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The Final Confrontation

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2015/08/21 at 12:00 AM

The Final Confrontation

by Father John McCloskey

We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel.
We must be prepared to undergo great trials in the not-too-distant future; trials that will require us to be ready to give up even our lives, and a total gift of self to Christ and for Christ. Through your prayers and mine, it is possible to alleviate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it. . . .How many times has the renewal of the Church been brought about in blood! It will not be different this time.
– Bicentennial talk given in the United States by the future St. John Paul II, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Kraków, Poland
My eyes almost popped out when I first read this. I could not believe it was authentic, but I have checked it repeatedly and yes, he did say it. And he said it to us Americans, who were at perhaps the apogee of our greatness, short of the fall of the “Evil Empire.”

Well, how seriously should we take this? Very, very seriously. After all, the speaker was about to become one of the greatest popes in the history of the Church. In addition, he was a mystic and, yes, a prophet and truth-teller who suffered under Nazism and communism, as well as in a certain sense also from Islam. (Recall that he was almost killed by a Muslim assassin, only to be saved by the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, according to his own words.)

Let me be clear: my musings on the words of John Paul are not meant to encourage you to sell your property, close the bank account, build a bomb shelter, and await the rapture. That is not the Catholic thing to do. But it’s hard not to “ponder these things in [our] hearts.” What exactly did the pope see or have revealed to him? Perhaps the best place to seek the answer is his writings, although we lack space to comb through them all here.

We can also look around us at the remains of what was once called the Christian West, noting a host of behaviors and beliefs that seem custom-made to initiate and accelerate decline. For example, we find in the West depopulation, legal abortion, open homosexuality and same-sex “marriage,” epidemic levels of pornography use, declining marriage rates, and rising cohabitation rates.

Politically, even supposedly tolerant and democratic states like our own are beginning to deny the religious liberty rights of families, businesses, and churches. In addition, we observe growing centralization of power in the hands of those unfavorable to any faith except the idolatry of health, wealth, and technology. They place their long-term hope in the possibility that science may one day arrest death. They watched too many Star Trek and Star Wars movies as children. Unfortunately, they may well go where many men have gone before – and not simply into outer space.

This, surely, is the Anti-Church that St John Paul foresaw – in any event it is here, it is growing, and to a great extent it has already demolished Europe.

What are we to do? First, of course, do not despair. As Catholics we live this life looking forward to the next. We can’t lose, for as St. Paul put it, for us death is gain, not something to fear.

How then to confront and combat the Anti-Church? Imitate the lives of the first Christians! Consider this justly famous description of Christians in the anonymous “Letter to Diognetus,” written in 79 A.D.:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. . . .They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. (2 Corinthians 10:3) They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. (Philippians 3:20) They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. . .they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; (2 Corinthians 4:12) they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers.
If we live as the first Christians did, we too can confront and triumph over the Church of the evil Global Empires.

First appeared on The Catholic Thing in June, 2014.

Marriage: Where Do We Go From Here?

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2015/05/29 at 12:00 AM

MARRIAGE: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

With D.C.’s March for Marriage drawing near, this is a good moment to take a look at how we Catholics—laypeople, priests, and bishops—can better prepare couples for this holy Sacrament, which was blessed in a special way by the first miracle of Our Lord at Cana at His Mother’s request. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear that “the matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble. God himself has determined it “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (no. 1614). Of course, this teaching cannot be changed. It is divine revelation expressed in the words of Jesus Himself and is the infallible teaching of the Church. So where to go from here?

The answer is simple, but challenging, both to the hierarchy and the Church faithful. However, if the first Christians could do it over the course of the decline of the Evil Empire, so can we with the help of the Holy Spirit; so can we, and even quicker with the help of prayer and sacrifice, and the generosity of married couples and their plenteous offspring.

With fertility rates in much of the so-called developed world sinking below replacement level, and showing precipitous declines even in most of the developing world, it is clear that world population is positioned to fall, perhaps by the end of this century. This decline of course tracks with the introduction of artificial contraception and the heinous crime of legalized abortion. The growing number of jurisdictions (with Quebec the most recent) that have legalized euthanasia have not yet added multitudes to the death toll. But as nations face the economic consequences of the inverted human pyramid that their contraceptive practices produce—with fewer productive workers left to provide for an elderly population that outnumbers them—we can expect national health policies more and more to encourage such killings, willing or not.

