Admonish the sinner

Bishop Vasa: The danger in our day is not a shortage of honey

 

St. John Vianney in confessional

St. John Vianney in confessional

The following comes from an early August blog on the blogsite of Bishop Robert Vasa of the Santa Rosa diocese.

This week’s liturgical observance of the memorial of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, on August 4 offered the opportunity to once again encourage prayer and even sacrifice for our clergy.

It is no secret that priests are quite imperfect and often even seriously flawed. Some may manifest character flaws or even personality disorders. They are, after all, taken from among men for the service of God and so bring to the priesthood many of the same flaws and faults present in the general population.

As we read in Hebrews, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people” (5:1-3).

Despite these shortcomings, however, I have every reason to believe that practically every priest, with very few exceptions, possesses a strong desire to be in proper relationship to God and to offer himself as a living sacrifice for the sake of the people entrusted to his pastoral care.

Undoubtedly, it is not always clear that this is the case because this strong desire on his part often loses something in its translation to action. It can often happen as well that the faithful—failing to appreciate the depth of true love which their pastors manifest for them—focus much more on the flawed presentation than the love which drives it.

Indeed it comes as no surprise to any pastor that St. John Vianney was severely abused and derided because he called his people to chastity when debauchery was the norm, to sobriety when drunkenness was rampant, to holiness when secularity was much more popular.

Because he loved, however, he did not cease to challenge sinfulness and call his people to repentance. His determined love for souls cost him dearly. I strongly suspect that if St. John Vianney himself were in many of our American parishes, there would be an abundance of letters from concerned parishioners about the direction in which he was taking the parish.

This in no way implies that letters about priests to chanceries all across this country are not sometimes warranted. It also in no way implies our priests are comparable to St. John. What it does imply is that most of us do not respond well when the sinfulness of our own lives is challenged. That goes for all of us.

And yet the old adage about the need to “hate the sin but love the sinner” makes perfect pastoral sense, but the situation is often made very difficult when the sinner has such a solid affection for and attachment to and even defense of the sin that any attack on the sin—not the person, but the sin—is deemed an unjust and indefensible attack on the sinner!

In some ways the adage has been revised for American sensibilities so that its present rendering might go something like: “Love the sinner, and you do that by condoning the sin.”

It can also happen that what is determined to be sinful by the pastor—in accord with Church teaching—is not seen as sinful at all by a significant number of the faithful due to their improperly formed consciences or due to a false understanding of conscience.

In turn this makes preaching about sin difficult. Understandably, it is all the more difficult when the priest senses that such preaching will likely fall on deaf ears. It is not at all uncommon to encounter members of the faithful whose personal conviction is that something which is really sinful—and in many cases seriously sinful—is not sinful at all for them.

This is a clear symptom of a seriously defective formation and understanding of conscience. As the American view about the apparent acceptability of artificial contraception, homosexual unions, and abortion gets ever more firmly entrenched in our culture, the Catholic conscience is gradually eroded and thus fails to recognize any of these serious evils as sinful.

This shows just one reason why there is need for prayer for our priests. We all want our priests to be holy, to be prayerful, to be devoted, to be pious, to be available, to be good administrators, to be good preachers, to be personable, to be affable, to be patient, to be accommodating, to be zealous, to be on time, to be all we want them to be, and we want them to be all of these things all of the time.

We sometimes forget, however, that a man with great administrative skills may not be a good preacher. A man who is very pious may be more aloof and thus less personable. A man who is entirely affable may be, shall we say, administratively challenged. A man who is too available may frequently be late. A man who excels in patience may seem to lack zeal. Priests have defects and shortcomings. They all do. Again, they need prayer.

St. John Vianney was a most remarkable pastor. He was enormously committed to prayer and spent many concentrated hours each day at prayer. When he was ridiculed and abused, he prayed all the harder. He devoted many hours, up to 16 each day for confessions. He was entirely committed to and focused on his primary duty, the salvation of souls.

