Friday, May 30, 2014

Top 5 Favorite Images of Our Lady

May is the month of Mary in the Church, so I thought it might be nice, here at the end of the month of Mary, to share with you, dear readers, some of my personal favorite images of Our Blessed Virgin Mother, with a little info behind each one. Mother Mary, pray for us.

Virgin Mary

 1. Madonna delle Roccie by Fra Filippo Lippi (1465)
 I had the great fortune of seeing the original of this one at the Uffizi Gallery on a trip to Florence. Ever since, I've been mesmerized by the beauty of the painting. A copy even graces the entry way to my home. 

2. Madonnina by Roberto Ferruzzi (1897)
While Ferruzzi didn't intend to paint Our Lady, this lovely painting immediately gained fame as a devotional portrait. The simplicity with which "La Madonnina" (The Little Madonna) is attired, her gaze heavenward, and the halo-like glow surrounding her (and her child) struck Nineteenth Century Italians as worthy of La Madonna herself.
Virgin Mary with Child

 3. Madonna del Berdone by Coppo di Marcovaldo (1261)
This Madonna holds a special place in my heart as it takes the best of Eastern Iconography and puts a decided step in the direction of the great Renaissance masters to come. Coppo shows Our Lady in her heavenly glory, which is a nice reminder in this day and age, when the temptation to portray Mary as little more than a regular teenage girl (which of course she once was) overwhelms many more recent images.

Virgin Mary

4. Our Lady of Gaudalupe by Miraculous Image (1531)
No list of Marian pictures could be complete without what might be the most widely familiar (and miraculous) image of them all. The story, of course, is a well known one. The appearance to St Juan Diego. The incredulity of the bishop. The unfolding of the tilma. The shock (which can still be seen on Mary's eyes, under intense magnification) on the bishop's face. The inexplicable image. The conversion of the Americas.

Immaculate Conception

5. The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception by Diego Velazquez (1619)
Here we see Our Mother simultaneously as a girl of thirteen and as the reigning Queen of Heaven. She is surrounded by her crown of stars and gazes down upon us poor sinners as we offer up supplications for her prayers. Her she is at once holy and human. As I gaze upon her gentle face, I'm left glorifying God, who so loves His creatures that He shares with us (and most especially with her) the task of building the Kingdom.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Must We Strive to Save Souls From Hell?

Since the Second Vatican Council, which some have rightly called an "Evangelical Council", our Holy Fathers have been calling us, lay and ordained alike, to a "New Evangelization." This Evangelization, of course, isn't new in what is being proclaimed, but is new in "ardor, methods, and expression" (cf. St. John Paul II, Address to CELAM). One thing that might be sidetracking the New Evangelization, however, is that some in the Church are also trying to make it new in motivation. We now hear a lot about making friends for Jesus, about spreading our faith out of love, about bringing people the fulness of truth and happiness, all of which are good, true,and beautiful motivations for evangelizing, but one motivating factor, the motivating factor of the "old evangelization", we hear next to nothing about - saving souls from Hell. It was just this motivation that inspired so many men and women to give up everything they have, to risk life and limb, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was struck again with this reality in reading the autobiography of John Gerard, a late sixteenth century Jesuit on the English mission. Mind you, being a priest, especially a Jesuit priest, in England under Elizabeth was a serious crime. Men like Fr. Gerard were literally risking execution and torture to bring their recently Catholic brethren back into Christ's Holy Church. At one point during his mission, Fr. Gerard is indeed captured by Elizabeth's agents (called pursuivants) who question Gerard after imprisoning him in a filthy cell. Gerard relates the conversation thus,
Realizing at once that the pursuivant had given me away, I said that I would be quite frank and give straight answers to all questions concerning myself, but added I would say nothing which would involve others. I told them my name and profession, saying I was a Jesuit priest, though I did not deserve to be one.
"Who sent you here?" they asked.
"The Superiors of the Society."
"To bring back wandering souls to their Maker."
There it is. He was willing to risk being tortured to death not primarily to bring people the fulness of truth or a better friendship with Jesus Christ or to share the joy he fells (although all those reasons would have played a role), but "to bring back wandering souls to their Maker," i.e. to save souls from Hell.

I wonder, will the New Evangelization ever really get off the ground as long as we shelve the most powerful reason for evangelizing? We we ever really be able to convert our society to Christ the King if we don't really think it is vital to do so? In other words, can evangelization, whether new or old, ever succeed when joined at the hip to a "reasonable hope that all are saved?" And finally, should we even risk trying to find out? Is a "reasonable hope" that your neighbor (or mine) might not burn for an eternity in Hellfire really good enough? Ought we not leave aside such hopes for the living and do all we can to give them a better shot at eternal life with God in Heaven? If the answer is "yes", then we need to reinvigorate the New Evangelization with the motivation of the old - the salvation of souls. Who knows, our own souls might just depend on it.

