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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Bishop Kenneth Untener on Women Priests

The bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, died in 2004. It is not my intention to speak ill of the dead, but I still feel compelled to give a strong critique of his argument in favor of women priests. Giving the appearance of orthodoxy, he maintained the usage of “in persona Christi,” while evacuating it of authentic meaning. His claim of a shift in its understanding “since the 1940′s” is not substantiated since it was already well developed in the scholastic tradition. Our deepening appreciation of it has been a legitimate instance of the operation of the universal ordinary Magisterium under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As such it takes upon itself a level of certitude, dare I say infallibility, especially in regards to its five citations in the Vatican II documents. Conciliar teachings do not have to be statistically verified. The bishop, trying to find any loophole for women priests ignored this point.

For those unfamiliar, let me summarize his views. He caricatured, and I believe falsely, the teaching as mere “impersonation,” no different from an actor pretending to be someone else in a contemporary drama. Opposed to St. Jerome’s supposedly “false translation” of the Greek (and here I will transliterate) “en prosopo Christou” (2 Corinthians 2:10) as “in persona Christi,” the bishop claimed it really meant “in the presence of Christ” or “before (the face of) Christ.” If the minister only impersonates Christ, and is not actually present in the priest, then his view would open the door to women priests.

Although these renditions of the word “prosopon” have some validity, one cannot so carelessly dismiss the Vulgate Latin Bible. It remains the official ecclesial translation. Further, the terminology “prosopon” was being stretched or advanced in meaning from its routine usage in Greek drama.

In contrast, various critics will avow that the “persona” manifested is the divine Second Person of the Blessed Trinity but disavow his male-differentiated humanity. However, Christ’s identity can never be split. Thus, while Bishop Untener would actually evacuate any ontological reality of Christ’s presence at the altar, these other critics would divide and subtract from it.

Ecumenically, Anglo-Catholics and Orthodox churches concur with us, even if they might use different terminology. For Eastern Christians, the priest is considered “an icon of Christ.” It must be remembered that icons are considered more than simple images. They are venerated as somehow holding God’s presence in them. The priesthood takes this iconic identification still further. To say that a priest acts as Christ’s icon means that we can experience the undivided person of Christ in him. To make this identification even more complete, the constitutive element of a priest’s maleness may be supplemented by such accidentals as vestments and a beard.

Bishop Untener may be correct in that the Mass is a drama; but, the priest is more than an actor. Every Mass is Christ’s as the principal celebrant. Unless he is present in the person of the priest, this assertion becomes nonsense. The late bishop minimized the meaning of the “prosopon” or mask and others ignore the Greek source for this idea entirely. An actor in ancient Greek theater would hold up a “prosopon” or face to disguise his countenance. More than simply “impersonating” the character as in modern drama, the face he held allowed him to take unto himself a new, even if pseudo-real, identity. These transformations became so thorough, that many of the ancients considered acting to be a vocation.

In the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries, AD, over the identity of Jesus, “prosopon” was understood as an external concrete apparition, the appearance of the “physis.” The “physis” was a set of characteristics or properties, in other words, that which made up the nature of a thing. However, even in this context, the word “prosopon” was strengthened by the term “hypostasis.” [This was because some feared what critics have done regarding the priesthood, dividing or subtracting from Christ.] This last word was closely connected with the term “persona” in the West. The word “person” signified the firm ground from out of which an existing thing took its stand and developed. [It is the person of Christ who stands and renders sacrifice in front of our altars. The priest does not pretend to be Christ. At the Sacrifice of the Mass, he is the undivided Christ.]

The bishop wrote, “In the early centuries we do not see this phrase used to describe the role of the ordained priest.” Why is this? The answer is simple. The Church comes to a further understanding of herself and of her doctrinal treasury through conflict. Christ’s identification with the minister in the liturgy was not at issue. For that matter, even when surrounded by pagan priestesses and heretical ones, the consensus of the Church was so sure that no defense of the male priesthood was thought necessary.

Through all the rhetoric, the bishop was essentially implying that the sexuality and/or body of the human being should not be a determining factor of worthiness for holy orders.  Historically, there is a precedent that says otherwise. Indeed, as I have taught before, the Gnostics who copied many Christian rituals possessed a female priesthood. They also denied that Christ was really a human being. If he were not really a man, we are not redeemed. Do we really want to run this course? I think not. One minor bishop does not constitute or veto the whole Magisterium in union with the Pope.

Abusing St. Thomas’ appreciation of instrumental causality, the bishop wrote that “Christ makes use of the instrument of a priest in the sacraments in the same way that a physician makes use of a scalpel — as an instrument, although in this case, an animate instrument.” What he bypasses is that a man is not a scalpel and a priest is not any man. The nature of the instrument must be respected. Christ has so configured a man that through ordination he is capable of making the Lord present through his very person. This is the legitimate instrumentality of the priest at Mass.

The bishop’s article about the priesthood and women is reprinted in his book, THE PRACTICAL PROPHET.  The post was a letter to a proponent of women’s ordination.   

AMAZON:  The Practical Prophet

Veneration (Worship?) of Images

ANTI-CATHOLIC ASSERTION

Catholics venerate or worship images. The Pope himself bows before statues of Mary. Similarly, they worship Christ in the Eucharist. They also possess statues, candles, and other such religious objects in their homes and churches. All these things violate the commandments and are offensive to God.

[The fashioning and veneration of images is forbidden as idolatry] “You shall not carve idols [any graven image] for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, …” (Exodus 20:4-5).