CONTINUE READING…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/marriage.html

Heart-to-Heart Preaching

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2015/05/22 at 12:00 AM

HEART-TO-HEART PREACHING:
BLESSED JOHN HENRY CARDINAL NEWMAN IN THE PULPIT

(Presented in Spring 2013 at the Seminar for Priests in Pembroke, MA.)

Dear Priest Friends and Brothers, …

For a minute let’s imagine what Bl. John Henry would have thought if he were moved in a H.G. Wells time machine from the church of the Brompton Oratory to a typical Catholic parish in the U.S. in the year 1975. There he would encounter 10-minute amplified homilies (what is that?), talking in Church, applause, and guitar masses with their childish tunes and saccharine lyrics. He would see the priest assuming the role of emcee, facing the people, adding his own words to the Canon of the Mass, and venturing out from the altar into the congregation, possibly dressed as a clown, to shake hands. And the list goes on.

It is all too painful to contemplate, and at this juncture almost difficult to believe that most of us lived through it. Happily John Henry did not witness this, or perhaps he would have apostatized back to the Anglican Community he had left in 1846.

Newman was quite possibly the greatest Catholic preacher in English in the history of the Church up to this day. In my opinion he achieves this ranking not only because of the effect his preaching had on congregations (and readers of his sermons) in his own time, but also because of his enormous influence on the other great preachers we are examining in this seminar, i.e., Msgr. Ronald Knox and Venerable Fulton Sheen. These men were great preachers, but with all their talents and all their particular gifts, there is in their own preaching perhaps something somewhat derivative of Newman’s writing and his sermons, which they had undoubtedly read and, consciously or not, allowed to play at least a role in their own writing’s content and style.

As you may know, when Blessed John Henry at long last became a Cardinal, he chose as his motto or seal “Cor ad cor loquitur” (“Heart speaks to heart”), appropriated from St. Francis de Sales, who easily could have been included in our seminar as a great preacher if we had had the time.

CONTINUE READING…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/heart-to-heart-preaching.html

St. John Paul the Great: How Pope John Paul II lived and helped others live the new evangelization

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2015/03/20 at 12:00 AM

In 1978, I arrived in Rome as a new seminarian, after six years as a Wall Street stockbroker. Talk about a life changer!

Ten weeks after my arrival, I found myself in St. Peter’s Basilica, along with thousands of other people attending the installation of the now-St. John Paul (dare I add “the Great”?) as our new Roman pontiff.

At that moment, my life and that of the world changed forever. Though we did not yet know it, the New Evangelization had begun, ushered in by a pope from a faraway country. Its high point under his stewardship was probably the celebration in 2000 of the closing of the second millennium of Christianity and the opening of the third — an event that, in his fearless way, he described as Crossing the Threshold of Hope.

John Paul (a man in full!) lived out his entire life as a priest, bishop, cardinal and pope through a “sincere gift of self,” made not once, but renewed day by day, moment by moment. He laid down his life for others right up to his last breath.

Who can doubt, then, that, from the realms of glory, he is now helping all who need help (and who does not?) when we ask his intercession in prayer.

To understand him better, you might consider reading or re-reading George Weigel’s magisterial biography or one of the many books of reminiscences by those who were closest to him in his long life.

Perhaps John Paul’s greatest work was to correctly define the meaning of the Second Vatican Council after several decades of contentious confusion. Being granted one of the longest pontificates in history gave the Holy Father the opportunity, through his writing and teaching, to make clear the Council’s emphasis on the universal call to holiness of all the faithful and their obligation to share their faith not only by example, but by word — in the workplace, among family and friends and in society.

CONTINUE READING…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/john-paul-the-great.html

Station Churches of Rome

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2015/02/20 at 12:00 AM

STATION CHURCHES OF ROME
by George and Stephen Weigel with Rome Elizabeth Lev – published by Basic Books, 2014

The distinguished team of papal biographer George Weigel, his photographer-son Stephen (who handles the illustrations), and well-known art and architecture historian, professor, author, and tour guide resident in Rome Elizabeth Lev have collaborated to produce The Station Churches of Rome (published by Basic Books, 400 pages with dozens of color illustrations).

At first glance this work might be dismissed as yet another expensive coffee table book, but it is much more. Indeed it could variously be classified under the headings of Church history, architecture, archaeology, liturgy, art, tour guide, or spiritual reading. Let’s just say that this is a magnificent book about religion and in particular about a religious practice—pilgrimage—that predates both Rome and Christianity. In particular, the book chronicles an ancient Roman pilgrimage to the Station Churches during the connected liturgical Seasons of Lent and Easter.

