Monday, December 05, 2016

A 2016 Christmas Gift Idea

Shane in St. John's Chapel, Mercy Hospital Springfield, Missouri

Do you know anyone who doesn't understand the Catholic Christian faith? Do you have Protestant friends and family who "just don't get it?" Worse yet, are you confronted on holidays and family get-togethers with challenging questions, even accusations, about Catholicism and the Catholic Church? Or, are you looking to explain Catholic teaching in a way that Evangelical Protestants can easily understand?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then my 2013 book "Catholicism for Protestants" might be for you. While I admit this to be a shameless promotion on my part, it may be worth consideration. I wrote this book specifically for the purpose of helping Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) understand our faith, and also to help Catholics better explain our faith in a way Evangelicals can understand. The book is short and arranged in a question/answer format by general topics that are major points of difference between Catholics and Evangelicals. It could make an excellent Christmas gift, or simply a pre-holiday handout for troublesome relatives who like to grill your Catholic faith during family get togethers.

Conversion is a matter of the heart, not the mind. So it's unlikely that any book will convert a non-Catholic in and of itself, unless that person already has a seeking disposition. For seekers, this book has proved to be very helpful in directing them toward the Catholic Church. For non-seekers, this book has proved very helpful in redirecting questions away from accusation into genuine curiosity. So in other words, it resets the debate, levelling the playing field a bit, and allows you to engage them on a level that is at least civil, if not productive.

I recommend getting the paperback from Amazon, so that you can acquire the Kindle version for free. This allows you to keep a digital version for yourself, while giving the paperback version to your friend or loved one. It's literally two books for the price of one.

So please consider this as a Christmas suggestion. Below you will find my interview with Michael Voris of Church Militant, who highly recommends the book, as well as various ordering options.

Buy the paperback through Amazon,
and get the Kindle version for FREE.

Barnes & Noble

The book contains a NIHIL OBSTAT from Reverend Allan Saunders, Censor Librorum, and an IMPRIMATUR from the Most Reverend James V. Johnston, Jr., former Bishop of Springfield - Cape Girardeau (now the Bishop of Kansas City - Saint Joseph).
"There are many books addressing the difference between Protestants and Catholics. Some are very detailed and cumbersome; others are too simple or not complete in their scope. Shane Schaetzel has provided us with a simple question and answer format that is both complete and thorough, but also simple and easily approachable. May it be used to reach many souls for Jesus and his Catholic Church."   
-- Steve Ray: Catholic Apologist, Author, Film Producer, 

"Shane Schaetzel has done a great service to Protestants and Catholics alike by presenting Catholic truth clearly and simply through a series of questions and answers."  
-- Fr. Christopher Phillips, Catholic convert and priest, 

"A great read!"  
-- Michael Voris: Catholic Journalist,

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why Christmas is NOT Pagan

The Christmas Tree, Albert Chevallier Tayler, painted in 1911

Having once been an Evangelical, I was heavily exposed to the "Christmas is Pagan" or "Christmas has Pagan origins" movement in the Western world. The movement is heavily concentrated in the United States, with large pockets in Canada, Australia, and other parts of the Anglosphere. It's primarily a Protestant problem, which was popularised during the Protestant religious movements of the 17th through 19th centuries. Today it is most aggressively pushed by Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of God and other Fundamentalist sects. Sadly, attacks against this holiday are used to introduce suspicion of mainstream Christian denominations, and the Catholic Church in particular.