CATHOLIC TRUTH

No, Catholics do not “worship” images. Veneration is different from the kind of exclusive worship and adoration owed to God alone. Rather, we honor and treat with respect those things which remind us of God and those in whom the Lord has done wondrous things. The honor we show the Blessed Virgin Mary is particularly pronounced; however, it is not the same kind of worship which we render to God. Unlike the ancient idol worshippers, the honor is paid not to the physical representation, but to the one who is signified. Definitions are very important. Holy objects often serve the same function as mementos and photographs in our homes; they remind us of our friends and family. Similarly, religious statues, pictures, and all the rest bring to mind our spiritual family of faith and our identity as part of it.

Candles are symbolic of Jesus himself. The smoke rises as prayer is taken into heaven. They give off light and Jesus is the Light of the World, dispelling the darkness of sin and death. They give off heat, and Jesus gave the warmth of healing and forgiveness to others. Like the candle which exhausts itself for our benefit, Jesus surrenders his life that we might be redeemed. Turning to the Eucharist, Jesus himself told us that it was his flesh and blood, the living sacrament of his presence. We can worship this divine mystery because it is Jesus and Jesus is God.

Fundamentalist anti-Catholics are not consistent on this score about graven images. Come Christmas, they usually have statuary-nativity scenes like everyone else. Also, if they were to be consistent in their strict observance of this commandment, it would also include the toy dolls they buy their children. Some cults actually do this! The Catholic view of images is based on the permissible symbolic use of them in the Old Testament and the fact that Christ himself through the incarnation reveals the transcendent God. God allowed images which symbolically pointed to our ultimate salvation in the Lord. The historical fact of the God-Man, Christ, ushers in a new “economy” of images [CCC #2131].

[To be healed from the poisonous bites of serpents] So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, “Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered (Numbers 21:7-9). {See also Wisdom 16:6-8}

[Jesus’ humanity is a healing image of God] “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John 3:14).

[Regarding the ark of the covenant] “Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the propitiatory, fastening them so that one cherub springs direct from each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, covering the propitiatory with them; they shall be turned toward each other, but with their faces looking toward the propitiatory” (Exodus 25:18-20). {See also 1 Kings 6:23-28}.

Relics

2 Kings 2:8-14: Elijah’s mantle.

Exodus 7:10: Aaron’s rod.

Matthew 9:20-21; Matthew 14:36: The hem of the garment worn by our Lord.

Acts 19:12: . . . so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

Acts 5:15-16: . . . so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

It was only natural that Christians, from the very earliest days, would hold onto mementos of the saints. Relics remind us that holiness is real and that some of our number have followed Christ in spectacular ways. The veneration of relics of saintly persons or things is recommended by the Bible. However, such regard is not the same as the worship that belongs to God alone. We do not pray to such objects or treat them superstitiously; we honor what they signify and the graces God conveys in them. The secular world does similar things. A person might cherish a lock of hair from his beloved. A nation might treat with respect the great patriotic symbol that is the flag.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Images: Statues & Pictures

Exodus 25:18: “And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat.”

Numbers 21:8-9: And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

John 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

1 Kings 6:29: He carved all the walls in the house roundabout with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. (Also verses 32 and 35).

The prohibition against images was never absolute. Further, there is a new economy of images due to the incarnation. Jesus is the revelation of the Father. Our very humanity becomes reflective of God. The Scriptures show that God often used images to deepen religious commitment and understanding. The prohibition against “graven images” applies to idolatry, the sin of giving the adoration reserved to God alone to some mere thing. It is peculiar that some critics will oppose the Church’s use of sacred art and yet they often have trophies, statuary, toy dolls, photographs, and paintings in their homes. Images that inspire faith and remind us of particularly holy and courageous members of our faith are no more wrong than such pictures of family and friends in our homes.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Debate on IFC’s 2007 Bridge Builders Confusion, Part 1

LINK:  False Worship at John Paul II Cultural Center?

LINK:  Debate on IFC’s 2007 Bridge Builders Confusion, Part 2

There were many comments in the discussion regarding charges of false worship by a Vatican official at the John Paul II Cultural Center.  While I also had questions, and viewed the lighting of the Hindu religious candle as a misstep, it was and is my conviction that the charges from critics are ridiculous.  Catholicism does not subscribe to religious indifferentism.  However, the Church in the modern world is dedicated to mutual understanding and social cooperation for purposes of justice and peace.  We have to share the world in which we live.  There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the good works of brothers and sisters from other faith traditions and philosophies of life.

As I look over the posted picture again this morning, there are tears in my eyes. I have to think that maybe the archbishop was not aware of the religious significance of the candle-lighting. It could be that they imposed upon him without warning to light it and he did so without giving the action sufficient reflection. Given tension and recent hostilities of Hindus toward Catholics in places like India, the archbishop may also have found himself with a no win situation. While such events as this are rarely reported in the American press, they constitute headline news back in Hindu countries. The reverberations for refusing to light the candle would have been colossal. It should have been made clear what the archbishop could and could not do as a Catholic clergyman. Guidelines preventing the candle-lighting should have been contracted in the use of the JP II Center.

[It is worthy of note that Pope Benedict XVI would also meet with non-Christian religious leaders at the center when he came to the U.S.  His words were very carefully chosen to emphasize religious dialogue for purposes of social harmony and to better society.  There was nothing that sacrificed the unique salvific significance of Christ and the truths taught and passed on by Catholic Christianity.  Many of us saw this event as an attempt to correct and heal any wound of confusion opened by the earlier event.]   

