"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Thursday 30 August 2012


From a Sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo

Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal creator of all things, today became our Savior by being born of a mother. Of his own will he was born for us today, in time, so that he could lead us to his Father's eternity. God became man so that man might become God. The Lord of angels became man today so that man could eat the bread of angels.

Today, the prophecy is fulfilled that said: Pour down, heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just one: let the earth be opened and bring forth a savior. The Lord who had created all things is himself now created, so that he who was lost would be found. Thus, man, in the words of the psalmist, confesses: Before I was humbled, I sinned. Man sinned and became guilty; God is born a man to free man from his guilt. Man fell, but God descended, man fell miserably, but God descended mercifully; man left through pride, God descended with his grace.

My brethren, what miracles! What prodigies! The laws of nature are changed in the case of man. God is born. A virgin becomes pregnant with man. The Word of God marries the woman who knows no man. She is now at the same time both mother and virgin. She becomes a mother, yet she remains a virgin. The virgin bears a son, yet she is not barren. He alone was born without sin, for she bore him without the embrace of a man, not by the concupiscence of the flesh but by the obedience of the mind.

The Doctrine of Theosis
Incarnation and Divinization

In the Eastern Catholic tradition, which is also reflected in certain paragraphs of theCatechism of the Catholic Church issued in 1992, the doctrine of salvation is called theosis, and it centers on the deification of man by grace [see, Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 460, 1129, 1265, 1812, 1988, 1999]. This doctrine is fundamental to the teaching of the Church Fathers, who held that "God became man, so that man might become God" [St. Augustine, Sermo 13 de Tempore, from The Office of Readings, page 125, (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1983)].  Thus, the whole point of the incarnation of God is the deification of man.

As I indicated above, this teaching is reflected in the Catechism in several places, most especially in paragraph 1988 which reads as follows: "Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ's Passion by dying to sin, and in His Resurrection by being born to new life; we are members of His Body which is the Church, branches grafted onto the Vine which is Himself: '[God] gave Himself to us through His Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature.   . . . For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized'"   [Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1988].  Deification by grace, i.e., becoming sons of God in the Only Begotten Son of God, is the whole point of the incarnation, life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord.

Thus Mary, as the exemplar of the Church, having been assumed body and soul into Heaven, has experienced theosis and has been divinized by grace, and so she has been conformed perfectly to the likeness of her Divine Son, as one day all those who are saved shall be. This does not involve the destruction of her humanity, for she remains fully human, but she has been truly divinized by the grace of Almighty God.

This doctrine must not be thought of in a "Mormon" way, as if men become little gods with their own planets, but must be understood as a true deification of man and as an intimate communion of man with God in Christ. It must never be reduced to a mere metaphor, because by his incorporation into Christ, man is really made a partaker of the divine nature [see, 2nd Peter 1:4].  This does not involve a change in man's essence, but entails an indwelling of God's Spirit within the human person, enlivening both body and soul to everlasting life.  There is an analogy between the incarnation and deification, which is most clearly indicated in the prayer of the priest during the offertory at Mass when he mixes the water with the wine and says, "By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity" [The Sacramentary, (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1985), page 370].

I will end with an extended quotation from the Pope's Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte in which he speaks of this powerful mystery: "Jesus is the new man (see Eph 4:24; Col 3:10) who calls redeemed humanity to share in His divine life. The mystery of the Incarnation lays the foundations for an anthropology which, reaching beyond its own limitations and contradictions, moves towards God Himself, indeed towards the goal of divinization. This occurs through the grafting of the redeemed on to Christ and their admission into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life. The Fathers have laid great stress on this soteriological dimension of the mystery of the Incarnation: it is only because the Son of God truly became man that man, in him and through him, can truly become a son of God" [Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 23].  The process of deification does not involve the destruction of the distinction between God as the Creator and man as the created, for this distinction always remains, but by grace man is truly elevated into the very life and energy of the Trinity.

Incarnation and Divinization Copyright © 2004  -  The Taboric Light 

This article is an excerpt from The Wellspring of Worship (Ignatius Press, 2005, ) by the late Jean Corbon OP who wrote the section on Prayer in the Catholic Catechism abd whose teaching was followed in the section on our participation in the Christian Mystery

If we consent in prayer to be flooded by the river of life, our entire being will be transformed; we will become trees of life and be increasingly able to produce the fruit of the Spirit: we will love with the very Love that is our God. It is necessary at every moment to insist on this radical consent, this decision of the heart by which our will submits unconditionally to the energy of the Holy Spirit; otherwise we shall remain subject to the illusion created by mere knowledge of God and talk about him and shall in fact remain apart from him in brokenness and death. On the other hand, if we do constantly renew this offering of our sinful hearts, let us not imagine that our New Covenant with Jesus will be a personal encounter pure and simple. The communion into which the Spirit leads us is not limited to a face-to-face encounter between the person of Christ and our own person or to an external conformity of our wills with his. The lived liturgy does indeed begin with this "moral" union, but it goes much further. The Holy Spirit is an anointing, and he seeks to transform all that we are into Christ: body, soul, spirit, heart, flesh, relations with others and the world. If love is to become our life, it is not enough for it to touch the core of our person; it must also impregnate our entire nature.

To this transformative power of the river of life that permeates the entire being (person and nature), the undivided tradition of the Churches gives an astonishing name that sums up the mystery of the lived liturgy: theosis or divinization. Through baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit we have become "sharers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). In the liturgy of the heart, the wellspring of this divinization streams out as the Holy Spirit, and our individual persons converge in a single origin. But how is this mysterious synergy to infuse our entire nature from its smallest recesses to its most obvious behaviors? This process is the drama of divinization in which the mystery of the lived liturgy is brought to completion in each Christian.

The Mystery of Jesus

To enter into the name of the holy Lord Jesus does not mean simply contemplating it from time to time or occasionally identifying with his passionate love for the Father and his compassion for men. It also means sharing faithfully and increasingly in his humanity, in assuming which he assumed ours as well. In our baptism we "put on Christ" in order that this putting on might become the very substance of our life. The beloved Son has united us to himself in his body, and the more he makes our humanity like his own, the more he causes us to share in his divinity. The humanity of Jesus is new because it is holy. Even in its mortal state it shared in the divine energies of the Word, without confusion and in an unfathomable synergy in which his will and human behavior played their part. Jesus is not a divinized man; he is the truly incarnated Word of God.

This last statement means that we need not imitate, from afar and in an external way, the behavior of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel, in order thereby to effect our own divinization and become "like God"; self-divinization is the primal temptation ever lurking in wait. On the contrary, it is the Word who divinizes this human nature, which he has united to himself once and for all. Since his Resurrection his divinehuman energies are those of his Holy Spirit, who elicits and calls for our response; in the measure of this synergy of the Spirit and our heart our humanity shares in the life of the holy humanity of Christ. To enter into the name of Jesus, Son of God and Lord, means therefore to be drawn into him in the very depths of our being, by the same drawing movement in which he assumed our humanity by taking flesh and living out our human condition even to the point of dying. There is no "panchristic" pseudo-mysticism here, because the human person remains itself, a creature who is free over against its Lord and God. Neither, however, is there any moralism (a further error that waits to ensnare us), because our human nature really shares in the divinity of its Savior.