The Fundamentalist attack on Christmas is centred around the date of December 25, and actually has a rather ancient origin. The 12th-century Syrian Orthodox Bishop, Jacob Bar-Salibi, proposed the following:
"It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day." 
-- Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, Ramsay MacMullen. Yale:1997, p. 155 
Even though the quote comes from an Eastern Orthodox bishop, many Western Fundamentalist groups seized upon it in the late 19th century because it fit their anti-Catholic narrative. The only problem here is that the good bishop, as wise as he may have been on many other issues, was just plain wrong about this one. We have to remember that the Eastern Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on or near January 7. This has always been their custom, which is fine of course, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. The quote from Bishop Bar-Salibi above appears to be an attempt to explain why Western Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25, as opposed to January 7. It appears to be directed toward the Eastern Orthodox faithful, and it appears the bishop has some cursory knowledge of Western history on this matter. However, it also appears he made an historical error, by getting the proverbial "cart before the horse," and (probably unintentionally) reversed the order of events. It is important to note however, that Bishop Bar-Salibi nowhere intended for his comment to be misconstrued as a blanket condemnation of Christmas, the Christmas celebration, or even the Western date upon which it is celebrated. It was simply intended to be an explanation of why Eastern and Western Christians celebrate Christmas on different dates. That is all.

Nevertheless, some Western Protestant Fundamentalists, and Jehovah's Witnesses in particular, took Bishop Bar-Salibi's quote and just ran with it to the greatest extreme. Using it as proof text for how the Christmas celebration was started, and an indictment against the Catholic Church and Western Christianity in general. So they branded Christmas a "Pagan holiday" celebrated by "Paganised" Christians who are engaging in a "Pagan celebration" whitewashed to only "appear Christian." Of course, they argue, in order to be a "better Christian," and please God more than others, one must immediately cease and desist from this Pagan festivity. Likewise, the Catholic Church, and mainline Protestant denominations, should receive all the blame and shame for perpetrating this "ungodly hoax" on the "poor unsuspecting people" of the Christian faith. This is usually followed with a technical lesson of how it is "impossible" that Jesus could have been born on December 25, and that he was likely born sometime in September instead. This is followed by the customary condemnation of Christmas trees, evergreen and mistletoe as "Pagan customs" that continue to "infiltrate" into Christianity. Of course, their solution is to snidely turn their noses up to such things as "unfit" for a "real Christian." This is Fundamentalism run amok. Here we have Christians that have more in common practice with Muslims than they do their fellow Christians, and for some of them (Jehovah's Witnesses in particular) this actually bleeds over into the doctrinal realm as well. Tragically, the propaganda has even worked its way into the Catholic Church. I cannot tell you how many Catholics I have heard repeat it, telling others that Christmas is really just a christened version of a Pagan celebration.

Now that you've heard the fake story about the origin of Christmas, let's take a look at the real story. We'll have to start with the origin for the date of Christmas, and why this is commonly misunderstood as connected to ancient Pagan observances.

Hanukkah Menorah
Photo by Gil Dekel. 
All of this goes back to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Remember, the first Christians were all Jewish converts. Naturally they took many of their Jewish customs into Christianity as well. Contrary to popular opinion, the celebration of Jewish things (in the context of Christian interpretation) is not Judaising. Rather, Judaising is when you impose elements of the Mosaic Law on non-Jews (Gentiles) as if it were part of the Christian faith. Only the Catholic Church has the authority to determine which Jewish customs are binding on non-Jews, and there aren't many. The Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 (recorded in Acts 15) recounts them in detail. That being said, the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah is NOT part of the Mosaic Law. It is a celebration that developed much later in Jewish history. The celebration of Hanukkah centres around the theme of light, relating to the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt, and is customarily observed by the lighting of candles on a special type of Hanukkah menorah, called a Hanukkiah. The celebration lasts eight days, and it always begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. That's important. Hunukkah is always celebrated on Kislev 25. The month of Kislev on the Jewish calendar overlaps the month of December on the Julian/Gregorian calendar. Sometimes the overlap is so close, that Hanukkah is celebrated at the same time Christians are celebrating Christmas.

Early Jewish Christians would have associated Hanukkah with Jesus Christ in some way, as they did with everything else. They most certainly would have associated his incarnation with the re-dedication of the covenant God made with his people. They would have associated his incarnation with the light entering the Jewish Temple. They most certainly would have remembered the account of Jesus entering the Temple in Jerusalem during Hanukkah, and referring to himself as the Son of God and thus revealing his fully glory, or light, in the Temple (John 10:22-39).