Fr. john Gerard

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Equality or Christianity - You Can't Have Both

Yesterday, we took a look at the development the idea of equality has undergone since the founding of the United States. Originally, in the era of the Founding Fathers, the primary concern was that all men were created equal. These men were building off of a long standing British worldview, one deeply rooted in the Bible, and expressed quite nicely by John Ball in the fourteenth century during the Peasants Revolt when he harangued the crowds thus
When Adam delved and Eve span,Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.
From this beginning, we saw the ideal of the egalitarian become a society were all men had an equality of opportunity - the idea that even the poorest boy could become a great titan of industry or the President of the United States. Still the idea developed yet further until today there are many (like our current President) who seem to yearn not for an equality of opportunity, but for an equality of result - that all men are not just created equal, but that all men have an equal "share of the pie."

As more and more Americans begin to think this way, and indeed begin to internalize this ethos to the point were a lack of equality in result is seen as a grave injustice, we must pause to wonder how the very unequal final result of our lives (Heaven or Hell) will be met with more and more resistance and even with incomprehension. The reasoning seems to be , "if God is all-just, and if justice requires an equal result for all, then how could God fail to be the ultimate ensurer of fairness?"

Here then we have one of those moments where two cherished belief systems clash with one another, both simply can't be true. You can either believe that true equality entails a sameness in result for all (be it economic, political, vocational, or spiritual) or you can believe that each person's ultimate destiny (the only one that really ultimately matters) will depend upon the state of their soul at the moment of death.

Jesus Christ
Christ Separating the Blessed from the Damned... Forever

Christianity teaches us that some (even many) will live lives that amount to an eternal choice for separation from God - i.e. some choose Hell. Others, live lives that shout "YES!" to God. These souls, upon death, rise to Paradise (some only after a period of purification). There cannot be a less equal result between the infinite happiness of the blessed and the endless torment and despair of the damned.

Equality of result, of course, finds this intolerable - even unjust, certainly unloving. Those who hold this theory must believe we all end up the same after death, whether that means we all are saved (universalism) or we all cease to exist (annihilationism) is irrelevant. We simply must all end up the same or inequality has the last (and only important) word over equality.

It is in moments like these, when two deeply held beliefs run contrary to one another, that we can tell what we really believe. Are we Christians who think, under some circumstances, people ought to be treated equally or are we Egalitarians who think some aspects of Christianity are nice. Every man must make a decision for themselves here. Which path will you follow? Are you more committed to our modern American understanding of Equality (i.e. equality of result) or are you more committed to Christ Jesus and His Holy Church?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why Equality Isn't Always Good

Our society values few things, if anything, more than Equality. Indeed, we might very well be the most egalitarian society to have ever existed. One of the founding principals of the United States is equality. "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal..." Interestingly, although our country has long valued equality, the kind of equality valued has shifted over time.

Equality of Worth
Originally, when Jefferson penned those famous words, what was self-evidently held was that all were created equal. The founders knew that some men were stronger, faster, smarter, better connected, wealthier, etc. than others, but they also knew that all men were created equal, that all men, despite all the various skills and abilities they might or might not individually possess, were equal in their human nature. This basic equality lead the founding fathers to reject the idea of the justice of a classed nobility with inherent rights over and against the common "peasant" class. Men were not equal in all ways, according to Jefferson et al, but they did have a basic common dignity, a human dignity, which demanded an equal treatment before the law. Jefferson himself sums this early American position up perfectly in a letter he wrote to Roger Weightman:
the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Founding Fathers

Equality of Opportunity
As time wore on, this very limited concept of equality began to develop into the idea that all men, because of their common humanity, should have an equal opportunity to succeed. Here we see cries against nepotism and favoritism among the upper American class. Men like Andrew Carnegie and the fictional tales of Horatio Alger symbolized the ability of men, here in America, to climb to the highest ranks of society from the lowest depths of poverty. The American ideal passed from the elimination of a legally established noble class to a society were all men could attain great wealth, high social standing, and the most powerful offices in the land.

Equality of Result
Over the last half century, we've seen another development of the idea of equality. Now, many people demand not a basic equality of human dignity, not a legal equality that holds all men to the same standard before the law, not even an equality that allows for every person to have the opportunity of becoming a success story, but calls for equal results for all. This is the mentality that demands trophies for all children, even those on the worst teams. This is the mentality that demands so many awards be given out that each kid may go home with a blue ribbon. This is the mentality of the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd, that wants the government to redistribute the wealth to make sure everyone has "an equal share."

While all of this is interesting enough in its own right, tomorrow I'd like to look at how the underlying principal of equality, especially equality of result, has lead to a dangerous distortion of the Biblical worldview, a distortion that makes some clear and simple Biblical doctrines, doctrines taught always and everywhere by the Magisterium of the Church, hard for modern Americans to accept or even to understand. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day, Pray for Our Heroic Dead

Here in the United States we celebrate Memorial Day. Originating in the aftermath of that most traumatic of American wars, the Civil War, Memorial Day is a time when we take a pause from our hectic lives to honor and remember those men who have sacrificed everything to protect the lives and liberties of all Americans.

