Monday, November 28, 2016

Why Christmas is NOT Pagan

The Christmas Tree, Albert Chevallier Tayler, painted in 1911

Having once been an Evangelical, I was heavily exposed to the "Christmas is Pagan" or "Christmas has Pagan origins" movement in the Western world. The movement is heavily concentrated in the United States, with large pockets in Canada, Australia, and other parts of the Anglosphere. It's primarily a Protestant problem, which was popularised during the Protestant religious movements of the 17th through 19th centuries. Today it is most aggressively pushed by Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of God and other Fundamentalist sects. Sadly, attacks against this holiday are used to introduce suspicion of mainstream Christian denominations, and the Catholic Church in particular.

The Fundamentalist attack on Christmas is centred around the date of December 25, and actually has a rather ancient origin. The 12th-century Syrian Orthodox Bishop, Jacob Bar-Salibi, proposed the following:
"It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day." 
-- Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, Ramsay MacMullen. Yale:1997, p. 155 
Even though the quote comes from an Eastern Orthodox bishop, many Western Fundamentalist groups seized upon it in the late 19th century because it fit their anti-Catholic narrative. The only problem here is that the good bishop, as wise as he may have been on many other issues, was just plain wrong about this one. We have to remember that the Eastern Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on or near January 7. This has always been their custom, which is fine of course, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. The quote from Bishop Bar-Salibi above appears to be an attempt to explain why Western Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25, as opposed to January 7. It appears to be directed toward the Eastern Orthodox faithful, and it appears the bishop has some cursory knowledge of Western history on this matter. However, it also appears he made an historical error, by getting the proverbial "cart before the horse," and (probably unintentionally) reversed the order of events. It is important to note however, that Bishop Bar-Salibi nowhere intended for his comment to be misconstrued as a blanket condemnation of Christmas, the Christmas celebration, or even the Western date upon which it is celebrated. It was simply intended to be an explanation of why Eastern and Western Christians celebrate Christmas on different dates. That is all.

Nevertheless, some Western Protestant Fundamentalists, and Jehovah's Witnesses in particular, took Bishop Bar-Salibi's quote and just ran with it to the greatest extreme. Using it as proof text for how the Christmas celebration was started, and an indictment against the Catholic Church and Western Christianity in general. So they branded Christmas a "Pagan holiday" celebrated by "Paganised" Christians who are engaging in a "Pagan celebration" whitewashed to only "appear Christian." Of course, they argue, in order to be a "better Christian," and please God more than others, one must immediately cease and desist from this Pagan festivity. Likewise, the Catholic Church, and mainline Protestant denominations, should receive all the blame and shame for perpetrating this "ungodly hoax" on the "poor unsuspecting people" of the Christian faith. This is usually followed with a technical lesson of how it is "impossible" that Jesus could have been born on December 25, and that he was likely born sometime in September instead. This is followed by the customary condemnation of Christmas trees, evergreen and mistletoe as "Pagan customs" that continue to "infiltrate" into Christianity. Of course, their solution is to snidely turn their noses up to such things as "unfit" for a "real Christian." This is Fundamentalism run amok. Here we have Christians that have more in common practice with Muslims than they do their fellow Christians, and for some of them (Jehovah's Witnesses in particular) this actually bleeds over into the doctrinal realm as well. Tragically, the propaganda has even worked its way into the Catholic Church. I cannot tell you how many Catholics I have heard repeat it, telling others that Christmas is really just a christened version of a Pagan celebration.

Now that you've heard the fake story about the origin of Christmas, let's take a look at the real story. We'll have to start with the origin for the date of Christmas, and why this is commonly misunderstood as connected to ancient Pagan observances.

Hanukkah Menorah
Photo by Gil Dekel. 
All of this goes back to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Remember, the first Christians were all Jewish converts. Naturally they took many of their Jewish customs into Christianity as well. Contrary to popular opinion, the celebration of Jewish things (in the context of Christian interpretation) is not Judaising. Rather, Judaising is when you impose elements of the Mosaic Law on non-Jews (Gentiles) as if it were part of the Christian faith. Only the Catholic Church has the authority to determine which Jewish customs are binding on non-Jews, and there aren't many. The Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 (recorded in Acts 15) recounts them in detail. That being said, the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah is NOT part of the Mosaic Law. It is a celebration that developed much later in Jewish history. The celebration of Hanukkah centres around the theme of light, relating to the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt, and is customarily observed by the lighting of candles on a special type of Hanukkah menorah, called a Hanukkiah. The celebration lasts eight days, and it always begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. That's important. Hunukkah is always celebrated on Kislev 25. The month of Kislev on the Jewish calendar overlaps the month of December on the Julian/Gregorian calendar. Sometimes the overlap is so close, that Hanukkah is celebrated at the same time Christians are celebrating Christmas.

Early Jewish Christians would have associated Hanukkah with Jesus Christ in some way, as they did with everything else. They most certainly would have associated his incarnation with the re-dedication of the covenant God made with his people. They would have associated his incarnation with the light entering the Jewish Temple. They most certainly would have remembered the account of Jesus entering the Temple in Jerusalem during Hanukkah, and referring to himself as the Son of God and thus revealing his fully glory, or light, in the Temple (John 10:22-39).

Jewish Christians were not treated well by their fellow Jews back then, and were often "put out of the synagogue" (shunned or excommunicated). Since the synagogue was the source of Jewish life, the dates of the Jewish calendar were calculated from there based on rabbinical interpretation of Mosaic Law. Jews who were "put out of the synagogue" would gradually lose connection with Jewish life, and that would include the Jewish calendar. It is theorised that to simplify matters, many Jewish Christians of the ancient world simply used the Julian calendar along with their Gentile Christian brethren. Thus the celebration of Jesus as the incarnate "Son of God" and  "Light of the world," came to be associated with the 25th day of December instead of Kislev, which often falls pretty close to Kislev 25 anyway. Building on the theme of dedication, this happens exactly eight days before the Julian new year (January 1). Thus Christmas, understood as a christened version of Hanukkah, would be an eight-day celebration, beginning on December 25, marking the Light of God coming into the world, and ending on January 1, marking the re-dedication of time with the new year. All of this would have happened within the first few centuries of the early Church. However, this eight-day (octave) of Christmas, paralleling the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah would later be overshadowed by the longer twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, from December 25 to January 5, with Epiphany on January 6.

There is more to this. We can see above how December 25 came to be associated with the incarnation of Jesus Christ in general, as well as the connection to Jesus as the "Light of the world." However, how did it get to be associated with his birth or nativity? The answer again comes to us from very early Jewish Christians who believed that the world was created on Nissan 14, according to the Jewish calendar, which came to be associated with March 25 on the Julian calendar. These Jewish Christians not only associated the beginning of the world on that date, but also the beginning of the new world, meaning the conception of Jesus Christ. Thus the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, came to be celebrated on March 25, and is still celebrated on that date today. Now count exactly 9 months from March 25, and you arrive at December 25, which is the associated date for the birth of Jesus Christ. According to ancient Jewish Christians, he was miraculously conceived on March 25 and born on December 25, by the reckoning of the Julian calendar. The Christian historian, Sextus Julius Africanus, who lived between AD 160 - 240, specifically held to the belief that March 25 was the day the world was created on, and the day of Christ's conception (Joseph F. Kelly, The Origins of Christmas, p. 60). Saint Irenaeus, who lived between AD 130 - 202, in his work Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies), specifically identified the conception of Jesus Christ as occurring on as March 25, according to ancient Church tradition, and linked it to the birth of Christ exactly nine months later, on December 25, at the time of the winter solstice. So here we have a completely different account of the reason for Christmas falling on December 25, predating Bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi's mistaken explanation by nearly 10 centuries!

