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 Header-Does the assistance of the Holy Spirit always prevent crisis in the church

Due to a lack of proper understanding, many Catholics are confused and uncertain as to the unquestionable truth that the Holy Spirit assists the Church.  Afraid to run counter to this truth, they often attempt to deny the reality of facts or the obvious meaning of statements that apparently contradict this divine assistance.

 

Thus, Catholics are caught in a dead-end dilemma: deny the facts, or deny the assistance of the Holy Spirit to the Church.

This is a false dilemma, which springs from a simplistic conception of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. One confuses the Holy Spirit’s “assistance”–an effect of God’s special providence for His Church–with direct government, which replaces men, or eliminates their free will. [1]

However, that is not the way it works. Although Jesus Christ promised the help of the Comforter, He wanted men to govern the Church; men who, though entitled to special help from the Holy Spirit, are not impeccable or exempt from temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh.

Thus, although the Paraclete assists members of the hierarchy with special graces, that assistance does not cancel their free will or the tendency to evil inherited from Original Sin.

On the other hand, one must keep in mind that this special action of Divine Providence favors good but also often allows evil to occur in the human element of the Church as a trial or as a punishment for our sins. [2]

Therefore, one cannot use the argument of the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Church to justify deviation, recklessness or scandal, as if the Divine will actively favored evil and not merely allowed it.

 

God Allows Crises in the Church

Church CeilingObviously, God does not want clear or sufficiently documented facts to be misrepresented by historians in an attempt to “save” the holiness of the Church.

Such an attitude would run counter to the truth and therefore the holiness of the Church, and Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) made use of the inspired words of the book of Job (13:7) to condemn such an attitude: “God has no need of our lies.”

The Pontiff emphasized, “To stress the Church’s divine origin, it is better for the Church historian not to seek to gloss over her trials which her children, and, at times, even her ministers have brought upon the Spouse of Christ through the centuries. Thus studied, the history of the Church constitutes a magnificent and conclusive demonstration of the truth and the divinity of Christianity.” [3]

When opening the Vatican Secret Archives to historians, the same Pope insisted: “Say nothing false, hold back nothing true.”[4]

No one with a sufficient knowledge of Church history can deny the crises through which She has passed and the weaknesses and scandalous attitudes of many popes.

Thus, in his Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) explains that due to our inclination to evil, “at times there appears in the Church something that indicates the weakness of our human nature.” “That regrettable inclination to evil,” he says, is manifested “even at times in the most exalted members of His Mystical Body.” However, he adds that God allows this to happen “for the purpose of testing the virtue of the Shepherds no less than that of the flock, and that the merit of their Christian faith may be increased.”[5]

This is the reason why Catholic historians such as Ludwig von Pastor, whose monumental History of the Popes was praised by Pope Leo XIII, did not hesitate to present excesses and scandals by popes in a clear and well-documented fashion.

 

Was it the Will of the Holy Spirit for Alexander VI to be Elected?

No one can assume, for example, that the Holy Spirit, Who assists at Conclaves, wanted or favored the selection of Rodrigo Cardinal de Borgia, known to have fathered four children by his concubine Vannoza dei Cattanei and others by different women. [6] Obviously, his election as Pope Alexander VI was simply permitted for the punishment of a mankind inebriated with the neo-paganism of the Renaissance.

Nor can one attribute to the Divine will the elevation to the papacy of Benedict IX (1032-1044), about whom historian Fr. Joseph Brusher S.J. comments: “A young man probably about twenty years old, [he] was a cleric. That was about his only qualification for the papacy. Unqualified by his youth, his upbringing, and his depravity, Benedict IX became one of the few truly disreputable popes.”[7] The Catholic Encyclopedia is more direct: “He was a disgrace to the Chair of Peter.”[8]

 

We Should Always Distinguish Between Divine Will and Divine Permission.

Once the distinction between the manifestation of God’s will and His mere permission is clear, it becomes obvious that the assistance of the Holy Spirit to the Church does not prevent infidelities and crises.

On the other hand, as we saw above in texts by Popes Leo XIII and Pius XII, far from countering the holiness of the Church, such infidelities and crises emphatically demonstrate how only an institution of Divine origin could last forever despite human weakness and the tendency to evil inherited with Original Sin.

But even during the Church’s worst crises, thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, She never failed to present the truth or to sanctify through the sacraments. This the Church has always done even though, at times, Catholics had to make a great effort to remain faithful, as for example, during the Arian crisis.

 

Trust in Mary Most Holy, Who Crushed All Heresies

Our Lady of Confidence - OvalThe present crisis ─ an extension of the one caused by the modernist heresy that Saint Pius X denounced ─ is now reaching such a climax that many feel discouraged.

At the highest levels of Church leadership, the possibility of giving Holy Communion to people objectively in the state of mortal sin is being discussed; and some even see, in homosexual relationships, “gifts” useful to Christianity.

A better understanding of the assistance of the Holy Spirit is required. This assistance is not only positive in the sense of boosting zeal for doctrine and the salvation of souls – which the Church always promotes in one way or another—but also in allowing evil to occur in order to test us, and to punish the sins of mankind.[9]

Just as the faithful, following the example of bishops like Saint Athanasius and Saint Hilary of Poitiers, resisted the tremendous crisis of Arianism, we too, certain of the help of Divine Providence, must resist “strong in faith” (1Peter 5:9).