Christians adopted the practice of pilgrimage from their spiritual forbears, the ancient Israelites, when Christianity ceased to be a persecuted Church of the catacombs after Constantine’s Edict of Milan brought her out from illegality and persecution. This particular pilgrimage has experienced a revival in recent years, particularly with the beginning of the new millennium in 2000 that was so gloriously celebrated in the lands of Christianity and especially in Rome. The timing argues that at least part of the credit should go to the influence of our newly canonized St. John Paul the II, who was surely the greatest pilgrim in history. His frequent flyer miles alone would have brought him to heaven regardless of his sanctity.

John Paul explained the dynamic of pilgrimage in his own words in 1999 in his letter on pilgrimage:

CONTINUE READING…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/station-churches-of-rome.html

Hope for the Gospel of Life in America

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2014/12/05 at 12:00 AM

by Father John McCloskey

The Holy See is celebrating Blessed John Paul’s landmark encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) June 15-16. Issued in 1995 and dated March 25 to coincide with the Feast of the Annunciation, The Gospel of Life is considered by many to be the best of an impressive set of 16 encyclical letters from his papacy, and perhaps his most heartfelt.

It makes sense—does it not?—when we consider his own life experiences in twentieth-century Europe. His father had fought in a senseless world war that produced tens of millions of casualties. Besides toppling the Czar and establishing atheistic communism in Russia, that war set the scene for an even bloodier one a mere 20 years later, which mowed down millions throughout the world.

This brings us to consider what progress, if any, our own country has made in creating or recovering a “Culture of Life” since Blessed John Paul issued his encyclical. After all, the pope himself identified a “conspiracy against life” involving government, international organizations, and the mass media—and we know from our own experience that the mass media spare few opportunities to depict pro-life people as enemies of freedom and progress.

Please don’t shoot the messenger of bad news, but I have to be honest with my opinion about the successful spread (or lack thereof) of the Gospel of Life in the United States. Since the introduction of “the Pill” (read Mary Eberstadt’s recent book on the subject) around 1960, the United States has been in an ongoing free-fall as regards the inviolability and dignity of the human person, with no sign of turn-around in the near future.

To quote from Pope John Paul II: “the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man [is] the eclipse of the sense of God and of man.” This results in “a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism, and hedonism.” Quality of life is seen purely as material well-being (consumerism, pleasure, etc.), with no spiritual or religious dimension. Suffering must be avoided at all costs. People are considered not for what they “are” but for what they “have” or “produce.” The first victims of this materialistic mentality “are women, children, the sick or suffering, and the elderly.”

Face it folks, the United States is no longer a Christian country.

We already have the most liberal abortion laws in the world, responsible (at a minimum) for tens of millions of deaths, with the morning-after pill now available at your local pharmacy for teenage girls and younger. Pope John Paul II was a prophet, but even he might have been startled by the pace at which we are embracing the culture of death in all forms.

Pornography is the most profitable and watched form of “entertainment.” Marriage is being redefined not as a covenant between man and wife, with one of its purposes being the procreation of children, but as more or less whatever one wants it to be: men contracted to men, women to women, and maybe bestiality down the road. I shudder to think of where it may all end, especially when our collapsing population is already at the lowest rate in American history. And who can disingenuously doubt that universal euthanasia for the incurable will become common with the help of our new “health” plan?

But wait—is there hope? Yes, even though God only promised a rose garden to Adam and Eve (and they blew it, as we well know, seeing that we still suffer the consequences). However, we have the promise that someday, after the final judgment, we will inhabit a new heaven and a new earth with the company of the Holy Trinity, Our Lady, and all the saints.

I look forward to it, but in the meantime we have work to do. The future is always bright for faithful Catholics, and it is an honor and a privilege to be foot soldiers in the Battle for Life in this country. All is not lost for us and our country, since HE is on our side.

Blessed Pope John Paul the Great (who we may piously hope may be proclaimed a saint before the year is out!) has told us what to do. The question to ask ourselves is: Are we doing what he told us—with faith, hope, and charity, and without faltering?