American Flag

As Catholics it is a good time to reflect on two basic facts.

1. The faithfully departed are NOT "dead." Many times fundamentalist Protestants will accuse us of praying to "dead people." They, of course, are committing the very same error that Christ rebukes the Sadducees,
But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,
‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at His doctrine. (Matt 21:31-33)
Which is why Christ can truthfully promise that,
"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  (John 11:25-26)
 Practically, this means we can pray to them asking them to join us in praying to the Father through Christ. We are united in One Body, the Church, passing from this life to the next cannot separate us one from another.

2. The faithfully departed NEED our prayers. Many, if not most, of us will die with attachment to sin, venial sins, and temporal punishment due to sin on our souls. As nothing unclean can enter Heaven (Rev 21:27), we need be purified before entering Paradise proper. Thus, the great mercy and grace of Purgatory, without which most souls could never enter Heaven. Is praying for the dead scriptural? As long as you don't start editing Scripture to fit your warped theology in the manner of Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther,
So Judas having gathered together his army, came into the city Odollam: and when the seventh day came, they purified themselves according to the custom, and kept the sabbath in the place.
 And the day following Judas came with his company, to take away the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen, in the sepulchres of their fathers.
And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain.
 Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden.
And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain.
And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection,
(For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,)
And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.
It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. (2 Macc 12:38-46)
Therefore, celebrate Memorial Day. Grill out. Have a BBQ. Enjoy a hard earned day off of work. But don't forget the men who died defending this country. More importantly, don't forget to pray for them.

Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine
et lux perpetua luceat eis:
Requiescant in pace.


Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon them:
Rest in peace.

Weeping Angel

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Was Jesus a "Liberal?"

Q. I'm a liberal because Jesus was a liberal. The Pharisees were the conservatives and look at how Jesus fought against them! How can the Church oppose something like gay marriage when Jesus loved sinners!! Think about it.

You have a twisted view of Jesus and an oversimplified understanding of the Pharisees. Jesus wouldn't have been pro gay marriage, because He wasn't pro sin. He preached repentance and forgiveness, but those who refused to repent He insisted would be sent, by Himself, to an eternity in Hell. No one in the Bible speaks more of Hell than Christ. The Pharisees were condemned, not because they were "conservative" but because they were loveless. They were trying to follow the letter of the law without the spirit of the law. Christ explodes this, not by saying sin is okay like a "liberal", but by raising the stakes! The Pharisees, following the letter of the law, allowed for divorce and remarriage. Jesus calls that adultery. The Pharisees, following the letter of the law, allowed for lustful thoughts as long as they didn't end in action. Jesus also calls that adultery. Jesus would call (in fact, because He is alive, is calling) those living the gay lifestyle to "go and sin no more" (Jn 8:11). He wants to forgive all sinners (including those who have committed homosexual acts), but only can do so if they are willing to seek His forgiveness by being willing to change their lifestyles. I suggest you spend less time worrying about "liberals" and "conservatives" (neither liberalism nor conservatism can save your soul) and focus more on knowing Christ. God bless.


Monday, May 19, 2014

"I Believe in the Church"

Any Catholic who even occasionally attends Holy Mass (and we all ought to at least every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation) is well familiar with the Nicene Creed. For those who might not know, the Nicene Creed is so named as it was originally a profession of faith drafted by the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea (and fleshed out later at the Council of Constantinople) in AD 325 in their efforts to defeat the heresy of Arianism which taught that Jesus was the highest of all created beings, but was not God. The defeat of Arianism is still celebrated today every time we recite this glorious creed, which has formed the backbone of Christian orthodoxy (for mainline Protestants as well as Catholics) since the early fourth century.

In structure the creed is built around four "I believe" statements:

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
What interests me here today, and what I find very telling, is that after we confess our belief in the three divine persons of the Trinity, we go on to confess belief in "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." We believe in God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and in the one Church.  Equally telling, we don't confess belief in the Bible as the word of God, as would be expected if the Council Fathers were Protestants. That, of course, is not to say that the Nicene Fathers didn't believe the scriptures were inspired by God, in fact they refer to the Scriptures implicitly when they mention the Holy Spirit having "spoken through the prophets," but it is telling that the role of Scripture is left implied while the importance of the Church (which can be easily identified by its being one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) forms a part of the backbone of Creed. There is no hint of an invisible church of all the faithful here. Equally absent is any notion of sola scriptura.

Reading through the Creed, I can easily imagine a group of Catholic bishops (as in fact the men who wrote this Creed in 325 and 381 were) getting together in council today and writing this exact creed. I find it next to impossible to imagine a group of Protestants doing similar.

Bishops of Nicaea 1 with Christ and the Creed

Friday, May 16, 2014

Examination of Conscience and Confession

The weekend is near upon us, with its Sunday obligation. I urge all the readers here at Adoro to make frequent examinations of conscience, acts of contrition, and go to confession at least monthly. Of course, Mother Church doesn't require any of this. She merely demands that we confess once a year (around Easter is suggested) and that we refrain from receiving the Blessed Sacrament when we are in a state of mortal sin. A couple weeks ago, we looked at whether trying to skate by in the spiritual life is a good plan for the salvation of your immortal soul (spoiler alert: it isn't). And we ought to ever keep before the reality of Hell, which St. Faustina described in detail (HERE).