Jewish Christians were not treated well by their fellow Jews back then, and were often "put out of the synagogue" (shunned or excommunicated). Since the synagogue was the source of Jewish life, the dates of the Jewish calendar were calculated from there based on rabbinical interpretation of Mosaic Law. Jews who were "put out of the synagogue" would gradually lose connection with Jewish life, and that would include the Jewish calendar. It is theorised that to simplify matters, many Jewish Christians of the ancient world simply used the Julian calendar along with their Gentile Christian brethren. Thus the celebration of Jesus as the incarnate "Son of God" and  "Light of the world," came to be associated with the 25th day of December instead of Kislev, which often falls pretty close to Kislev 25 anyway. Building on the theme of dedication, this happens exactly eight days before the Julian new year (January 1). Thus Christmas, understood as a christened version of Hanukkah, would be an eight-day celebration, beginning on December 25, marking the Light of God coming into the world, and ending on January 1, marking the re-dedication of time with the new year. All of this would have happened within the first few centuries of the early Church. However, this eight-day (octave) of Christmas, paralleling the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah would later be overshadowed by the longer twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, from December 25 to January 5, with Epiphany on January 6.

There is more to this. We can see above how December 25 came to be associated with the incarnation of Jesus Christ in general, as well as the connection to Jesus as the "Light of the world." However, how did it get to be associated with his birth or nativity? The answer again comes to us from very early Jewish Christians who believed that the world was created on Nissan 14, according to the Jewish calendar, which came to be associated with March 25 on the Julian calendar. These Jewish Christians not only associated the beginning of the world on that date, but also the beginning of the new world, meaning the conception of Jesus Christ. Thus the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, came to be celebrated on March 25, and is still celebrated on that date today. Now count exactly 9 months from March 25, and you arrive at December 25, which is the associated date for the birth of Jesus Christ. According to ancient Jewish Christians, he was miraculously conceived on March 25 and born on December 25, by the reckoning of the Julian calendar. The Christian historian, Sextus Julius Africanus, who lived between AD 160 - 240, specifically held to the belief that March 25 was the day the world was created on, and the day of Christ's conception (Joseph F. Kelly, The Origins of Christmas, p. 60). Saint Irenaeus, who lived between AD 130 - 202, in his work Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies), specifically identified the conception of Jesus Christ as occurring on as March 25, according to ancient Church tradition, and linked it to the birth of Christ exactly nine months later, on December 25, at the time of the winter solstice. So here we have a completely different account of the reason for Christmas falling on December 25, predating Bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi's mistaken explanation by nearly 10 centuries!

So we have two explanations for the marking of December 25 as the celebration of the birth of Christ. The first comes from a time period of the early Church, close to the event itself, during a time when Jewish and Gentile Christians were intermingling and sharing traditions. The date is associated with the early Jewish Christian reinterpretation of Hanukkah, as well as marking 9 months since the conception of Jesus Christ on March 25 according to early Jewish Christian custom. The second comes from a time period nearly 10 centuries later, in which an Eastern Christian, living far away from the West, who celebrates Christmas on an entirely different day, is trying to explain to his contemporaries why Western Christians celebrate Christmas earlier than they do.

Which one do we want to believe? Well, if you're a Protestant Fundamentalist, you'll believe the second explanation, because you can twist what this bishop said, in a way he never intended, to condemn the celebration of Christmas as "Pagan" in total, and accuse the Catholic Church of perpetrating a "hoax" on the unsuspecting Christian faithful. However, if you're a reasonable person, regardless of your belief system, you can accept the most ancient explanation available, and believe this date was the product of blending early Jewish Christian beliefs into a Gentile calendar. I don't know about you, but I prefer the first explanation as a more rational choice. I mean, considering the Jesus and his apostles were Jewish and all, and a great number of early Christians were Jewish as well, I think it's far more plausible to believe the first explanation.