"Man becomes God as much as God becomes a man", says Saint Maximus the Confessor. [1] Christian holiness is divinization because in our concrete humanity we share in the divinity of the Word who married our flesh. The "divine nature" of which Saint Peter speaks (2 Pet 1:4) is not an, abstraction or a model, but the very life of the Father, which he eternally communicates to his Son and his Holy Spirit. The Father is its source, and the Son extends it to us by becoming a man. We become God by being more and more united to the humanity of Jesus. The only question left, then since this humanity is the way by which our humanity will put on his divinity–is this: How did the Son of God live as a man in our mortal condition? The Gospel has been written precisely in order to show us "the mind of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5); [2] it is this mind with which the Holy Spirit seeks to fill our hearts.

According to the spirituality of the Church and according to the gifts of the Spirit given to every one, each of the baptized lives out more intensely one or other aspect of the mind of Christ; at the same time, however, the mystery of divinization is fundamentally the same in all Christians. Their humanity no longer belongs to them, in the possessive and deadly sense of "belong", but to him who died and rose for them. In an utterly true sense, all that makes up my nature–its powers of life and death, its gifts and experiences, its limits and sins–is no longer "mine" but belongs to "him who loved me and gave himself up for me". This transfer of ownership is not idealistic or moral but realistic and mystical. As we shall see, the identification of Jesus with the humanity of every human person plays a very large part in the new relationship that persons establish with other men; but when the identification is willingly accepted and when our rebellious wills submit to his Spirit, divinization is at work. I was wounded by sin and radically incapable of loving; now Love has become part of my nature again: "I am alive; yet it is no longer 1, but Christ living in me" (Gal 2:20).

The Realism of the Liturgy of the Heart

The mystical realism of our divinization is the fruit of the sacramental realism of the liturgy. Conversely, evangelical moralism, with which we so often confuse life according to the Spirit, is the inevitable result of a deterioration of the liturgy into sacred routines. But when the fontal liturgy, which is the realism of the mystery of Christ, gives life to our sacramental celebrations, in the same measure the Spirit transfigures us in Christ.

The Fathers of the early centuries tell us that "the Son of God became a man, in order that men might become sons of God". The stages by which the beloved Son came among us and united himself to us to the point of dying our death are the same stages by which he unites us to him and leads us to the Father, to the point of making us live his life. These stages of the one Way that is Christ are shown to us in figures in the Old Testament; Jesus fulfilled the prefigurations. The stages are creation and promise, Passover and exodus, Covenant and kingdom, exile and return, restoration and expectation of the consummation. The two Testaments inscribed this great Passover of the divinizing Incarnation in the book of history. But in the last times the Bible becomes life; it exists in a liturgical condition, and the action of God is inscribed in our hearts. Knowledge of the mystery is no longer a mental process but an event that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the celebrated liturgy and then brings to fulfillment by divinizing us.

But it is not enough simply to understand the ways in which Christ divinizes us; the primary thing is to be able to live them. At certain "moments" the celebrated liturgy gives us an intense experience of the economy of salvation, which is divinization, in order that we may live it at all "times", these new times into which it has brought us. According to the Fathers of the desert, either we pray always or we never pray. But in order to pray always we must pray often and sometimes at length. In like manner (for we are dealing with the same mystery), in order to divinize us the Spirit must divinize us often and sometimes very intensely. The economy of salvation that emerges from the Father through his Christ in the Holy Spirit expands to become the divinized life that Christians live in the Holy Spirit, through the name of Jesus, the Christ and Lord, in movement toward the Father. But the celebration of the liturgy is the place and moment in which the river of life, hidden in the economy, penetrates the life of the baptized in order to divinize it. It is there that everything that the Word experiences for the sake of man becomes Spirit and life.

The Holy Spirit, Iconographer of Divinization

In the economy of salvation everything reaches completion in Jesus through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; in the liturgy as celebrated and as lived everything begins through the Holy Spirit. That is why at the existential origin of our divinization is the liturgy of the heart, the synergy in which the Holy Spirit unites himself to our spirit (Rom 8:16) in order to make us be, and show that we are, sons of God. The same Spirit who "anointed" the Word with our humanity and imprinted our nature upon him is written in our hearts as the living seal of the promise, in order that he may "anoint" us with the divine nature: he makes us christs in Christ. Our divinization is not passively imposed on us, but is our own vital activity, proceeding inseparably from him and from ourselves.

When the Spirit begins his work in us and with us, he is not faced with the raw, passive earth out of that he fashioned the first Adam or, much less, the virginal earth, permeated by faith, that he used in effecting the conception of the second Adam. What the Spirit finds is a remnant of glory, an icon of the Son: ceaselessly loved, but broken and disfigured. Each of us can whisper to him what the funeral liturgy cries out in the name of the dead person: I remain the image of your inexpressible glory, even though I am wounded by sin!" [3] This trust that cannot be confounded and this Covenant that cannot be broken form the space wherein the patient mystery of our divinization is worked out.

The sciences provide grills for interpreting the human riddle, but when these have been applied three great questions still remain in all that we seek and in all that we do: the search for our origin, the quest for dialogue, the aspiration for communion. On the one hand, why is it that I am what I am, in obedience to a law that is stronger than I am (see Rom 7)? On the other, in the smallest of my actions I await a word, a counterpart who will dialogue with me. Finally, it is clear that our mysterious selves cannot achieve fulfillment on any level, from the most organic to the most aesthetic, except in communion. These three pathways in my being are, as it were, the primary imprints in me of the image of glory, of the call of my very being to the divine likeness in which my divinization will be completed. The Holy Spirit uses arrows of fire in restoring our disfigured image. The fire of love consumes its opposite (sin) and transforms us into itself, which is Light.

We wander astray like orphans as long as we have not accepted him, the Spirit of sonship, as our virginal source. All burdens are laid upon us, and we are slaves as long as we are not surrendered to him who is freedom and grace. And because he is the Breath of Life, it is he who will teach us to listen (we are dumb only because we are deaf); then, the more we learn to hear the Word, the better we shall be able to speak. Our consciences will no longer be closed or asleep, but will be transformed into creative silence. Finally, Utopian love and the communion that cannot be found because it is "not of this world" are present in him, the "treasure of every blessing", not as acquired and possessed but as pure gift; our relationship with others becomes transparent once again. This communion of the Holy Spirit is the master stroke in the work of divinization, because in this communion we are in communion also with the Father and his Son, Jesus (2 Cor 13:13; Jn 1:3), and with all our brothers.