A good way to avoid joining the perpetually damned is to make a nightly examination of conscience. Before falling asleep take a few seconds to briefly go over the sins you've committed that (both of commission and omission), beg God for the forgiveness you don't deserve (but that He always gives), pick yourself up and plan on being holier the next day than you were the last.

There are many ways of examining the conscience. St. Josemaria Escriva (my 2014 patron) gives a novel one in The Forge:
Have I accepted in a spirit of expiation the difficulties which have come to me this day from the hand of God? Or those which came from the behavior of my colleagues? Or from my own wretchedness?
Have I managed to offer Our Lord, in expiation, the very sorrow I feel for having offended him so many times? Have I offered him the shame of all my inner embarrassment and humiliation at seeing how little progress I make along the path of virtue? (153)
Opus Dei

The key is to feel sorrow for your sins, to make a firm amendment of life (i.e. you won't sin again), and to never despair. God is bigger than any of our sins. Christ's death can wash away every sin ever committed by every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. Nothing we can do can ever be enough to separate us from His eternal Love, as long as we are willing (like the prodigal son) to give up our evil ways, accept the forgiveness God is pouring upon us, and decide to become saints.

I'll pray for you, dear readers, this weekend, that you might grow in holiness. I ask that you also pray for me. God bless.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Most Imporant Lesson from Francis Thus Far

Whatever you may personally think of him, whatever your person religious convictions might be, whether you are a Catholic or Protestant, theist or atheist, sinner or saint, no one can deny that the world entire is absolutely captivated by our Holy Father, Pope Francis. What a great thing that is! Te Deum laudamus!

One of the things about Francis that really seems to connect with people, especially in this day of immediate visuals, is the way in which he nearly radiates the love of Christ upon all who he meets. He physically embodies the very Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, that he so often speaks about. This radiant joy is part and parcel of Francis' evangelization and should be familiar to all:

However, what many may not have noticed is the shift in demeanor in our Holy Father when he is celebrating the Holy Mass. Instead of radiating joy to the people who surround him, he physically shows how serious offering Mass is for him. Remember, the Mass is a re-presentation (not a representation, mind you) of the once for all Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, no smiling matter this. This is where heaven meets Earth, where the veil that separates us from the angels and saints is thinnest. This is where the All Holy Lord of Lords and the King of Kings, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe comes to dwell with his all too sinful people. Thus, we cry out Kyrie elesion! at the beginning of the Mass. It is as if we are with Isaiah calling on the Lord to depart from us, for we are men of unclean lips (cf. Isaiah 6:5).

Francis, for his part, understands that this is far too great a moment to be cheapened with jokes or high-fives. This isn't the time for the kissing of babies or the hugging of urchins. Nor is it the time to be clad in flip flops and tank tops for here we turn our faces to the Lord and offer Him the worship that is His due. Indeed, the Mass is the most serious thing that we can do. Our pontiff's decorum at Mass teaches us this.

Perhaps of all the lessons this great man has already brought to the Catholic world, this pitch perfect sense of tone between the effusive joy of bringing the Good News to the world through evangelization and the serious inner serenity of the Holy Mass might be the most important of all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Does Isaiah Predict that Mary will be a Virgin?

Q. I got a question.  The author of Matthew used a different translation then the Hebrew one.  The Hebrew one just says a young woman of child baring age no where does it say a "virgin".  So it is logical that Mary, if she existed, to not be a virgin.  Does she need to be virgin at all?

Madonna of the Streets
Mother Mary, ever-Virgin, Pray for us!

There's a few things to unpack here. First we have the issue of "the author of Matthew" (that would be St. Matthew, nothing tricky here unlike "who is buried in Pope John XXIII's tomb?", pace some modern biblical theologians), using a "different translation then (sic) the Hebrew one." Matthew, and most other New Testament authors, when quoting from the Old Testament, quotes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament books known as the Septuagint. The Sepuagint is an ancient translation with quite an interesting history, of which we will only provide a brief thumbnail sketch.

The ancient king of Egypt, Ptolemy II Philadelphus (287 - 247 BC), when constructing the famous library at Alexandria (the greatest collection of ancient wisdom in the world) decided that he needed a Greek language copy of the Jewish holy books. To this end, he sent to Jerusalem for a copy of the aforesaid holy books and for Jews learned in the Law and fluent in Greek who could translate the books into the lingua franca of the ancient world. The high priest in Jerusalem selected six men from each of the twelve tribes, a total of seventy-two men, and sent them off to Egypt. These seventy-two scholars created the translation now known as the Septuagint.