Here is my blog discussion record, good, bad and confused, of those who commented on the pictures that went viral in the (unfortunately) somewhat unforgiving religious world.

SHARON:

Father is it possible that the archbishop didn’t understand the significance of the lamp? Is it possible that you are overestimating the significance of the lamp? Maybe you should give the archbishop some feedback.

FATHER JOE:

I thought about that possibility too, and yet Catholicism is quite restrictive and clear about such matters. Remember, Catholics cannot even engage “actively” but only “passively” in the Sunday worship of Protestants. Hymn singing is permitted, with reservations, but many worship elements and Holy Communion are forbidden to Catholics. Further, such participation does not fulfill one’s holy day obligation or duty. I am just a poor priest in a small parish. The archbishop represents the Holy See and has had special training in the foreign service of the Church. He should know better than me what is right and wrong. Catholics light candles as well, and the votive lights symbolize our prayer intentions. We also have the vigil light before the reserved sacrament of the Eucharist and the Easter or Paschal Candle. Catholics know the value and place of candles and fire in worship. The archbishop would be the first to appreciate such things. That is why I am pained and befuddled by it all.

CATHOLIC WRITER:

Hi Father Joe, if Catholics worship one God in the Holy Trinity, and the Hindus worship one God in Brahma, isn’t it common sense that both are worshipping the same God, but in different ways? (Curious)

FATHER JOE:

The problem is the presumption of monotheism that you make. Except for certain modern Hindu apologists who argue that all the Hindu deities are expression of a single one; Hinduism is traditionally regarded as a polytheistic religion. In other words, they are not worshipping ONE god but many gods. This is usually their understanding as well. The Trinity is quite different. Catholics believe that there is ONE divine nature (one God) but three divine Persons. While the mythology is quite different, the multiple gods of Hinduism is similar to the ancient pagan gods of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Tertullian and others in the early Church claimed that these false gods had substance and were in actuality, demons. Christians were warned, even in the Bible, that they should not eat of the food offered to idols, to the demons.

The Jewish Decalogue forbids the fashioning and worshipping of idols. Catholics use statues to remember Jesus, Mary, Joseph and other saints. But we do not worship them as idols.  However, the Hindu usage of statues is indeed the kind of idolatry condemned by the commandments given to Moses.

Are you beginning to see why this is a pretty big deal and a source of growing embarrassment and scandal?

HELEN:

Right or wrong, “Catholicism is quite restrictive” is the reason for your pain. That much is clear. Believing as you do, this must upset you a lot.

You mentioned that lighting the lamp had different meanings at different times. I sincerely hope that in this instance its meaning is something that does not compromise Christian faith in one God. Protestants share the belief of one God in three Persons with Catholics. That is one thing we do not debate.

CATHOLIC WRITER:

Hi Father Joe, I see what you mean. Based on the interreligious dialogue that’s taken place in my country between representatives of various religions, I’ve always understood Hinduism to be monotheistic with the other deities to be manifestations of Brahman, while the deities are given the same kind of respect that Catholics give to saints. Like some Catholics mistakenly turn to worshipping saints, some Hindus mistakenly turn to worshipping these deities, but these should not be seen as what the religion is really about.  God bless.

BEE:

Stay away from those wacko conservatives like the “catholic” cavemen. Lighten up. If Jesus were here he wouldn’t be filled with righteous anger at someone lighting a candle and dialoging with pagans. Surely St. Paul probably reached out amongst similar sorts of things even as he upheld the truth of Christ. Beware wrath and a lack of charity— surely more insidious then a misstep in lighting a candle.

FATHER JOE:

Dialogue is fine by me, but the question is false worship. You suggest that St. Paul would not be concerned, and yet he definitely condemned idolatry. Remember, ours is a jealous God.

4HISCHURCH:

I’ve been reading about the alleged apparitions at Damascus in Syria (apparently approved by the local bishop— I stay away from those that aren’t). The main message there seems to be one of unity (especially between Catholics and Orthodox.) Jesus is reported to have said, “Tell my children, it is from them I ask unity. I will not accept it from those who are only acting; pretending they are working for unity.” When I read your post about the archbishop that was the first thing I thought of— pretending to be working for unity instead of working for true unity.

LAURA:

Remember, Sr. Lucia of Fatima told us not to wait for the bishops to lead us in lives of prayer and mortification. These types of gross errors are so commonplace now. The sad part is that so many Catholics are so poorly catechized that they wouldn’t even be able to tell you why the actions of the Bishop were scandalous. I weep with for my children who have such reckless shepherds.

WENDY: 

AMEN, Father.  It seems to me that some folks “just ain’t gettin’ it.”  This is some serious stuff. Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt?  But, come on, he’s an Archbishop for crying out loud!  I would think that he would be more knowledgeable than us lay folk. If not, I’m truly scared!

MARTHA:

Which bishops can we trust?

CAROL:

Father Joe, Ugh, I had hoped this Nuncio would avoid the “Be nice, don’t litter” phenomenon that has stolen our religion.  You ask whether he realizes he is paying homage to a false god. “Be nice and don’t litter” is borne from the violations of the first and second commandments— priests and bishops who want the flock to adore them. They place the importance of people loving them above everything else, including the vocation of salvation of humanity.

