Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and as I had announced last week I would like to talk about various aspects of the Holy Eucharist during this month of April. The thought that came to my mind today in light of this feast is that, at the Consecration of the Mass, the Good Shepherd again and again lays down His life for His sheep. Make no mistake: that is what really happens in every Mass offered. St. Paul declares, speaking of the Holy Eucharist, that as often as we partake of it, we “proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). That has always been the doctrine of the Church on the Mass. It is a spiritual banquet, but in the full sense of the word it is the death of Christ on the Cross, mystically renewed. It is the same Sacrifice that was offered on Calvary, just in a different manner.
It is true that the Body, Blood and Soul of Christ could never again be separated once He gloriously rose from the dead. We see, however, a kind of separation in the Mass, because there are the separate Consecrations of the bread and of the wine. In Holy Communion you receive Christ whole and entire, even though you receive only the Host, but the two separate Consecrations show that mystical death of Our Lord on the Cross.
I want to talk some philosophy here, and tell you about substance and accidents. We’ll take an apple as our example. A philosopher would look at an apple and say, “We have its substance and its accidents.” The substance is the apple itself. The accidents are its redness, its shape, its texture, its weight. These qualities, or accidents, cannot exist by themselves. We don’t see redness floating around; it has to exist in a substance. A philosopher is able — for that matter, all of us are able, because we are all philosophers to some degree — to divide things in the mind that can’t be divided in physical reality. So, although we separate redness from an apple in our minds, it will never happen physically. That’s the way it is with everything in the physical universe, the Holy Eucharist being the sole exception.
In the Mass there is the bread and wine — the substance of bread, which is the bread itself, and the substance of wine, which is the wine itself. The bread has the accidents of color, taste, shape, weight, whatever else is apparent to the senses. The wine looks like wine, smells like wine, tastes like wine. What happens in the Mass is that the substance of bread and wine disappears, and the accidents of bread and wine continue to exist without their substance. Or, we could say that these accidents of bread and wine are now attached to a new Substance, which is Christ Himself. That is the miracle God works at every Mass, through the instrumentality of the priest.
One of the most inspiring things I have seen on the Mass, particularly in regards to the Consecration, was from that beautiful video Heart of a Priest. It’s about a priest jailed in Communist China in 1956. The beauty of the story is that he realizes that friends back home had smuggled wine and hosts in to him, and after years of not being able to say Mass because of his captivity, he offers Mass in that cold, dreary cell. The same Mass took place there that is offered in the most beautiful church in the world where the true Mass is said, and it is the same thing that happened on Calvary. It’s wonderful how in this filmstrip (put into video format) these are juxtaposed. It shows the prison cell, a beautiful church, and finally it shows Our Lord hanging on the Cross. That is the reality of the Mass, my dear brethren, and you and I are lucky enough to be here for it.
I was inspired by some other things from that presentation. One of them was a phrase used by the narrator to describe the moment of Consecration: “Time stops.” He doesn’t explain why he says that, but I’m guessing that because the Mass is the same Sacrifice that Christ offered on the Cross, it’s as though all of a sudden two thousand years have disappeared — they’re gone! Because Calvary and the Mass are the same Sacrifice, and God sees all things in the ever-present, eternal now — in that sense, time stops at the Consecration of every Mass.
Another inspiring part of the filmstrip was in the beginning of it, where the priest is yearning to say the Mass. He looks down at his hands, which at times had been in chains, and he asks in anguish, “Will they ever again hold the Host and the Chalice?” They would, and they did, in that very prison cell. After he was released, he told the rest of the world this beautiful story. Father John Houle, S.J. was his name.
Something this holy and this great, then, my dear brethren, demands holiness in the priest. Very clearly, unworthy hands should never offer the Sacrifice. This is what seminary training is all about — not just to produce a young man who has a lot of knowledge about philosophy and theology, but most of all to produce a man who is very serious about trying to be holy, because it is his primary function to do the holiest thing in the world, which is to bring God from Heaven down upon the altar.
The priest’s path to holiness very much involves his celibacy. His celibacy is a very good thing. He gives up the good of marriage, the human companionship of it, so that he can give himself more fully to God. Indeed, isn’t that what St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians? He says that the married person’s heart is divided (I Cor. 7:33). He doesn’t say that as a bad thing, of course. How could marriage be a bad thing when Christ ennobled it by making it a sacrament? But he is saying that the reality of it is that one cannot give himself as fully to God because one is trying to please his spouse as well as God. The virgin doesn’t have that difficulty. The virgin, by being unmarried “for the sake of the kingdom” (Matt. 19:12), can give himself or herself more fully to God. It is a means to an end, a very important means to an end.