So we have two explanations for the marking of December 25 as the celebration of the birth of Christ. The first comes from a time period of the early Church, close to the event itself, during a time when Jewish and Gentile Christians were intermingling and sharing traditions. The date is associated with the early Jewish Christian reinterpretation of Hanukkah, as well as marking 9 months since the conception of Jesus Christ on March 25 according to early Jewish Christian custom. The second comes from a time period nearly 10 centuries later, in which an Eastern Christian, living far away from the West, who celebrates Christmas on an entirely different day, is trying to explain to his contemporaries why Western Christians celebrate Christmas earlier than they do.

Which one do we want to believe? Well, if you're a Protestant Fundamentalist, you'll believe the second explanation, because you can twist what this bishop said, in a way he never intended, to condemn the celebration of Christmas as "Pagan" in total, and accuse the Catholic Church of perpetrating a "hoax" on the unsuspecting Christian faithful. However, if you're a reasonable person, regardless of your belief system, you can accept the most ancient explanation available, and believe this date was the product of blending early Jewish Christian beliefs into a Gentile calendar. I don't know about you, but I prefer the first explanation as a more rational choice. I mean, considering the Jesus and his apostles were Jewish and all, and a great number of early Christians were Jewish as well, I think it's far more plausible to believe the first explanation.

Does this mean there is no association at all between Christmas and ancient Pagan observances? At the core of it, there is no association. Superficially however, there is some. It was between AD 270 - 275 that the Pagan, Roman Emperor Aurelian, dedicated December 25 as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, meaning the "birthday of the unconquered sun." This occurs a few days AFTER the winter solstice, when the days are just starting to get longer again. It is associated with Pagan sun worship. As you can see, however, this event happened long after the dates I noted above, from Sextus Julius Africanus (AD 160 - 240) and Irenaeus (AD 130 - 202), who noted Christmas as being celebrated by early Christians, marking the birth of Christ exactly nine months after his conception. The historical evidence is clear, early Christians (many of them Jewish by heritage) were celebrating December 25 as a date closely associated with Christ, long before the Roman Emperor Aurelian dedicated December 25 as the birthday of the sun. So why did he do this? Remember, we're talking about a time period in the ancient Pagan empire when Christianity is gaining significant traction in spite of two centuries of periodic persecution. Could it be that Aurelian was simply trying to upstage the Christians? Is this a case of Pagans copying Christians and not vice versa? The historical dates seem to indicate this is exactly the case. Again, actual history (the bane of propaganda), tells us that the ancient Pagans were not in the habit of associating the winter solstice with sun worship. For example, one ancient history scholar writes...
While the winter solstice on or around December 25 was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas. 
--  S.E. Hijmans, The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome, p. 588 
Another similar scholar writes...
Thomas Talley has shown that, although the Emperor Aurelian's dedication of a temple to the sun god in the Campus Martius (C.E. 274) probably took place on the 'Birthday of the Invincible Sun' on December 25, the cult of the sun in pagan Rome ironically did not celebrate the winter solstice nor any of the other quarter-tense days, as one might expect.  
-- Michael Alan Anderson, Symbols of Saints, pp. 42–46
Study of ancient Roman sun worship indicates the principle feast date of this particular cult fell on August 9, not December 25. There has been found some documentation of minor sacrifice dates to the sun on August 28 and December 11, but nothing for December 25. All we have is Aurelian's late (post-Christian) proclamation of the sun's birthday in about AD 274, and nothing more. While sun worship was popular among some of the Caesars, there is no indication that it was a major cult within the ancient Roman Empire. So what are we to make of Aurelian's decree of December 25 as the suns birthday? Well, I think the word "birthday" gives us a clue. Christians were already celebrating December 25 as the birthday of Christ, who is the light of the world. The only way to upstage them would be to royally declare December 25 as the birthday of the sun, which lights the world. History showing the dates for what they are, would seem to indicate that this is the case. So it wasn't Christians who joined in Pagan celebrations in an attempt to hijack them, but rather it was a failed attempt by Pagans to hijack a Christian celebration. It's important to remember that this Aurelian declaration came sandwiched between two great Roman persecutions against Christianity. Emperor Valerian's persecution of Christians came between AD 253 and 260. While Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians lasted from AD 284 to 305. It makes more sense for a Roman Emperor, like Aurelian, who reigned between these persecutions, to attempt to upstage Christian celebrations with his own Pagan feast on December 25, than it does for Christians to adopt a Pagan Roman feast day as their own, in between Roman persecutions that were attempting to wipe them out. Remember, Christians were going to their martyrdom because they refused to observe Pagan rituals. Why would they adopt them in between persecutions? It makes no sense.

Those particularly zealous against December being the month of Christ's birth will point to the Scriptures that say the shepherds were tending their flocks the night of his birth (Luke 2:8). They argue that December is too cold for this to happen, that frost and snow on the ground would prohibit any reasonable grazing of sheep. Thus they fall back to their September dating for the birth of Christ. Others spring forward to March or April. While their observance of winter climate may be true in Europe, or even most of North America, it is not untenable for the area of Judea around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The mean temperature in Jerusalem during December runs between 47 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which is plenty warm enough for green pastures. Frost and snow on the ground is extremely rare in this part of the world.

The 1963 edition of Smith's Bible Dictionary, under the heading "Palestine: the Climate," explained...
As in the time of our Saviour (Luke 12: 54), the rains come chiefly from the S. or S.W. They commence at the end of October or beginning of November, and continue with greater or less constancy till the end of February or middle of March, and occasionally, though rarely, to the end of April. It is not a heavy continuous rain, so much as a succession of severe showers or storms with intervening periods of fine bright weather, permitting the grain crops to grow and ripen. And although the season is not divided by any entire cessation of rain for a lengthened interval, as some represent, yet there appears to be a diminution in the fall for a few weeks in December and January, after which it begins again, and continues during February and till the conclusion of the season.
This would have been optimal weather for grazing sheep.

So now that we've allowed real history to obliterate the the Christmas-Pagan conspiracy propaganda, let's accept that December 25 was celebrated by Christians before Pagans, and move on to other Christmas customs of alleged Pagan origin.

Saint Boniface
painted by Cornelis Bloemaert
 in 1630
Chief among these is the Christmas tree. Under this propaganda conspiracy, the Christmas tree is actually a secret Pagan practice from ancient times, that has stealthily infiltrated the Christian faith, so as to make Christians unknowingly honour Pagan gods. But is this true? Again, real history helps us find the truth.

While it is well known that ancient Germanic tribes in Germany and Scandinavia worshipped trees, oak trees in particular, they were not known to bring them into their houses. In fact, the story of St. Boniface cutting down Donar's Oak Tree illustrates how Medieval Christians evangelised these Germanic Pagans in the early 8th century. When St. Boniface (an English bishop and missionary) chopped down the Donar's Oak Tree to prevent a human sacrifice, the German Pagans watched in horror and then dropped to their knees in terror, fearing that Thor would soon send a lightning bolt to kill them all for such sacrilege. However, when the lightning bolt never came, Boniface noted that a small fir tree (about knee high) was growing between the roots of the oak tree he just chopped down. He used this as an evangelistic tool. He pointed out to the stunned Pagans that their Germanic gods are helpless and could not stop the destruction of their sacred oak tree, but the Christian God has provided in its place this small fir tree. He pointed out the fir tree was triangular, symbolically representing the Trinity, and that its leaves are always green, representing God's eternal love for us. Finally, he pointed out that the needles of the tree always point up toward God. That same year he brought a small fir tree into the chapel during the winter months to serve as a constant reminder to his congregation of these truths.

However, the modern Christmas tree, as we know it today, originated in Germany during the 16th century. It was a Protestant, not a Pagan, who took St. Boniface's winter tree and turned it into the Christmas tree. Martin Luther is said to have first added lighted candles to an evergreen tree, in an attempt to recreate in his chapel the starlight he saw, shining between trees in a forest, while walking home one winter night.