The face of the priesthood has changed significantly since the days of St. John Vianney, and it may appear that the demands placed on priests make the kind of single-hearted focus of St. John impossible. Yet I would argue that precisely because so much has changed since his time that it is his focus which we need to reflect upon and recapture.

In closing, we sometimes forget that the first of the spiritual works of mercy is to admonish the sinner. This is directly related to the salvation of souls. If someone only and always admonished people for their sinfulness, we might cite for them the adage of St. Francis de Sales: You can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than a barrel of vinegar.

Yet the danger in our day is not a shortage of honey but rather the failure to call to deep conversion all those who are drawn to the honey.

St. John Vianney, pray for us!

To see all of Bishop Vasa’s recent blog postings, click here.

 

 

Comments

  1. MIchael McDermott says:

    “…And yet the old adage about the need to “hate the sin but love the sinner” makes perfect pastoral sense, but the situation is often made very difficult when the sinner has such a solid affection for and attachment to and even defense of the sin that any attack on the sin—not the person, but the sin—is deemed an unjust and indefensible attack on the sinner!

    In some ways the adage has been revised for American sensibilities so that its present rendering might go something like:
    “Love the sinner, and you do that by condoning the sin.”

    – This is a clear symptom of a seriously defective formation and understanding of conscience.
    As the American view about the apparent acceptability of artificial contraception, homosexual unions, and abortion gets ever more firmly entrenched in our culture, the Catholic conscience is gradually eroded and thus fails to recognize any of these serious evils as sinful…”

  2. Amen! Bishop Vasa hit the nail right on the head, and he has reminded me to take out my St. John Vianney chaplet to pray for priests tonight.

  3. Priests should go to pre-confession to a woman/girl in order to become more down-to -earth.

    Otherwise they become like Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinos – who said that women are less than a man.

    • I wonder what St. John Vianney would say to that! Talk to your pastor about that-he may realize that there is a great need to evangelize the TRUTH in your parish. Time was that every homilly had a moral teaching connected with it. I am not aware here of how many priests do that. Only a couple come to mind and they are staffed by Order priests who are FAITHFUL to the teaching magisterium. People flock to their parishes. The goal of some priests seems to be to make people “comfortable” because they work hard all week and need some relief. Huh? If only our bishops would see the need to establish a national guideline to homilies that systematically TEACH the TRUTH and BEAUTY of our Faith, making clear we understand sin and what it does to US, and our neighbor, to say nothing of what it does to our relationship with the Trinity.

    • I don’t know, Jenny. I have gotten some excellent advice from priests (male of course) down through the years. It has saved my marriage and even my life when one older priest talked me out of a doctor recommended birth control pill and into Natural Family Planning for good reasons. Priests also many times take the advice of their mothers, good older nuns, women saints, etc. Don’t count them out because they are male.

    • Ann Malley says:

      I’d concur with Anne T, Jenny. Priests do not appear from a void, but come from families. Often the women in those families are a very strong influence as there is no ‘wife’ to take the place of or lessen those attachments.

      A priest with many practicing Catholic sisters is quite often a particular grace.

      • There are so many holy Priests……and many who have lost their faith. I feel so blessed to have found two holy priests that can guide me on my journey. Praise the Lord.

  4. “In closing, we sometimes forget that the first of the spiritual works of mercy is to admonish the sinner. This is directly related to the salvation of souls.”

    In order to be forgiven of our sins, we must:
    1) be sorry for our Sins; 2) have the resolution not to commit the sin again.

    CCC: ” 1451 Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place.
    Contrition is sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed,
    together with the resolution not to sin again.”

  5. Excellent article.
    1) Pray for our Bishops and our Priests.
    2) When appropriate ask them to conform to the CCC, and Code of Canon Law, and GIRM as required.

    When a Priest does not conform, report errors and abuses to the Diocese Bishop in writing with documentation.
    Code of Canon Law: under “OBLIGATIONS and RIGHTS of ALL the Christian Faithful” –
    “Can 212 §3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church
    and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful,
    without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”
    This is also included in the CCC – # 907.

