Friday, October 31, 2014

Terminally Ill 29 Year Old to Commit Suicide - UPDATE (the power of prayer)

You'll remember the 29 year old woman who had resolved to commit suicide from a couple of posts earlier this month here (Terminally Ill 29 year old to Commit Suicide. What will Become of her Soul?) and here (Archbishop Gomez "Filled with Sadness Over 29 Year Old Woman Choosing Suicide) and no doubt from the massive media coverage it garnered. 

Well, tomorrow was supposed to be the day - her last day on Earth and, unbeknownst to her, her meeting with Christ the Just Judge. Thank God, and all of you who joined me in praying for this poor woman, she has changed her mind and decided to grant herself a stay of execution:

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2014 / 05:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As a 29 year-old woman with terminal brain cancer reconsiders her resolve to end her life, one scholar says the change of heart indicates a more mature level of thinking.
“That’s advanced thinking, that’s higher order thinking – when you can let go of the trappings of this world and realize there is something else,” reflected Dr. Julie Masters, chairman of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska.
She told CNA Oct. 30 that Brittany Maynard’s reconsideration is an “interesting development.”
“I think reading some of the things she has said about this idea that she is there with her family and seeing the value of that offers people another perspective on end-of-life care, and what that means,” Masters said. (read more there)
Te Deum Laudamus! Te Domine confitemur! 

Truly, God is good. Keep her in your prayers that she might be brought into Eternal Life by receiving the Sacraments of the Holy Church so that she may live forever in the New Jerusalem.

Can We Only Know Truth Via the Scientific Method?

Often in online and face-to-face discussions, especially with atheists, Catholics encounter a basic objection to the existence of God - that all real knowledge is gained through empirical experimentation using the scientific method. In other words, all facts are science facts. All other "knowledge" is either subjective opinion at best or "faith" (inaccurately defined as "believing without evidence") at worst and is to be dismissed. Philosophy is also dismissed as nothing more than a pre-scientific, and unreliable, method of trying to arrive at claims that only science (sometimes written with a capital "S") can really shed light on. With this system of thought in place, the atheist rejects the philosophical arguments for the existence of God not by answering the arguments, but by dismissing philosophy altogether much in the same way moral arguments for God are dismissed by rejecting morality or aesthetic arguments for God are dismissed by rejecting beauty. The atheist, it seems, is willing to live in an increasingly small intellectual world just so long as he is able to continue to avoid the reality of God.

This system of thought is known as "scientism" and, as we  shall see, is itself not a scientific claim, but a philosophical one.

Certainly, the scientific method is a great discovery and leads, without a doubt, to knowledge about the world. No Catholic I've met has ever dismissed science or the scientific method. The Medievals had a saying which still remains true for Catholics in the twenty-first century, which is expressed most succulently by Francis Bacon,
God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.
As St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Scholastic theologians who followed in his footsteps, never tried of arguing for, truth cannot contradict truth - what we know from Revelation (God's "first book") can never be contradicted by what we learn from the study of the natural world (God's "second book"). It is this attitude which lead Catholic clerics to create the scientific method (yes, you read that correctly - far from suppressing science, the Church created item, which is why it arose in Medieval Europe and not Arabia, Asia, or anywhere else). Pioneers of the scientific method were also men of Catholic Faith - men like Roger Bacon, a Franciscan Friar widely hailed as a "father of science;" St. Albert the Great, a Dominican Friar and the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas; Theodoric of Freidberg, another Dominican Friar; William of Ockham, another Franciscan,; and others. In fact, the university system - was created by the Catholic Church and worked to support the development of science precisely as a means to better understand God by more accurately "reading" His "second book."

The Catholic Church's love for and promotion of science has continued through the centuries (35 lunar craters are named for Jesuit scientist-priests for example) down to this week when Pope Francis reiterated the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the compatibility of science (again, which the Church created) and theology by saying the same thing popes have been saying since Father Georges LemaƮtre (a Catholic priest) discovered the Big Bang theory - namely that science and faith cannot contradict each other,

"God is not a demiurge or a conjurer, but the Creator who gives being to all things. The beginning of the world is not the work of chaos that owes its origin to another, but derives directly from a supreme Origin that creates out of love. The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of Creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve”. (if you were confused by the Pope's statement, Shameless Popery has a nice article on it here.)

Which echoes the words of Pope Pius XII who wrote an encyclical on evolution, Humani Generis, laying out the same thing Francis said the other day,
the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution
So the Church certainly accepts "science facts" as true facts, but avoids the philosophical (not scientific) error of "scientism" - the idea we started with, that all facts are science facts.

Scientism, of course, is easy to fall into in the modern world. We can look around us and see how powerful science has been. I'm able to write this blog post and share it with, literally, the world because of science. Empirical testing has revealed the truths of "God's Second Book" in such a powerful way as to revolutionize our understanding of the physical world we inhabit. I think all Catholics can agree that science is a great source of knowledge, indeed the best source of knowledge, when it comes to explaining the natural, material, physical world.

However, being a powerful source of knowledge in describing the physical world does not make science a powerful tool for knowledge about anything else - moral truths, truths about inter-personal relationships, or truths about the immaterial world (including the truth about whether such a world exists at all). Science, by the very method that makes it so powerful in answering questions about the material world, is completely incapable of saying anything about these other realities. Assuming it can is the error of scientism.