Following these three pathways of the transfigured icon, we are divinized to the extent that the least impulses of our nature find fulfillment in the communion of the Blessed Trinity We then "live" by the Spirit, in oneness with Christ, for the Father. The only obstacle is possessiveness, the focusing of our persons on the demands of our nature, and this is sin for the quest of self breaks the relation with God. The asceticism that is essential to our divinization and that represents once again a synergy of grace consists in simply but resolutely turning every movement toward possessiveness into an offering. The epiclesis on the altar of the heart must be intense at these moments, so that the Holy Spirit may touch and consume our death and the sin that is death's sting. Entering into the name of Jesus, the Son of God and the Lord who shows mercy to us sinners, means handing over to him our wounded nature, which he does not change by assuming but which he divinizes by putting on. From offertory to epiclesis and from epiclesis to communion the Spirit can then ceaselessly divinize us; our life becomes a eucharist until the icon is completely transformed into him who is the splendor of the Father.


[1] PG 91:101C.

[2] 'Sometimes translated as "the sentiments of Christ Jesus" . The meaning, however, is not "sentiments" in an emotional sense, but rather attitudes of the heart that lead to certain forms of behavior, that is, the "ways of God" lived at the human level.

[3] Byzantine funeral liturgy

The Spirit and the Assumption: Deification and Vatican II
August 15th, 2007, by MATTHEW TSAKANIKAS  

The Second Vatican Council only promulgated two dogmatic constitutions: Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) and Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church). Stating this is not meant to downplay the other constitutions and documents of the council. Rather, it is to highlight key opening passages found in a dogmatic context. Certain repeated passages at the start of these dogmatic constitutions beckon the faithful to renew their evangelical pronouncements and catechetical methods by incorporating a recovery of the biblical and patristic understanding of deification (in Greek: theosis) into the New Evangelization.

Byzantine (Greek Catholic and Orthodox) theology, spirituality, and catechetical tradition has always centered on the near-symmetry that "God became man so that man might become God" (cf. CCC#460). The pronouncement balances and encompasses the wider meaning of "salvation" and the purpose of the Incarnation as defended by Saint Athanasius against the Arians. In the East, catechetical reiteration upon "participation in the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4) and "becoming God" by grace was always standard fare. In the West, the symmetry was never lost but the doctrine seemingly waned catechetically from the time of the 14th Century until the 20th Century. Nevertheless, the heart of the matter was always maintained in Western mystical theology, especially in Saint John of the Cross, and known implicitly in Marian devotion and study. Liturgically, at the Offertory, we still hear, "By the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

Certainly a creature can never become equal to God in all respects. Such is a contradiction. God had no beginning and is eternal. No creature can ever overcome the fact that he must receive a beginning. No transformation can change the fact that a creature is forever defined by his need for a beginning. A creature forever remains dependent upon God for life and existence. Human nature is a gift and mercy that allows us to overcome 'non-existence'; it is the foundation of our existence. Nevertheless, once a human begins to exist, God can so elevate the capacities of the spiritual soul to know Him that a human begins to participate in God's very power. When God unites Himself to a creature to enable such knowledge, the human can rightly be said to have "become God" by sharing in this union. Without loss to human identity and nature, the grace of deification (becoming God) enables humans into participation in the Trinity and makes humans real family members with God (cf. Jn 1:12).

This teaching is so intrinsic to the Christian message that the dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium, immediately stressed God's purpose in creation as: "His plan…to raise men to a participation of the divine life" (#2). The other dogmatic constitution, Dei Verbum reiterates the same at its opening: "through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4)" (#2). We are called to experience the infinite bliss which God knows, and we are given a share in God's own power to experience Him! On the Feast of the Assumption we should at least briefly reflect upon what deification meant for the Virgin Mary.

Renewing Mariology

Commenting on the theological movement of popes since the Second Vatican Council, Stratford Caldecott, contributing editor to Communio and director of the Centre for Faith and Culture (Oxford) writes: "In particular, it is the 'rediscovered' doctrine of theosis [deification] or divinization by grace, when combined with other fundamental principles of Catholic theology, that indicates how we can safely attribute to our Lady many of the titles and honors that popular devotion wishes to bestow upon her, without driving a wedge between her and the Church, or between her and ourselves" (Logos 3:3 p.89).

An excellent passage from Saint Basil the Great can serve as one such sturdy launching pad for such a reflection and rediscovery. The passage ties closely together the mystery of one's share in the Holy Spirit and one's becoming a source (mediatrix) of grace for others. In his work, De spiritu sancto, Basil explains:

As souls that bear the Spirit are illumined by the Spirit they become spiritual themselves and send forth grace to others. Thence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of things hidden, distribution of spiritual gifts, citizenship in heaven, the dance with the angels, joy without end, divine distribution, likeness to God, and the summit of our longings, namely, to become God (9:23).

Certainly he is speaking of all Christians sending forth grace to others because of their union with the Holy Spirit. The greater such union, the greater they become relative sources of grace. How much more so this must be true of the Saints in heaven who experience the greatest possible union with the Holy Spirit and watch over us! Jesus pointed to such a share in his mediation when he said, "Whoever believes in me will do the works I do and greater ones than these" (John 14:12).

If those who have been touched by sin and are now in heaven can be mediators of grace in Christ, how much more so can the one "conceived without sin" be a mediatrix of grace! She is the Immaculate Conception, totally united with the Holy Spirit from the moment of her conception and never knowing sin due to the saving power of Christ in her predestination. No one believed more in Jesus than the Virgin Mary, and no one received a greater share in Jesus' Spirit (cf. 2 Kings 2:9) than the Virgin Mary. Christ, the new Adam (cf. 1 Cor 15:45) prepared a new Eve to be the mother to all who are participants in the Spirit. Christ's saving office as new Adam and high-priest did not end in death. Nor did Mary's saving office, bestowed at the Annunciation and prepared in the Immaculate Conception, end in death. She is the first to be fully saved in Christ Jesus.

Queen Assumed into Heaven

Sent to earth to be our true Adam and source of deification, Jesus needed to resurrect from the dead, body and soul, so there could be a renewed humanity in which we could share through the Holy Spirit. "High-priest for all humanity" is an office in which only Jesus can serve and an office on behalf of humanity requires someone still fully-human (body and soul): "He learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, declared by God high priest…" (Heb 5:8-9). As a man, Jesus was given a mission, and that mission was not to end in death. He is now the heavenly man who has become "the Last Adam a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45).

The superabundant and life-giving relationship Jesus has with the Father became accessible to us because the Word (Jesus) was made flesh and dwelt amongst us (John 1:14). He showed us how to enter into this relationship and empowered us to make gifts of ourselves to God. Jesus gives us a participation in his relationship with the Father when he gives us the Holy Spirit to know and love the Father as He does: "No one knows the Son but the Father and no one knows the Father but the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him" (Matthew 11:27). This share in the Son's relationship with the Father is the beginning of our deification as "sons in the Son", the beginning of eternal life in us. Just as we share in Jesus' relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit, we also share in Christ's one mediation through the same power of the Holy Spirit according as the gift is distributed.

