Pope Francis and Saint Matthew

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First, I don’t know what’s happening, but Rocco Palmo is not exactly on top of his game with posting the full texts of Francis’ homilies and speeches in Cuba.  You can find them, though, at Edward Pentin’s blog for the Register.

Second, I was about to write a whole long thing about the special relationship Pope Francis has with Saint Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist, whose feast day is today.  Lo and behold, this post says it all better than I ever could have done.  Please take the time to reflect on it, as it reveals a very important side of Francis that you won’t often see in press reports.

Here, though, is the text of Saint Bede the Venerable referenced in the article above, part of the Office of Readings in today’s Liturgy of the Hours (mostly translated by me, since the 1980’s breviary isn’t very accurate):

Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me. Jesus saw Matthew not so much with the sight of bodily perception as with that of his inner mercy.  He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him by having mercy on him and choosing him, he said to him: Follow me. But in “Follow me”, he really said “Imitate me”:  “follow” not so much by how he directed his feet as by how he carried out his way of life. Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

And he rose and followed him. It should not be surprising that, at the first sound of the Lord’s command, the tax collector abandoned the earthly wealth that used to worry him and, neglecting his work, attached himself to that band of men which, he thought, had no riches at all. On the outside, the Lord himself used words to call Matthew; on the inside, he taught him how to follow by an invisible impulse, flooding his mind with the spiritual light of grace by which Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had the ability to give incorruptible treasures of heaven.

As he sat at table in the house, behold many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. This conversion of one tax collector gave an example of repentance and forbearance to many tax collectors and sinners. And as a beautiful and true anticipation of his future status as apostle and teacher of the nations, no sooner was Matthew converted than he brought with him a flock of sinners to salvation; he began his duty of evangelizing, which he would come to fulfill with great growth in merit and power, while he was still in the first rudiments of faith. Furthermore, if we want to see what Matthew has done with deeper understanding, not only did he provide a material banquet for the Lord in his earthly residence, but far more pleasingly, he prepared a banquet for him in his own heart through faith and love, as the Lord himself attests to it when he says: Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

On hearing Christ’s voice, we open the door to receive him when we freely make our assent to his promptings, whether they come secretly or openly, and when we give ourselves over to completing the things that we know we must do. And Christ enters so that we might dine with him and he with us, for he dwells in the hearts of his elect through the grace of his love, so that he may ever refresh them by the light of his presence insofar as they advance more and more in their longing for the higher things, and so that he may nourish their zeal for the things of heaven as though it were for a greatly pleasing meal.

#PopeInUS #PopeInDC #PopeAtCUA #PopeOnMyBirthday

(First of all, if you’re not yet “Follow”ing this blog, I strongly recommend you subscribe.  Especially my Sanford, NC friends – I won’t be emailing you about every new post, so Follow-ing me is the most reliable way to stay updated.

Also, again especially for Sanford friends: if there’s anything you’d like me to write about, or anything you’d like to ask about or revisit, from the Scripture and Liturgy courses, please let me know by email or by commenting on one of my posts.  I want to write things I know my readers will care about,  rather than just writing to read myself write.

And everyone, comment on my posts!  Start a discussion!  Dialogues are way more fun than lectures, aren’t they?)

Dear Friends,

Being at CUA is sort of a surreal experience.  For example, this is the view I get when I step out of the library:

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And in the parking lot of my main classroom building:

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Of course, none of it looks that clean and organized right now, because work crews have spent the whole past week building platforms and risers and tents to prepare the Shrine and the quad for His Holiness’ visit.  Every door along that side of  the Shrine is roped off from both sides, but if you’re willing to walk around to the front and then back behind the main altar, you get to see this:

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If I had the time and didn’t mind being fussed at by security staff every few minutes, I could literally sit on the floor and watch people build Pope Francis’ altar and chair for the Mass on Wednesday.  (This is a photo from last month, and it’s much closer to finished now, but I don’t want to spoil the end result for anyone.)

The Mass on Wednesday, by the way, for which every CUA student who requested a ticket got one.  Myself included.  It’s a standing-room area off to the left of the 15,000 chairs they’re setting up along the whole east facade, but at least it has a view of the stage.  Most standing-room areas are just places on campus to watch the Mass on a Jumbotron.  So I’m not complaining!

(Especially since the 23rd is my birthday, and if I had not gotten a ticket, I certainly would have complained to anyone I thought might have any power over this until I did get a ticket.  But now I don’t have to be a nuisance to anyone, which is nice.)

So I know most of you who have access to EWTN will be following the Pope’s visit on TV.  “But which websites,” some of you may be asking, “should I follow for good Internet coverage?  I mean, I know about the Register and the Reporter, but might there be some other good sites you can recommend?”

Indeed there are, and indeed I can!