Who among us sits in the pews and knows the last time words were said to provoke the people in line to get the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ to go to confession and wipe their souls of their sins? If they’re unaware that their path has taken this earth into a spiritual tailspin, then they are perishing. The vocation of priesthood is a spiritual fatherhood. The photo of a papal nuncio lighting a candle to pay homage to a false god is about as sane as a mother and father who set up false images and pay homage to them before they tuck their kids into bed.  Take another look at the picture (previous post)— he’s laying the salvation of Christ’s people at the foot of a false god and everyone in the picture is as happy as a lark— spiritual insanity!

“Which bishops can we trust?”  A handful, perhaps a dozen, like + Vasa, + Bruskewitz, + Chaput, + Burke, to name a few.

MATTHEW:

Although I don’t agree with everything Fr. Malachi Martin said, he was right concerning the actions of certain bishops and equating it with unbelief. How can someone do something like this and be a believer of the Gospel? I will pray that the Archbishop is stupid rather than a baptized pagan.

FATHER RICHARD:

St. Teresa said, “I do not understand the fears of certain persons, who say, “The devil, the devil, so long as we can say, God, God, and make Satan tremble.” Relax; the bishop did the right thing. If he had refused to light the candle he would have been no different than those people who cry the devil, the devil— as you and many of your readers sadly sometimes do.  God bless.

FATHER JOE:

Dear Father Richard, I would tend to give the benefit of a doubt to the nuncio, however, it is possible that he made a mistake. I believe he is fully Catholic and that there was no intent, whatsoever, on his part to do something wrong. I would not want to say that he did nothing “inadvertently” wrong, as the lighting of a candle in certain instances signifies “worship” for the Hindus. The Hindu deities in my estimation are false and if they have any real distinct existence it would seem likely they are demonic. Such an attitude was reflected in the early Church to the pagan gods and I see no reason to second-guess their interpretation. You seem to infer upon me a level of anxiety about Satan’s power that I do not in fact have. I may mention him from time to time, particularly in mockery and humor, but I fully trust the power of Jesus Christ to vanquish evil. As my departed father once said to me, the devil cannot stand humor. You seem to render me, a fellow priest, a small slight by your comment, but you are free to have your own opinion about such things and even about me.

I see from your website that you are part of the Charismatic renewal and have a healing ministry. I will offer a prayer for you and your ministry that many will come to know both spiritual and physical healing through the Lord working in you. The priest who baptized me also had a healing ministry and Father John Lubey regularly prayed over people who would then rest in the Spirit. He was a gentle and good man whom I miss very much.  Christ’s peace with you always.

AGNES: 

Dear Fr. Joe, I feel a mixture of emotions when I see what this bishop is doing, mostly a deep sadness. Really, he is betraying Jesus?  He is a shepherd who is supposed to be guarding and leading his sheep towards our Savior. How are his flock supposed to react-follow him?  I believe totally in love of neighbor, and the Jewish and Muslim faiths certainly worship one God as we do, and we owe a great respect to them, even though we have differences. But I am not afraid to say this, Hinduism is dangerous and the worship of false gods is totally against our faith. Please be wise, our very souls are at risk. I live in England and our faith is being battered, please proclaim Jesus as our only Lord and Savior.  May God bless you all.

STEPHEN:

It is hard for me to tell if the Archbishop really knew that he was lighting a candle for idols. Maybe the Archbishop didn’t know. From looking at the picture, the candle looks kind of funny, but it does not appear to be idolatrous. In the bottom picture, there are two dark forms on the right and the left that are hard for me to see that could be some kind of statues. If they are statues, he probably did not recognize them as idols. Some idols seem like harmless statues unless you have been educated as to what they really are. His intention could have been limited to the lighting of a candle, not actually performing an act of worship. At best, this is a case of ignorance coupled with poor judgment. At worse, this is a case of go along to get along idolatry. (If you think about it, it is a form of double idolatry.)

JOAN:

Wouldn’t it be prudent to request a private audience with the Papal Nuncio and ask him privately, telling him of your concerns, before making this information, together with your opinions, known to the public? We desperately need unity in the Magisterial teachings of the Church.  I have not looked back at your previous blogs, but did you let your readers know that the Papal Nuncio, in union with the Bishops of the United States, re-consecrated the United States of America to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, on November 11, 2006.  Are we not a Church of Unity in truth and love?

FATHER JOE:

Dear Joan, I hear what you say, but this is not a general news blog. The pictures from the interfaith group were online and other blogs were already reporting about the event at the JP II Cultural Center. I posted about it as a “Johnny Come Lately” with important questions, and as I have said, feel that some mistake must have been made. Never did I suggest that the archbishop was intending to offer false worship. I would distance myself as a Catholic priest from any comments that suggested otherwise. My concern is the “sign” value of the picture and maybe whether or not it was prudent to participate. The questions that Christians are entitled to ask are as follows: What actually did happen? And, how do we resolve the subsequent scandal? I am a pretty small fish to tell the archbishop his business and I am sure that some response will be forthcoming without my intervention. In any case, the scandal was not my doing and any resolution will have to be accomplished in the public arena. If you think I am not charitable you should visit some of the Traditionalist Catholic and Protestant anti-Catholic sites.  My remarks were very tame and non-committal by comparison. As of right now, I am positing the whole event as an error of some sort. I could not agree with another priest who suggested that it was okay to light such a lamp and that this should be a non-issue for Christians. But, that is my opinion.

