The following interview is an abridged version of Peter Herbeck’s discussion with Msgr. Charles Pope.
Peter Herbeck (PH): Tell us about your recent battle with Covid-19.
Msgr. Charles Pope (MCP): I have a long history of pulmonary weakness. From December 2019 to February 2020, I had pneumonia. I broke three ribs, had pleurisy, a partially collapsed lung, and a torn chest wall with internal bleeding.
I felt healthy by the time Covid came around. I caught it just as we were beginning to open up. I was taken to the ER in respiratory failure. It was touch-and-go for the first day or two. I spent eleven days in the ICU, and another day or two in a step-down unit, until I was finally released. I feel great now.
PH: Can you talk about courage, which is such an important virtue for the moment we're living in? In a an angry, rage-filled culture, with the Church often being intimidated — courage is something we need.
We don't have to shake our fist at people, but just honestly say to them, "I'm sorry, that's not the mind of God.
MCP: "Courage" gets its roots from the Latin word "core," meaning "heart," and "age," meaning to act or do. We must have a heart that's able to act, that's full of zeal and joy for the truth and of great, holy reverence and fear of the Lord, and a desire to please Him. Do we want to please the world or the Lord? Choose the Lord, because you'll stand before Him one day in judgment.
Too many of us are just languishing; we don't act like people who are on the winning team. Jesus is going to win, but sometimes we don't act like that. We're cowering and fearful. We don't want to say anything. We don't have to shake our fist at people, but just honestly say to them, "I'm sorry, that's not the mind of God. I can't in all sincerity and good conscience agree with you on this, because I believe in the Lord, and He teaches against this."
Speak clearly and honestly. Instead, people hide out, including clergy, bishops, and others who don't want to talk about controversial issues. We must regain a sense like the martyrs had in the early Church; they had amazing courage and fortitude to stand against the fiercest opposition. Sometimes, part of our job is to accept that we're going to be persecuted and hated by this world. Part of courage is being realistic.
PH: Joseph Pieper described courage as the willingness to sustain a wound in defense of what's true, good, and beautiful. What are the elements of courage, and where does it come from? How can people who feel like they are often afraid or timid get courage?
MCP: Courage is one of the four cardinal virtues. It's fortitude, which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Ask for it! Some people are afraid to ask for it, because they know it might involve stepping out more. But ask for it, because when you do get it, it will help you not be afraid to step out there and be part of the mix.
Fortitude, or courage, is not just about running into a dangerous situation. St. Thomas Aquinas discusses its four parts in the Summa Theologiae:
It means to be large-minded — to think, "I want to evangelize the world. I want to go out and conquer error with truth." Jesus said, "Go therefore into all nations and baptize them and teach them everything I've commanded you" (Mt 28:19). With large-mindedness, we're able to undertake something great for the kingdom of God.
Patience helps me deal with the sadness and sorrows and bear up under the difficulties that come.
Its Latin roots mean not just thinking great things, but doing great things. After having this glorious vision of the beauty of truth and the glory of the kingdom of God, we set forth to say, "Come with me to my Father's house. I've met Him, and the truth is setting me free. I'm not what I want to be, but I'm not what I used to be. Come!" And people begin going out and doing great things. They may evangelize like that, or by founding hospitals or offering tutoring services where they can interact and talk about the Lord in those contexts. It means getting out and doing.
Patience helps us resist giving way to sadness. It's pretty discouraging today, as we see the Christendom that those of us who are older once knew falling to pieces. People can't even find the right bathrooms — that is very confused. I'm suffering like Augustine. The whole Roman empire was crumbling, and he loved the Roman Empire. I love my country, and I love my culture, but it's crumbling to pieces. Patience helps me deal with the sadness and sorrows and bear up under the difficulties that come.
Perseverance helps us pursue our purposes even when there are discouraging results or lack of support. We sometimes wonder if it's two steps forward and one step back. We persevere, we keep going. Jesus says, "Keep preaching this Gospel. When all this latest foolishness is over, you'll still be preaching the Gospel." Nations have come and gone. Empires have risen and fallen, and here we are, still preaching the Gospel. Persevere. Preach the Gospel in season and out of season.
PH: How do you connect a capacity to see the glory and majesty of the King and the ability to live with freedom and courage?
He's so glorious, his truth is so wonderful, I can't not share it.
MCP: We need fear of the Lord. Sometimes we think of just a cringing fear. But ideally, as we grow in our love for God, it moves to a fear that holds God in awe. He's so glorious, his truth is so wonderful, I can't not share it. I can't not go forth and bring people and say, "Come and go with me, meet the Father who Jesus introduced to me and brought me right into his heart. Meet my Savior, Jesus." Go forth as credible witnesses who love God with all their heart and want to please Him, and who are joyful witnesses to the glory, the majesty, the power, and the ultimate victory of God and his kingdom.
PH: Revelations 12:11 says the martyrs "loved not their lives even unto death." How do you explain what's being revealed there?
MCP: They defeated the evil one "by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives unto this world" (See Rv 12:11). Ultimately, they loved it for God in heaven.
All three things are critical. We're not conquering because we're eloquent; only the blood of the Lamb put sin to death. It's very paradoxical. Good Friday didn't look like a victory, but it was. There is a saying, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that." I would add — and this is where we come to the cross — pride cannot drive out pride, only humility can do that. Jesus defeated Satan's pride and our own pride — and broke his back — by his humility and his obedience to the Father, and it is by the blood of the Lamb that we will conquer. Sometimes it's paradoxical. We seem like we're losing, we have martyrs, people are in prison for their faith. We think, "I thought we were victorious here, Lord." It's all paradoxical, because we're breaking the back of pride and of Satan's pride through the humility and blood of the Lamb.
