Let Us Pray.

Got Change for a Twenty?

A ex-Catholic friend sent me a copy of an Associated Press article that had appeared in the Houston Chronicle. After reading the article, I am convinced that the spirit of Simon Magus survives within the Roman Catholic Church. Before examining the article, it would be well to look at some of the ways the RCC, through her princes, has raised money in the past.

The Roman church has a thing about money. She is not alone in this love of worldly things, sadly, but she has been chasing riches longer than any other church and she has gotten really good at accumulating wealth. I have nothing against expecting believers to contribute to the support of the physical plant and her permanent ministers. After all, that is the biblical thing to do. Levitical Law provides for the care and maintenance of priests, Levites and their families and for the upkeep of the Temple. In the writings of Paul and Luke, we clearly see that provision is to be made for widows, orphans and other needy as well as the preacher of the Gospel. It just does not seem to me that the Lord intended His ministers to live in regal splendor in great palaces or to work in ornate churches while multitudes of the faithful residing in the shadows of such episcopal excess live from hand to mouth. Let us examine this concept in a bit more detail.

Paul, the well-seasoned Apostle, wrote to young Timothy who was facing a heavy burden of responsibility in the church at Ephesus. The young pastor needed to eliminate false doctrine, safeguard public worship, and develop mature leadership. Paul doesn’t stop with addressing the conduct of the church. He goes on to pointedly address the conduct of its shepherd. Timothy must constantly be on guard that his youth not become a liability. He must avoid false teachers and greedy motives, pursuing instead godliness, righteousness, faith, love, perseverance, and the gentleness that befits a man of God. In Chapter 6, the Apostle wrote:

3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

1 Timothy 6:9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. ( 1 Timothy 6::3-10)

In v. 3, Paul identifies three characteristics of false teachers:

1) they “teach otherwise” – a different doctrine, or any teaching that contradicts God’s revelation in Scripture (Gal. 1:6–9);

2) they do “not consent to wholesome words” – they do not agree with sound, healthy teaching, specifically the teaching contained in Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16);

3) they reject “doctrine which accords with godliness”—teaching not based on Scripture will always result in an unholy life. Instead of godliness, false teachers will be marked by sin (2 Pet. 2:10–22; Jude 4,8–16).

In v. 4, the Apostle could have been describing the “apologetics” of RCC spokesmen with whom I have interacted. Certainly, “disputes and arguments over words” seems to describe the general nature of their arguments. “Disputes” refers to idle speculation; “arguments over words” lit. means “word battles.” Because proud, ignorant false teachers do not understand divine truth (2 Cor. 2:14), they obsess over terminology and attack the reliability and authority of Scripture. Every kind of strife is mentioned to indicate that false teachers produce nothing of benefit out of their fleshly, corrupt, and empty minds

In the next verse, Paul tells us that false teachers are in a state of apostasy; that is, although they once knew and seemed to embrace the truth, they turned to openly reject it. The Greek word for “destitute” means “to steal,” “to rob,” or “to deprive” and its form here indicates that someone or something was pulled away from contact with the truth (it does not mean they were ever saved; (see 1:19; 2 Tim. 2:18; 3:7,8; Heb. 6:4–6; 2 Pet. 2:1,4–9). In his reference to “a means of gain,” the Apostle informs that almost always the hypocritical, lying (4:2) false teachers are motivated by a desire for monetary gain (Acts 8:18–23; 2 Pet. 2:15). And he warns the young pastor to separate himself from such people.

The Greek word translated “contentment” in v. 6 means “self-sufficiency,” and was used by Stoic philosophers to describe a person who was unflappable and unmoved by external circumstances. Christians are to be satisfied and sufficient, and not to seek for more than what God has already given them. He is the source of true contentment (2 Cor. 3:5; 9:8; Phil. 4:11–13,19). In other words, “having food and clothing . . . be content” (v. 6). The basic necessities of life are what ought to make Christians content. Paul does not condemn having possessions, as long as God graciously provides them (v. 17). He does, however, condemn a self-indulgent desire for money, which results from discontentment. ( Matt. 6:33).

Ambition for riches is a snare and those who “desire to be rich fall into temptation.” “Desire” refers to a settled wish born of reason, and clearly describes those guilty of greed. The form of the Greek verb for “fall” indicates that those who have such a desire are continually falling into temptation. Greedy people are compulsive—they are continually trapped in sins by their consuming desire to acquire more. Such greed may lead these people to suffer the tragic end of destruction and hell. These terms refer to the eternal punishment of the wicked.

