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Author: Pete Vere

Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.
The Sorrowful Mysteries with Pope Francis

The Sorrowful Mysteries with Pope Francis

The Sorrowful Mysteries

1 – Jesus is praying in the garden at Gethsemane

From General Audience (May 25, 2016):

Assailed by looming anguish, Jesus prays to the Father to deliver him of this bitter cup of the Passion, but his prayer is pervaded by trust in the Father and he entrusts himself entirely to his will: “not as I will,” Jesus says, “but as thou wilt” (Mt 26:39). The object of prayer is of secondary importance; what matters above all is his relationship with the Father. This is what prayer does: it transforms the desire and models it according to the will of God, whatever that may be, because the one who prays aspires first of all to union with God, who is merciful Love.

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Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

The Luminous Mysteries with Pope Francis

The Luminous Mysteries with Pope Francis

“The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer,” writes St John Paul II in the opening paragraphs of Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

“In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium. […] With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love,” the sainted pontiff continues.

It is not surprising that St John Paul II invites us in this apostolic letter to contemplate the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ through the eyes of His Blessed Mother. As she herself proclaims to her cousin Elizabeth: “My soul magnifies the Lord!” That is, as the first Christian and missionary, Mary makes God even more visible to us.

To help us deepen this understanding of the life of Christ, St John Paul II then proposed the five Luminous Mysteries alongside the traditional Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious. Pope Francis has continued in this tradition of his predecessor in asking us to contemplate the life of Christ through Mary. Here is Pope Francis’s teaching on the five Luminous Mysteries:

The Luminous Mysteries

1 – The Baptism in the Jordan

From the Angelus Address: Baptism of Our Lord (January 7, 2018):

We then understand the great humility of Jesus, the One who had not sinned, in lining up with the penitents, mingled among them to be baptized in the waters of the river. In doing so, He manifested what we celebrated at Christmas: the availability of Jesus to immerse Himself in the river of humanity, to take upon Himself the shortcomings and weaknesses of humanity, to share our desire to be free and to overcome everything that separates us from God and makes us strangers to our brothers and sisters. Just like in Bethlehem, along the banks of the River Jordan, God keeps his promise to take charge of the fate of human beings, and Jesus is the tangible and definitive sign.

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Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

The Joyful Mysteries with Pope Francis

The Joyful Mysteries with Pope Francis

Pope Francis often speaks about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not only among Catholics, but to the world at large. Frequently, His Holiness invokes her intercession and encourages Christian devotion to her. Among western Catholics, there is no devotion to Mary more popular than the Rosary.

Therefore, it proves fruitful to look at Pope Francis’ take on each of the Rosary’s 20 mysteries. Let us begin with the Joyful…

The Joyful Mysteries

1 – The Annunciation

From the Angelus Address: On the Gospel of the Annunciation (December 24, 2017):

Mary’s response is a brief phrase, which doesn’t speak of glory, doesn’t speak of privilege, but only of willingness and service: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). The content is also different. Mary doesn’t exalt herself in face of the prospect of becoming, in fact, the Mother of the Messiah, but remains modest and expresses her own adherence to the Lord’s plan. Mary doesn’t boast. She is humble, modest. She remains as ever.

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Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

Pope Francis and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Pope Francis and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

UPDATE: Reader Christopher Lake has kindly referenced statements supportive of Theory of Evolution by Popes Pius XII and St John Paul II. I have added Christopher’s comments below as an addendum to this blog entry.


ORIGINAL BLOG: I was reminded the other day, while challenged by a group of Catholic Young Earth Creationists, that some of Pope Francis’s most controversial statements are those reconciling faith and modern science. In particular, Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution.

As documented by Catholic apologists David Palm and Karl Keating, some Catholics even go as far as to deny that the sun is at the centre of our solar system. In the name of biblical literalism, these neo-geocentrists (of both flat earth and ball earth variety) insist that Catholics are doctrinally bound to uphold geocentrism as infallible Catholic teaching.

Pope Francis disagrees.   (more…)

Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

Yes, Pope Francis is Catholic. So why are Professional Catholics still complaining?

Yes, Pope Francis is Catholic. So why are Professional Catholics still complaining?

Catholic musician and blogger Mark Mallett–a fellow Canadian–has compiled Pope Francis’s statements concerning moral and theological controversies in our time. In each of these statements Pope Francis presents orthodox Catholic teaching clearly.

