Pope Francis recently wrote an Encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home. Some praise it while others condemn it; both do so because it supposedly supports liberal causes. But are they reading it correctly? What did the Pope intend to say through it?
The best way to answer those questions—as we learned last week—is by looking at the broader context of his words. We can look at what sources he references to discern what texts he was reading in a reflective way when he wrote the document.
Scripture seems to be the principal source he used. In the document, Pope Francis quotes or cites 67 passages of the Bible, 42 from the Old Testament and 25 from the New. This was the most often referenced source in his document.
Quite frequently the Pope also references previous Magisterium, including Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes, 5 documents of Blessed Pope Paul VI, 19 documents of St. John Paul II, 9 documents of Pope Benedict XVI, 5 of his own documents, especially Evangelii Gaudium which he wrote with his predecessor. He also references 15 points of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
The Pope also reflected on the documents of his fellow bishops from around the world who have studied the environmental issues. He references bishop’s conferences from Argentina (and a letter of the bishops of the Patagonia-Comahue Region of Argentina), Asian, Australian, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Germany, Japan, Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, Portugal, Southern Africa, and of the United States.
Meditating and reflecting on the writings of the saints also played a big role in preparing this document. Not only does Pope Francis reflect on St. Francis of Assisi (from which its title comes) but also St. Basil the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. John of the Cross, St. Justin, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Vincent Of Lerins. He also used a few other Catholic sources, such as Dante and Romano Guardini, while reaching out to our Christian brethren by citing Patriarch Bartholomew and Protestant philosopher Paul Ricoeur. Likewise he reached out to all people of goodwill by referencing a few secular sources: the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of the United Nation and to the Earth Charter.
So, Pope Francis wrote a document of deep personal and Catholic reflection. We should read it in the same manner. Those who read it differently, thinking the Pope is doing science or economics, are misreading him. In fact, on his flight to United States, a reporter asked him: groups in the US… questioned whether the Pope was Catholic…. There has already been talk about a “communist Pope”… What do you think about this? Pope Francis replied:
“A Cardinal friend of mine told me that a woman came to him, very worried… and she asked him if it was true that in the Bible there is talk of an antichrist. And he explained it to her… And then, she asked if it were true that there is talk of an antipope… “But why are you asking me this?”, the Cardinal asked. “Because I am sure that Pope Francis is the antipope.” “And why…where did you get this idea?” “Because he doesn’t wear red shoes!” That’s how it is, in history… the causes for wondering whether one is a communist or not…. I am certain that I have not said anything beyond the Social Doctrine of the Church…I don’t believe I have said anything that isn’t the Social Teaching of the Church. One can explain things. Maybe an explanation gave the impression of leaning a little to the “left”, but that would be an erroneous interpretation. No. My teaching on all of this, on Laudato Sí, on economic imperialism and all that, is from the Church’s Social Doctrine. And if it is necessary that I recite the “Creed,” I am ready to do it!”
So, let us learn how to listen to Pope Francis and to the Holy Spirit who guides him.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Pope Francis is called to be the shepherd of the universal flock of the Church. We are “the sheep [who] hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).
Some people still struggle to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd in Pope Francis. At times the Pope makes provocative statements that the press or others twist for their own interests. This shouldn’t surprise us, as the Scribes and Pharisees twisted our Lord’s provocative statements to trap him and crucify him. Others did the same with St. Paul: “There are some things in [St. Paul’s writings] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
During the Synod on the Family, let us not be falsely scandalized by news reports, but learn to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Learning to Listen
To get us to think, Pope Francis makes provocative statements, as did our Lord. When statements are predictable, we keep following the same trajectory. When we hear something unexpected, we stop to think; we need to think, because this is why God gave us an intellect.
How do we listen to think? How do we listen to think? This is a challenge. First, is don’t expect the press and special interest groups to know what the Pope is really saying—often they only hear what they want to hear. When you hear something that sounds odd, read what the Pope actually said. For example, we’ve all heard that the Pope said: “If someone is gay, who am I to judge?” The Pope said this in an interview flying from Brazil to Rome, after a reporter asked the Pope about a priest-appointee accused of being gay. The Pope described the investigation that found nothing. Then the Pope said: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way.”
So, the Pope tells us to follow the Catechism, which calls all of us to live chastity:
“Homosexual persons are called to chastity… The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC 2359,58).
