Five thoughts on the midpoint document “Relatio post disceptationem” issued by the Extraordinary Synod on the Family

1. The document summarizes the discussions among the 250 bishops who were invited to this synod. Note that given an approximation of 5,000 bishops in the world today, the number of bishops who are participating in this synod number roughly 5% of the entire episcopal body.  Therefore there can be no claim made that the content of this document accurately represents the bishops of the Catholic Church as a whole.
2. This document proposes no teachings; it is simply the document that will be a working text for the wider discussion on these same issues to be made by the Ordinary Synod of Bishops next October, followed by a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis no sooner than the Spring of 2016. Therefore we have (thankfully) awhile to go before any of this gets *really*  serious.

3. Although it has its good points, overall the document is simply unacceptable, and seems like an (unintended) wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It stresses the importance of remaining true to the faith, to doctrine, to Jesus Christ –while at the same time undermining these things.  One example will suffice:  notorious paragraph 50 speaks of homosexual persons, and asks whether we are capable of  “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.”  It can’t be done.  By the very fact that we start to “accept and value” disordered homosexual tendencies, we are at the same time compromising authentic Catholic doctrine.  Recall the Catechism, #2358, which uses the language “objective disorder” for homosexual inclinations, and rightly so.  I am also thinking of the words of the
prophet Isaiah: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (5:20).  Active homosexality is harshly condemned in Scripture and throughout the Church's Tradition, and there will never come a time when it will be "accepted," much less "valued" by persons who take Divine Revelation seriously, regardless of the number of bishops who might think otherwise.

4. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council  taught that the laity,“. . . are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or  outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged  to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church”  (#37).  Now is our time as lay faithful to raise our voices against this political correctness campaign at work  within some of the bishops, lest in a year from now we may find ourselves  fighting against a 21st century equivalent of Arianism. This time the truth about Jesus is not on the line, but rather the truth of how we are to live like Jesus.
5. Pray and be courageous. It is hard enough fighting against the Obama administration’s intention to destroy Christianity and Christian values in America, but the battle becomes all the more serious when we find ourselves opposed to some of our own shepherds.  Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI  have written and taught more than enough to give us permanent, objective clarity on the primacy of the moral order and on the fact of sin.  With prayer, grace, informed consciences and charity, let us go forth  zealously defending the deposit of faith, and let us continue to pray for Pope Francis as he discerns how to “rebuild the Church” of Christ.
“Just think what a havoc would have been wrought among the birth-control propagandists if the mothers of those who
preached it had practiced it!”
-  Fulton J. Sheen.

With the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling, the issue of contraception has once again become prominent in media circles.  Why is the issue of contraception a serious issue for public discussion?
First, some brief history. For nearly 2000 years, every Christian denomination forbade contraception for the simple reason, discernible through reason, that it goes against God’s plan for humanity, and that reason should be enough for most people. After all, if our ultimate goal is to go to heaven, the way we get there is by following God’s plan for us and all of  humanity.  It wasn’t until the year 1930 that the Anglican Church first allowed contraception, and less than a year  later virtually every Christian church allowed it. The major exception: the Catholic Church.  To this day, the Catholic Church stands  virtually alone in its defense of God’s plan for humanity which is violated through the use of contraception.  This reason helps to explain why the Catholic Church in particular tends to be the target of hateful speech and actions by the representatives of the contraception movement, such as the recent vilification of the Little Sisters of the Poor illustrates.

Since the founders of Hobby Lobby are Christian but not  Catholic, it should come as no surprise that their objection to contraception  extends only to abortifacients. This is to say, they only objected to those few, specific forms of contraception that are known to cause abortion, and therefore  the death of the newly conceived child. And let’s not be so quick to believe the left-winged media circus who present the Hobby Lobby case as one where one’s boss governs one’s birth control decision, or where a bunch of men further suppress women by taking away their contraception.  No one is banning or otherwise preventing women, should they choose, from using contraception. All they are simply doing is saying “if you want to use contraception, we your employers are not going to pay for it.” So the issue has little to nothing do with women’s “freedom to choose” contraceptives.

Seeking true freedom for women, the Catholic Church is firmly opposed to all contraception, not just abortifacients. Sex is
for marriage, and sexual relations within marriage are meant to be the communication of the love of spouses through what John Paul has called “the language of the body.” Contraceptive sex is incapable of expressing love; the only message it can send is “I prefer a sterile you.”  Incapable  of expressing love and preventing fecundity, what is left? Contraception reduces a woman to a sexual object to be exploited by men,  thereby degrading her dignity. Does this somehow liberate women? Does this somehow demonstrate how women are on equal footing with men?  Is  this what women want? I certainly don't think so, but what do I know? I am only a man.
There seems to be much buzz this morning on FB about the saying, “God  will not give you more than you can handle.”  Folks seem to have no problem labeling  this statement as a nice, bumper-sticker, feel-better sentiment that, in truth, is far from reality.  Before we  eagerly jump on the bandwagon in the quest to abolish this saying in all of its  pleasantry, we might want to reflect a bit more.

As a Catholic Christian, I would like to offer the context through  which a Catholic may understanding this saying, “God will not give you more than  you can handle.”  This saying does not mean that we will not be challenged beyond our physical, psychological, or  spiritual strength, since for some of us (myself included), we are challenged seemingly beyond our limits in the course of everyday living, and we are not even talking about those who go through extraordinary struggles or experience tragedies in their lives. Anyone who takes a few minutes to reflect can agree that we are sometimes sent  challenges greater than our humanity itself can bear, and I think this realization is the main thrust behind the attempt to get rid of this “nice”  statement.