Given the brief nature of this article, it suffices to say that the angel Gabriel's invitation to Mary to be the mother of the Messiah, included a cooperation (an office) which God willed would not end at Jesus' birth. God bestowed an office upon Mary when she agreed that the Spirit should descend upon her and make her fruitful for the sake of the Messiah and his mission; that her heart should be united with his and also be "pierced" (Luke 2:35). Her whole life is dedicated to Christ and she becomes the Mother of all disciples according to the announcement from the Cross: "Behold your Mother!" (John 19:27). The Mother of the Lord is Queen Mother for the Kingdom. The office is three-times re-affirmed. She was there to nurture Christ as a babe and obtain the new wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana. She continues to be there for those newly born of her Son and she participates with the Spirit in bringing them into union with Christ just as she did at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). From her union with the mission of her Son, the Spirit continues to shower us with graces.

"This mediation flows from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it. It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faithful with Christ but on the contrary fosters it" (Lumen Gentium #60).  Since only she can fill the office of Queen Mother to the Kingdom which Jesus finalized at the Cross, and since Jesus desires to foster union of the faithful with himself, Jesus has already raised her body and soul to continue her office on behalf of humanity.

Taken together with the words of Saint Basil from De spiritu sancto, along with the meaning of our deification, Mary's prerogatives are explained by the Second Vatican Council: "Taken up into heaven, she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to procure for us the gifts of eternal salvation…Therefore the blessed Virgin is invoked in the church under the titles of advocate, helper, benefactress, and mediatrix" (Lumen Gentium #62).

"O, Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!"

Wednesday 29 August 2012


This is an excellent Serbian series of seven videos on the Icon. I cannot recommend it too highly. Enjoy it!!

Monday 27 August 2012

CHRIST AND THE POOR IN ORTHODOX TRADITION by Father Thomas Hopko (also, St Vincent de Paul, Dorothy Day and Catherine Doherty)

CHRIST IN THE POOR by St Vincent de Paul 

 Seeing Poor and Marginalized Persons in a New Light St. Vincent’s metaphor is of a beat-up, dented, scratched, scarred, and very common coin, which turns out to have another side. It is applied to the beat-up, dented, dime-a-dozen, mostly invisible ones– the poor people. “Why treat that common nobody on the ground as if he is somebody?” Here is Vincent’s answer: I shouldn’t judge poor peasants, men or women, by their surface appearance, nor by their apparent mental capacities. And this is hard to do, since very frequently they scarcely seem to have the semblance or the intelligence of reasonable beings, so gross and so offensive are they. But, turn the coin, and you will see by the light of faith that the Son of God, Whose will it was to be poor, is represented to us by just these people. (XI Conference #19, p.32) Friends of the Poor We see the poor as “our Lords and masters,” and we learn to become their servants. God also invites us to experience those who are poor as our friends. The poor help us to understand the relationship we should have with Jesus, in which our Lord and Master becomes our friend.

The Poor, Our Treasure

As followers of Vincent de Paul, we are “People of the Scarred Coin.” We are God-touched individuals who have been awakened to the worth of everyone around us – especially the ones who most easily get pushed off the screen, the poor. We see their value– the treasure on the other side of that scarred coin– and respond to it with deep respect. We honor the preciousness of people and the face of God in them all.

God Lives in His People

Two bedrock beliefs are the foundation for Vincentian Spirituality: first, God is the most real and the most precious reality there is, and second, this precious God lives in His people. This is what gives us reason to metaphorically “take our shoes off” when we come into the presence of those we serve. Anyone wanting the key to Vincent de Paul’s “great soul” could not get much closer than meditating on these two convictions – two beliefs which, for Vincent, were wrapped one inside the other. They are his answer to, “Why stop to help a crumpled old man who can’t help you back?”

"The Meaning of Poverty" 
By Dorothy Day 

Summary: (DOC #560) Gives examples of false voluntary poverty and refutes the notion that real poverty doesn't exist. Challenges everyone to a personal response, not a government one, to poverty and to ask ourselves "What shall we do?" Gives examples and concludes that all can do something and that whatever work of mercy we perform we "do it for love of Jesus, in His humanity, for love of our brother, for love of our enemy." Points to the scandal of the wealth of the Church and thanks God for the sacraments and the Word in the Scriptures--our light and our food.

THERE IS A STORY of Tolstoi's called "How Much Land Does A Man Need?" It is the story, as I remember it, of a peasant who left his good land and home to go to the South, where he had heard there were thousands of fertile acres for the asking. He made his way to the nomad tribe and asked for some of their land. The chieftain told him he could claim as his own the amount of land he could encompass on foot, from sunup to sundown. When he had rested from his journey he set out running at a pace he felt he could sustain, for he had great confidence in his own strength and endurance, and began to stake out his land. But his greed was greater than his endurance, so his strength began giving out towards the close of the day. By the time he had run the immense boundaries he had chosen for himself, he fell dead at the feet of the Cossack chieftain. He ended in a six-foot grave dug merrily by his scornful hosts, who sensed that the earth was the Lord's and the fullness thereof.

* * *
We had a man living with us once who claimed that all illness was a punishment for some fault. When Sunday visitors came in happily with bunches of poison ivy, picked because of their bright colors or pretty berries, he labeled the visitors as "acquisitive." It was the fault he most despised, perhaps because it was the one he was most guilty of himself. He wanted to be poor, yet he looked upon all things around him as his own and gathered them to himself.

At the same time, he did not like to work, to be exploited, he called it, in our present acquisitive, competitive society, so he preferred to gather furniture and even slightly spoiled food from off the city dump near the farm, and felt he was exemplifying voluntary poverty.

Another family moving in with us, on one of our Catholic Worker farms, felt that the beautifying which had made the farmhouse and its surroundings a charming spot was not consistent with a profession of poverty. They broke up the rustic benches and fence, built by one of the men from the Bowery who had stayed with us, and used them for firewood. The garden surrounding the statue of the Blessed Virgin, where we used to say the rosary, was trampled down and made into a woodyard filled with chips and scraps left from the axe which chopped the family wood. It was the same with the house: the curtains were taken down, the floor remained bare, there were no pictures--the place became a scene of stark poverty, and a visiting bishop was appalled at the "poverty." It had looked quite comfortable before, and one did not think of the crowded bedrooms or the outhouse down the hill, or the outdoor cistern and well where water had to be pumped and put on the wood stove in the kitchen to heat. Not all these hardships were evident.

On another farm we owned--a larger place where we could accommodate more children in summer, more families, more men from off the road--there was the same lack of plumbing arrangements and the same need to heat the place with wood fires Even the nearby city helped us out by bringing logs from trees which had fallen in storms and blocked the highways, to increase our store of fuel. The place was old and beautiful, and had a carefully tended flower garden with peonies, iris, forsythia, perennials and annuals that delighted the eye and kept our chapel furnished with color and fragrance. Here one of our prosperous visitors looked around with a censorious eye and commented, "You call this voluntary poverty? I could not afford a country home like this."