    You just may be saving the Soul of the Priest, as well as the Souls that he may otherwise lead astray.

  6. ADMONISHING SINNERS is a work of Spiritual Mercy.
    It may save their Souls, and the Souls of those they come in contact with.

    In addition one can aid and abet in the sins of others when –
    CCC: “1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
    – by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
    – by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
    – by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
    – by protecting evil-doers. ”

    We should all strive to do God’s will, not our own will.

  7. St. Christopher says:

    But no one “challenges” the sinner anymore. St. John Vianney is a great example; caring but unsparing in his attacks on sinful behavior (and demanding of the need for confession). (As an aside, Vianney almost could not become a priest given his enormous problem with learning Latin, but he persevered, and did. Too bad almost all bishops treat their seminarians as intellectual babies in this regard, as well as disobeying the Popes that have called for strong training in Latin, at least; now all they are encouraged to learn is Spanish.) Drop the “love the sinner/hate the sin”; take the sinner on directly and personally. Use the pulpit to name names, like telling women that they do not have the option of using birth control, that homosexuals cannot have sex and must be chaste, that no one can have sex outside of a man-woman marriage. Hahaha, lot of chance that many priests will do this, or bishops, or cardinals either, particularly with a “who am I to judge” Pope in the Vatican and leading clergy like Cardinal Dolan who publicly cheer on overt sinning, and sinners, particularly if they are homosexuals having sex. Great article and title, “Admonish the Sinner.”

    • St. Christopher, though most of your post is good, I really think you are unfair to Pope Francis. He does come out against homosexual behavior: he even defrocked one priest who advocated it and repeatedly says that marriage is between one man and one woman. Why don’t you look up what he actually says on websites such as Zenit News instead of listening to those who often misquote him for their own purposes. When he said, “Who am I to judge,” he was actually taking about a specific case of a homosexual person who was trying to live a good life but perhaps fell occasionally and had to confess his sins. In other words, he was saying that if the person did show signs of real repentant he was in no position to judge his sincerity.

      • “Anne T”: Thank you. Yes, it is important to look at the original and full text, as much as possible. Unfortunately, Pope Francis has dropped the ball a good number of times when it comes to Catholic Tradition. Sure, he says that he is a son of the Church and all of that, and we all support and pray for the Pope, but he allows himself to be manipulated sufficiently that one must suppose a level of complicity. For example, how to explain the bizarre and wrongful Vatican behavior towards the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (now extending to its good sisters)? Unexplainable, except for the hateful Vatican bureaucrats that despise Tradition (and with whom Francis raises no objection). And, why has Francis not confirmed Cardinal Burke? Answer: because the excellent Cardinal is much disliked by the same Vatican power sources. There are a good number of other examples, and the list is growing, unfortunately. The “who am I to judge” comment, again with full Vatican knowledge, has also been used in precisely the same way as was previously discussed — as a way to implicitly endorse homosexual behavior. Just take a look at how the many, many American bishops have become emboldened by these words to be even tougher against the small use of Tradition that had arisen under Benedict and in favor of public “outreach” to the LGBT crowd, the crowning example of this, of course, is the unspeakable reaction of Cardinal Dolan to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade decision on the “homosexual banner” issue and his apparent decision to act as Grand Marshal. A strong and public rebuke of these examples by the Pope is all that is needed to stop this; but it is not forthcoming. We look at the Synod with “fear and trembling” as St. Paul once described (about working out our salvation). Pray for the Pope that he might be open the Holy Ghost (and not Cardinals Maradiaga and Kasper).

        • Your are right, sad to say, Anonymous, that Pope Francis does not always make himself very clear. I also just saw a video about a heterosexual couple dancing the tango after a Mass in front of the altar. I do not know for sure who was the priest serving Mass, but I do know that the sanctuary is no place for secular dancing.

  8. Isn’t Bishop Vasa wonderful? May God Bless this very holy soul. What clear, precise, teaching. Given with honey, but with nothing held back. He truly loves Our Lord and is Christ among us. God Bless Bishop Vasa!