However, the context of the statement already includes the grace of Christ, through whom we, like St. Paul, can do all  things.  We are not Pelagians who believe that our human nature is strong enough to combat and be victorious over all of our struggles, but rather we – by faith – acknowledge that only through  the working of supernatural grace in our lives are we able to overcome.  This is the true meaning of “God will  not give you more than you can handle” – the beautiful truth that God continually offers us His grace to pull us through those dark and bleak times.  It was just this past Sunday that we heard these wonderful words from the Gospel, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find  rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:29-30).  These are not the words of a God who  intends on sending us more than we can handle.  

Should we go the way of the secularists and choose to rely on our own strength, then we can indeed expect to be in over our
heads on a regular basis. But as long as we remain united to Christ and cooperate with His grace, the statement is certainly true that “God will not give you more than you can handle.” 
If I were to ask a dozen people “what is the worst thing that could happen in life,” I have no doubt that “death of a loved one” would be a common response, and if I were to ask what could be even worse than the death of a loved one, no doubt an even more heart-wrenching response would be “the death of a loved one who was also a child.” Today marks the two-year anniversary of the death of my youngest son, who unexpectedly passed from this life to the next shortly after his birth.  I am thankful to Almighty God for the gift of my youngest son, who lived and thrived for many months within our family while still in the womb.  When there could just as well not been life, God gifted us with the life of our little boy whom we were able to hold in the hospital and who will always live in our hearts.
In these past two years, I have often reflected on the difficult questions of life, including the meaning of death of the innocent, and yet as I continue to grieve, I also continue to see more than a ray of hope in an otherwise tragic situation.  It is an unexpected journey for me, because as a professional theologian, I have always approached these issues from a pastoral and academic perspective, but never through lived experience.  Citing the difference, Pope Pius XII said it best: “We get learning from books, but we get wisdom from suffering.”

Fulton J. Sheen once wrote in his masterpiece “The Life of Christ” that “Some things in life are too beautiful to be forgotten, but there can also be something in death that is too beautiful to be forgotten.”  Emptiness, sadness, anger, and a feeling of helplessness do exist in the natural sphere when we consider the death of a young loved one; however I would like to reflect briefly on the element of “beauty” concerning the death of a young loved one that we sometimes overlook due to the intensity of our pain.

God granted me the presence of mind to have bottled water on hand for my wife in labor, which I was able to use to baptize my son the moment he was born.  At that moment as he straddled time and eternity, he was made a true son of God and heir to heaven, being reborn in water and the Spirit without ever having known personal sin.  And moments later he was called home.

In faith we know that a newly baptized child who dies immediately enters heaven as a new saint of God, and despite my sorrow and continuous “what if” questionings in my heart about whether we could have done anything differently to save my son, in faith I understand that he has already been saved and now stands before God as a powerful mediator for the rest of my family.

How awesome it is to have certain knowledge that my son is a saint!  How incredibly comforting is it to know that my wife and I perfected our roles as father and mother to this little boy in that we were successful through God’s grace in getting him to heaven!  How joyful will it be at the moment of death when Our Lord will tell my wife and I, “Your son here with me has spoken well of you.”

When we face such tragedies in life, indeed we must grieve and certainly we will never forget.  But I invite you in your own lives – if you have not yet done so – to look more deeply with the eyes of faith into an otherwise horrible situation and ask yourselves whether with your own heartaches in life you might see in your hardship a powerful occasion of grace.
I have prepared a series of quotations from the encyclical Lumen fidei which may serve as a quick guide to some of the most salient aspects of the document.  I have omitted commentary so as not to introduce anything foreign to this guide.  The references following each citation alert you to where you will find the citation in the full encyclical.  I encourage you to read the entire document, available here: 

Regarding the provenance of this document, we were told days ago that it was “the work of four hands,” and in the encyclical we are told that Pope Benedict almost finished a first draft of it (see no. 7 in the full text).  Just as Pope Benedict finished and promulgated John Paul II’s encyclical on charity, so too we have the continuity of the Petrine Office beautifully illustrated by Pope Francis finishing and publishing Benedict XVI’s encyclical on faith.

I’ve shortened the 28 page encyclical to a 6 page “highlights guide” for easier reading.  I do hope you find this resource helpful.


 “The light of Faith: this is how the Church’s tradition speaks of the great gift brought by Jesus” (no. 1)

“Conscious of the immense horizon which their faith opened before them, Christians invoked Jesus as the true sun ‘whose rays bestows life’ (St. Clement of Alexandria).”

An Illusory Light?

“Yet in speaking of the light of faith, we can almost hear the objections of many of our contemporaries. . . . Faith thus appeared to some as an illusionary light, preventing mankind from boldly setting out in quest of knowledge’ (no 2).

“As a result, humanity renounced the search for a great light, Truth itself, in order to be content with smaller lights which illumine the fleeting moment yet prove capable of showing the way” (no. 3).

A Light to be Recovered

“the light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence” (no. 4).

“Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us” (no 4).

