18 February 2019

Homily - The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 17 February 2019

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

You have certainly heard by now that Theodore Edgar McCarrick, onetime Archbishop of Washington, D.C. and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, has been dismissed from the clerical state because he committed the ecclesiastical crimes of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”[1] Without going into detail about what Mr. McCarrick did, I want to speak with you today about what it means to be dismissed from the clerical state; as a matter of great concern for the Church and for individual members of the faithful, it is a most serious matter that deserves our attention, in part, because so much of the media, both secular and Catholic, do not quite get everything correct in their reports.

When a man is ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests, he is configured “to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king.[2] “[T]his share in Christ's office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders … confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.”[3] By virtue of this indelible mark, the priest receives the sacred power to act in persona Christi capitas, to act in the person of Christ the head, when he celebrates the Eucharist and hears confessions. By virtue of his ordination, every priest stands in the midst of the Church in the place of Christ, who is the Head and Shepherd of the Church.[4]

Regrettably, we know that not every priest is always faithful in carrying out the sacred duties entrusted to him and to which he commits himself at ordination. Priests are not always faithful in small matters and sometimes – fewer times, thanks be to God – they are unfaithful in grave matters. By this we see that the

presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the [priest] were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, [or] even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister's sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church.[5]

The grave infidelity of a few priests – and even Cardinals - is disheartening and lamentable and should serve as a reminder that each of us is daily in need of the Lord’s merciful love and that we must each cooperate with his grace if we are to attain salvation. We must always remember that “the Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes” (Psalm 1:6).

What, then, does it mean to be “laicized”? The Code of Canon Law views a priest in three respects: first, in terms of the Sacrament of Holy Orders he has received; second, in terms of his faculties – his permissions, we might say - to exercise his priestly ministry; and third, in terms of his relationship to a diocesan Bishop.

As we have already seen, once a priest is ordained his ordination cannot be removed or taken away; he is a priest forever because the sacred character, the indelible mark, he received is permanent (cf. Psalm 110:4). However, the faculties a priest receives either from the law itself or from his local Bishop give him permission to exercise his priestly ministry; these faculties can be removed, either wholly or in part, and no priest can function without the approval and support of his Bishop, whose extension he is. This second and third aspect concerns the dismissal from the clerical state.

Dismissal from the clerical state, sometimes called laicization and what the media often calls defrocking, entails

a permanent separation from all ministry: [a dismissed priest] loses all rights and faculties associated with the priesthood and is not authorized to exercise ministry in the name of the Church; he is also dispensed from all obligations arising from his ordination to the priesthood, most notably the obligations of celibacy; and he loses his "incardination," that is, the special bond or attachment to the diocese or religious institute for which he was ordained.[6]

A priest dismissed from the clerical state is still a priest, although he may neither function as such, nor present himself as a priest; he is forbidden to exercise the sacred power entrusted to him at his ordination.

The term “laicization” is not meant as a derogatory statement toward the laity; it is rather a statement of fact. There are two states of life in which all Catholics live; a Catholic is either a cleric or a layman. A man who is dismissed from the clerical state no longer lives as a cleric but as a layman, even though he is still a cleric.[7] There is not a third state in which he can live; for which reason this process is commonly called “laicization.”

What are we to say then about the sacraments a dismissed priest performed? What of the baptisms he administered, the marriages he witnessed, the Masses he celebrated? Are they invalid? Was Christ not present in them? To say so would be to limit the power of God. We know that even through a sinful priest

Christ's gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth.... the spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled.[8]

The power of the sacraments is unaffected by the sinfulness of the priests who celebrated them, which is a cause of hope for us.

Today, then, as the sins of another are so publicly before us, let each of us look upon our own sins and seek the Lord’s mercy through the sacrament of Penance. Let each of us fear the name of the Lord, remembering that “cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5). Let us persevere in humility, in faith, hope and love, so that we might each have “hearts that are just and true.”[9] This is, of course, simply another way of saying we need to let the Beatitudes take deep root in our hearts.

The Lord Jesus pronounced the eight Beatitudes after “raising his eyes toward his disciple” (Luke 6:20). Surely, he turns his eyes upon us today, who are also his disciples. Indeed, we might say that

The individual Beatitudes are the fruit of this looking upon the disciples; they describe what might be called the actual condition of Jesus’ disciples: They are poor, hungry, weeping men they are hated and persecuted (cf. Lk 6:2off.). These statements are meant to list practical, but also theological, attributes of the disciples of Jesus – of those who have set out to follow Jesus and have become his family.[10]

As members of his family, as members of his Mystical Body, we are each called to share fully in his life, to be his disciples not simply by name, but also by act.