    Now, copy this teaching and send it to your clergy with much love and prayers.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Amen to that SandraD! He is and lets pray for him. God bless you. I agree with your comments

    • Bishop Vasa has a strength of faith in him that he shares with all who know him. Good bless him and grant him the grace he needs to continue to inspire a deeper faith in us all. He set a high bar for himself and, by example, likewise for the priests in his diocese.

  9. MIchael McDermott says:

    How about this approach as a Model for Faithful Catholic Education in CA??

    “Regina Academies Continue to Grow, Faith at Center of Education

    http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/tabid/102/ArticleID/3501/Regina-Academies-Continue-to-Grow-Faith-at-Center-of-Education.aspx

    The fourth Regina Academy was formally announced this summer with the full cooperation of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In light of the founding of a new school, this time in Ottsville, Penn., The Cardinal Newman Society spoke with the president of the Regina Academies board, Barbara Henkels, about the future of the Regina schools and the growing popularity of classical education…

    Founded in 2003, the Regina Schools specialize in teaching students liberal arts and classical education through the Trivium—Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic. The Common Core is not utilized. Students from Regina Coeli Academy, the first of the Regina Schools, scored in the top two percent of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills last year. The majority of students average one or two grades above their level, according to Henkels.

    – Each of the Regina schools has 13 to 20 teachers and all the teachers take an Oath of Fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church at the opening school Mass. Henkels explained that this dedication to faith has “created a wonderful community between parents and teachers where everyone is on the same wave length.”

    • Love this school…..wish they were here in the Bay Area.

      • MIchael McDermott says:

        “Love this school… Wish they were here in the Bay Area.” SD

        Well then – Lets go ahead and Start One.

        Like many I am also waiting for the opening of Saint John Paul II High School in Livermore, perhaps there is a place for space there.

        Just Saying – Somebody has got to get doing.

  10. Abeca Christian says:

    Lovely article and so very true! St. John Vianney pray for us. Even in his time, there were priests who were lukewarm and where not good preachers of the truth, same issues today but more known because of media and how often do people gossip and talk behind their priests back but never actually schedule a time to speak to their priests about what they see as error. There is no dialogue and there is no chance to give that person a chance to reflect. In holy scriptures it gives instruction on how to admonish a person privately first, then it gives further instruction on what to do next when they refuse to listen to reason.

    • Ann Malley says:

      Excellent reflections, Abeca. But when a large number of those in authority ignore admonishment or neglect to admonish despite the presence of error that is a real problem.

      If only it were just a matter of correction and reflection. Generations of Catholics are often subject to grave error because of it. That is why it is so invigorating that the above article is passed down by a Bishop! Thank God for that as according to St. John Eudes the scourge of bad priests are a sign of God’s anger.

      And I believe St. Paul’s admonishments with regard to the correction of sinners who will not amend their ways is to expel them from the community. So absolutely. If priests do not uphold Catholic teaching, they should be made to leave minus the collar. On that we agree.

  11. MIchael McDermott says:

    Bravo – Long Past Due for the Good of All, save the MISANDRY Machinists infiltrating the Church:

    “.Vatican pressing forward with reform of US feminist nuns: Cardinal Müller

    …reform of the LCWR, which was undertaken after an assessment of the group found serious doctrinal problems, will be carried out with the goal of helping them “rediscover their identity.”

    “Congregations have no more vocations and risk dying out,”
    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/vatican-pressing-forward-with-reform-of-us-feminist-nuns-cardinal-mueller

    …Moreover, the cardinal said that problems specific to the LCWR are not a reflection of all the women religious in the US.

    “We need to bear in mind that they do not represent all US nuns, but just a group of nuns who form part of an association,” Müller said.

    “We have received many distressed letters from other nuns belonging to the same congregations, who are suffering a great deal because of the direction in which the LCWR is steering their mission.”

    Cardinal Müller’s – the theological drift the feminist nuns are taking constitutes a radical departure from the foundational theological concepts of Catholicism.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.

Speak Your Mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.