“The Year of Faith was inaugurated on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. This is itself a clear indication that Vatican II was a Council on faith, inasmuch as it asked us to restore the primacy of God in Christ to the center of our lives, both as a Church and as individuals” (no 6).

“Thus wonderfully interwoven, faith, hope and charity are the driving force of the Christian life as it advances towards full communion with God” (no 7).


Abraham, Our Father in Faith

“Something disturbing takes place in his [Abraham’s] life: God speaks to him; he reveals himself as a God who speaks and calls his name. Faith is linked to hearing. Abraham does not see God, but hears his voice. Faith thus takes on a personal aspect. . . . Faith is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a ‘Thou’ who calls us by name” (no 8).

“The word spoken to Abraham contains both a call and a promise. First, it is a call to leave his own land, a summons to a new life. . . . This word also contains a promise. . . As a response to a word which preceded it, Abraham’s faith would always be an act of remembrance. Yet this remembrance is not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken. We see how faith, as a remembrance of the future . . . is thus closely bound up with hope” (no 9).

[Citing St. Augustine]: “Man is faithful when he believes in God and his promises; God is faithful when he grants to man what he has promised” (no 10)

“For Abraham, faith in God sheds light on the depths of his being, it enables him to acknowledge the wellspring of goodness at the origin of all things and to realize that his life is not the product of non-being or chance, but the fruit of a personal call and a personal love” (no 10).

The Faith of Israel

“Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the center of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands…. Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, and aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth. . . . Faith, tied as it is to conversion, is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to turn to the living God in a personal encounter” (no 13).

The Fullness of Christian Faith

“The history of Jesus is the complete manifestation of God’s reliability. . . . God can give no greater guarantee of his love, as St. Paul reminds us (cf. Rom 8:31-39). Christian faith is thus faith in a perfect love, and its decisive power, in its ability to transform the world and to unfold its history” (no 16).

“Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. . . . Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection” (no 17).

“Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing” (no 18).

Salvation by Faith

“The beginning of salvation is openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being. Only by being open to and acknowledging this gift can we be transformed, experience salvation and bear good fruit” (no 19).

“Here we see Holy Spirit at work. The Christian can see with the eyes of Jesus and share in his mind, his filial disposition, because he or she shares in his love, which is the Spirit. In the love of Jesus, we receive in a certain way his vision. Without being conformed to him in love, without the presence of the Spirit, it is impossible to confess him as Lord (cf. 1 Cor 12:3) (no 21).

The Ecclesial Form of Faith

“Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers. It is against this ecclesial backdrop that faith opens the individual Christian towards all others” (no 22).


Faith and Truth

“…We need knowledge, we need truth, the cause without these we cannot stand firm, we cannot move forward. Faith without truth is not safe, it does not provide sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness…” (no. 24).

“The question of truth is really a question of memory, the memory, for deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness”  (no. 25).

“Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps” (no 26).

“Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey. If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time” (no 27).

“If love needs truth, truth also needs love. Love and truth are inseparable.  Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives. The truth we seek, the truth that gives meaning to our journey through life, enlightens us whenever we are touched by love” (no 27).

Faith as Hearing and Sight

“The bond between seeing and hearing in faith- knowledge is most clearly evident in John’s Gospel. For the Fourth Gospel, to believe is both to hear and to see” (no 30).

The Dialogue between Faith and Reason

“Once we discover the full light of Christ’s love, we realize that each of the loves in our own lives had always contained a ray of that light, and we understand its ultimate destination. That fact that our human loves contain that ray of light also helps us to see how all love is meant to share in the complete self- gift of the Son of God for our sake. In this circular movement, the light of faith illumines all our human relationships, which can then be lived in union with the gentle love of Christ” (no 32).

“One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us” (no 34).

Faith and the Search for God

“The star [of Bethlehem] is a sign of God’s patience with our eyes which need to grow accustomed to his brightness. Religious man is a wayfarer; he must be ready to let himself be led, to come out of himself and to find the God of perpetual surprises. This respect on God’s part for our human eyes shows us that when we draw near to God, our human lights are not dissolved in the immensity of his light, as a star is engulfed by the dawn, but shine all the more brightly the closer they approach the primordial fire, like a mirror which reflects light. Christian faith in Jesus, the one Saviour of the world, proclaims that all God’s light is concentrated in him, in his "luminous life" which discloses the origin and the end of history. There is no human experience, no journey of man to God, which cannot be taken up, illumined and purified by this light” (no. 35),

Faith and Theology

“Since faith is a light, it draws us into itself, inviting us to explore ever more fully the horizon which it illumines, all the better to know the object of our love. Christian theology is born of this desire. Clearly, theology is impossible without faith; it is part of the very process of faith, which seeks an ever deeper understanding of God’s self-disclosure culminating in Christ” (no 36).

“Theology thus demands the humility to be "touched" by God, admitting its own limitations before the mystery, while striving to investigate, with the discipline proper to reason, the inexhaustible riches of this mystery” (no 36).

“Theology also shares in the ecclesial form of faith; its light is the light of the believing subject which is the Church. This implies, on the one hand, that theology must be at the service of the faith of Christians, that it must work humbly to protect and deepen the faith of everyone, especially ordinary believers. On the other hand, because it draws its life from faith, theology cannot consider the magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him as something extrinsic, a limitation of its freedom, but rather as one of its internal, constitutive dimensions, for the magisterium ensures our contact with the primordial source and thus provides the certainty of attaining to the word of Christ in all its integrity” (no 36).