She did not see the three sets of outhouses set back in the trees and bushes which had to be used winter and summer (the temperature often dropped to 10 below zero); nor did she see our bare dormitories with their double-decker beds crowded together, nor the living quarters of a family over the carriage shed that was heated only by an old stove in the middle of the barnlike structure, nor the wayfarers' dormitory down below where men came in from off the road at any hour of the night or day (and sometimes with a bottle to keep themselves warm!). No doors were ever locked in that farm by the road.

It is not right to justify oneself, but we tried to point out how ungrateful we would be to God and to our benefactors if we did not, by hard work and care, improve what we had received in the way of land and house. The very men who had come to get help had stayed to give help and had made the place what it was by constant hard labor.

But the poor, it seems, have no right to beauty, to order. Poverty must be squalor, filth, ugliness, to be esteemed as poverty. But this is destitution, and it was usually from such destitution that our family had come "up in the world." Our visitors did not recognize true poverty--voluntary poverty now-offered up by these men for the sake of their fellows . . . a poverty on the part of students and volunteers as well as men from the Bowery, which meant no money to jingle in the pocket, no wages, having to ask for tobacco, to wear the clothes which "came in"and to have no privacy, which is the greatest desire, the greatest need of all.

Right now on our farm at Tivoli, New York, there are five hermits in the woods who have rebuilt old campsites so that, winter and summer, they can live alone.

During the 33 years that the Catholic Worker has been published and the Houses of Hospitality and farms have grown up around the United States, there has always been this misunderstanding of poverty.

For a long while, poverty was denied--we just did not have any, according to popular belief, in our affluent society. Many a time I was queried by students, "where is poverty? We do not have any around this prosperous Middle West, for instance." I was asked this question at Notre Dame, when I spoke there, and to show that there was poverty Julian Pleasants and Norrie Merdzinski, both Notre Dame students. started a House of Hospitality in the off-bounds section of South Bend. With the help of Fr. Putz and Fr. Mathis they kept it going during their student years, to care for unemployed and unemployable men off the road. The same question was asked me in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and I could only point out that where there was a Good Shepherd home for delinquent girls, and an Indian reservation, and a prison and a public ward in the hospital, there was poverty. You could always find poverty at the public dump, or in the prison or hospital. All founders of religious orders and societies searched out poverty.

IT WAS Michael Harrington's book The Other America, and Dwight McDonald's long review and analysis of that book in the New Yorker, that made the problem explode in this country, to use an expression of Abbe Pierre, who himself works with the destitute and homeless. This book of Mike's, which came as a result of his two-year stay with us as one of the editors of the Catholic Worker, started the War on Poverty program.

But it is not to discuss solutions proffered by government or city agencies that I wish to write, though this long introduction was necessary to clarify the subject. War, and the poverty of peoples which leads to war, are the great problems of the day and the fundamental solution is the personal response which each of us makes to the message of Jesus Christ. It is the solution which works from the bottom up rather than from the top down, and makes for readiness to join in larger regional solutions like the organizing of farm workers with Cesar Chavez, community solutions of Saul Alinsky, village solutions like Vinoba Bhave's in India, etc.

The wonderful thing is that each one of us can do something about the problem, each one of us can give his response and can go as far as the grace of God leads him; and God "ordereth all things sweetly," and there is no need to be afraid as to where such a response will lead US.

"Ask and you shall receive," Jesus told us, and this asking may be just that question "What shall we do?" Samuel asked it, St. Paul asked it--"Lord, what will you have me do?" and they seemed to get direct answers. Paul was struck blind, literally and to everything else around him except that one great fact, "whatever ye do to the least of these My brethren, ye do to Me." If you feed them, clothe them, shelter them, visit them in prison (or go to prison and so are with them!), serve the sick, in general perform the works of mercy, you are serving Christ and alleviating poverty by direct action. If you are persecuting them, killing them, throwing them in prison, you are doing it to Christ. He said so.

When the crowd was moved by John the Baptist and asked, "What shall we do?" he said to them, "He who has two coats give to him who has none." He also said, "Do injury to no man. Be content with your pay." Or with no pay at all. If you are voluntarily giving away what you have, giving your coat, don't expect thanks or the reform of the recipient. We don't do it for that motive, with the expectation of reward. We must do it for love of Jesus, in His humanity, for love of our brother, for love of our enemy.

Charles Peguy in one of his poems, God Speaks, tells the story of the prodigal son and comments, "That's the kind of a Father we have, who loves even to folly, who forgives seventy times seven, who rushes out to embrace and feast the prodigal son." This is the kind of love we must have for the poor. The kind of love which will give away cloak also if coat is demanded of you.

Nobody is too poor to help another. The stories in the New Testament are of the widow's mite, of the little boy's loaves and fishes, of the cloak, of the time given when one is asked to walk a second mile.

Another Russian story which profoundly moved me was The Honest Thief, by Dostoievsky of the hardworking tailor who lived in a corner of a room, and yet who took in one of the destitute he encountered. The guest begged and drank and the tailor suspected him of stealing his one treasure, an old army coat. He spoke to him harshly, but when the thief ran away, the tailor searched him out and brought him back to his corner to nurse him in his illness. "Love is the measure by which we shall be judged." And by not judging we too shall not be judged.

I am thinking of how many leave the Church because of the scandal of the wealth of the Church, the luxury of the Church which began in the very earliest day, even perhaps when the Apostles debated on which should be highest in the kingdom and when the poor began quarreling as to who were receiving the most from the common table, the Greek Jews or the Jerusalem Jews. St. Paul commented on the lack of esteem for the poor, and the kowtowing to the rich, and St. John in the Apocalypse spoke of the scandal of the churches "where charity had grown cold."

It has always been this way in the Church. On the one hand the struggle for detachment, to grow in the supernatural life which seems so unnatural at times, when the vision is dim.

Thank God for the sacraments, the food of life which we can receive to strengthen us. Thank God for the Word made flesh and for the Word in the Scriptures. Thank God for the Gospel which St. Therese pinned close to her heart, and which the murderer Raskolnikoff listened to from the lips of a prostitute and took with him into the Siberian prison. The Word is our light and our understanding, and it is also our food.

This text is not copyrighted. However, if you use or cite this text please indicate the original publication source and this website (Dorothy Day Library on the Web at http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/).

Sunday 26 August 2012


Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, was an attempt to end decades of division over liturgy: to bring the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), and all the groups affiliated with it, back into the Church. The older Latin Mass, the Pope said, had never been outlawed; it was, in fact, the “same rite” as the newer Mass, the Novus Ordo. The Church must make “every effort” to achieve unity, he said, adding: “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.” 