While the exact history of these translators has been lost to history (as has the library the translation was made for), the antiquity of the translation is certain. In fact, the Septuagint is older than the Massoretic manuscripts (the one's we have in Hebrew), making the Septuagint Greek more reliable than the later Hebrew manuscripts. It is for this reason, as well as for the overwhelming use of the Septuagint translation in the New Testament, that the Church has always regarded this as the definitive Old Testament translation. In other words, "the author of Matthew" wasn't using a "different translation then (sic) the Hebrew one," he was using a better one.

Second, it isn't "logical" that Mary wasn't a virgin even if the Hebrew manuscripts were better and even if they didn't predict that she would be a virgin. The Hebrew doesn't say she wasn't a virgin, therefore concluding that she mustn't have been one on the silence in the text is very, very illogical (indeed it is a logical fallacy).

Third, the passage from the New Testament you are referring to is Matthew 1:23, which quotes Isaiah 7:14
Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
The word (ἡ παρθένος) is clearly "virgin" in the Septuagint, but does the Hebrew also have the same meaning? Or, as you claim, does it simply mean "young woman of child bearing age?" The Hebrew word in question is 'almah, which, in the Old Testament, only ever carries the meaning of "virgin" (see Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; Song of Solomon 6:8). This consistent use of 'almah throughout the OT in addition to the ancient, and very accurate, Septuagint translation of 'almah as "virgin" provides conclusive evidence that both the Hebrew and the Greek versions of Isaiah foretell a virgin giving birth. Besides, how interesting is it to "behold a young woman of child bearing age shall be with child?" If that translation could hold true, one would wonder why we are "beholding" that mundane fact.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Was "Catholic" a Proper Name in the Early Church?

Q. Have you ever noticed that even (some) non-Catholic groups, when reciting the Creed, will say "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church?" Doesn't it seem odd that they would confess, during their Protestant service, that they believe in the Catholic Church?

Yes, I've actually run into this myself with the United Methodist Church. At the time I did find it odd that they were confessing belief in the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" instead of in their Methodist denomination.

The answer typically given by Protestants is that "catholic" simply means "universal." This is true enough, but I'm not sure what its supposed to prove. Yes, "catholic" means universal, but it is also the proper name of one church, which is called the universal Church or the Catholic Church. 

At this point some Protestants will claim that the word "catholic" was never used as a proper name in the early Church and that they are using it in the word's original sense, one we "Roman Catholics" co-opted in the Middle Ages.

Let's see what the Early Christians themselves have to say on the matter. Our point can be made with just two Church Fathers, although we could site others as well.

First, let's look at one of the earliest references we have to the "Catholic Church," from St. Ignatius of Antioch from the year AD 110.
"Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the catholic Church." (Letter to the Smyrnaeans)

We see here already the importance of the episcopacy in determining which group of Christians were a part of the Catholic Church.

Even more explicit is St. Augustine of Hippo a couple centuries later:

Chapter 4.— Proofs of the Catholic Faith

5. For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom, to the knowledge of which a few spiritual men attain in this life, so as to know it, in the scantiest measure, indeed, because they are but men, still without any uncertainty (since the rest of the multitude derive their entire security not from acuteness of intellect, but from simplicity of faith,)— not to speak of this wisdom, which you do not believe to be in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church, as it is right they should, though from the slowness of our understanding, or the small attainment of our life, the truth may not yet fully disclose itself. But with you, where there is none of these things to attract or keep me, the promise of truth is the only thing that comes into play. Now if the truth is so clearly proved as to leave no possibility of doubt, it must be set before all the things that keep me in the Catholic Church; but if there is only a promise without any fulfillment, no one shall move me from the faith which binds my mind with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion. (Fundamental Epistle Against the Manicheans)

St Augustine
St Augustine, pray for us

From this witness, we can see that the idea of their being a specific "Catholic Church" headed by a bishop that stands out against groups of heretics and can be easily identified is one that dates back to the earliest Christians. Far from being just a word meaning "universal" (although it is also that), the Nicene Creed professes belief in a particular Church - one that existed before the Council of Nicaea, one that exists still today, and one that is called Catholic.

Whether Protestantisms continued use of the words "I believe in one... catholic... Church" is delicious irony, cause for sadness over the horrors of schism, or a sign of hope for future reunion, I'll leave up to the reader.

Friday, May 9, 2014

How Should a Catholic Feel about the Pope?

As Catholics we have many advantages over our non-Catholic brethren. One thinks of confession, devotion to Mary, the prayers of the saints, the graces of the Mass, and many others. Among these advantages is the Petrine ministry (cf. Matt 18:16). It is through this gift of Christ to His bride, the Church, that we remain one, that we remain Catholic, that we remain apostolic, indeed that we (corporately, if far too infrequently individually) remain holy. Maintaining these four ancient "marks of the Church" apart from the special graces given to Peter and his successors would be impossible (as has been proven by those groups that splinter off).
As great of a gift as the papacy is, we Catholics can become lax in our devotion toward and thankfulness for the See of Peter. Luckily, St. Josemaria Escrivá, in his spiritual masterpiece The Forge provides his readers with some great advice on how to cultivate the proper attitude towards our Holy Father. 