The Church, Mother of Our Faith

“The transmission of the faith not only brings light to men and women in every place; it travels through time, passing from one generation to another. Because faith is born of an encounter which takes place in history and lights up our journey through time, it must be passed on in every age” (no 38).

“Faith’s past, that act of Jesus’ love which brought new life to the world, comes down to us through the memory of others — witnesses — and is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church. The Church is a Mother who teaches us to speak the language of faith. Saint John brings this out in his Gospel by closely uniting faith and memory and associating both with the working of the Holy Spirit, who, as Jesus says, ‘will remind you of all that I have said to you’ (Jn 14:26). The love which is the Holy Spirit and which dwells in the Church unites every age and makes us contemporaries of Jesus, thus guiding us along our pilgrimage of faith” (no 38).

“It is impossible to believe on our own. Faith is not simply an individual decision which takes place in the depths of the believer’s heart, nor a completely private relationship between the ‘I’ of the believer and the divine ‘Thou’, between an autonomous subject and God. By its very nature, faith is open to the ‘We’ of the Church; it always takes place within her communion” (no 39).

“The Church, like every family, passes on to her children the whole store of her memories. But how does this come about in a way that nothing is lost, but rather everything in the patrimony of faith comes to be more deeply understood? It is through the apostolic Tradition preserved in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy a living contact with the foundational memory” (no. 40).

“The sacraments communicate an incarnate memory, linked to the times and places of our lives, linked to all our senses; in them the whole person is engaged as a member of a living subject and part of a network of communitarian relationships. While the sacraments are indeed sacraments of faith, it can also be said that faith itself possesses a sacramental structure. The awakening of faith is linked to the dawning of a new sacramental sense in our lives as human beings and as Christians, in which visible and material realities are seen to point beyond themselves to the mystery of the eternal” (no 40).

“Baptism makes us see, then, that faith is not the achievement of isolated individuals; it is not an act which someone can perform on his own, but rather something which must be received by entering into the ecclesial communion which transmits God’s gift. No one baptizes himself, just as no one comes into the world by himself. Baptism is something we receive” (no 41).

“The sacramental character of faith finds its highest expression in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a precious nourishment for faith: an encounter with Christ truly present in the supreme act of his love, the life-giving gift of himself” (no 44).

“In the celebration of the sacraments, the Church hands down her memory especially through the profession of faith. The creed does not only involve giving one’s assent to a body of abstract truths; rather, when it is recited the whole of life is drawn into a journey towards full communion with the living God. We can say that in the creed believers are invited to enter into the mystery which they profess and to be transformed by it” (no 45).

“These, then, are the four elements which comprise the storehouse of memory which the Church hands down: the profession of faith, the celebration of the sacraments, the path of the ten commandments, and prayer. The Church’s catechesis has traditionally been structured around these four elements; this includes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a fundamental aid for that unitary act with which the Church communicates the entire content of her faith: ‘all that she herself is, and all that she believes’ ” (no 46).

“Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole” (no 48).


Faith and the Common Good

“In presenting the story of the patriarchs and the righteous men and women of the Old Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews highlights an essential aspect of their faith. That faith is not only presented as a journey, but also as a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another” (no 50).

“Faith reveals just how firm the bonds between people can be when God is present in their midst. Faith does not merely grant interior firmness, a steadfast conviction on the part of the believer; it also sheds light on every human relationship because it is born of love and reflects God’s own love. The God who is himself reliable gives us a city which is reliable” (no 50).

“Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope” (no 51).

Faith and the Family

“The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith” (no 52).

A Light for Life in Society

“Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure” (no 54).

“Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters” (no. 54).

“At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique. Man loses his place in the universe, he is cast adrift in nature, either renouncing his proper moral responsibility or else presuming to be a sort of absolute judge, endowed with an unlimited power to manipulate the world around him” (no 54).

Consolation and Strength Amid Suffering

“Christians know that suffering cannot be eliminated, yet it can have meaning and become an act of love and entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us; in this way it can serve as a moment of growth in faith and love. By contemplating Christ’s union with the Father even at the height of his sufferings on the cross (cf. Mk 15:34), Christians learn to share in the same gaze of Jesus. Even death is illumined and can be experienced as the ultimate call to faith, the ultimate ‘Go forth from your land’ (Gen 12:1), the ultimate ‘Come!’ spoken by the Father, to whom we abandon ourselves in the confidence that he will keep us steadfast even in our final passage” (no 56).

“Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light (no 57).

Blessed is She Who Believed

“Let us turn in prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of our faith.  Mother, help our faith!
Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call. Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise.  Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith. Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature. Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One. Remind us that those who believe are never alone. Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!” (no 60).

Not only has the Vatican released Pope Francis' first encyclical today (which is dated for the Solemnity of Peter and Paul on June 29th), it also announced both expected and not-so-expected canonization news:  The expected news is that Bl. John Paul II is cleared for canonization. But the unexpected news is that Blessed John XXIII has also been cleared for canonization without the normally-requisite miracle!  In all other recent cases (of which I am aware), the long (sometimes very long!) period of time that elapses between beatification and canonization is due to the Church awaiting a miracle worked by God through the intercession of the blessed in addition to the miracle needed to become a "blessed" in the first place.  But in John XXIII's case, the second miracle has not occured.  Now I understand that Pope Francis has the authority to proceed as he feels called by the Holy Spirit, and I also understand that with one miracle (for beatification) already "in the bag," there probably should not be so much emphasis on miracles two through a million.  But I'm wondering why the rush in the case of John XXIII, and whether this move meant to signal a change in the official steps taken between beatification and canonization for future cases?   It was not too long ago when two miracles were required for beatification, and then a third for canonization.  Since then the number was reduced to one each for beatification and canonization, and now with John XXIII we are down to a total of one.  Should we begin to worry?  I don't think so. 

