Fr. Paulo Ricardo
Christo Nihil Præponere — “Nothing is worth more than Christ”
So you can understand why I do what I do, I must relate something that changed my life completely. On January 31, 2005 on the feast of St. John Bosco I departed by plane from the city of Londrina, a city in the state of Paraná, in southern Brazil. About five minutes after lift-off I heard a clang proceeding from the right turbine. There was smoke and a spark briefly illuminated the cabin, everything was dark because it was very early in the morning before dawn.
Fear grabbed those travelling with me as we all wondered what was going on. Only a few seconds later there was a second clang. Everyone looked very worried. I tried to focus on what was going on with the airplane: it was obvious that the plane was not falling, we were not losing altitude. The noises we heard were not really explosions but a metallic clang, a strong racket and some sparks. I remained focused just in case the plane began to lose altitude I could give everyone general absolution. I remained ready but I did not do it because I didn’t want to add to the worries of the already scared passage.
I knew that the general absolution was going to be valid for every passenger except one: myself. What did I do? I recited my Act of Contrition, I asked God to forgive my sins, I accepted the death that God apparently had reserved for me, and waited. Those were the longest five minutes of my life, mainly because not a word was coming from the cockpit. But I had those few minutes to reflect on my life and these were my thoughts: I am going to die, I am going to go before God with these 13 years of priesthood. Our Lord is going to ask me:
“Father Paulo, I have given you the gift of eloquence, the gift of preaching. What have you done with it? You have cowardly buried those gifts!“
Why was I expecting that rebuke? Because in those days, only six years ago, I thought I had to be diplomatic, careful because if I was not, who knows? may be I would never be made a Bishop! I could hurt my career in the Church! I could stall my progress in the priesthood! But now God was asking me to give account of my life. I thought: I am going to die and I’ll never be a Bishop! I am going to die as someone of no importance in the Church. Furthermore, now I am going before my Judge and He is going to ask why I have remained silent. I had been the proverbial dog that did not bark. I had given no warning of the intruders, thieves, wolves that were trespassing. I had remained silent on certain things lest I hurt someone’s feelings, or say something politically incorrect. Then I understood how useless that diplomacy was near the moment of death.
We landed safely, no one was hurt but I understood from that moment on that my life was not mine any longer. In fact, my life had never been mine and now it was even less my possession. God was pushing me to a new level beginning that January 31, 2005. I was now playing discount time. The time to come was complimentary time for a man who in fact was already dead. That began to acquaint me with the fear of God. We read in the Holy Scriptures that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. We must please God while disregarding other men’s opinion.
I was living my life with the fear of men, a worldly fear, that thing that the Church sometimes calls “human respect,” the fear to lose the approval of those who are around us while we care less to lose the approval of God. Faced with the choice to please men or please God, human respect prefers to please men. That is the sin of inordinate human respect. On the contrary, the fear of God is a virtue.
Do we have to fear God? Yes: we must the have fear of losing our friendship with God. We have to fear the loss of that greater good that is the love of God. We have to have fear of offending Him, of offending His heart. Francisco Marto, the little shepherd of Fatima heard from Our Lady that sins offended Jesus’ heart. He began to do penance to console Him. We need to develop that kind of sensibility: to want to please God, to want to console His heart, to desire Heaven and to fear the loss of Heaven.
This is the fear of God that is missing among the Catholic leadership in Brazil. I am stunned to see how Bishops and priests, men placed by God to shepherd His flock; Bishops and priests who fear to tell the truth because they may fall out of the graces of mere men.
What is happening to Catholic leadership? What is happening is that we have entered into a revolutionary dynamics. How is the ethic of the revolutionary? How is the ethic of those atheists? Because they don’t believe in the existence of God, they do not have any fear of God. The only thing they fear is to look bad in the picture. They fear that others may have a bad opinion of them. The revolutionary ethic is actually aesthetics. They do not care if they do good or bad, what they care for is “virtue signalling” to save the appearances. They need people to respect, praise, and love everything they do because they believe what they do is always correct! They never make a mistake! That is the ethic of the atheists, why? Because they don’t believe in God’s judgment: they believe that History will judge their actions. They don’t believe in Hell. For them Hell does not exist. What they really fear is the dustbin of History. They don’t want to go down in History as infamous men.
We Christians believe that this world is not everything that is. It is not worth it to enter History as heroes if in reality we are mere knaves. There is no point in entering History in full regalia, saluted with eulogies, and good media coverage. God is not impressed by that.
What I want to propose to all lay people, to my brother priests, to all the Bishops I respect so much, to all of them I have a sincere exhortation: Let us fear God! Your excellencies, fear God! You will be before Him one day in the Final Judgement! Do not think that Bishops and priests don’t go to Hell because they may go to Hell! Let me add: Our Lady of La Salette told us about so many fathers who were in a terrible situation! She compared their souls to cesspools! In Fatima, Our Lady said that the souls of priests were falling into Hell as abundantly as snowflakes. Our Lady revealed that the devil plans to decorate the walls of Hell with priestly robes!
Let us fear God’s judgment, let us fear God, let us fear to lose God’s favor!
I can hear the chorus:
“Hey! That is spiritual terrorism! God is merciful! God is the ultimate goodness!”