The word is testimony, saying, "In the laboratory of my own life, I have tested God's Word, and I know it's true."
Then, there is "the word of their testimony." You've got to speak. Don't be afraid, or think, "They'll know I'm a Christian just by the way I live my life." Say something too. People need to know what you're doing and why you're doing it, and we have to speak up. We are in the trouble we are in today in our culture, where we have confusion about the most basic things, because we have not been speaking — we Christians who have been tasked with being the voice of truth, the light of the world, and the salt of the earth. The word goes forth from us, but we've been much too quiet. The word is testimony, not just quoting from the Catechism or the Bible, but saying, "In the laboratory of my own life, I have tested God's Word, and I know it's true." That's what helps us to teach and speak with authority; we tested this word, and we know it by experience.
Finally, "They loved not their lives unto this world." Too many people do. With Covid, many people were all worked up about something that could kill their body. Covid is serious, but mortal sin — which nobody pays attention to or talks about — and being excluded from heaven has eternal consequences and is much more serious. So, would that we could love our life more unto eternity and to God and his kingdom than be obsessed with being happy and healthy in this world, which is passing away.
PH: Talk to me about Revelation 21:8, "Cowards . . . will be thrown into the lake of fire."
MCP: A Christian's first job is to announce the kingdom, and if you're not even doing Job One, you're kind of a useless servant. Not everyone has the personality to stand on a street corner and say, "Thus sayeth the Lord." But so many people aren't even saying it at their own kitchen table with their own kids. Find the courage to talk about it with your kids — and expect that you're going to get gruff. Jesus did too. It's hard, but if we don't do Job One, Jesus says that is so serious. "You wicked servant, depart from me" is kind of the image (Mt 7:23).
The Greek word for coward is "deilos," which means to be afraid of loss. I might not get the promotion, I might not be liked, I might not get access to power, I might lose my job. The Lord says, "What's more important, to lose your job or to lose eternity?" He's warning us, and He's asking for a good, holy, reverent fear of Him that takes Him seriously. He says, "Go therefore unto the nations and make disciples" (Mt 28:19).
PH: As the culture has gotten more aggressive in its opposition against the Church, it seems the Church is getting more timid. The culture's coming after us, saying, "You need to salute this, or it's going to cost you. You need to be quiet about this, or it's going to cost you." What would you say to people who have the opportunity to preach, but who are constantly in a tension, "What should I say?" — and usually end up not saying and delivering the full meal?
"I love you too much to lie to you. There are not fifty genders. There are only two sexes, and God made us male and female. Genderism is not of God."
MCP: Courage, my brothers. I stood up one day in church and said, "I love you too much to lie to you. There are not fifty genders. There are only two sexes, and God made us male and female. Genderism is not of God." And four people got up and very visibly walked out. Well, maybe that's the wolf going out, because it's the job of the priest to drive away the wolf from the flock. The wolf is filled with error and lies, and he may come in sheep's clothing, but he is the wolf. I'm not saying those four people were the wolf personally, but we can't just worry about upsetting people, saying, "Oh, let's welcome Brother Wolf to the congregation." What? The job of the priest is to say, "That's the wolf!" And drive it out, protect the flock.
If you're a priest, bishop, or deacon, read Gregory's Pastoral Rule. He says the high priest would wear bells in his vestment when he went into the Holy of Holies, and there would be a rope tied around his ankles in case he got struck dead, but as long as the people outside heard the bells ringing, they knew he was still alive. If the bells stopped ringing, that priest was dead. He said, "A silent priest is a dead priest." Our people desperately need to hear from us; they're agonizingly crying for it.
PH: What advice do you have for lay people working for companies that are saluting to the world and expect employees to take stands or go to a gay pride parade? It's violating their conscience, but they don't know what to do. That requires wisdom and real courage.
MCP: Be polite but firm, and say, "I'm sorry, but for sincerely held religious beliefs, I cannot celebrate LGBTQ Day or wear the rainbow. I don't hate these people, but I can't countenance the behavior any more than I can countenance fornication, adultery, pornography, or any other sexual sins. I cannot celebrate that. I believe in God, and I ask you to respect my religious liberty."
You can always throw that out: "If you really come after me, I'll see you in court. I will battle you. I'm not just going to sit here and say, 'Oh, I'm going to get fired.' I have rights too." You don't have to get ugly right away, you just have to signal, "I have some religious liberties, and I'd like you to respect them. I don't want to participate in this gay pride day at the workplace. Again, for sincerely held religious beliefs. I actually believe that God has taught us something about this that I'm required to follow."
"Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for a moment, that God thinks that people with modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not in and of themselves blessed. All this must fall from them in the end. And that if they have not learned to know him they will be wretched. And therefore he troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover and rectify." — from The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis
Msgr. Charles Pope. "I love you too much to lie to you." Renewal Ministries (January, 2021).
This article is reprinted with permission from Renewal Ministries. Visit Renewal Ministries here.
Monsignor Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, a vibrant parish community in Washington, DC. A native of Chicago with a bachelor degree in computer science, his interest in the priesthood stemmed from his experience as a church musician. He attended Mount Saint Mary's Seminary and was ordained in 1989. A pastor since 2000, he also has led Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and at the White House in past years.Copyright © 2021 Renewal Ministries
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