Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Church in her dark night presents a choice: God or nothing

An important book on the present Church crisis was just published in France. (English translation will be published later this year by Ignatius Press.) Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has written a third interview book with journalist Nicolas Diat, entitled It Is Towards Evening and the Day Is Now Far Spent. The title is taken from the story of the two Emmaus disciples who unknowingly encountered the Risen Christ as they walked from Jerusalem in discouragement following the Crucifixion (Lk 24:29). Christ’s words explaining the scriptures gave Cleophas and his unnamed friend understanding and courage. They asked him to stay with them as evening drew on. Our Lord agreed to stay, and they soon recognized the Lord Jesus when he broke the bread.

We are called to recognize Jesus present to His Church in these troubled times that resemble encroaching darkness, as the light of day disappears amidst scandals and the loss of faith by many. Cardinal Sarah writes in the Introduction: “In my last book I invited you to silence. However, I cannot remain silent any longer. …. Christians are disoriented. Each day I receive … calls for help from those who no longer know what to believe [including] priests who are discouraged and hurt. The Church is going through the dark night. The mystery of iniquity envelops her and blinds her.”

Cardinal Sarah points out “[e]very day we receive the most upsetting news. A week does not go by without a case of sexual abuse being revealed… certain men of God have become the agents of the Evil One.”

This horrific crisis of immoral and criminal turpitude by some priests, bishops, and cardinals brings shame upon the Church and her faithful who are stunned to learn of such evil behavior, and even more stunned to learn of massive cover-ups and protection given to those who should have been expelled from the priesthood.

The crisis of criminal sexual abuse by the clergy is not the only grave threat we face. Cardinal Sarah writes: “We have abandoned prayer. The evil of efficiency activism has infiltrated everywhere. We attempt to imitate the organizational model of big businesses. We forget that prayer alone is the blood that can irrigate the heart of the Church. We claim that we have no time to waste. We want to use this time for useful social works. He who does not pray has already betrayed. Even now he is ready for all types of compromises with the world. He walks along the path of Judas.”

This cardinal from a poor third-world country that suffered longtime ravages of communist dictatorship understands the mission of the Church is more than providing material relief. She offers the path to heaven through faith and prayer. Charity must be a fruit of living belief and prayer, not be its replacement.

Cardinal Sarah sees today’s doctrinal confusion as a serious threat: “We tolerate calling everything into question. Catholic doctrine is placed into doubt. In the name of so-called intellectual positions, some theologians amuse themselves in deconstructing dogmas, emptying morality of its profound meaning. Relativism is the mask of Judas disguised as an intellectual.”

He admits, “This book is the cry of my soul. It is a cry of love for God and for my brethren. I owe my fellow Christians the only truth that saves. … the shepherds are afraid to speak in all truth and clarity. We are afraid of the media, afraid of public opinion, afraid of our own brothers! The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.”

Cardinal Sarah is such a good shepherd, who truly embodies the title of his first book, God or Nothing. Indeed, that is the choice we must make.

FATHER GERALD MURRAY is pastor of Holy Family Church, New York, NY. He holds a doctorate in canon law from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and appears as commentator on religious topics on TV and radio, including EWTN, Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC, NY1, Radio Maria, Relevant Radio, Fox News Radio, and the Voice of America. He writes a monthly column for The Catholic Thing website. He served in U.S. Navy Reserve Chaplain Corps from 1994 to 2005.

Catholic laity – face-to-face with bishops

What I am about to tell you is something you’ve never seen in the Catholic Church. If you have seen anything like this, contact me. I’d like to learn more.

In September, I twice saw members of the lay faithful accompany two victims of priestly sexual misconduct into a bishop’s office and help these victims present their story of abuse. I saw the bishop remove two guilty priests from active service. When they learned of it, some Catholics responded with gratitude and relief. Others were upset that their favorite priest had been outed. For many Catholics, a priest’s popularity and the convenience of a Mass schedule trumps concern for a holy priesthood.

What I didn’t see were lawsuits or exposés in the secular press. I didn’t see sheriffs raiding the chancery or ugly protests at Mass. I caught a glimpse of Christ’s Church acting like the Body of Christ with brothers confronting brothers in love and hope. I saw mature laity identifying corrupt clergy and exhorting a mature bishop.