And I say: what kind of merciful and compassionate God is that, if the conviction of His mercy and compassion, makes that person even worse?
Our fathers and Bishops are planting in the faithful’s hearts this doctrine: that God is so merciful that we can be up to all kinds of wickedness, safely convinced that God will not punish us. Isn’t that a nice gospel? The first thing the devil does to trick the scholars of theology is to prove that Hell does not exist. The idea is to bring priests, Bishops and other Catholic leaders beyond good and evil. Then they will be men who will not fear the judgment of God but rather fear the judgment of History.
We have to change our hearts. We have to convert. We have to place the fear of God before the fear of men. That is why I denounce certain things happening in the Church, not because I need to feel more righteous than others. No, I am not deflecting! I am a sinner, and I am ashamed of my sins, I need to constantly humiliate myself before God because of my sins! My sins are before me day and night!
It is a terrible thing to be a sinner and live to please men. To be aware of one’s sin, to cry before God, to try to please God with sanctifying penance, that is a much better way. That will sanctify me and will help in the sanctification of others.
I am not trying to appear as an example to others. Neither I am trying to appear as a victim but God knows how many calumnies I bore silently even when I could have used the media to complain about unjust attacks. None of that. Those are the weapons of the enemy. Their behavior is not ethical. They believe they are doing the right thing with their calumnies. They do it so because the greatest good they have to protect is their own name. To preserve human respect is paramount for them. They give the utmost importance to what people say about them. They have abandoned the ethics of the Gospel for revolutionary aesthetics and they think those faithful to God feel as they feel. But that’s not true. They are whipping a dead horse, they are machine-gunning a corpse. Why? Because I don’t care at all about other people’s opinions. I am dead to the world. My cassock is a dead man’s shroud.
Some praise me for the courage to call on to some error or erroneous conduct and then ask me to denounce other errors, perhaps the liturgical aberrations and other disgraces. I have to clarify something here: sometimes a physician is called to cure a patient with various illnesses. The doctor needs to know what illness to attack first. If he tries to cure all the illnesses at once, the treatment may kill the patient. Likewise, I have to prioritize. The Church is in a grave situation. That is why we have to work our problems in order.
Notice that I am saying we. That is all of you and I. We all have to work to solve these various problems and the first thing we have to do is to educate our people in the faith. That is why one of the main projects of my weekly instruction covers the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Our first duty is to know what is to be Catholic. Our level of instruction is so low that most Catholics do not know clearly what the Catholic Church is. Certain battles are lost before we show up to fight! Our people do not have the formation needed to understand the gravity of the errors we are denouncing. We must form and inform our people first.
It is very important that parents, especially the young parents that have a good Catholic formation or at least, have the willingness to learn and follow the teachings of the Holy Father in fidelity to the Tradition of the Church. It is also important for them to liberate themselves from the bonds of human respect, worldly fear. That has to be abandoned because it is a sin. Parents have to be willing to suffer retaliation for practicing the truth. Because those who adhere to the revolutionary ethics have the weapons of calumny, detraction, blacklisting and such. They will try to intimidate those who fall out of line.
We have to pay attention to our ethics, to our integrity by fearing God and not men. We have to please God, avoiding to seat at the table and have tea with the devil! If we love goodness, if we love the godly life, we must hate evil and sin with great hatred. We don’t have to hate the sinners, but we must hate sin. If we ever need to speak harshly to one of those sinners, it will be for love. Sometimes one has to wake up someone who is driving towards a cliff. That is why we must abandon those cowardly habits.
I hear Bishops and priests say quite often that they don’t want to be burned, branded in a negative way. Well, you won’t be burned temporarily in this world but what about the eternal fire in the world to come? Or is it that you don’t believe in that fire any longer? If you don’t then you have ceased to be Catholic. It is good to go back to square one: the faith of our fathers. We must believe, truly believe that we priests are capable of offending God with our sins.
I am not better than anyone. I am not adopting that position of “better than thou.” As I said before: I am just another sinner but one thing is to be a sinner that cries over his own sins; another very different thing is to be a sinner that wants to be praised because of his sins. That is the revolutionary mentality. The revolutionary wants you to find his sins attractive. Just like the politicians that mind the popularity polls and feel mortally offended when someone criticizes them, the revolutionaries want a perfect image and that requires that no one criticizes them at all. That is typical of the revolutionary mentality that transformed the ethics in aesthetics, the fear of God into fear of the world. That is a life servile to human respect.
Priests, it is not worth to be a priest if we do not have before us the Kingdom of the Heavens, the Paradise that God has reserved for us in the life to come. Those who forget that, forget the whole thing. We cannot sell our souls to please men. In fact, the situation we are living now is terrible. We see priests and Bishops living shamefully without denouncing the wolves that are attacking and devouring the flock. There are those that are in complicity with the wolves. Others are afraid of being burned. In truth, is necessary for us to convert.
I am not asking for us to commit suicide but to act prudently, always remembering that the excess of prudence brings about the vice of negligence. Do not be like that dog that didn’t bark. Be shepherds willing to give your lives for the flock not with suicidal imprudence but with the courage of martyrs.
Translated from Portuguese by Carlos Caso-Rosendi