Rev. Peter Pilsner, Deacon Thomas Boucek and Thomas McKenna contributed to this article.
On July 9, twenty-nine priests from across the United States gathered in Hanceville, Alabama for the annual Confraternity of Catholic Clergy convention. For the first talk, they welcomed Matt Fradd, one of a new breed of evangelists and apologists who are conversant in popular culture and are developing creative approaches to reach youth and young adults. Matt brought to the members of the CCC key information and resources for dealing with a pastoral issue which is both pervasive and daunting – pornography.
Matt told the story of his own journey from porn addiction to renewal of faith and a lifestyle of freedom. He was eight years old the first time he stumbled across pornography in the home of a relative. The attraction led to a habit and eventually addiction. Having become an agnostic and cynical about religion, he nonetheless attended World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, which was for him a life-changing experience. His new found faith let him to seek chastity and freedom from pornography. He stressed that chastity does not mean reaching a place where temptation is gone, but a daily choice to love authentically.
The most valuable thing in Matt’s talk was a practical pastoral strategy that any priest or deacon can immediately put to use. He described porn addiction as a seven step “activation sequence” which can be consciously countered by a “deactivation sequence.” He further gave the CCC member priests four questions they can ask of a penitent: How often do you fall? How old were you when you started looking at porn? Have you talked to anyone about this outside confession? Do you want to stop? These questions help the priest assess if the penitent has a serious problem with porn and gives the priest a chance to invite him or her to meet outside of the sacrament for further help. Effective resources for someone struggling with porn include: theporneffect.com, integrityrestored.com, reclaimsexualhealth.com. Finally, Matt provided for each participant in the conference information on the accountability software CovenantEyes and a copy of the book Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned From Porn To Purity.
The members of the CCC were grateful to have these new, effective tools for helping people gain freedom in the painful and difficult struggle against pornography.
The second talk of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy was by the renowned Biblical scholar-convert-apologist Scott Hahn. He spoke about the New Evangelization, with the intent of showing that this recent summons of the Church is not a catchphrase, a program, or a slogan, but an urgent priority, rooted deeply in the Church’s mission and nature.
The concept of a New Evangelization goes back to Pius XII, who was searching for new ways to proclaim the Gospel to the modern world. To this end he appointed Angelo Roncalli, the future John XXIII, to lead a commission to see if the Church was ready for a new council to finish the work of Vatican I. Though Roncall concluded that the time for a new council had not arrived, the seed had been planted in his mind, and thus he called Vatican II when he was elected pope. He was followed by Paul VI, who consciously chose to be named after the great evangelizing apostle of the New Testament. In view of the many journeys of John Paul the Great, people tend to forget that Paul VI was the first “traveling pope,” with trips to the United States, Portugal, Uganda, Columbia, and other countries. John Paul II first used the phrase “new evangelization” during his trip to Poland in 1979. It was an unscripted phrase, drawn from his heart, in reaction to the deprivation of faith he saw as the result of years of communist control. He wanted to re-evangelize the de-christianized. The next time he used the phrase was on his visit to the United States, when he saw the need for the gospel to be proclaimed to those whose faith had suffered from secularism and materialism.
The key insight offered by Dr. Hahn for accomplishing the New Evangelization is to see it in light of the sacraments, in particular, the Eucharist. Evangelization is not just a proclamation of the Gospel message, successful when a person responds in faith. It is the beginning of a journey, a preparation for entering the family of God, requiring conversion and catechesis, the final goal of which is the Eucharist. To take part in the New Evangelization means to bring those already “sacramentalized” to find in the Eucharist the abundant grace of salvation which they hear proclaimed in Sacred Scripture. In the New Evangelization, priests have a privileged mission of spiritual fatherhood, becoming spiritual life-givers through the sacraments.
Fr. Charles Connor
The morning talk for the second full day of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy Conference was by Fr. Charles Connor, prolific author and scholar, Professor of Theology and Church history at Mount Saint Mary Seminary Emmitsburg, Maryland, and host of numerous programs on EWTN. In is talk Fr. Connor set out to compare the insights and spirituality of the priesthood in the writings of the two newly canonized popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. People often try to contrast the two popes, as one being liberal and progressive and the other conservative, but a careful look shows that they present a consistent spirituality on the priesthood.
