Wednesday, May 31, 2006

So, how many were at Mass?

That's a question we hear sometimes when coming back from a Mass. But in this case, the question is being asked of a very major event -- the last Mass Pope Benedict XVI celebrated on his apostolic trip to Poland. It was held in Krakow and the Vatican Information Service said there were 2 million people there. That's not an unreasonable number.

However, the International Herald Tribune (the New York Times for everyone else) and many other news outlets reported that there were 900,000.

Hmmm, let's see, some quick figuring and that's a difference of about 1.1 million people. Now, it seems to me that a difference of 100,000 might be reasonable when you're talking about a million people. But a difference of another million? That's hard to conceive.

The question, of course, is who should we say is more reliable in this case? Personally, I go with the VIS. Is there an agenda? Yes, but they are not unafraid to tell the truth when things don't go as well as hoped or planned. If there were only 900,000, why would VIS report 2 million and be corrected by the secular media? That doesn't make any sense at all. What does make sense is the secular media trying to downplay Benedict's impact in John Paul's homeland.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Good news in Austin

According to Wesley Smith, Mrs. Yolang Vo in Austin has a reprieve (see my previous posting here). The hospital she is at, St. David's in Austin, has agreed to extend the deadline for keeping her there until July 17 (a significant date for yours truly) in order to stabilize her for home care.

As Wesley said, "Good for St. David's. I believe that most people in these situations want to do the right thing, but have a profound difference about what that 'thing' is. I also believe that casting the light of the sun into these cases helps tremendously in convincing hospital administration not to impose medical futility. Nonetheless, credit should be given when credit is due. As [Jerr] Ward [attorney for the family] also told me, 'When hospitals do something good, I think it should be noted.'"

This is certainly true. However, one wonders why it takes a public campaign like the one waged by Jerri Ward, Wesley Smith, Drew Mariani, Mrs. Vo's family and others in order for the hospital to see the way to the right thing.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

An off-Broadway Mass reprise

It was with dreaded anticipation that we went to Mass a couple of weeks ago at the same place where a family member had been baptized at last year's Easter Vigil -- which I described at that time as an off-Broadway Mass. The family member and her husband have two children, the surivivors of a pregnancy with triplets that ended rather too early. The occasion was their reception of First Communion.

It was another off-Broadway show, not as spectacular as the Easter Vigil, but all the elements were there. Full chorus off to the right of the sanctuary (if that little three-stair rise on which the altar sits can be called a sanctuary) with piano, flute, guitar, two clarinets (that couldn't stay in tune), and a range of singers (some of whom also couldn't sing in tune).

The star of the show was the priest with all his little adorers running around like the dancers in a chorus line or the swimmers around Esther Williams or Miss Piggy. The children receiving First Communion were instructed to set the altar cloth on the bare altar at the time of preparation and then they stayed there throughout the entire Eucharistic Prayer.

The congregation had been instructed that kneeling is prohibited from Easter to Pentecost, so when my family did it anyway, some people in back of us grumbled that we weren't supposed to be doing it and "don't they read the bulletin?" (No, don't worry about trying to locate the written norm for that instruction -- it doesn't exist, except in the liturgy committee's collective head.)

Of course, there was the choreographed show at Communion when the Communion ministers came up to get their vessels containing the Sacred Elements. One of them received a glass bowl with the Body of Christ and two received glass chalices with the Precious Blood. After receiving them, they went to the front of the altar, faced the priest, elevated them briefly (salude!) and then turned around and went to their places. And, of course, when the priest issued the general invitation to Communion ("This is the Lamb of God..."), all of the Communion ministers held up their vessels as well.

It should be needless to say that this goes against the very clear norms set out in the liturgical documents, but since it is going on, it obviously needs to be said.

Why write about this? I don't know. There's a part of me that is still in disbelief that things are that bad, that these folks have not grown up out of their very long-lasting adolescent behavior and seen that following the norms and laws of the Church on liturgical worship is not a burden, but freedom.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hypocrisy at its worst

New Scientist carried an article about an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics by one Luc Bovens of the London School of Economics. It seems Dr. Bovens believes that the rhythm method of birth spacing actually causes more embryos to die in utero than does -- what? Chemicals?

Presumably, the theory goes, since intercourse is likely to take place on the fringes of a woman's ovulation, any joining that happens in this period is more likely to be doomed than most. Therefore, if the Church is to be consistent, according to Bovens, it should outlaw NFP. (Well, he calls it the rhythm method, which is a complete, and probably deliberate, misnomer since that method hasn't been seriously used for decades.) “If you’re concerned about embryonic death,” Bovens says, “you’ve got to be consistent here and give up the rhythm method.” (Well, we did give up the rhythm method -- and replaced it with NFP.)