Does this mean there is no association at all between Christmas and ancient Pagan observances? At the core of it, there is no association. Superficially however, there is some. It was between AD 270 - 275 that the Pagan, Roman Emperor Aurelian, dedicated December 25 as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, meaning the "birthday of the unconquered sun." This occurs a few days AFTER the winter solstice, when the days are just starting to get longer again. It is associated with Pagan sun worship. As you can see, however, this event happened long after the dates I noted above, from Sextus Julius Africanus (AD 160 - 240) and Irenaeus (AD 130 - 202), who noted Christmas as being celebrated by early Christians, marking the birth of Christ exactly nine months after his conception. The historical evidence is clear, early Christians (many of them Jewish by heritage) were celebrating December 25 as a date closely associated with Christ, long before the Roman Emperor Aurelian dedicated December 25 as the birthday of the sun. So why did he do this? Remember, we're talking about a time period in the ancient Pagan empire when Christianity is gaining significant traction in spite of two centuries of periodic persecution. Could it be that Aurelian was simply trying to upstage the Christians? Is this a case of Pagans copying Christians and not vice versa? The historical dates seem to indicate this is exactly the case. Again, actual history (the bane of propaganda), tells us that the ancient Pagans were not in the habit of associating the winter solstice with sun worship. For example, one ancient history scholar writes...
While the winter solstice on or around December 25 was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas. 
--  S.E. Hijmans, The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome, p. 588 
Another similar scholar writes...
Thomas Talley has shown that, although the Emperor Aurelian's dedication of a temple to the sun god in the Campus Martius (C.E. 274) probably took place on the 'Birthday of the Invincible Sun' on December 25, the cult of the sun in pagan Rome ironically did not celebrate the winter solstice nor any of the other quarter-tense days, as one might expect.  
-- Michael Alan Anderson, Symbols of Saints, pp. 42–46
Study of ancient Roman sun worship indicates the principle feast date of this particular cult fell on August 9, not December 25. There has been found some documentation of minor sacrifice dates to the sun on August 28 and December 11, but nothing for December 25. All we have is Aurelian's late (post-Christian) proclamation of the sun's birthday in about AD 274, and nothing more. While sun worship was popular among some of the Caesars, there is no indication that it was a major cult within the ancient Roman Empire. So what are we to make of Aurelian's decree of December 25 as the suns birthday? Well, I think the word "birthday" gives us a clue. Christians were already celebrating December 25 as the birthday of Christ, who is the light of the world. The only way to upstage them would be to royally declare December 25 as the birthday of the sun, which lights the world. History showing the dates for what they are, would seem to indicate that this is the case. So it wasn't Christians who joined in Pagan celebrations in an attempt to hijack them, but rather it was a failed attempt by Pagans to hijack a Christian celebration. It's important to remember that this Aurelian declaration came sandwiched between two great Roman persecutions against Christianity. Emperor Valerian's persecution of Christians came between AD 253 and 260. While Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians lasted from AD 284 to 305. It makes more sense for a Roman Emperor, like Aurelian, who reigned between these persecutions, to attempt to upstage Christian celebrations with his own Pagan feast on December 25, than it does for Christians to adopt a Pagan Roman feast day as their own, in between Roman persecutions that were attempting to wipe them out. Remember, Christians were going to their martyrdom because they refused to observe Pagan rituals. Why would they adopt them in between persecutions? It makes no sense.

Those particularly zealous against December being the month of Christ's birth will point to the Scriptures that say the shepherds were tending their flocks the night of his birth (Luke 2:8). They argue that December is too cold for this to happen, that frost and snow on the ground would prohibit any reasonable grazing of sheep. Thus they fall back to their September dating for the birth of Christ. Others spring forward to March or April. While their observance of winter climate may be true in Europe, or even most of North America, it is not untenable for the area of Judea around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The mean temperature in Jerusalem during December runs between 47 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which is plenty warm enough for green pastures. Frost and snow on the ground is extremely rare in this part of the world.