For instance, on the Rosary and devotion to the Blessed Mother, the Holy Father states:

In the Rosary we turn to the Virgin Mary so that she may guide us to an ever closer union with her Son Jesus to bring us into conformity with him, to have his sentiments and to behave like him. Indeed, in the Rosary while we repeat the Hail Mary we meditate on the Mysteries, on the events of Christ’s life, so as to know and love him ever better. The Rosary is an effective means for opening ourselves to God, for it helps us to overcome egotism and to bring peace to hearts, in the family, in society and in the world.

Likewise, on the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparition at Fatima, Pope Francis reminds us that Hell is a real danger against which the Blessed Mother forewarned:

Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures. Such a life—frequently proposed and imposed—risks leading to Hell. Mary came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us.

And on the always controversial topic of contraception, Amoris Laetitia (par 222) clearly upholds the previous teaching of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, St John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

In accord with the personal and fully human character of conjugal love, family planning fittingly takes place as the result a consensual dialogue between the spouses, respect for times and consideration of the dignity of the partner. In this sense, the teaching of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (cf. 1014) and the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (cf. 14; 2835) ought to be taken up anew, in order to counter a mentality that is often hostile to life… Decisions involving responsible parenthood pre-supposes the formation of conscience, which is ‘the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There each one is alone with God, whose voice echoes in the depths of the heart’ (Gaudium et Spes, 16)…. Moreover, “the use of methods based on the ‘laws of nature and the incidence of fertility’ (Humanae Vitae, 11) are to be promoted, since ‘these methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them and favour the education of an authentic freedom’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370)

The above are just a handful of examples of Pope Francis reaffirming orthodox Catholic teaching on controversial issues. I would invite you to read Mallett’s entire list here. Particularly valuable is Mallett’s online sourcing of each statement.

Nevertheless, critics of Pope Francis are still unhappy. Take professional Catholic Phil Lawler, for instance. As a professional Catholic, Lawler earns money presenting himself publicly as an expert spokesman for Catholicism. Note that Lawler is neither ordained clergy nor consecrated religious. He is not required to pray the Divine Office daily as are ordained clergy and consecrated religious. Nor is he subject to lawful ecclesiastical authority to any degree greater than the average layperson. This is what distinguishes professional Catholics from those called to ordination or consecrated life.

Like many born and raised in Boston–especially among the upper social strata of the Harvard-educated–Lawler is imbued with a certain revolutionary spirit. In keeping with local history, he will not subject himself to a benevolent monarch named George. Lawler also seems a tad suspicious of Jesuit clergy. (It was the Society of Jesus, after all, that established Boston College–that is, Harvard’s local Catholic competitor.) And as a professional Catholic there is money to be made from hawking books critical of St Peter’s successor. Especially to a politically motivated audience that shares his same revolutionary spirit.

Thus I was hardly surprised when Lawler responded as follows to Mallett’s apologia for Pope Francis’s orthodoxy:

Sure enough, the Pope is a Catholic. But why is that noteworthy?

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone would have compiled a similar set of links to demonstrate that Pope Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II held conventionally Catholic beliefs. Why is it necessary in the case of Pope Francis?

The answer is obvious, isn’t it? Pope Francis himself has raised the questions about his own orthodoxy, with a long series of provocative public statements. The world expects consistency from the successors of St. Peter; the duty of the Pontiff (and of every bishop) is to preserve intact the faith that has been handed down from the Apostles. When any Pope makes a statement that seems at odds with previous expressions of the faith, it is disquieting. When he makes such statements frequently—and, to compound the problem, declines to clarify them—the result is widespread disorientation. This is the phenomenon that I sought to explain in Lost Shepherd: not that Pope Francis is preaching heresy, but that he has spread confusion about the content of orthodox Catholic belief.

Take for instance the report circulated recently—during Holy Week, of all times—that the Holy Father had denied the existence of Hell. We still don’t know what the Pope actually said in his conversation with Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari.

Let’s break down the above by paragraph. Concerning the first paragraph, Lawler states: “Sure enough, the Pope is a Catholic. But why is that noteworthy?

Certainly Lawler’s readers can be forgiven for believing Pope Francis’s orthodoxy might be noteworthy. Only last month Lawler accused Pope Francis of creating confusion over the Church’s teaching on hell. This is the same accusation Lawler repeats in his fourth paragraph quoted above.

Here are Lawler’s exact words from last month’s column: “Pope Francis realized that he cannot directly contradict the perennial teaching of the Church, put forth so clearly by St. John Paul II. But he could and did create confusion about that teaching, and thereby provided new maneuvering room for those who are unhappy with the Church’s stand.”