So, besides reading the Pope’s actual words, we must also put the words in context: in the context of his other teachings, as well as in the context of Church teaching. The authority also depends on the type of statement. An interview has no magisterial authority, just as Christ harshly rejected Peter’s private comments: “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). In contrast, a statement of an official encyclical letter has true magisterial authority.
Another way to better listen to the Pope is to note how he repeats a phrase. For example, the Pope has often expressed that the Church is a “field hospital.” He first said this in an interview but then has gone on to repeat it in various homilies and discourses. This helps us to see the broader meaning of a provocative statement. Likewise he has repeated that gossip is a terrorist act because it sets off “bombs” that destroy people’s lives and reputations.
Let us continue to learn how to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd in our Holy Father so as to follow Christ more closely.
Fr. John R. Waiss
The Synod is assisting Pope Francis with a pastoral plan to evangelize the world through the family. Let us support him with our prayers and keep faith that the Holy Spirit will actively guide the whole Church through these turbulent waters.
Sins Against the Spirit
Sin has been the subject of recent notes. What many find disturbing is our Lord’s mention of a sin that will not be forgiven:
“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven… whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32).
The thought of an unforgivable sin is scary. Have I committed such a sin? Am I doomed?
So what is “blasphemy against the Spirit”? First consider the context. Jesus had just exorcised a man possessed by a demon that made him blind and dumb (Matthew 12:22ss); this amazed the people. The Scribes and Pharisees reacted differently, accusing Jesus of using the power of Satan (Beelzebul) to cast out demons. After showing them the absurdity of their position, Jesus condemns them for their “blasphemy against the Spirit.”
You see, after being instructed in the Scriptures, God ordained the Scribes and Pharisees with a special authority to teach the people and “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). By this authority the Holy Spirit guided them to know that Jesus fulfilled the Scripture foretelling the great Prophet and Messiah. But Jesus fulfilled those Scriptures in a way they neither expected nor wanted.
Instead of listening to the Holy Spirit and acknowledging Jesus’ messiahship, the Scribes and Pharisees accuse Jesus of being from the devil. They rejected the Spirit’s inspiration and blasphemed against him by saying the opposite. Later, when they ask Jesus by what authority he works the miracles he works, he agrees to tell them on the condition that they would answer one question: “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” They argued: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,” we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered: “We do not know.” (Matthew 21:23-27). Thus they chose not to acknowledge the Spirit’s inspiration; so our Lord refuses to respond to their question. They are not open.
In this context, then, to blaspheme against the Spirit is to reject and speak contrary to a truth that one has the God-given authority to discern. This would especially true for bishops and priests, but could apply to others in authority. Consider those who speak against Pope Francis, such as calling him a Marxist: they almost seem to be calling him, Beelzebul. Perhaps they do so in ignorance, so let’s let God judge this one.
The Church expands its understanding of sins against the Holy Spirit to include sins against hope, such as refusing God’s mercy:
“There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (CCC 1864).
Also those who think they need no mercy sin against hope: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Let us humbly trust in our Lord’s mercy and always be attentive to those quiet little inspirations of the Holy Spirit to pray, serve others, and follow Christ’s example of self-giving.
We are looking for volunteers to help with the planning of the Restoration of St. Mary of the Angels Church. Especially needed are those with architectural, engineering, and construction experience to help with recommendations. Please email or call the parish if you are interested.
Fr. John R. Waiss
October 6, 2015
Thank you for your ongoing support of St. Mary of the Angels. Our Christmas in June campaign caught us up on our bills, helping us start of the new fiscal year in the black. We also raised more than $105,000 last year for the Fr. Hilary Scholarship Fund, supporting large and financially challenged families in educating their children with a Catholic education.
Then on July 18th we had a little surprise. Shortly after the people had left the church from the 5 pm Saturday Mass and the parking lot emptied, a piece of the church came crashing down—a large corner section of terra cotta dropped 50 feet and shattered as it hit the ground. Fortunately no person or car was nearby. Only a large flowerpot was destroyed.
The following Monday we got up close with a lift, cleaned up the site where the piece had broken away, and founded out that water, ice, and rust had pushed the cornice away from the brick wall, allowing the piece to break away under its own weight. We used this opportunity to see whether there were other pieces in similar conditions that could pose a potential hazard to people and property. Not only did we discover other such terra cotta pieces that could do the same, but we found other damage and potential hazards that need addressing.