Christmas trees remained a European custom for centuries, but were considered rare in North America until after the decline of the Puritan influence. The association between evergreens and Paganism is a thin one at best. There is simply no reason why Christians can't use these as a seasonal decoration, anymore than bringing plants or flowers into the home.

Mistletoe does have some Pagan connections, as do many things in nature. In Pagan cultures, it was associated with fertility simply because it bloomed during the coldest time of year while everything else was dormant. Thus, ancient Pagans ate it for medicinal purposes to assist with fertility. That's ironic, since mistletoe is a known abortifacient. I imagine this added to their frustration. The very medicine they were taking to increase fertility was actually making them infertile. However, the modern practice of hanging mistletoe and kissing under it has nothing to do with ancient Paganism. It is rather a modern tradition of the modern age. It came about in the middle 18th century, and was associated with Christmas parties. A sprig of mistletoe was hung on a beam, and the custom was that if a maiden were to find herself standing under it, she could be kissed. It was somewhat of a party game.  In another game, couples were instructed to pluck a single berry from the mistletoe with each kiss, throwing it aside, and to stop smooching once they were all gone. We can debate about whether or not such party customs are prudent for Christian celebrations, but there is nothing about them that is directly linked to Paganism.

Then of course there is Santa Claus. While Christians of all types have just grievance against the commercialisation of Christmas using this figure, the figure himself is a legendary representation of a real person. St. Nicholas of Myra was a Catholic bishop from Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). There are many stories and legends surrounding him, but one thing is certain, he is a Christian figure of Christian origin.

The Christmas - Pagan conspiracy is really nothing more than Protestant Fundamentalism run amok. In their desire to implicate the Catholic Church as the source of all evil and villainy in the world, and to justify their own schism with the the Catholic Church, they must create elaborate conspiracy theories wherein the Catholic Church is implicated as a kind of cypto-Pagan organisation, seeking to stealthily impose Pagan worship upon unsuspecting Christians. Their ignorance of history causes them to implicate Martin Luther as a co-conspirator in this, which is ironic and a bit amusing when you consider the animosity between Luther and the Catholic Church. As I said though, all of this comes from people who think they understand history but really don't. They're sources are highly sectarian tracts and books, which are filled with historical revisionism, not recognised by actual historians, and completely foreign to any original source documentation from the time period in question. So the next time one of these folks knocks on your door, or slips you a tract, telling you that Christmas is a Pagan holiday, just kindly ignore them and go back to drinking your eggnog while trimming the tree.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Catholic History Made in Republic Missouri

The Little Portion in Republic, Missouri
This Former Franciscan Retreat Centre, Now Serves as St. George Catholic Church

Nestled deep in the forests of the Ozark Mountains is a small city called Republic. It sits about 15 miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri, otherwise known as the Queen City of the Ozarks. Republic is a small suburban town originally built along the railroad tracks leading into Springfield. Today Republic straddles Highway 60, a major artery going into the Queen City. In comparison to Springfield, Republic is a quiet town. High school sports preoccupy most of the city's excitement. A farmers' market meets regularly on Main Street, and the annual celebration of "Pumpkin Days" takes place in the same location every autumn. Like Springfield, Republic is home to many churches of various types. Whatever you're looking for, you can pretty much find it in Republic. There are at least two contemporary-style Evangelical churches in town, along with some traditional Baptist and Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) churches. There is a beautiful and historic Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as well as a local Lutheran and Methodist church. However, a new church has come to town, and it's a little overdue. While Republic is home to hundreds of Roman Catholic residents, it has never had a Catholic Church. Many local Catholics have been commuting to Springfield for weekly mass. That may soon change for some of them, because you see, Republic just got its own Catholic Church.

Fr. Chori Seraiah
Saint George Catholic Church meets at the old Franciscan Retreat Centre at the end of Assisi Way on the south side of Republic, near Miller Park. The chapel is hidden from sight from the main road, because it was a Franciscan retreat originally. The idea behind a retreat is seclusion. Since Saint George operates on this property, it is currently tucked away from plain view, but it is very active. Two masses are currently celebrated every week, along with weekly evening prayer, scheduled confession times, and a prayer chapel set aside for visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Though only established in June of this year (2016), the community is alive, well, thriving and growing.

I had the opportunity to speak with Fr. Chori Seraiah, the Catholic priest who lives on the premises of Saint George. Fr. Seraiah is an Anglican convert to Catholicism. He is married and has five children. He was ordained a Catholic priest by special permission from Pope Benedict XVI in 2012...


Mr. Schaetzel: Good evening Fr. Seraiah. Thank you for doing this interview.
Fr. Seraiah: You're welcome; I'm glad to be of service.

Mr. Schaetzel: Please tell us, in your own words, what brought you into the Catholic Church and made you decide to become a Catholic priest.

Fr. Seraiah: There were certainly many factors involved in my conversion. At the beginning it was an interest in what the Church of the first and second centuries looked like. Twenty-five years ago a Baptist pastor suggested I read the Church Fathers (the best mistake he ever made), and I was hooked. The more I saw the differences between the early Church and the modern church that I was experiencing, the more I sought to understand why this was so. I started digging deeper to understand the liturgy, the sacraments, and Church authority. Those three overlapping factors (especially Church authority) drove me to realize that only one Church on earth was the same as the one Jesus founded 2000 years ago, and (though it annoyed me at first), I knew it was the Catholic Church.

Mr. Schaetzel: Is that what brings you to Republic, Missouri?

Fr. Seraiah: Not actually, no. I first entered into the Catholic Church in Des Moines, Iowa. That was where I was living when I last served as a pastor in the Anglican Church. The announcement had come in 2009 that the Ordinariate was going to be established here in the U.S. and my family and I were very excited about it. We had been hoping for something like this for a few years, and felt like a "life raft" for those of us who were tired of treading water.

Mr. Schaetzel: Please explain, what is this Ordinariate and how does it work?

Fr. Seraiah: The Ordinariates function much like a diocese, but they do not have the traditional geographic boundaries of a diocese. Ours here in North America covers all of the US and Canada. We have over 40 parishes and communities, and our Bishop is located at our Cathedral Church in Houston, Texas. It was established specifically for those of us who are former Anglicans and Episcopalians to be able to hold on to many of our traditions that we had before we became Catholic. Understand, we did not really ask for this, but Pope Benedict XVI was the one who told us he wanted us to practice these traditions from our Anglican Patrimony, and to use them to "enrich" the rest of the Catholic Church. We overlap with the local diocese, but are not technically a part of it. To help some people grasp the idea better I tell them to think of a similar situation with a monastery: different authority structure, but still geographically in the same area.

Mr. Schaetzel: How do you like our fair city, and the Ozarks in general?

Fr. Seraiah: I like it quite a lot. Years ago when I was a Baptist pastor I lived just a couple hours away from here in Arkansas, so it feels like coming home to an area that my wife and children really enjoy.

Mr. Schaetzel: In addition to your responsibilities at St. George, and the Ordinariate, are you working with the local Diocese of Springfield - Cape Girardeau as well?

Fr. Seraiah: Yes, we are in full cooperation with the local diocese in more ways than one. I was in need of a greater income than the little community of St. George could provide, so the diocese asked me to help them as well by serving as pastor of two of their parishes. I currently have St. George community in Republic, as well as St. Susanne Catholic Church in Mt. Vernon, and St. Patrick Catholic Church in Greenfield.

Mr. Schaetzel: Could you briefly tell us a little about your family?

Fr. Seraiah: My wife and I have been married for 26 wonderful years, and we have five children; two girls and three boys. The oldest girl is 20, then three boys, 17, 16, and 13, and our youngest little girl is 6. We have homeschooled all of them. My wife Catherine stays at home with the children, manages the household, acts as Church secretary for St. George, and basically helps me to keep my head on straight.

Mr. Schaetzel: I imagine some Catholics might be taken back to learn that you are a married priest. Could you briefly explain how this works in the Catholic Church, and what has been the typical Catholic reaction to it so far?

