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Book of Revelation: A Few Points

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Past Problems with Interpretation of the Book of Revelation

While Catholic churchmen certainly acknowledge that Christ will return, and that there will be a harvest of souls and judgment, we tend to shy away from attempting to interpret the many mysterious elements in the Book of Revelation. While the pagan emperor was viewed as an antichrist, there have been many antichrists throughout history and likely at the end of history. The Church, like her Lord, is opposed by the world. The heretical Montanists (135 AD to 177 AD) interpreted the Book of Revelation so as to expect Christ to return soon and establish a New Jerusalem in Asia Minor. The Hussite Taborites (15th century) interpreted Revelation as prescribing violence or insurrection as a prerequisite for the second coming. Anti-Catholic fundamentalism has imagined (based on a political view of the Apocalypse) all sorts of end-times scenarios from the 1960’s to the present.

St. Augustine Speaks of Two Cities & Judgment But Sidesteps the Book of Revelation

I would side with St. Augustine who argued against taking the Book of Revelation literally. Joachim of Fiore’s commentary was overly speculative and the utopian world under the Holy Spirit never materialized. (He argued for an age of the Father, of the Son and a third one under the Holy Spirit.) We may speak of our time as the age or as the season of the Holy Spirit, but the Church would not mean what he intended by the label.

Probably No Thousand Year Earthly Reign of Christ

The theory of millennialism is that Jesus would have a thousand year earthly reign. While certain Catholic thinkers speculated about it, this notion is not an element of official Catholic teaching. However, a number of non-Catholics have picked up on the idea and teach this as a facet of their end-times scenario.

Anti-Catholics Wrongly Employ the Book of Revelation in Their Bigotry

The danger with interpretation throughout is demonstrated again and again as largely unreliable. Scripture should speak to us but many turn this around and read too much into the Book of Revelation. The Protestant reformers wrongly identified the papacy with the antichrist and the Catholic Church with the Whore of Babylon. It becomes an occasion for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and opposition to the house built by Jesus.

As a parish priest I am really not the one to ask for an exegesis concerning Revelation.  I would suggest asking authorities in Scripture. 

Birth Control for a 16 Year Old?

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QUESTION

My daughter is 16 and wants to be on birth control. My husband and I are against this. What should we do?

RESPONSE

First, while it might seem obvious, ask her why she wants birth control. Make sure that you know what is going on. Are there any medical reasons why she may need contraceptives to control menstrual pain and excessive bleeding? Is there a boy who is pressuring her to surrender her virginity? Is she already sexually active? Many young people would probably not even bring this up with parents. They would just do what they are going to do. The fact that she has opened up to you says volumes about how you have raised her. She is being honest with you. Be equally frank but also compassionate with her. The transformation from a child to an adult is not easy. If mistakes have been made, no matter how angry you might feel, let her know that she is loved and that you will always be willing to forgive and help her.

Second, while you would not want her to become a teen mother, a Catholic Christian would become complicit with sin be paying for contraceptives and enabling, even if indirectly, a promiscuous lifestyle. She is living under your roof and as parents it is reasonable for you to want any minors to live by your values. What they do when they grow up and move out is up to them. Right now, they are dependent on you for clothes, shelter, food and money. Kids who are not yet able to take care of themselves should not be sexually engaged. Playing house is not the same as actually keeping one with hard work and sacrifice. Gauge, as best as you can, her current maturity as this will impact upon the advice you give and her capacity to understand and accept.

Third, let her know that you love her and discuss the value of purity. Has she had any instruction on the theology of the body and why couples should wait until they are older (and married) before having intimate sexual relations. If she is a committed Christian, direct her attention to the bible passages that discuss the sin of fornication and how it can cost us a share in the kingdom of God. The ideal is not jumping from bed to bed but to find a stable long-term and committed relationship.

Fourth, know that your stance will find opposition among her peers, teachers and others. She may even cite them against you. Remember that public schools regularly distribute condoms to youths and in several instances school nurses have assisted youths in getting abortions. They will argue that it is only natural that she wants to explore her sexual identity and that if you are “good” parents that you would “understand” and want to protect her. Little credence is given abstinence from this quarter. There will be an effort to “guilt” you into changing your minds. It may even be thrown into your face that you, as a couple, used contraception or became sexually active when younger. If such is the case, let her know that you only want her to avoid the mistakes you made. Let her know as well that women, with or without birth control, are often victimized and abused in promiscuous sexual relationships. They are frequently exploited and their dignity as persons is cheapened as no more than “meat” for men who place lust over (real) love.