Let’s turn again to the lessons of the encyclical: “We need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook,” developing a habit of prayer linking ourselves with God. Then comes action, “our support and promotion of human life” by “personal witness, various forms of volunteer work, social activity and political commitment.”

The “structure of sin” that threatens human life must be dismantled. We must commit ourselves to changing unjust laws that permit violence against life. Such laws are not inevitable (look at what some governors are doing in states like Gov. Sam Brownback’s Kansas). Finally, we must raise our children as Christians. The witness of Christian families is vitally important in building a new Culture of Life.

First appeared on Truth and Charity Forum, June 2013.

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Belloc, Benson and Knox: three renowned Catholic writers

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2014/11/07 at 12:00 AM

Excerpted from a book review by Fr. McCloskey

Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) is another member of a group of important Catholic writers from the first half of the twentieth century. In his case, though, his premature death in his early forties meant that he has never become as well known as some of his more famous contemporaries, such as Msgr. Ronald Knox, Hilaire Belloc, and G. K. Chesterton.

He is best known for his novels but in his time he was also a sought-after preacher.

Like Ronald Knox he was the son of an Anglican bishop, but in his case he managed to go one better in that his father was actually the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward Benson. His autobiography, Confessions of a Convert, which was originally published as a series of articles between 1906 and 1907 in the American Catholic magazine, “Ave Maria,” details his gradual progress into the Catholic Church.

Again, like Ronald Knox he went to Eton, but here too the conventional tenets and practices of the Established Church made little real impression on him. It was only after leaving Eton, and before going to Cambridge University, that he had what he describes as his first touch of “personal religion.” This came about through his fascination with the music and worship at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

But once he went to Cambridge he slipped back into indecision about spiritual matters. Despite this he decided to follow the “family profession” and become an Anglican clergyman; at this time, like many Protestants, he still harbored a deep suspicion of the Catholic Church. Thus his father ordained him in 1895.

Following his father’s death shortly after, though, he began to look at Catholicism more closely, especially after some time spent abroad in the Middle East; he came to realize just how small the Anglican communion was in relation to Christendom as a whole. Nevertheless, he joined an Anglican religious community, hoping this would calm his troubled mind, which for a time was the case, being professed in July 1901.

However, his worries and doubts resurfaced in 1902, as he weighed up the conflicting claims of Anglicanism and Catholicism. He discovered that this was an impossible task for him on an intellectual level, since he felt incompetent to decide which set of theological “experts” he should believe.

This led him on to the extremely important point that the true Church should be discoverable by everyone, even the not-so-clever, and that humility and singleness of motive were the most important elements in this search, an idea Benson was to stress in his book The Religion of the Plain Man. Catholic writers, and particularly Cardinal Newman, also influenced him in his famous Development of Doctrine.

It was principally by a study of Catholic claims in the light of the New Testament, though, that he came into the Church, being received by Fr. Reginald Buckler, OPo.p., in September 1903, the first son of an Anglican archbishop to become a Catholic in three hundred years, an event which was, naturally enough, something of a sensation. Shortly after this he went to study in Rome for the priesthood, being ordained there in June 1904.

He had already begun to write before this, but from this time on his literary career blossomed. He began to produce historical novels such as By What Authority? (1904) and The King’s Achievement (1905), in which the religious controversies of the Reformation period were explored. He eventually wrote twenty-seven books, of which seventeen were novels.

Up until 1908 he worked among the students at Cambridge, but then obtained permission to retire from pastoral work to concentrate on writing and preaching, tasks which fully occupied him for the remaining six years of his life. He was enormously popular as a preacher, giving Lenten sermons in alternate years in Rome and the United States, sermons that were responsible for many conversions.

The year 1907 saw the publication of one of his most famous novels, the futuristic Lord of the World. This was set around the year 2000 and is uncomfortably prophetic in describing some modern aspects of Church life, such as the diminishing of faith under the assaults of materialism, as well as developments including aircraft and euthanasia.

This novel was regarded as too pessimistic by some, and as a response, Msgr. Benson wrote The Dawn of All in 1911, a book in which the Church is seen as ultimately victorious. He also produced further historical novels including Come Rack! Come Rope! (1912), a romance set in the time of Elizabeth I and the English Catholic martyrs.

During the last few years of his life Msgr. Benson produced more modern works, most of which explore the problems involved in living up to the practices of Catholicism and the general search for truth in a sinful world.