Of course I found Lawler’s claim of papally-inspired theological conspiracy rather odd. First in light of Pope Francis’s past warning that mafioso risk hell in the afterlife. And second because Sister Vassa, a Russian Orthodox theologian popular in social media, had clearly understood the Holy Father despite the confusion claimed by professional Catholic Phil Lawler.

What was all the more intriguing is that Sister Vassa belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Within the Eastern Orthodox world, ROCOR is often noted for its unfriendliness to Rome and for loosely being the Orthodox Church’s nearest equivalent to the SSPX. Can you imagine a SSPX nun defending the Patriarch of Constantinople from unjust attacks by Eastern Orthodox apologists?!

This brings us to the question Lawler raises in his second paragraph quoted above: Why is it necessary in the case of Pope Francis?

The answer to this question is simple. It is necessary to compile such lists for Pope Francis, during his pontificate, for the same reason it was necessary to compile similar lists during the pontificates of St John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Lawler states that it is “difficult to imagine that anyone would have compiled such lists,” yet I was one of several traditional Catholic apologists who did so.  Why? Because of the cottage industry infestation of reactionary publications invading our Traditional Latin Mass chapels and disrupting the peace of our laity. (For more information on my experience as a Catholic apologist in this area, please see “My Journey out of the Lefebvre Schism” originally published with Envoy Magazine.)

Likewise today, there is an infestation of professional Catholics who, in keeping with their financial interests, promote the narrative “Francis is a bad pope”. Thus to answer Lawler’s question, it is necessary to compile such lists in defence of Pope Francis because of professional Catholics like Phil Lawler. Mark Shea notes that for certain people, “Accusation is a form of confession.” Professional Catholics critical of Pope Francis are notorious for spreading the very confusion they accuse the Holy Father of creating. Recent book releases suggest that it is in their financial interest to do so.

This brings us to the heart of the third paragraph quoted from Lawler above. “This is the phenomenon that I sought to explain in Lost Shepherd: not that Pope Francis is preaching heresy, but that he has spread confusion about the content of orthodox Catholic belief,” Lawler states. In other words, Lawler’s article being quoted is a mini-infomercial marketing his latest book. Same with his article last month.

As noted by Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong in his response to the same infomercial, “folks like Phil Lawler […] appear to want to spread far and wide the ‘fact’ that Pope Francis is to blame for all the confusion. I submit that there would be a lot less confusion if Lawler and those like him weren’t doing the destructive, gossipy, rumor mongering things they are doing now, causing all sorts of division and scandal: a shameful thing indeed.”

I invite you to read Armstrong’s entire response here.

Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

How sedevacantist are critics of Pope Francis?

How sedevacantist are critics of Pope Francis?

I noticed something curious. I was reading the latest jeremiad against Pope Francis in a once mainstream Latin traditionalist publication. In its concluding paragraphs, the author referred to the pontificates of John Paul II and Paul VI. That is, the author referred to these men by their chosen papal names.

In contrast, the same author in the same concluding paragraphs referred to the current successor of St Peter as “Pope Bergoglio” and “Bergoglio”. Referring to the Holy Father publicly by his surname is common among English-speaking sedevacantists.

The author also concluded “that the Chair of Peter is currently occupied by a promoter of manifold heresy” and that “perhaps a future Pope or Council, may someday judge whether Bergoglio fell from office on account of heresy or whether his election was valid in the first place.”

The reason for my curiosity (but not surprise) is as follows: For the past decade or so, both the author and the publication had made a big show of rejecting sedevacantism. That is, they consistently asserted that post-conciliar popes were valid papacies, even if the author and publication held them to be bad popes, and that traditionalists had no choice but to acknowledge the post-conciliar popes as valid popes even while arguing no Catholic was bound to listen to these popes. (Or as sedevacantist priest and theologian Fr Anthony Cekada famously put, the author and his publication advocate “Cardboard cutout popes: For display purposes only.”)

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Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

CHANNELLING MOTHER ANGELICA: Russian Orthodox Nun vs Catholic Apologists Critical of Pope Francis

CHANNELLING MOTHER ANGELICA: Russian Orthodox Nun vs Catholic Apologists Critical of Pope Francis

Sister Vassa Larin is not a Catholic apologist. Sister Vassa is not even Catholic. Sister is a nun with the traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR)–a group that prior to its recent reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate was often compared to the SSPX within the Catholic world. Sister also boasts a doctorate in Eastern theology, which makes her a Russian Orthodox theologian as well.

Sister Vassa is the closest Eastern Orthodox equivalent to EWTN-founder Mother Angelica. With a zeal for Christ and a genius for media, she proudly wears her habit as an orthodox (and Orthodox) nun. She is popular among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics alike, and she is quite friendly toward her Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters–especially for a Russian Orthodox traditionalist.