Anyway, here is a letter to the editor I've written to New Scientist, an Australian publication that carried the story about it:
The story on the "rhythm method" was farcical from the start. If you have a false premise, then the rest of your argument fails. In this case, no one is using the rhythm method anymore. This has long been replaced by any number of methods far more scientific in approach than rhythm ever was. Collectively, they are called Natural Family Planning. And, yes, from personal experience I can testify to its effectiveness -- at both postponing and acheiving pregnancy.

Beyond this, though, Bovens' position is absurd. The issue isn't the creation of embryos that then die naturally. That happens regularly and should cause no one any moral concern. The issue is whether or not the deaths of these embryos are deliberate. If they die a natural death, so be it. Contrary to Bovens' claims, the Catholic Church has never taught that the preservation of the embryo is the summum bonum.

However, if they're deliberately killed or killed because of the deliberate presence of a chemical known to make the womb hostile to new life, that's a completely different story. It is here that the moral agent has culpability.

Even if NFP does cause more embryos to die (which I think is highly doubtful), the couple are not liable for that, and Bovens should know that and no amount of moralizing on his part can change that fact.

It is at best reprehensible for Bovens to try to place guilt on couples who practice NFP because of this supposed finding. As much as I try, though, I cannot believe Bovens was really trying to help anyone along. It is clear from this one quote, "If you’re concerned about embryonic death, you’ve got to be consistent here and give up the rhythm method," that Bovens is trying to get in a jab at the Catholic Church. He fails miserably, leaving behind a stench of hypocritical moral superiority that reeks throughout the story -- and it is revolting.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

An Ascension Day gripe

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the division in the U.S. over the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord is stupid. In the provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. -- in other words, most of the northeastern seaboard -- and Omaha, the bishops have decided to retain this solemnity where it belongs, on the 40th day after Easter, which always falls on a Thursday. In all the rest of the country, the feast has been transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

Those bishops who have retained its usual day appear to believe that their flocks are capable of making it to Mass on a Thursday (since this is a holy day of obligation) despite their normal tendencies not to do so. Or they at least appear to have decided that this is something that should be left in place as the norm.

The rest of the bishops, however, appear to believe that it is better to indulge their flocks' laziness and they have, therefore, moved the celebration to the following Sunday. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that they have imposed laziness upon us. We have not even got the option to go to Mass for the feast day when it actually occurs, unless we happen to be living on the border of some diocese that marks it properly.

This is a gripe, a legitimate gripe. Making Mass more convenient for people means lowering the standards to which we are to be held. It also means that people are not going to be able to show their love for the Lord on this important feast. But the bishops seem to be acting more like indulgent parents than good shepherds taking care of their wayward sheep.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses

James Davidson of Purdue University is considered one of the three top sociologists of Catholic life in the U.S., the other two being Dean Hoge at Catholic University of America and Andrew Greeley (sorry, but I hate calling such a man, "Father").

Dr. Davidson was in the Twin Cities recently talking to the National Federation of Priests' Councils meeting there. Afterwards, he had an interview with The Catholic Spirit, a paper with which I was once briefly associated. In it, he noted the serious ideological divide between today's priests -- the so-called John Paul II priests and the so-called Vatican II priests.

His solution to resolving this divide is summed up thusly:
Priests are much the same way, in that they have hierarchies of truth. There are some things that are central to the faith and other things that are not. If I were going to bring the priests together, I would remind them of the things that they agree on and challenge them to recognize the core teachings of the church, the core truths that are central to their ministry, and then ask them to identify the things that are more optional to them — more a matter of rules and regulations that apply at a certain period of time in the history of the church but maybe not at other times.

If you did that, I think you would find that the arguments are not over core teachings. They are over the more optional or temporal issues. I think that would help them go a long way to say, "You know something, we may disagree on certain specific issues having to do with ministry, but by God, we agree on resurrection, we agree on incarnation, and we are brothers after all. It’s just that we sit in different pews."
How quaint. So saying, "We agree on resurrection and incarnation (Hey, Jim! Where did the definitive articles go?), so let's all just get along" is going to bring these divided men together? This was how he earlier summed up the divide:
There are some priests who tend to prefer a model of priesthood that involves teamwork and collaboration with lay people and with bishops. They think in sort of a horizontal model of a team of people playing together on a level playing field. There are other priests who think more vertically about the authority relationship between themselves and their bishop and see themselves as being of a status that’s higher than that of the laity. So they don’t think so much in terms of teamwork as they think in terms of authority and accountability.
What a marvelous obfuscation. It appears from what Dr. Davidson says that these priests think in a context where there is no philosophical or theological basis for their thoughts, only sociological or political considerations. Therefore, all they need do is say, "Hey, we agree there are such things as incarnation and resurrection, so let's be best buddies."