Fifth, discussions between a mother and daughter about sexuality can be opportunities for wonderful female bonding; but do not go along with the crowd that says a sixteen year old should initiate a carnal life. Talk to her about the joys of being a young woman and her natural attraction to boys. Speak frankly about helping young men to be their better selves and looking for a man that would respect her as a person and not simply want to exploit her body. Speak of the sacred elements of marriage as well as about the perils of teenage sex, especially about HIV and the venereal diseases that afflict millions of people. Sexual intimacy and the marital act should be directed to the fidelity of spouses and to the gift of life. It is horrendously corrupted when reduced to self-seeking pleasure and the pollution of the flesh. Sex should be directed to life. When misdirected, sex ushers forth death, in diseases that afflict the partners or in the killing of children, either through direct abortion or through the abortifacient action of numerous contraceptives.

Priest Supports Divorce Over Marriage

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I received the following message from a man named Patrick a few years ago. It is a story I hear again and again from others.

“In 2007 I went with my wife to see our priest in Florida about our marriage. Although my wife had filed for divorce, I told the priest that I did not want to get a divorce. The parish priest said, while pointing his finger at me, that he believed our marriage, quote— ‘. . . should never have happened.’ I told him that I had come for help to save my marriage. I told him that I expected him to defend the Catholic sacrament of matrimony. He repeated, ‘The marriage should never have happened.’ We have four young children who attend school at his church. The priest advised my wife to be lenient with child custody. Leaving the rectory on the school grounds, I repeated my admonishment to the priest, ‘Defend the sacrament of marriage.’ He then said to me, ‘Get out of my sight, you arrogant bast-rd!’ On our way home after the meeting with the priest, my wife said to me, ‘You see, even the priest believes we should divorce!’ I know you will not believe what I am saying. But it is absolutely true. You can contact me or my wife to verify it. I want to know— what can I do now? My wife is in the last stages of this divorce and she is living with another man. Time has passed since my encounter with this priest and (for obvious reasons), I believe there is no way to repair the marriage situation. But as far as I am concerned, the priest to whom I went for help was instrumental in shattering any hope to resolve the situation with my wife. He threw his weight and that of the Church behind her decision. I have stopped attending church since this incident. I still pray. I am angry and I find it difficult to remain silent. Sometime in the future, when all my pain is gone, I will pursue this priest in the Church under ecclesial law. I cannot forgive this priest for what he did to me, particularly when I was foolish enough to go to him for ‘help.’ He committed the greatest sin.”

Here is the response that I sent him:

I am so sorry Patrick for what you have gone through. There are cases where marriages are difficult to save, particularly when there is abuse and fear. However, I am sickened when people simply say they fell out of love or found someone they liked better. I do not know the grounds for her divorce and have not heard her side; however, you are right, whenever possible a priest must both safeguard the well-being of the spouses and the sacrament of marriage. It is not the role of a priest to urge divorce but rather dialogue and reconciliation. You mention that your wife is in the end-stages of a divorce but living with another man. Does she think that most priests would also rubber stamp adultery? If she attempts an annulment you have every right to share your side and how you view the sacramental nature of the bond. Be honest about it, even if it means that she would not be able to get the annulment. Anything else short-changes the process and is an offense against truth. Know that not all priests would have acted like the one in your story. I will keep you in my prayers. Her departure from your life and home is a terrible cross. Bring your struggles and pain to your penitential observances. Do not blame the Church for the callous actions of one priest and the abandonment of a wife who failed to return the love you had for her.

The diocese in which you live may have resources for coping with the loss and for dealing with the repudiation of the priest. Bai Macfarlane has developed a national campaign against no-fault divorce and appealed her husband’s divorce to both the civil courts and the Roman Rota. She may have some useful information to share with you, too.

Her webpage is: http://www.marysadvocates.org.

Her email is: ma.defending@marysadvocates.org.