 Negotiations with the SSPX have indeed begun, yet so far no traditionalist group has taken up the Pope’s call – except, that is, for one small community based on a tiny, windswept island in Orkney. The community, known as the Transalpine Redemptorists, have paid a heavy price for their decision. Four brothers and two priests have left, and about 1,000 supporters in Britain have broken off contact with them – only one or two families are still in touch. 

 They have not been ecstatically welcomed, either. It is more than two years since they first approached Rome, yet they are still waiting for their bishop, Bishop Peter Moran of Aberdeen, to grant them legal status within the Church. Fr Michael Mary, who founded the community in 1988, is a kind man but no softie. Later, when he gives me a rosary as a present, he says “don’t blub”. He is a New Zealander: he left in 1987 to join Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre at his Econe seminary in Switzerland. When I arrive at their island, Papa Stronsay, the waters are calm. A seal is bobbing its head by the shore. I sit down with Fr Michael Mary in the monastery guestroom – he tells me it was once a herring shed, where women used to gut fresh herring. Next door is the chapel, where office is now sung in Latin for several hours a day. When Summorum Pontificum came out, he says, he was back in New Zealand. He read it first on the Rorate Caeli website – the “BBC of tradition”. Later he printed a copy for another priest, Fr Anthony Mary. 

They had no thoughts, at that time, of becoming reconciled with Rome. It was only months later, at an SSPX conference, that doubts about their status began to creep in. It started when Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the SSPX, mentioned that he would ask Rome to give the SSPX jurisdiction for marriages. Currently, their marriages could be automatically annulled by the Church if the couple wanted a divorce; that, clearly, was a problem. The remark made Fr Michael Mary wonder, though: if the SSPX has “supplied jurisdiction”, as it has always claimed, why does it need to ask Rome? (Bishop Fellay later claimed that he did not make this remark.) 

 Several weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, 2007, Fr Michael Mary went to bed early. As he was going to sleep, he was struck by a very strong feeling. It was, he says, a “complete turnaround”. He got out of bed and wrote these words on an envelope: “I, Fr Michael Mary, believe tonight that Pope Benedict XVI is the true Pope of the Catholic Church, and that I must now do everything possible to live in union with him.” Fr Michael Mary rustles his rosary beads loudly as he talks. Occasionally, when trying to remember something, he takes off his glasses and holds them in the air, his eyes directed at the ceiling. He says he was eager, then, to resolve the question of jurisdiction.

 It boils down to whether the SSPX founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was right to claim “a state of necessity” that meant he could ordain bishops without permission from the Pope. First, he contacted French Dominicans. These, he says, were the experts: they had huge libraries and produced dense periodicals. But when he asked them about jurisdiction, expecting them to have a treatise on it, they said they had nothing of the sort. He mimics their response to his question: a very knowing, drawn out, “Ah, bon…” They told him that to ask that question would be “the revolution” in his community. 

 After that he got in touch with Fr Josef Bisig, founder of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP), who broke from the SSPX in 1988. Fr Bisig said he would email over the FSSP study, and wrote: “Excuse me for saying my personal opinion, but I think you probably are schismatic.” Reading the FSSP document, says Fr Michael Mary, was depressing. “I thought, ‘this is bad news’. We are actually in a difficult situation.” He printed off the study for each member of the community, and suggested they read it three times, letting it filter through. They reached the conclusion that they should seek communion with Rome “at all costs”. 

In March 2008, they had a vote. Each member put a bead in a voting box: a white bead for “yes”, a black bead for “no”. All the beads were white. Without Summorum Pontificum, says Fr Michael Mary, they “would not have dreamed” of becoming reconciled with Rome. They were struck by the graciousness, and courage, of the Pope, and by his admission that the old Mass had never been outlawed. “Because nearly everybody would tell you it had,” he says. 

 At first they kept their vote a secret. After all, they did not know who to tell. Their contact with the mainstream Catholic Church had, for 20 years, been “zero or negative”. On the advice of Fr Bisig, they arranged a meeting with Fr José Monteiro Guimarães, a Redemptorist official in the Congregation for Clergy (he is now Bishop of Garanhuns in Brazil). They travelled to Rome, staying in a hotel. It was, he says, very daunting. “We had the feeling that we should go back, that we had made a big mistake. We were completely out of our camp.” In the months that followed they met officials at Ecclesia Dei, the body set up to negotiate with the SSPX. They met its prefect, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos. Their priestly suspensions were lifted. Later they wrote a constitution, lifting parts of old Redemptorist constitutions from 1921 and 1936. That has been approved. 

All that is needed now is for Bishop Moran, their local bishop, to issue a “decree of erection” that will put them in canonical good order. (Last Friday Bishop Moran issued a statement which said he was waiting for guidance from the Congregation for Religious, to whom the matter has now been passed.) The process, though, has not been smooth. Some in the community have family who are in the SSPX. Four Brothers left, two without saying a word to Fr Michael Mary. One priest, based on the next-door island of Stronsay, split off immediately, taking most of the parish with him. Another, Fr Clement, left more recently, for a traditionalist parish in Melbourne. “Nobody expected it to take this long,” says Fr Michael Mary. Subscriptions to their monthly newspaper dropped by half, from 4,000 to fewer than 2,000. They received hate mail from people they thought were friends. They had to withdraw seminarians from an SSPX seminary in Australia after the rector told them they would never be ordained unless they defied Fr Michael Mary and started their own breakaway group. Fr Michael Mary is hurt by all of this. “When you leave the ghetto, the stones don’t come from the front, they come from behind you. If they can get you in the back with a good boulder – that’s how it felt.” 

 Despite all these hardships, the community has a joyful feel to it. At recreation there are roars of laughter. One brother, who wears Doc Martens along with his habit, has an apron that says: “Danger: Men Cooking.” They are also very young – in their 20s and 30s, mainly. Two brothers are about to be ordained as priests; four more are seminarians. In total there are 15 in the community. It is not an easy life here: in winter there are only six hours of sunlight, and the winds are ferocious — sometimes up to 120mph. “If you are small and frail,” says one brother, “you stay inside.” Brother Jean-Marie, 32, and Brother Yousef-Marie, 35, are both from warmer climes. “When you first come here,” says Brother Jean-Marie, from India, “you feel like there’s ice on your face.” Brother Jean-Marie was a student when he felt called to the religious life, but the orders he knew did not really impress him. He then came across a small leaflet about the Transalpine Redemptorists. “People were actually wearing their habits, they were not ashamed of it. I thought, this is something I feel inspired to give my life to.” It attracted him partly because it offered what he describes as a masculine kind of Christianity. “You’re not just sitting on your thumbs. You’re mixing cement, slaughtering cows, handling boats and ropes. In monastic history, monks always did work, they built the monastery themselves. They didn’t have people to do it for them.” Brother Jean-Marie and Brother Yousef-Marie, from Sydney, have an intensity about them. They have both just finished their studies and, once the community is canonically erected, they can be ordained. Right now they are in limbo. “It is not a pleasant feeling,” says Brother Jean-Marie. “But ultimately God is in charge.”

arms of the Diocese of Aberdeen
Official Statement from the Congregation of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer

On this festive solemnity of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God body and soul into Heaven our spiritual joy and fraternal rejoicing is great indeed: Beneath Her mantle and on this occasion of Her solemn feast, today, 15 August, 2012, our community, The Congregation of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer, has been granted canonical recognition as a Clerical Institute of Diocesan Right by His Lordship the Right Reverend Dom Hugh Gilbert, O.S.B., Bishop of Aberdeen.