Fr. Seraiah: Yes, the most common question I get when people find out I'm married is "how does that work?" When I'm in a playful mood I say "I said, 'will you marry me?' and she said 'yes', it was pretty easy." When I am in a more technical mood I tell people that there is nothing really new here. It has always been the case that the Pope can give permission for a married man to be ordained as a priest, it just usually happens only with converts who used to serve in the Anglican/Episcopal churches (and occasionally in the Lutheran church). Those of us in this situation are given a dispensation not to abide by the rule of celibacy. This only applies, however, as long as my wife is alive; in other words, if she were to pass before me, my vow would become a vow of celibacy immediately. Another way to put it is that a married man can become a priest (if the Pope says it is OK), but a priest never gets married. I am not here to change anything about the priestly custom of celibacy. In fact, I have great respect for my brother priests who are celibate, and do not think it would be a wise thing to just "open the doors" and allow any married man to become a priest. Married priests are not simply "priests with a special bonus package". A priest does have to be "spiritually married" to the Church whether he has a physical marriage or not, and that means that both a married priest and his wife have to give up certain privileges that other married couples are allowed to keep. Time together, certain freedoms, home privacy, and especially transparency in the relationship (i.e. I cannot talk to her about the sacrament of confession).

Mr. Schaetzel: How do non-Catholics typically react?

Fr. Seraiah: Many do not even notice, but the few who do usually get the wrong idea. I have heard comments like, "well its about time that the Catholic Church got a little bit more modernized", or "well, you're finally learning from the protestants now?"

Mr. Schaetzel: Having a married Roman Catholic priest in Republic, Missouri, sort of puts our city on the map (so to speak). This sounds like an historic thing, on a global level, which our little city is playing a very big role in. What is your sense about how the Vatican is studying you, and other married priests like you?

Fr. Seraiah: I could not guess what Rome is thinking specifically, but I would assume that we are being watched closely to make sure that we do not give the wrong impression about what is going on, and that we also do not misrepresent Church teaching on holy orders.

Mr. Schaetzel: Tell us a little about Saint George. What type of a Roman Catholic parish is it? Why is it different from other Roman Catholic parishes?

Fr. Seraiah: In one way, it is just another Catholic parish. Yet, we have a different form of the Mass, a different form of Daily Prayer, and there are proportionally more converts to Catholicism than the average parish. Each of these unique qualities is intentional. As I said above, Pope Benedict XVI said he wanted us to retain some of those traditions that we had before we converted. Also, we have a strong focus on evangelism; especially toward our protestant brethren. We were once there, so we understand much of what they are going through.

Mr. Schaetzel: Wow! This sounds historic too. Is it?

Fr. Seraiah: Yes, in many ways something is happening through the Ordinariate congregations that has never happened before. God clearly was working in the Anglican churches for the last 500 years, and allowing His truth to remain just enough in there so that we today could bring the English heritage back into the Church so that it can be both reconciled and protected for ever.

Mr. Schaetzel: Does this mean it's traditional or contemporary?

Fr. Seraiah: It is both. We in the Ordinariate like very old traditional Catholic practices, yet we are truly heirs of Vatican II. Without that great council, it is not likely that anything like the Ordinariates would ever have happened. This is truly a new development of the Church, and it is also truly an old heritage restored.

Mr. Schaetzel: Would a regular Roman Catholic, diocesan as opposed to ordinariate, be able to understand things at Saint George and easily adapt to the way liturgy is celebrated there?

Fr. Seraiah: Very easily, yes; there is nothing in the old English language of our liturgy that is not easily understood. There are a number of prayers that we are used to which will sound new to most "diocesan" Catholics, as well as a couple things that are different about the structure of our Mass, but nothing that would shock anyone.

Mr. Schaetzel: So I take it this means that regular Roman Catholics can attend mass at Saint George, and meet their Sunday obligation there if so inclined?

Fr. Seraiah: Absolutely, in fact, we often have people from other local parishes stop in for a visit. Sometimes it is just because they are curious about our differences, other times it is because the time or location just happened to be convenient for them that week. Any Catholic is able to come to St. George and fulfill their Sunday or Holy day obligation, and even become a part of the parish if they wish to do so.

Mr. Schaetzel: What about Catholics who have a history as Anglicans, Episcopalians or Methodists, would they find all of this form of worship familiar or appealing?

Fr. Seraiah: They would all find it very familiar.

Mr. Schaetzel: This area is made up primarily of Baptists and Pentecostals. What about them, do they show any interest in this type of community and style of worship?

Fr. Seraiah: We do occasionally get some questions from Baptists and Pentecostals, but not a lot. It is not uncommon for someone in those traditions, however, to begin to struggle with issues (like Church authority) and end up seeing that the Catholic Church really has those answers that they are looking for. In that situation, St. George is ideally suited to help them since we know much of the struggle they are having.

Mr. Schaetzel: Saint George is small right now, and meeting in a relatively secluded part of Republic. Is this part of your long-term plan, or is the congregation looking to build something bigger eventually?

Fr. Seraiah: Actually, we are very grateful for the support of the diocese (whose property we are using for our services currently), but our long term plan is to be able to build our own Church on the same property that we are using right now. There is an ideal place that we have picked out right now.

Mr. Schaetzel: Does this mean it would eventually be visible from the street and Miller Park?

Fr. Seraiah: Yes, it will be visible; in fact, Lord willing, it will be visible from quite a distance (I'm picturing a gigantic steeple with a few gargoyles on the sides!). The property where we meet right now is on the south-east corner of Miller and Lynn in Republic, and it is our hope that someday in the future we would be able to build a Church right on Miller street.

Mr. Schaetzel: Thank you for sharing your time and information with us Father. We look forward to watching the progress of Saint George Catholic Church, as well as the growth of your historic ministry and the progress of your wonderful family.

Fr. Seraiah: Glad to be of service. God bless you!


Fr. Seraiah can be contacted at St. George Catholic Church in Republic, Missouri.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
Catholicism for

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mercy is Not License

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Niccolò Possino, circa 1653

Yesterday, Pope Francis closed the year of Mercy, and he did so with a reminder that we must always be merciful to our fellow man.  You know what? HE IS RIGHT.

However, I think the problem we have in the West isn't really a mercy problem. Rather, I think the problem we have in the West is a problem with license.

It seems to me that in the West we have confused the meanings of the word "mercy" and "license." It seems too many people think they mean the exact same thing. So to help with this confusion, allow me to break these words down.

Mercy is a word that is dependent on another word -- sin. In order to have mercy, you must first have sin. In other words, you have to know that you've done something wrong. What is sin? To simplify, sin is when people don't do what God wants. That's it. What God wants is defined by both nature and revelation. That's it. When we do what God wants, according to nature and revelation, that is called righteousness or holiness. When we don't do what God wants, according to nature and revelation, that is called sin. Being a sinner does not necessarily mean you're a "bad" person. In fact, most sinners are wonderful people, and great to be around. We should think of sin more like destructive habits.

Case in point. I know a lot of smokers, and I would have to say that most smokers are wonderful people. Yet, few would argue that smoking is dangerous to your health. It damages your lungs, your heart, and other vital organs as well. It can both shorten your life, and significantly reduce your quality of life. If you smoke, it doesn't mean you're a bad person. What it does mean, however, is you're engaging in a habit that is destructive to yourself, and those who live with you. This is scientifically and medically indisputable now.

So if we compared sin to smoking, we could safely say that most sinners (like smokers) are good people. They just have a destructive habit that is slowly killing them, and harming those around them. In a worst case scenario, the smoker might end up with some kind of horrible disease, like lung cancer or COPD. Sin is just like that. It's a destructive habit, that goes against nature and divine revelation, in such a way that it is slowly destructive to the soul and to the spiritual welfare of those around us. In a worst case scenario, sin may lead our souls to hell. It's not necessarily because we are bad people, it's just that we've continued in a bad habit (without repenting) for so long that we end up putting our souls in a very bad place.