The great irony of scientism (the truth claim that all truth claims must be testable via the scientific method to be valid) is that it cannot be tested by the scientific method itself. The claim that all knowledge is scientific knowledge cannot be weighed, measured, fitted into a test-tube, put under a microscope, or observed in any way through empirical study. Scientism is not a science fact, something arrived at vie empirical observation and testing, but an epistemological claim.

Epistemology, of course, is not a branch of science but of philosophy- which is discredited by scientism as invalid speculation. Thus, we end up in the peculiar situation of having an epistemological position that epistemology is invalid because it isn't testable by science, which is immediately self-refuting. In case this isn't self-evident, allow me to demonstrate what I'm saying.

Let's let "x" stand for "the truth claim that all truth claims must be science facts to be true". We'd end up with an argument like this:
All truth claims must be testable by science ("x")
But "x" (all truth claims must be testable by science) isn't testable by science
Therefore, not "x"
Scientism disproves itself. It confuses a claim about what we can know with an empirically testable claim like "the Earth goes around the sun."

Philosophy (aka "reason") is not, as is imagined by many people today, a bunch of academics sitting around asking irrelevant and overly-technical questions (well, at least that isn't what philosophy is supposed to be, although at some universities that is what it has degenerated into). Rather philosophy is the study of reality through reason. Philosophy frequently starts with observation, just as science does, but it then moves, through deductive reasoning, to study universal truths rather than physical facts about reality. Because of this, philosophy can reach into the immaterial world and answer questions about morals and about God's existence. Far from being "less certain" than science, philosophy, because it is deductive, can arrive at certain knowledge, while science, which is inductive, can only arrive at probabilistic knowledge (except in the very rare circumstances where a complete indiction is possible).

Thus philosophy emerges as another way to truth, which is good for science because science depends upon certain truths that cannot be proven by science (indeed can't, in principle, be proven by science without science becoming a circular - and invalid - argument). As an example science cannot tell us whether our sense data is trustworthy, it has to rely on epistemology to do that. If our sense observations are not trustworthy, the entire scientific project immediately collapses. How do we know the Earth moves around the sun? Because our empirical observations tell us it does, but if our senses do not reveal the real world to us, then we can't know whether or not the Earth really moves at all - it might just be our unreliable senses playing tricks on us. Science can't give us an answer to this question, because it relies on the answer already being "yes" to prove anything. Philosophy, however, because it is not dependent upon sense data (although it can and does make use of it) can answer the question for us and by so doing can open up the possibility of doing science at all. Likewise, science depends upon philosophy to defend the necessary connection because cause and effect and the law of sufficient reason, without which science can not get off the ground.

Thus, scientism, by attacking philosophy which is necessary for science, cuts the legs out from under the whole scientific project, and in so doing, proves itself false. If science facts are the only valid facts, then the facts that support science are not valid, which invalidates science, including all the facts science proved.

Scientism is opposed by the Catholic Church, not because the Church hates science, but because she loves science and scientism would ultimately kill science itself. As it is ultimately the first step toward an irrationalism that the Church, the great defender of human reason, always and everywhere opposes.

post scriptum
Just because I know someone is bound to bring up Galileo, here is an article which explains what happened. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Some Catholic Halloween Music (O Death Where is Thy Sting?)

Earlier today we saw one of the motivations behind the tradition ghouls, ghosts, and skeletons we associate with Halloween is an expression of our new found freedom in Christ - a freedom even from death which, after the Resurrection, has become something we can mock. In that spirit, I offer a great song that strikes at this same spirit from Catholic musician Matt Maher. (Yes, I'm a fan of Maher's music, no I don't find it appropriate for the Mass as we once discussed here: Should Personal Taste Influence the Liturgy? and here: This isn't Football Music)

Enjoy and Have a Happy Halloween tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

3 Reasons the Pope Should NOT Sell the Vatican's Art to Feed the Poor.

Have you ever been confronted by Protestants or secularists (both of which groups, incidentally, do less for the poor than the Catholic Church) who dismiss the Church because it has priceless works of art saying the pope ought to sell them off to feed the poor? Vatican Museum director Antonio Paolucci has and he as a simple reply,
“because man would be poorer in every sense”. (source)
Michelangelo's Last Judgement

1. Spiritual Poverty is Worse than Material Poverty
In other words, "man shall not live by bread alone" (cf. Matt 4:4). The artworks of the Vatican are the preserve of all the world and all of us would be immeasurably poorer if they were to be sold to some private collector, never to be enjoyed by the Faithful again. The great artists that made these masterpieces made them to honor and glorify God and to save the souls of those who, through viewing them, would grow closer to God and who would be brought to repentance for their sins. Having once stood in front of Michelangelo's Last Judgement as an unbeliever, I can personally testify the power good art can work upon a even a closed and dry soul. It is this poverty, spiritual poverty, which Mother Teresa (who lived and labored among the economically poorest of the world) called "the worst poverty and the most difficult to overcome." (source

Mother Teresa in Calcutta

2. What Would Jesus Do?
The attitude of the man who wants to sell off man's patrimony for a few loaves of bread isn't anything new, Jesus Himself faced such an objection from within His chosen apostles
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Laz′arus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Laz′arus was one of those at table with him.  Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.  But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said,  “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (Jn 12: 1-5)
To Judas, the progenitor of our modern critic, Jesus has no kind words,
“Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me" (Mk 14:6)
 As too have the greatest artists in the history of man, who have spent their time and treasure doing "beautiful things" not for overly wealthy private art collectors, but for Him.

