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ROME (LifeSiteNews) — The following is the full video and text of Bishop Joseph Strickland’s speech at the 2023 Rome Life Forum, which happened to take place on his birthday.
I don’t want to be called a hero, just a Catholic. I have to say that’s the most international happy birthday I’ve ever heard. And it is an international group that really, I believe, is very significant. The work of LifeSiteNews for more than this century—it actually began in the last century—I think it’s very important. And I thank John-Henry and all of the organization for bringing us together.
I had to get here from east Texas, and periodically it’s been sort of an interesting trip for me, a few glitches here and there. And occasionally I’m thinking, ‘what am I doing here?’ And I know the answer really. I’m speaking for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and for the Church he established, that I love so deeply. And I know that’s why we’re all here.
The gates of hell will not prevail. We need to strengthen each other in what we know, but we need to be vigorous and strong in that truth. Often as I speak—hopefully being open to the Holy Spirit—I have an outline, [because] John-Henry said we need at least an outline of [our] talks. [But] I don’t write out what I say, because I speak from the heart. I try to do that, hopefully [in] a way that makes some sense [and that is] worth listening to, but I don’t write it down.
So, before I get started with the outline, I have a letter from a dear friend.
When they, a deep, deep believer, a lover of our Lord Jesus Christ, a true disciple, a lover of the Church, a lover of the Petrine office in every aspect of our Catholic faith, as Christ has ordained the Catholic Church. But this dear friend sent—I think you’ll agree after I read it—a deeply challenging message to me. And really, I share it because it’s not just to me, it’s to all of us. It says some strong things. But I want to assure you that this friend has a deep love for Christ and His Church, for Pope Francis. You may not hear that in some of these challenging words, but it’s spoken out of love.
And I think that in listening to Bishop Schneider just recently—wonderful bishop, he’s a hero—but he said for us as bishops to think of Pope Francis as an elder brother who needs some prayers. And for all of us as members of the flock of the Church, and as Saint Augustine says so beautifully, bishops are part of the flock, but also called to be leaders of the flock. As you know, it’s a tough balancing act.
But this friend speaks out of love for Pope Francis, for the Church. And we, I believe, all have to do the same. But face the challenges that you will hear. So this letter simply begins:
Francis is an expert at producing cowards by preaching dialogue and openness in a welcoming spirit and by highlighting always his own authority. He makes it seem that one who opposes him and what he proposes is an enemy of the Church. And yet it is not the blood of the cowards that is the seed of the Church. It is the blood of the martyrs. And Rome has been literally consecrated by the blood of Christians. As Tertullian wrote, ‘we multiply when you reap us. The blood of Christians is seed.’
Again, my friend, speaking to me, but I believe to all of us:
You cannot, indeed, you must not go to Rome and play nicely. The Queen of Martyrs has called you, and you cannot parcel out truth in pieces. After all, were we not told that the truth would set us free. The Synod has gathered cowards in Rome, those who not only refuse to die for our Lord and His Church, but indeed demand that His eternal truths be changed. And if you play nicely with these, then you mock the martyrs. And although playing nicely might ensure you are not removed, I again quote Tertullian. The usual complaint is, I have no other way of earning a living. The harsh reply can be, do you have to live? I ask you, Bishop, do you have to live? In fact, should you live, when you have been called to die? It is easy to assert that no real damage has been done by the Synod. But it has done untold damage and attempting to cheapen what Christ proclaimed was worth His life, and for which He indeed shed His precious Blood. Would you now allow this one who has pushed aside the true Pope and has attempted to sit on a chair that is not his define what the Church is to be. ‘As for the beast, it was and is not. It is an eighth but it belongs to the seventh, and it goes to destruction.’
You’re probably smarter than I am. I’m not sure what that last part is talking about, and I didn’t have the chance to ask.