So this is where mercy comes in. Mercy is in a word "forgiveness." Regardless of what sin might do to our bodies, minds, and relationships, God is willing to forgive us of the sin, and dispense of the ultimate penalty of hell.

It's sort of like this. Getting back to the analogy of smoking. Let's say you're a chain smoker, and you've managed to smoke so much, and so obnoxiously, that nobody wants to be with you anymore. You literally smell like a chimney. You're wife has left you, because she and your kids were sick all the time, because of your smoking which you refused to quit. You're friends don't talk to you much anymore. You're no longer invited to parties and get-togethers with your peers. Even your dog would rather sleep outdoors, because the smell really is that bad. One night, you fall asleep in bed with a cigarette in your hand. Your bed catches fire, but miraculously you manage to get out of the house before the whole thing burns down, with nothing but some minor burns and a nasty case of smoke inhalation. At this point, you finally realise that maybe you have a problem.

So you go to your doctor for help. You're doc is a nice and understanding fellow. He runs some tests, and delivers the bad news. He tells you that you have the early stages of lung cancer. However, he can treat it! It hasn't metastasised yet, so with some surgery and chemotherapy, you have a 90% chance of full remission and recovery. All you have to do is quit smoking and submit to the proscribed treatment plan. If you don't, you'll die a horrible death. If you do, however, you'll likely live.

There is more. If you quit smoking for good, your insurance settlement for the house is enough to build a whole new house, one that isn't contaminated with cigarette smoke. Once you have a smokeless life, and a smokeless home, your wife and children might actually come back. Your friends might want to be with you more often. Even your dog might want to come back into the house. Yes, you'll carry the scar of the surgery, and the memory of the pain, but you'll get a new lease on life and a second chance.  THAT'S MERCY.

This whole deal with sin and hell works pretty much the same way. Sin is when we go against God's plan for us. Like the smoker who wouldn't quit, the progress of our spiritual decline is slow. Gradually we start losing the things that mean the most to us. Eventually we set our spirit on a path of total destruction -- hell. But God is like the doctor. He has a treatment plan. It requires a little sacrifice from us. We have to stop the sin that is destroying us, but if we do, we have hope of not only avoiding hell, but also rebuilding our lives in some way that is good. THAT'S MERCY.

Now let's contrast this with license.

License is when you tell somebody it's "okay" to do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences. It's sort of like that doctor coming into the room, and telling the smoker: "Well, you've got the early stages of lung cancer, but I know you don't want to quit. So you might as well just light up and smoke all you want now, while you still can. Have fun!"  THAT'S LICENSE.

License is when you tell people its "okay" to sin, meaning to go against God's plan for us. Do whatever you want! If it feels good, do it! How could something that feels right be wrong? Let your conscience be your guide! These are the mantras of license. It's a total disregard for the consequences of actions. It's a refusal to acknowledge that something is wrong in the first place. It's a complete denial of the existence of sin. THAT'S LICENSE.

In the Western world, we often confuse Mercy with License. When our priests and bishops say "mercy," the people think "license." This is not only going on in society at large, but within the Catholic Church too! Everyone who knows the statistics knows what I'm saying here is true. Most Catholics no longer believe that homosexual activity is sin. Most Catholics no longer believe that premarital sex is all that bad anymore. Most Catholics believe artificial contraception is just fine. Most Catholics believe dressing provocatively is okay, and watching sexual movies is okay too. The list goes on and on. In fact, most Catholics believe sin is just limited to being mean to other people. If you're unkind to somebody, that's sin. But if you sleep with your girlfriend or boyfriend, that's okay. Even adultery is okay; so long as you divorce your first spouse and marry your adulterous lover. That is the state of the Catholic Church today, and as hard as it is to say it, because the truth hurts, our Catholic clergy (for the most part) have done an absolutely HORRIBLE job teaching people that these kinds of behaviours are wrong and sinful.

So this whole "Year of Mercy" has been wasted on many, because many people (including many Catholics) saw no need for mercy in their lives, namely because they didn't see any sin in their lives in the first place. Worse yet, some Catholics misinterpreted mercy for license, and saw the Church's "Year of Mercy" as a "Year of License" wherein the Church would simply "allow" people to do whatever they like. Of course that's not what the "Year of Mercy" was supposed to be about, but in a society that doesn't appear to understand the difference between mercy and license, this is what we got.

I once saw a bumper sticker with a very clever message. It simply said this. "Jesus died to forgive your sins, not condone them." It was a short message, to the point, that drove home the difference between forgiveness (mercy) and condoning (license). The pope issued an apostolic exhortation today that encouraged us to continue in a spirit of mercy for the rest of our lives. I agree. He is right. But to understand what he means, we need to understand the definition of mercy. Mercy is not license. Mercy means we have to give something up. We have to let go of our sins, admit they are wrong, and ask for forgiveness. If we're not doing that, we're not receiving mercy. Rather, we're just giving ourselves over to license.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
Catholicism for

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Election is Over -- Now What?

Pentecost, by Jean II Restout, painting circa 1732

The 2016 presidential election is finally over, and what has been delivered to Catholics (and all Christians) in the United States is a favourable result. Hillary Clinton has soundly been defeated in the electoral college, insuring the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. The two candidates could not be more sharply contrasted.

Donald Trump has promised not only to support the religious freedom of Christians against unconstitutional executive mandates, and frivolous lawsuits by homosexual activists seeking to punish and destroy all Christian businesses that refuse to cater to their perversion, but he has also promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment. This would be a huge game changer if enacted. The Johnson Amendment was a change to the U.S. income tax code in 1954 which prohibited churches and other tax-exempt organisations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. If repealed, it would mean that clergy could endorse or oppose political candidates directly from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, and have no fear of the church losing tax-exempt status. Once repealed, and used in at least one election cycle, it is doubtful the government would ever be able to re-enact it again without eliciting calls of religious discrimination from the populace. In other words, once it's gone, it will likely be gone for good, until an absolute tyrant assumes the Oval Office.

It is however that last point I want to address, because that is what we may soon be facing in 4 to 8 years. Hillary Clinton's candidacy was probably the most anti-Catholic (and by extension anti-Christian too) candidacy in recent memory. The Wikileaks emails revealed a latent hostility toward faithful Catholics in the highest levels of the Clinton campaign, which they have never apologised for, not even to this very day. In these leaked emails, faithful Catholics were referred to as "backward" and part of a "Middle Ages dictatorship" that is the Catholic Church. This combined with Hillary's well-known hostility toward traditional Christianity, and a comment she recently made at the 2015 Women of the World conference: "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed." (See the video here.) The comment was made in the context of creating laws that make unrestricted abortion a fundamental human right. So Hillary was on record as stating that religions must be changed to accommodate the Leftist agenda. We can only speculate as to how she might have worked toward this end as president of the United States. It would probably be fair to assume that tax exemption might be revoked of those religions that refused to comply. It would probably be fair to assume that religions that refused to comply would not only have their tax exemption revoked, but also find themselves under federal scrutiny as well, in the form of IRS audits and FBI investigations. Then of course, it would probably be reasonable to assume that those religions that refuse to comply would immediately find themselves targets of homosexual activists suing for some frivolous charge of "discrimination" fully backed by Clinton's Justice Department. This is just one way in which Hillary might have brought her presidential powers to bear against the U.S. Catholic Church, and any other religious organisation brave enough to stand up to her.