But the split flows from very different theological understandings, not mere sociological or political opinions. Those who say that the priesthood should be more collaborative do not believe in the real theological reason for the priesthood's existence, which is to teach, sanctify and govern --
*The teaching comes from the teaching of the Apostles and is handed on through the Magisterium and the Tradition;
*The sanctification comes when he offers sacrifice in the name of the people, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit;
*The governing comes from the power he has from Jesus Himself to judge -- "You will sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28).

Now it is true that some priests who rightly understand their authority and the fact that they have been set aside for the service of God (the word in Latin for priest is sacerdos which has obvious roots in "sacred," which means to set aside for service to God), sometimes wield it like a club and feel themselves as superior and above the rest of humanity. This, however, does not mean they are wrong when it comes to their understanding of the priesthood's nature, only wrong in how they understand and carry out its implementation. They need a dose of humility, not to keep them from being true priests, but to show them how dependent they are on the Lord for their exalted position and how they do need the help of the governed, and that they are here "not to be served, but to serve" and to imitate Him who gave His life "as a ransom for the many."

What is interesting is that Davidson talks only of the Incarnation and the Resurrection (at least I presume he's talking about these Catholic dogmas. It's sometimes hard to tell when the definitive articles are dropped that this is exactly what the heterodox believe). Nothing about sin, the Fall, the Cross, suffering, sacrifice, redemption, salvation, the power of the Holy Spirit, deification. Only incarnation and resurrection. Just out of curiosity, I'd like to know where he would rank the Church's teaching on sexual morality and the beginning and end of human life in that hierarchy of truths.

There's no way the Davidson model will work because it is grounded solely in human understanding and categories -- much the way the "horizontal" model of priesthood is based as well. Without the divine nature of the priesthood, it comes to nothing. And because the "horizontal" model has prevailed since the end of Vatican II, men have simply failed to show up at the vocations director's door, a fact that no amount of rose-colored glasses will change.

The Mrs. Vo's

Some time ago, I worked on writing about the case of Madame Vo in France. Now there is another Mrs. Vo with whom to be concerned, this one in the less-than-exotic Austin, Texas.

Mrs. Vo is another one of those people in Texas declared to be a futile care case under a peculiar state law that says a hospital's ethics committee can declare a case as futile and give the family 10 days to find another facility to which to transfer their loved one or find another doctor to provide care.

Methinks this law developed after a case here in Minnesota that I covered for the National Catholic Register back around 1990 (sorry, the story's not available online). Helga Wanglie was an 86-year-old Lutheran in Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis who was dying and her husband, Oliver, refused to admit it. She was on a respirator and some other life-support and Oliver did not want it disconnected. She had already had a respiratory arrest and been revived, and the hospital she was in didn't want her to remain there, so Oliver got her in at HCMC. However, Helga was on the county dole and the hospital wanted to cut expenses. So HCMC did the next logical thing -- they sued for custody.

Fortunately, they lost in probate court. But the implications of that case (which was covered by all the media big boys, including the BBC) went beyond the bounds of the Twin Cities. It wasn't long after that, I'm told by Texas Right-to-Life, that the Texas Medical Association started agitating for a futile-care bill.

So now Mrs. Vo is in some ways the next Mrs. Wanglie. She's Buddhist and her family don't want the life support removed and they got an extension of their 10-day deadline to some time next month. However, the only facility they've found so far that's willing to take her is one in Illinois. Shall we say that's a bit of a drive for her family to make?

Madame Vo and Mrs. Vo are both Vietnamese, both on the support of taxpayers. And both are somehow deemed less than human, not necessarily because of their ethnicity or financial situations, though in some people's minds that may be the case. No, Madame Vo could not find a court to declare that the child she lost because of a doctor's negligence was a human person, and therefore she was entitled to some compensation for her loss. What she carried in her womb, then, is a mystery -- chicken, fish, glob, monster? But since the courts in France and the EU were unable to say it was a human person, it must have been something else, so Madame Vo must be something else as well.