Christ has proclaimed the sanctity of life. It cannot be otherwise than sanctified, because He has created it, and He has died for it. And yet this usurper of Peter’s chair has counted life as nought, for he has endangered souls by proclaiming that they are justified before God as they are, with no need of repentance. And he has welcomed those who glorify abortion and has offered to correct no correction, thereby counting the lives of all those babies who have perished in this manner as nothing. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “It is outrageous to utter the name of Jesus Christ and live in Judaism.” In other words, it is outrageous to utter the name of Jesus Christ and then to live as though He had not come, Ignatius also wrote, ‘I have many deep thoughts in God. But I take my own measure, lest I perish by boasting. For I myself, though I am in chains and can comprehend heavenly things, the ranks of the angels and the hierarchies of principalities, things visible and invisible, for all this, I am not yet a disciple.’ And what then, Bishop, shall make you a disciple? Be advised of this one thing: playing nicely with those who attack truth makes no man a disciple.
Yes, the Church welcomes sinners, but she welcomes them to the truth, which is Jesus Christ. And if they are not living in truth, then she calls them to repentance. How can we declare that we love when we would allow souls to perish by assuring them that conversion is needed? Play nicely? While the devil leads souls to hell? Play nicely? While Francis proclaims the devil’s voice to be the voice of the Holy Spirit? The streets of Rome are now littered with cowards. Where is the one who will say with Ignatius of Antioch, ‘Now I begin to be a disciple. Let fire and Cross, flocks of beasts, broken bones, dismemberment, come upon me. So long as I attain to Jesus Christ.’
As I said, those are challenging words. One thing I’ve learned and continue to learn, I think I need to rid my life of the vocabulary, the word, coincidence. We need to see God’s providential hand working in our lives, maybe not with whether we have a cappuccino or just Americano, but when we see significant things, we need to look with the eyes of faith to providence. What is providential about this? And as you can imagine, when I received that letter, I was a little knocked back. And part of that was, my friend’s use of Ignatius of Antioch, because he was the first saint that I thought of—of course, we celebrated Ignatius of Antioch fairly recently in the Novus Ordo calendar—but he’s the first saint that I want to use as a model of this Emmaus journey. I’m finally getting to talk about what I was going to talk about.
I present to you for your reflection this morning as we come together in faith, that the Emmaus story in Luke’s Gospel is our story. We were all that unnamed disciple on the Emmaus walk. And that’s basically what I want to reflect with you on this morning. Hopefully you’ll agree that that letter from a friend that I just shared reminds us, this part of our walk—for every one of us here, men and women, clergy, laity, all of us—this is a very challenging portion of our Emmaus walk of faith.
But as I mentioned before, and hopefully, I can keep reminding myself and all of us to be joyful, to be aware, this is what we’re made for. Another saint that I want to highlight is Joan of Arc. “We were born for this.” Embrace that, every person in this room, because I truly believe—and believe me, I think [for] a lot us of this is like, ‘could I have been born at a different time?’
But you know the irony, again, the providence: here I am celebrating a rather milestone birthday with all these new friends—most of you I’ve never met a day ago; John-Henry and his crew I’ve been blessed to know before—but it is providential. And I wasn’t going tell anybody it was my birthday, but of course, you know, you don’t have to do a lot of research to find out somebody’s birthday. But I encourage all of us to see that as providential. We were born for this. Whenever your birthday is—a lot of you are younger than me—but we were born for this. And embrace and believe that you have a role, a significant role just like the saints. They’re wonderful people that we strive to model our lives after.
So, as I mentioned the Emmaus story, I thought the best way to get all of us into this is to simply read these several verses from the Gospel of Luke.
Now, that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus.
It’s a seven-mile walk. That’s a journey. I don’t know the last time I walked seven miles; ten thousand steps seems pretty good to me. But it’s a seven mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
And they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. He asked them, what are you discussing as you walk along? They stopped, looking downcast. And one of them, named Cleopas, said to Him in reply, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem, who does not know about the things that have taken place there in these days?” And He replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarean, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. Our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified Him. But we were hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel. And besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.”
Again, providentially, I have to note, “the one to redeem Israel.” And pray for Israel at this time and for all the children of God suffering.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find His body. They came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that He was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described. But Him they did not see. And he said to them, ‘O, how foolish you are, how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things, and enter into His glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, He gave the impression that He was going on farther. But they urged Him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ And so He went in to stay with them. And it happened that while He was with them at table, He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. With that their eyes were open and they recognized Him. But he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?’