Jesus then goes on to point out the ultimate futility of trying to sell off all things of beauty for bread, reminding His disciples that
 "The poor you always have with you” (Jn 12:8)
We will never eliminate poverty this side of the parousia and despoiling God's house in a vain effort to is clearly not commended by Christ. 

3. God Doesn't Will It
In fact, it seems God (as can be seen in His plans for both the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Temple of Solomon) isn't a big fan of depriving His people of beauty,
The house which King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high....lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar... He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the rafters, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the most holy place....The cedar within the house was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers; all was cedar, no stone was seen.  The inner sanctuary he prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also made an altar of cedar. And Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, and he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with goldAnd he overlaid the whole house with gold, until all the house was finished. Also the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold.  In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high.... And he overlaid the cherubim with gold.He carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms.  The floor of the house he overlaid with gold in the inner and outer rooms. (1 Kings 6) 

A False Dichotomy 
 None of that, of course, is to downplay the importance of feeding the hungry (something Jesus also demands)
‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food...‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me." (Matt 25)
Which ends up being another example of the classic Catholic principal of "both/and" not "either/or" (which is the hallmark of heresy). We are not called to either beautiful churches or feeding the poor, but to both beauty and charity. For, in the final analysis, beauty is a form of charity, it is feeding the spiritually poor.

The Best Answer
But maybe the best answer is to ask whoever raises this objection which of their personal effects they're in the process of selling to feed the poor. For some reason I doubt their BMW, shoe closet, golf clubs, iPhone, etc is doing much to alleviate the spiritual poverty of the world, unlike the Vatican's art.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pope Benedict Warns That Relativism is "Lethal to Faith."

Is anyone else as glad as I am to hear from this guy again? Te Deum laudamus! (emphasis and comments are mine)

Benedict XVI has said that dialogue with other religions is no substitute for spreading the Gospel to non-Christian cultures, and warned against relativistic ideas of religious truth as “lethal to faith.”
“The risen Lord instructed his apostles, and through them his disciples in all ages, to take his word to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all people,” Benedict XVI wrote.  
“‘But does that still apply?’ many inside and outside the Church ask themselves today. ‘Is mission still something for today? Would it not be more appropriate to meet in dialogue among religions and serve together the cause of world peace? (IOW, is mission about saving souls or building worldly peace)’ The counter-question is: ‘Can dialogue substitute for mission?’”
...“In fact, many today... (take) for granted that different religions are variants of one and the same reality. The question of truth, that which originally motivated Christians more than any other, is here put inside parentheses. It is assumed that the authentic truth about God is in the last analysis unreachable and that at best one can represent the ineffable with a variety of symbols (as we discussed HERE). This renunciation of truth seems realistic and useful for peace among religions in the world. 
“It is nevertheless lethal to faith. In fact, faith loses its binding character and its seriousness, everything is reduced to interchangeable symbols, capable of referring only distantly to the inaccessible mystery of the divine.”
“We proclaim Jesus Christ not to procure as many members as possible for our community, and still less in order to gain power. We speak of him because we feel the duty to transmit that joy which has been given to us. 
(read the whole thing at the Catholic Herald). 
Which elaborates upon what Pope Francis has also been teaching us,
“The Church is not a shop, she is not a humanitarian agency, the Church is not an NGO. The Church is sent to bring Christ and his Gospel to all." (source)
And Pope John Paul II,
The temptation today is to reduce Christianity to merely human wisdom, a pseudo-science of well-being. In our heavily secularized world a "gradual secularization of salvation" has taken place, so that people strive for the good of man, but man who is truncated, reduced to his merely horizontal dimension. We know, however, that Jesus came to bring integral salvation, one which embraces the whole person and all mankind, and opens up the wondrous prospect of divine filiation. Why mission? Because to us, as to St. Paul, "this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8). Newness of life in him is the "Good News" for men and women of every age: all are called to it and destined for it.  (Redemtoris missio, 11)
Let's all join together and thank the Lord for the great popes we have been blessed with, and especially thank him for the clarity and courage with which Pope Benedict XVI still speaks with. Te Deum laudamus!

Do Catholics Believe We Can Only Know God Through Faith?

Some people, including some Catholics I know, claim that we can only know God through "faith." These people, in many cases well meaning, argue that accepting the reality of God, as an act of "faith," is the necessary first step of all religion. We must simply believe, then we can know, they say.  "Faith," in this context, is usually defined as "believing without evidence" or even as "believing in spite of the evidence."

got reason?
While such a position might be available for the followers of some religions (and some branches of Protestantism), it is neither a rational position nor is it an acceptable position for a Catholic to take. In fact, this very idea was officially condemned by the Catholic Church as the heresy of fideism. The Church, infallibly declared at Vatican Council One (1869-1870) that
Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason from created things (Dei Filius, 2)
Which follows in the footsteps of St. Paul who teaches us that,
"ever since the creation of the world his (God's) invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made." (Rom 1:20). 
Such teaching was also made clear in the old Baltimore Catechism, which taught Catholic children the essentials of the Faith for generations,
"We can know by our natural reason that there is a God, for natural reason tells us that the world we see about us could have been made only by a self-existing Being, all-wise and almighty." (Q. 22).
And is still proclaimed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church today,
"By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works." (50) 
Perhaps the root cause of the confusion is the poor definition of "faith" that invariably accompanies this error. Faith, in the Catholic understanding, is not "believing without (or in spite of) the evidence," it is rather
a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him." (CCC, 153) whereby "the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: "Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace." (CCC, 155)
got faith

In other words, faith is trusting a person, I have faith in my wife, that she isn't cheating on me behind my back when I'm out. I have faith in my parents, that they actually are my parents (no, I've never demanded a paternity test). I have faith in the airline pilot, that he knows how to fly (and perhaps more importantly, to land) the airplane I board. And I have faith in God, that He tells me the truth about Himself in His revelation (as understood by His Church). Religious faith, properly understood, isn't about abandoning the evidence, it is about taking as evidence the personal testimony of He who cannot lie. Such evidence, because God is Truth, is the most trustworthy, most dependable, evidence we can have.