Opus Dei Founder
St. Josemaria, pray for us!

When an average Catholic thinks about the pope, his mind typically first thinks of his office as the highest earthly teaching in the Church. To this end, St. Josemaria gives sound advice on how we can best receive those teachings to bear fruit,
Welcome the Pope's words with a religious, humble, internal and effective acceptance. And pass them on! (133)
The next time you hear Francis, or read any of the writings of any of the 266 popes we've been blessed with for the past two millennia, stop for a second and ask yourself if you are trying to receive those teachings with this attitude. More than that, are you ready and willing, even excited, to "pass them on"?
Of course the pope is much more than just an authoritative teacher. He is also,
... the foundation stone of the Church and, throughout the centuries, right to the end of time, he caries out among men that task of sanctifying and governing which Jesus entrusted to Peter (134)
Which is why St. Josemaria asks us to, "... love, venerate, pray and mortify yourself for the Pope, and do so with greater affection each day." (134)
Remember, the papacy is a gift from God to the world, not just the Catholic world, but the entire world. Having a pope, even during the papacies of "bad popes," is a blessing from God, one which the faithful ought to respond to with praise and thanksgiving.

St. Josemaria, however, calls for even more. The pope is the primary representative of Christ on Earth. He heads the Kingdom of God as Christ the King's prime minister. He is our Holy Father. For the man that wears the metaphorical tiara we must then pay the respect and give the love we would to our Earthly fathers. Indeed, we must give much more.
Your deepest love, your greatest esteem, your most heartfelt veneration, your most complete obedience and your warmest affection have also to be shown towards the Vicar of Christ on earth, towards the Pope.
We Catholics should consider that after God and the most Blessed Virgin, our Mother, the Holy Father comes next in the hierarchy of love and authority. (135)
This reality, this thankfulness for the great gift Christ has bestowed upon His Holy Church, should, according to St. Josemaria, be on our minds daily, along with prayers for the men, sinners like the rest of us, who fulfill that highest of offices.
May the daily consideration of the heavy burden which weighs on the Pope and the bishops move you to venerate and love them with real affection, and to help them with your prayers. (136)
In short, thank God for our Holy Father, whoever he is and however you feel about him, and pray for him.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Does Jesus Disrespect Mary in Luke 11?

Q. You Catholics give too much honor to Mary! Don't you read the Bible? Look at what Jesus Himself says when a woman praised Mary to Him:

As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Lk 11:27-28
We have to always remember to read Scripture in context. There is an old saying, "a text without context becomes the pretext for a proof text." That is why Peter warns us that men can twist the scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). I'm afraid that's what we have going on here.

To get context, let's go back to the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the same Gospel you're quoting from, verse 38
 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.
Mary is the prime example of "those who hear God's word and keep it." Jesus isn't disrespecting Mary, He is correcting the woman. Mary is certainly blessed (remember the word's of the Spirit-filled Elizabeth, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb," also from the Gospel of Luke, 1:42), Jesus isn't contradicting the Spirit. The woman, however, was praising not the wrong person (i.e. Mary), but the right person for the wrong reason. Mary is blessed not primarily because she is the biological mother of Christ, but because she was docile to the Word of God. In fact, Mary's complete willingness to do God's will, is why she was able to assent to becoming the Mother of God in the first place!

We can also know that Jesus isn't disrespecting Mary, because Jesus is like us in all things except for sin (Heb 4:15). You'll certainly recall that breaking any of the Ten Commandments is a sin, a serious one at that. You'll also recall the fourth (third for Protestants) commandment, "Honor your father and mother." (Ex 20:12). If Jesus was disrespecting Mary, then He was breaking the fourth commandment. If He broke the fourth commandment, He sinned. But He never sinned. Therefore, Jesus couldn't possibly have disrespected Mary, at any time during His life, including in the scene recounted in Luke 11.

Jesus and Mary
Jesus and Mary

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

An Ex-Atheist Explains Why He Didn't Want God to Exist

Last week, had some interesting conversations surrounding several posts I did on atheism (HERE) over at my GooglePlus page. In the course of these conversations, I was struck by how much the atheists didn't want theism to be true. It wasn't just that they disbelieved, they were desperate to disbelieve. Mere disbelief I could understand; the existence of God was a question I grappled with on my own journey. But the passionate desire for the universe to lack an actually existing God was something I found alien and odd.

At the same time that I was engaged in these debates, I was reading Surprised by Joy, CS Lewis' account of his conversion from atheism to Christianity. I'm currently in his atheist stage, and read the following passage yesterday, which illuminated the mindset of some atheists (some, mind you, not all).