Mrs. Vo is now a futile-care case. Hey, an ethics committee said so. Or as the Chief Operating Officer of Seton Hospital in Austin (yes, it is supposed to be Catholic) told Mrs. Vo's attorney, Jerri Ward, "So be it. The medical committee has spoken." This means that Mrs. Vo and her family are now a case, not human persons in need of care and compassion.

In both instances, the whole human race is now less human as we declare these women, made in the image and likeness of God, who is love, to be less-than-human.

The (too) quiet Wuerl

The Washington Post (link above) and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ann Rodgers have both filed profiles of Bishop Donald Wuerl and both have come to the same conclusion -- he's a quiet man, one for talking in the background and not taking public stands unless he thinks it's absolutely necessary.

Which isn't very often.

And it shows.

Over the years, the Pittsburgh Diocese, despite its reputation as an orthodox place, has been losing priests. Indeed, this year His Excellency ordained all of one priest, an event which made the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In contrast, and despite Cardinal McCarrick's less-than-orthodox and even bad man reputation for the accusations of sleeping with (though not doing anything to) seminarians at his beach house, the Archdiocese of Washington will be ordaining 12 priests.

Now, I have no idea how well-qualified those priests are. Are they on a par with the other much-touted "John Paul" priests, known to be orthodox, faithful, firm and willing to take a stand? Or are they more in line with their avuncular leader who is on his way out? I simply don't know. But the fact that His (less than) Eminence is able to attract more men to the priesthood than His (too quiet) Excellency may spell ill winds for the Archdiocese when it comes to priestly vocations there over the next 10-14 years.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The manufactured crisis in vocations

Once again we have a clear demonstration that truth is far more attractive than falsehood. The late Bishop Kenneth Untener of the Diocese of Saginaw died leaving his successor exactly zero incoming seminarians. Instead, he left behind a network of nuns and laywoman administrators in charge at parishes.

Fortunately, Bishop Robert Carlson was sent there from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in February of 2005. In the year since he's been there, he has gotten 16 seminarians and hopes to have 20 in the Fall.

Those who, like Bishop Wuerl of Pittsburgh (now being named as Archbishop of Washington, D.C., to take the place of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick), think that more lay involvement is the answer need only look at the disaster that Bishop Untener left behind him to see how false that idea is.

There are bishops, including David Zubik of Green Bay (a Wuerl protégé) and Wuerl, who say there's no difference in the parish life with the administrators versus with priests. That, however, is simply not true and I know that from personal experience.

Here in the Diocese of Winona, where we haven't had an ordination for four years, the typical set up is for two or three parishes to be served by one priest, some of whom aren't the most mentally stable. Some have lay or Religious helpers, others do not. Daily Mass is hit or miss -- sometimes Sunday Mass is as well. Confession means having to drive around to find out who's having it and when, and you need to do that within a 30-mile radius in case a priest doesn't show up when you expect him to.

These things do not change when there's a layperson, Religious or even a deacon in charge because of the priest's absence. None of them can celebrate Mass or hear confessions. None of them are fathers.

I cannot bring myself to entrust what's going on in my life and family to a deacon, much less some non-habited nun -- even a habited nun. Perhaps I can do it with a deacon if I know that man and know that his formation, training and experience are more than mine. At least with a deacon, he has the grace of orders. But I certainly cannot do it with a nun.

There will have been changes in the way parishioners relate in those parishes. With a priest, there is a father and a fatherly relationship. You can't have that with a nun. Even with a deacon, the deacon is there as a servant -- that's what his title means -- not as a father. Because the Catholic Church is based on the identity of the Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- she has to reflect that in day-to-day life and we do that through the ministry of the episcopacy, priesthood and diaconate. Without priests in parishes as fathers, the faith of the Church is going to suffer.

It's not enough for priests to come simply to dispense sacraments. That's reducing their role to mere functionaries, like a machine in an assembly plant. Their role is far more than that -- it's a human and spiritual role that is irreplaceable. Without it, the Church will not be able to live its life to the fullest.

So when someone like Bishop Carlson comes along who is strong, firm on the teachings of the Church, models manly behavior to other men, and is not afraid to make demands of young men to follow the Lord unreservedly as a priest, they inevitably respond.

It's something other bishops need to learn rather than throwing up their hands and saying, "Oh, what can I do? I'll have to rely on laity more now." Sorry, Excellency. That's going to get you and the people of your diocese exactly nowhere. Take a stand, be firm, don't waver, make demands -- and watch the seminary fill up before your eyes.