Of course, I need to be able to know God exists before I can trust Him. Which is why God's existence isn't a matter of faith, but rather is something we can know by reason alone. St. Thomas Aquinas is instructive here,

Saint Thomas

The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles; for faith presupposes natural knowledge, even as grace presupposes nature, and perfection supposes something that can be perfected.

Of course that doesn't mean every believer must work through philosophical proofs for God before entering into relation with Him (there is no philosophy exam required to enter Heaven). St. Thomas goes on to point out that,
Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent a man, who cannot grasp a proof, accepting, as a matter of faith, something which in itself is capable of being scientifically known and demonstrated. (S. Th. I, Q 2, Art 2)
Which is very much the same with many things. We each could sit down and calculate the age of the universe to see if it really works out to 13.8 billion years - and indeed, some of us do just that, but most of us trust the scientific community to do the calculating of us (another fine example of faith!). Thus, we can come to know God through reason alone - and indeed, many of us (including myself) have done just that, but many more believers are willing to allow the Christian community to do the job for them. There is nothing wrong with this - with personally believing in God through faith, but denying that anyone can come to know God through reason alone is not true, nor in accord with the Bible, nor with Catholicism.

Thus proving, once again, there is no greater defender of human reason that the Holy Catholic Church, in which we have a marriage of Faith and Reason - a marriage many in the modern world wish to see end in divorce, but a marriage which is the only safeguard of both Faith and Reason.

Recommended Reading:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why Did God Give Animals Better Bodies than He Gave Man?

If you are at all familiar with Catholic theology or even with proofs for the existence of God, you no doubt are at least passingly familiar with Thomas Aquinas' famous "Five Ways" of proving the existence of God. If you have a little more knowledge of Thomas, you might know these arguments by heart, know they come from the Summa Theologica (or, if your knowledge of Thomas is yet further advanced from the  Summa Theologiae). But, sadly, most Catholics familiarity with the greatest human mind to ever think (i.e. Thomas) tends to end there. I'd like to exhort you to take some time and read around the Summa (You can get yourself a hard back edition , but you can access the whole thing free online at, you might be surprised what you find. Not everything in Thomas is philosophical reflects on God.

Catholic Saints

Here, for example, Thomas deals with the question of whether the animals have superior bodies to man because they come equipped with clothing (fur, feathers, thick hides) and weapons (teeth, horns, claws) whereas man is born defenseless and naked. Man, according to the Holy Catholic Faith, is the supreme material creation, so why are we so disadvantaged when compared with the animals we share the Earth with? Thomas gives a simple answer saying,
Horns and claws, which are the weapons of some animals, and toughness of hide and quantity of hair or feathers, which are the clothing of animals, are signs of an abundance of the earthly element; which does not agree with the equability and softness of the human temperament. Therefore such things do not suit the nature of man. Instead of these, he has reason and hands whereby he can make himself arms and clothes, and other necessaries of life, of infinite variety. Wherefore the hand is called by Aristotle (De Anima iii, 8), "the organ of organs." Moreover this was more becoming to the rational nature, which is capable of conceiving an infinite number of things, so as to make for itself an infinite number of instruments. (S. Th. Prima Pars, Q 91, Art. 3, Reply to Objection 2)
That last sentence is particularly telling, in my view. Man wasn't given "clothing," in the form of homegrown feathers or fur, or "weapons," in the form of fearsome claws or teeth, not to be disadvantaged by God, but because he was given something so much greater - the ability to craft "an infinite number of things" to use as clothes and weapons. The lion seem better equipped than man, if the two are found together naked and alone, but give the man time and he can create power long range rifles that could drive lions to extinction (though, of course, we hope such will never happen). Again, an animal's natural coat may seem better protection than man's naked skin, until one realizes man can take the animals fur and make a coat of his own, for protection in the cold, or, in hot climes, decline to wear a coat at all. It is no accident man (and man alone) can survive on every continent, under the sea, and in outer space.

Such gems are to be found in Summa, which is well worth the time to read his answer to a "question" here or there.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bishop Zubik Establishes a "Latin Mass" Parish in Pittsburgh!

From Father Z...

"I firmly believe that when the older form of Holy Mass is celebrated in more places, we will have a sounder basis for the “New Evangelization” called for by our Popes. Thus, celebrations of the Extraordinary Form must not be concentration (segregated, isolated, contained) in one place in a city or diocese. 
Also, for all the good work traditional groups such as the FSSP do, the real renewal will begin when diocesan priests learn the Extraordinary Form. There are a lot of challenges to overcome on that score, but that’s what we need. 
That said, there is good news in Pittsburgh. Bp. David Zubick establish a personal parish for the Extraordinary Form in Pittsburgh.  HERE 
Brick by brick."
I've had the great pleasure of frequently attending Mass at what is now a "personal parish". Father Dolan celebrates the Mass in a dignified manner, the schola performs truly sacred music - both chant and polyphony, and the art and architecture of St. Boniface Church (where Mass is celebrated in the extraordinary form daily) is truly impressive and speaks of those invisible realities so many modern churches leave us forgetting.

