Total Christianity

Corner of Truth & Love Ave

“Faith is not only knowledge committed to memory, but truth lived in love” – Pope Francis

The saints are all total Christians. That is, they practice both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. This is what all Christians are called to do, as we strive to live up to our baptismal call to be saints. And this is a theme that Pope Francis has been hammering away at during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

It was no different today, as he spoke to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (or CDF). This is, of course, the office in the Vatican that’s responsible for maintaining doctrinal integrity within the Church. The great Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was for many years the head of the CDF before his election as Pope Benedict XVI.

Many Christians tend to emphasize either the corporal (looking after people’s bodily needs, such as feeding the hungry, etc.) or spiritual (instructing the ignorant about the Faith, etc.) works of mercy, while often utterly neglecting the other group of works. But the truth is, we can’t neglect either set. Just as the human person was created as a body-soul unity, we must look after people’s bodies and souls. We must be willing to feed people physical and spiritual food (in the Eucharist, we have both). We must have, as Peter Kreeft says, “liberal hearts and conservative heads”. We must hurt for the physically suffering, and also for those who are thirsty for the Truth.

The Pope knows this – hence, his speech today. Here are some of the most relevant snippets below (I’ve highlighted some of what I feel are the most important aspects in bold):

Vatican City, 29 January 2016 (VIS) – “Mercy is the foundation of the life of the Church: the first truth of the Church, indeed, is Christ’s love”, were the opening words of the Holy Father’s discourse to the participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whom he received in audience this morning in the Clementine Hall. The Pope went on to urge all the Christian people, both pastors and the faithful, to rediscover during this Jubilee the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as when, in the twilight of life, we are asked if we have given food to the hungry and given the thirsty water to drink, we will also be asked “if we have helped people to set their doubts aside, if we have committed ourselves to welcoming sinners, admonishing them and correcting them, if we have been able to combat ignorance, especially in relation to the Christian faith and the righteous life”.

“In faith and in charity a cognitive and unifying relationship is established with the mystery of Love, which is God Himself. The effective mercy of God became, in Jesus, affective mercy, as He made Himself man for the salvation of mankind. The task entrusted to your Dicastery here finds its ultimate foundation and and adequate justification. Christian faith, indeed, is not only knowledge to be committed to memory, but also truth to live in love. Therefore, along with the doctrine of the faith, it is also necessary to safeguard the integrity of customs, particularly in the most delicate areas of life. Adhering to faith in the person of Christ implies both an act of reason and a moral response to His gift.”

Do you agree with Pope Francis’ statements here? Share this post and your answers on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn!

Meeting Pope Francis


So, where were you when you heard the news? The white smoke billowed from the Sistine’s chimney. Hundreds of thousands filled the piazza of St Peter’s. Bells ringing. The announcement: “Habemus Papam!” We have a Pope! The buzz of anticipation…who would it be? Almost everybody was wrong, as usual, including this scribe. Finally, a roar goes up from the crowd as the crimson curtains open…and there he is! Pope Francis!

I was in the Philadelphia airport. By God’s grace, I happened to have a one-hour stopover before boarding a connecting flight. It just so happened that during that time, the terminal TV, tuned to CNN, showed the white smoke, signalling the happy news…and I had just enough time to see Pope Francis emerge onto the balcony and make his first remarks as Pontiff before catching my next flight.

It was very interesting to overhear the comments being made by folks gathered around the screen at Gate 44. Some of them made snide remarks about the Church. Some appeared to be believers who were genuinely excited about the news. Others were just plain curious. But everybody was watching. It goes without saying that every major news network and media outlet interrupted all programming to report live from the Vatican. So much for the Church being irrelevant in the modern world. It was the story – the only story – at that moment on planet Earth.

There were a gaggle of pilots, stewardesses, and US Airways personnel watching. As the accoutrements – the papal banner, etc. were being laid out over the balcony railing, one pilot remarked: “What’s with all this stuff? Jesus never would have had all this fuss about him, as he walked the dusty roads of Galilee.” A common enough complaint about the ceremonial nature of the papacy. There is, of course, an answer for that, but that’s another article for another day. But the best response was provided by humble Pope Francis himself.