Clive Staples Lewis

...there was one way in which the world, as Kirk's rationalism taught me to see it, gratified my wishes. It might be grim and deadly but at least it was free from the Christian God. Some people (not all) will find it hard to understand why this seemed to me such an overwhelming advantage.... I was... far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and feeling it something of an outrage that I had been created without my own permission. To such a craven the materialist's universe had the enormous attraction that it offered you limited liabilities. No strictly infinite disaster could overtake you in it. Death ended all. And if ever finite disasters proved greater than one wished to bear, suicide would always be possible. The horror of the Christian universe was that it had no door marked Exit.... But, of course, what mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness. No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference. But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer. If its picture were true then no sort of "treaty with reality" could ever be possible. There was no region even in the innermost depth of one's soul (nay, there least of all) which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice of No Admittance. And that was what I wanted; some area, however small, of which I could say to all other beings, "This is my business and mine only."
In this respect... I may have been guilty of wishful thinking. Almost certainly I was.
 How many people in the modern West can relate to Lewis' "deep-seated hatred of authority," his "monstrous individualism" and his "lawlessness" (this one last for many today, if not for Lewis himself, seems to be particularly a lawlessness in matters sexual)? How many despise the "Christian God" as the "transcendental Interferer" of Lewis' imagination? Perhaps, here we see one root of atheism - sin. Just as Adam and Eve immediately tried to hide themselves from God after their sin, so too many today wish that the Christian God doesn't exist as they attempt to hid themselves and their sins.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Spartacus Syndrome

Have you ever encountered the argument that seeks to undermine the Catholic claim to be the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church by saying "there are so many Christian denominations no one of them can possibly be the One True Church"? Or have you ever spoken to an atheist who made the similar claim, "there are so many world religions, therefore none are true"?

I call this particular fallacy, the "Spartacus Syndrome."

I am Spartacus!
"I am Spartacus!"

Have you ever seen the 1960 Kirk Douglas movie Spartacus? At the climatic ending of the film, Douglas, playing the titular hero Spartacus whose army of slaves has just been captured by the Romans, stands up and declares he's Spartacus even though admitting his identity means a hideous death. His followers all rise and, one by one, also claim to be Spartacus, each shouting out "I am Spartacus!." Of course, not all of the slaves were really Spartacus, but one of them, Kirk Douglas, actually was. It would be a logical error to conclude that no one is Spartacus just because they all claim to be. In much the same way, not all religions can be true and not every Christian group can be the one true Church, but it doesn't logically follow no religion is true or that no Christian group is the true Church. Concluding otherwise is just as wrong as concluding that none of the captured slaves was the real Spartacus.

In case you haven't seen the movie, here is the relevant clip:

The existence of contradictory truth claims doesn't mean that all those claims are false, just that some of them are. This can be easily demonstrated by looking at other fields were various truth claims compete. For centuries, there were people who believed the sun went around a still earth and others who believed the earth went around a still sun. While both of these claims can't be true, it doesn't follow that they both must be false. We can conclude that both could be false and that one and that both cannot be true, but it is possible that one is true and the other false. In this case, the Earth orbits the sun, not the other way around.

And this cosmological example shows us how to rationally deal with competing truth claims. We can't simply dismiss them. Just as a long time friend could have picked his way through the throng of slaves and identified the real Spartacus to the Romans in the movie, so too looking at the evidence for the various claimants to be the truth can also lead us to determine which one is really "Spartacus".

Monday, May 5, 2014

Who is Buried in Pope John XXIII's Tomb?

Tomb of Pope John XXIII, Florence Italy

Who is buried in Pope John XXIII's tomb? No, that isn't the start of a bad joke and the answer might surprise you because it is not "good Pope John," born Angelo Roncalli, and recently canonized. Buried this exquisite tomb, carved by Donatello, instead is Baldassare Cossa and how he got there is an interesting story, of which I'll only give a brief account here.

Cossa lived during a tempestuous time in the history of the Church, the "Great Schism". When the Babylonian Captivity (that period during which the popes ruled from Avignon, France instead of Rome) was ended by Gregory XI, who returned the Papacy to Rome, many French cardinals were not happy with the decision to return to the now dilapidated Eternal City. When Gregory died, the Roman people rioted in the streets, clamoring for the election of an Italian pope, which they got with the election of Urban VI. Upset by the prospects of permanently abandoning Avignon and disliking the ruling style of Pope Urban (it is said he had a rather quick temper), the French cardinals removed themselves to nearby Anagni and, apparently hoping for a mulligan, elected a Genevan cardinal to the papacy as Clement VII. Of course, the cardinals couldn't legitimately do this (it would be like trying to raise someone else to the See of Peter while Francis is still reigning), thus Clement was an anti-pope. This was the sad beginning of the "Great Schism" (not to be confused with the East-West Great Schism of the eleventh century).

Having two popes dividing Europe was, of course, quite a scandal. To end this mess, another group of cardinals met in Pisa and decided to oust the successors of both Clement VII and Gregory XI and elected a third man pope. Predictably, neither of the other two popes (one actually the pope, the other an anti-pope) recognized this illicit action (councils cannot depose popes), and the Church now had two anti-popes! Baldassare Cossa succeed to this second anti-papacy, the one that began at Pisa and took the name Pope John XXIII.