God bless David Zubik, by the grace of God, Bishop of Pittsburgh!

I'm Taking a Break from Religion! What Should a Catholic Say?

Q. I'm giving up religion for awhile (BTW, I'm a convert to Catholicism from Fundamentalism). Going to church isn't "bearing any fruit" for me. I'm getting nothing out of it! And I still have my same old problems. I suppose becoming Catholic wasn't the answer to my problems after all. I still love Jesus, but I'm done with religion (at least for awhile). I guess you could say I am "taking a break." Maybe I'll eventually try some other religions and see what I like. I dunno. I guess you'll condemn me to hell? 

Man walking out of a church alone

I must admit to feeling sorry that you're deciding to knowingly reject Christ's One Holy Church and thereby reject He who is the sole source of salvation for us sinners. I know you said you haven't rejected Christ, but rejecting His Church (His Body) is a de facto rejection of Him because you can't reject someone's body without rejecting them - just imagine saying to your wife, "oh honey, I still love you, its just your fat, disgusting, ugly body I can't stand to be around." It doesn't make anymore sense with Christ. 

I think you might be leaving Catholicism because you're confused over what it is supposed to be doing in your life. You say being Catholic hasn't "born fruit"? In what way? Has it failed to make you "feel" a certain way? It doesn't exist to make people "feel" anything. Has it failed to magically solve all your problems? I wonder why you thought it would? God has, after all, equipped the Church with everything necessary for His sons and daughters to grow closer to him, to become holy. Have you decided to give your life over to Him? Are you striving to enter the narrow gate (see the top of this blog)? In other words, are you cooperating with the graces God is pouring over you? Or are you sitting back waiting for the "magic" to happen without you? Sorry, but it just doesn't work that way. My Italian ancestors had a saying, "Aiutati che Dio ti aiuta" - loosely, "help yourself and God will help you", which follows from the Church's teaching "gratia perfecta nature" (grace perfects nature). God isn't in the habit of transforming us without our consent or as St. Augustine said, "God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us" (Sermo 169,11,13:PL 38,923.) 

Will I "condemn you to hell?" No, I won't (I lack such power), but I will allow "Vatican 2" to speak (and remember these are the words of Christ Himself, who you "still love" cf. Lk 10:16),
"Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved." (Lumen Gentium, 14).
Are you "invincibly ignorant" of Catholicism? It doesn't sound likely in a convert, but I'm in no place to tell over the internet. I'd hope your RCIA instruction wouldn't have been as poor as that. Such knowledge would seem to qualify you as one of those referred to in Lumen Gentium (i.e. not some aboriginal tribesman living in some remote location who has never heard of Jesus or His Church). If such is true, you've decided to risk much in exiting the "ark" - diving headfirst into the flood waters of sin that drown this world. Do you think you'll fare better out there? Will leaving God and the Sacraments behind make your problems go away? Will it "bear fruit?"

As you ask about hell, maybe you ought to worry less about what I (or any other man) thinks about where you might wind up and ask yourself what would be the state of your soul if you died before coming back from your "long break" from religion?  I can't say that - only you and God know for sure (and maybe not even you), but I wouldn't play so fast and loose with my eternal life if I were you. Which reminds me of this...

Should you try defective "other religions" until you "see what you like"? Maybe, just maybe, religion isn't about what we like - maybe it is about what God likes. Perhaps meditating on that will cause some of your confusion to waft away.

You'll have my prayers. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Are you a Weed or Wheat?

In today's Gospel we hear,
Another parable he put before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, `Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?' He said to them, `An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, `No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'" ... And his disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt 13)

Which leaves you and I dear reader with one simple question to contemplate throughout this upcoming week: are we the good seed, the sons of the kingdom, who will be gathered into the barn of The Lord? Or are we seed sown by the enemy, weeds which will be gathered, bundled, and burned? We all sin. We all fall. But, through the grace provided by God, we can repent, and live as sons of the kingdom, looking forward to that day when we will "shine like the sun in the kingdom of (our) Father." The choice is yours. Choose wisely, with eternity in view.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Is God So Much Above Us That We Can Never Truly Know Him?

Some people, in a seemingly pious display, will claim that we can never - it this life or the next - really know God as He is. We will always view Him only through the veil of symbol and sign. God is so far above us, they claim, that all religion can only stutter at the mystery, weaving myths and telling tales, but always falling short of really expressing anything that is absolutely true about God in any meaningful sense. Thus, it is claimed, the signs and symbols which religion is made up of can and indeed ought to be changed to fit the times - nothing, it seems, is essential to any religion.