The spirituality of the priesthood of St. John XXIII is found most clearly in his encyclical on the anniversary of the death of St. John Vianny, Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, published in August of 1959. He extolls John Vianny as a saint who “attracts and pushes us to the heights of priestly life.” John Vianny was a model of sacrifice and penance, who gave himself tirelessly to God’s people in priestly charity. His faithful chastity produced a generous openness of heart to others. He taught that man’s greatest privilege was to pray, and encouraged a simple form of prayer, in which the Christian pours out his heart in all simplicity, becoming a beggar before God.
John Paul II became pope at a time when many theologians spoke of confusion about the nature and role of the priest. To respond to this trend, he explained and reflected on the theology of Vatican II on the priesthood. One finds his insights expressed in his yearly Holy Thursday letters to priests, his book Gift and Mystery, and his encyclical letter on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis. There, John Paul affirms that the priest is ontologically configured to Christ, the head of the mystical body and the spouse of the Church. Celibacy is a treasure. The priest is called to a life of prayer, offering himself to the one to whom he has been configured. He is a man who “sits at the school of the Eucharist.” John Paul’s theology and spirituality on the priesthood is completely at one with that of John XXIII. Thus, Fr. Connor concludes, we do not need a new theology of the priesthood, as if priesthood will otherwise become out of date. What we need is a “refreshment” in the eternal truths of the mystery of the priesthood, and for each priest to find his “today” in the “today” of Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
On the afternoon of July 10, His Excellency Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, delivered the keynote address at the annual conference of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. With clear and substantive theological arguments, he exhorted the members of the Confraternity to explain and defend the Church’s teaching on marriage.
Marriage is unique. No other human relationship is based on the three goods (or bonae) of marriage: fruitfulness, faithfulness, and permanence. Sadly, people fail to appreciate the nature of marriage, as is shown by widespread advocacy for same sex marriage. This advocacy, though, has been a long time in the making. By the use of contraception, people have stopped seeing fruitfulness as part of marriage. By the legalization of no-fault divorce, people no longer regard permanence as essential to marriage. (However, in spite of “swinging” and experiments of “open marriage” fidelity does continue to be valued.) Thus marriage in no longer viewed as a way of providing for the well-being of children, but for the satisfaction of adults. It has become re-interpreted according to what St. John Paul II called the utilitarian ethic.
The true nature and value of marriage has been guarded and proclaimed by the church, because it is a natural symbol for the mystical union of God the soul — a union which, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI points out in Deus Caritas Est, the two become one yet remain their distinct selves. The Song of Songs was, for this reason, the book of the Old Testament most frequently commented upon during the patristic period. There are also numerous references to marriage in the New Testament, such as the wedding at Cana, the parable of the ten bridesmaids, the teaching on the mystery of Christ and the Church in Ephesians Chapter 5, and the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation. Perhaps we are less aware of the nuptial imagery present in liturgy and church architecture. A canopy over an altar represents a canopy used at Jewish weddings. Veils used during liturgy, such as chalice veils, or more ancient practices of placing a veil in front of the altar or over the hands of communicants at the altar rail, is reminiscent of a marriage veil. The altar cloth has been understood to symbolize the bed clothes of the marriage bed.
Because marriage thus symbolizes the possibility and hope of intimacy with God, it is of the highest importance that priests explain and defend the institution of marriage. Just as it will be harder for a child to see God as a loving Father when he lacks the presence of a loving father in his life, so it will be harder for people to grasp Christ’s offer of spiritual intimacy if they have no knowledge or experience of the truth of marriage. Archbishop Cordileone thus encouraged all the members of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy with the words of St. John Paul II, “Do not be afraid.” We should proclaim the truth in charity and be willing to suffer for the truth. We have a rich tradition – the theology of the body, a true understanding of freedom, a correct view of the human person, a sense of the transcendent nature of the person. We should not let the pressure of the present culture make us reticent about speaking up on behalf of marriage. We are not in the situation of many lay people who might lose their jobs or be blocked in their careers if they stand up for marriage. If we defend the institution of marriage, the worst that can happen to us is that people will be angry at us and call us names. In fact, defending marriage may even be the key to the new evangelization. When people, especially young people, see the truth of the Church’s teaching about marriage, they will be led to conclude that if the Church is right about this one important area of life, she might be right about everything else too. Archbishop Cordileone offered a final, practical way to participate in the new evangelization – to celebrate the mass with care, reverence and devotion, and thus “renew the Church from the heart.”
The members of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy deeply appreciated Archbishop Cordileone’s thought provoking and inspiring words, and have asked him to continue to work with them as their Episcopal Advisor, which he as graciously agreed to do.