Here's my two-cents worth:  Given that one would be hard-pressed to identify a difference between the eschatalogical state of one who is officially "beatified" as compared with one who is officially "canonized," I think the two stages of beatification and canonization should be collapsed into one, namely, the canonization.  The reason is quite simple:  when the Church beatifies someone, the Church is stating that the person is in heaven and worthy of a liturgical following.  Granted that the following (the "cult") is universal in the case of canonizations, and regional/local in the case of those who are beatified, liturgical nuances aside, nothing but pomp and circumstance differs theologically between a "beatified" state and a "canonized" state.  The current stages are Servant of God; Venerable; Beatified; and Canonized. "Servant of God" simply means the cause for possible future canonization has begun with the blessing of the diocesan bishop.  "Venerable" means that the person's heroic virtue has been manifested.  In many ways, getting to this stage is the most difficult hurdle of them all.  The third stage, in my opinion, should be the last: canonization, and a single miracle (recall that John XXIII already has a miracle on file for his beatification) should be enough to demonstrate that God indeed is working through their intercession in an extraordinary manner.

We'll have to wait and see how all this unfolds.  Two additional questions remain:  Will John XXIII and John Paul II be canonized at the same time, and if so, when would it be?  I think it is likely that they will be canonized together, and I think that a date will have to be picked that is "neutral" with respect to either of their feast days (for obvious reasons), and yet still be an important date in the life of the Church, i.e. a solemnity.  We'll have to stay tuned!

Are you looking to deepen your understanding of the richness of the Catholic faith?  This book is written at a level suitable for faith formation classes; women and men's adult theology/Bible study groups; college students; candidates for the permanent diaconate, and anyone else desiring to learn more about the teachings of the Catholic faith.

Imprimatur given by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas

Dr. Scott Hahn of the Franciscan University of Steubenville has the following to say about this book: "The Faith Understood is a beacon of light for all truth seekers hungry to feed on God's Word and grow in the faith.  A clear and solid introduction to Catholic doctrine, I strongly recommend this book, especially for the Year of Faith.  Get it. Study it. Live it!"

Dr. Robert Fastiggi of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit comments, "Professor Zia provides a lively, interesting, and theologically sound presentation of Catholic faith, practice, and theology. Making ample use of Scripture, the Church Fathers, Vatican II, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Faith Understood can serve as an excellent textbook for introductory college and university courses in Catholic theology."

You can click on the image of the book above to access the page for it, or those local to me or at a venue where I will be speaking/teaching can purchase it directly from me.  Those requesting signed/inscribed copies who are not local to me can get them from me through the mail for $10 each plus $3 postage.  You can use the "Contact Me" menu item at the top of this webpage to inform me that you are interested in receiving a book, or to inquire about having me come to your parish/event to speak.

Upcoming venues where you can get the book from me in person (subject to updates)
June 6 - 9, Springfield, Illinois
September 6 - 8, Kansas City, Kansas
September 27-29, Owensboro, Kentucky
October 4-6, Kansas City, Kansas
October 15, 22 & 29, Kansas City, Missouri
October 25-27, Owensboro, Kentucky
November 15-17, Wilmington, Delaware
December 18-20, Southern New Jersey
December 20-22, Wilmington, Delaware

Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Introduction to the Discipline of Theology ..........................3
Chapter 2: The Relationship between Faith and Reason ......................17
Chapter 3: Introduction to Sacred Scripture.........................................29
Chapter 4: The Interpretation of Sacred Scripture ...............................39
Chapter 5: Divine Revelation ...............................................................55
Chapter 6: The Trinity and the Work of Creation..................................71
Chapter 7: Sin .....................................................................................83
Chapter 8: The Incarnation and the Work of Redemption......................95
Chapter 9: Mariology ..........................................................................111
Chapter 10: Eschatology ......................................................................123
Selected Bibliography ..........................................................................137

A truly penitential Friday 

Many Catholics do not realize that all Fridays of the year that do not fall on Solemnities, and not simply Fridays during Lent, are days of obligatory penance.  Since Friday is the day of the week that Our Lord accepted his death in order to give us divine life, we honor Fridays in a particular way as commemorative of His Passion.  Although during Fridays of Lent the type of penance takes the form of abstinence from meat, on Fridays outside of Lent, in most countries (including our own) the penance is left to the individual Catholic.  Some choose to retain meatless Fridays, while others opt for some other form of penance/sacrifice.  In sum, the universal Church recognizes Fridays as penitential.

Yesterday (Friday) was truly a penitential Friday for me.  I was scheduled to teach a group of diaconate candidates in Springfield, Illinois, and travel time from Kansas City as it was worked out was supposed to consist of a total of less than 2 hours of flight time followed by a 1 hour drive.  It turns out that it took me a full twelve hours to reach my final destination! A summary of the events which transpired will follow, concluding with the reason that I am sharing all this.