Faith Endures Despite Accidental Changes

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A harsh critic of the Church in the modern world makes these critiques:

Remember the visit of Pope John Paul II to America when he told the Nuns to wear their habits? Sister Kane answered for American Nuns by telling the Pope, “We have come too far for that”! Can you believe that name Sister Kane (Cain)?

So how can we be surprised by Priests that wear Hawaiian shirts and are substantially homosexual? After the Council substituted man in the place of God, can there be any limitations? The Novus Ordo Mass is an ad-lib-a-thon! All of the built-in defenses of the Faith have been systematically removed.

Gold Chalices and Patens are gone. The Priest no longer keeps his fingers together as a visible sign that he has touched the Sacred Species. We no longer kneel at Communion Rails. We laugh and talk and hug and shake hands. We refer to the Mass as a meal, not as a sacrifice. Eucharistic Ministers travel in packs around the Altar Table that has replaced the Glorious Main Altars. Martin Luther would be sooo pleased! These things don’t happen at a Latin Mass.

I used to like Hawaiian shirts before I was ordained, and as a young man it gave a guy that Magnum P.I. “Tom-Selleck-Look.” I fail to see the homosexual connection. As for my Catholic faith, along with millions of others, we still place our trust in Jesus Christ and render him fitting worship. Who is worshipping men? What is this substitution he is talking about?

Sure, we have dissenters, but they do not speak for the Church. Sister Kane insulted the Pope back in 1979. I was in the congregation and heard her in Washington when she had her few seconds of mutinous fame; however, most everyone there was embarrassed by her. She did not speak for us. Dissenters on the left and anachronists on the right also make a regular habit of insulting the Pope, first John Paul II, later Benedict XVI. Now, a number on the right, including traditionalists go out of their way malign Francis. (This is not to discount the possibility of respectful fraternal correction.)  Many only quote the Pope when it suits them. Not that the Pope is always correct in personal opinions or practical judgments, but many regularly assume that they know better than the Pope and the living Magisterium. Progressives discount authority altogether; Anachronists seek to interpret and make their own the words of dead Popes against living ones.

The Mass, no matter what the lawful rite, East or West, poorly conducted or masterful and beautiful, is still the unbloody sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, offered for the remission of sins. I may not like one rite over another, but I would be the last person to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit in impugning the efficacy of any Eucharist promulgated by Mother Church.

Few priests can afford solid gold or silver chalices and patens; but a few of my rich friends still have them. Most vessels, even prior to Vatican II, were brass with electroplating in gold. Almost all the priests I know use such chalices and patens. Indeed, the use of ceramics, glass and other such materials is generally prohibited. Again, abuse cannot be attributed to the Church, only to the dissenter.

Some priests still keep the fingers together throughout communion until the ablution; but it is no longer a rubric and I fail to see how any offense is otherwise made against our Lord in the sacrament. While the sacred particles are safeguarded, we should not become overly scrupulous.

Admittedly standing has become the general posture for reception, but I have never refused communion to those who kneel. Indeed, Rome asserted not long ago that altar rails in older churches should not be removed. In the early Church these rails were four feet high and not even intended to assist those kneeling for Holy Communion. The rail was to separate the holy of holies, the sacred space, from where the people stood. We have several parishes where people still receive Holy Communion while kneeling at a rail. It is a pious tradition and I have no problem with it. Rome has said that priests cannot prohibit kneeling, either.

Yes, there is too much noise and talking in churches. But, we can work with our local priests to restore a sense of sacred silence. As for shaking hands, I suspect the critic means at the sign of peace. Actually, the old Latin actually made reference to a sign that had disappeared from the liturgy. Unfortunately, priests need to offer repeated catechesis on it. It is not a how-do-you-do handshake. It is not a romantic kiss— unless you are going to give the same sign to everyone around you— which is quite silly. It is a handshake yes, with simple words— PEACE BE WITH YOU. Other words should not be added and people should remain in place and not circumnavigate the church. The Pax of Christ signifies the unity in the mystical body of the Church. It is the rebuttal to the person who says he does not need the Church; that he can come to Christ alone. Any personal relationship with Christ that denies the corporate is a lie. Christ called us as a Church and so we signify unity in Christ. This unity is shared with our priest and the whole Church. We have one faith, one Lord, one baptism! It is in the unity of the Church that members, reconciled with God and with one another, come forward to receive Holy Communion.