He was appointed a monsignor by Pope Pius X, and died in 1914 due to heart problems brought on by overwork and pneumonia, being buried in the grounds of his home, Hare Street House, at Buntingford, near London. In his will he bequeathed it to the Archbishop of Westminster as a retreat.

©CatholiCity Service http://www.catholicity.com  Re-published with permission.

Help Wanted: Spiritual Direction

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2014/08/15 at 12:00 AM

The only question truly worth asking is that of the rich young man of the Gospel: “What must I do to gain eternal life?” This question naturally leads to others, such as “How can I achieve holiness in this life?” or “What is God’s will for me?” God answers these questions for us in many ways.

Simply following the Ten Commandments is a good start, as Jesus himself advised the rich young man. We can also look to God’s Revelation to us through Sacred Scripture and Tradition – the guidance of the Church through its teaching authority and sacraments. We can then consider our present state in life and our past life experiences for good clues as to what God wants for us in any present moment.

Beyond these useful strategies, however, the best way for Catholics to find trustworthy answers to the crucial questions is to have a spiritual director. As Saint Josemaria Escriva put it, “You wouldn’t think of building a good house to live in here on earth without an architect. How can you ever hope, without a director, to build the castle of your sanctification in order to live forever in heaven?” This is true for everybody, whether simple or uneducated, or complacently successful.

During his pontificate, Benedict XVI several times urged faithful Catholics who desired to pursue holiness and grow closer to God to make use of a spiritual director: “We always need a guide, dialogue, to go to the Lord… We cannot do it with our reflections alone. And this is also the meaning of the ecclesiality of our faith, of finding this guide.” By this means, he explained, we can avoid being limited by our own subjectivist interpretations of God and what he might be calling us to do, as well as benefiting from our guide’s “own supply of knowledge and experiences in following Jesus.”

Continue reading…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/help-wanted.html

Renewal: How the New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Is Revitalizing the Catholic Church

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2014/07/04 at 12:00 AM

 

Anne Hendershott and Christopher White’s new book, “Renewal: How the New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Is Revitalizing the Catholic Church,” delivers much more than even its title promises.

It may in fact deliver too much, in that excessive space is devoted to acquainting or reacquainting the reader with the names and stories of a multitude of bishops, priests, religious and academics — stories that include accounts of failings that I do not doubt are true but are not necessary.

Much more to the point is the book’s quotation from St. John Paul II on “the problem of democratization and the blurring of the distinction between the ordained and the non-ordained” from way back in 1987, when he was speaking on American soil: Discussing “… the danger of confusing the role of the clergy with that of the laity, the pope spoke supportively of the lay participation in parish life but warned [that by] ’empowering the laity in ministry, we run the risk of clericalizing the laity and laicizing the clergy.'”

Here, I think the authors “get it,” by using the pope’s words to convey that clericalism, whether exhibited by bishops, priests or laity, “must be changed so that the New Evangelization can be actualized, so the promise of the Council and the extraordinary run of holy and learned popes’ wishes are finally fulfilled.”

As for that good news, as the authors do a nice job of documenting, vocations of priests and faithful religious are booming, and their average age is lowering.

In addition, we should remember the crucial importance of the laity to the vocation crisis: The good example of faithful Catholic families is the most effective way to ensure a growing number of such vocations to the priesthood and religious life, not to mention raising up a new generation of laypeople living faithfully in the middle of the modern world.

American Women and the Culture Wars

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2014/05/16 at 12:00 AM

The twenty fifth anniversary of the Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of women (Mulieris Dignitatem) is upon us. The apostolic letter was given in Rome on August at St. Peter’s on August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the year 1988, the tenth of the reign of the soon-to-be Saint Pope John Paul II — and what a document it remains!

I have been asked to write a few words on the letter to see if anything has changed vis-à-vis Catholic women in the Church’s teaching on women and their role as a result of the past 25 years and as a result of the document. I will only attempt to speak about the United States, even though I have traveled to a good number of at least nominally Catholic countries since the apostolic letter was published.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the teaching of Blessed John Paul’s letter.

We are told in Genesis 1:27 that God created man in His own image—and that He created them male and female. As Pope John Paul II put it, “This passage indicates that men and women are essentially equal from the standpoint of their humanity, they both reflect the likeness of God.” However, sin entered the world (no finger pointing at who is to be blamed!) and destroyed the unity that man and woman generated in the state of original justice; it also damaged the relationship of man and woman as a community of persons.

Continue reading…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/women.html