The Schism lasted only because the secular powers of the day used the division in the Church to their own ends, with Spain and France, hoping for the return of the papacy to Avignon, backing the anti-popes. Eventually, at the Council of Constance, one anti-pope agreed to abandon his claims to the papacy, a second anti-pope was excommunicated, and the legitimate pope abdicated, paving the way for Martin V to move the Church past the horrors of schism.

Today, Cossa is the best remembered of these anti-popes, thanks to his friendship with the powerful Florentine Medici family, who decided to commission Donatello to build a magnificent tomb for him, which calls him "Pope John XXIII."

Donatello tomb pope
Tomb of "John XXIII"
Angelo Roncalli (St. Pope John XXIII), of course, has his own tomb:

st pope john xxiii
Tomb of St Pope John XXIII

Friday, May 2, 2014

Is the Catholic Church Necessary for Salvation?

One common mistake people make in the spiritual life (and in life in general) is counting on being the exception, trying to ride the edge of the spiritual life, hoping not to fall off. Some will even suggest that the Church, at Vatican 2, endorsed this approach by teaching that all, or almost all, people will be saved.

cliff road

Let's take a close look at the words of the Second Vatican Council on salvation. From Lumen Gentium 14-16 (emphasis mine).

First, the Council Fathers looked at Catholics. What is the relationship between the Church and salvation for the Church's own children:
This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation.... 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.
That is pretty clear. First, the Catholic Church, as the Body of Christ, is necessary for salvation. Second, if you know this and either do not enter into the Church or leave the Church, you cannot be saved. Cannot. The Church doesn't get much clearer on damnation than that.

The Council Fathers then go on to answer the question, "who is in the Church" and to point out that not everyone in the Church is necessarily saved:
They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.... He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart."...
Being incorporated into the Church, then, is necessary for salvation, but isn't sufficient. We must also "persevere in charity" to be saved. You'll notice, contra what many Protestants want to believe, the Church does not mention "works". We cannot save ourselves through good works, but neither can we just pay lip service to accepting Jesus and live an unrepentant debauched life and expect to hear anything other than "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt 7:23)

The Council Fathers then go on to address the various ways Christians and non-Christians are related to the One True Church:
The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. ...Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power....

Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.... Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. ... But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature",the Church fosters the missions with care and attention. 
Paragraph 16 contains perhaps the most misunderstood part of the Church's teaching. No one will be damned for something that was beyond there control (something that is "through no fault of their own"). The Native Americans before the voyage of Columbus are a great example of people who knew neither Christ nor the Church He founded "through no fault of their own." This doesn't mean they were all automatically saved (the Council Fathers specially state that people in this position "often" are "deceived by the Evil One" and are heading on the path of destruction thanks to sin), but it does mean they were also not automatically damned simply for living in a part of the world in which the Good News hadn't been preached yet.

We can't assume that the people we meet are outside the Church "through no fault of their own" nor can we assume they are on the path to destruction. The safest place for all men to be is inside the Church, which is why "the Church fosters the missions with care and attention," but extra ecclessiam nulla salus isn't a reason to despair. We are supposed to live and propagate the faith like souls depended on it, while completely trusting that the mercy of God is greater than we can imagine.

No one demonstrates the mercy of God (and the justice of God) more than the great poet, Dante Alighieri. In Purgatorio we meet Manfred who's life mirrored that of his father, Frederick II, but who (unlike dad) is among the saved. How? He tells us,
Horrible were my sins,
but infinite Goodness with wide-open arms
received whoever turns to it. (3.121-123)
Developing this same theme, Buonconte (who's life also mirrored his damned father), tells us that though he lived a life of sin, at the last moment before his death, as he bleeds out on the battlefield, he found salvation. How?
I ended on the name of Mary and there I fell,
and only my flesh remained. (5.101-102)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Is God Catholic?

Q. You say that Catholicism is the one true religion. Does that mean that God is Catholic?

First lets define our terms, particularly "Catholic".

By canon law a "Catholic" is someone baptized into the Catholic Church. Let's look at the relevant canons:
Can. 204 §1. The Christian faithful are those who, inasmuch as they have been incorporated in Christ through baptism, have been constituted as the people of God. For this reason, made sharers in their own way in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal function, they are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each.

§2. This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him.

Can. 205 Those baptized are fully in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance.

God, obviously, isn't baptized into the Church, therefore He is not a Catholic.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a "Catholic" in paragraph 837 thus,

"Fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who - by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and communion - are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but 'in body' not 'in heart.'"

God would not be a "Catholic" by this definition either.

You are thinking of it a bit backwards. God isn't a part of the Church, the Church is, in a sacramental sense, a part of God (His Body). The Church is the Kingdom of God, the One True Religion, The Bride of Christ, and the People of God, but God is not a member of Her, rather she is journeying toward Him.

We can't say that God is Catholic, but we can truthfully say that God wants everyone (yes, that means you too) to be Catholic.

The Trinity Art
The Trinity by Masaccio (detail)