The Legend of Pope Francis was only beginning then. By now, you know most, if not all, of what I’m about to tell you. But, at that moment, most of us watching were discovering in real-time that: 1) As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had sold the opulent Archbishop’s palace and given it to a cash-strapped order of nuns; 2) He had moved himself into a simple flat, and, having fired the Archbishop’s cook, made his own simple meals; 3) He had canned the Archbishop’s limo and driver, opting instead to take the bus to work. Anyone in Buenos Aires who wanted to meet their Cardinal Archbishop only had to hop onto public transit to obtain a rolling, face-to-face meeting; 4) He would venture into the most depressing, drug-addled slums of the city, and sip mate tea with the residents from a common straw; 5) God began to call him to the priesthood after his childhood sweetheart broke his heart; and on and on one could go.

As Pope, Francis has already managed to drive his security detail batty, by wading into the waiting crowds outside after celebrating Mass, eschewing papal limousines in favor of – you guessed it – riding the bus with the cardinals, or even walking to his next appointment, as he did before greeting all the journalists in Rome at the Paul VI auditorium the other day. Some of his friends in Argentina noticed his shoes were in rough shape before the conclave and bought him a new pair. Good thing. He’s still wearing them, eschewing the red and brown pairs that were available for him in the “room of tears”, where he changed into the white cassock for the first time. He decided not to don a golden pectoral cross reserved for the Bishop of Rome, rather keeping the iron cross he had worn as archbishop (and he will need that kind of “mettle” for the battles ahead). He had purchased a return ticket to Buenos Aires before the conclave began, not at all anticipating that he would be the chosen one. He insisted on paying his own hotel bill, out of his own pocket, and collecting his own things. A Pope who runs his own errands. His white dress shirt can be seen partially untucked underneath his cassock. This is a Pope who will never see the word “clericalism” written beside his name!

Indeed, his humility was apparent, even palpable, to all as he stood on the balcony last Wednesday at St Peter’s (The Pope Emeritus was plenty humble, too, lest we forget. No one willingly gives up the papacy unless he is detached from everything except Christ himself). I had never seen Jorge Mario Bergoglio before, except in pictures. Up until that moment, I suppose in a sense I had been looking at this conclave in a bit of a clinical manner, having been asked to comment on it for various news outlets. Of course, intellectually, I knew that I, along with all Catholics, would love the new Holy Father, whoever he might be, as much as we had Benedict and John Paul II. But I couldn’t help getting choked up as I saw Pope Francis on the balcony – just standing there. No wild waving to the crowd (although that would have been fine). Just standing there. Instantly, one could sense his deep sense of inner peace, and his humility. As he remarked to the gathered journalist in the Paul VI hall on Saturday, “Christ is the centre, not the successor of Peter”. He knew that, ultimately, the reason those multitudes were there to greet him was because they are seeking Christ – as is every person, wether they know it or not. And Christ has given us his Vicar, the Pope, to help us find him.

Long live Pope Francis. Viva il Papa!

My CTV News interview on the Pope is online

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 11.36.38 AMHi Everybody, just a note to let you know you can watch the interview I had tonight with Scott Laurie of CTV News about all things papal online here!

I’ll be on CTV News Channel tomorrow to chat about the Pope’s First Tweet!

B16 will be tweeting from his new @Pontifex account tomorrow! Not sure if he’ll use an iPad, but we do know the Holy Father is a huge fan of those two older tablets…I’ll be in studio on CTV News Channel to break down this milestone in Gospel communications. Look for me somewhere between 10-10:30 9:30-10 AM Eastern, probably around 9:45.

Q and A on Catholic Cardinals

Pope Benedict recently appointed, among others, Archbishops Thomas Collins of Toronto and Timothy Dolan of New York City as cardinals of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. They will be officially made cardinals in February. Tell me, what exactly is a cardinal?

A cardinal is a very important cleric in the Church, and is usually an ordained bishop, although at times priests can be included among their ranks. There have even been occasions in the past when non-ordained men have been cardinals, although this was relatively rare. In fact, that hasn’t happened since the end of the 19th century, and won’t going forward. Current Church law limits membership in the College of Cardinals to those who have received orders. In some cases, cardinals who had been serving as bishops or archbishops are assigned to be heads of important Church departments (called “offices” or “congregations”). One example of this was Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI. Before he was elected pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). This is the office of the Church that is tasked with making sure the Catholic faith is taught correctly, in all its purity, throughout the world.

