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When secular dogmas trump sacred dogmas

Rather than “engage the modern world” as the Second Vatican Council had hoped, liberal Catholicism has tried to “update” the faith so it adheres to the dogmas of contemporary Progressivism.

(Image: Louis Moncouyoux/Unsplash.com)

“Now we don’t go as missionaries,” ran the homily I heard in New York City on the feast of the North American Martyrs, “to convert anyone. We go to be converted by the encounter with the culture and with the people.” Earlier the homilist had made an analogy: the North American Martyrs were “pearl merchants,” bringing the “pearl of great price” that they had in Christ to a people yet to receive it. Today, by contrast, missionaries are “bounty hunters” seeking to find the hidden presence of Jesus in other cultures and traditions.

Elsewhere, I observed on the Internet, this feast that is intended to celebrate the fearless efforts of eight Frenchmen who journeyed to an unknown world so they could bring its natives the Gospel—without which, these missionaries deeply believed, they would not have eternal life—was morphed into a penance service seeking reparations for the sins that European colonists committed against Native Americans, with Pope Francis’s 2015 Bolivia apology speech invoked as the new litany of humility.

It would be fruitless to remind those who have inverted this feast day that these eight martyrs came to New York and Canada in peace; that they faced unprovoked hostilities from the natives, who deemed the sacred vessels for Mass instruments of black magic; that St. Isaac Jogues was captured and tortured by the Mohawks, to the point of biting off his fingers; that St. John de Brebeuf was killed when, after torture, a burning torch was shoved into his mouth; that the lay brother René Goupil received a tomahawk blow to the head for teaching native children to make the sign of the cross; that Jogues was beheaded, with his head triumphantly displayed while his body was tossed into the Mohawk River.

No, equivocating will not work here. There is a deeper problem animating this revisionist approach to Catholic missionary activity: the elevation of secular dogmas over sacred ones. The truths of faith, including Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), have been subordinated to secular dogmas of the Progressive Church, whose creed solemnly forbids spreading Christian ideas or believing those ideas to be true for all people.

The demands of faith in Jesus Christ have always placed Catholics in tension with the world. We are to be in the world, not of it, as the saying goes. This is seldom an easy balance, and few have done it better than the missionary saints who left family and comfort so people they never met could be saved. Our citizenship in the heavenly city, they teach us, precedes our citizenship in any earthly city.

But whenever we prioritize this world over the supernatural world, whether in small items like eschewing penances or through philosophical commitments, our faith inevitably grows stale. “You cannot serve two masters,” warned our Lord. If we rank secular dogmas over sacred ones, we may not come to despise our faith, but we may shrink from it as we convince ourselves that the world is right and the Church is wrong.

This, in essence, has been the liberal Catholic project since Vatican II. Rather than “engage the modern world” as the council had hoped, liberal Catholicism has tried to “update” the faith so it adheres to the dogmas of contemporary Progressivism.

Consider the typical desiderata of liberal Catholicism. Women in the priesthood is an outgrowth of the women’s liberation movement. Artificial birth control, marriage for priests, and acceptance of same-sex romance are all corollaries of the Sexual Revolution. Reducing Catholicism to one religion equal to any other and without saving power stems from moral relativism. Creating a false dichotomy between doctrine and pastoral care, where the former is “oppressive” and the latter is “Jesus’ way,” applies to Catholic life the Enlightenment’s rejection of absolute truth and its elevation of ethics into God’s place.

These desires all have one thing in common: they seek Catholicism’s conformity to the world, which they bring about, in the words of St. John Henry Newman, by “the mistake of subjecting to human judgment those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it.”

By contrast, Catholic missionaries like the North American Martyrs, following Jesus’ mandate, seek to convert the world to Catholicism, and, in doing so, they rightly scrutinize human judgments in light of God’s revelation.

To subordinate sacred dogmas to secular ones is the serve Mammon rather than God. When secular dogmas demand the alteration or neutering of sacred ones, we know that the former lead not to salvation but to perdition.

Numerous teachings of our Lord demand that we must choose Him over the world:

  • “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well (Matt 6:33).
  • “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
  • “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:30).
  • “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt 8:22).
  • “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

The North American Martyrs chose Christ over the world, and over their own lives, because they believed then what we are supposed to be believe now—that salvation comes through faith in Christ. In evangelizing they showed greater charity to the Native Americans than any progressive agenda could ever supply. To transform the celebration of their sanctity and selfless heroism into a plea for forgiveness for other colonists’ sins, or to assert that conversion to the Catholic faith is no longer necessary, is to subordinate, whether intentionally or unwittingly, the sacred creed to the secular one.

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians. The faith of the martyrs—and not of the progressives—is the faith of Christians. It is the martyrs’ faith that saves.


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About David G. Bonagura, Jr. 12 Articles
David G. Bonagura, Jr. teaches at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism. and Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God's Plan of Salvation.