There is, of course the other side of things as well. A Hillary Clinton Whitehouse would not only have brought external pressures upon the U.S. Catholic Church, but from Wikileaks again we learn that another plan was hatched by top officials in her campaign to bring pressure against the U.S. Catholic Church from within. In a Wikileaks email exchange between John Podesta and Sandy Newman, the creation of a "Catholic Spring" was discussed, in which a plan was hatched to create a "revolution" within the Catholic Church wherein laypeople would publicly rebel against the teachings of the Church and demand Catholic leadership change to accommodate the Leftist agenda. Within this exchange, John Podesta (Hillary's chief campaign adviser) wrote that he (apparently with others) created "Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good" and "Catholics United" specifically for this purpose. Together, based on what Hillary Clinton has actually said, and the Podesta emails leaked to the public, it became apparent late in the 2016 presidential election cycle that Hillary and her staff were plotting a complete assault on the U.S. Catholic Church, both externally (from the Whitehouse) and internally through a "Catholic Spring."

As I pointed out in a previous essay, the new Anti-Catholicism is a sick and insidious form of bigotry in which the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic -- meaning one who doesn't follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. Political Leftist are usually keen to surround themselves with dissident Catholics, who actively oppose the teachings of the Church, if not in word than certainly in deed. One example of this is the Obama administration, wherein the self-loathing, fake Catholic, Joe Biden, was brought in as Obama's vice president. This gave Obama the political cover he needed to enact a rabidly anti-Catholic agenda in his infamous HHS Mandate, and still maintain at least plausible deniability against charges of anti-Catholicism, because you see, he has placed a "Catholic" (albeit a fake Catholic) in the second highest office in the land. That's how it's done. Of course, Hillary Clinton attempted to do the exact same thing, with the nomination of the self-loathing, fake Catholic Tim Kaine. From this it's fair to assume that her plans to attack the Catholic Church were at least as far reaching as Obama's if not significantly worse, all the while using her fake Catholic (Tim Kaine) as political cover against the charges of anti-Catholic bigotry. The tactic is a clever one, and its been in use for a long time. Fake Catholics, like Tim Kaine and Joe Biden, are praised and lauded as "visionaries" and "heroes" in the spiritual world, while real Catholics, who actually believe and practice the faith, are derided as "backward" and part of a "Middle Ages dictatorship." Fake Catholics are given posts in the highest offices in the land. Real Catholics are considered a "danger" to the public.

It is this very paradigm, this very mentality, that inspired Cardinal Francis George, the former Archbishop of Chicago, to say: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square..." The good cardinal went on to say: "His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." However, it's the first part of this quote that is of particular interest to us. Cardinal George fully expects his successor to die in prison, and his following successor to die as a martyr in the public square. What would land a Catholic bishop in prison if not the kind of administration that Hillary Clinton hoped to inaugurate this January? Oh sure, it may not have happened right away. It may have taken her some 4 to 8 years to get the law just right for this to happen, but there can be little doubt she intended for things to head that way.

Catholic bishops (and clergy of all ranks) should be thankful that Catholics turned out en mass this last November 8 to vote for Donald Trump. While he is nowhere near an ideal president-elect, he is infinitely superior to the alternative that would have existed in Hillary Clinton. I imagine some clergy will be ungrateful for this, but on behalf of all Catholics who voted for Donald Trump, I will extend a hearty "You're Welcome!" anyway. It's the least we could do to keep you all out of jail, and it was our pleasure to do so.

Effectively, what happened on November 8 was this. The U.S. Catholic Church, along with many other socially conservative churches in the United States, just dodged a bullet.

Thanks to the intercession of Our Lady, and the intervention of Our Lord, the U.S. Catholic Church, along with many other socially conservative churches in America, has just been given a 4 to 8 year reprieve from government obstruction and persecution. That's all it is. It's just a reprieve. We now have 4 to 8 years to act, and if we squander it, we will get exactly what we deserve in 4 to 8 years.

As we are witnessing now, with Leftist organised demonstrations and riots across America, leading up to the inauguration, this is nowhere near over. In fact, it's only just begun. Leftist radicals are calling for the assassination of our president elect, and vowing to disrupt the inauguration. These same Leftist radicals have vowed to demonstrate, riot, and in every way obstruct the emerging Trump administration. Make no mistake about it. As we have seen from the Wikileaks emails, and comments from their highest representatives, these Leftists are militantly anti-Catholic and have in their sights the complete destruction of the U.S. Catholic Church as we know it. They will stop at nothing, and they're not going away.

Over the next 4 to 8 years we can expect these people to become significant troublemakers. We can expect disruptions at mass. We can expect threats against real practicing Catholics, especially outspoken ones. (This is why I encourage real practicing Catholics to be armed where it is legal.) We can expect assaults on our priests and bishops. We can expect vandalism of our churches and cathedrals. We can expect Leftist anti-Catholicism to permeate our cities, campuses, employers and every aspect of public life. They didn't get what they wanted in the Whitehouse, so now they're going to have to resort to more crude means of attacking the U.S. Catholic Church, and so they will. This is guaranteed.

If we are not diligent in carrying out our duty as Catholics, then these people WILL assume power after Trump leaves office. It may be in 4 years, or it may be in 8, but they WILL assume power, and when that happens, the U.S. Catholic Church will have hell to pay. The speculation of Cardinal George may still yet become prophecy.

What U.S. Catholics have right now is a WINDOW of OPPORTUNITY and nothing more. The election of Donald Trump will not save America. This election wasn't about saving America as far as Catholics are concerned. We know that this country cannot be saved in its present form. Rather, this election was about giving U.S. Catholics about 4 to 8 years of breathing room, which is enough time to effect a change in our society for the better. I'm talking about Evangelisation which is uninhibited by government obstruction and persecution. Leftists WILL soon persecute us, but for 4 to 8 years, those Leftists won't be in any positions of significant power. So what we have is a reprieve from their wrath backed by the state. During this 4 to 8 years, if we are diligent, we may be able to change the American culture enough to significantly interfere with any future Leftist takeover of the federal government. This may reduce, or possibly even eliminate, any future persecution of our Catholic children in the next generation. If, however, we are negligent, and we squander these next 4 to 8 years of reprieve, we and our children will suffer full state-backed persecution together sometime after 2020 or 2024.

What will American anti-Catholic persecution look like? It's not going to be like what we see in Communist China, Cuba or North Korea. Rather, it will be more subtle, but just as insidious. The outline of this persecution has already been given to us, by the implications of Hillary Clinton's public statements and John Podesta's leaked emails. We can expect the federal government to revoke the tax exempt status of the U.S. Catholic Church. This will force dioceses to sell off many parishes to pay for back taxes owed to the IRS. Then clergy will be told it is a "hate crime" to speak out against homosexuality, same-sex "marriage," gender theory, abortion or contraception. When they do, they will be fined by the government. Then clergy will be told they must recognise, and maybe even perform, same-sex "weddings." If they don't they'll be led out of their parishes in handcuffs just like Kim Davis was in Kentucky for refusing to issue same-sex "marriage" licenses under her name. We can expect employers to require employees to sign "non-discrimination" contracts, which include a clause to accept same-sex "marriages" as legitimate. When real Catholics refuse to sign them, they can expect to be fired. Meanwhile, this whole time, we can expect an orchestrated "uprising" or "revolution" within the Catholic Church, with people paid by Leftist organisations to agitate within the Church. These people will demand an end to the Church's teachings against homosexuality, same-sex "marriage," gender theory, abortion and contraception. In addition, we can expect these same people to push for female ordination and Church blessing of same-sex "marriage." This is what anti-Catholic persecution will look like in America when it comes to our door.

We have 4 to 8 years of reprieve from this. During this time, we can expect some crude agitation, disruptions and threats, but they don't have political power right now. We've got 4 to 8 years before they do, unless we act now.