In his book Truth and Tolerance, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) aptly describes this all too common modern understanding of religion through an illustration (drawn from a Buddhist parable) in which a mighty king leads an elephant out in front of a gathered group of blind people. Each blind man is only allowed to touch one part of the elephant; one a tusk, another a foot, a third an eye, etc. When the king asks the group what an elephant is like the men begin brawling with one another, each proclaiming the elephant is like something different, based solely on their very limited experience of one part of the elephant. Ratzinger points out that,
The conflict between religions seems to people today like the quarrel of those born blind in the story. For we are all born blind to the mysteries of divinity, so it seems. For the way people think today, Christianity by no means finds itself better placed than other religions - on the contrary, with its claim to be true, it seems particularly blind to the limits of all our knowledge concerning what is divine... (pgs. 162-163)
But is this parable an accurate account of the state of world religions? Suppose one religion wasn't "man's search for God," but rather was "God's search for man." Suppose one of the proverbial roads leading up the mountain, actually ran down from God to us. In that case, the group of "blind men" would have among their number one who could see, better still - it would have a man who could see who was a professional zoologist with a PhD in elephantine studies and decades spent in intensive field research of elephants. If the group contained such a man, would it be wise to laugh at his answer to the question, "what is an elephant like?"

This, however, is the exact claim Christianity makes for itself among the world religions - it claims not to be the product of men with a limited experience of the Divine, but to be nothing less than the self revelation of God. The Buddhist parable, while clever, merely "begs the question," assuming that all religions are in the same category, that they all are the products of man's attempt to reach God.

Such is the claim of Christianity, but is there any reason to believe such a revelation, such sure knowledge of God (even if it be incomplete) is within mankind's grasp? Surely, a look at the person of Jesus Christ and the history of Christianity would be one way, even the best way, to answer whether or not Christianity is this "road down the mountain," but a more fundamental question might be whether we can really expect man to have any sure knowledge of God, even in the next life.

No less a mind than the great St. Thomas Aquinas grappled with this question in his Summa Theologiae, where he asks whether or not even the blessed can see the essence of God. Aquinas argues that they must because
the ultimate beatitude of man consists in the use of his highest function, which is the operation of his intellect; if we suppose that the created intellect could never see God, it would either never attain to beatitude, or its beatitude would consist in something else beside God; which is opposed to faith. For the ultimate perfection of the rational creature is to be found in that which is the principle of its being; since a thing is perfect so far as it attains to its principle. Further the same opinion (that man cannot really ever know God) is also against reason. For there resides in every man a natural desire to know the cause of any effect which he sees; and thence arises wonder in men. But if the intellect of the rational creature could not reach so far as to the first cause of things, the natural desire would remain void.
Hence it must be absolutely granted that the blessed see the essence of God. (S. Th, Prima Pars, Q 12)
From this we can conclude that sure knowledge, even if it be necessarily incomplete knowledge, of God must be available to men in this life, for how could men be expected to see the very essence of the Almighty in heaven while simultaneously being completely unable to know Him at all in this life?

Perhaps, though, the best answer to the claim that all religions are equally false and mythic isn't an argument at all. Perhaps the visceral experience we Christians have felt when we crossed over from a distant, unknowable God, to the Risen One. I can think of no one who describes this better than atheist-turned-Christian, CS Lewis,
"Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder. Here lies the deepest taproot of Pantheism and of the objection to traditional imagery. It was hated not, at bottom, because it pictured Him as a man but because it pictured Him as a king, or even as a warrior. The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at anytime Heaven and Earth should flee away at His glance. If He were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images of kingship were a historical accident of which our religion ought to be purged. It is with a shock that we discover them to be indispensable. You have had a shock like that before, in connection with smaller matters – when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here; the shock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following. It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive!” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back – I would have done so myself if I could – and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal God” – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?" (C.S. Lewis - Miracles, chapter 11)
It is in the person of Jesus Christ that God has indeed "found us" who belong to Him and God will, if only they allow it, find those who do not yet belong.

Recommended Reading:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola Outbreak and Receiving the Eucharist, Should Disease Change Liturgical Practice?

Over at RNS we read the following reaction to the Ebola outbreak,
The Blood of Christ will not be offered during Mass. The Host will be placed in the hands, not on the tongue. And the faithful should not hold hands while reciting the “Our Father.”...
Among other precautions issued by the Diocese of Fort Worth:
  • Share the “Sign of Peace” without touching or kissing, perhaps with a smile, or “meaningful eye contact” or “a bow of the head.”
  • Priests should use an alcohol-based solution on their hands before and after distributing Holy Communion.
  • Priests should not distribute Holy Communion if they feel ill, and should discourage parishioners who feel sick from coming to church. 
Read the whole article there. A couple questions sprung to my mind...

1. Why Not Suspend the Use of All EMHC's ("Eucharistic Ministers")?
Honestly, I'm scratching my head wondering why allowing the priest (and only the priest) - who is washing his hands with alcohol before Communion - isn't among the directives. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are called "extraordinary" for a reason (and it ain't 'cause they do such a great job) - because they are only to be used in special (extraordinary) circumstances. With an ebola outbreak threatening, wouldn't it make sense to limit the number of hands touching the Host all together?

women ministers of communion catholic
Have they all washed their hands with an alcohol-based solution?

2. Why Not Require (rather than forbid) Communion on the Tongue?
Speaking of limiting the number of hands touching the Host, why not forbid, rather than require, Communion in the Hand? Our hands tend to be among the dirtiest parts of our bodies. Coming into Mass we've probably touched our steering wheel, car door, Church door, other parishioners' hands, the pew, the missal, the kneeler, etc. Let's just say, even assuming we've washed our hands to go to Mass, our hands aren't exactly clean by the time communion comes around and we aren't all washing our hands in an "alcohol-based solution" right before Communion either. The priest's hands are freshly washed and will be the cleanest in the building, why not allow him (and only him) to touch the Host, allowing  each communicant to come forward, kneel reverently, and receive directly on the (clean) tongue from the (clean) hands of father? And before anyone suggests father's hands might not be so clean after he touches the first communicants tongue, allow me to point out that he doesn't touch any of the communicants tongues. He holds one edge of the Host and lays the unheld part onto the tongue of the believer. I receive on the tongue, kneeling, every week and have never had father's fingers touch my tongue.

