Monday, September 27, 2010

Salvation by Grace Alone...

It is a fundamental doctrine of St. Paul that salvation can be acquired only by the grace merited by Christ.
 (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Truth Proves Invincible During Papal Visit to Great Britain

The key to the Pope's success in Great Britain
By Phil Lawler,
Most of the reporters writing about the papal visit are clearly surprised by this outcome, and more than a few are betraying their disappointment. A week ago the same reporters were predicting a debacle, and some of them were relishing that prospect. The Pope would face angry protesters wherever he turned, they said. The crowds would be small and subdued. There would be empty seats at the Pope’s public appearances.  The staid, jaded secular world of Great Britain would listen skeptically, perhaps nod and clap politely, and then quickly move on to other things, dismissing the old man from Rome.
But Pope Benedict didn’t follow that script.
In every particular, the predictions were wrong. The crowds were loud and enthusiastic. The protesters were there, but even their friends in the mass media had trouble locating them among the tens of thousands who lined the streets to cheer for the passing papal motorcade, or thronged around Hyde Park to join in an evening prayer vigil. Britain’s political and intellectual leaders watched and listened carefully as the Pope spoke, and his words had an obvious impact. Prime Minister David Cameron spoke for an entire nation when, at the conclusion of the papal visit, he told the departing Pontiff that he had made Britain “sit up and think.”
Now the analysts who had predicted a disaster—or perhaps, at best, a polite irrelevancy—are struggling to explain how the Pope confounded their expectations. I think I can explain.
When they predicted an unsuccessful papal visit, analysts were basing their judgment on an assumption. They took it for granted that Pope Benedict would respond to the criticism that had dominated the British media during the last few weeks before his arrival. They assumed that the Pope would be worried about the protests and nervous about the likelihood of popular rejection. Clearly he was not.
Speaking with reporters during the flight from Rome, Pope Benedict said that he recognized anti-Catholicism as a force in Britain, but was not disturbed by it. He voiced his confidence that a deeper, stronger, fundamental commitment to the Christian heritage would also come into play. When asked how he would propose to make the Catholic Church more attractive to the people of Great Britain, he gave a surprising answer:
I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible…

With those words the Holy Father was signaling that he did not intend to fulfill the analysts’ expectations. He would not be defending himself when he spoke to British audiences. He would not be worrying about how the public would perceive him. He was traveling to the United Kingdom “at the service of another,” to proclaim the truth and spread the Gospel. So his own ego was not engaged; in a sense he did not care what people thought of him. He only cared what people thought of Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict’s personal style is quiet and ingratiating. His evident humility, and the deference with which he treats others, make it impossible for the public to continue thinking of him as the media had portrayed him. The people of Great Britain did not see a stern, rigid ideologue. They saw a mild, self-deprecating man who treated them with respect—and, because he respected them, told them the truth.
As he said several times during his visit, Pope Benedict saw Britain as a society longing for faith, thirsting for the truth. The reaction to his words proves that he was right. He offered his audiences the truths of the Catholic faith—without bombast, without polemics, but also without apology. And the crowds were fascinated.
Great Britain, clearly, is a nation searching for a sense of purpose. Once a great global empire, brimming over with a sense of moral righteousness, today the nation is uncertain about its own identity: uncertain what it means to be a British subject, or what are the fundamental principles on which British culture is founded. In religious affairs especially, the old establishment has broken down. The Church of England has lost its place as the moral authority over the nation. The Anglican communion has disintegrated into a congeries of different groups with different beliefs and different practices, held together only by their desperate determination to ignore those differences.
Human nature abhors a vacuum, and now into this vacuum of moral leadership strode Pope Benedict, proclaiming truths that might not be welcomed by a secularized audience, but must be recognized as consistent and compelling, worthy at least of some consideration—enough to make people “sit up and think.”
Writing in (of all places) the Guardian, columnist Andrew Brown took note of this clash between—as the headline of his column put it—“moral absolutes and crumbling empires.” The old Protestant ideas that had governed Great Britain for four centuries had run their course and lost their energy; now the Pope proposed a return to principles of thought that were both old and new: both a part of the British tradition from before the Reformation and a break with more recent history. “This was the end of the British Empire,” Brown said, speaking of the Pope’s address to political leaders in Westminster Hall.
(Whether he was exaggerating the importance of the papal address, time will tell. But in connecting the British Empire with the Protestant experiment, Brown was historically accurate. It was Henry VIII, the founder of the schismatic Church of England, who first defined the British crown as an imperial enterprise.)
Pope Benedict was gentle but relentless in challenging the basic ideas that sustained that distinctively Protestant imperial era. In his historic address at Westminster Hall—with every living former prime minister in attendance—the Pope suggested that St. Thomas More, who had been condemned to death in that same hall, was a model for Church-state relations. At Lambeth Palace, speaking to Anglican bishops with the Archbishop of Canterbury at his side, he proposed Blessed John Henry Newman as a model for ecumenical affairs. Now obviously if St. Thomas More was right, then King Henry was wrong to have him executed, and to break with the Holy See. If Cardinal Newman was right, then today’s Anglican prelates can make themselves right by entering the Catholic Church. The Pope did not draw out these conclusions, but his implications were inescapable.
Indeed, the impact of Pope Benedict’s message to Great Britain was heightened by the things he did not say—because he did not need to say them. In his address to Anglican prelates he did not focus on Anglicanorum Coetibus, with its bold invitation for Anglicans to enter into the Catholic Church. But surely that apostolic constitution was on the minds of the Anglican bishops who were listening as he spoke about the path to Christian unity. At Westminster Hall, when he praised the anti-slavery crusade led by William Wilberforce, he did not mention today’s battle to end abortion, but only a very dull politician would fail to notice the parallel. When he mentioned that Westminster Abbey is dedicated to St. Peter, he could rely on those who listened to realize that St. Peter’s successor was now in the building. And when he recalled the great heritage of British Christianity dating back to the times of St. Edward the Confessor and the Venerable Bede, it required very little imagination to notice that those happy days were before the split that gave rise to the Church of England.
Throughout the trip, Pope Benedict was quietly, humbly, but persistently staking a claim. He was not coming to Britain as a visitor from outside, hoping to be welcomed by the nation’s leaders. He was claiming, as St. Peter’s successor, to be the rightful moral leader of this old Christian society. He was inviting Britain to end its 400-year flirtation with Protestantism and reclaim its Catholic heritage. He was promising that a nation founded on the truths of the Catholic faith could be a prosperous, pluralistic, and successful modern society.
The Pope was making an astonishingly bold series of claims, really. He made them with disarming humility, so that his audiences did not take offense. Still the challenges were unmistakable. Now with the Pope back in Rome, a stunned British society has time to digest the papal message, to realize the implications of what he said, to sit up and think.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Heart Speaks to Heart"

