January 2017

Fr. Andre-Joseph LaCasse, O.P., the pastor of Cincinnati’s St. Gertrude parish, a center of dynamic orthodoxy staffed by Dominicans and host to the Dominican priory for the St. Joseph province, uses his column in the bulletin last weekend to catechize his flock on St. Thomas Aquinas, whose feast we celebrate today.  (BTW, it reads exactly like one of the informative, detailed, and practical homilies he reads from the lectern, even at weekday Masses.) Enjoy.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Feast Day is January 28 (1225 – March 7, 1274)
By universal consent, St. Thomas Aquinas is the preeminent spokesman of the Catholic tradition of reason and of divine revelation. He is one of the great teachers of the medieval Catholic Church, honored with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor.

At the age of five he was given to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in his parents’ hopes that he would choose that way of life and eventually became abbot. In 1239, he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was here that he was first attracted to Aristotle’s philosophy.

By 1243, Thomas abandoned his family’s plans for him and joined the Dominicans, much to his mother’s dismay. On her order, Thomas was captured by his brother and kept at home for over a year.

Once free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies under the instructions of Dominican St. Albert the Great. He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo, combated adversaries of the mendicants, as well as the Averroists, and argued with some Franciscans about Aristotelianism.

His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church is his writings. The unity, harmony and continuity of faith and reason, of revealed and natural human knowledge, pervades all his writings. As one might expect Thomas, as a man of the gospel, was an ardent defender of revealed truth. But he was also broad enough, deep enough, to see the whole natural order as coming from God the Creator, and to see reason as a divine gift to be highly cherished. In St. Thomas we see a beautiful blending of both faith and reason. St. Thomas taught us all that these two important realities are never opposed to one another, but instead both are used to lift us up to the Holy Trinity.

The Summa Theologiae, his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, deals with the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on … All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died March 7, 1274.

Fortunately his secretaries and ardent theological followers knew his style of writing, as well as his vision, and finished the Summa for him.

We can look to Thomas Aquinas as a towering example of Catholicism in the sense of broadness, universality, and inclusiveness. We should be determined anew to exercise the divine gift of reason in us, our power to know, learn, and understand. At the same time we should thank God for the gift of his revelation, especially in Jesus Christ.

Saint Thomas Aquinas is the Patron Saint of Catholic schools, colleges, and students.

Feisty, funny, and gimlet-eyed author John Zmirak writes a helpful FAQ on the extent and limits of papal authority for the baffled Catholics of the Age of Francis.  The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s the hard-hitting conclusion:

Q: What if Pope Francis decided to issue an infallible statement, insisting that the Maltese bishops’ interpretation on divorce, marriage and communion are authentic Catholic teaching?

A: In such a situation, we believe the Holy Spirit would intervene. As Catholics, we believe that God would veto such a statement.

Q: How would He do that?

A: Look back at scripture for examples. Noah’s flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fate of Onan. It’s not for me to predict what means He’d decide to use. But if the Catholic claim is true, no pope would live long enough to sign such a document.

Q: And that’s all that papal infallibility means? “Try to teach heresy ex cathedra, and get a heart attack?”

A: Yes, in effect. The pope is not an oracle, not a second Jesus, not the Supreme Court rewriting the Constitution as it goes along. He’s like a Fedex guy, and it’s his job to pass on a package. He’s not empowered to open it, rifle through the contents, and replace them with something “better.”

In his apostolic exhortation on the Mass, Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI taught that priests should strive to avoid being “the center of the liturgical action.”

The same ought to be true of choirs.

During Mass this morning at Cincinnati’s St. Cecilia church, Fr. Jamie Weber “convalidated” the marriage of two young Catholics who had been wed previously by a justice of the peace in a civil ceremony.  Since it took place during the liturgy, it provided an opportune teaching moment; I’ll wager a lot of people don’t know such a thing is possible.  So kudos to a faithful pastor and the committed couple.  At a time when so many Catholics are marrying outside the Church, this is the sort of marital reform, i.e., one that leads people out of sin and into a legitimate sacramental life, that our leaders ought to be promoting.  Here’s Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., in OSV Newsweekly with a convalidation primer:

A “convalidation ceremony” is a remedy for a marriage which has been impeded by some canonical defect. Most typically the ceremony takes place in private in the presence of the pastor of the parish with two witnesses. The convalidation could be one of two types: retroactive or regular.

In either case, the convalidation can remedy the defect of lack of canonical form, or validate a putative marriage where an impediment has been resolved and no longer applies.

Sometimes this is referred to as a “Blessing of a Marriage,” but in reality it is a new act of consent to be married by both spouses. They exchange wedding vows out loud. It can take place during Mass or outside of Mass.

There are cases where the Catholic spouse regrets having contracted an invalid marriage outside of the canonical form and wishes to have the marriage validated but the other spouse refuses to go through another ceremony. In that case, the Church in her mercy and wisdom can grant a retroactive validation (radical sanation) of the marriage per canon law:

“1. The radical sanation of an invalid marriage is its convalidation without the renewal of consent, which is granted by competent authority and entails the dispensation from an impediment, if there is one, and from canonical form, if it was not observed, and the retroactivity of canonical effects.