So what is it that faithful Catholics need to do? The answer is simple. Just get back to basics. Don't worry about all this social justice nonsense right now. We've got bigger fish to fry. We're trying to save our children from having to choose between their faith and their freedom. So the way we do this is straight forward. We spend the next 4 to 8 years reaching out to our society with the basic gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is how we do it...
  1. PRAY! And I mean pray every day. Do a Rosary or something, but PRAY! This is primarily a spiritual battle we are fighting, and if it is to be won, it will be won entirely on the spiritual level first and foremost, above everything else. So if you want to win, then pray!
  2. Get back to mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.
  3. Repent of your sins and go to confession NOW!
  4. Learn the Faith and learn it well. Get a simple Catechism and read it. Read the Bible and Catechism regularly. Use the resources of Catholic Answers to help you understand your faith. Also, my own apologetics page and books, will help in this area too.
  5. SHARE YOUR FAITH !!! Start with your family, particularly your children, then your friends and neighbours.
  6. Reach out to your neighbourhood. Order some of these low cost authorised Catholic gospel tracts, and make sure your entire neighbourhood receives one on their front porch. Talk to them about your Catholic Christian faith, if you feel comfortable doing so.
  7. Direct your non-Catholic friends to Catholic Answers apologetic resources when they have lots of questions you may not feel able to answer. Catholic Answers has two pages: one for Protestants, and another for Non-Christians. Also you can direct them to my own apologetics page as well.
  8. Not only should you invite your non-Catholic friends to mass, but you should make sure they get an opportunity to talk to your priest, or any knowledgeable Catholic at your parish. Usually a deacon, or the Director of Religious Education (DRE), or one of the catechists will do.
That's it folks. That's what we need to focus on like a laser beam for the next 4 to 8 years. If we fail to do this, we get what we deserve in 2020 or 2024. This is our last chance. It is our last great reprieve. Donald Trump and the Republicans can't fix America, but they can hold back the tide of anti-Catholic obstruction and persecution, at least for a little while. It's up to us to do the rest and be faithful to our baptismal calling as evangelists. Failure to do that now, is no longer an option.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
Catholicism for

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Coming Second Reformation

Luther Nailing 95 Theses
Julius Hübner, painted in 1878
We are about to have another Protestant Reformation in the Catholic Church, and this one is going to be much larger than the last one. I think we had a window of opportunity to avert this crisis during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, but the bishops of the West (Europe, North America and Oceania) largely rejected this opportunity. Now that Benedict XVI is retired, many of these same bishops are doing everything they can to roll back the reforms he instituted -- or at least, as many as they can. In some dioceses now, it's as if there never was a Pope Benedict XVI.

Thankfully, not all bishops are that way, and it shows in their dioceses were traditional liturgy and good catechises have been embraced. These dioceses will suffer the least when the "Second Reformation" comes.

Please note, I use the term "reformation" loosely here, because there really is nothing being reformed. What I'm talking about here is an outright revolt against the apostolic teachings of the Church, just like the First Reformation was. Protestants, however, define this revolt as a "Reformation" and that appears to be the name that stuck. So I use that term strictly in its historical sense, and it shouldn't be misconstrued as a real "reformation" of any kind.

This Second Reformation will be a similar revolt. It will be a revolt in the Catholic Church -- an outright rebellion -- but the leaders of this revolt (and the mainstream media) will call it a "Second Reformation."

I say this because the conditions for such an event to happen are almost parallel to the conditions that existed in the 16th century. During that time there was rampant corruption in the Catholic Church, particularly in Northern Europe. Rome's attitude was to just "let sleeping dogs lie," and was far more preoccupied with problems arising from the Muslim world. Clergy in Northern Europe were content to follow the whims of political leaders, and allowed all sorts of abuses of Church teaching to go on, so long as these political leaders made sure the Church was well taken care of financially. Catechises of the public fell to historic lows. Faithful Catholics who rose up to try to put a stop to this were immediately put down as "troublemakers." All throughout Europe, liturgical standards were very lax, and various regions adopted innovations that were not always approved by Rome. Does any of this sound familiar? It certainly does to me. It sounds almost exactly like the time we're living in now in the West. All of this sad nonsense continued for nearly a century before that Augustinian monk and priest, Martin Luther, shuffled some papers around on the door of All Saints Chapel in Wittenberg, which served as a university bulletin board, to make room for his "Ninety-Five Thesis." That happened on October 31, 1517, an event that would set off a firestorm in Germany that didn't end until January 3, 1521 when Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X. This firestorm, and the subsequent fallout, was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, or maybe I should say what will soon be remembered as the First Protestant Reformation. "Round two" is on the way.

Pope Leo X thought this was a problem that could be easily settled with a papal bull (Exsurge Domine) and an excommunication if necessary. After all, that's how previous popes had handled such things. It usually worked like a charm. Once the people learned that a reckless teacher had been excommunicated, they refused to follow him. Sometimes even the state would put a bounty on such a person, as a renegade and traitor, because at that time there was no separation between Church and State. Such conditions usually forced heretics to surrender and beg repentance rather quickly. However, Leo X couldn't have been more mistaken. Not only did his papal bull fail to produce the desired results, but Luther's popularity grew and within a matter of years, vast swaths of Germany and Switzerland were pealing away from the Catholic Church, creating for themselves "parallel churches" that operated autonomously from the pope. These parallel churches eventually went on to become national churches, and are now known as Protestant denominations. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Essentially, the pope did the right thing, but the result was the exact opposite from what it should have been. Why?

It all goes back to the conditions that existed in northern Europe leading up to Martin Luther, which I described above. These conditions were the powder keg. Martin Luther was just the match. Normally heretical teachers like him fizzled out rather quickly, but because of the unusual conditions that existed in Northern Europe at the time, Luther's spark turned into a wildfire virtually overnight. Had these conditions not existed in the north European Church, Martin Luther would be nothing more than a footnote in history, if even that. In many ways, the First Protestant Reformation was a wound on the Catholic Church, self-inflicted by decades of liturgical, doctrinal and disciplinary neglect in northern Europe by Rome. The strategy of "let sleeping dogs lie" was a disaster for the Catholic Church. Failure to be diligent on liturgy, doctrine and discipline created a laity that was primed and ready for revolt. They had been allowed to do things their own way for so long, that they really didn't understand the faith anymore. The people had lost respect for Rome. They lost respect for the pope. Then along came Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli with their "reformed" version of Christianity. Of course money played a huge role in all of this. Never under estimate the influence of mammon. European princes saw in this so-called "reformation" and opportunity for profit, and so they cashed in, siding with the "reformers." Once the big money of northern Europe fell behind this "reformers," Rome had already lost. There was no way the pope could win.

All that was left for Rome was a counter-Reformation, the Council of Trent, in which the Catholic Church basically cleaned up its act. Doctrines were clearly defined. Heresies were condemned. Liturgy was standardised, and new disciplinary protocols were enforced. It was, perhaps, the greatest council in the history of the Church, and the council under which all subsequent councils operate. Without Trent to serve as the operating context, Vatican I and Vatican II are essentially meaningless. So Trent was a mighty council indeed, and one we still refer to today.

Trent was great for the Catholic Church, but what about the Protestants? Did it quickly bring back the Protestants? No. Did it put down the Protestant churches? No. Did it at least cause the Protestant churches to turn back a little from their errors? No, not really. Once they had broken with Rome, it was too late. They continued to move further and further away from Rome until this very day. What the Council of Trent did do was prepare the Catholic Church for a mighty evangelistic push into North and South America, Africa, and even various Pacific islands. Trent, having cleaned up the liturgical and disciplinary mess, and clearly defined doctrinal teaching, turned the Catholic Church into an evangelistic powerhouse, the effect of which is still felt even today.

Meanwhile, the Protestant churches that claim to want to move back closer to Rome in ecumenical relations, are actually moving further away, by ordaining women and blessing same-sex "marriage." To date, the only Protestants that have come back into the Church en mass are traditional Anglicans, who essentially rejected the Reformation and had already become "Catholic" on their own, humbly beseeching Rome to take them back. At that, we're talking about a very small number of people, some 500 years after their ancestors' original break with Rome. The lesson of Anglicanorum Coetibus is that the Catholic Church doesn't win back Protestants by trying to imitate them. Rather, she wins back Protestants by just sticking to Catholicism and patiently waiting with an open door. The type of Anglicans that returned to Rome have many similarities in common with traditional "old-school" Catholics, both in doctrinal and liturgical sensibilities. The simple fact is, the one and only ecumenical "success" (being defined as full sacramental unity) Rome has ever had with the Protestants is manifested in people who have little interest in novelty to begin with, but instead want to be as traditionally Catholic as they can be, albeit in an English way.