As for the re-consecration of the U.S. to the Immaculate Heart, I said nothing about it because, frankly, I heard nothing about it until now. But, as I said, I do not doubt the archbishop’s Catholic faith. I am sure he is a faithful son of the Church. It is only this particular event with the Indian lamp that puzzles me.

Thank you for visiting the Blog and may the good Lord continue to bless you and your family.

ELLEN:

The real issue is the JPII Center. They are the hosts. It is their responsibility. If they had been on the job, this wouldn’t have happened.

FATHER JOE:

Point well taken!

ATHANSIUS:

“The Brahmins eat sumptuous meals to the sound of drums, and make the ignorant believe that the gods are banqueting. When they are in need of any supplies, and even before, they give out to the people that the gods are angry because the things they have asked for have not been sent, and that if the people do not take care, the gods will punish them by slaughter, disease, and the assaults of the devils. And the poor ignorant creatures, with the fear of the gods before them, obey them implicitly. These Brahmins have barely a tincture of literature, but they make up for their poverty in learning by cunning and malice. Those who belong to these parts are very indignant with me for exposing their tricks. Whenever they talk to me with no one by to hear them they acknowledge that they have no other patrimony but the idols, by their lies about which they procure their support from the people. They say that I, poor creature as I am, know more than all of them put together.”

“They often send me a civil message and presents, and make a great complaint when I send them all back again. Their object is to bribe me to connive at their evil deeds. So they declare that they are convinced that there is only one God, and that they will pray to Him for me. And I, to return the favor, answer whatever occurs to me, and then lay bare, as far as I can, to the ignorant people whose blind superstitions have made them their slaves, their imposture and tricks, and this has induced many to leave the worship of the false gods, and eagerly become Christians. If it were not for the opposition of the Brahmins, we should have them all embracing the religion of Jesus Christ.”

“The heathen inhabitants of the country are commonly ignorant of letters, but by no means ignorant of wickedness. All the time I have been here in this country, I have only converted one Brahmin, a virtuous young man, who has now undertaken to teach the Catechism to children. As I go through the Christian villages, I often pass by the temples of the Brahmins, which they call pagodas. One day lately, I happened to enter a pagoda where there were about two hundred of them, and most of them came to meet me. We had a long conversation, after which I asked them what their gods enjoined them in order to obtain the life of the blessed. There was a long discussion amongst them as to who should answer me. At last, by common consent, the commission was given to one of them, of greater age and experience than the rest, an old man, of more than eighty years. He asked me in return, what commands the God of the Christians laid on them. I saw the old man’s perversity, and I refused to speak a word till he had first answered my question. So he was obliged to expose his ignorance, and replied that their gods required two duties of those who desired to go to them hereafter, one of which was to abstain from killing cows, because under that form the gods were adored; the other was to show kindness to the Brahmins, who were the worshippers of the gods. This answer moved my indignation, for I could not but grieve intensely at the thought of the devils being worshipped instead of God by these blind heathen, and I asked them to listen to me in turn. Then I, in a loud voice, repeated the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments. After this I gave in their own language a short explanation, and told them what Paradise is, and what Hell is, and also who they are who go to Heaven to join the company of the blessed, and who are to be sent to the eternal punishments of hell. Upon hearing these things they all rose up and vied with one another in embracing me, and in confessing that the God of the Christians is the true God, as His laws are so agreeable to reason.”

–Saint Francis Xavier

Letter from Goa to the Society of Jesus (Rome), 1543

I think the Nuncio needs to read the lives of the saints before walking into another useless Ecumenical social event. Perhaps he’ll be inspired to preach the Gospel as Our Lord commanded?

JOAN:

Dear Fr. Joe, thank you for your kind reply. I am definitely out of my league in knowledge, etc. to be commenting on this. It sounds like it is possible that good Papal Nuncio may have been set up for someone’s agenda, but the Roman Curia are usually extremely wise when it comes to things like that.

Perhaps it was the Papal Nuncio who ministered to him as St. Francis Xavier did. We only know what the picture shows, we are not privy to their private conversation.

I can only imagine what the Traditionalists and anti-Catholic Protestants would make of this event. I am a convert myself. I have found that Traditionalists are pretty hateful about everything, and few anti-Catholic Protestants are exceptionally kind to anything Catholic. There are many more very good Protestants who are, however. I have recently been dumped by anti-Catholic relatives who held out hoping I would become Baptist again. I know that not all Baptists are like that. I offer up my heartache for their conversion and I pray for them. I know that good Protestants go to Heaven as well as Catholics. They suffer from ignorance and not malice.

However, as a lay person I would not want to second guess the Papal Nuncio. My husband and I attended Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC on November 11, 2006. The Papal Nuncio re-consecrated the United States to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in solidarity with the Bishops of the United States at that time. Fr. Andrew Apostali was the homilist and the Cardinal from Philadelphia was there also. It was an incredible event. It was also our 34th wedding anniversary so that made it even more special for us.

Thank you again for your kind response, Fr. Joe. I will keep you in all of my prayers and I humbly ask for your prayers also.