Co-responsibility of the lay faithful

I must stress, however that bishops did not initiate this investigation, discovery, or confrontation. The lay faithful took co-responsibility for Christ’s Church according to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The Church is too important to leave to priests and bishops alone. In over20 different passages, St. Paul commands us to love, pray, honor, forgive, encourage, exhort, and admonish one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Laity don’t need canonical authority to hold bishops accountable. Their authority is rooted in something more foundational than canon law. They call upon the moral law, basic human decency. We cannot cooperate with evil. We must expose the hidden things of darkness. By virtue of their baptism, they are obligated to admonish, exhort, and encourage one another and that includes bishops and priests.

The clergy scandal has a silver lining: forcing the lay faithful to exercise co-responsibility for the Church. Laity, of course, won’t vote on revealed dogma. They won’t confect the sacraments. They will insist that our Church be governed by the best HR practices from our flourishing businesses. Sexual harassment is intolerable at any level. Healthy churches, like healthy families, don’t hide, minimize, or deny abuse. Because St. Paul’s vision of the Church drives this new laity, they have stopped murmuring and commiserating with Catholic buddies about the darkness. They have turned on the moral spotlight to properly confront, challenge, and exhort our clergy. Learn more at nomorevictimsmi.org.

Why is it novel for the Church to act like the Church?

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, while reviewing crises among the clergy, allegedly wrote in 1972: “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops, like bishops, and your religious act like religious.”

Right now the world sees bishops whose moral authority is on par with Bill Cosby. I know some outstanding converts who would not have come into full communion under these present circumstances. The world deserves to witness a morally and spiritually fierce laity unwilling to compromise the Gospel. We don’t need a club for religious cronies and pious pretenders. We need and are seeing a new movement of Spirit-led communicants striving to give the world a glimpse of Christ’s Kingdom. In September, I briefly witnessed Jesus governing his Church through all its members. The Church was acting like the Church. It shouldn’t be such a novel idea.

AL KRESTA is president and chief executive officer, Ave Maria Communications, and host of Ave Maria Radio’s longtime popular show, “Kresta in the Afternoon,” heard on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network.

The Quiet Man headed home

“Based on the Church’s teachings, his soul was wiped clean, with Baptism and the Last Rites. He probably made a direct shot to the high heavens,” said Patrick Wayne, the son of the legendary actor whose name still resonates with audiences nearly 40 years after his death.

“I think what my dad represents to people, what they find attractive, is that he, not only on the screen but in his personal life, represented a character, the icon of the Old West, that this is an individual who stands on his own, who works hard to succeed,” said Patrick, 79, who himself enjoyed a successful film career.

Patrick Wayne, the chairman of the John Wayne Cancer Institute, will be one of the Legatus Summit 2019 speakers in January. He will be speaking about his famous father, the role that faith played in his life, and his family’s work to carry on the Duke’s legacy through funding cancer research.

“We had no idea how long the institute would last,” Patrick said. “We thought we would ride this and if his name resonated with the public, great. Not one of us would have expected that his celebrity and popularity would still resonate, and it does.”

An ambitious athlete

John Wayne was born Marion Mitchell Morrison in 1907 in a small town in Iowa. His parents moved the family west to California, eventually settling in Glendale. The young John Wayne was a gifted and driven athlete.

As a young man, my dad was ambitious. He wanted to succeed. He wanted to do something,” Patrick said.

John Wayne had dreams of attending the U.S. Naval Academy, but did not get admitted. However, he excelled in football and landed a scholarship to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

In his first year of college, Wayne broke his shoulder while surfing, and lost his football scholarship. He went to work in the local film studios, where USC football players often worked in the off-season, helping with props and working as an extra.

Within a decade, John Wayne was a movie star.

“If he had gone to the Naval Academy, he would have become the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Patrick said. “If he had gone to school, he would have been president of the United States. He was going to succeed in some form, in some way. Fate just took him into the movie business.”

Then to the movies

John Wayne appeared in more than 175 movies. He won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. He played dozens of cowboys in Westerns. He starred alongside Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man and portrayed soldiers in The Longest Day and The Green Berets.

“His roles in films were cookie-cutter, but not in a bad way,” said Patrick, who explained that his father was advised at a young age by the actor Harry Carey that he did not need to portray many different characters because moviegoers wanted their stars to be consistent, if not predictable.