The 1963 edition of Smith's Bible Dictionary, under the heading "Palestine: the Climate," explained...
As in the time of our Saviour (Luke 12: 54), the rains come chiefly from the S. or S.W. They commence at the end of October or beginning of November, and continue with greater or less constancy till the end of February or middle of March, and occasionally, though rarely, to the end of April. It is not a heavy continuous rain, so much as a succession of severe showers or storms with intervening periods of fine bright weather, permitting the grain crops to grow and ripen. And although the season is not divided by any entire cessation of rain for a lengthened interval, as some represent, yet there appears to be a diminution in the fall for a few weeks in December and January, after which it begins again, and continues during February and till the conclusion of the season.
This would have been optimal weather for grazing sheep.

So now that we've allowed real history to obliterate the the Christmas-Pagan conspiracy propaganda, let's accept that December 25 was celebrated by Christians before Pagans, and move on to other Christmas customs of alleged Pagan origin.

Chief among these is the Christmas tree. Under this propaganda conspiracy, the Christmas tree is actually a secret Pagan practice from ancient times, that has stealthily infiltrated the Christian faith, so as to make Christians unknowingly honour Pagan gods. But is this true? Again, real history helps us find the truth.

While it is well know that ancient Germanic tribes in Germany and Scandinavia worshipped trees, they were not known to bring them into their houses. In fact, the story of St. Boniface cutting down Donar's Oak Tree illustrates how Medieval Christians evangelised these Germanic Pagans. Later traditions tell that an evergreen tree grew in the place of Donar's Oak, with its triangular shape serving as a symbol of the Trinity.

However, the modern Christmas tree, as we know it today, originated in Germany during the 16th century. It was a Protestant, not a Pagan, who invented the evergreen Christmas tree. Martin Luther is said to have first added lighted candles to an evergreen tree, in an attempt to recreate in his home the starlight he saw, shining between trees in a forest, while walking home one winter night. Christmas trees remained a European custom for centuries, and were considered rare in North America until after the decline of the Puritan influence. The association between evergreens and Paganism is a thin one at best. There is simply no reason why Christians can't use these as a seasonal decoration, anymore than bringing plants or flowers into the home.

Mistletoe does have some Pagan connections, as do many things in nature. In Pagan cultures, it was associated with fertility simply because it bloomed during the coldest time of year while everything else was dormant. Thus, ancient Pagans ate it for medicinal purposes to assist with fertility. That's ironic, since mistletoe is a known abortifacient. I imagine this added to their frustration. The very medicine they were taking to increase fertility was actually making them infertile. However, the modern practice of hanging mistletoe and kissing under it has nothing to do with ancient Paganism. It is rather a modern tradition of the modern age. It came about in the middle 18th century, and was associated with Christmas parties. A sprig of mistletoe was hung on a beam, and the custom was that if a maiden were to find herself standing under it, she could be kissed. It was somewhat of a party game.  In another game, couples were instructed to pluck a single berry from the mistletoe with each kiss, throwing it aside, and to stop smooching once they were all gone. We can debate about whether or not such party customs are prudent for Christian celebrations, but there is nothing about them that is directly linked to Paganism.

Then of course there is Santa Claus. While Christians of all types have just grievance against the commercialisation of Christmas using this figure, the figure himself is a legendary representation of a real person. St. Nicholas of Myra was a Catholic bishop from Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). There are many stories and legends surrounding him, but one thing is certain, he is a Christian figure of Christian origin.

The Christmas - Pagan conspiracy is really nothing more than Protestant Fundamentalism run amok. In their desire to implicate the Catholic Church as the source of all evil and villainy in the world, and to justify their own schism with the the Catholic Church, they must create elaborate conspiracy theories wherein the Catholic Church is implicated as a kind of cypto-Pagan organisation, seeking to stealthily impose Pagan worship upon unsuspecting Christians. Their ignorance of history causes them to implicate Martin Luther as a co-conspirator in this, which is ironic and a bit amusing when you consider the animosity between Luther and the Catholic Church. As I said though, all of this comes from people who think they understand history but really don't. They're sources are highly sectarian tracts and books, which are filled with historical revisionism, not recognised by actual historians, and completely foreign to any original source documentation from the time period in question. So the next time one of these folks knocks on your door, or slips you a tract, telling you that Christmas is a Pagan holiday, just kindly ignore them and go back to drinking your eggnog while trimming the tree.



Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

Catholicism for Protestants

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Catholic History Made in Republic Missouri

The Little Portion in Republic, Missouri
This Former Franciscan Retreat Centre, Now Serves as St. George Catholic Church

Nestled deep in the forests of the Ozark Mountains is a small city called Republic. It sits about 15 miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri, otherwise known as the Queen City of the Ozarks. Republic is a small suburban town originally built along the railroad tracks leading into Springfield. Today Republic straddles Highway 60, a major artery going into the Queen City. In comparison to Springfield, Republic is a quiet town. High school sports preoccupy most of the city's excitement. A farmers' market meets regularly on Main Street, and the annual celebration of "Pumpkin Days" takes place in the same location every autumn. Like Springfield, Republic is home to many churches of various types. Whatever you're looking for, you can pretty much find it in Republic. There are at least two contemporary-style Evangelical churches in town, along with some traditional Baptist and Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) churches. There is a beautiful and historic Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as well as a local Lutheran and Methodist church. However, a new church has come to town, and it's a little overdue. While Republic is home to hundreds of Roman Catholic residents, it has never had a Catholic Church. Many local Catholics have been commuting to Springfield for weekly mass. That may soon change for some of them, because you see, Republic just got its own Catholic Church.

Fr. Chori Seraiah
Saint George Catholic Church meets at the old Franciscan Retreat Centre at the end of Assisi Way on the south side of Republic, near Miller Park. The chapel is hidden from sight from the main road, because it was a Franciscan retreat originally. The idea behind a retreat is seclusion. Since Saint George operates on this property, it is currently tucked away from plain view, but it is very active. Two masses are currently celebrated every week, along with weekly evening prayer, scheduled confession times, and a prayer chapel set aside for visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Though only established in June of this year (2016), the community is alive, well, thriving and growing.

I had the opportunity to speak with Fr. Chori Seraiah, the Catholic priest who lives on the premises of Saint George. Fr. Seraiah is an Anglican convert to Catholicism. He is married and has five children. He was ordained a Catholic priest by special permission from Pope Benedict XVI in 2012...


Mr. Schaetzel: Good evening Fr. Seraiah. Thank you for doing this interview.
Fr. Seraiah: You're welcome; I'm glad to be of service.

Mr. Schaetzel: Please tell us, in your own words, what brought you into the Catholic Church and made you decide to become a Catholic priest.

Fr. Seraiah: There were certainly many factors involved in my conversion. At the beginning it was an interest in what the Church of the first and second centuries looked like. Twenty-five years ago a Baptist pastor suggested I read the Church Fathers (the best mistake he ever made), and I was hooked. The more I saw the differences between the early Church and the modern church that I was experiencing, the more I sought to understand why this was so. I started digging deeper to understand the liturgy, the sacraments, and Church authority. Those three overlapping factors (especially Church authority) drove me to realize that only one Church on earth was the same as the one Jesus founded 2000 years ago, and (though it annoyed me at first), I knew it was the Catholic Church.

Mr. Schaetzel: Is that what brings you to Republic, Missouri?

Fr. Seraiah: Not actually, no. I first entered into the Catholic Church in Des Moines, Iowa. That was where I was living when I last served as a pastor in the Anglican Church. The announcement had come in 2009 that the Ordinariate was going to be established here in the U.S. and my family and I were very excited about it. We had been hoping for something like this for a few years, and felt like a "life raft" for those of us who were tired of treading water.

Mr. Schaetzel: Please explain, what is this Ordinariate and how does it work?