We invite you to rejoice with us on this solemn feast of Our Lady through Whose Perpetual Succour, we have received a great favour from Our Lord.

We also announce the community’s public profession of vows that will take place in Our Lady’s Chapel (at the head of the pier) Stronsay, on 22 August, feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at 18.15 (6.15 p.m.).

The profession will be celebrated by His Lordship, the Right Reverend Dom Hugh Gilbert, O.S.B., Bishop of Aberdeen.

On behalf of "Monks and Mermaids" I wish to congratulate the monks of Golgotha Monastery and to welcome you back home. - D. David Bird OSB



Saturday 25 August 2012


Our greatest missionary work in life takes place in the Divine Liturgy. The Fathers of the Church would always build an Altar of Sacrifice in whatever country or city they traveled to. And this is so, because when the heart is sweetened by the Divine Liturgy, it then seeks God. It then desires to live an Orthodox ecclesiastical life, the heart of which is the Holy Eucharist.

I told the brotherhood that it should always be a priority for it to perform the Divine Liturgy in the Monastery. The prayers of the Divine Liturgy should not be intoned for personal gratification because at that moment the priests are expressing the prayers of all those praying in Church. And for this reason the priests should not be praying with self-centered feelings. We do not celebrate as individuals.
By Elder Sophrony of Essex
source: Mystagogy

By George Weigel
The following is an address by George Weigel to a diocesan luncheon in Charleston, South Carolina, following that local Church's Chrism Mass on April 15.

For some 16 months now, we have become accustomed to speaking in terms of a Church in crisis. The crisis caused by clergy sexual abuse and episcopal misgovernance is, in my judgment as a student of U.S. Catholic history, the greatest crisis in the history of the Church in America. It is that because it touches truths that are the very "constitution" of the Church, as that "constitution" was given to us by Christ himself. 

That is why it is very important to remember that, in the thought world of the Bible, the word "crisis" has two meanings. The first is the familiar sense of the word: a "crisis" is a cataclysmic upheaval, a breaking-up of what had seemed fixed and sure. And we have certainly experienced "crisis" in that sense, these past 16 months. But the world of the Bible also thinks of "crisis" as opportunity: a moment ripe with the potential for deeper conversion. If crisis-as-cataclysm is to become crisis-as-opportunity in the Catholic Church in America, then we must recognize that, at the bottom of the bottom line, today's crisis is a crisis of discipleship; a crisis of fidelity. And the only remedy for a crisis of fidelity is ... fidelity. 

Every crisis in Catholic history is a crisis caused by an insufficiency of saints, by a deficit in sanctity. Because sanctity is every Christian's baptismal vocation, this dimension of the crisis touches all of us in the community of the baptized. All of us have a responsibility for helping turn crisis-as-cataclysm into crisis-as-opportunity. Exercising that responsibility requires all of us, in whatever Christian state of life we live, to examine our consciences and reflect on whether we are leading thoroughly, intentionally, radically Christian lives of discipleship, staking all on the Lord, reminding ourselves every day that it is his kingdom for whose coming we pray, and his Church in which we serve. 

The Gospel scene of Jesus and Peter on the Lake of Galilee can help us here. When Peter keeps his eyes fixed on the Lord, he can do what seems impossible, he can walk on water. When he averts his gaze from Christ and begins looking elsewhere for his security, he sinks. We, too, can do the seemingly impossible if we keep our gaze fixed on Christ. When we look elsewhere, we sink. That is as true of the Church as it is of individual Christians. And that is why sanctity is the answer to today's Catholic crisis. 

What is sanctity? Sanctity is living in the truth living in the truth about the human condition revealed by Christ. Living in that truth, we become the kind of people who can live with God forever. That is why the Holy Father, speaking to the cardinals of the United States just a year ago this week, said that today's crisis grew out of a failure to live and teach the fullness of Catholic truth. When we fail to teach the truth and live the truth, when we substitute what we imagine to be our truths for what Christ has revealed as the truth, the way, and the life, we do not live as the saints we are called to be -- the saints we must be, if we are to live forever, happily with God. 

That, in turn, means that there can be no reform of the Church without reference to form. And the "form" of the Church is established by Christ, not by us. The Church is Christ's, not ours. We do not create the Church; nor did our Christian ancestors; nor do theologians, pastoral consultants, or even the donors to the diocesan annual fund. The Church was, is, and always will be created by Christ who rather underscored the point when he told his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you" [John 15:16]. 

On the day of the Chrism Mass, it has been customary for centuries to reflect on that distinctive part of the Christ-given form of the Church that is the ministerial priesthood. And so permit me a few thoughts on priests and priesthood. 

As wave after wave of clerical scandal broke over the Catholic Church in the United States in the early months of 2002, it was frequently said, if not always heard or reported, that there are tens of thousands of good and faithful priests in America men who have kept the promises they solemnly swore on the day of their ordination and are spending out their lives in service to Christ and the Church. That is correct. To note this fact of Catholic life today is not, as some have suggested, an evasion of hard truths that must be faced and dealt with; at least it need not be an evasion. 

The fact of priestly fidelity is every bit as much part of the story of the Catholic Church today as are the facts of clergy sexual abuse and episcopal irresponsibility. The fidelity of so many priests is a great grace. It is also a tremendous resource for the reform of the priesthood that is imperative if today's crisis is to become an opportunity for genuinely Catholic reform. That reform cannot mean turning the Catholic priesthood into an imitation of the various types of ministry found in other Christian communities. The reform of the Catholic priesthood cannot mean making Catholic priests more like Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregationalist, or Unitarian clergy. It can only mean a reform in which Catholic priests become more intensely, intentionally and manifestly Catholic. 

While clerical sexual misconduct has as many explanations as there are complex human personalities, the fundamental reality of clerical sexual abuse is infidelity. A man who truly believes himself to be what the Catholic Church teaches -- that a priest is a living icon, a re-presentation of the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God -- does not behave as a sexual predator. He cannot behave that way. Yes, he sins. Yes, he is an earthen vessel holding a great supernatural treasure. He may give an uninspiring sermon. His choice of music for Sunday Mass may be dreadful. He may be inept in some of his counseling. But he does not use his office to seduce and sexually abuse minors. Nor does he engage in any other form of sexual misconduct. 