“Right or wrong, good or bad, he chose to follow that route. I guess it paid off for him. He was still pretty successful,” said Patrick, who appeared in 40 films, 11 with his father, including The Quiet Man and The Green Berets.

“What came through the screen was his presence,” Patrick said. “When he worked in films, you were drawn to him. As an audience you can’t take your eyes off him. Without any trickery or chicanery, he was just like that.”

Referring to actors who would “be doing all sorts of schtick” when they were in a scene with the Duke, Patrick said he would tell his father, “Is this guy kidding?” The elder Wayne would just respond, “I don’t care about that. No one is going to be looking at him anyway.”

While a director could give Patrick particular instructions about a role, they would easily be vetoed by his father’s input.

“My dad would say, ‘Do it this way,’” Patrick said. “And I’d say, ‘Okay, Dad.’”

A man’s man

Audiences the world over saw John Wayne the movie star, the icon of masculinity. To Patrick, he was first and foremost, Dad.

“In his personal life, he had a great sense of humor, which from time to time was shown in the films, but not to the extent that he had,” Patrick said. “He was a warm, sensitive, feeling person, a very thoughtful, considerate, bright person. He was a much more well-rounded person than what you might see in the films.”

What Hollywood accurately captured was the Duke’s larger-than-life presence.

“He could walk into a room and literally everybody would stop talking,” Patrick said. “By the same token, in five minutes he was as charming as they come. He would warm you up and you would be talking to him and you would think from the conversation, from the comfort level, that you had been friends with him for your entire life.”

John Wayne grew up Presbyterian, but he was not churchgoing. He was divorced three times. His first wife, Patrick’s mother Josephine, was a devout Catholic who never remarried after their divorce but never stopped praying for him.

“For the last eight years of her life, she was a daily communicant,” Patrick said. “My mother was driven to be a decent person, and she had the structure of religion as a backbone.”

While John Wayne rarely darkened the doors of a church, Patrick said his father was “one of the most decent men” he still has ever met.

“He believed in the core values of loyalty, honesty, reliability and he lived his life that way,” Patrick said. “That’s the way he treated other people, with respect.”

Fighting cancer, embracing the Church

Josephine’s example and prayers had their intended effect. According to his biographies, Wayne was a spiritual person who hand-wrote letters to God as a way of praying. He also befriended Archbishop Tomas Clavel of Panama.

In the mid-1960s, The Duke successfully fought lung cancer, but by 1978, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He deteriorated quickly.

In May 1979, with Wayne in a coma and dying of cancer, the hospital chaplain, a Catholic priest, came to visit him. Patrick said he went into the room and asked his father if it was okay for the chaplain to see him.

“My dad opened his eyes and said, ‘Okay.’ That was the first thing he said in seven days. I was stunned,” said Patrick, who added that the chaplain emerged about 20 minutes later and told him that he had baptized his father and given him the anointing of the sick.

“He was conscious and made a conscious acceptance of it,” Patrick said. “And two hours later, he passed away.”

Continuing legacy

Today, the John Wayne Cancer Institute carries on The Duke’s legacy. Located in Santa Monica, California and affiliated with the Saint John’s Health Center, the institute has expanded its research efforts to fight many different diseases, including urologic, thoracic, endocrine, gynecologic, and neurologic cancers.

Patrick’s son is also on the board of directors, and his grandsons are showing interest in continuing the work of the John Wayne Cancer Institute.

“So it’s a generational thing,” Patrick said. “There are going to be Waynes to take up the reins for a long time to come.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

The Savior arrives as a baby

Christmas could rightly be called the holiday of the senses.

It is the season of lights and tinsel, choirs and carols, the aroma of evergreen and roasting chestnuts. Christmas comes to us with sumptuous meals, hearty laughter, and kisses beneath the mistletoe. Christmas scenes — by the old masters and by modern advertisers — decorate the walls of museums, billboards on the roadside, and cards in the mailbox. For nearly 2,000 years, the world has marked the birth of Jesus as its most festive jubilee. No other day of the year offers the world so many earthly pleasures.

But why? No pope or Church council ever declared that it should be so. Yet every year, Christmas comes onto the calendar like a sudden December wind, like the blinding sun reflected off new snow. It is a shock to the senses, to go from barren winter to the season of lights and feasting.

And so it should be, for the first Christmas — the day when Jesus Christ was born — was a shock to human history.

For millennia, humankind had lived and died, uncomprehending, in its sin, the miseries of this world inevitable and the joys few and fleeting. Then Christmas arrived, and even the calendar went mad. From that moment, all of history was cleft in two: before that day (B.C.), and after that day (A.D.). The world — with all its sights and sounds and aromas and embraces — was instantly transfigured. For the world’s redemption had begun the moment God took human flesh for His own, the moment God was born in a poor stable in Bethlehem.

The greatest Christian poem commemorates this moment when God definitively came to dwell on earth. St. John begins his Gospel by describing a God of awesome power, remote in space and transcending time: a Spirit, a Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him.

This is the God that even the pagan philosophers knew: the Prime Mover, the One, the Creator. Yet, precisely where the pagan philosophers stalled, John’s drama proceeded to a remarkable climax:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

This was shocking news. From the distant heavens, from remotest time, God Himself had come in flesh to “pitch His tent” among His people. Yes, God is eternally the Word, but a word is elusive, and not everyone may grasp it. Now He is also a baby, and a baby may be picked up and held and embraced.

Of all the amazing and confounding truths of the Christian religion, there is none so outrageous as this: that the Word was made flesh, in a particular little town, in a stable filled with animals, on a certain day of the year. The Word was made flesh and changed everything. This makes Christmas the most shocking feast in the calendar.

This is what Christmas teaches us: We have bodies so that we can use them to worship God, as Jesus of Nazareth did. We have bodies so that we can use them to serve others, as Jesus did. We have bodies so that we can bring comfort and consolation and healing, as Jesus did. We have bodies so we can celebrate together, as Jesus did. We have bodies for glory’s sake.

Christmas tells the story of how the flesh became holy, the body was sanctified, and simple earthly joys became hymns of praise to God. We love to hear the story over and over, and we always will love it so long as a scrap of humanity remains in us. L

MIKE AQUILINA is the author of many books, including Faith of Our Fathers (Emmaus Road), from which this essay is adapted. He has hosted 11 series on EWTN Television, and appears weekly on Sirius Radio’s “Sonrise Morning Show.”

Defending the Church in her hour of need – two guiding principles

Our beloved Catholic Church is facing the worst crisis in 500 years. Clergy sexual abuse, rampant sexual immorality, and cover-up by Church authorities: it adds up to a Church deeply in need of reform. We are waiting anxiously to see what the hierarchy decides to do. But we have no control over their actions, and indeed, they are divided among themselves. So what can we as laity do to help our mother in her hour of need?

I have been on the forefront of defending the Church’s teaching on marriage, family, and human sexuality for the past decade. In my opinion, the laity can and must do two things.

First, we must make it our business to work for justice for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. No excuse-making. “But the Protestants and public schools have as much abuse as we do.” Perhaps true, but not relevant. The only relevant fact is our commitment to getting our own house in order. That includes: justice for the victims, and punishment for the perpetrators, including those who covered up. Justice also includes protection and support for innocent clergy.

Second, we must make it our business to proclaim the Church’s teaching on marriage, family, and human sexuality in our own sphere of influence. This is directly relevant to the current crisis. If the clergy had lived up to Church teaching, including the 6th Commandment and their vows of celibacy, none of the abuse would ever have happened.

I will go further and say: the world desperately needs to hear the Church’s timeless message. We need not apologize for our beliefs. Sexual self-command, lifelong married love, and the need of children for their parents: These teachings are good, decent, and life-giving.

We now know why we have heard so little from the clergy: too many of them are morally compromised. Others are under the thumb of corrupt superiors.

The only way we can be sure the world hears the Church’s teaching is for us, the laity, to deliver that message ourselves.

Please note: these are guiding principles, not a detailed program. Each person will implement these principles in his own unique way, depending on vocation, location, and the season of life. The mother of school children will have a very different role than an attorney at the peak of his career. Both are different from a college student or a young professional beginning her first job. But every one of these people may be needed to address a situation in a local school or church. Every one of them can spread the message of lifelong, life-giving love.

If we make excuses for ourselves or the Church, we are going to look bad, and make the Church look bad. If we act like “business as usual,” we are going to die in an empty church. More importantly, the Lord will ask each one of us for an accounting of how we handle ourselves in this great crisis.

If on the other hand, we faithful Catholics conduct ourselves with dignity and integrity and charity, we will pull our Church through this crisis. We will expose and correct evils that should have been addressed long ago. We will create room for a genuine flourishing of the Gospel. Our neighbors will be drawn to us.

In other words, this is our chance to become saints. We can be crusaders for the truth like
St. Athanasius and authentic reformers like St. Teresa of Avila. Let’s not drop the ball.

JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE, PH.D. is the founder and president of the Ruth Institute, which equips people to defend traditional Christian sexual morality. She is the author of The Sexual State: How Elite Ideologies Are Destroying Lives and Why the Church Was Right All Along.

When things don’t seem to get better

Fr. Thomas Berg writes that we are not necessarily called to be successful . . .

Fr. Thomas Berg

Fr. Thomas Berg

Arriving at the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars annual conference in Philadelphia last September, I was delighted to find out that Archbishop Charles Chaput would be the main celebrant and homilist at Mass the following day.

I have long been a fan of the archbishop, not least of all for the depth of his message, the clarity of his thought — and for his candor. True to form, he opened his homily with the following reflection (paraphrased): As he now reflects back on his years of priesthood and episcopacy, the one thing that has surprised him is that during these years things have not gotten any better in the Church!

How’s that for candor?! The archbishop’s point, of course, was not to throw a wet towel on our conference, nor to get us all depressed. He certainly did, however, intend to reconnect us with what we might call the realism of the Gospel as it applies to our efforts at personal holiness and at evangelizing the culture.

He went on to remind us that the reality is that Christ’s resurrection was preceded by Calvary — and that in the paradoxical ways of grace, the grain of wheat must fall in the ground and die before it bears fruit. It reminds us that we are called not to lay aside our cross and follow Jesus, but to pick it up, drag it, and struggle under its weight. Gospel realism also tells us that it might often seem that things are not getting better, but worse!

Of course, there are victories in the struggle to evangelize the culture — and plenty of them. For example, the fruits of the right to life movement over the past 40 years have resulted in the continued decline of abortion rates in the U.S., the passage of Women’s Right to Know laws with 24-hour reflection periods, partial birth abortion bans, bans on abortion of 20-week-old unborn infants capable of experiencing pain, and education efforts that have moved so many young people to take a stand every year at the March for Life in cities across the nation.

Yet no matter how often we remind ourselves of the victories, we are at times overwhelmed by a sense of paralysis — perhaps even a sense that our efforts seem to go one-step forward and two-steps backward, and even that we’re losing the culture wars.

What to do then? In those moments we need to recall Gospel realism  — that the life of every committed Christian and the life of the Church as a whole, by God’s own unfathomable design, must experience Calvary  through struggle, setbacks, opposition, contradictions and cross. We must remember that if we are faithful, our own Christian experience as disciples and evangelizers will necessarily be cruciform.

Christ on the cross — stretched in all directions — gives definitive form to the Christian life of the members of his Body as we follow Him in the present state of life, still alien-residents and sojourners, still making our way — ever so arduous most of the time — to our true homeland. This explains why we feel stretched to the point of breaking at times — and why an archbishop might honestly sense that “things don’t seem to be getting better.”

This realism of the cross reminds us that we are not good judges of “success,” “progress,” and “victory,” which ultimately must be assessed over time and according to the ways of God’s inscrutable providence and paradoxical designs. More importantly, Gospel realism also reminds us that the Holy Spirit, in spite of appearances to the contrary, is always at work in the world. And His work does obtain victories on a daily basis. But more often than not, those victories happen one soul at a time. Yes, it’s that changing-heartsand-minds-one-at-a-time thing. It’s not a cliché; it’s a reality!

As Lent draws near, let’s remember that when Jesus calls us to follow him and engage in the work of evangelization, he does not promise palpable success. On the contrary, he assures us that “all will hate you on my account,” that our efforts will all be molded in the mystery of the cross, and that consequently, the “mystery of iniquity” resists Christian goodness. We will struggle on a daily basis with our own inadequacies, sinfulness, and many apparent failures in his service.

Jesus does not promise that we will actually see the promised land of a more thoroughly Christianized culture. The important thing today and always will not be the apparent “victory,” but the intensity of our love — genuine Christian agape love — with which we engage the world one heart and one mind at a time.

FR. THOMAS BERG is a priest in the Archdiocese of New York and professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie).

The Church and our country

Legatus founder Tom Monaghan says Catholic CEOs can make a difference in our culture . . .

Thomas Monaghan

The election season is now behind us, and all of the important decisions have been made. We have President Obama for another four years. But even if Mitt Romney had won, the Church in our country would still have a ton of challenges to face.

As CEOs, you are used to dealing with numbers, so here are a few statistics about the Church in the U.S. that I have recently been made aware of:

• There are about 70 million Catholics in the U.S. right now.
• There are 30 million fallen-away Catholics.
• Half of the mega-churches’ members are former Catholics.
• Sunday Mass attendance is at about 30%.
• Those going to Mass every Sunday is about 20%.
• For those between the ages of 20-30, weekly Mass attendance is 15% (scary!).
• 7% of Catholics give 80% of Church donations.
• 75% of college students who leave home stop going to Sunday Mass.
• One parish closes every four days.

Canada is in even worse shape than the U.S. For example, Quebec has 10% Sunday Mass attendance. Western Europe is much worse with about 6-7% of the Catholics there going to Sunday Mass. In France, it’s about 4% and Scandinavia is 1%!

I believe the reason for this sad picture is ignorance of the faith. That’s why I have been involved in Catholic education for the last 30 years and why I started Ave Maria University to be a beacon for Catholic education.

Now that we have another four years of President Obama, there is a lot of work to be done and Legatus can have a huge impact. Each of us needs to reach out to other Catholic CEOs because, as you know, Legates are the best recruiters of Legates.

Catholic CEOs who study, live and spread the faith can and will transform their marriages, their families, their businesses, their communities, this country — and who knows, maybe even the world.

Thomas Monaghan is Legatus’ founder and chairman. He is a member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter.

Why did Christ establish the Church?

Peter Kreeft wonders: What if Christ didn’t establish the Catholic Church? . . .

Peter Kreeft

The fundamental reason for being Catholic is the historical fact that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, and was God’s invention, not man’s — unless Christ, her founder, is not God, in which case not just Catholicism but Christianity is false.

To be a Christian is to believe that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” To acknowledge him as Lord is to obey his will. And he willed the Catholic (“universal”) Church for all his disciples, for all Christians. We are Catholics because we are Christians.

Many Protestants become Catholics for this reason: They read the Church Fathers (earliest Christian writers) and discover that Christ did establish, not a Protestant Church that later became Catholic, but the Catholic Church, parts of which later broke away and became Protestant.

Suppose Jesus had not established a single, visible church with authority to teach in his name. Suppose he had left it up to us. Suppose the Church was our invention instead of his, only human and not divine. Suppose we had to figure out the right doctrine of the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the sacraments, Mary, and controversial moral issues like contraception, homosexuality and euthanasia. Who then could ever know with certainty the mind and will of God? How could there then be one Church? There would be 20,000 different churches, each teaching its own opinion.

Instead, we do have one Church, with divine authority. As the Father gave authority to Christ (Jn 5:22; Mt 28:18-20), Christ passed it on to his apostles (Lk 10:16), and they passed it on to the successors they appointed as bishops, the teaching authority (Magisterium) of the Church. “Authority” does not mean “power” but “right”—“author’s rights.” The Church has authority only because she is under authority, the authority of her Author and Lord. “No one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel. The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority” (CCC 875).

The authority of the Church has been necessary, for example, for us to know the truth of the Trinity. This most distinctively Christian doctrine of all, the one that reveals the nature of God himself, the nature of ultimate reality, was revealed by God clearly only to the Church. It was not clearly revealed to his chosen people, the Jews. It is not clearly defined in the New Testament. God waited to reveal it to the Church.

This authority of the Church, then, is not arrogant but humble, both (a) in its origin, as received from Christ, under Christ; and (b) in its end, which is to serve, as Christ served (see Jn 16) — if necessary, to the point of martyrdom. Blessed Mother Teresa’s oft-quoted saying describes these two things: “God did not put me on earth to be successful, he put me here to be faithful.”

Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 75 books. This column is reprinted with permission from the book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).


Catechism 101

Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal: “In order to shepherd the People of God and to increase its numbers without cease, Christ the Lord set up in his Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body. The holders of office, who are invested with a sacred power, are, in fact, dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren, so that all who belong to the People of God … may attain to salvation.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #874