Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pope Francis and Universal Salvation

June 2013 FGO by Brother Jason Rhoad:

Now this is going to come as a shock to all of you, but a couple of weeks ago, the media misrepresented the Catholic Church. I know, I know, that never happens, so there must be some mistake. Let’s take a look at what happened. In his first few months on the job, Pope Francis has definitely demonstrated his own style. On some level, I almost feel a little sorry for our holy father. His immediate two predecessors are hard acts to follow, to say the least. Pope John Paul II is widely regarded as among the best philosophers to ever be Pope while Benedict the XVI has been described as maybe the best theologian to have ever ascended to the chair of Peter. Following that up is no easy task. But so far, Francis is more than holding his own, even if his style is certainly different. I saw a great picture on Facebook the other day that seemed to capture the essence of our last 3 pontiffs. It was a picture of all 3 men and under each was a caption. Under John Paul II it read, “This is what we believe”. Under Benedict XVI it said “This is why believe it”. Under Francis it said “Now go live it”.

So what happend? Well, as part of his own style, Pope  Francis offers off the cuff homilies during his daily masses in a small chapel at the Vatican. One of those homilies a couple of weeks ago made some headlines. The homily was inspired by a passage from the Gospel reading for that day. It was from Mark 9:38-40 where the disciples tell Jesus that they tried to stop someone from driving out demons because he was not one of them. Jesus rebukes them saying: There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

Here is an excerpt from that particular homily that caused the stir:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

This ended up drawing attention from a couple of different fronts. The Huffington Post (That bastion of trustworthy news), ran a headline that said, “Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics”. Their piece suggested that the Pope was teaching some form of universal salvation. He wasn’t. His setting was a short homily at a mass, reflecting on the readings for the day where he could reasonably assume his audience already knew at least a little something about Catholic teaching and theology. He was not in an academic setting where his purpose was to expound upon the theological depths of the Catholic Church’s teaching on salvation. He was making a much simpler point. Simply that we are all redeemed by Christ’s work on the cross. Redeemed doesn’t equal each individual accepting that salvific work. Just because we are all redeemed doesn’t mean we are all saved. But because of our redemption, we are all called (and via the available grace are able) to do good.

What is interesting is that the normal media outlets who are usually very quick to disagree with Church teaching, and who seemingly go out of their way make the Church look as if its teachings are so out of touch with modern times, etc. were now all of a sudden ready to embrace what they thought the holy father was saying. They would love nothing more than for the Pope to be a teacher of the brand of liberalism that they love so much. So when they think that the Pope is teaching that all people are saved, they like that and now all of a sudden this Pope guy is someone who should be listened to! I think that speaks to the fact that a longing for God is in all of us. Those of us who choose to have a relationship with God know this well. But even for those who do not, they still feel in the deepest recesses of their very being, that tugging toward something greater. Of course they do. That is what we are created for, union with God. We reject Him in many ways through sin as we fall for the lies of the enemy who tells us all these things will make us happy. But acceptance of Him and what He wants for us is the only thing that makes us truly happy, because it is what we are made for. So when people think they hear the leader of Christians on earth say that we will all be with God, it makes sense that they would want to latch on to that. But they would do well to scratch the surface a little to see more clearly the fullness of faith that this Pope represents.

I also saw criticism from the other side of the spectrum from those who were upset because they saw this is a smoking gun that proved the Catholic Church teaches a doctrine of works righteousness. That is that we can earn salvation by our works, apart from faith in Jesus. I don’t have space to go into it here, but they are equally wrong. The Church does not now, nor has it ever taught that we are saved by our works alone. Every person who goes to heaven does so because of the saving work of Christ on the cross. Without it, no one could enter the kingdom of heaven. But to whom much is given, much is required and Christ clearly asks more of us that just our faith alone.

Clearly any Pope is in a unique and difficult position. Every word they utter is scrutinized by more people in the world than any other public figure. Understandably they must be careful with how they present their thoughts. But perhaps this Pope is not nearly as concerned about that aspect of the job as maybe some of the rest of us are. After all, his predecessor was an absolute wordsmith. And more than that, he was a man who anticipated how his words would be responded to by others and therefore carefully selected them so as to be not misunderstood. Even so, the media never missed a chance to twist his words into something far away from their meaning (think Regensburg address). Seeing that, Francis may have made a conscious decision to spend less time worrying about being misrepresented and more time doing the work to which he was called. Let us too brothers, do the work to which we were called.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Man For All Seasons

An FGO from Bro. Jason Rhoad's personal archive:

This month, I’m going to do something a little different and discuss the life of one of the great saints of the Church. The saint who will serve as the topic of this month’s discussion is Saint Thomas More of England. Thomas More is one of my favorite saints and is the name sake of my youngest child. As we will see, More exhibited heroic virtue and ultimately died a martyr for his faith.