Sister Vassa can now add another title to her already impressive list. That of competent and common sense apologist for Pope Francis.

In the latest Saturday Morning Live, broadcast Great and Holy Saturday, Sister Vassa defends Pope Francis over recent comments attributed to him in the media by Scalfari over hell. Reports that have caused many so-called conservative Catholic apologists and commentators within the English-speaking world to turn against Pope Francis and accuse him of spreading confusion and error. Sister Vassa’s apologetic for the Holy Father begins around 13:20 into the broadcast:

Sister Vassa’s commentary and apologia for Pope Francis is one that demonstrates a clear grasp of the issue. As noted by my friend Rosemarie Scott after viewing Sister Vassa’s apologia on my facebook wall:

If only [Pope Francis’s] Catholic critics could have such grace and charity toward him. She’s right, it is not healthy for Christians to not give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when the doubt is this substantial: an alleged paraphrase of something he supposedly said in a private discussion which flatly contradicts multiple clear statements he made publicly in the past, coming from an atheist who has misrepresented his words before.

I agree. Both with Sister Vassa and with my friend Rosemarie. But then again Rosemarie and I come from a different era of Catholic apologetics. Like Pepperidge Farms, we remember when popular Catholic apologists in the English-speaking world defended the reigning Roman Pontiff and his magisterial teachings.

It seems that over the past six months the task of defending Pope Francis in the United States now falls to Eastern Orthodox moral philosophers and theologians. First David Bentley Hart and Aristotle Papanikolaou defended Pope Francis from Ed Feser and other American Catholic apologists who equate capital punishment with the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Now Sister Vassa has exposed Catholic critics like Phil Lawler who accuse Pope Francis of undermining Catholic teaching on hell. If Mother Angelica were alive and broadcasting today, being too politically liberal and papolatrist for many of today’s Catholic media in the English-speaking world (including possibly EWTN which she founded), I am sure Mother would enjoy coffee with Sister Vassa.

Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

Not an apologetic for Pope Francis and Gaudete et Exsultate

Not an apologetic for Pope Francis and Gaudete et Exsultate

This is not an apologetic for Pope Francis’s Gaudete et Exsultate. For the time being, having just skimmed through the document, I refuse to write an apologetic for Francis’s new apostolic exhortation. Especially in light of the following concerns.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Pope Francis. I also respect Dave Armstrong as a Catholic apologist, and I appreciate him using his gifts as a Catholic writer to defend Pope Francis from His Holiness’s many critics. Most recently these critics include Ignatius Insight and Catholic World Report editor Carl Olson. To be fair, I have also benefitted from Olson’s previous work as a a Catholic apologist and editor. During the early days of the Catholic blogosphere–then known collectively as St Blog’s–Olson and I blogged together at Pat Madrid’s Envoy Insight.

In the latest controversy between online Catholic apologists, Olson published a blog critical of the Holy Father’s new apostolic exhortation: “Pope Francis ‘takes aim’ in ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’–and misses?” To which Dave Armstrong responded with the following pro-Francis apologetic: “Olson’s Nitpicking, Persnickety Guide to Gaudete et Exsultate”. Being familiar with both parties, I am tempted to ignore my retirement from Catholic apologetics and weigh in on their controversy.

Yet my own quick reading of the apostolic exhortation tells me that such an apologetic is premature. At 177 paragraphs, the apostolic exhortation is rather long. (Especially given Jesuit penchant for brevity.) It is clear Pope Francis has put more than a day’s thought into this document. As successor to St Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Church, are Pope Francis’s magisterial teachings not worth more than a day to read, ponder, and meditate upon prior to critiquing? (more…)

Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

Confusion – now about hell – is the hallmark of Phil Lawler

Confusion – now about hell – is the hallmark of Phil Lawler

In an online article he published yesterday, Phil Lawler claims that Pope Francis is causing confusion over hell. Here is Lawler’s exact quote:

Pope Francis cannot deny the existence of hell without directly contradicting the teaching of the Church. But he can create confusion, and he has done so once again. Did he deny, or at least question, the existence of hell? We don’t know.

Actually, thanks to Google, we do know!

A quick Google search shows multiple reputable media sources worldwide reporting that Pope Francis warned members of the mafia they will end up in hell if they don’t repent during this lifetime. Here are Pope Francis’s words as quoted in the Telegraph:

“This life that you live will not give you joy or happiness,” he said. “Convert, there is time before you finish up in hell, which is what awaits unless you change path,” he said.