18 Comments

  1. Amazonia lives on despite vexation. “Today, by contrast, missionaries are bounty hunters seeking to find the hidden presence of Jesus in other cultures and traditions” (a NYC Amazonia priest convert). Accommodation? Fervent embrace of the world the unmistakable humanist trend of His Holiness. David Bonagura quoting Christ makes similar unmistakable admonition that we must rather choose Our Lord over the world, even at the purchase price of our life. Barterers, traders and wheeler dealers mixed with the more dashing bounty hunter some return to Rome with most extravagant booty, the Pachamama goddess. Germany, countless cultural trophies of the Amazonia indigenous. Pontifex maximus Francis trodding gallantly Moses of the new age, Catholicism keeping apace departing old Promised Land museum piece dogma journeying journeying forever journeying for a new Egypt.

      • Yo, D. Thomas, here’s a short tutorial…
        Ordained priests are extensions of the bishops who, in turn, are successors of the Apostles.
        The apostles share a “collegial” unity with the papacy, as the successor of St. Peter, always “with the pope and never without him” (Lumen Gentium).
        And we, the laity, share equally in the “universal call to holiness” by virtue of the sacrament of baptism. One big happy family. And all called by St. Paul to be entirely “new persons” worthy of the Beatific Vision, no less.
        We do well to think about that, but is the pope (or anyone else) indefectible? Not at all. So, is it a violation of solidarity to engage in rigorous debate? Not at all.
        Is Pope Francis lining up on your side of the false debate you have constructed? Not at all.
        He might even have something to say to all of us, himself and yourself included, about the Eighth Commandment…And, in his own words, Pope Francis has volunteered that “it is not a sin to criticize the pope.”

      • For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

      • An apologia here to misconceptions and judgments. As a writer and as a priest it’s expected I won’t please everyone, nor will I try to. I adhere as best I can to my conscientious convictions. For a start I’ve said we can’t fault everything Pope Francis says or does. For example, I fully endorse his instances of adherence to Apostolic Tradition. I fully respect the Chair of Peter and its ecclesial specified authority. There are many who sharply disagree with Francis accusing him of heresy. In fact there’s no viable evidence of that since he’s careful to avoid the canonical conditions, adamancy and persistence. Where I’ve been critical is his direction of the Church in a humanist secular approach to evil, the ‘merciful’ tolerance of sinful behavior, specific in respect to reception of the Eucharist [Eucharistic cohesion]. He achieved this by suggestion, silence [the Dubia and elsewhere] and by a canonically deficient oblique reference in the papal Argentine letter exchange on communion for divorced and remarried outside the Church. Also, his suggestive approbation of adult homosexual behavior by words, and actions specifically appointments. Criticism of policy as policy is permissible even if strongly worded, we need simply research St Catherine of Siena’s scathing comments to wayward pontiffs. Formally pronounced doctrine is another matter, to which I offer obedience. For example the death penalty, which on examination is essentially similar to that of John Paul II. Although, I disagree with his opinion that the penalty was always wrong. On the liturgy, although I disagree with his rationale for suppressing the TM, I accept his decision if he believes it promotes unity. These policy decisions of Pope Francis are the rationale for the large segment of traditional Catholics who refuse all that Pope Francis seeks to implement. This is where I strongly disagree with those who speak of this pontiff as bereft of legal authority, and an apostate [that judgment of conscience belongs to God alone] that must be completely ignored. Here there is a tragic error. The refusal of what is most correct, and required to be corrected, that is, the tendency, often referenced by Francis, to revert to a Pharisaical observance of the Law in detriment of a life of sincere, sacrificial commitment to the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the sick, the incarcerated. That is the Pontiff’s strongsuit, a truth that must be incorporated in our practice of the faith. When was the last time we engaged in corporal works of mercy? We’ll be questioned on this at our judgment. Our love for Christ is not proved by hurling insult, invective at Francis on the internet [something I realized early on that required personal correction]. Christ’s good, his fathomless love when embraced compels us to give this gift of love. When we love the least we demonstrate our love for Him.

        • Good reply.

          However, Pope Francis did not and could not formally declare – as in intrinsically evil – whether by Ex Cathedra or the Ordinary Magisterium on Capital Punishment by using the legal and not theological term ‘inadmissible’.

          A life and death practice cannot be now intrinsically evil without a massive, Church-destroying contradiction of the Holy Spirit led Church of Christ not knowing the truth of the death penalty until now. And because the modern world has such ‘escape-proof’ prisons and the judicial system is so wonderfully ‘progressive’ it does not make the subject moot as both popes imply in that modernity has made recourse to such punishment ‘inadmissible’ and not necessary.

          Ever.

          The Mosaic Law. Jesus Christ. Transfiguration. Come to fulfill the Mosaic Law or destroy it…

  2. Great article, David!

    Unfortunately, however, it would seem that what began as a little leaven decades ago has now leavened a vast quantity of the lump (1 Cor 5). The only hope is to cleanse out this leaven.

    But I believe this leaven to be more than what is traditionally known as progressivism. It is more aligned with what is promoted today as “Progressive Christianity” (see progressivechristianity.org). This Progressive Christianity “theology” is “another gospel” that Paul warned about, declaring: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1).

    See if any of what “Progressive Christianity” promotes is not consistent with much of the liberal propaganda we hear within the Church today, even from its leadership.