We have identified three types of repairs:
1. Emergency Life-Safety Repairs;
2. Other Temporary Repairs to Prevent Further Damage;
3. Long-Term Maintenance Plan Repairs to put the church structure in tip-top condition.
0. Engineering Survey of the Church Building: $10,000
1. Emergency Life-Safety Repairs:
Use of lifts for 2 month and fuel: $16,800
Repair terra cotta Cornices similar to the one that fell—$7,500
Pin terra cotta Cornices with dangerous cracks—$6,000
Pin other cracked terra cotta units—$7,000
Stabilize bowing terra cotta between Entrance Columns with mesh —$15,500
Stabilize bulging North Tower Parapet with steel mesh—$12,000
2. Other Temporary Repairs to Prevent Further Damage:
Stabilize cracked Cupolas due to rust in interior steel members—$10,000
Stabilize cracked Window terra cotta tracery—$12,000
Seal horizontal terra cotta to prevent water seepage into bricks beneath—$20,000
Roofing repairs to prevent further water damage—$8,000
3. Long-Term Maintenance Plan Repairs (very rough estimates):
Full Roof replacement—$250,000
Full Repair of Entrance terra cotta—$250,000
Replace front Parapet Wall (removed in 1992 for safety reasons)—$250,000
Rebuild North Tower including its parapet and tuck point—$1,000,000
Tuck point exterior of the whole church—$1,000,000
The costs of the long-term repairs are very rough estimates. We will be developing a plan for that soon. We think that now is the time to start fundraising for the long-term integrity of St. Mary of the Angels Church.
We have started working right away on the emergency and some preventative repairs, although we don’t have enough money to finish that. Please consider an extraordinary donation to help us
Let us all pray and work together to preserve and pass on the treasure of St. Mary of the Angels for future generations.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. John R. Waiss
PS: We are looking for volunteers to help with the planning of the Restoration of St. Mary of the Angels Church. Especially needed are those with architectural, engineering, and construction experience to help with recommendations. Please email or call the parish if you are interested.
As Pope Francis visits the United States and Cuba, we want to take full advantage of his presence to listen as he inspires the frontline soldiers—that is, you and me—who are called to fight this war against worldliness and hatred by sowing love and peace in the midst of the world.
Pope Francis has said that the Church is like a field hospital, where the fallen soldiers are brought for immediate treatment:
“What the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds… I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later” (Interview with Antonio Spadaro, 2013).
This is especially true in the sacrament of Reconciliation. When the priest hears confessions, he can’t be worried about the cholesterol level in the blood, but the first thing he must do is to stop the bleeding or revive the person who has stop breathing. That is why the Church has developed the distinction between mortal and venial sin.
“There is sin which is mortal” (1 John 5:16), which is a sin that “kills” our relationship with God. On the other hand, venial sins detract from our relationship with God and others but do not kill it, such as neglecting prayers or not sharing a toy with a sibling. Being unfaithful to a spouse would be mortal because it would kill one’s relationship with one’s spouse and with God who should be at the center of that relationship. The church teaches us that:
“One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. This sin destroys charity in us, deprives us of sanctifying grace, and, if unrepented, leads us to the eternal death of hell. It can be forgiven in the ordinary way by means of the sacraments of Baptism and of Penance or Reconciliation” (CCCC 395).
When we have committed a mortal sin, we should go to the sacrament of Penance right away so that our Lord can “stop the bleeding” or revive us. This is why the priest may ask us a few questions: to try to find the full extent of the wound that needs healing, just as the doctor may poke around a bit to see whether a bone or spleen is broken and needs immediate intervention.
We should also confess our venial sins too.
“One commits a venial sin, which is essentially different from a mortal sin, when the matter involved is less serious or, even if it is grave, when full knowledge or complete consent are absent. Venial sin does not break the covenant with God but it weakens charity and manifests a disordered affection for created goods. It impedes the progress of a soul in the exercise of the virtues and in the practice of moral good. It merits temporal punishment which purifies” (CCCC 396)
Whereas mortal sin kills our relationship with God, venial sin weakens that relationship and disorients our emotional disposition to prefer immediate, created pleasures over a permanent relationship with God and over the everlasting happiness that awaits us in heaven.
When we think about sins, we normally think about exterior actions, but interior sins—thoughts, desires, gloating over a sin—can be mortal too. Looking at pornography or fantasizing over a possible affair, for example, may stay on the inside but have dire consequences in relationships. As our Lord said: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man” (Mark 7:21-22).
Let’s take advantage of the Pope’s visit to make a good confession and thus make ourselves ready to return to the battle field as apostles of peace and joy.
Fr. John R. Waiss