“2. Convalidation occurs at the moment of the granting of the favor. Retroactivity, however, is understood to extend to the moment of the celebration of the marriage unless other provision is expressly made.

“3. A radical sanation is not to be granted unless it is probable that the parties wish to persevere in conjugal life” (Canon 1161).

Carl E. Olson writes a clearheaded and hard-hitting piece for Ignatius Press’s Catholic World Report on the increasingly clear intention of Francis to overturn Church teaching. His touchstone is the Maltese bishops decision to grant communion to the divorced and remarried. Here’s the wrap up:

Again and again, it is clear to me that this pontificate is working to undermine and dismantle key aspects of the teaching of Saint John Paul II. As one correspondent, well-versed in the writings of John Paul II and the current situation, recently wrote to me: “It is one thing for Pope Francis to have canonized Saint John Paul II … but was this a case of ‘promote to remove’ (promoveatur ut amoveatur)? Yes, let us honor him with canonization but disregard his teachings…” And, again, it must be emphasized that what John Paul II taught on these matters is in complete accord with two thousand years of Tradition and practice.

The current papacy of sentimentality has produced confusion and conflict. As Cardinal Caffera states in a recent interview, “Only a blind man can deny that there is great confusion in the Church.” The clarity that Cardinal Müller speaks of so strongly is not just lacking, it seems to be absent altogether. There are directly competing interpretations of Amoris Laetitia: some by “conservative” prelates who refer to the perennial teachings of the Church and some are by progressive bishops who refer only to Amoris Laetitia and are published in the Vatican newspaper. The Pope’s Exhortation may not always be clear, but his intentions and goals are increasingly so.

Canon lawyer Edward Peters writes a devastating rebuttal, first on his blog and then in CruxNews, of an argument for loosening the Church’s (and Christ’s) teaching on marriage and the reception of Holy Communion based on Francis’s “controverted” document Amoris Laetitia. Here’s the … crux of it:

First mistake: Keller writes, ‘As I respond [to Irma’s request for Communion], I must follow the guidelines that Pope Francis described in Amoris Laetitia, issued after the discussions and discernment of two Synods of Bishops on family life.’

Wrong. In administering holy Communion to a member of the faithful, Roman Catholic ministers are bound not by ‘guidelines’ supposedly fashioned from a single, ambiguous, and highly controverted papal document, but instead by the plain and dispositive text of another papal document, one called the Code of Canon Law, and by the common and constant interpretation accorded such norms over many centuries.”

Fr. Raymond de Souza has written a thorough history of and “look ahead” to the controversy surrounding Francis’s deceptive and divisive exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia. In it he lays the blame for the crisis squarely where it belongs: at the feet of our worldly pope. Kudos to Fr. de Souza for writing it and to the Nat’l Catholic Register for publishing it.  Here are the closing paragraphs:

To date, the defenders of Amoris Laetitia have not offered arguments as much as undemonstrated assertions and appeals to authority. Without a convincing argument to demonstrate why Amoris Laetitia does not run afoul of Veritatis Splendor, which it prima facie does, attacking those who raise questions remains only a short-term political tactic.

The magisterium is not, over the long term, shaped by such tactics.

We live, though, in the immediate term, where such tactics have their impact.

The year after the year of Amoris Laetitia will thus be one of greater acrimony and division, with those close to the Pope questioning the integrity of those who insist that, indeed, the cross of Christ has not lost its power and, in fact, remains that which makes possible the joy of love — even in the 21st century.

It hasn’t always been easy to get local numbers and growth rates for seminarians in formation for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, as the powers that be at Mount St. Mary of the West generally release aggregate figures that include men from other dioceses who study here. Fr. David Endres, Dean of Academics at MSMW, breaks it down for us in his latest Q&A column for the Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati:

Throughout the country, the number of men studying for the diocesan priesthood in graduate-level seminaries such as Mount St. Mary’s/The Athenaeum of Ohio is around 2,800. Before the recent increases in seminarians during the last five years, one would have to go back to 1980 to find a similar number of men studying for priesthood.

Locally, the increase in vocations has accompanied the prayer for vocations that Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr first introduced in 2011. Begging the Lord, the “harvest master,” has resulted in more laborers for the vineyard. Since beginning the diocese-wide prayer effort, the number of seminarians for the archdiocese has increased from 33 to 51.

My spiritual New Year’s resolutions are as follows:

  1. Pray more.  Daily Rosary, Daily Mass, Evening Prayer, Morning Offering, mental prayer.
  2. Read more. In Conversation with God, Lectionary, Saint of the Day, Catechism in a Year, Popes in a Year, St. Thomas’s Summa Theologica, Dante’s Divine Comedy.
  3. Do More. Volunteer more regularly and more often, e.g., at St. Margaret Hall and neighboring parishes.
  4. Drink Less.  Two per day is plenty.
  5. Write more.  Daily journal, essays and op eds, and occasional blog posts (I realize blogging is somewhat passe these days).