    Here are the 8 Points of Progressive Christianity that epitomize the unholy leaven of this world that has slowly been leavening the Church:
    “By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who…
    1. Believe that following the path of the teacher Jesus can lead to healing and wholeness, a mystical connection to “God,” as well as an awareness and experience of not only the Sacred, but the Oneness and Unity of all life;
    2. Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness, Oneness and Unity of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom, including Earth, in our spiritual journey;
    3. Seek and create community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:
    Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
    Believers and agnostics,
    Women and men,
    Those of all races, cultures, and nationalities
    Those of all sexual orientations and all gender identities,
    Those of all classes and abilities;
    All creatures and plant life;
    4. Know that the way we behave towards one another and Earth is the fullest expression of what we believe, therefore we vow to walk as Jesus might have walked in this world with radical compassion, inclusion, and bravery to confront and positively change the injustices we experience as well as those we see others experiencing;
    5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning with an open mind and open heart, than in absolutes or dogma;
    6. Work toward peace and justice among all people and all life on Earth;
    7. Protect and restore the integrity of our Earth and all of Creation;
    8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love on this journey toward a personally authentic and meaningful faith.

    The Gospel of Christ is being re-written by the arrogant, just like history. We can’t just pray our way out of this – enough with “thoughts and prayers”! We must stand up and defend the faith openly, verbally, and with our lives by living the Gospel of Christ and if need be dying for it. We must challenge the lies, call darkness and evil what it is, and proclaim the Kingship of Christ over all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth!

  3. The location where this homily was offered and by whom appears to be deliberately concealed in this otherwise illuminating article. Did I miss something? Is this true because of the author hopes to avoid retribution or is it done out of “charity”? This itself is as offensive and repugnant as are the vacuous poetics at the core of the homily. The faithful are being drowned in erroneous nonsense unworthy of Romper Room. The stratagem revealed in both circumstances is basically the same and is at the core of the cancer which is consuming the Roman Catholic Church and consigning the nominal faithful to darkness.
    The catastrophe which presently consumes the Church can no longer be minimized. Polite does not work in battle, least of all in spiritual warfare. If we are not now convinced of the horror which consumes the Church we are deliberately deaf, dumb and blind and very willing so. Self-deceit is an alliance with evil. It is way past time we abandon infantile self-consolation, put on our armor Who Is Jesus Christ and start to behave as adult men and women. Waiting for the clergy muzzled by a false understanding of evangelical obedience, analogous to a Fauci beagle, is no longer an option. The least Catholic journalism can do is provide names, locations and dates.

  4. Thank you for this article.
    Once heard a somewhat similar sermon by a nun making a solicitation pitch on behalf of the Diocese on World Mission Sunday. She explained that the Society for the Propagation of the Faith was no longer—what her comments implied—the outdated model of preaching the gospel in foreign lands. Rather it was now just another NGO engaging in worthwhile charitable work but not distinctively different from a lot of secular NGOs.

  5. The North American Martyrs—indeed, all Catholic Martyrs—believed the One True Faith apart from which there is no salvation, only eternal damnation in Hell. They were so on fire with this truth that they were compelled to bring it to the potentially damned no matter what the cost. All of us must do likewise or we are not following Christ. Sadly Nu-Church has abandoned Christ, the Gospel, and the One True Faith apart from which no one can be saved and souls are falling into Hell like snowflakes in a blizzard. May they realize their sin before they are called to judgment.

  6. I cannot agree with you, David. Nowhere have I read that conversion is to cease. That homily preached by that priest got it all wrong, and, unfortunately, the misinformation presented and circulated would have confused many people. In fact, we are asked to evangelize in today’s world by letting people see Jesus in our lives. Proselytizing has become a very evil term in many countries, but living the Word is acceptable.
    Some Catholics apparently are pushing for the changes you mentioned, but none of them have made it beyond the columns of the press that publish those views. Our Church is in very safe hands. I can assure you that Pope Francis, a very faithful cradle Catholic, will not let the progressives as well as the Radtrads get their agendas to take control. Trust the Holy Spirit.

  7. To Know God / you must obey him first / you might want to start with the 10 Commandments.
    If you don’t understand the 10 Commandments and or obey them first how can you understand the rest of the Bible . Once you obey God/ here is what you will see in your own life. ” THE REAL PRESENCE OF GOD IS IN OUR CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR ” for all to see.
    The 10 Commandments’ are GOD’S Code of Conduct for HUMAN BEHAVIOR.
    Last you must use the Bible and the Dictionary together because they are BOTH ABOUT HUMAN BEHAVIOR GOOD and BAD.
    Use the Dictionary with the Bible and your eyes will see the TRUTH because the secret about GOD in the Dictionary is tracing all of the Synonyms related to one word that you research.
    Do what I have done and do your homework and by that I mean that you write down the all the meanings of each word on a blank sheets of paper and search every one listed with the one you started with .
    Clues’ .
    Every word that ends with ( ISM ) ( IST ) ( TIC ) ( IZE ) and the word Action / Act /
    You know what they have in common / they all have the word BEHAVIOR listed in them.
    Love / David Crow Cope

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