Those of you who’ve read the Reporter for a while and remember their Vatican reporter John Allen should know that he now runs a Catholic-news satellite website to the Boston Globe called Crux, which is where you can find his reporting now.  He will be the best U.S. journalist working the Pope trip, and you should try not to miss any of his work.  He has a great preparatory Guide to “decoding” Pope Francis, about some of his favorite terms and phrases that mean something slightly different to ol’ Frank than we might naturally assume they mean, and I highly recommend reading it before you start reading his U.S. speeches and homilies.

“But where will I find the texts of the speeches and homilies?”, you may ask.

For this you need the best U.S. Catholic freelance journalist, Rocco Palmo, and his blog Whispers in the Loggia.  He will post the text of each speech as soon as it’s available (allowing some time to translate the Spanish ones into English).  He’s also a Philadelphia native, so he’ll have a lot of first-hand inside info to share about the World Meeting of Families portion of the PopeTrip, but he’ll be present in DC and NYC as well.

Incidentally, Palmo has recently re-posted some of ol’ Frank’s most important homilies and speeches of the past two years, to remind his readers of what His Holiness is really all about.  Here are quick links to:

Palmo also has a Twitter feed for those of you who do that thing (I don’t), which you may want to follow as well.

Finally, if you haven’t read Frankie’s most recent interview, with the Portuguese radio program/station Renascença, here it is.  The first half or more is about the migrant crisis as it’s gotten even worse in Europe recently.  There are some fun personal details about the Holy Father towards the end.

I’ll do my best to take photos at the Mass on Wednesday, and I’ll post here all the photos that turn out to be any good.  I’ll probably have some posts about his homilies and speeches, too.

Until next weekend,

Pax et bonum

Ross

Scientist: Atheism Is Good For Society

Lawrence Krauss is one of the leading theoretical physicists of our day.  His work on dark energy is as famous and well-respected as are his pop-culture books on the science of Star Trek.  A scientist with his kind of intellectual and literary gifts ought to be the sort of person we can trust to write about the universe in a way we can understand and believe.

So it’s especially sad to see a name like his under a title like “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists”.  Indeed, Krauss considers it part of his mission as a scientist to argue the notion of God out of ordinary people’s minds.

I could spend this article fact-checking Krauss, especially the bit about Planned Parenthood where he elides the moral issue of repurposing fetal tissue with the legal issues of turning a profit and obtaining parental consent.  I could pick apart the logic of his article: how he invokes his expertise in theoretical physics as if it qualifies him to declare on political questions (more on that part later), or how he takes for granted that beliefs in vaccine poisoning and zodiac charts are perfectly comparable and equally “religious”, or how he simply lumps all religious people together as if there were no difference between Evangelical fundamentalists and Catholics who read Vatican documents on faith and reason.

But since this is a blog about human identity, and since its founding text is Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes, let’s look at this angle instead (especially paragraphs 5, 7, and 19, for those of you who’ve clicked the hyperlink).

Lawrence Krauss, in fact, is a textbook example of the modern man that the Council Fathers particularly wanted to address.  He places too-excessive value on the mathematical and natural sciences and the technology which stems from them (GS 5); he sees the denial or abandonment of God and religion as a requirement of scientific progress (GS 7); and he explicitly rejects the intimate and vital link between living fully according to truth and freely acknowledging the love of God that created and constantly preserves us (GS 19).

I should point out here that unlike Krauss, who lumps all kinds of religions and religiosities into one undifferentiated object of contempt, the Council Fathers took their time to distinguish the various forms and phenomena of atheism:

  • Those who expressly deny God
  • Those who believe man can assert absolutely nothing about God
  • Those who so scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem meaningless
  • Those who contend that everything can be explained by scientific reasoning alone
  • Those who altogether disallow that there is any absolute truth
  • Those who praise man so extravagantly that their faith in God becomes anemic
  • Those who form such a false idea of God that they do not actually reject the God of the Gospel
  • Those who never experience religious stirrings or see why they should bother with religion, and so never get to the point of raising questions about God
  • Those who protest against the evil in this world or the effective deification of human values

I suppose we could file Krauss under the “scientific reasoning” point with a dash of “fallacious idea” thrown in.

My point, and the Council Fathers’ point, is that none of these are sufficient reasons to reject God.  They are “poisonous” and “contradict reason and the common experience of humanity” (GS 21).  “The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God” (GS 19), and by denying that fact, atheist doctrines “dethrone man from his native excellence.” (GS 21)  They kill not only faith, but also hope and charity, for by their silence on divine things “riddles of life and death, of guilt and grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair.” (GS 21)

In this light, Krauss is at his most dangerous when he claims, “when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy.”  Never mind that he exalts “modern secular democracy” like he does the mathematical sciences.  He’s really saying that when people speak openly of living godly lives in society, they undermine society.

