“Cry, cease not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their wicked doings”
(Isaias 58:1 [DRB]).
A recent statement from the Parish Council of Holy Trinity Church in the District of Columbia benightedly and truculently exclaims that their church “will not deny the Eucharist to persons presenting themselves to receive it.” I wrote the following to its pastor, a Jesuit priest:
The First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church [30 June]
Good morning, Father Gillespie:
The pastor, as you know, is responsible before God for the salvation of the souls entrusted to him. Such responsibility includes, of course, the moral education of parishioners and the willingness to stand forth, as Christ’s priest (and pastor), refusing to think and to act in and for the cause of evil—or to cower when others do so think and act.
In fact, our thinking ought to conform to the Holy Eucharist (CCC #1327, Rom 12:2), not defile it by knowingly and willingly acceding to the shameless reception of Our Lord by those who publicly and persistently flout the Church’s (that is, Christ’s) immutable teaching.
The proclamation of the Gospel requires us courageously (cf. Heb 12:12) to speak the truth in love, and not to court popularity (see, e.g., John 12:43 and Gal 1:10).
Dear Father, to encourage, in any way, those who perform, or applaud, the moral monstrosity of abortion is grave evil: it is sacrilege, and it is scandal.
Please, Father, answer the psalmist’s plaintive question, “Who will stand up for me against evildoers? Who will take his stand for me against those who do injustice?” (Ps 94:16), by responding, as a priest of Christ: “Here I am, Lord. Send me [as your priestly steadfast witness against the mass murder of the innocents].”
May the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church pray for you and for all those in your trust.
Deacon James H. Toner
Father Gillespie has not answered my email.
Were I to speak with this pastor and his parish council (for whose moral education Father Gillespie is responsible, if hardly successful), I might remind him of Jacques Maritain, who admonished us about kneeling before the world—and of Bishop Fulton Sheen, who counseled us that “The worst thing in the world is not sin; it is the denial of sin by a false conscience.”
If we listen to Maritain and Sheen, we are well and wisely taught about the perils of worldliness and the cure for it: a properly formed Catholic conscience (see CCC #1713-1714, 1733, 1740). At Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the District of Columbia, we find this mission statement: “We are a Jesuit Catholic parish that welcomes all to—Accompany one another in Christ, Celebrate God’s love, [and] Transform Lives.” Will that language and the progressive platform from which it evolves help effect a properly formed Catholic conscience? Will that church—and its archdiocese—have authentic shepherds to guide, guard, and govern them, or only those who “take care of themselves but never tend the sheep”? (Ezekiel 34:2; cf. 2 Peter 2:1, Jude 1:4.)
A few years ago, I gently complained to our pastor that the parish “mission statement” sounded more like the self-promotional, commercial verbiage of a corporation than a precis of what the Catholic Church has essentially preached since its founding by our Lord. A survey of such “mission statements” (especially in self-proclaimed “faith communities”—rather than in “Catholic churches”) suggests a widespread problem: emphasis is often placed upon prideful self-congratulation and horizontal theology (“It’s all about us!”) rather than upon our sacred duty of worshiping God and faithfully fulfilling and preserving the doctrinal responsibilities entrusted to us (2 Tim 1:13-14, CCC #857).
I told my pastor that I could give him a good parish mission statement in eight words (“Glorify God, save souls, make saints, teach truth”).
He told me to write it down and give it to him, along with some “justification.” I did so, and we finally chose six words which, in fact, became the parish mission statement. The “justification” I offered was subsequently printed in the church bulletin. Here is the full text for all four phrases:
Glorify God . . .
To glorify means to worship. From the words of the Gloria: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” These words, prayed at almost every holy Mass, are angelic (see Luke 2:14). They praise Almighty God, and the prayer of praise, the Catechism tells us, “embraces the other forms of prayer and carries them toward [the Triune God] (CCC #2639, #2789). As Catholics, we are commissioned to glorify God by what we think (2 Cor 10:5), by what we say (Eph 5:4), and by what we do (James 2:17, 24). “To glorify God” is a phrase which incorporates the Ten Commandments, the Eight Beatitudes, and the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, calling upon us to love God and, in that spirit of charity, to serve our neighbor. “To glorify God” is a phrase, moreover, which communicates our longing for God (cf. Psalms 63 and 42) and which publicly announces our desire, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s witnesses wherever we are (cf. Mt 28:20, Acts 1:8, Gaudium et Spes, #43, para 4).
Teach Truth . . .
Where and when the secular world adamantly denies objective truth, the Church, as God’s witness, testifies to the truth and wants everyone to come to know the truth (cf. 1 Tm 2:4). The truth is not something; the truth is Someone, who is Jesus Christ, our divine Lord (John 14:6). “The Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself” (Dignitatis Humanae #14, CCC #2105). Parents (CCC #2223) and parish together, therefore, must teach the truth and educate the conscience, something “indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings” (CCC #1783). Truth-filled education of the conscience “guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart” (CCC #1784; #1696; #1742; #2526).