Dear brothers and sisters, I truly believe that reflecting on that story of the walk to Emmaus is an opportunity for all of us to think about our journey. Many of you have journeyed a long way to be here for these two days.
I’ve said in other talks recently that—it’s just my story very briefly, but it tells you the story—since I became a bishop, I was always a faithful Catholic, believed in the Real Presence, went to Confession because I need to—the basics were always there. But when I was named bishop and was ordained in 2012, November of 2012, of course, something happened. But something really happened to me. My siblings—I grew up one of six kids—they’ll tell you, “Our little brother Joe,” and for one sister, her big brother, “something happened to Joe; he changed.” And probably many of us here, whether cradle Catholic or converts—and we were so blessed with converts at this time, because you know, you’ve embraced what I received as a birthright from loving parents, thankfully.
But as I describe myself more, I don’t think I’ve heard anybody use this term, but I use it. I’m going to call it deeper. I’m not a revert, I’m not a convert, but I’ve gone deeper. And what I said recently was, Mary grabbed me by the rosary and pulled me to the Sacred Heart of her Son.
That’s the reason this kid from Atlanta, Texas, Texas not Georgia, Atlanta, Texas, is here in Rome talking to all of you, because of Mary and her Son. And we all know that Mary is all about her Son. Like many wonderful mothers, all she talks about is her Son and points us to Him, “Repent and believe in Him.” And I do believe.
But I think the Blessed Virgin Mary said, ‘Joey, we need you to get to work, to be a shepherd.’ And I’ve done my best to respond, by the grace of God. And as John-Henry said, ‘Mary pulled me by the rosary, got me in front of her Son and His Eucharistic Sacred Heart.’ And since then, what sustains me is that time with him. And I’m sure that’s true for a lot of us here. And I’d encourage you to continue to reinforce that, because He’s really there as we adore Him in the Eucharist. And He is the power; He’s my power source.
And, that’s where the story of Emmaus is so beautiful, because it’s such a Eucharistic story. So I just encourage all of us to trust in our faith, to be joyful and strong, and to continue to be stronger and stronger in the presence of the Lord.
You could see this morning as I stood here facing that direction, celebrating maybe my ninth Latin Mass ever—you can tell, I’m still learning. I’ve always been told since I began to be familiar with the Latin Mass, all the priests that are well versed in it say, oh it’s different for bishops. I never knew it as a priest, so what’s different, I don’t know. But as I said to someone, and it happened again this morning—the mystery of that liturgy—the very first time I ever celebrated the Latin Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi, the traditional Thursday of Corpus Christi in 2020, I could hardly say the words of consecration, that I’d never said before in Latin, because as I practiced, I didn’t want to simulate anything. So I didn’t even say the words until I was actually celebrating that Mass, and I could hardly get them out because it was so emotional.
And this morning, it didn’t happen at that moment, but there was a moment where I was close to weeping again. And I talked to one of the priests here that’s much more well versed in this than I am. And he said, “In the old, traditional Latin Mass, there was a Votive Mass for the gift of tears. If you can’t be moved to tears as a priest standing at the altar of Jesus Christ and taking bread and wine to become His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, you’re not alive.”
As I tell the priests that I work with in the diocese, we have to rekindle that awe, and that reverence, and that wonder at what we do, because familiarity does bread contempt, hopefully not contempt, but it’s so easy. And for all of us, it’s easy to get routine. Even in the glorious Latin Mass, you can get into routines and sort of get numb to the wonder of every single Mass.
And to me that’s where the Emmaus story is so beautiful. “Our hearts are burning” and they should be burning every time. Humanly, that’s hard to sustain. We naturally get into routines. Obviously, I’m not there yet with the Latin Mass. It’s far from routine for me. Maybe that’s why I’m still so easily emotional. And I hope before I’m ninety-five, when I get there, that it is more something that I’m accustomed to. But hopefully, it never becomes routine. A routine—Sacrifice of the Eternal Son of God as He dies for us? Routine should be nowhere in that vocabulary!
And frankly, one of the most frustrating things that’s coming out of the Vatican and supported, at least, by Pope Francis, is the attack on the sacred. The Lord—it’s Him! That’s why I’m in trouble, because I can’t deny Him. I don’t care who tells me, you must. I can’t do that.
If you know anything about me, you know that I can get stupid; all of us can, maybe me more frequently than all of you, but yeah, I can be imprudent. But I think the prevailing imprudence—and that letter from my friend kind of alludes to this—the prevailing imprudence in our Church today is not speaking out inappropriately; sometimes I may do that. I’d rather do that than not speak out when it’s necessary, absolutely necessary.
And so the Emmaus story brings it all together. [In] the Emmaus story, I highlighted these elements. We walk with the risen Lord, and for us, as for the two who walked this original path, it is often hard to recognize Him. So that’s the first point.
Like I said, it becomes routine for a priest celebrating at the altar or for you in the congregation. And one thing I have to say, and I’ve said before speaking to groups: What are the blessings of being a priest? I said, I get to celebrate the Mass, of course. But I do it in a way that helps me to pray. I know all of you who aren’t priests, you’re dependent on the priest to celebrate in a way that helps you to pray. And I know you have different priests that you find more helpful than others. But what we have to guard against is allowing ourselves to not even try to recognize the Lord in our Emmaus journey.
Yes, it becomes hard to recognize him sometimes. We get distracted, all of us do. We’re thinking about other things, even in key moments of the Mass, of this walk. You could say that the Emmaus journey is the Mass. But to me, it goes into every aspect of our journey of discipleship.
So the first point of the Emmaus story for me is: yes, it’s hard to recognize Him. Here are the disciples walking with the risen Lord. They don’t know who they’re talking to, but their hearts are burning.
Another element of the Emmaus story that I think is significant for all of us: we do not walk alone, but often we may know little of those we walk with. We just know your fellow disciples. To me that’s highlighted in the actual Emmaus story. I think it’s a beautiful gift—that one is an unnamed disciple. From what I understand, there’s some scripture scholars that have the theory—it may be correct—that it was Luke himself. Maybe so; it’s kind of a neat idea.
But I think there’s something beautiful about a couple of elements there: that we’re not walking alone, and it’s not we’re walking as fellow disciples, but the point is the Lord, that He’s there, even though we don’t recognize Him. But I think it’s important, because as I speak to people and people contact me, I think many Catholics do feel alone, feel isolated, feel, “Am I the only one that really believes?” Frankly, I have to confess, “Am I the only bishop that really believes this?” Where are they?”
And I’m sure you feel the same with your brothers and sister in the pews. You know, are they zombies? What is this? And we don’t judge, but we need to rekindle that fervor, that burning in our hearts and help each other. We’re on the journey together. That’s one of the main elements of Emmaus story. It’s not one disciple walking alone. So often they were sent out two by two; they’re still two by two. That reminds us we need each other.
Another element: this is truly a pilgrimage, a distance to cover. It takes time to walk to Emmaus, seven miles. Some of you might have done the Camino; seven miles is just a good start. But it is a real journey. In Texas, probably for most of us wherever we live, we live in a very mobile society, but we’re mobile in vehicles. In Texas, I always laugh because in Tyler, a city of about a little over 100,000 people, not a huge city, but even there, if someone’s walking, the assumption is they need a ride. You’re walking? Oh, your car, broke down. Or, can I help you? It’s like, you’re not walking. I mean, in Texas, we have big distances to cover. You get in the car, maybe a bicycle or a motorcycle, but you don’t walk intentionally.
But there’s something important in the walking, in the journey, and the taking the time. That’s why I’m sure many of us are attracted to the idea of a pilgrimage like the Camino. But it truly is, the Emmaus walk is a journey, a lifetime. I mean, I can look over my lifetime; as a kid in Atlanta, Texas, making my First Communion, being confirmed, all in the same place. As far as living, I haven’t gotten a hundred miles from where I started. That’s not getting very far in life. But with the journey to Emmaus that we’re all on, we need to embrace that journey.
Another element of the Emmaus story: we have a definite destination. We are not strolling aimlessly. I think that’s significant for our time especially, because I think a lot of people in the Church, but certainly the vast numbers that are not in the Church—which in our diocese in Tyler, we’ve grown to the point we’re almost ten percent Catholic, but that’s after a lot of growth in the Catholic community—and most of the people there, as I talk about the Eucharist, they have no idea of the Eucharist and they just say, oh, it’s a symbol, like too many Catholics say.
So we’re not just strolling along aimlessly. We have a destination, and that is eternal life with God. I studied Canon Law. The last law in the Code of Canon Law, the very last one says, it’s all about the salvation of souls. That needs to be proclaimed from the rooftops of Rome.
It’s about the salvation of souls! It’s not about making us comfortable on this horizontal plane of a few years of life.
Sixty-five years is a drop of the bucket for the life of the Church. And that’s a point that I think especially we need to be aware of: we’re not on a painless journey. Whoever is the oldest person here, and I hope is not me but maybe—what arrogance for me to think, I can figure it all out and I can reshape the world in a mere 65 years and forget all that backwardness of the past, forget about it. How arrogant, how unhinged from what life really is about!
We should be challenged to the very reverse of that, to recognize that for me, my heritage goes from—my father was from east Texas, my mother from Australia by way of Ireland, and, oh, that begin to tell you, you came from somewhere. Other people that were on an Emmaus journey too. And to have the arrogance in this modern time, oh, we got to change and shape everything to fit the now, instead of saying, let’s make our now resonate with what was, so that we know what will be.
The final element. A couple more things for the Emmaus journey. “Our hearts are burning.” I hear that all the time. That I can say. It’s not heartburn, but it’s soul-burn. It’s knowing there’s something more, there’s something deeper, there’s mystery beyond us. That’s what the disciples on the road to Emmaus are experiencing. And we need to breathe flame into that.
Just recently in the Gospel, we’ve heard many times before, but we heard Jesus saying, “How I long for a flame to be ignited.” I think He’s talking about that burning in our hearts. The Lord longs for our hearts to be aflame with His Sacred Heart of love.
And then finally, the Emmaus story, the obvious, the Eucharist is always the moment, the place, and the act of recognition. Let’s embrace that. Let’s expect that. Let us approach the next time we have the opportunity, for me as a priest or for all of us as priestly people do. Celebrate the Mass. Let’s enter into the liturgy—whether it’s wondrous, and pristine, and glorious, and reverent, or not so—let us enter into it with that expectation, that we will once again encounter the risen Lord, the same one who walked with these disciples on the road to Emmaus.
[It’s] probably a little overboard but sometimes I said, “Athanasius, I think I can relate to you.” You probably heard, Athanasius against the world. Sometimes we feel that way. Saint Catherine of Siena, a bold woman of faith, who instructed popes. Saint Peter Damien, about the year 1000, facing the horrible LGBTQXYZ of his time. Saint Joan of Arc, one of the great Emmaus saints. As I mentioned earlier, we were born for this time, is what she says. And we need to embrace that.
Saint John Fisher, again, a sole bishop’s voice in the time of Henry VIII. And that voice got quieted, he lost his head. So somebody was mentioning, you know, said, Bishop, it’s okay, because you know, we don’t have a lot of beheadings going on, at least not right now. So it’s a little more subtle, how you get decapitated in the 21st century. So you know whether I get decapitated or not, it may not really mean the separating of the head from body, but that’s what Saint John Fisher experienced for simply saying, “No, I’m not going to declare you head of the Church.”
And bishops today need to say, “No, we’re not going to pretend truth can change.” Yeah, you can rewrite a book called the Catechism, but that’s not changing truth. That’s just rewriting a book called the Catechism. And it would be foolish to do so.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, beautiful simplicity! Such a close heart to Christ! Saint Maximillian Kolbe—think of his journey to Emmaus. Finally, Saint John Paul II, John Paul the Great as I like to call him. He made mistakes on his Emmaus journey, don’t we all? But sometimes in today’s world, you get canceled because, oh, well you made a mistake, you’re a sinner. Ok, if that’s the criteria, we’re all canceled.
So let us embrace joyfully the Emmaus journey that we’re all on that continues as we all journey back to our homes. Think about, pray about, let your hearts burn for the Lord who was real and present with us as He promised. And two words to leave you with, in the context of this Emmaus journey: Keep walking. God bless you.
Pledge your prayers for Bp. Strickland HERE