More than ever, in this period of darkness and confusion, we must always resort to the intercession of Mary, who “alone has crushed all heresies.”[10]

 

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Written by Luiz Sergio Solimeo

Notes:
[1] Cf. E. Magenot, “Assistance du Saint-Esprit,” Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique (Letouzey et Ané, Paris, 1931), v. I, deuxième partie, cols. 2123-21-27. [back to text]

[2] Cf. R. Garrigou-Lagrange, “Providence, Théologie, L’Infalibilité,” Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, v. XIII, première partie, col. 1015.[back to text]
[3] Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Depuis Le Jour, On the Education of the Clergy, Sept. 8, 1899, nn. 25-26. Available at https://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_08091899_depuis-le-jour.html [back to text]
[4] Brief Saepe numero, Aug. 28, 1883. [back to text]
[5] Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, On the Mystical Body of Christ, June 29 1943, n. 66. Available at https://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_29061943_mystici-corporis-christi_en.html [back to text]
[6] Cf. Ludwig Pastor, The History of the Popes, (Herder, St. Louis, Mo., 1923) v. 5. pp. 363-364. [back to text]
[7] Popes Through the Ages, (D. Van Nostrand Co., Toronto-New York, 1959) p. 292. [back to text]
[8] H. Mann, sv. Pope Benedict IX, The Catholic Encyclopedia, (New York: Robert Appleton Co., 1907). Available at https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02429a.htm. [back to text]
[9] When one says that God permits evil, it must be clearly understood that this is never a positive permission, such as that of a father who allows his son to frequent a place of perdition. It is only a negative permission, that of not employing extraordinary means to prevent evil from occurring. [back to text]
[10] “Rejoice, O Virgin Mary, for alone thou hast put an end to all heresies” (Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary). [back to text]


 

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November 24

 

The devotions we practice in honor of the glorious Virgin Mary,
however trifling they may be,
are very pleasing to Her Divine Son, and
He rewards them with eternal glory.

St. Teresa of Avila


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Andrew Dung-Lac and the Martyrs of Vietnam

Vietnamese Christians were ordered to trample on a crucifix...

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St. Andrew Dung-Lac and the Martyrs of Vietnam

Born in 1795 in the Tonkinese town of Bac-Nihh in North Vietnam, Tran An Dung was the son of pagan parents. In search of work for themselves in 1807, his parents moved to the ancient citadel of Hanoi. Here their twelve-year-old son was taken care of by a catechist and for three years was instructed in the Catholic faith. Baptized in Vinh-Tri, he received the Christian name Andrew (Anrê) in baptism and went on to learn both Chinese and Latin and himself became a catechist. He was selected for further studies in theology and was ordained to the priesthood on March 15, 1823.

An exemplary pastor, Andrew was ardent and indefatigable in his preaching, often fasted, and drew many to the Faith by his simple and moral life. As a testament of the love which his congregation had for him, in 1835, when he was imprisoned during the persecution of the Annamite emperor Minh-Mang, his freedom was purchased exclusively by donations from his parishioners.

The Vietnamese Christians suffered unspeakably during this time. Beginning in 1832 Minh-Mang expelled all foreign missionaries and commanded all Vietnamese Christians to demonstrate their renunciation of the Catholic Faith by trampling on a crucifix. Churches were destroyed; religious instruction was forbidden. Christians were branded on the face with the words ta dao (false religion) and Christian families and villages were obliterated. Many endured extreme privations and hardship; many more were put to death for their fidelity to the Faith.

To avoid further persecution by the authorities, Andrew Dung changed his name to Lac and relocated to a different region. While visiting a fellow priest, in order to confess himself, Dung-Lac was arrested with Father Peter Thi on November 10, 1839. In exchange for a monetary ransom paid to their captors, the two priests were liberated, but their freedom was short-lived. Re-arrested not long afterwards, they were taken to Hanoi and severely tortured. They were beheaded shortly before Christmas Day on December 21, 1839.

The priests, Andrew Dung-Lac and Peter Thi, were beatified on May 27, 1900 by Pope Leo XIII and formed part of a group of Vietnamese martyrs beatified together on that day. Another group, Dominicans all, was beatified on May 20, 1906 and a third on May 2, 1909 both by Pope St. Pius X. A fourth group, which included two Spanish bishops, was beatified on April 29, 1951 by Pope Pius XII. All 117 martyrs were canonized in Rome on June 19, 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

These 117 martyrs met their deaths during several persecutions of Christians that swept through the Vietnamese peninsula between the years 1625 and 1886. Approximately 130,000 gave their lives for the Catholic Faith and further beatifications may be expected from amongst their glorious ranks. Among the 117 that have been canonized were 96 Vietnamese and 21 foreign missionaries. Of the Vietnamese group 37 were priests and 59 were lay people, among whom were catechists and tertiaries. One of them was a woman, mother of six children. Of the missionaries 11 were Spaniards: 6 bishops and 5 priests, all Dominicans; and 10 were French: 2 bishops and 8 priests from the Société des Missions Etrangères in Paris.

The tortures these martyrs endured were among the worst in the history of Christian martyrdom. The means included cutting off limbs joint by joint, ripping living bodies with red hot tongs, and the use of drugs to enslave the minds of the victims. Among the 117 Martyrs of Vietnam, 76 were beheaded, 21 were suffocated, 6 burnt alive, 5 mutilated and 9 died in prison as a result of torture.

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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