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August 21, 2015 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. What do you say to someone who tells you that Popes were appointed by emperors for a long time? How did the Church approve the appointment of a Pope by an emperor? — E.G., Florida.
A. The first thing we would say is, “So what? What point are you trying to make? Are you trying to say that the papacy was not established by Christ to govern His Church? But that’s not true. Are you trying to say that Popes do not have the authority to teach in the name of Christ? That’s not true either. Or are you trying to say that Popes put into office by secular rulers were not protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching error? That’s false as well. In other words, your statement is irrelevant.”
Second, we would suggest that this person take a look at the history of the Church. For example, James Hitchcock has pointed out in his History of the Catholic Church that Church and state were interconnected during much of the Church’s history. He said that “beginning in the mid-fifth century, the emperors were crowned by the patriarch, but it was the emperors who were responsible for preserving the integrity of the faith and who often regulated church life by their decrees. They had the authority to summon councils, as Constantine had done at Nicaea [in 325], but doctrinal issues had to be decided by the assembled bishops” (p. 188).
Hitchcock also described the dreadful condition of the papacy in the ninth and tenth centuries, “when it fell under the control of murderous factions. Some popes were notorious, and few could exercise even the least spiritual authority. Kings and emperors often treated the papacy as under their control, and popes in turn intrigued in secular politics” (p. 120).
He said that “the low point in the history of the entire papacy was reached in 897, when the body of Pope Formosus (891-896) was exhumed by orders of Pope Stephen VI (896-897), placed upon the papal throne in its vestments, formally ‘tried’ for violations of Church law, found guilty, stripped of its vestments, and desecrated. Stephen himself was strangled in prison later that year, and Formosus’ honor was restored” (pp. 120-121).
There were more “bad Popes” in the 15th century, for example, Sixtus IV (1471-1484) and Alexander VI (1492-1503), but the vast majority of the 265 Pontiffs have been men of great virtue and holiness, many of whom are venerated today as saints. The first 32, in fact, were martyred for their faith. In summary, said Patrick Madrid in his book Pope Fiction:
“There have been many kinds of men who have sat on the Chair of Peter. Many were saints, a few were wicked and scandalous, the great majority have been good and holy men. But all of them have been human and imperfect — men, but men protected by the Holy Spirit to carry out a pivotal mission in the life of His Church. Some did extremely well in fulfilling this mission, and others, just a few, failed miserably in their personal lives and as leaders, while never managing to breach that shield of grace that prevented them from leading the Church astray.
“And that is perhaps the single greatest proof of the divine origin of the papacy. If it were merely a human institution, as its critics and enemies will tell you, it would have collapsed in a heap long ago. You can be sure of that. If the papacy were just a ‘tradition of men,’ it would have disintegrated early on, under the sheer weight of human frailty. But it hasn’t, and it won’t. It can’t. Christ Himself has been ever faithful to His promise to Simon: ‘You are rock and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it’” (pp. 310-311).

Q. My daughter will be attending a wedding in which the bride, who was Catholic, will be marrying outside the Church. I asked a priest about attending the wedding, and he said it would injure relations with the family if I don’t attend. That’s all fine and well, but the down side is that an individual could lose her soul, and she is asking family members to attend an invalid wedding in the eyes of the Church, which I find more frustrating. I may be looking at this in the wrong way, but as I see it, we can insult our Lord but not family members.
I know I can’t tell my daughter not to go, as it is her husband’s cousin and the entire family is more or less rolling out the red carpet for her. What if they say that we don’t have to attend the wedding, but could we make the reception? That doesn’t make sense to me. I didn’t attend my son’s wedding when he got married outside the Church since I would be condoning a mortal sin. Help! — C.R., via e-mail.
A. Your decision not to attend your son’s wedding was difficult but correct, and your instincts about staying away from the upcoming wedding are also correct. There is something wrong with a scenario where those who abide by the teachings of Christ and His Church are the bad guys, while those who violate these teachings are the good guys. Didn’t Jesus say that if we are not with Him, we are against Him? Do you want to stand before the Lord on Judgment Day and try to justify your actions by saying that you didn’t want to injure relations in the family? Will He look favorably on your excuse that you didn’t go to the wedding, but only to the reception? Won’t your presence there still be condoning an immoral relationship? Won’t your actions speak louder than any words of disapproval?
Keeping peace in the family at the expense of following the Gospel is a false peace, one that will never compel the couple to come to grips with the danger of losing their eternal salvation. Our Lord spoke out against this kind of false peace when He said:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set/ a man ‘against his father,/ a daughter against her mother,/ and a daughter-in-law against her/ mother-in-law;/ and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’/ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:34-37).
Yes, this is a hard teaching, but it would be a disservice to faithful, and unfaithful, Catholics to water it down in order to avoid pain or hard feelings. Better pain and hard feelings now than for all eternity. The Church’s answer in these situations is to pray constantly for the invalidly married couple, keep the lines of communication open to them, and encourage them to have their invalid marriage blessed in the Church.

Q. A reader asked about a recommended payment of $10 for an offering to have a Mass said for a deceased person. This seems entirely contrary to Mark 12:42, which makes it clear that alms are relative to the wealth of the giver. Alms are best prayed for and, in so doing, one does not anticipate the generosity of God. — G.R., via e-mail.
A. The citation from Mark’s Gospel refers to the poor widow who gave her last two cents to the Temple treasury, while many rich people put in much larger sums. Commenting on this to His disciples, Jesus said: “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
We don’t think that the Gospel story is relevant to present-day offerings for memorial Masses. Jesus was praising the woman for giving to God everything she had, which was hardly noticed by the bystanders, while some of them were undoubtedly impressed by the apparent show of generosity by those who had more wealth than they knew what to do with. The rich were seeking the praise of the onlookers, while the poor woman was seeking only to please God.
This is not related to those who make offerings for Masses for deceased relatives and friends. These folks are performing a work of mercy for the deceased, and they are giving support to their local parish, both praiseworthy things to do. No one, except the priest or the parish secretary, knows the amount of these offerings, so the person making them is not seeking the applause of fellow parishioners. And who knows whether the Mass offerings come from a person’s surplus wealth, or whether they are truly sacrificial donations? In either case, they are not what Jesus was talking about.

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