The Case of Madame Vo

Below is a story I wrote for Our Sunday Visitor about a French Vietnamese emigre who lost her unborn child because of a medical error and pursued the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, where she was defeated -- and the human race along with her. At question was the humanity of the unborn child, something which the Court said it could not define.

Interestingly, when I wrote this story, I could have broken it in France. When I got a hold of some contacts there who should have known about it, none of them did.

Also, I owe special thanks to Jeff Gardner who helped me with translating the communications from M. Le Griel.

The Case of Madame Vo

In a case that has European abortion advocates all in a flutter, a French Vietnamese immigrant is asking for nothing less than that the European Court of Human Rights declare that life begins at conception and should be legally protected.

Thi-Nho Vo was six months pregnant when she went to the public hospital in Lyon in 1991 for a routine check-up. At the same time, another Vietnamese immigrant, Thanh Van Vo, was in the same hospital to have a contraceptive device removed.

Thi-Nho Vo did not speak or understand French very well and a clinic worker confused the two women’s files. When the physician on duty, Dr. Francois Golfier, walked into Thi-Nho Vo’s exam room, he assumed she was to have an IUD removed and admitted to the court that he did not do a preliminary exam. Instead, he inserted a measuring device into her cervix and punctured the amniotic sac.

Vo was then hospitalized for a couple of days with the hope that the sac would heal itself, and then released. But she was back in the hospital four days later and on Dec. 5 a “therapeutic interruption” was performed with a dead baby girl being born.

Vo immediately informed French authorities of what happened, an investigation was opened and Golfier was charged with involuntary homicide. After four and a half years, the district court in Lyon acquitted Golfier and dismissed the case. Vo appealed and won. However, the appeals court did not convict the physician under French law but under European law. Golfier was fined 10,000 francs and given a suspended sentenced of six months in prison.

When it was appealed to France’s highest court, the Court de Cassation, the European law was ignored and the court ruled that Golfier did not violate French law because the baby who was killed was not a person under French law.

Vo’s attorney, Bruno Le Griel, strenuously objects to that reading of the law. “I believe that one would have difficulty,” he told OSV, “admitting to the man on the street that what was carried in her, this pregnant woman, and what she lost by the fault of a third party, was simply a mass of cells and not a human being; a baby, her baby.”

Le Griel is making a last-ditch attempt to have that overruled by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. As he told the BBC, “I will be asking the court to recognize reality, that is to say the human life, a human being, begins at the moment of conception.”

The Convention of Human Rights for the European Union states in article two, “The right of every person to life is protected by the law. Death cannot be inflicted on anyone intentionally, save in the execution of a capital sentence by a tribunal in the case of an offense that is punished by that penalty under the law.”

Le Griel is taking his case to Strasbourg on the basis of the first sentence of that article. “Life has a right to be protected from attacks brought against it not only in a voluntary fashion, but equally in an involuntary fashion (by imprudence or negligence),” he told OSV via e-mail.
Pro-abortion people, Le Griel said, “wish to hide the truth concerning the subject of medical abortion, that it is a voluntary homicide. A legal homicide, certainly, but a homicide.”

Those who are opposing him consider him and his client “not as fanatics, but more so as champions of a retrograde and condemnable ‘moral order.’”

Le Griel is using an interesting tack in his arguments before the court. To help demonstrate the humanity of the human embryo, he points to the work done by Drs. Edwards and Steptoe, the British researchers who developed in vitro fertilization and brought the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown into existence. “They were able to definitively show,” he argued, “that at the instant of fertilization, the human embryo developed entirely by itself, by the proper avenues, and that it showed an extraordinary vitality.”

This, he said, demonstrates that the child is a completely different entity from its parents and so should be protected under European and French law.

Le Griel is fighting an uphill battle. Europeans, by and large, are secularized and protecting human life “is not the way European family law is going,” said Helen Alvare, law professor at the Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C.

“Germany surprised us some years ago when their supreme court said abortion is not good,” she noted, “but the trajectory of family law in Europe is the U.S. times two [Gerry or Cherie -- or should we say “x 2 ?] moving toward abortion.”

Indeed, Vo’s case before France’s Court de Cassation came after two previous cases involving children who were stillborn, one because of a car accident and the other because of a midwife’s negligence. In both of those cases the court did not afford any protection under French criminal law.