Speaking of electing popes, by far the most important task of the College of Cardinals is to do just that. After the death or resignation of a pope, the cardinals are tasked with electing a new Supreme Pontiff from among their ranks. All cardinals 80 years of age and under are eligible to vote in a private meeting known as a “conclave” to select a new Holy Father.

I have heard that there can be “secret cardinals” named by the pope. Is that true?

Yes, that is a real practice. They are known as cardinals in pectore (Latin for “in the heart”). The pope may appoint a bishop as a cardinal, but not make this information public. His identity is kept secret in order to protect him and/or his flock from harm that would occur if word got out. If the situation changes and it is deemed safe to do so, the identity of the cardinal may be subsequently revealed. Pope John Paul II named four secret cardinals, one of whom is still unknown.

Why do cardinals wear scarlet?

The members of the College of Cardinals wear scarlet, a shade of red, to signify their willingness to shed their blood – to die, if necessary, to preserve the Catholic faith. Interestingly, the famous red bird known as the cardinal got its name from the red clothing of the cardinals of the Church – not the other way around.

How should I address someone like Archbishop Dolan or Archbishop Collins after he is made a cardinal?

One should address him as Your Eminence. When speaking about him in the third person, one may refer to him as His Eminence. You will also notice that when cardinals are referred to in written form, it often takes the form of “(first name) Cardinal (surname)”. For example, in the case of Archbishop Collins, he will sign his name on official documents as “Thomas Cardinal Collins”.

Seeing Red: Archbishop Collins Named Cardinal

After celebrating morning Mass at the Vatican, Pope Benedict announced that Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins will be made a member of the College of Cardinals. Archbishop Collins will be given the famous red hat and garments (signifying the readiness of the cardinals to shed their blood, if necessary, in defence of the truth of Catholicism) at a consistory (gathering of bishops) in Rome which will take place February 18-19. By far the most important task of the cardinals is, following the death of a pope, to elect a new pontiff. All cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to vote in the conclave, the closed meeting in which a successor is chosen. You can check out the mini-site from the intrepid Communications Director for the Archdiocese, Neil MacCarthy, here.

Archbishop Collins, who hails from Guelph, Ontario, was ordained a priest in 1973, and previously served as the Bishop of St. Paul, Alberta, and also as Archbishop of Edmonton. He was named the 10th Archbishop of Toronto in 2006.

On a personal note, I’m absolutely overjoyed for His Grace. He’s a dynamic preacher and teacher, well-known for his Lectio Divina scripture lessons here in Toronto at St. Michael’s Cathedral. For a taste of that teaching, check out the clip below. It’s uncanny how his charism of spiritual fatherhood comes across – one feels as if he is in the presence of the head of a household, imparting precious life lessons to his children. Archbishop Collins also gave invaluable support to me in giving his endorsement to The New Mass app, which I created for the new English translation of the Mass. I’ll be forever grateful for his blessing on the project.

Welcoming the New Mass Translation

If you attended Mass earlier today, you witnessed the end of an era. Today was the final celebration of the liturgy with the now “old” English translation of Mass, officially known as the 2nd Edition of the Roman Missal in English. Beginning tonight with the vigil Masses for the 1st Sunday of Advent, we will be using the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal – the new English translation – in North America, and in many other English-speaking countries around the world.

I can’t wait to get started with the new translation. Since I created The New Mass app for iOS and Android, and have been giving all kinds of presentations explaining the new Missal, one might expect that. But I really do believe this is going to be great. Pope Benedict said when the final text was presented to him last year that he hoped it would serve as “a springboard for renewal of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world.” So, let’s dive in!

How about you? Will there be anything you’ll miss about the old translation, or is there anything you can’t wait to hear in the new? Let us know in the comments below.

State of the Union

On a day when U.S. President Barack Obama gave the “State of the Union” address, it’s apropos that today is the feast marking the conversion of Saint Paul. This, in turn, denotes the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. And without true conversion, Christian unity will always be relegated to fantasy status. It seems that many Christians have either a) given up on the concept completely, or b) have a skewed vision of what true Christian unity looks like.

Pope Benedict XVI had some strong words mere hours ago for those who have given up on the possibility of Christian unity. At an ecumenical event capping the week of prayer at the Basilica of St Paul outside the wall in Rome, the Pontiff said that this attitude is a “temptation of resignation and pessimism”, and amounts to “a lack of trust in the power of the Holy Spirit.”  So much for option a)!