In fact, turning now to the Vatican II constitution on the Church, “it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals, without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness” (Lumen gentium 9).  Society only truly functions at all with a shared reference point in God and the universal call to holiness that unites us in this world for the next.  To reject the implications of that is truly to undermine society.

Krauss concludes by saying that no scientist should be ashamed of the label “militant atheist.”  In fact, every person who hopes to be of service to the human community should be ashamed of it.  Because if that’s who he really is, he’s doing more to keep us all in the dark than to enlighten us.

What Really Matters Here: Pope Francis on abortion and “annulments”

This will be a long one, because we’ve got two big announcements to look at.  It’s basically two posts attached to each other.  I’ll try to keep it concise.

Last week, the media were all abuzz that Pope Francis is forgiving everyone’s abortions.  Today, the media are all abuzz that Francis is bringing no-fault divorce into the Church.  Both are, of course, gross misrepresentations of what he actually wants to happen.

My intent here is not to “set the record straight” (the best blogger to read for that is Jimmy Akin; here he is on last week’s and this week’s announcements).  My intent is to go beyond the details of the changes, take a closer look at what Francis himself has to say about the changes, and pinpoint the larger lessons we should be learning from him.

First, abortion.

Francis’ decision “to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it” came in the context of a letter to his “front man” for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Abp. Rino Fisichella.  Francis wrote the lettter to announce the channels of mercy he wishes to open for the faithful in the context of this Jubilee Year.

The largest part of the letter actually covers the plenary indulgence Francis is proclaiming for the Jubilee Year, which is attached to making a pilgrimage through the “Holy Door” of any cathedral or basilica that has set one up for the Jubilee.  (A “Holy Door” is an entrance to the cathedral that has been sealed until the Jubilee begins, when it will be opened again as a symbol of the Church throwing its doors open for the Year’s festivities and welcoming all to the banquet.)

Under the usual circumstances for an indulgence, namely:

  1. Make a good confession within 3 weeks on either side of performing the indulgenced act;
  2. Receive Holy Communion worthily within 3 weeks, etc.;
  3. Pray for the Holy Father and his prayer intentions;
  4. Be free from all attachment to sin, even venial, at the time of performing the indulgenced act (a commonly forgotten requirement)

all the faithful who make a pilgrimage through a Holy Door may receive a plenary indulgence.  Those who are unable, through no fault of their own, to make the pilgrimage may receive the indulgence by fervently uniting their prayers and devotions to the Jubilee message of mercy.  Particularly, those who cannot because they are in prison may receive the indulgence in the prison chapel by thinking of the threshold of their cell as a Holy Door.  We can also obtain the indulgence for the poor souls in Purgatory.

In short, Francis is going out of his way to remove every obstacle to any soul receiving full remission of temporal punishment due to sin during the Jubilee Year.  This mercy is to be denied to no one, especially not to those who would feel closed off from it by circumstances out of their control.

Now, Francis doesn’t tie the abortion issue directly to the plenary indulgence; it is a separate topic.  But by its connection to the Jubilee Year of Mercy and its close proximity to the bit about the indulgence, I think the message is the same: no one must feel closed off from mercy during the Jubilee Year.  The same goes for extending absolution faculties to SSPX priests: the mercy of forgiveness this year is not even denied to those faithful who receive their sacraments illicitly from priests who are not even in communion with the Holy Father!

In these U.S. of A., the abortion grant doesn’t really change anything; almost every U.S. bishop has already extended to all his priests his personal prerogative to remit the excommunication associated with procuring abortion.  But even here, the proclamation is not something to ignore just because we’ve “gotten used to” mercy around here.  (Plus, if a Catholic who has been suffering from exclusion from the Church didn’t yet know she could be absolved, this grant is a new proclamation of mercy to her.)

On to “annulments” .  This is the last time I’ll use that word, because it’s the wrong word.  It implies making something null that was not null before.  Really, a declaration of nullity finds that the marriage was null from the start.  Also, no link to the text this time, unless you can read Italian – or Latin.

Here I will ignore the new norms themselves (though if anyone wants to discuss Jimmy Akin’s #6 and #7 in the comments, I’d be happy to offer my thoughts).  I want to look at Francis’ introduction to the new norms and briefly discuss what I see as the three overarching themes of his desire to simplify the nullity process.  I’ll provide some quotes as well, of my own translation.

First, Francis makes it clear in several places that “the marriage bond is indissoluble” and “the hinge and wellspring of the Christian family”.  An interpretation of this procedural change that suggests Francis is thinking of nullity as “divorce” is a false interpretation.