My wife took me to the airport well ahead of the first flight’s departure time, and since I purposely fit the needed books and materials for the course, as well as my clothes for the weekend, computer, cables, and everything else, in two carry-on bags, I did not have to check in at the counter.  I was able to go directly through security to reach my gate.  Keep in mind that because I did have everything with me in two carry-ons, I was bringing a good deal of weight with me wherever I went throughout the day.

Then it began.  While waiting in the gate area, I observed that the first flight kept getting delayed in increments of twenty minutes, and then about an hour into the delay, an announcement from the captain came over the speakers in the gate-waiting area:  The plane had a broken electrical box that controls the de-icer, and since they couldn’t fix it thus far, they ordered a new part from Atlanta to be flown in.  It would arrive within two hours, and then it would require at least another hour to be installed and tested.  This put the delay at a minimum of four hours, meaning I would clearly miss my connecting flight!

The flight crew announced that we should leave the gate (and therefore undo the security we went through) in order to return to the main ticket counter in the airport and ask for a rebooking.  With a sea of people, I headed towards the main terminal and found myself in a very long line of many disgruntled passengers.  After being in line for about 15 minutes and seeing that it was not moving, with many people still in front of me, I thought that maybe it would be better if I simply called the airline’s 800 number to rebook.  But there were two problems:  First, I don’t have a cellphone, and second, have any of you attempted to find pay phones in public places these days?  They are not as ubiquitously placed as they once were.  Giving up my spot in line and with my luggage in tow, I walked a good portion of the terminal until I found a working payphone and I made the call.  After I explained my problem, I was put on hold for what seemed like a long time.  When the agent came back, she said that she could re-route me from Delta (my original carrier) to American Airlines, however I would need to get to the American Terminal within twenty minutes to do so, since that plane was set to leave in twenty minutes. 

With luggage in tow, I run outside and await the bus to take me to the next terminal.  Once there, I race to the ticket counter and explain to one agent the situation, and she tells me that I have to wait in line.  About five minutes later, I get the attention of another mobile  (walking around the line) ticket agent, and again explain my situation.  She promptly moves me to the front of the line, asking the customers in front of me if that is ok with them (they were checking in for later flights).  They graciously had no problem with it (and a shout out “thank you!” again to them who, of course, will never see this blog!).  I am issued a boarding pass and the agent at the counter confesses that she doesn’t know if I will make it since boarding is nearly completed and I still have to go through security.  Boarding pass and luggage in hand, I run to the security check point. 

I hand my boarding pass to the TSA agent and suddenly discover that my driver’s license is missing.  It was not in my wallet where I usually keep it, and I have never misplaced my license before - I always keep it in the same spot in my wallet.  I go into a panic as they are making the last boarding call, announcing my name over the speakers.  The TSA supervisor decides that she will accept alternative ID since I had a half-dozen pieces of information in my wallet with my name and picture on them (but none of them government issued).  But then it occurred to me – this won’t work, because I am scheduled to rent a car for the last part of the trip, and I wouldn’t be issued a rental car without being able to furnish a license. The TSA supervisor brings me to a table inside the security area and with my permission helps me to go through my bags while I go through my wallet again with the hopes of one of us finding my license (and it was very kind of the supervisor to offer to help me find my license!  A big thanks to her!)  As we do this, the flight closes and leaves. 

After about ten minutes of searching, we still can’t find my license.  I suggest that perhaps it may have been left at the security checkpoint at the Delta terminal.  The TSA supervisor called over there, but no one found anything.  So I decide to go back to the Delta terminal and continue to look for my license.  Time to head outside and await the terminal-to-terminal bus again.

The TSA agent at the Delta security checkpoint calls her supervisor who comes out and offers to look inside the screening area and the bins for me.  She comes back a few minutes later with no success.  She then offered to look where I was sitting, so I told her where I was sitting earlier while awaiting the plane with the broken de-icer.  As she goes to check, I check my wallet for literally the sixth or seventh time (and every time I pulled everything out).  All of a sudden, I see something inserted in some type of “secret compartment” within the wallet – an area that I never knew even existed.  Sure enough, it was my license!  Apparently, when I returned it to my wallet after giving it to the first security TSA agent, it got snagged, thereby entering this ‘sneaky compartment.”  So I go back (always with luggage on me) to the Delta ticket counter and ask about my options.  They tell me that they can’t do anything at this point to help me make *any* connecting flight to get to my final destination that day, but they are able to get me something on American.  So they send me back over to American’s terminal.

Waiting about twenty minutes for the bus, I get over to the American terminal and wait in line about another twenty minutes.  The TSA supervisor saw me (she had since moved to behind the TSA counter) and yelled out, asking if I found my license.  I told her that I did – in my wallet!  I finally advanced to the ticketing counter, and the woman who helped me saw how frustrated/exhausted I was and she was very calm and kind.  She explained that I only had a small chance to make the connecting flight because of delays elsewhere, but indicated that the connecting flight through the Chicago airport would literally be across the hall from where I arrive, and she even gave me a seat in the front of the outbound flight so I would have a better chance of getting out of the plane in time to rush over to the connection.  So I go through security (again) and wait in the gate area for a flight that would leave in two hours.