What of option b)? Many Catholic and Protestatnt Christians view success in ecumenism as simply “agreeing to disagree”. They believe there are “many valid expressions” of Christianity, even though they differ with each other on key aspects of faith and morality. But such an uneasy peace is not what either Jesus, Paul, or Pope Benedict has in mind.

Pope Benedict noted today that Christian unity is “a moral imperative, a response to a precise call of the Lord.” One of the passages he may have had in mind was John 17:20-21, when Jesus addressed his Father: “I do not pray for these only (the Apostles), but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Christian disunity is not only therefore direct disobedience to Christ, but we must also recognize that Christian unity must be a corporate unity. That is, we must be visibly one, not just in agreement about some core essentials of doctrine – “Mere Christianity”, as it were (and who’s to say exactly how many elements constitute the “Mereness”?) – is not enough. The union must be visible, corporeal, for Jesus said if it was, “the world may believe that you have sent me”. Seeing is believing for the skeptic.

“That for which we yearn is the unity for which Christ himself prayed and which, by its nature, is manifested in a communion of faith, sacraments and ministry”, Pope Benedict said.

Christian disunity is not what Paul wanted, either. In fact, he was mortified at the beginnings of what amounted to “denominationalism” (denomination means “of a name” – hence Lutheranism, Calvinism, etc.) in Corinth:

I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

-1 Corinthians 1:10-13

To the contrary, as Paul writes to the Ephesians, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).

The theme of the Week of Christian unity was, “One in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer” (cf. Acts 2:42). There will be no Christian unity without an acceptance of all the apostles’ teaching, preserved in the Catholic Church. There’s no unity without the “breaking of the bread” – code for the Mass. And true fellowship derives from oneness in purpose and belief, for, as Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12:25). Another U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, once famously quoted those words. And the Civil Wars within Christianity must likewise end.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

Today Pope Benedict capped his monumental visit to the UK by beatifying Cardinal Newman, who has been a hero of mine since I discovered him around the time of my re-version in 2004. Back then, I was a cradle Catholic who had become a Protestant pastor, and was being convinced (against my will!) of the truth of Catholicism. At first I thought that it would be possible to remain where I was, and simply attempt to educate Protestants about Catholic beliefs through my preaching and teaching. I didn’t think it was necessary for me to actually return to the Catholic Church – until I met Newman. He made me realize that it was not enough to recognize, and even promote to others, the veracity of the Catholic faith. I actually had to be in corporate union with the Church Jesus founded if I hoped to attain salvation, once I knew it to be the true Church. As Lumen Gentium 14 put it: “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved”. That’s the dangerous thing about truth – once we recognize it, we are obliged to act on it. It’s something Newman knew full well.

So, how did I get to know Newman? By divine providence, I was at a conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I visited the famous Eerdmans discount theological bookstore. It was there, of all places, that I found a book on Cardinal Newman by a Catholic priest, Stanley L. Jaki, called Newman’s Challenge. Reading about Newman’s courageous conversion gave me the strength I needed to return home myself. Fr. Jaki relates in the book that on the occasion of his reception into the Catholic Church, the most famous Anglican in the world wrote personal letters to several of his friends and family members, outlining his reasons for embracing the Church of Rome. Newman also spoke of why he couldn’t keep silent about what he had discovered:

Newman revealed the innermost recesses of his powerful mind by repeating that he was about to be received “into the One True Fold”. On October 9, 1845…he assured his own sister…that “if I thought that any other body than that which I recognize to be Catholic were to be recognized by the Saviour of the world, I would not have left that body”. Five days later he wrote to her that it would have been a betrayal of Truth (writ large) had he kept from others his most considered conviction that the Church of Rome was the Catholic Church. He told her that he could not live with a conscience guilty of dissimulation, with the guilt that he had deprived others of the Truth: “What a doom would have been mine, if I had kept the Truth a secret in my bosom, and when I knew which the One Church was, and which was not part of the One Church, I had suffered friends and strangers to die in an ignorance from which I might have relieved them.” He knew which was the pain to be dreaded more: the temporal pain he would feel because he had to pain others, or the eternal pain he would eventually suffer by choosing not to pain them and thereby not to inspire others to convert as he did (Newman’s Challenge, p. 81).