The words in v. 10 likely are familiar to just about every literate person. The love of money, literally “affection for silver,” in the context, applies to false teachers specifically, but the principle is true universally. Money itself is not evil since it is a gift from God (Deut. 8:18); Paul condemns only the love of it (Matt. 6:24), which is so characteristic of false teachers (1 Pet. 5:2; 2 Pet. 2:1–3,15). Those who covet riches often stray from the body of Christian truth. Gold has replaced God for these apostates, who have turned away from pursuing the things of God in favor of money.

Against the background of this passage, let us examine some of the ways the Roman church has shown its excess love for the things of this world and how, at times, it appears to equate worldly wealth with godliness. But first, think again who Jesus was. He became man, not in a palace, surrounded by servants and every imaginable luxury, but in a stable and in the company of humble men and women. He lived as the Son of a carpenter (or contractor) and likely labored in His stepfather’s shop. In His ministry, He did not travel by chariot or in a litter borne on the shoulders of slaves. He walked, together with His closest associates, who formerly were fishermen, tax collectors and such. Though He is and was Christ the King, in His earthly life and ministry He lived as a simple man. Compare the ways of the King of Kings with those of Catholic popes, cardinals and bishops who wear princely robes, live in luxurious palaces, are attended by a staff of subordinates and servants, and who dine on rich food. Think about it. Did the Roman church lose the path somewhere along the way?

History records how some of the “infallible successor’s to Peter’s apostolate” have stooped to almost unimaginable depravities in their lust for riches. Shortly after attaining to the so-called Throne of Peter, . Gregory VI (1045-1046) was compelled to resign for simony. John XXII (1316-1334), who permitted priests who paid a tax to keep their mistresses, actually had a set table of fees for the absolution of any crime – from murder to incest to sodomy. Sixtus IV (1471-1484) qlso levied a tax on priests who kept mistresses and was the first to offer indulgences for the dead, thereby establishing a virtually infinite source of revenue. He also was the first to license Roman brothels. Alexander VI (1492-1503), who reportedly, at the tender age of 12, murdered his uncle, Pope Callistus II, was labeled “The Tiberius of Christian Rome" by Gibbons. He freed murderers for a price and appointed cardinals for a flat fee – after which he poisoned them to take possession of their goods and hasten job turn over.

One of the very effective ways the RCC harvested money to build her great temples and palaces and to sustain the extravagant lifestyles of her princes was through the sale of indulgences.

In Roman Catholic practice, an indulgence is:

“The remission – either partial or full – of temporal punishment for sins and the resulting satisfaction owed to God. Both the Sacrament of Penance and a perfect act of contrition bestow indulgences. They may be gained for oneself or for those in purgatory.” (Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ed., Catholic Dictionary, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., (1993), p.265)

In the early days of the Christian church, the local priest or bishop often would impose severe punishments on anyone who committed serious sins, in the belief that the sinner should be punished for those sins, at least in part, in this life. These punishments might be in the form of reparations, fasts, pilgrimages, and floggings. Over time, church authorities substituted lesser works, such as prayers or almsgiving.

Abuses relating to the sale of indulgences during the Middle Ages (5th century to 15 century) played a major part in triggering the Reformation in the 16th Century. The Roman Catholic Church still grants indulgences, but the practice was simplified in 1967.

Sort of an early day “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, the indulgence generally came in the form of small coupons or slips of paper that were sold by the thousands. The most infamous of the indulgence peddlers, the German monk Johann Tetzel, was an indulgence "broker" who worked on behalf of Albert of Brandenburg (1490-1545), Archbishop of Magdeburg (later a cardinal) and elector of Mainz. To offset the enormous expenses involved in maintaining his plush lifestyle -- and in purchasing high church positions -- Albert "subcontracted" the indulgence business.

Related to the sale of indulgences, is the practice of simony -- the purchase or sale of spiritual things. That simony was and remains a widespread abuse is evidenced by the amount of church legislation against it. Emperor Constantine denounced simony in the Edict of Milan (313 AD). The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the Third Lateran Council (1179 AD) and the Council of Trent (1545-63 AD) all dealt with the practice. Despite all this “infallible” attention and legislation, simony remained rampant and corrupted virtually the entire church hierarchy. It eventually became the impetus for the Protestant Reformation.

Enough church history. Fast-forward to the present.

“WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. - In 72 years as a nun, Sister Grace Marie Korn has spent uncounted hours sending prayers to God. For the next year, she will pray on Joyce Fink's behalf as part of an unusual fund-raising campaign that invites members of the public to "adopt" her and other sisters in her order.

A cash gift will keep donors in their adoptees' prayers for a year. (Carolyn Thompson (AP), ’Adopted’ nuns will pray for sponsors, The Houston Chronicle (July 7, 2000), Religion Section, p. 3)

Whoa! Send a little money to adopt a nun and that nun will pray for you for a whole year! Kinda calls to mind those greedy people on television who promise all sorts of temporal and spiritual rewards if the viewer will just send a little “love offering.” Themotivation of those TV Simoniacs seems pretty apparent and, of course, everything they preach or promise must be checked against the Scriptures. But what about these nuns? Isn’t what they are doing essentially the same as those folks on TV?

Naah. The Roman Catholic Church wouldn’t do anything like that. Just check the current Catechism. Simony is a no-no.

2139. "Tempting God in words or deeds, sacrilege, and simony are sins of irreligion forbidden by the first commandment.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church,(19941997); United States Catholic Conference, Inc

The Sisters of St. Francis are quick to deny they are in the pray-for-pay business. Donors can pledge any amount they choose and the nuns will pray for them whether the cash registers ring or not.

"I'm not praying for pay," stressed Sister Grace Marie, 91, a member of the Williamsville [New York] Franciscan Sisters whose Adopt-A-Sister program is just getting under way. -- (Carol Thompson Op. cit>)

So why are they doing what they’re doing? According to Thompson (Op. cit.), “the sisters hope to develop lasting personal relationships with those who adopt them.”

There is another reason, of course, and it calls to mind the days of old when RCC princes were scrambling to raise money to build their palaces and great cathedrals. It seems the Sisters of St. Francis need to pay off their brand-new $12 million motherhouse. The Adopt-A-Sister scheme is part of a program to raise $3.7 million toward that end.

Does this scheme violate Rome’s proscription against simony?

2121. "SIMONY is defined as the buying or selling of spiritual things.[Cf. Acts 8:9-24 .] To Simon the magician, who wanted to buy the spiritual power he saw at work in the apostles, St. Peter responded: 'Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money!'[Acts 8:20 .] Peter thus held to the words of Jesus: 'You received without pay, give without pay.'[Mt 10:8 ; cf. already Isa 55:1 .] It is impossible to appropriate to oneself spiritual goods and behave toward them as their owner or master, for they have their source in God. One can receive them only from him, without payment." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Op. cit.)

At least one Catholic priest didn't that think the pray-for-pay is idea was all that bad.

”As long as donors don't mistakenly assume they are buying the grace of God or that God's favor is for sale, the program could be beneficial for everyone, said the Rev. Richard Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and editor of First Things, a magazine about religion in public life. “ (Carolyn Thompson, Op. cit.)

I looked in one of my old Catechisms and found this teaching on prayer. As you read it, notice there is no mention of seeking money, voluntary or otherwise, in order to pray for someone.

26. “For whom must we pray?

We must pray for all men: for the living and the dead; for friends and enemies; especially for our parents, brothers and sisters, benefactors, spiritual and Temporal Superiors, and also for heretics and infidels…” (Joseph DeHarbe, A Complete Catechism of the Catholic Religion, Chap. 3, Schwarz, Kirwin and Fauss: (1924), p. 315; w/Nihil Obstat and Imprimitur)

Benefactors? Is that the word that makes asking for money in exchange for prayers okay? Gosh! I hope not.

Of those who see nothing wrong in this scheme to raise money to defray the cost of convent building, I ask but but two things:

1. Prayerfully open your Bible and meditate on the passage from Paul’s first letter to Timothy, quoted above. If, after prayerful consideration, you still find no fault in asking for money in exchange for prayer,

2. Send me a “love offering” and I will be more than happy to pray for you as I squirrel away funds to finance the cost of living comfortably in my declining years and, perhaps, to buy a new SUV, a high-definition big-screen TV, a other things that will enhance the quality of my life. Surely, if it is OK for nuns to pray for pay, it must be okay for plain folks to do the same.

* * * *

Update: Apparently the Adopt-a-Sister scheme pioneered by the Fransiscan Sisters really caught on. On November 27, 2007, I Googled for "Adopt=A-Sister" and got 556 hits. I checked out a few of them and discovered that the scheme apparently has taken root in a multitude of places, including overseas. I reckon it would be accurate to argue that money rings Mama Church's bells.

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