As I’m seated, I see that the delay for the outbound grow to the point that I would not make the connecting flight.  I felt miserable!  Then a strange announcement caught my attention:  one of the flights about to leave had a broken bathroom, so passengers were told to use “the necessary room” right now while still in the gate area.  I thought, “wow, not a great flight to be on if it has a broken bathroom!”  Out of curiosity, I looked closer to see where that flight was going, and behold, it was going to Chicago (where I needed to be), but an hour earlier than my flight.  Knowing that I would be able to catch my connecting flight after all if I took the “potty-challenged-aircraft,” I went to the counter there at the gate and explained my situation.  After all, how many people beg to be let aboard an aircraft with a disabled toilet!  Five minutes later I was aboard the aircraft. 

When we landed in Illinois, I then went to get my rental car and drove the 80 miles (no, it was not the hour I was originally told) to my final destination.  I walked in the retreat center in my jeans and casual shirt, and within ten minutes began to teach my evening segment of the weekend-long course for the next hour and 45 minutes.

So now we come to the real point.  Why did I bother to write about all these details?  Because it was a profound, spiritually edifying learning experience for me.  Allow me to explain.

Throughout the twelve hours of my travels, I was physically exhausted because everywhere I went I was chained to my luggage.  I was mentally exhausted with all the uncertainty of my travel.  I was anxious because of my lost license.  I was hungry because, all things said and done, it was a full 24 hours since my last meal.  I was frustrated that so many airlines could be broken-down or delayed.  And I was vulnerable because nothing was in my control the entire day.

And yet, as I reflected throughout the day and had time to reflect more as I went to bed last night, could I really say that my physical exhaustion was in any way comparable to those who support their families through professions requiring exhaustive manual labor to the point that they break their own bodies in order to provide the necessities of life for their loved ones?

Was my mental exhaustion at the uncertainty of my travel anything like the mental exhaustion of persons who day-in and day-out spend themselves unsuccessfully in job interviews as they attempt to find work?

Was my anxiety over a lost license anything like the anxiety of families who cannot even afford to own a car and constantly have to worry about how they are going to get their children from point A to point B through public transportation alone?

Was my hunger anything like that of the millions of people who live in poverty and are malnourished, unable to find enough food to eat for survival?

Was my frustration anything to compare to those who seek to better their lives by moving from an oppressed region or nation to a wealthier one, only to be snared by innumerable obstacles, often due to the wealthy’s refusal to share with those less fortunate who intend to work hard to earn a better life? 
Was my vulnerability on the same level as those who live in dictatorial regimes who have their natural rights stripped away, or those who become victims in fear of the will of the powerful?

Looking back, all of my “complications” were like a walk in the park when understood in the proper perspective.  I truly thank God for allowing me to experience everything that happened to me yesterday, for that prolonged experience truly helped me to better relate to those whose cross is a million times heavier than mine, and helped me to remember that as a sinner, it was truly days like yesterday that I deserve, and not my otherwise uneventful days which are purely gratuitous.  The next time we are tempted to complain about something that doesn't go our way, let's remember that it could always be far worse, and in the end, difficulties in life can be powerful means to aid in our continuing sanctification if we only let them.  
Many eyes are already looking to Rome on Holy Thursday to see whether Papa Francesco will wash the feet of any women at the juvenile prison where he will be celebrating Mass.  The prison consists of 48 juveniles, consisting of 39 men and 9 women (and interestingly, the majority of the inmates are Muslim!).  As the picture to the left shows, Archbishop Bergoglio has included women in the Holy Thursday footwashings in the past. 

Reasons supporting Pope Francis' potential washing of women's feet on Holy Thursday include the following:  First, under previous pontificates, the Holy See has given permission on a case-by-case basis to individual bishops to wash women's feet on Holy Thursday for pastoral reasons.  So if Pope Francis chose to do so, he would not be doing anything novel.  Second, as Pope, Francis is above both liturgical and canonical law insofar as the matter in question does not touch upon a matter established by divine or natural law.  So it is wholly within his compentance to do as he chooses in this matter (but the same cannot be said for any other bishop or priest without permission from the Holy See. I'll say more about this in a moment).  Third, the washing of the feet is an optional part of the Holy Thursday liturgy, so it does not touch upon the essential dimension of the celebration.  Fourth, the "pastoral viewpoint" within the Church and the Magisterium suggests that the Holy Thursday ritual of the washing of the feet is focused on Christian charity, and Christian charity knows no distinction between men and women.  Since we are all called to Christian charity and humility by Our Lord, the washing of women's feet does make sense.
Thus Pope Francis does have the authority to wash women's feet if he chooses, and such a gesture would be in keeping with his servant-leadership model of the Christian life that he brought with him to the Papacy.