Fr. Seraiah: The Ordinariates function much like a diocese, but they do not have the traditional geographic boundaries of a diocese. Ours here in North America covers all of the US and Canada. We have over 40 parishes and communities, and our Bishop is located at our Cathedral Church in Houston, Texas. It was established specifically for those of us who are former Anglicans and Episcopalians to be able to hold on to many of our traditions that we had before we became Catholic. Understand, we did not really ask for this, but Pope Benedict XVI was the one who told us he wanted us to practice these traditions from our Anglican Patrimony, and to use them to "enrich" the rest of the Catholic Church. We overlap with the local diocese, but are not technically a part of it. To help some people grasp the idea better I tell them to think of a similar situation with a monastery: different authority structure, but still geographically in the same area.

Mr. Schaetzel: How do you like our fair city, and the Ozarks in general?

Fr. Seraiah: I like it quite a lot. Years ago when I was a Baptist pastor I lived just a couple hours away from here in Arkansas, so it feels like coming home to an area that my wife and children really enjoy.

Mr. Schaetzel: In addition to your responsibilities at St. George, and the Ordinariate, are you working with the local Diocese of Springfield - Cape Girardeau as well?

Fr. Seraiah: Yes, we are in full cooperation with the local diocese in more ways than one. I was in need of a greater income than the little community of St. George could provide, so the diocese asked me to help them as well by serving as pastor of two of their parishes. I currently have St. George community in Republic, as well as St. Susanne Catholic Church in Mt. Vernon, and St. Patrick Catholic Church in Greenfield.

Mr. Schaetzel: Could you briefly tell us a little about your family?

Fr. Seraiah: My wife and I have been married for 26 wonderful years, and we have five children; two girls and three boys. The oldest girl is 20, then three boys, 17, 16, and 13, and our youngest little girl is 6. We have homeschooled all of them. My wife Catherine stays at home with the children, manages the household, acts as Church secretary for St. George, and basically helps me to keep my head on straight.

Mr. Schaetzel: I imagine some Catholics might be taken back to learn that you are a married priest. Could you briefly explain how this works in the Catholic Church, and what has been the typical Catholic reaction to it so far?

Fr. Seraiah: Yes, the most common question I get when people find out I'm married is "how does that work?" When I'm in a playful mood I say "I said, 'will you marry me?' and she said 'yes', it was pretty easy." When I am in a more technical mood I tell people that there is nothing really new here. It has always been the case that the Pope can give permission for a married man to be ordained as a priest, it just usually happens only with converts who used to serve in the Anglican/Episcopal churches (and occasionally in the Lutheran church). Those of us in this situation are given a dispensation not to abide by the rule of celibacy. This only applies, however, as long as my wife is alive; in other words, if she were to pass before me, my vow would become a vow of celibacy immediately. Another way to put it is that a married man can become a priest (if the Pope says it is OK), but a priest never gets married. I am not here to change anything about the priestly custom of celibacy. In fact, I have great respect for my brother priests who are celibate, and do not think it would be a wise thing to just "open the doors" and allow any married man to become a priest. Married priests are not simply "priests with a special bonus package". A priest does have to be "spiritually married" to the Church whether he has a physical marriage or not, and that means that both a married priest and his wife have to give up certain privileges that other married couples are allowed to keep. Time together, certain freedoms, home privacy, and especially transparency in the relationship (i.e. I cannot talk to her about the sacrament of confession).

Mr. Schaetzel: How do non-Catholics typically react?

Fr. Seraiah: Many do not even notice, but the few who do usually get the wrong idea. I have heard comments like, "well its about time that the Catholic Church got a little bit more modernized", or "well, you're finally learning from the protestants now?"

Mr. Schaetzel: Having a married Roman Catholic priest in Republic, Missouri, sort of puts our city on the map (so to speak). This sounds like an historic thing, on a global level, which our little city is playing a very big role in. What is your sense about how the Vatican is studying you, and other married priests like you?

Fr. Seraiah: I could not guess what Rome is thinking specifically, but I would assume that we are being watched closely to make sure that we do not give the wrong impression about what is going on, and that we also do not misrepresent Church teaching on holy orders.

Mr. Schaetzel: Tell us a little about Saint George. What type of a Roman Catholic parish is it? Why is it different from other Roman Catholic parishes?

Fr. Seraiah: In one way, it is just another Catholic parish. Yet, we have a different form of the Mass, a different form of Daily Prayer, and there are proportionally more converts to Catholicism than the average parish. Each of these unique qualities is intentional. As I said above, Pope Benedict XVI said he wanted us to retain some of those traditions that we had before we converted. Also, we have a strong focus on evangelism; especially toward our protestant brethren. We were once there, so we understand much of what they are going through.

Mr. Schaetzel: Wow! This sounds historic too. Is it?

Fr. Seraiah: Yes, in many ways something is happening through the Ordinariate congregations that has never happened before. God clearly was working in the Anglican churches for the last 500 years, and allowing His truth to remain just enough in there so that we today could bring the English heritage back into the Church so that it can be both reconciled and protected for ever.

Mr. Schaetzel: Does this mean it's traditional or contemporary?

Fr. Seraiah: It is both. We in the Ordinariate like very old traditional Catholic practices, yet we are truly heirs of Vatican II. Without that great council, it is not likely that anything like the Ordinariates would ever have happened. This is truly a new development of the Church, and it is also truly an old heritage restored.

Mr. Schaetzel: Would a regular Roman Catholic, diocesan as opposed to ordinariate, be able to understand things at Saint George and easily adapt to the way liturgy is celebrated there?

Fr. Seraiah: Very easily, yes; there is nothing in the old English language of our liturgy that is not easily understood. There are a number of prayers that we are used to which will sound new to most "diocesan" Catholics, as well as a couple things that are different about the structure of our Mass, but nothing that would shock anyone.

Mr. Schaetzel: So I take it this means that regular Roman Catholics can attend mass at Saint George, and meet their Sunday obligation there if so inclined?

Fr. Seraiah: Absolutely, in fact, we often have people from other local parishes stop in for a visit. Sometimes it is just because they are curious about our differences, other times it is because the time or location just happened to be convenient for them that week. Any Catholic is able to come to St. George and fulfill their Sunday or Holy day obligation, and even become a part of the parish if they wish to do so.

Mr. Schaetzel: What about Catholics who have a history as Anglicans, Episcopalians or Methodists, would they find all of this form of worship familiar or appealing?

Fr. Seraiah: They would all find it very familiar.

Mr. Schaetzel: This area is made up primarily of Baptists and Pentecostals. What about them, do they show any interest in this type of community and style of worship?

Fr. Seraiah: We do occasionally get some questions from Baptists and Pentecostals, but not a lot. It is not uncommon for someone in those traditions, however, to begin to struggle with issues (like Church authority) and end up seeing that the Catholic Church really has those answers that they are looking for. In that situation, St. George is ideally suited to help them since we know much of the struggle they are having.

Mr. Schaetzel: Saint George is small right now, and meeting in a relatively secluded part of Republic. Is this part of your long-term plan, or is the congregation looking to build something bigger eventually?

Fr. Seraiah: Actually, we are very grateful for the support of the diocese (whose property we are using for our services currently), but our long term plan is to be able to build our own Church on the same property that we are using right now. There is an ideal place that we have picked out right now.

Mr. Schaetzel: Does this mean it would eventually be visible from the street and Miller Park?

Fr. Seraiah: Yes, it will be visible; in fact, Lord willing, it will be visible from quite a distance (I'm picturing a gigantic steeple with a few gargoyles on the sides!). The property where we meet right now is on the south-east corner of Miller and Lynn in Republic, and it is our hope that someday in the future we would be able to build a Church right on Miller street.

Mr. Schaetzel: Thank you for sharing your time and information with us Father. We look forward to watching the progress of Saint George Catholic Church, as well as the growth of your historic ministry and the progress of your wonderful family.

Fr. Seraiah: Glad to be of service. God bless you!


Fr. Seraiah can be contacted at St. George Catholic Church in Republic, Missouri.



Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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