Met with a young man for lunch yesterday -- a grad student who has found himself drawn to the Catholic Church by "the splendor of Truth." (A "hard sciences" kinda guy... someone who appreciates the interplay between physics and philosophy.) He shared an observation about Protestantism which I thought was interesting. "The theological 'autonomy' is actually very isolating... I mean, every person is almost their own 'church.' "

Exactly. The inherent problem with "sola Scriptura" -- especially the contemporary understanding and use of the principle, where it is ripped out of the context of Tradition, (which not even Luther and the Lutheran reformers did) -- is that it leaves us unable to clearly and coherently and consistently interpret Scripture. When that naked "sola Scriptura" principle is then wedded to a warped understanding of "the priesthood of all believers", you end up with every guy on the street with a Bible believing he has the right to his own, private, interpretation of Scripture. As a result, instead of one Pope, you have a million "popes"... and Protestantism is the land of a million popes.

Living under the authority of a Bishop -- especially the "Bishop of Rome" -- seems to grate on our American sensibilities, but the ultimate question is this: "Is Jesus Christ Lord?" If so, we are ALL called to live under His Lordship... and if He has granted to the successors of the Apostles the right to exercise His authority in His name...

There is ONE Church... one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church... and to dissent from it is to deny the authority of the Lord of the Church.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"It is the Lord!"

“A cloud of incense was rising on high; the people suddenly all bowed low; what could it mean?  The truth flashed on him, fearfully yet sweetly; it was the Blessed Sacrament – it was the Lord Incarnate who was on the altar, who had come to visit and bless His people.  It was the Great Presence, which makes a Catholic Church different from every other place in the world, which makes it, as no other place can be – holy.”

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman,
Loss and Gain:  The Story of a Convert

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reflection from the Homily for the Beatification of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

In his homily for today's Beatification service for Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Pope shared these thoughts, which I wanted to lift up and share with others:

Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or "Heart speaks unto heart", gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, "a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230-231).

Today’s Gospel tells us that no one can be the servant of two masters (cf. Lk 16:13), and Blessed John Henry’s teaching on prayer explains how the faithful Christian is definitively taken into the service of the one true Master, who alone has a claim to our unconditional devotion (cf. Mt 23:10). Newman helps us to understand what this means for our daily lives: he tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a "definite service", committed uniquely to every single person: "I have my mission", he wrote, "I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place … if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling" (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2).

Called by Truth to His Church, and Her Service

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.”  Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

This site is being launched today, September 19th, 2010, in order to mark the historic occasion of the beatification of (now "Blessed") John Henry Cardinal Newman. As a former Protestant clergyman who, likewise, was drawn by the "splendor of Truth" and brought to the conviction that the Catholic Church IS the Church founded by Christ and built on Peter and the Apostles, I have likewise sacrificed my pastoral ministry for the sake of being in communion with the "Bishop of Rome."  My wife, Marie, and I were received into "full communion" just four years ago September 14th, (Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross). The succeeding years have brought -- as they did for Newman -- much headache and heartache, much emotional, spiritual, and financial distress. The greatest distress has been the lack of an "occupation" in which I can fulfill my "vocation"; one need not be ordained as a priest in order to be actively involved in the education and formation of youth, raising up the next generation of faithful Catholic disciples of Christ. Sadly, after knocking on door after door for the majority of the past four years, there has been -- as yet -- no door opened.

But Truth is Truth, and the Catholic Faith is Unconquered Truth. And I continue to offer my education and experience, my abilities and gifts, my heart for the Catholic Faith -- and for her young people to grow in that Faith -- to the Church, in hopes that there will yet be found a place where I can devote my life in service.

May we all, like Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, be willing to sacrifice our lives for the sake of that Truth -- faithfully living, sharing, and defending the true Faith.