The Catholic Church has long taught that what a priest is makes possible what he does at the altar, in the confessional, in the pulpit, at the bedside of a dying parishioner. In an ironic, even paradoxical way, the truth of that teaching has been clarified by the scandal of clergy sexual abuse. If a man does not believe that what he is, by virtue of his ordination, makes the eternal priesthood of Christ present in the world, his desires may overwhelm his personality and a life intended to be a radical gift of self can turn into a perverse assertion of self, in which his priestly office becomes a tool of seduction. 

Priests are made, not born. Although his discipleship must deepen during the course of his ministry, a man must be a thoroughly converted Christian disciple before he can be a priest. Discipleship is the prerequisite for priesthood. A Christian disciple is someone whose life is formed by the conviction that, in looking on the cross of Christ, one is looking at the central truth of human history: God's love for the world, which was so great that God gave his son for its redemption. Convinced of that, a man ordained a priest becomes another Christ, an "alter Christus," another witness to the truth that God intends for humanity a destiny beyond our imagining: eternal life within the light and love of the Holy Trinity. 

That is why Pope John Paul II has insisted throughout his pontificate that the priesthood is about service, not power; the ministerial priesthood fosters the participation and collaboration of all the members of Christ's mystical body in the life and work of the Church. To put it another way, the priest must be convinced that the story the Church tells is not just the Church's story. It is the world's story read in its true amplitude. 

A priest must believe that what Catholicism offers the world is not another brand-name product in a supermarket of "spiritualities," but the truth about itself, its origins and its destiny; not a truth that's true "for Christians," or a truth that's true "for Catholics," but the truth. The Catholic priest who is a genuinely converted Christian fully understands that truth in this world emerges from many sources, including other Christian communities, other world religions, and the worlds of science and culture. The genuinely converted Catholic priest also understands that all those other truths tend toward the one Truth, who is the God and Father of Jesus Christ. That is what he bears witness to the world. 

By his ordination and his vow of celibacy, the Catholic priest is set apart from the world for the world's sake. In a culture like ours, his life is a sign of contradiction to much of what the world imagines to be true. The priest is not a contrarian, however. His being-different is not an end in itself, an indulgence in idiosyncrasy. The priest is a sign of contradiction so that the world can learn the truth about itself and can be converted. The radical openness to serve others that should be manifest in a happy, holy priest's life is a living lesson to the world that self-giving, not self-assertion, is the royal road to human flourishing. 

The priest's obedience to the truths of faith, and the liberating power that unleashes in him to be a man for others, reminds the world that truth binds and frees at the same time. Lived in integrity, the priest's celibacy is a powerful witness to the truth that there are things worth dying for including dying-to-self for. The priest's renunciation of the good of marital communion and the good of physical paternity is a reminder that those two things are, in fact, good, and should make possible in him a genuine and generous spiritual paternity. 

By teaching the truths of Catholic faith, by sanctifying his people through the sacraments, and by governing justly that portion of God's people entrusted to his pastoral authority, the Catholic priest enables men and women to become saints to become the kind of people who can live with God forever. 

All of this is intended to prepare men and women for eternal life in perfect communion with each other and with God. It is intended to make saints better, to cooperate with God in God's making of saints. That is what a Catholic priest is for. That is why and how the ordained priesthood lifts up and ennobles the priestly people of God. And that is why a Catholic priest must understand himself to be what he is: a living icon of the eternal priesthood of Christ and order his life, in all its facets, according to that awesome truth. 

More than six decades ago, Father Karl Rahner, one of the theological architects of the Second Vatican Council, addressed a gathering of priests on the day they renewed their vows to Christ and the Church. Father Rahner's words are as appropriate today as they were then. 

Here they are, in a slight paraphrase, as if he, a fellow priest, were addressing you, priests who have today renewed the vows of your ordination day; as if he, through his fellow-priests, were addressing all of us, calling us to support these brothers ordained to the service of the Church: 

"Dear Fathers: This renewal of our ordination is God's work in you. ... The Spirit which was poured out on you on the day of your ordination is here with you, in this hour of the renewal of your ordination. He wants to give himself even more intimately to you, wants to fill all the hidden chambers of your hearts, wants to live the whole extent of your life. 

"This is the Spirit of the Father and the Son: the Spirit of rebirth and the divine sonship of men; the Spirit who is also Lord of this age; the Spirit who transforms the world into a great sacrifice of praise to the Father, just as you by his power change bread and wine into the body and blood of the one holy victim; this is the Spirit of witness to Christ, the Spirit who convicts the world of sin, justice and judgment; the Spirit of strength and comfort; the Spirit who pours the love of God into your hearts and who is the pledge and first fruits of eternal life; the Spirit who awakens new life out of sin and darkness, and who includes even sin in his mercifulness; the Spirit whose gifts are love, joy, peace, patience, mildness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and chastity; the Spirit of freedom and of courageous confidence; the Spirit who changes everything and leads everything into death, because he is the infinity of life and can never rest in the frozen form of a finite life that is not going to advance any further; the Spirit who, amidst change and decay, remains eternally and restfully the same; the Spirit of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, who transforms the helpless words of human preaching into the word and act of God; the Spirit who lets forgiveness on earth become reconciliation in heaven; the Spirit who turns your acts into Christ's sacraments. 

"This Spirit is the spirit of your ordination day; this same Spirit is the spirit of the renewal of your vows and your priesthood. If you allow him to come fully into your life, everything that you are, and do and suffer will be consecrated into a priestly life. For this same Spirit saw and loved everything on the day of your ordination; therefore, nothing can withstand the transforming fire of the Spirit's love in your life, if only you give it room, if only you say: Do You, O God, ordain me anew today." 

In the mid-'30s, as totalitarian shadows lengthened across Europe, Pope Pius XI memorably said, "Let us thank God that he makes us live among the present problems. It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre." That saying, a favorite of Dorothy Day, might also be our watchword in the months and years ahead, as we work together in the great cause of authentic Catholic reform. Catholic Lite is Catholic mediocrity. Rediscovering and embracing the adventure of orthodoxy, the high adventure of Christian fidelity is the path from crisis to authentically Catholic reform. 

We all fail, sometimes grievously. That is no reason to lower the bar of expectation. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation, and try again. Lowering the bar of spiritual and moral expectation demeans the faith and demeans us. Catholics today are capable of spiritual and moral grandeur, and indeed want to be called to that greatness. That is what Vatican II meant by the "universal call to holiness," and that is what is available to all of us in the Church, whatever missteps the institution of the Church makes. 

Sanctity is available. And sanctity is what will transform crisis-as-cataclysm into crisis-as-opportunity. In the universal call to holiness, and in the generous response to it that can be forthcoming, lies the future of genuinely Catholic reform. So, once again: "Let us thank God that he makes us live among the present problems. It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre."

George Weigel, a Senior Fellow of  the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Roman Catholic theologian and one of America's leading commentators on issues of religion and public life. He holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at EPPC. He is the author of Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II, published by HarperCollins.

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe


My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive