1330). The Church conveys with the authority of Christ the divine revelation, which extends to all the elements of doctrine, “including the moral teaching, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, and observed” (CCC 2035).

Commentary: The moral teachings of the Church cannot be watered down to accommodate the times because these teachings are intrinsically linked to the “saving truths of the faith.” Moreover, Jesus Christ is the one mediator between man and God, and the Catholic Church is the visible sign of this reality. 

3. Sacramental Order

The Church is the universal sacrament of salvation in Jesus Christ (CCC 776). She does not reflect herself, but the light of Christ, which shines on her face. But this happens only when the truth revealed in Jesus Christ becomes the point of reference, rather than the views of a majority or the spirit of the times; for Christ Himself has entrusted the fullness of grace and truth to the Catholic Church (CCC 819), and He Himself is present in the sacraments of the Church.

The Church is not a man-made association whose structure its members voted into being at their will. It is of divine origin. “Christ himself is the author of ministry in the Church. He set her up, gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal (CCC 874). The admonition of the Apostle is still valid today, that cursed is anyone who proclaims another gospel, “even if we ourselves were to give it or an angel from heaven” (Gal 1:8). The mediation of faith is inextricably bound up with the human credibility of its messengers, who in some cases have abandoned the people entrusted to them, unsettling them and severely damaging their faith. Here the Word of Scripture describes those who do not listen to the truth and who follow their own wishes, who flatter their ears because they cannot endure sound doctrine (cf. 2 Tim 4:3-4).

The task of the Magisterium of the Church is to “preserve God’s people from deviations and defections” in order to “guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error” (890). This is especially true with regard to all seven sacraments. The Holy Eucharist is “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). The Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which Christ includes us in His Sacrifice of the Cross, is aimed at the most intimate union with Him (CCC 1382). Therefore, the Holy Scripture admonishes with regard to the reception of the Holy Communion: “Whoever eats unworthily of the bread and drinks from the Lord’s cup makes himself guilty of profaning the body and of the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion” (CCC 1385). From the internal logic of the sacrament, it is understood that divorced and civilly remarried persons, whose sacramental marriage exists before God, as well as those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Faith and the Church, just as all those who are not disposed to receive the Holy Eucharist fruitfully (CCC 1457), because it does not bring them to salvation. To point this out corresponds to the spiritual works of mercy.

The confession of sins in Holy Confession at least once a year is one of the Church’s commandments (CCC 2042). When the believers no longer confess their sins and no longer experience the absolution of their sins, salvation becomes impossible; after all, Jesus Christ became Man to redeem us from our sins. The power of forgiveness that the Risen Lord has given to the Apostles and their successors in the ministry of bishops and priests applies also for mortal and venial sins which we commit after Baptism. The current popular practice of confession makes it clear that the conscience of the faithful is not sufficiently formed. God’s mercy is given to us, that we might fulfil His Commandments to become one with His Holy Will, and not so as to avoid the call to repentance (CCC 1458).

“The priest continues the work of redemption on earth” (CCC 1589). The ordination of the priest “gives him a sacred power” (CCC 1592), which is irreplaceable, because through it Jesus becomes sacramentally present in His saving action. Therefore, priests voluntarily opt for celibacy as “a sign of new life” (CCC 1579). It is about the self-giving in the service of Christ and His coming kingdom.

Commentary: The Cardinal is essentially saying that the permission granted in Amoris Laetitia for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics (who thus have not had their first marriage annulled) to receive Holy Communion after the consideration of mitigating circumstances is in error, and further that non-Catholics are not disposed to receive the Holy Eucharist.

4. Moral Law

Faith and life are inseparable, for Faith apart from works is dead (CCC 1815). The moral law is the work of divine wisdom and leads man to the promised blessedness (CCC 1950). Consequently, the “knowledge of the divine and natural law is necessary” to do good and reach this goal (CCC 1955). Accepting this truth is essential for all people of good will. For he who dies in mortal sin without repentance will be forever separated from God (CCC 1033). This leads to practical consequences in the lives of Christians, which are often ignored today (cf 2270-2283; 2350-2381). The moral law is not a burden, but part of that liberating truth (cf Jn 8:32) through which the Christian walks on the path of salvation and which may not be relativized.