Save Souls . . .
Vatican Council II instructed us that “The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil . . . from the very dawn of history until the last day” (Gaudium et Spes, #37, para 2). The “Fatima Prayer” of the Most Holy Rosary asks our Lord to “save us from the fires of Hell.” The Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) prays “that we be delivered from eternal damnation.” Scripture, similarly, counsels us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), not because God will abandon us, but because we have the disordered power to reject God’s grace and plan of salvation (Mt 7:13, Rom 2:8, Phil 3:19, Rev 21:8). Like Andrew who brought Simon—later named Peter—to Christ, we are charged with thinking, speaking, and acting in such a way that we, too, bring people to Christ, who is our Redeemer. As baptized and confirmed Catholics, we have “the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men” (CCC #848, #1122). As St. James instructs us: “whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:20). Salus animarum suprema lex: the salvation of souls (not political, economic, or social agitation) is the supreme law (and purpose) of the Church (See Canon 1752, CCC #849).
Make [or Strengthen] Saints . . .
Christ’s Bride, the Church (see CCC #796), does not make saints; it recognizes and sustains them. The clause “strengthen saints” (cf. Phil 4:13; Col 2:8, Heb 12:12), therefore, means that the Church helps us to grow in holiness (cf. Luke 22:32), which, in turn, means “the possession of divine grace and . . . the practice of virtue” (Father John Hardon, S.J.). We are called to be holy in everything we do (see 1 Peter 1:15), to form our consciences in the light of truth (CCC #1959, #2039), and to grow in virtue (Phil 4:8, CCC #1803), according to the model of holiness, who is Jesus the Christ (CCC #459). As St. Paul concisely explains, Jesus “gave himself for us . . . to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14, 1 John 3:3). The universal Catholic Church and, as part of the universal Catholic Church, our parish, are “totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members” (St. John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, #27). We strive, by the grace of God, to grow in faith, hope, and love (1 Cor 13:13; cf. Wisdom 8:7) because we are called to be saints (Mt 5:48, Jude 3, CCC #2842).
There is nothing there which smacks of advertising, commerce, ideological fads or fantasies, militant meteorology, or social engineering. A parish’s “mission statement” should be rooted in, and founded upon, our Lord’s charge to the Apostles and to us: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20; cf. Acts 1:8).
The root of our contemporary moral problem lies in this: we no longer know who are—even confusing male and female—because we no longer know Whose we are (1 Cor 6:19-20, Rom 14:8). We are either God’s (note the apostrophe); or we think we are gods. We humbly acknowledge that we are made in the image and likeness of God (cf. CCC #2333), or we arrogantly try to make God in the image and likeness of ourselves (cf. Gen 3:5, Is 14:14-15, 2 Thess 2:4).
The secular world frequently, and vehemently, denies God, rejects objective truth, and ridicules the ideas of both immortal souls and of saints (cf. CCC #387). In this six- (or eight-) word mission statement, a parish testifies that God exists, and that we worship Him; that we teach the Truth of Christ (the reason the noun is capitalized)–a Truth to which (to Whom!) we must conform ourselves (Romans 12:2); that we profess that souls knowingly rejecting that truth are gravely imperiled (CCC #1696); and that we acknowledge that we are called, by the grace of God, to be saints
(1 Cor 1:2, CCC #1695).
When I gave my former pastor this brief mission statement, I told him that the new statement was “drippingly Catholic,” and that he might expect criticism from certain quarters precisely on that account. (This is too often the world of parish life today.) Our new pastor, also adopting the succinct statement, actually emblazoned it on the parish donation envelopes.
This six- or eight-word mission statement may be of interest or use. If so, shout it boldly from the housetops (Mt 10:27, Lk 12:3). One remembers the verse from Mark: “If a person is ashamed of me and of my teaching in this godless and wicked day, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (8:38; Luke 9:26). A parish mission statement, and its justification, should testify that this particular parish is unswervingly Catholic—and that its priests will have the pastoral discernment (Heb 5:14) and the manly fortitude (cf. Heb 12:2-3, Is 35:3, CCC #1808) to protect the Eucharist from those who publicly and persistently and proudly (See CCC #1866) deny or insult or ignore the sacred and immutable teaching of the very Church which offers us the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ the King.
Deacon James H. Toner (M.A., William & Mary; Ph.D., Notre Dame) is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Air War College, a former U.S. Army officer, and author of numerous books, articles, reviews, and monographs. He has taught at Notre Dame, Norwich, Auburn, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He has contributed many columns to The Catholic Thing, Crisis Magazine, One Peter Five, and the Wanderer, as well as myriad academic and military periodicals. He and his wife Rebecca have three sons and eleven grandchildren.