The Mass is BOTH a meal and a sacrifice. It is a participation in the heavenly marriage banquet of the Lamb. The mystery of the Mass flows from its institution at the Last Supper and from its historical enactment with the oblation of Christ on Calvary. Emphasis of one element to the extent that the other is eclipsed would be heresy. The Church keeps both in a healthy tension.

I doubt our Lord had a glorious marble altar when he offered the first Mass; and certainly the cries around Calvary could hardly be the beautiful chants that once adorned the liturgy. Nevertheless, the mystery remains the same— altar of marble or wood— vessels of brass or gold— the true treasure beyond measure is Jesus Christ, who is made present to us in his priest and in the sacrament— bread and wine transformed into the resurrected body and blood, humanity and divinity, of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

I suspect this is the faith of the critic who wrote me as well, despite an apparent spirit of enmity.

Relationships with the Damned

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I want to give my take on a few questions that were recently reflected upon online by Msgr. Pope. He does a great job but I wanted to share how I would approach them.

Relationship to God:  Do the damned hate God?

I have often spoken about how the devils and the damned hate God. This truth requires certain elaboration. Note first that “hate” here is not an emotion but a movement of the will. How do we encounter God? God can show himself in his essence as the supreme good or he can reveal himself by his effects. The latter is how we and those in hell experience God. God is the greatest or highest or supreme good from which all other goodness is derived. As such, even the angels probably encountered some sort of veil between themselves and God when they made their frightful decision to obey or to rebel. The same would apply to men. Otherwise, seeing God for who he is in his essence would logically eradicate any decision to oppose or to flee him. The supreme good by definition compels unity or communion. The angels were probably presented with the idea of beatitude but not immediately presented with the beatitude itself. Any who would have the beatific vision would be unable to forfeit it.

Human beings in this world experience the good through the intellect and will; however, our experience of the transcendent is limited by the conditions of our present life. When the saints see God, the gift of grace that accompanies the beatific vision makes this movement of the will immutable. In other words, those who see God in heaven (angels or men) will always see God in heaven. The value of freedom is realized, not destroyed. Those who would shy away from seeing God misuse and damage their freedom. They remain limited to “an idea of God” and his effects. Those in hell might hate God for their necessary dependence upon him (although not for their existence) and/or for the pain that accompanies their banishment. They do not see God for who he is in himself.

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Relationship to Themselves:  Just as the devil is behind our culture of death, would not the devils and the damned prefer absolute destruction to endless life and agony?

The devils would tempt men to spurn life, not because they hate life but because to renounce the good of life dishonors the Creator who is the author of life. Demons and the damned among humanity want no annihilation for its own sake even though they wish they could escape the suffering they endure. Further, it is wrong to imagine hell populated by sadists who find joy in pain. The biggest problem they seem to face is that they find pain in joy. It is a profound reversal. They have run away from the happiness that God had planned for them.

Relationship to the Saints:  Can the saints and the damned communicate or visit with one another?

I have already remarked that I do not believe the saints become amnesiacs about those who are damned. Rather, the overwhelming joy of heaven makes it impossible for them to experience sorrow about the damned and removes any capacity to be manipulated by them. It has been speculated that the damned might initially see or perceive those in heaven but not the glory that shines upon them and the source of that glory. This is reflected in the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. But there will be no crossing over. The saints will neither have a desire nor the ability to visit damned family ones. The damned will be unable to take vacations in heaven. There is no respite. However, it has also been argued that the damned (at least by the Day of Judgment) will be deprived of this window to the blessed into heaven. It would seem to me that the nature of this separation of the unjust from the just would by necessity have to become absolute. The saints of God will then fully reflect the radiance of the one they look upon. I suspect the damned would find it like us trying to stare at the sun. The light would be too brilliant; stare long enough and you would become blind. That really says it all. The damned will become blind to the saints and to God— as prisoners of hell, what they see will be limited to the measure of their individual cells.

 

Can We Force Priests to Give Communion?