Commentary: Clearly a criticism of the idea in Amoris Laetitia that the moral pronouncements of the Church are more or less an ideal that not everyone is capable of fulfilling in concrete circumstances. Moreover, the situation ethics language of AL 301-303, which broadly discusses how one may opt out of Catholic morality with God’s approval, is rebutted here since the moral law “may not be relativized.” 

5. Eternal Life

Many wonder today what purpose the Church still has in its existence, when even bishops prefer to be politicians rather than to proclaim the Gospel as teachers of the Faith. The role of the Church must not be watered down by trivialities, but its proper place must be addressed. Every human being has an immortal soul, which in death is separated from the body, hoping for the resurrection of the dead (CCC 366). Death makes man’s decision for or against God definite. Everyone has to face the particular judgement immediately after death (CCC 1021). Either a purification is necessary, or man goes directly into heavenly bliss and is allowed to see God face to face. There is also the dreadful possibility that a person will remain opposed to God to the very end, and by definitely refusing His Love, “condemns himself immediately and forever” (CCC 1022). “God created us without us, but He did not want to save us without us” (CCC 1847). The eternity of the punishment of hell is a terrible reality, which – according to the testimony of Holy Scripture – attracts all who “die in the state of mortal sin” (CCC 1035). The Christian goes through the narrow gate, for “the gate is wide, and the way that leads to ruin is wide, and many are upon it” (Mt 7:13).

To keep silent about these and the other truths of the Faith and to teach people accordingly is the greatest deception against which the Catechism vigorously warns. It represents the last trial of the Church and leads man to a religious delusion, “the price of their apostasy” (CCC 675); it is the fraud of Antichrist. “He will deceive those who are lost by all means of injustice; for they have closed themselves to the love of the truth by which they should be saved” (2 Thess 2:10).

Commentary: Clearly there has been controversy surrounding Pope Francis’ understanding of hell. Cardinal Muller reminds us very forcefully that “the eternity of the punishment of hell is a terrible reality.”

Call

As workers in the vineyard of the Lord, we all have a responsibility to recall these fundamental truths by clinging to what we ourselves have received. We want to give courage to go the way of Jesus Christ with determination, in order to obtain eternal life by following His commandments (CCC 2075).

Let us ask the Lord to let us know how great the gift of the Catholic Faith is, through which opens the door to eternal life. “For he that shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation: The Son of Man also will be ashamed of him, when He shall come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38). Therefore, we are committed to strengthening the Faith by confessing the truth which is Jesus Christ Himself.

We too, and especially we bishops and priests, are addressed when Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, gives this admonition to his companion and successor, Timothy: “I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, Who shall judge the living and the dead, by His coming, and His kingdom: Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. Be sober.” (2 Tim 4:1-5).

May Mary, the Mother of God, implore for us the grace to remain faithful without wavering to the confession of the truth about Jesus Christ.

United in faith and prayer

Gerhard Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 2012-2017

February, 2019

 

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A TIME OF SEVERE TESTING FOR THE CHURCH: A LETTER FROM PETER HERBECK

“But now that the Saviour has raised his body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.” (St. Athanasius)

 

Dear Friends,

                            “Keeping Our Heads in All Situations”

(By: Peter Herbeck, Vice President of Renewal Ministries)

I’m so grateful to be able to write a letter for this month’s newsletter. I’ve been thinking and praying for all of you—all of us—who are living through these unprecedented times for the Church. These are chaotic and destabilizing times, filled with sorrow, anger, confusion, and fear for many people. It is without a doubt a time of great testing for all of us

One of the constant questions I get from people is, “How do I respond to this? What should I do?” A great deal of helpful practical advice has been given on how to help the leaders of the Church, bishops and priests, to cooperate with this time of purification. But more needs to be said about how we can, as St. Paul puts it, “keep our heads in all situations” (2 Tm 4:5), especially in times of hardship and great testing. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles is a great help in times like these.

Keeping the big picture in mind is key to helping us live above our circumstances and to seeing in trials great opportunity to grow in maturity as disciples. St. Peter exhorts us to “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (2 Pt 4:12). All of us are being proved, tested by the crisis in the Church. This “fiery ordeal” is a self-inflicted wound, the result of serious failures and scandalous behavior of leadership.