It is true that in the early Church many priests and bishops were married. But the Church quickly discovered how exclusionary these two vocations were. Just from a practical viewpoint, how many of us would try to live two vocations at the same time? There is too much to do! And so, in certain localities in the early Church celibacy was instituted as a mandatory requirement for the priesthood, and then, after some centuries, it became a universal requirement in the Roman Rite — a very common sense, necessary requirement.
In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, married men are permitted to become priests, but these represent a very small percentage of the total number of Catholic priests in the world. As rich and as dignified a culture and history as the Eastern rites have, they are a small minority (less than 3% of the world Catholic population, according to pre-Vatican II National Catholic Almanac statistics). What is permitted to them, because of cultural and historical factors, is not thereby automatically for the betterment of the entire Church. Therefore, proponents of a married clergy in the Western rites of the Church (the Roman rite being the overwhelmingly predominant one) cannot find an argument here.
Even in the Eastern rites, a priest is forbidden to marry again if his wife were to die. Only before ordination is he allowed to be married; if his wife passes away, then no subsequent marriage whatsoever is permitted to him. For bishops, marriage is never permitted. We see then, even in the Eastern rites there is that understanding that these tend to exclude one another. They are very different paths of life and, practically speaking, it is near-impossible for one man to accomplish both of them.
I mention all these things about priestly celibacy because of something that has to be addressed. The media has been reporting almost every single day on scandals among priests. It is incredibly sad to read about priests who have committed the unthinkable — the sexual abuse of children. It is so sad, so tragic. What is also sad is the falsehood often uttered that celibacy was the cause of this crime of sexual abuse and therefore it should be abolished as a requirement for the priesthood. This is, as I will show you today, a fallacy. It’s what we would call the fallacy of false cause.
The real cause, as we shall see, is directly traceable to the disastrous changes that have happened in the Church and in society since the 60’s. When we examine the case histories of abusive priests, we find that, for the most part, they committed their crimes in that era and in subsequent years. I’m not standing here to condemn individuals in particular, but to condemn the crime and to make it very clear that the Catholic Church is not wrong in its requirement of priestly celibacy.
Rather than quote from religious sources, I’m going to quote from two secular writers. One is George Neumayr, who was recently a media fellow at the Hoover Institution, and the other one is a writer from England, Stuart Reid. Their articles tell something very different from what is heard from most other quarters.
Neumayr’s article is titled, “Liberal Catholicism’s Just Deserts,” and was posted on the Internet on March 1, 2002 (you can read his article at www.theamericanprowler.org/article.asp?art_id=2002_2_28_21_58_37):
“The very liberals who wanted the sexual revolution to enter the Catholic Church are suddenly shocked at its effects on the priesthood.
“After Vatican II the American Catholic Church very stupidly took the advice of the secular culture and adopted a permissive attitude. ‘Loosen up,’ ‘Don’t be judgmental,’ ‘Accept nontraditional types into the priesthood,’ is what the secular culture outside and inside the Church told the American bishops — and they did.
“Seminaries soon became havens for sexual oddballs. Conservative Catholics predicted that this collapse in seminary admission standards would lead to tragedy, but liberal Catholics, — heady with the “fresh air” in the Church and scoffing at the old morality — dismissed these traditionalists as cranks out of touch with the Zeitgeist.
“True, the introduction of moral liberalism into the American Catholic Church is not the only cause of the pedophilia problem in the Church. Man’s power to choose evil freely is the primary explanation for scandal. But moral liberalism — which tends to rationalize and even sanctify the effects of original sin — abets the spread of sexual sin in the Church.”
Neumayr then goes on to explain what the repentant psychologist William Coulson said about the sensitivity training he inflicted on priests and religious after Vatican II. His theories ended up, Coulson says, making “priests and nuns feel good about being bad.” Morality was no longer to be measured by any objective standard, and hence there was no need to follow the unchanging teachings of the Church on chastity and the sanctity of marriage. Any clear-thinking individual can plainly see where this would lead....
To continue with Neumayr’s account:
“But the liberal culture in the American Catholic Church — aping the moral collapse in the secular order — did not reject those theories [of Coulson and of his mentor Carl Rogers]. The bishops continued to accept deviants into the seminaries, telling appalled conservative Catholics that God wants the church to use ‘broken people’ as instruments.
“Now the church is paying for its betrayal of Catholic tradition. The remedy to its problems is to recover that tradition, not further weaken it.
“But that is precisely what the liberal elite — with crocodile tears blurring their vision — are demanding of the Church. They call on the Church not to enforce the priestly vow of chastity with pre-Vatican II gravity, of course, but to abolish it.
“‘Celibacy is an onerous burden that can easily distort a person’s psyche,’ says writer Andrew Sullivan in Time magazine. No, it is sexual immorality that distorts psyches. The pedophiles who enter the priesthood weren’t celibate before ordination or afterwards.