For this reason,

the Beatitudes express the meaning of discipleship. They become more concrete and real the more completely the disciple dedicates himself to service in the way that is illustrated for us in the life of Saint Paul. What the Beatitudes mean cannot be expressed in purely theoretical terms; it is proclaimed in the life and suffering, and in the mysterious joy, of the disciple who gives himself completely to following the Lord.[11]

Indeed, we know that “the disciple is bound to the mystery of Christ,” a mystery displayed in the Beatitudes as “they call us into communion with him.”[12]

As the world presents to us those who failed to keep the Beatitudes in their hearts, Mother Church is beginning to present to us one who, we think, did keep the Beatitudes in his heart: the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton. The Positio on his life, a document that argues he lived the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, as well as the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance to a heroic degree, has been unanimously approved by the Historical and Theological Commissions of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. His Positio is now with Pope Francis. If he, too, finds that Father Gus imitated the life of Jesus and kept the Beatitudes in his heart to a heroic degree, the Holy Father will name him a Venerable, opening the way to Beatification and Canonization.

Father Gus was born a slave in Missouri, but escaped from slavery when he just a boy, with his mother and two siblings. Growing up in Quincy, he encountered some racism, but also fell in love with the Catholic faith and desired to be a priest. After receiving numerous rejection letters from seminaries and religious orders across the country, he went to Rome to be ordained as a missionary. Once a priest, he was sent back to Quincy where he quietly and patiently endured racist hatred from a brother priest, and from some others. When it became too much to bear, Father Gus went to Chicago, where he died of heatstroke at the age of 43 in 1897. He requested to be buried in Quincy, where his body remains today. Above all, the witness of his faith shows us that “Jesus brings joy into the midst of affliction.”[13] Amen.

[1]Holy See: McCarrick dismissed from the clerical state for abuse,” Vatican News, 16 February 2019. Accessed 16 February 2019.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1581. Cf. canon 290.
[3] Idib., 1582.
[4] Cf. ibid., 1549.
[5] Ibid., 1550.
[6] Gregory Ingels, J.C.D., “Loss of the Clerical State.” Accessed 16 November 2007. Cf. canon 292.
[7] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1583.
[8] Ibid., 1584.
[9] Collect for the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Roman Missal.
[10] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 71.
[11] Ibid., 73-74.
[12] Ibid., 74.
[13] Ibid., 72.

13 February 2019

Theological Commission Approves Father Tolton's Cause

You may recall that last March 8th, the Historical Commission of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously recommended that the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton continue to proceed. This morning it was announced that the Theological Commission of the same Congregation made the same recommendation:
Chicago, IL (Feb. 13, 2019) – The cause for beatification and canonization of The Servant of God Reverned Augustus Tolton, the first African American to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest for the United States, continues to advance with the approval of the theological consultants of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints of his virtuous and heroic life.
The nine-member theological commission unanimously voted on February 5, 2019 that the cause be moved forward and presented to the Ordinary Meeting of Cardinals and Archbishops, where a final vote will be taken before presenting the Decree of Heroic Virtues to the Holy Father for his approval. Upon the promulgation of that decree, Father Tolton would receive the title “Venerable”, which indicates he lived the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance at a heroic level.

The full press release from the Archdiocese of Chicago can be read here.

Please continue to pray that Father Gus' Cause continues to move along swiftly.

12 February 2019

UPDATED: Father Tolton in the local news

Over the past several days, the diocesan Director of Communications asked me to give a series of interviews with local media outlets about the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton.

The first interview to air was with KSDK's Holliday:

We were very pleased that Mr. Holliday devoted more than four minutes to the story of Father Gus, particularly in a news cycle where stories often received not more than a minute and a half.

From WAND, I talked with Doug Wolf:

I especially like the above interview because you can see the lei that hangs on the crucifix on my desk in my office at the Catholic Pastoral Center.

From WCIA, I spoke with Mark Maxwell:

With these different interviews, the story of Father Tolton will have been shared in the major media outlets across the diocese, with the exception of the Quincy area where the media has previously shared his story on a number of different occasions.

As I sat down with the different reporters, I was impressed by their interest in his story, not simply as a piece for Black History Month, but as an inspiring witness of faith. Please join me in praying that Father Gus will soon be raised to the dignity of the altar and be declared a Blessed.

Update 16 February 2019: The interview I gave to National Public Radio can be heard here. I did not give an interview to the Quincy Herald-Whig, but they published a story, as did KHQA and WGEM.

Update 18 February 2019: The State Journal-Register's article is available here.

10 February 2019

Homily - The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 10 February 2019

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, the Apostle tells us what is “of first importance” (I Corinthians 15:1). Think, for a moment, about your life, about your goals, your hopes and dreams, about what most occupies your thoughts when things are quiet and you are alone. Thoroughly sift them for a moment in the sieve of your heart.