FATHER JOE:

Thanks again for your comments, Joan, and many congratulations on your marriage and strong faith. I live only a few minutes from the Shrine, I must have been very busy to have missed the re-consecration. I regularly visit the Shrine and have attended lectures at Catholic University where my god-daughter is a student. Returning to the subject of the post, my suspicion is that the nuncio was invited to the interfaith awards event and was not informed about the candle-lighting until the last moment. He might have been desperately afraid of insulting his hosts and understanding that the lamp lighting possessed cultural but not spiritual symbolism, participated without much deliberation. The Hindus are used to Christians who give such matters little reflection and they may have innocently presumed that there would be no problem with a Catholic representative. The Holy See has been walking on eggs given the heightened sensitivity of others: the Moslems over a historical reference to violence in the Koran and the Brazilian Indians over their purification by Christianity. Lately, Hindus in India have been increasing their persecution and intolerance toward Christians. It would not take much to set them off. Who knows what the headlines would have been had he refused to light the lamp. In any case, the picture is unfortunate and I suspect we will be hearing about it for some time to come. God bless you!

CATHERINE:

Imagine all the martyrs who went to their deaths, being eaten by lions, raped, tortured, grilled on spits, beheaded, thrown on freezing ponds, etc. rather than “offer homage” to idols as this bishop is doing. How is it that the same Faith that condemned paying homage to idols, asking its people to go to their death rather than light a candle, offer a sacrifice or bow before a false deity?  How can the Church now not only allow but approve of a BISHOP no less, doing the same?

If Christ was righteously angered at the money changers in the temple, what would he do to the idol bringers?

And to those who say “maybe he didn’t know,” let me ask you which is worse… to have a teacher/leader purposefully go against Christianity or have one in authority not know the most basic Judeo-Christian tenant?

May heaven have mercy on us!

SUTEMOS:

We pray for the blind and those who deceive.  We offer prayers for those, with their public mouth bound, must endure (in these times) the Crucifixion of the Church.  Again, let our not knowing be the reason for our transgressions.

HECTOR:

Dear Father Joe, as to the nuncio question, for one to be heretical, one would have to have intent and forethought.  Did he make a mistake?  It is more than likely; but a mistake leaning towards the good.  If his Hindu hosts intended him to worship, they erred, as worship can only be valid if the person intends to worship… which I don’t think the nuncio did.

FATHER JOE:  

I would never say he purposely committed a heretical act. It may have been an accident, something unplanned. The trouble is the scandal it gives. My reference to Hindu worship was generic, restricting itself to ritual and ceremonial. I doubt a bishop and priest would personally intend any spiritual efficacy behind such a gesture as lighting candles before an idol.

WILL:

I fail to see or to understand the concern here? Roman Catholicism was invented by a pagan (Constantine) and is full of idol worship which is forbidden by Biblical Christianity.

FATHER JOE:

No, Constantine legalized Christianity within the Roman Empire. Catholicism (the first Christians) suffered persecution for centuries and martyrdom. Read the writings of these suffering men and women and they talk about their bishops, priests, deacons, and the Eucharist. Jesus instituted the Catholic “Christian” Church!

As for idol worship, Catholics did not worship idols. Indeed, many pagan idols were destroyed. Statues of Mary, Jesus and the saints would be venerated, but this is not the same as worship… not any more than a person keeping a picture of his spouse and kids on the desk. They remind us of those whom we love.

WILL:

It is my understanding that Roman Catholics believe God left them in charge of truth, etc.  Thus they are free to define and redefine truth any way they choose.

FATHER JOE:

This is false. Revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, John. The Magisterium (Pope and bishops) interpret and define the faith; however, they cannot make it up. For instance, Jesus rose from the dead. No one is free to say otherwise… not the Pope… and not you. Our Catholic teachers are at the service of the truth; they are not its masters!

WILL:

This being the case, how could the nuncio make a mistake?  Am I wrong?

FATHER JOE:

Yes, you are in gross error about Catholic history and belief. You have also been led down the road of bigotry.

JEFF:

Pastor Joe, I am astonished that you are bothered by this? The Catholic Church was founded on the principles of absorbing other religions, adopting their pagan idols and simply renaming them to religious names. The archbishop is being a good Catholic here. Your own statue of Peter at the Vatican was once Jupiter. And the history behind the icons of Mary, holding the infant Jesus, strangely resembles Babylonian Seramis and her infant ‘god’-child Tamuz. Give the archbishop a break, he’s setting a good Catholic example by worshipping at an idol – could be that in his mind he is calling it something else.

FATHER JOE:

It is true that the Church appropriates what she can from the indigenous cultures where she finds herself. However, there are limits, particularly when there are elements that run contrary to the basic kerygma of salvation.

I would recommend the book SILENCE, a historical novel about the efforts of Spanish missionaries in Japan. Because the core teachings of Christianity resisted any amalgamation with the practices and beliefs of various Eastern or Oriental religions, it found itself at odds with Japanese culture and eventually even with the warlords. It remained something foreign and seemingly threatening to the powers that be.

It must also be said that the pagan religion of the ancient Romans and Greeks lacked a certain sophistication and was largely ridiculed even by so-called adherents. Christianity absorbed certain things while others had to be dismissed. Archeologists and others often lament the vast amount of art and writing that was destroyed by Church believers.

As for the statue of St. Peter at the Vatican: “In the northwestern (right front) corner of the nave is the bronze statue of St. Peter Enthroned, now attributed to late 13th-century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio (some still date it back to the 5th century). It is robed and crowned on high festivals, and its outstretched foot is smoothed down due to centuries of pilgrims’ caresses.”

There is no arguing or debating with you. Your comment is meant in an anti-Catholic and mocking way. The archbishop may have made a mistake. The Church sought to “Christianize” elements of pagan art and philosophy. You, no doubt, in a fundamentalist manner, see things the other way around— the wrong way.