The Situation at Hand

Judge Sara Smolenski, a chief judge of the Kent County District Court, in Grand Rapids, Michigan was in the news this past Tuesday because her pastor Father Scott Nolan denied her Holy Communion at the church where she has been a parishioner for more than six decades. Why? As a lesbian she civilly married her long-time female companion, Linda.

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Attacking the Messenger

The priest is being attacked, not only by her but by sympathetic parishioners and a slanted media. They are demanding the removal of the priest who has served as the pastor of St. Stephen Catholic Church for the last three years. It sounds like the young priest has been under pressure for some time as we are told that he was compelled to include non-Catholic readers in liturgies. However, Church law stipulates that readers at Mass should be Catholic. Further, while it is the questionable practice of blessings being substituted for Holy Communion for non-Catholic children at school Masses; the Eucharist is reserved to “Catholics in good standing.” It is this last point that makes the demands of Judge Smollenski problematical.

Real Social Justice & Intimidation

The comparison is being made to the integration of the school back in 1966 when 40% of the student body was non-Catholic. However, the Catholic faith, while urging justice for all persons, would not equate racial equality or religious liberty with the acceptance of homosexual sin. This is the real divide. The judge makes mention that she has donated $7,000 to the church building fund. I am sure that the pastor and parish are appreciative for her generous donation; however, if such is intended as a bribe so as to keep quiet or to compromise Catholic moral teaching then I would suggest giving it back.

Condemnation of a Compassionate Priest

prI am certain the priest would not tell her (a parishioner for 62 years) to go elsewhere or that she is now unwelcome. Apparently, all he told her was that because she had publicly married another woman that she should not come up for the Eucharist. More than an issue of homosexuality, heterosexual couples married outside the Church should have their bonds regularized prior to receiving the sacrament. A spokesman for the Diocese of Grand Rapids stated that “This is a spiritual matter between her and her pastor.” That is where it should have been left. But Judge Smolenski insisted that it was time “to bring this into the light.” The judge has taken a public stance and this makes her reception of the sacrament into an act of dissent and political manipulation. The judge wants to step forward and speak the truth but it is not the truth of Catholic or traditional Christian teaching. The question is asked, why would the bishop send such a man with his views to this church? What? Literally the upset voices are perplexed that a Catholic priest with Catholic beliefs would be assigned to a Catholic church. This is nonsensical. Note that the priest did not seek to shame her in public. He proceeded as directed by canon law. He contacted her outside of Mass with a phone call. Given that he has shared similar concerns about others, she was not singled out. This reflected no personal enmity. The judge was the one who made this a “public” issue and he sought to avoid any “public shunning.” Further, as a learned priest who appreciates the effects of the sacrament, he knows that the Eucharist brings life to some and death to others. If not spiritually prepared, then the reception of Holy Communion can convict us of sin and leave us in a worse situation than before receiving it. The Eucharist is medicine to some and a poison to others. I suspect that the pastor was concerned for the woman’s soul and about the souls of others due to the scandal and miscommunication that her reception entailed. Failure in this regard can constitute a dereliction of his duty as a priest. However, the judge neither thanked him for his pastoral consideration nor for his spiritual instruction. She turned his confidential council into an opportunity for public dissent (which she said she did for others) and personal retaliation.

Fidelity or Dissent to Catholic Teaching

Nothing is said by the dissenters or the media reporters about the fact that both the Bible and the universal Catholic Catechism teach that homosexual acts are mortally sinful. She is the one who went to the press. The priest is criticized for firing teachers living a homosexual lifestyle and yet this is a general policy for dioceses across the country. Those who work in our parishes and schools should reflect or witness Catholic teachings and values. Such employment is more than a job, it is a participation in the missionary mandate given the Church.  Would the judge have the local church skip biblical passages in the lectionary for Mass that target the sinfulness and dire consequences for homosexual sin? Can she really paint herself as a good Catholic in sync with the faith given her by her parents?

Did the Pope’s Ambiguity Give Ammunition to this Priest’s Attackers?