The appeal to Strasbourg comes after a hot debate on protecting the unborn in the French National Assembly. A legislator proposed protection against “involuntary interruption” of pregnancy, similar to the proposed Laci and Connor Act before the U.S. Congress. However, it was withdrawn because of vigorous opposition from physicians and feminists.

Despite the fact that the Vo case could have huge ramifications on the life issues in Europe, French people are surprisingly ignorant of its existence. “99.99 percent of the people know nothing” about it, said Bertrand de la Fouchardiere, a Catholic layman in Versailles. No polls have been taken on the subject.

Those papers that have covered it have characterized Vo’s Catholic supporters as being “extreme” and close to Le Pen, the ultra-nationalist party leader in southern France, Fouchardiere said. He called this a “pretty bad association” and one that is not true.

The Strasbourg court has heard arguments about whether to take the case or not. A decision is expected in the next couple of months.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mormons and Communists

The eminent canon lawyer, Ed Peters, has some interesting second thoughts on the Chinese communists ordaining a couple of bishops. He refers his readers to what he terms the "most theologically significant decision reached by CDF" under then-Cardinal Ratzinger which was the declaration that Mormon baptism is invalid.

I had first-hand experience with this. I spent a year as the Director of Education and Formation at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, about three blocks east of Temple Square. One of my duties was to be an advocate for those who petitioned the Diocese of Salt Lake City for a declaration of nullity in regard to their marriage. This meant I had to have some quick tutoring in canon law, and was ably assisted in that by Father Robert Moriarty of the diocesan tribunal. One of the things we discussed was the validity of Mormon baptism. That this was even a question was a surprise to me, but he explained that when it came to form and matter, they had everything correct. They baptize with water and use the same formula we do.

But -- and this is a big 'but' -- do they intend to do the same thing that we do? When a nurse or someone else baptizes another in an emergency situation, that baptism is valid because the form and the matter are the same as the Church's and because we know that, even if she can't articulate it to any great extent, the nurse intends to do what the Church intends in baptism -- cleanse the person of sin and bring him into the life of the Trinity.

Mormons, on the other hand, do not believe in the Trinity. Their doctrine is so totally mixed up on the nature of Jesus Christ that you can't tell from one moment to the next if you're talking about Arianism, adoptionism, Manicheeism, or any other type of heretical "ism" there is. What we do know, though, is that they do not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, "one in being (homoousion) with the Father." We do know that their understanding of the Father is that he is god of this planet, not the God and creator of the universe. Their understanding of the Holy Spirit is so totally lost that one hardly knows where to even begin to look to find it. In a nutshell, we know that they are pagans -- polytheists, even.

So when a Mormon says, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," he is saying, "I baptize you in the name of three different gods." And it is that intention that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said was totally incompatible with Catholic teaching, and therefore it makes their baptism invalid.

So when the Chinese Communists ordain bishops solely for the purpose of thumbing their noses at the Holy See, the intent of what they're doing should be very carefully considered when it comes to evaluating the validity, never mind the liceity, of their actions.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Of sheep, shepherds, wolves and hirelings

Over here at UPI's Religion and Spirituality Forum, you can find my comments on today's Mass readings. In them, I reflect on the relationship between what Jesus said about the Good Shepherd, the Pharisees' attitudes and our own calls to be shepherds as husbands, wives, singles, priests, deacons or religious.

As I reflected further on this, though, I was struck more by verse 12 of the 10th chapter of John's Gospel: "A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them."

The implication there, of course, is that Jesus is not a hireling who will run away when the wolf comes. Yes, He did lay His life down for us on the Cross at Golgotha. But He still does it today. We cannot think that when we are beset by temptations that the Lord has abandoned us. He is the Good Shepherd who remains with His flock and who knows each of us by name. We are not a faceless mass to Him, like a swarm of bugs. Because He knows each of us by name, He stays by each of us protecting us in our pilgrimage "in this valley of tears."

When the wolves of temptation come -- and they will come -- the Lord does not turn tail and run off. He sticks by us even though we may not -- and probably won't -- sense it. The fact is that this whole imagery of sheep and shepherd is just that -- imagery. When we are beset by temptations, we must call out to the Lord in faith, even when we don't sense His presence at that time. That is a tactic of the wolf-- to so overwhelm us with fear or to lull us into thinking that we are all alone and so forget that the Lord, the Good Shepherd, is nearby.

We are, obviously, smarter than sheep, but even sheep will bleet out when confronted by danger hoping that they will be heard and help will come. Our task then, is to keep in mind this fact that the Lord is present to us even in our darkest trials and we need to call out to Him and remember that He will respond.