The U.K.-based Catholic Herald published a much longer excerpt which makes clear the fact Pope Francis is speaking about hell as an eternal afterlife.

“This life you have now, it will not give you pleasure, it will not give you joy, it will not give you happiness. The power, the money you have now from so many dirty deals, from so many Mafia crimes, blood-stained money, blood-stained power – you will not be able to take that with you to the other life.”

If Pope Francis denies or questions hell’s existence, as Lawler alleges, then how could the Holy Father believe that unrepentant mafioso will end up there? Moreover, how could Pope Francis believe that members of the mob end up there in the next life rather than the present life? After all, one cannot both believe and not believe that hell exists as the afterlife fate the unrepentant.

Of course Lawler is one of three authors to recently publish books attacking Pope Francis and his leadership of the Church. Moreover, his wife Leila is on record as stating both she and Phil believe Francis is “a bad pope”. So one should not be surprised that Lawler attempts an anti-Francis spin.

Yet it surprises me that Lawler, in suggesting the Holy Father denies or undermines belief in hell, fails to reference the Holy Father’s dire warning to mobsters. Lawler is a former editor of Crisis magazine and Catholic World Report. He boasts over 20 years of online Catholic media experience. According to an online bio he “attended Harvard College and did graduate work in political philosophy at the University of Chicago before entering a career in journalism.”

So how does someone with Lawler’s academic and journalist background happen to miss Pope Francis’s warning of hell? Especially when the Holy Father’s warning was republished by so many internationally-recognized English-language news sources? Sources that took me a mere five seconds on Google to find. (Just type “Pope Francis” and “hell” and click return.)

The Holy Father’s warning to unrepentant mafia does not fit the narrative promoted by the anti-Francis cottage media Lawler helped found. In fact, the Holy Father’s warning directly contradicts Lawler’s narrative. Which makes the warning convenient to ignore by someone looking to boost sales of his narrative.

So am I wrong for suspecting that the cause of confusion over Pope Francis and hell is not the Holy Father, but Lawler himself?

UPDATE: For an earlier and much more in-depth rebuttal to Phil Lawler on this issue, please see the following blog by my friend and Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong.

UPDATE II: Not only is hell presented as very real in Pope Francis’s papal statements, but so too is Satan. Check out Fr Rosica’s Why is Pope Francis so obsessed with the devil? for more information.

Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.

Which Thief are You?

Which Thief are You?

“We recognize the two thieves who are crucified next to Christ. They are us. What each of us has to answer is which one do I choose to be. The bitter thief on the left or the repentant thief on the right?”

In asking these questions during our Friday Lenten service, Father Conrad was challenging each member of our Byzantine Catholic community to acknowledge our sinfulness and our need for Christ. An experienced pastor with decades of ordained ministry, Fr Conrad understands the fine line between acknowledgement of human sinfulness before God and pharisaical condemnation.

“In reality,” Fr Conrad would add, “most of us are both. There are times when we turn to God in honesty and humility and ask His forgiveness. At other times, whether through pride or anger or some other sin, we turn away from Him because He asks better of us.”

In reading Pope Francis’s 2018 Lenten message, the Holy Father recognizes this spiritual struggle between the repentant thief and the bitter thief within our human heart. “More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, ‘the root of all evil’ (1 Tim 6:10). The rejection of God and his peace soon follows; we prefer our own desolation rather than the comfort found in his word and the sacraments. All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own ‘certainties’: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbour who does not live up to our expectations,” Pope Francis states.

In the Gospel according to St Luke, the bitter thief meets Pope Francis’ description of one who has abandoned Christ and the sacraments for one’s own selfish and material comfort. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” he states mockingly (Luke 23:39-40). Facing death as a consequence for crimes of selfishness committed against others, the unrepentant thief allows the bitterness of his worldly end to consume him completely.

In contrast, the repentant thief turns to Christ. “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power,” he states with humility and sincerity (Luke 23:42). He knows that he is a sinner in need of redemption. And thus his focus as he faces eternity turns to Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that we too repeat his prayer prior to receiving the Eucharist at Divine Liturgy (or Holy Mass for my Latin brothers and sisters).

This example of the repentant thief also fits the advice offered by Pope Francis in his Lenten message this year: “By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers.”

This consolation is expressed by Our Lord to the repentant thief as follows: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) As we approach Holy Week this year, let each of us choose to be the repentant thief. That is, along with Pope Francis, let us choose to spend more time in prayer, confronting our sins, and seeking spiritual comfort in God’s love and forgiveness.

Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.