A few nebulous remarks or a footnote in Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium does not override several millennia of Jewish and later Catholic doctrine and morals. The Pope writes [EG 47]:

“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door’: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”

As with so many other statements, the papal quote sidetracks serious elements and inserts a level of ambiguity. The doors of our churches are open. We welcome sinners. We ask donations but there are no ticket prices for attendance. Ushers and not bouncers stand at our doors. The Pope says that “the doors of the sacraments [should not] be closed for simply any reason.” This is true. But there remain reasons why some people should not receive. Catholicism practices a “closed-table” when it comes to non-Catholics. Reception is a sign of unity or communion with Christ and the universal Church. While many Protestants practice a so-called “open-table” it must be remembered that they often see the ecclesial community as a place of fellowship, not as a supernatural and sacramental mystery of saving encounter with Christ. While the Eucharist may be a means toward unity, it most essentially expresses a unity already realized.  We do not want to make liars out of people. Most Protestants would regard Holy Communion as simply a symbolic or representational presence or even just as a sign of nostalgic remembrance. Catholicism views the Eucharist as the REAL body and blood of Christ substantially present behind the accidentals of bread and wine. Our Eucharist is the risen Jesus, God come down from heaven. When we say, “Amen,” this truth is affirmed as well as our unity with the Catholic Church and all that she holds to be true. Reception by a non-Catholic (who does not believe what we believe) would not only be a broken or deceptive sign— many of the Protestant ministers would contend that it would be an act of idolatry (as they would deny the divine presence). The reception of the sacrament should affirm truth, both about the Eucharist and about what the communicant actually believes. Further, the Pope is right that the Eucharist is “a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” Yes, those who are in venial sin and struggling with temptation can find great healing benefit in the Eucharist. However, a person in mortal sin is forbidden to receive it. Why? Because that which would bring healing and sanctification to those in a state of grace, constitutes sacrilege and condemnation for those in serious sin and/or not spiritually prepared to receive it.

Was Anything Done Worthy of Censure?

The woman in the news story has committed two public acts that are deemed the matter of mortal sin: she has feigned the sacrament of marriage with a civil union and she has announced a same-sex relationship that is inherently disordered with implied intimate acts regarded as seriously sinful. As with former Vice President Joseph Biden recently denied Holy Communion due to his stance enabling abortion, Canon 915 in the Code of Canon Law applies here as well:

“Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

It seems to me that the judge’s problem is not so much with the priest but with Jesus and the Catholic Church in general. We need to keep matters of this sort in prayer. We should also be quick to forgive those who are angry, hurting and belligerent— all the while not renouncing the truths of the Gospel or what is right and wrong.  Pray that the priest will not be punished for what he knew in conscience he was compelled to do.  Pray that the judge and her friend will embrace a sisterly relationship and return to good standing with the Church.  Pray that other parishioners will realize what is truly at stake and humbly accept Catholic teaching.  Pray that this will be a teaching moment for the media and society around us about the conflict between the laws of God and a secular modernity at war with people of traditional faith.

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FULL STATEMENT FROM BISHOP WALKOWIAK

We appreciate Judge Sara Smolenski’s service to the community. We are grateful for her past generosity. These facts are not at issue in this matter.

As Pope Francis explains in Amoris Laetitia, “The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members.” (186) Lifelong Catholics would surely be aware of this.

Inclusion and acceptance have been a hallmark of Catholic Churches in the Diocese of Grand Rapids throughout the diocese’s history. They remain so. They presume, however, a respect on the part of individuals for the teachings and practice of the wider Catholic community. No community of faith can sustain the public contradiction of its beliefs by its own members. This is especially so on matters as central to Catholic life as marriage, which the Church has always held, and continues to hold, as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.

Father Scott Nolan, pastor of St. Stephen Parish, has dedicated his priesthood to bringing people closer to Jesus Christ. Part of his duty in pursuing that end is to teach the truth as taught by the Catholic Church, and to help it take root and grow in his parish. Mercy is essential to that process, but so are humility and conversion on the part of anyone seeking to live an authentically Catholic Christian life.

Father Nolan approached Judge Smolenski privately. Subsequent media reports do not change the appropriateness of his action, which the diocese supports.

What is with the Eternal Pains of Hell?