The scandalous behavior is a shock to the system, but it shouldn’t ultimately be a surprise or too strange for us to understand. Jesus told us that we would have great tribulations in this world and that we would see and experience scandal, the kind witnessed even among the twelve apostles. Among Jesus’ closest friends, those He knew best, the ones He trusted the most: at the moment Jesus needed them most, one betrayed Him and another denied even knowing Him. Sin, failure, and betrayal among leaders is scandalous, but it shouldn’t ultimately take us by surprise.

As disciples, we know, or should know, human weakness. We also know that we’re living in an “evil age,” in a fallen world that is “in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19). The world is a battle field; the Church is at war, every single day, against powerful principalities and powers deployed against us. What we are seeing writ large is the same struggle we all face, the daily temptations and seductions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Jesus is showing mercy in this severe discipline and judgment that has come upon the Church. He is at work, shining light into the darkness, removing the chains and breaking the strongholds that are binding the Church. He’s revealing the consequences of sin, the depth to which even clergymen, religious leaders, can fall. We’re seeing the face of sin, and this, friends, is a great and severe mercy.

This is a moment for all of us to take stock, to examine our lives in the light of Jesus. He is disciplining His Church, and in that He is testing each one of us. Where are we in relationship to His call in our lives? Are we giving Him everything? Are we putting Him first? Are we fulfilling the assignment He has given to each one of us? Are we passionately, completely dedicated to bringing the kingdom and the will of the Father into every area He has given us responsibility for? Are we living in the wisdom of the eternal perspective, knowing with confidence and certainty that we, each one us, will soon be standing before the judgment seat of Christ, giving an account for what we have done with what He has given to us?

St. Paul gives us a beautiful perspective to live by, especially in these days:

“So we are always of good courage . . . whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:6, 9-10).

Despite the many trials, persecutions, punishments, disappointments, and failures in the Church, St. Paul has his eye on the climax of his life, the ultimate moment that he knows with certainty lies before him: his appearing before the judgment seat of Christ. This certainty fills Paul with what he himself describes as “the fear of the Lord,” which gives him clarity and wisdom on how to live in the moment, no matter what circumstances he is facing. The only thing that matters is to live in a way that pleases the Lord. It simplifies his life in the midst of constant complexity. It gives him wisdom: the ability to know how to live well, to live an authentically fulfilling life, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and to do the will of the Father. Nothing else matters. Period.

This is where Jesus is leading the Church. He wants to awaken the fear of the Lord in all of us so that we can have wisdom. He has brought us to a point of decision:

Are we going to live in the fear of men, which necessarily leads to foolishness and slavery, or are we going to fear God and live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God?

Let’s not let this trial pass without harvesting everything Jesus has for us personally and corporately. I believe in my bones that the Renewal Ministries’ family was made for this moment! He is here, ready to strengthen us, to empower us to give a wholehearted and radical “yes” to Him and to do all we can to lead those He brings to us out of bondage, foolishness, and fear, into the wisdom of God.

Lord, we love You! Help us to make the most of the time and to use the resources You have given us to serve Your purpose in this hour!

Friends, we will all be dead soon. Life is short, it’s a passing shadow, let’s help each other make the most of the time for the glory of the Lord and for the salvation of souls.

In Christ,

Peter Herbeck

Biographical notePeter Herbeck is the vice president and director of missions for Renewal Ministries. For more than thirty years, he has been actively involved in evangelization and Catholic renewal throughout the US, Canada, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Peter is a co-host for the weekly television programs The Choices We Face and Crossing the Goal. He also hosts the daily radio show Fire on the Earth. He is a frequent conference speaker, has authored When the Spirit Comes in Power and When the Spirit Speaks, and has produced CDs and booklets about discipleship and life in the Spirit. Peter is involved with i.d.9:16, an outreach to Catholic young adults sponsored by Renewal Ministries. Peter and his wife Debbie have four children and reside in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Source: This article, used with permission, is in the February 2019 Newsletter of Renewal Ministries available at renewalministries.net

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