Now let's consider some reasons against the practice of washing women's feet on Holy Thursday.  First, the Passover meal (the Last Supper was a Passover meal) was celebrated as a family.  If the washing of the feet had the connotation of service of all of Christ’s disciples, then surely his mother would have been invited and her feet would have been washed, since she was the first and most perfect of Jesus’ disciples.  Yet we know that only the apostles were present.  Second, in the Old Testament, part of the ordination rite of the Levitical priests was to wash them, which specifically referred to the washing of their hands and feet.  At the Last Supper, Jesus is ordaining his apostles as the first priests and bishops of the Church, hence the intrinsic connection between the washing of of the feet and their ordination.  Third, note that the apostles were already eating the Last Supper when we are abruptly told that Jesus got up to wash the disciple’s feet, then when he finished he resumed his place at the supper.  This point reinforces the point (above) that that the rite of the washing of feet served as part of the rite of ordination to the priesthood, since the institution of the Eucharist is referred to in connection with the third cup of the meal, and in the context of John, Jesus had not yet instituted the Eucharist before the washing of the feet.  Fourth, the extraordinary act of Jesus washing his apostles’ feet is a sign of his extraordinary love of his priests, who function in the person of Christ in the celebration of the Mass and the sacraments.  Fifth, Luke reveals that the apostles fought among themselves about who was the greatest in the context of the Last Supper.  Jesus gives his apostles the example of abiding Christian charity and service, adding “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master…”  There would be no reason for a general Christian disciple (especially a group of rag-tag, uneducated fishermen) to have reason to think that he or she is privileged or more important than another Christian, yet it makes perfect sense that the first priests/bishops of the Church could be tempted in thinking that they were better than the non- ordained laity.  Hence these words of Jesus only make sense if applied to the context of Holy Orders, and not directed towards Christians in general.

And for those who do not realize:  the rubrics for the optional rite of Foot Washing clearly state that only "men" are to be selected.  We know this because the plural of the Latin term "vir" is used, which can only denote masculine adults, and does not simply mean "human person."

In conclusion, I would like to gently suggest that the washing of the feet of Jesus’ apostles on Holy Thursday is not to be found within the context of the general Christian summons to charity (pace, USCCB), but is directly and inescapably bound up with the immediate context of the institution of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders.  Therefore, it is not simply about the general situation of the Christian, but the specific obligation of the priesthood.  For these reasons, it is more appropriate that the feet of women not be washed during the Holy Thursday liturgy.

Where do we go from here with our own parish experiences?  A few possibilities:  1) omit the foot washing rite entirely, since it never constituted an essential part of the Holy Thursday liturgy and even now remains optional; or 2) wash the feet of women outside of the context of Holy Thursday Mass, i.e. before the Mass begins, or in the context of another ceremony (not a Mass, which must follow the proper rubrics) at another point in the year; or 3) In the sermon, priests could briefly explain why only men are having their feet washed by explaining the cultic (sacramental) emphasis which follows the example of what Jesus did. 

Today the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Thursday Mass - the Mass of the Lord's Supper - in a very unusual place: a prison!  The Vatican reports the following: "The Mass of the Lord's Supper is characterized by the announcement of the commandment of love and the gesture of washing the feet. In his ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio used to celebrate the Mass in a prison or hospital or hospice for the poor and marginalized. With this celebration at Casal del Marmo, Pope Francis will continue his custom, which is characterized by its humble context." And for the ultra-conservatives who are about ready to have a heart attack, you should be consoled with the rest of the Vatican's announcement:  "The other Holy Week celebrations will be held according to tradition, as established in a notification by the Office of Liturgical Celebrations."

The issue here is quite simple:  Pope Francis is bringing his love for the poor and outcast with him to the Papal Office, and as Pope he  is going to continue his previous Holy Thursday customs as the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  While this story is being labeled as "radical" by many, it is nothing new for Pope Francis.

Already the grumbling has begun:  "How dare he not say Mass in a Church for such a solemn occasion!" and "Why does he detest his cathedral (St. John Lateran) by offering this Mass in a detention center" and "Why is he so focused on the Washing of the Feet when such a Rite is optional, and not essential, to the Holy Thursday liturgy?" 

This constant grumbling against the Holy Father in recent days has accelerated from a sickness to a disease.  I am convinced that these same complainers would be the first to find fault with Jesus' own liturgical practices and social interactions with the outcast were he to come back in all his glory tomorrow!  To those who find fault with Papa Francesco, I suggest that everyone would be much better served if the time spent spilling ink to revile him were instead spent in service to the needy.  Venerable Fulton Sheen commented, "God sends into each age of history the saint conspicuous for the virtue the world needs the most (The Eternal Galilean, 33) and I believe that this statement holds true for many of the last Popes, including Francis. The Pope is our shepherd, and we are his sheep.  Not the other way around.  If he is suggesting through the prompting of the Holy Spirit that the Church move in a new direction (and we must stress that in no instance are matters of faith or morals being compromised), then we follow.  It really is quite that simple.  

And lest some think that we must choose between a "Eucharistic Pope" and a "Servant Pope," recall that the Catholic way is always both-and.  Both nature and grace; both the Bible and Sacred Tradition; both Philosophy and Theology; both reason and faith; both faith and works.  I suspect that in the midst of our Holy Father's Holy Thursday liturgy at the prison, he will deliver a richly edifying and doctrinally impressive homily on the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders.   

I sincerely hope that we are not entering into a new age of heresy where the assaults against the Church, rather than coming from without, are now going to be coming from within, by holier-than-thou-Catholics who have nothing better to do than cast shadows upon everything our new Pope is trying to accomplish as the Vicar of Christ on earth.  Like St. Francis, Pope Francis is entrusted with the task of rebuilding the Lord's Church.  Will we cooperate and do our part as "living stones" (see 1 Peter 2:1-8) of the Lord's Church, or shall we instead be the stubborn and decaying grout which must be gutted before the living stones can be placed one upon the other?  If there was ever a time for us to be a "rock star," now is it!