Thomas More is perhaps the most well-known of the English martyrs (of which there were quite a few). First, let’s get a little background on the English Reformation. The English Reformation was altogether different than what was going on around the same time on continental Europe, what we commonly refer to as the Protestant Reformation. On the continent, men like Marin Luther were launching a protest against the Church based on perceived abuses and corruption within the Church, as well as doctrinal differences they had with various teachings of the Church. When the King of England first got word of this, he was furious. Henry VIII was a proud Catholic and was greatly dismayed at the thought of heretics dividing the Church. In fact, he was so disturbed, he wrote an apologetic titled “In Defense of the Seven Sacraments” in direct opposition to what the Reformers were doing. It was so well done (Thomas More himself had much influence on this work), that the Pope at the time gave Henry the title “Defender of the Faith”.

So how then, did the English Reformation come about? Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon. She was Henry’s older brother’s widow. They were married for several years, but were never able to produce a male heir. This was near and dear to Henry, who desperately wanted a son to succeed him. Eventually Henry grew impatient and began to believe that God was punishing him for having taken his brother’s wife. In his mind, he rationalized that this was grounds for an annulment. This desire for an annulment was fueled by his taking to a lady in waiting, Ann Boleyn. As Henry grew more and more infatuated with Ann Boleyn, his desire to have his marriage annulled so that he could marry Ann became stronger and stronger. He petitioned Rome to have his marriage annulled. But Clement VII ruled that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was indeed valid and could not therefore grant a decree of nullity. This enraged Henry and he eventually declared that the Pope had no authority in the matter. He declared that he was the head of the Church in England, something that was his divine right as King, and that the Pope had no jurisdiction. In order to solidify his claim as head of the Church in England, he had Parliament pass a law that everyone in the Kingdom must take an oath that they acknowledged Henry the VIII as the supreme head of the Church in England. Here is where our hero comes in.

Thomas More was a great friend of the King. He served at court as the Lord Chancellor from 1529-1532. But as the King went down this road of rejecting papal authority, it was a place that More just couldn’t go. Initially More tried to quietly remove himself from the situation. He never publicly spoke against the King or his situation and wished to quietly disappear. He eventually was allowed to resign as Lord Chancellor, but Henry would not be satisfied until More took the oath. He believed that if others saw More, who was as important a figure in England as anyone, refuse to take the oath, that others may be emboldened to refuse also. More was eventually arrested for his lack of cooperation and placed in the famed tower of London to await trail. While in the tower, one of the King’s chief ministers, Thomas Cromwell, visited More many times, trying to convince him to take the oath. A scene from the Showtime series “The Tudors” depicted one of these visits. Seeing clearly that Cromwell was only serving his own interests, More reportedly told him, “The only difference between you and I is that I’ll die today, and you tomorrow.” While that may well be dramatic license on the part of the creators of the series, it speaks to what Thomas was about. He recognized that we would all meet our maker one day. Cromwell may indeed enjoy a few more years of worldly pleasure by being a scoundrel, but he too would ultimately have to answer to God. Thomas was reminding him that he would do so with a clear conscience.

More was eventually brought to trial. He valiantly defended himself, but as were many trials of the sort, the outcome was pre-determined. More was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Because of More’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge anyone other than the Pope as the supreme head of the Church, he wound up paying the ultimate price. The King ended up commuting More’s sentence to beheading. On the morning of his execution, it was reported that as he ascended the scaffold, the executioner was visibly upset. More was said to have comforted him and assured him of his and of God’s forgiveness. As was custom, the condemned was given the opportunity to offer a few last words. Thomas More spoke to the crowd saying, “Tell the King I died his good servant, but God’s first”.

The Church teaches, as did Jesus, that we are to be subject to lawful authority. We are to obey the laws by which we are governed. Thomas More reminds us though, that this principle does have limits. Whenever we are asked by our government to violate our conscience, we cannot comply. To do so would be a violation of God’s law, which always reigns supreme over man’s law. Whenever the two conflict, we must obey God, not man. This lesson that Thomas More teaches from 500 years ago proves to be timeless as it is applicable even in our own time with the recent attacks on religious liberty. “I died the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” May we all be able to say the same. St. Thomas More, martyr and patron of lawyers, civil servants, politicians, statesmen, and difficult marriages, pray for us.    

To learn more, read Supremacy and Survival, How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, by Stephanie Mann.

FGO 11 June 2013

Link to the audio of the FGO delivered on 11 June 2013 at Council 13112 at St. Mary's in Greenville SC.

Thursday, June 6, 2013