This little "reality check" is something the bishops of the Catholic Church need, because many in the West (Europe and North America) are trying to remake their parishes into "protestantised" knock-offs of Lutheran and Methodist churches. The liturgy is sloppy, and the catechises is "hit and miss" at best. While some bishops run a pretty disciplined ship, at least, there are others who's egregious laxity (and sometimes outright corruption) is giving them all a bad name. Does any of this sound familiar? It parallels the early 16th century. For the most part, the majority of Western bishops have rejected (or at least ignored) the reforms attempted by Pope Benedict XVI, and the new Pope Francis seems to have different priorities all together. Like northern Europe in the early 16th century, all of Europe combined with North America and Oceania in the early 21st century, is a powder keg waiting for a lone match to kindle a flame. Once that happens. BOOM! The whole Western world is going to be ignited in a Second Protestant Reformation that will make the first just look like a trial run.

On the one hand, we have liberal Protestant denominations dying all over Europe and North America. They're waiting for a leader to unite them under one banner, because ecumenical reunification is the only way they can consolidate their numbers and keep their congregations from fading away. On the other hand, we have so many poorly formed Catholics in the Catholic Church now. There are multiple generations who have no idea what the Church actually teaches, many young Catholics who have never even seen a traditional liturgy, and a laity that has been become cynical after years watching corrupt priests and bishops give baby-killing politicians a pass, simply because they promise financial security to the Church. All the while, there have been faithful Catholics who sounded the alarm, begging Catholic leaders to clean things up, only to be put down as "troublemakers" and "complainers." The Western Catholic Church is primed and ready now.

The next "match" to strike a flame will come eventually, no matter what. It's inevitable. However, we've learned from Wikileaks now that there are elements within the American Democratic Party who hope to expedite this process by providing a "match" of their own -- maybe two or three. It only takes one charismatic figure, but if you throw a few in the mix, things can happen much faster, as proved by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. With today's modern communications of the mainstream media, and social media, the Second Protestant Reformation is likely to happen much faster than the first, and span a far greater expanse of the globe.

When it happens, the Catholic Church (as we currently know it) will cleave into two parts. The first will remain loyal to the apostolic teachings of the faith, the pope and the magisterium of the Church. These will be the faithful Catholics, and there may not be very many of them in comparison to what we might expect or hope for. The second will follow a new Martin Luther type of charismatic character, as well as any others that work with him. This group will be much larger, and they will likely take the majority of Catholic parishes (and dioceses) in Europe, as well as a fair amount in North America and Oceania. They will likely call themselves something akin to the "Reformed Catholic Church" and will serve as an ecumenical umbrella organisation under which shrinking liberal Protestants can unite without having to compromise any of their Protestant theology.

Communion in this "Reformed Catholic Church" will be defined by inter-communion on the sacraments, without a necessity for doctrinal unity. The sacraments (particularly the Holy Eucharist) will be viewed simply as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Inter-communion on the Eucharist will be seen as a "tool" or a "means" that leads to greater ecumenical discussions on doctrine, but as we will soon see, those discussions will never end. In time, this Reformed Catholic Church will simply compromise by making most dogmatic teaching "optional."

The catalyst for the creation of this "Reformed Catholic Church" will likely be issues like women's ordination, contraception and same-sex "marriage." This new false church will simply allow them, and this will be demanded by the majority of the laity. In Europe, the rebellion is likely to begin in Germany again, where the Roman Catholic Church has become increasingly liberal and corrupt. This will likely be paralleled in the United States, wherever the Democratic Party has a large degree of influence.

Yes, the pope will likely respond with some kind of apostolic decree, along with some excommunications, but just like the last time some 500 years ago, it won't work. The pope will have lost the respect of the laity in these places. Why? Because he will not accept women's ordination, contraception or same-sex "marriage." For too long, Rome has "let sleeping dogs lie," by allowing liberal and negligent (even corrupt) bishops lead the entire Western Church into compromise with modernity on just about every front: catechises, liturgy and discipline. We've seen the result of this in stagnating growth in Europe and North America, but that is just the beginning of sorrows. What comes next will be monumental and historic. It will leave faithful Catholics in chaos for a while, only to settle into a much smaller Roman Catholic Church when its over. It will create a counter-Catholic church that is false, but will call itself "Reformed." It will result in the consolidation of many liberal Protestant groups under one umbrella organisation. It will be known simply as the "Second Reformation."

The good news in all of this, and there is always a silver lining to every dark cloud, is that once purified, it is likely the authentic Roman Catholic Church will begin a massive evangelist push into Muslim Africa and Asia, along with Communist China, just as she did in the Americas after the First Reformation.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

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Friday, November 04, 2016

Voting with a Clear Conscience

A Catholic Sermon on How to Vote this Tuesday

Previously on this blog, I explained why I will be voting for Donald J. Trump for President of the United States this Tuesday. To briefly recap, I know that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton WILL BE our next president. Therefore, when faced with this stark reality, and assessing the stated vision of each candidate, there is no question in my mind that if Hillary Clinton is elected, through her executive orders and court appointments, she will enshrine abortion-on-demand in this country, up to the 9th month of pregnancy, for decades to come. In addition, I am certain that she will also attack the U.S. Catholic Church by revoking its tax exempt status unless it complies with government mandates on contraception, abortion and same-sex "marriage." She will do this to all churches (Catholic and Protestant), and she'll stack the courts with her judges to make it stick, in spite of the U.S. Constitution. In the face of such great evil, I have no choice but to vote for Donald Trump in order to protect the Church and the lives of unborn children.

Now that being said, I've told you how I will vote. I have not told you how you should vote, and I won't. I don't tell people how to vote. Rather, I just tell them how I will vote, and let them make up their own minds. You know where I stand now.

The question remains however, what candidates remain for those who cannot (in good conscience) vote for either candidate? If you're a faithful Catholic, the options are limited to be sure. However, I will attempt to simplify here. The following are third-party options which are in-line with Catholic teaching on essential matters.

The first is Mike Maturen of the American Solidarity Party (see website here). This candidate, and his party, are the MOST in line with Catholic social teaching, putting a priority on the Pro-Life issue. Currently, the party is relatively small, even by third-party standards, but it is growing exponentially fast now, thanks to the endorsement of many Catholic clergy and bloggers. A write-in vote for the Solidarity Party is a vote for Catholic social teaching in full.

The second is Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party (see website here). This candidate, and his party, are in line with Catholic social teaching on most social matters, especially the Pro-Life issue. However, the party falls short when it comes to Catholic teaching on economics. It's not far off, but in comparison to the Solidarity Party, this falls more in line with Evangelical thinking than Catholic thinking. Still a vote for the Constitution Party would be a step in the right direction and a morally acceptable choice.

The third is Tom Hoefling of America's Party (see website here). This candidate, and the party he represents, are both very similar to the Constitution Party with subtle differences, and represent an acceptable choice.

That's pretty much it folks. I have heard some people express interest in Gary Johnston of the Libertarian Party. Faithful Catholics should be aware that both Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party are essentially "Pro-Choice" on the issue of abortion. Granted, it is considerably less extreme than the Hillary Clinton and Democratic Party option, but Pro-Choice nonetheless. Catholics who claim they cannot vote for a major candidate (like Clinton or Trump) because of Catholic moral principles would be sacrificing those principles by voting for Gary Johnson and Libertarian.

So those are the only moral options left for Catholics. It's either going to have to be a vote for Donald Trump, or else a write in vote for Mike Maturen, or Darrell Castle, or Tom Hoefling. Anything else would be a vote in the wrong moral direction.



Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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