BAL RAM SINGH:

Father Joe, with the advent of 21st century and the availability of free knowledge, it should help the public (of all faiths) to develop a better understanding of symbolism used in different traditions, and hopefully imbibe a united appreciation.

However, I wanted to convey a clarification of the two statues on either side of the lamps, we sometimes use even on our university campus for programs. Those statues are more like courtiers welcoming guests than a symbol of the goddess Lakshmi you are mistaking due to your limited knowledge of the Diwali ceremonies.

I hope this helps many of your readers feel better about their archbishop and faith, which I think needs to move forward with the times representing a true spirit in which Jesus Christ himself believed in changing ritualistic ideas.

FATHER JOE:

Thank you for your comments. I beg to disagree, though. No, it does not wash. I still feel that it was a mistake to light candles or make any kind of offering. I hope no one makes the same error with the Pope when he visits in April. [Addendum:  It was carefully avoided!] I doubt that Pope Benedict XVI will go along with it. The statues are still pagan deities, idols, and idolatry is still a grievous sin… for both Jews and Christians. I would call your so-called “true spirit” a counterfeit or BAD ECUMENISM. We will have to agree to disagree. The problem here is not my ignorance about false religion, but your ignorance about Catholicism. God bless you.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

Here we go again, the narrow minded, fanatical, arrogant and spiritually ignorant Catholics at work.

FATHER JOE:

The post remarked about a mistake made by a representative of the Holy See who was himself a good, holy and faithful bishop of the Church. I suspect that he found himself in a predicament about which his hosts themselves did not understand the severity under our Catholic teachings and practices. The reason why I made comment was precisely to offer a corrective to those voices that claim such things are permissible and to assure good Catholics that idolatry and false worship are still very much forbidden. Catholics can show the proper human respect to the followers of false religion, like Hinduism, as well as applaud those elements which are akin to Christian truths and values, but we are absolutely forbidden to compromise ourselves or to promote religious relativism. However, even if we should show human respect to others, the critic him or herself impugns as “narrow minded,” “fanatical,” “arrogant,” and “spiritually ignorant” any respect he or she should give to traditional Christianity or to the person of a priest who knows what he is talking about. Is the critic Hindu or a Catholic who fails to fully appreciate the parameters of Catholic Christianity? It is the sort of disrespect for Catholic and Christian values one often sees from a rigid secularism that tolerates anything except what it views as intolerant. It is also symptomatic of lapsed Catholics who practice New Age cults sympathetic to the Eastern Oriental religions.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

First of all, the 2 “idols” on each sides of the Rangoli are not Hindu Deities, but 2 ladies in a welcoming posture, sometimes used as a welcoming prop.

FATHER JOE:

Sorry, I checked on the matter, and the images do indeed fit within the pantheon of Hindu idols. They are not images without substance and neither are they quaint decorations (props) like figures of the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Having said this, those of other religions are free to practice as they wish; the problem here is how far one might go at religious collaboration when it comes to ritual. I would argue that we can pray in close physical proximity but that our individual prayers and ceremonials must remain distinct.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

The Rangoli itself is a Holy diagram (yantra) representing the Universe /Creation, which is the Divine in Manifest form.

FATHER JOE:

Yes, I am aware of much of this. However, given that Christians have a very different worldview, even the use of this so-called “holy diagram” is problematical for Christians. We do not believe in such pantheism where creation and divinity are mixed or immediately expressive. We can find something of the divine fingerprint in creation but creation in no way is identified with the one true God.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

Also, the Catholics are indeed idol worshippers as well, bowing and praying to saint statues, the Virgin Mary statues and Crucifixes.

FATHER JOE:

Catholics use iconography (sacred images) to remind us about our heroes in faith and about Jesus and Mary. But, we are not idol worshippers. We do not worship statues. We reverence holy objects and use sacramentals. There is a big difference between this and the use of idols by Oriental polytheists. The economy of images is changed from Hebrew usage because of the incarnation of Christ. No longer is the prohibition against images found in the Decalogue an absolute one. But, it has not been utterly erased.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

In fact, no religion is not worshipping idols.

FATHER JOE:

This is not true. Various Oriental religions practice forms of idolatry forbidden to Christians. The ancient pagans, Greek and Roman, also did such and it was condemned by the Church.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

Christians of all denominations are worshipping the Cross, a “graven image” and the Bible, a book.

FATHER JOE:

It may be that some sects of Christianity seem to stress the book of the Bible over the message and messenger, but ultimately it is faith in Jesus that is pursued. The Word of God brings us into a living relationship with Jesus. As for the Cross, there is no symbol as evocative of the price Jesus paid for the remission of our sins. Catholics and other Christians reserve true divine worship to God. Honor paid to the saints and to Mary is meant to draw us closer to the Lord Jesus.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

Even the Mohammedans worship and idol, the Kaaba and its black stone inside, as well as worshipping a book, the Koran. So don’t be hypocrites!

FATHER JOE:

I am the last one to defend Islam, but I would not regard as idolatry or divine worship the respect they show the black stone or their holy book. Christians and Muslims are regarded as monotheists; Hinduism is regarded as polytheistic, although certain scholars (contaminated by the West?) are arguing that the many Hindu deities are all manifestations of one God. It must also be said that their view of idols (images) is not the same as that held by Catholicism. That may be part of the problem here. How you interpret the use of symbolic language and ritual is incompatible with the Catholic appreciation.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

The “idol” is used as a medium through which one focuses and address the limitless Divine Reality.

FATHER JOE:

While iconography reminds us of sacred persons and mysteries (something about which certain fundamentalist Christians object), the Church is ever mindful that ours is a jealous God. I am not convinced that any divine reality worshipped by the pagans is one and the same as the Jewish Yahweh or the Father of Jesus. The Sacred Heart symbolism and the Cross or Crucifix are particularly valuable for drawing the Christian believer to a relationship with the divine mystery. However, the most important and immediate “medium” for Catholics is the Eucharist. Here is no empty sign but that which is signified has been made present—Jesus Christ, divinity, soul and humanity, body and blood! Ultimately there is only one “medium” for Catholics, and we use a similar word to describe it, MEDIATOR. Jesus is the way to the Father. His is the only saving name. He is the one who redeems all humanity. No one can know salvation apart from Christ.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

It is natural to Humanity, as seen in every religion. It is like when you speak to someone on the telephone, you do not speak TO the telephone, but to someone THROUGH the telephone. Idols/symbols serve that very purpose.

FATHER JOE:

All this sidetracks the problem for Catholics. We cannot use symbols or idols from other religions (which possess meanings incompatible with Christian beliefs). We have our own means of communicating with the divine. Jesus has revealed to us the face of the Father and the Church gives us the sacraments and especially the Mass to celebrate our unity with God and with the communion of the saints. Using the critic’s analogy here, substituting the worship and rituals of pagan religions would be like putting down the telephone to use two cans attached by a string. One assuredly works for us, the other is highly dubious.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

The Human mind needs symbols, through which to communicate with the Divine Reality, in all the infinite forms it reveals itself through.

FATHER JOE:

Yes, we need symbolic language, and Catholicism uses plenty from ritual to art to music. However, while God is by definition infinite in majesty and essence, this does not mean that he can be communicated through endless material or earthly forms. Some forms are antithetical to the divine, particularly those which speak of the demonic. What if there is a miscommunication and demonic forms are substituted for those that truly point to the one true God? Various Eastern deities look more like devils than either God or angels to Western Christians.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

The Divine Reality is too big, too much above our limited comprehension and therefore, being limitless (something the human mind cannot comprehend), it reveals itself through everything in the universe/creation, which is the Divine in manifest form. So it’s mercy for our limited abilities of comprehension, it can be experienced through many Gods/Goddesses, Gurus, Spirits, etc.

FATHER JOE:

This may be the case with you, but the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and all loving God has revealed himself to us through Jesus Christ. We are granted analogies to scratch at the divine mystery and call upon God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God has one divine Nature but three divine Persons. Jesus is a divine Person with a complete human and divine Nature. God gives us the terms by which we are to know him. No mythical Eastern anthropomorphism will do the trick. There is only one God. Christianity has no goddesses and while there are maternal elements to the divinity, the notion of goddess is spurned as heinous to the ears of orthodox Christians. Catholics love the mother of Jesus and implore her intercession, but divine worship is reserved to God alone. God revealed himself to us as Father and not Mother. That means the traits associated with fatherhood best apply to the godhead. Gurus and spiritualism are condemned by the Church and are also condemned as false religion. The first part of the Ten Commandments will not allow us to compromise the prerogatives of the one true God.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

Anyone who claims to be the only repository/channel of the Divine Reality, its final prophet, etc., is putting limits on the limitless and is deluded by the messianic syndrome, delusion caused by the uncontrolled ego. The Divine is one; but the ways to it are many. All the rivers go to the ocean, even though they take different paths.

FATHER JOE:

No, some of the rivers may only end up in sewers and cesspools. Not all religions are the same. Actually, you admit as much because you would have Christianity betray itself and become what you espouse. I knew such a perspective many years ago in academia. They officially espoused a religious relativism, but what they really meant was that you could embrace any religion as long as it was liberal and not Catholic. Yours is the true problematical “ego” in this discussion. While we Christians would allow you to go your own way, you insist that we must give up our revelation and Church and embrace your nonsense. Sorry, but you do not speak for me and I renounce your role as prophet. The divine is indeed one. And yes, there are many paths in the one way to the holy. However, not all paths are true and some are dead ends. Our Lord tells us that he is THE WAY AND THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE. I would rather go his way than yours.

PHILDAS BHAKTA:

Renounce the gross spiritual ignorance of monotheism, caused by delusions of ego, and surrender the ego to the All-encompassing One through the Many! The goal of like is enlightenment, and not so called salvation, which is only necessary for the misguided soul which falsely believes in a tyrannical jealous “god” who curses people to eternal damnation because that dictator cannot stand having others worshipped. That jealousy and anger is nothing but very HUMAN FLAWS, nothing Divine at all. WAKE UP!

FATHER JOE:

At last the subterfuge has ended! You show your true colors! This whole exercise was to get Catholics to embrace heresy or even to commit apostasy! No faith has tried to dialogue both with the world and with God like Catholicism. You offer hocus pocus; we offer spiritual truth. There is no need for our good Christian and Catholic people to look to Hinduism and Buddhism and New Age religions. There is plenty in the West to feed us, and there is no poison mixed in with the food. We have wonderful spiritual guides in Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Catherine of Genoa, Catherine of Siena, The Cloud of Unknowing, Francis and Clare, Hildegaard of Bingen, John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Thomas a Kempis, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Liseux, Ignatius Xavier, Francis de Sales, etc. Christians can trust the Bible and the teaching Church. You, we cannot trust!