“Sullivan says, ‘Many conflicted men gravitate to the priesthood precisely because it promises to put a straight jacket on their compulsions and confusions.’ No, they gravitated to the post-60’s priesthood because the newly-liberated Church wouldn’t put any straight jacket on their compulsions. Cultural deviants flocked to orders because the American Church’s new ‘enlightened’ ethos was forgiving towards sexual irregularity.”
Sullivan then asks how a Church that preaches against the sins of the flesh can “tolerate, ignore or cover up the sexual abuse of children by its own priests?” Neumayr’s answer is perfect: “Very easily: It hasn’t preached the impermissibility [of such sins] for decades. Rather, it largely accepted the anything-goes sexual revolution and is now facing the consequences of that corruption.”
I realize that this is just Neumayr’s opinion, but I think it is a well-founded one. It helps us to better realize why the Catholic Church has prescribed certain things in the past. It is with grave peril that traditional teachings and practices are ignored!
The next article gets to the point even more directly. This extract is from “Altar Boys Are Paying the Price of Vatican II,” by Stewart Reid of England (www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion of April 12, 2002).
“There is a very serious problem in the Catholic Church, but let’s be clear what the problem is not. It is not, as so many believe, the rule of celibacy... If you want proof that celibacy is not the cause of child molestation or promiscuous homosexuality, look at the Church of England, or visit your nearest internet paedophile circle. The truth is that celibacy is the only hope that paedophiles — and their potential victims — have.
“The real problem is the legacy of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). It is no coincidence, as the Marxists say, that the revolutionary ‘spirit’ of Vatican II began to kick in at about the same time much of the abuse began.
“By opening itself up to the world — the aim of Vatican II — the Church hoped to foster a renewal of spiritual life. The renewal never materialized. On the contrary, pews emptied, seminaries and schools closed, annulments soared (in America, from 338 a year in 1968, to 52,000 in 1983). Nuns started reading Germaine Greer and priests left to get married (giving greater scope to the non-marrying kind).
“What followed the Council was decline: moral, intellectual, cultural and spiritual. It spread far beyond the Church. By ditching its ancient Latin Mass, the Mass of Bach, Beethoven and Palestrina, in favor of a participatory vernacular service of praise and thanksgiving, Rome committed an act of vandalism just as surely as it would if it had ordered the destruction of all the great cathedrals of Europe.
“As it is, huge sums of money, perhaps not as many as have been shelled out to the victims of abuse, have been spent on smashing altars, ripping out communion rails, and generally trashing sanctuaries to make room for the new man-centered liturgy. It is as though Rome had been seized by a frenzied hatred of beauty. No wonder the churches are empty; no wonder the culture of the bathhouse and the internet chat room has such a secure footing in the Catholic — and for that matter the secular — world.”
There is more that I could read, but I think the point has been made. I think we need to count our blessings here, my dear brethren, realizing that it is a grace to understand that the traditional Catholic Church is the sure path that we need to be on. Sometimes we may not understand all the Church’s teachings and may wonder why it does things a certain way, but believe me, every directive that the Church has ever given to us over the centuries is for one reason only: to help us to get to Heaven.
The lesson we can all personally learn from this is the enormous danger of moral relativism. I was speaking with one of the gentlemen of the parish this past week, and he said something that made more and more sense as I thought about it. He said, “The devil wants to attack our morals more than our faith.” Why? Because convictions are pretty steady in our minds, and so he won’t directly attack them. But he knows that if he can get our morals to become relative, not only will we be on the path to losing them, we will lose our faith as well. Moral relativism translates into dogmatic relativism as well.
It’s one thing, in other words, if a person sins, recognizes his sin and resolves to avoid it, along with the occasion of sin. He or she then goes to confession and starts on the right path again. But it’s an entirely different matter if someone says, “Oh, don’t worry about being in an occasion of sin! Don’t worry about putting yourself into spiritual danger!” That is sheer moral relativism, and it can only end up disastrously. It already is a disaster at this point.
Our safety, then, our peace, our security, as we walk the path to Heaven is to pay careful notice to what the Church teaches us in all matters of faith and morals. That is our path to Heaven.
More than anything else, I beg your prayers on this Good Shepherd Sunday, my dear parishioners, for your bishops, for your priests. Bishops especially, and priests in a lesser degree, are called to be good shepherds, and they need your prayers. Your good example, your daily efforts to live up to your obligations, encourages them. They are human too. The devil tries to attack their morals, probably even more than he tries to attack yours.
It’s a given fact that in our society there is a great assault on chastity, on the sanctity of marriage, and on right moral living. Don’t let that assault overcome you, and pray that it does not overcome any of our number. Be strong in the Faith. Have your mind clear: I am going to follow what Jesus teaches me in Holy Scripture and through the Church.
As I said, pray for your priests. Pray that they appreciate what they have, for they are the most blessed people on the earth to be able to offer the Mass and to have the role that God has given them. We priests thank you for your prayers.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.