But Francis recognizes that the disciplines of the Church are “always able to be made more perfect”.  In one sense, this means “easier and more flexible”, so that “the hearts of those faithful who are waiting on the status of their decision should not be kept in darkness for very long”.  This perfectibility also means, though, that “ecclesiastical discipline should be more and more coherent with the truth of the faith that it confesses.”  So in Francis’ view, these changes do not only simplify and speed up the nullity process; they also do a better job than the old ones of representing what marriage and nullity really are.

Second, Francis is requiring the local Bishop to get directly involved in the nullity process much more often than before.  In setting up tribunals, in hearing appeals (which now only happen if a spouse demands it), and now even in deciding the nullity question himself in an accelerated procedure, the Bishop is the point of reference for nullity cases.

Francis is thus recapturing the theological truth of the Bishop’s primacy within his own diocese.  This is not the first time Francis has undid something St. JP2 did, in order to shift the symbolism of authority down the hierarchical ladder.  A major theme of Francis’ pontificate has been rediscovering the meaning of synodality and collegiality between the Pope and his Bishops.  He is insisting that Bishops, “sharers in the ministry of the Church,” be judges of nullity precisely to display the Bishop’s “catholic unity, in faith and discipline, with Peter.”

This doesn’t mean Francis is intentionally diminishing the role of the papacy in the Catholic Church.  He did, after all, convene the panel of canonists to revise these norms and promulgate them himself without even waiting a month to consult the Synod of Bishops on marriage and the family.

But it does mean that he wants the Church to practice the same balance of subsidiarity and solidarity that it preaches to the world.  It’s messy and inefficient as a business plan, but it lets those who know the local situation be the ones in position to handle them, while still maintaining the single unity of the Church.   If the Bishop is the first pastor of his diocese, as we say he is, he should act the part.

(Incidentally, Francis is now allowing two of the three tribunal members to be laypersons.  Another of Francis’ central themes is reclaiming the role of the laity in the life and work of the Church.  To those who complain that making Bishops nullity judges adds to their already oppressive workload, I suspect His Holiness would respond by asking whether the Bishops are wasting time on administrative duties that laypersons could handle just as well – or better, if they have the training.)

Finally, and tying things back into the Jubilee, Francis states that “zeal for the salvation of souls, today no less than yesterday, remains the final end of the Church’s institutions, laws, and norms”.  If it happens that the current nullity process rules are impeding the salvation of souls, “charity and mercy require that the Church make herself close, like a mother, to her children who feel separated from the flock.”  They do seem to deter people from returning to full communion with the Church, so they must be changed.

Again, mercy is an interpretive key.  It is no accident that December 8 – feast of the Immaculate Conception, 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican II – is also the beginning of the Jubilee Year and plenary indulgence and abortion grant and the date these new norms take effect.  It is vital to Francis that the Church begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy with a bang, bringing forth from the storeroom both new and old vessels of compassion and reconciliation for the faithful who so desperately need it.

And that, dear readers, is more than enough for one post.

Welcome to the blog!

Dear reader,

Welcome to The Unsolved Puzzle!

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because I invited you to take a look at it.  And if I invited you, it’s probably because you belong to one of these three groups:

  1. Friends from the UNC Newman Center, who have pestered me about starting a blog for many years now;
  2. Members of the Adult Faith Formation community of St. Stephen the First Martyr in Sanford, NC, whom I kinda sorta promised a blog about 5 months ago;
  3. New friends on the graduate-school journey of CUA’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, who haven’t actually asked me about a blog yet, but who hopefully will contribute eagerly to the discussions here.

The name of the blog comes from the Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et spes, “On the Church in the Modern World”.  After reviewing the major social and philosophical difficulties facing human persons in the post-war, post-modern era, the Council Fathers observe:

‘Every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life’s major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing.

‘…It is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly, to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them….

‘Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” O Lord, “and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”‘

As such, the primary focus of this blog will be to comment and reflect on the foundational questions of human identity, especially concerning the human soul and the right relationship between the soul and God.  I’ll often be addressing this second topic in relation to Scripture and the Liturgy, which happen to be the two Adult Faith Formation topics I taught last year and which finally inspired me to get this blog off the ground.

Of course, whenever something noteworthy happens in the Catholic world, I’ll be covering it here too.  Since I’m in a Church History program here at CUA focusing on the first 4-5 centuries AD, don’t be surprised if I get inspired to write about my academic work now and then.  Once in a while, my wife Christina will be guest-writing here for a change of perspective.  And of course, anyone with a blog post request is always welcome to email me at ross.twele@gmail.com with the idea.

I’ll be posting once each weekend at first, maybe more when the Catholic world gets really exciting, so check back regularly for updates.   I haven’t decided on a signoff yet, so for now,

Pax et bonum,

Ross

P.S.  I’m starting out the blog on a free WordPress platform, so if you see any ads on the blog, I have nothing to do with them.  Please don’t harass me about them if you see anything you don’t like.