What is of first importance to you? Your spouse? Your children? Your work? Your retirement? Your freedom? Yourself? However important any of these may be, Saint Paul does not name any of them as being of first importance; rather, what he says is of first importance is what he has himself received. This little detail is of the greatest significance because it shows that Paul did not invent what says is most important; rather, he received it from the Lord Jesus and from the Twelve.

Contrary to what some claim today, Saint Paul is not the creator of Christianity; rather, he himself received the Christian faith and, having received it, endeavored to bring it to the entire world. For this faith, he willingly – and even gladly – endured shipwrecks and beatings and imprisonments and hunger and thirst (cf. II Corinthians 11:23-27). All of these he suffered because of what is of first importance, namely, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve” (I Corinthians 15:3-5). When you thought about what is more important, did you think of the Gospel?

MS M.302 fol. 3r
The Morgan Library & Museum
Saint Paul says the Gospel is of first importance because he knew himself to be the “foremost” of sinners (I Timothy 1:15). He had “persecuted the Church of God” and in doing so had persecuted Christ Jesus himself (I Corinthians 15:9; cf. Acts 9:4). Being a sinner, he knew himself to be in need of salvation; he knew that without salvation he stood condemned, and he knew he could not save himself. This is why he knew that “Christ died for our sins” is of first importance, both for him and for us, for we are sinners, too, each one of us.

Have you ever wondered how the first Christians knew that Jesus’ death on the Cross was for our sins? To ask it another way, 

How did the early Church know that the death of the Master was not just the unfortunate execution of a prophet who claimed to be divine but actually the most important event in the history of the world, the redeeming death of the Son of God, by which all mankind could find forgiveness of their sins?[1]

They knew Jesus’ death to be of the greatest importance because they searched the Scriptures and remembered the words he spoke to them (cf. Luke 24:8).

On the one hand, they saw in these words of the Prophet Isaiah a clear foretelling of all the Messiah would endure for the salvation of his people:

He was pierced for our sins,
            crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
            by his wounds we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
            all following our own way;
but the Lord laid upon him
            the guilt of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6).

On the other hand, as they read these words, they remembered what Jesus said at the Last Supper: “…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The good news of the forgiveness of sins and of victory in Christ Jesus, is, as Saint Paul says, “the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand” (I Corinthians 15:1).

Ruins of Corinth
The Church at Corinth was something of a raucous bunch, made up of some Christians who fully embraced the Gospel and its demands, yes, but that also contained no small number of Christians who refused to fully give themselves to Christ, as even a cursory reading of Saint Paul’s letters to the Corinthians shows. What is it, then, that kept them together, that kept them from fracturing and each going further along his own way? It was the Gospel that they received, the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and in which they stood; as often as they strayed away from it, they returned to stand upon that which is of most importance. “The emphasis falls on the last word: holding on to the original proclamation is the only thing that keeps them together and stable. It brings salvation and eternal life” and for this reason, Saint Paul says, “through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (I Corinthians 15:2).[2]

Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters are found of the question, “Are you saved?” When asked this question, many Catholics are uncertain how they should answer it. When asked this question, you should respond with the words of Saint Paul; you should say something like this: “I was saved, I am being saved, and I hope to be saved.” We were saved in the waters of Baptism, yes, having been redeemed by the Precious Blood of Christ. But we are also being saved now because it is possible, through our free choices against Christ and for mortal sins, that we might lose our salvation. This is why Saint Paul tells us elsewhere to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling” so that we might one day be finally saved (Philippians 2:12).

Despite what some claim, Saint Paul teaches us quite clearly that salvation is guaranteed to none of us; he says, “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). How often do we fall? What do we do to keep from falling? This is why we have come today to the altar of God. Just a few moments ago, we acknowledged our sinfulness to the Lord, some of us more sincerely than others. In just a few moments more, we will sing in the sight of the angels, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory” (cf. Psalm 138:1; Isaiah 6:3)! We come before the Lord to say to him, “Here I am; send me” and to entrust to him whatever boat of ours it is that he wants to make use of (Isaiah 6:8; cf. Luke 5:3). We have come to receive the Gospel, to be saved by it, and to share it with others so they, too, may be saved. Salvation, then, is the of the first importance, even though we so often think of it last.

Saint Augustine reminds us that, as he went about his missionary efforts, “Paul did not labor in order to receive grace, but he received grace so that he might labor.”[3] In other words, we are not bound to tell others about Jesus and to help them encounter him because of some benefit to ourselves; it is not about us, but about Jesus. Whatever we do or say, it is always about Jesus and his salvation. May the angels, then, remind us of this continually, so that as we are being saved and perfected by the Gospel, we might sing with them both now and eternally, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” Amen.

[1] George T. Montague, Catholic Commentary on Scripture: First Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), 263-264.
[2] Ibid., 262.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Proceedings of Pelagius, 14.36.

05 February 2019

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - February 2019

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