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The question about pain in this world is reformulated in reference to the next: “Why would a good God inflict eternal punishment upon the damned?” How is this just? Would it not be better just to be annihilated? God will not deprive of existence what he has created. The economy of God and his providence would not logically allow such a prospect. We were made for eternity. The real question is will we spend it with God or in opposition to him? It might further be argued that the damned bring their punishment upon themselves just as our first parents through their sin damaged the human race for many generations to follow.

When we hear people deny the existence of hell or argue that such “eternal” punishment is unfair, we should remember that God has given us many opportunities for grace and salvation.

We read in Isaiah 55:7-9: “Let the wicked forsake their way, and sinners their thoughts; Let them turn to the LORD to find mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

We suspect that even those whose lives are cut short or who die in ignorance will not be forsaken by God. But the terrible price remains for those who knew better and still failed to believe and love as they should have.

The issue remains that to live in heaven is to abide in the presence of God. The eternal nature of hell is based upon the simple fact that the damned want nothing to do with God. There is a failure to repent. This obstinacy is fixed at death. I suspect that part of the problem is that many have a false view of how heaven is constituted. The Muslims, for instance, imagine heaven in a material or earthly way where a man is rewarded with seventy-two virgins to despoil.

We read from the Koran (N. J. Dawood translation) Sura 56 verses 12- 39: “They shall recline on jeweled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish. And theirs shall be the dark-eyed houris (girls of tender age with rounded large breasts), chaste as hidden pearls: a guerdon for their deeds… We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand. . .”

Cough . . . cough . . . really? A popular albeit secular vision of heaven is that it is a place where good people have everything they want, in a sense expanding upon earthly materialism and reducing God to a genie who grants wishes. The Christian view by distinction is highly spiritualized. There is no lust or animalistic eroticism and no more marriage. It is the banquet of the Lamb. We will be like angels and yet we are also promised restoration, body and soul. We will be the same but different. As with the resurrected Christ and the assumed Virgin Mary, we will put on immortality. The lot of the saints in heaven is not self-preoccupation but an eternal centering upon God almighty. We will join the dominions, powers and principalities of angels in giving eternal glory and praise to God. The damned want nothing of this orientation. Mercy cannot be accessed if there is no movement of the will toward repentance.

I have often thought that the pain to the senses in hell might be God’s last gift to the damned— to help distract them from the deeper pain of loss in shutting themselves off from God’s presence and mercy. They were made for friendship with God. The particular judgment at death is to human beings what the decisive decision of the angels was at the first moment of creation. They have rejected their ultimate end and that necessitates a distortion or corruption of the spirit. I suspect this is why we so often image the damned as mutilated and the fallen angels as with horns and a tail. Graces build upon nature. There is a divinization of the saints. A fallen nature has forfeited any such amplification. Instead of becoming something more it is reduced to something less. The devils and the damned get what they want but not what God had first offered them. The devils still have residual angelic powers but a condemned humanity does not even have full benefit of what was given before. There is something bestial and unclean about them. What becomes of creatures made in the image of God when this likeness is forsaken? There is probably less of a self-love as there is a persistent self-loathing.

If we now lament the possibility of men and women in hell; how do the saints remember their missing family and friends? One priest suggested that the saints no longer remember the damned as this would cause sadness which cannot co-exist with the infinite joy of heaven. I would argue differently. I suspect that the saints do indeed remember those who are damned. However, the saints of heaven no longer have a capacity for sadness or for any external manipulation by others or guilt over the damned. They belong entirely to God. There is no prayer for the damned because it is neither desired nor would it make any difference. They accept as does God that his children have signed their fate. They have made their decision. While there is an infinite quality to that eternal moment of Calvary where the sacred heart is pained by sin; Christ in heaven will never suffer again. Neither will those who join him in his house of many rooms. The “wailing and grinding of teeth” is for those in the darkness outside. They resent and regret but refuse to repent and change. The souls in hell are in a sense at war, not only with God but with reality, itself. The damned and the devils would have us on earth feel sorry for them but this is a devious trick. They want no aid from heaven or earth; rather, in their spite they would steal from those in pilgrimage to add to their number. I suppose this is the ultimate realization of that sentiment, “misery loves company.” The manipulation by the damned of the living is a temptation that must be resisted. Our sights must be kept on God with the awareness that he is good and that he gives to each soul what it truly desires.

Note:  The image above is actually a depiction of purgatory.