3. What Would Our Catholic Ancestors Say?
You know the one's that survived the Plague (that killed so many people, 1 in 3 of everyone in Europe, that it has forever been immortalized simply as "the Black Death"), influenza epidemics, measles, etc without the medicines and cures we have today. Catch the Plague in the fourteenth century and your friendly doctor would treat you by nailing you and your family into your home. Did they stray into receiving Communion in the Hand? Not so much.

4. Do We Have to Receive Communion?
No. We have to go to Mass, but we don't have to receive Communion. If their is an epidemic, maybe the most prudent thing of all to do is to have the priest alone receive Communion until the danger passes.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Archbishop Gomez "Filled with Sadness" Over 29 Yr. Old Woman Choosing Suicide

Last week I gave my take on the horribly tragic case of a terminally ill 29 year old who has decided she will soon kill herself. Today, at CNA, the archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, spoke out on this modern tragedy. Read the whole thing over there, here are a few snippets (with my additions).
“Her story makes my heart heavy with sadness. And her public confession had led to an outpouring of prayers, commentary, and debate,” the Los Angeles archbishop reflected. 
Archbishop Gomez pointed to the powerful testimony from Maggie Karner, who also has aggressive brain cancer, but says, “there’s no way I’ll kill myself.” He also referred to an appeal from Kara Tippetts, who is suffering from breast cancer (these are the real role models, the real heroes), urging Brittany that there is beauty and meaning in suffering.
“All of this reminds us – that we are born toward death. Our life is a journey that will come to an end some day,” Archbishop Gomez stated. 
As Christians, he said that we know that “God is a God of the living and he has shared in our sufferings (God's ultimate answer to suffering is the Cross). He has gone before us, entering into our pain and suffering, so that he can lead us through the valley of death into the land of the living.” 
Noting that death is real, and yet, not the end, the archbishop said that to our secular society, death is the one horizon we can never see beyond. 
“Our science can discover the inner workings of the tiniest cells in our bodies and probe the depths of outer space. But what lies beyond this life – we will never find out for sure until it happens.” 
Archbishop Gomez pointed to the book-made-movie “Heaven is for Real” (as is hell) as a way to approach eternal life. “Heaven is for Real” tells the true story about a young boy who experiences a glimpse of Heaven during a near-death experience. 
“We don’t really know what to make of all these kinds of stories,” he stated, “but as Christians, we know that Heaven is for real and forever (as is hell). And the hope for Heaven (and the despair and terror of hell) gives a new horizon to all our tomorrows here on earth.” ...
Urging the faithful to unite in prayer for Brittany, and others in similar situations... (please do. This is only going to get more common in our "culture of death".)
Death is a fearsome thing. Once we cross that final threshold our eternal destinies are sealed. Let's pray that we may all meet a happy death, one to which we can join St. Paul in saying, "for me to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Phil 1:21).

Again, I beg you, pray for this young woman.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Seattle to Replace Columbus Day with "Indigenous Peoples Day. " How Should Catholics React?

Over at HuffPost, I see the ever increasing lunacy of "political correctness" has spread to replace Columbus Day with "Indigenous Peoples Day" (rolls off the tongue doesn't it?) While I'm all in favor of giving Native Americans the respect they deserve by celebrating their cultures on a given day, I see no justifiable reason for jettisoning Columbus Day in the process (if you agree check out - and sign the petition!)

Hero or Villian?

I could go on about the absurdity of this decision, but perhaps the best response is to simply allow Pope Leo XIII to remind us of what Columbus means to both Americans and Catholics by looking once again at Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical July 16, 1892 on the occasion of the Quadri-centennial of Columbus' famous voyage. (With my comments and emphases).

To Our Venerable Brethren, the Archbishops and Bishops of Spain, Italy, and the two Americas.

Now that four centuries have sped since a Ligurian first, under God's guidance, touched shores unknown beyond the Atlantic, the whole world is eager to celebrate the memory of the event, and glorify its author. Nor could a worthier reason be found where through zeal should be kindled. For the exploit is in itself the highest and grandest which any age has ever seen accomplished by man; and he who achieved it, for the greatness of his mind and heart, can be compared to but few in the history of humanity. By his toil another world emerged from the unsearched bosom of the ocean: hundreds of thousands of mortals have, from a state of blindness, been raised to the common level of the human race, reclaimed from savagery to gentleness and humanity (we often forget today, in our age of cultural relativism and hatred of Western Civ. how brutral native society was. "Savagery" - human sacrifice and cannibalism were ritually practiced - and "blindness" - technologically the native populations were in the Stone Age - darkened pre-Columbian America), ; and, greatest of all, by the acquisition of those blessings of which Jesus Christ is the author, they have been recalled from destruction to eternal life (extra ecclesiam nulla salus - even though the natives were in invincible ignorance of the Catholic Faith, unrepentant violation of the moral law leads to damnation and without the teachings and graces available to Catholics the road to destruction is indeed very wide.) Europe, indeed, overpowered at the time by the novelty and strangeness of the discovery, presently came to recognize what was due to Columbus...amidst so lavish a display of honor, so unanimous a tribute of congratulations, it is fitting that the Church should not be altogether silent; since she, by custom and precedent, willingly approves and endeavors to forward whatsoever she see, and wherever she see it, that is honorable and praiseworthy. It is true she reserves her special and greatest honors for virtues that most signally proclaim a high morality, for these are directly associated with the salvation of souls(i.e. Columbus is not a saint. He did evil things and his ultimate fate is unknown to the Church); but she does not, therefore, despise or lightly estimate virtues of other kinds (i.e. although Columbus wasn't a saint, we still can, indeed should, praise his virtuous actions)...

2. But there is, besides, another reason, a unique one, why We consider that this immortal achievement should be recalled by Us with memorial words. For Columbus is ours; since if a little consideration be given to the particular reason of his design in exploring the "mare tenebrosum," and also the manner in which he endeavored to execute the design, it is indubitable that the Catholic faith was the strongest motive for the inception and prosecution of the design; so that for this reason also the whole human race owes not a little to the Church.

3. ...We say not that he was unmoved by perfectly honorable aspirations after knowledge, and deserving well of human society; nor did he despise glory (he did demand the title "Admiral of the Seas"), which is a most engrossing ideal to great souls; nor did he altogether scorn a hope of advantages to himself (he was to profit nicely from any discoveries he made); but to him far before all these human considerations was the consideration of his ancient faith, which questionless dowered him with strength of mind and will, and often strengthened and consoled him in the midst of the greatest difficulties. This view and aim is known to have possessed his mind above all; namely, to open a way for the Gospel over new lands and seas (Do we still feel the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls to be the greatest good for man?).

4. ...when he learned from the lessons of astronomy and the record of the ancients, that there were great tracts of land lying towards the West, beyond the limits of the known world, lands hitherto explored by no man, he saw in spirit a mighty multitude, cloaked in miserable darkness, given over to evil rites, and the superstitious worship of vain gods. (The native populations were lost in a sea of polytheism and nature worship. These gods are "vain" because they either don't exist at all or are demons deluding men and leading them astray, leading them into "evil rites" such as human sacrifice.) Miserable it is to live in a barbarous state and with savage manners: but more miserable to lack the knowledge of that which is highest, and to dwell in ignorance of the one true God. Considering these things, therefore, in his mind, he sought first of all to extend the Christian name and the benefits of Christian charity to the West (the moral teachings of Christ), as is abundantly proved by the history of the whole undertaking..(Columbus) hastens to seek missionaries from Pope Alexander VI, through a letter in which this sentence occurs: "I trust that, by God's help, I may spread the Holy Name and Gospel of Jesus Christ as widely as may be." He was carried away, as we think, with joy, when on his first return from the Indies he wrote to Raphael Sanchez: "That to God should be rendered immortal thanks, Who had brought his labors such prosperous issues; that Jesus Christ rejoices and triumphs on earth no less than in Heaven, at the approaching salvation of nations innumerable, who were before hastening to destruction.(These were all people no Catholic knew. Men, like Columbus, risked their lives for the salvation of unknown souls. Before we begin casting stones, perhaps we ought to ask if we have, if we even would, do the same.)"

5. ...Columbus threw open America at the time when a great storm (Protestantism) was about to break over the Church. As far, therefore, as it is lawful for man to divine from events the ways of Divine Providence, he seemed to have truly been born, by a singular provision of God, to remedy those losses which were awaiting the Catholic Church on the side of Europe (Today, almost half of all Catholics are in lands discovered by Columbus).

6. ...We mention what is indeed well known, but is also characteristic of the man's mind and soul. For being compelled by the Portuguese and Genoese to leave his object unachieved, when he had reached Spain, within the wall of a Religious house he matured his great design of meditated exploration, having for confidant and adviser a Religious—a disciple of Francis of Assisi. Being at length about to depart for the sea, he attended to all that which concerned the welfare of his soul on the eve of his enterprise. He implored the Queen of Heaven to assist his efforts and direct his course; and he ordered that no sail should be hoisted until the name of the Trinity had been invoked. When he had put out to sea, and the waves were now growing tempestuous, and the sailors were filled with terror, he kept a tranquil constancy of mind, relying on God. The very names he gave to the newly discovered islands tell the purposes of the man. At each disembarkation he offered up prayers to Almighty God, nor did he take possession save "in the Name of Jesus Christ." Upon whatsoever shores he might be driven, his first act was to set upon the shore the standard of the holy Cross: and the name of the Divine Redeemer, which he had so often sung on the open sea to the sound of the murmuring waves, he conferred upon the new islands. Thus at Hispaniola he began to build from the ruins of the temple, and all popular celebrations were preceded by the most sacred ceremonies .

Columbus Day
Columbus Landing in the New World


10. Meanwhile, as a pledge of heavenly favors and of Our own paternal goodwill, we lovingly bestow the Apostolic Benediction in Our Lord upon you, Venerable Brethren, and upon your clergy and people.


Regardless of what other Americans may say or do, far be it from the Holy Catholic Church to turn her back upon a son of the Church who did so much to save so many. 

Please join me in praying for the repose of Christopher Columbus' soul

Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine
Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace.

May the souls of Christopher Columbus and all those brave men who voyaged with him rest in eternal peace. Amen.