Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why Can't Dissenting Catholics Understand the Nature of the Church?

One of the major problems plaguing the Church in the Western world today is horrible (and I choose that word with precision) ecclesiology.  People just don't understand what the Church is and what it is here for, why Jesus bothered to found an everlasting institution rather than author a book. Even such fundamental questions such as "is the Church meant to reflect popular opinion or is she here to proclaim the same unchanging truth as she has for the last two millennia?" This underlying problem rises to the surface now and then, and has especially been so doing with the approaching Synod on the Family.

Recently, National "Catholic" Reporter (which isn't really Catholic in any meaningful way) featured an article that lamented that the Synod would be run by... gasp!... Catholics who have given their entire lives to studying, teaching, and proclaiming the teaching of the Church in the priesthood:
It is imperative, however, to first understand the culture in which the synod mentality is rooted As diverse as the issues and personalities involved in meetings of bishops from around the world, a common thread binds all of these gatherings. They have been, without exception, organized by, participated in and interpreted for the world by a tiny representation of humanity, celibate and exclusively male have been largely dedicated to maintaining the status quo in a very exclusive fraternity. (read the article HERE, or better yet HERE to watch Fr. Z dismantle it, piece by piece).
 This same fundamental misunderstanding of the mission of the Church, to proclaim the same teachings, the teachings of Jesus Christ, in every age - in season and out (cf. 2 Tim 4:2) lurks behind the head-scracthingly odd "counter-Synod" being held by Dignity USA “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates.” Dignity USA is upset with the instrumentum laboris (the document which will guide the discussions at the Synod) because it displays "“a rigid adherence to existing teaching” and “shows no openness to change in hurtful teachings.”"

They almost get it don't they? Almost, but not really. Yes, the Church won't, indeed can't, be open to change the teachings given to her by God incarnate, she lacks the authority to. The Church didn't create her teachings, has endured countless persecutions because of those teachings, and cannot ever change any of those teaching. The Church is a messenger, a proclaimer of the deposit of faith with which she has been entrusted. She isn't a think tank. She isn't a debating society. She isn't even a Protestant ecclesial community deciding to ignore this teaching, change that one, reinterpret another one, drop a handful of books from the Bible, etc. No. The Church exists to proclaim the truth handed over to her. Is she "ultra-conservative?" Not really, as political categories can never really capture her spirit and mission, but yes, she does seek to conserve the teaching entrusted to her by Christ. Is she "dedicated to maintaining the status quo" when it comes to those teachings? Ummm... yeah, that's kind of her job. Of course, we can gain a deeper and deeper understanding of those teachings (Newman's "development of doctrine") but the teachings never change. Does that mean she has "a rigid adherence to existing teaching?" Well, I think you can probably answer that for yourself by now.

Perhaps, no one summarizes the anger and frustration of these dissent Catholics (what were once called simply heretics) at realizing the Church isn't a sounding board for the cacophony that passes for modern thought and discussion, than Bill Donahue at the Catholic League,
They thought Pope Francis would usher in their dream—the Protestantization of the Catholic Church—but instead they have come to the conclusion that they will not get their way this fall. But only a baboon would have thought they were going to win in the first place. (source)
 Maybe it's time for these dissenting Catholics to remember what exactly the Church is here for. The Catechism of the Catholic Church summaries it nicely,
The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit... (688)
It is this, the "faith of the apostles" not the popular opinions of modernity (or any other age) which the Catholic Church is here to transmit. Once we understand that, everything else beings to fall into place.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

No God Equals No Love and No Morality

In Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic, The Brothers Karamozov, we encounter Ivan, an atheist of the old school - not the intellectually bankrupt "new atheism" that we heard Father Barron discussing on the blog yesterday. Ivan sees right through to the bottom of where atheism naturally must lead.
...if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism. That's not all.... for every individual... who does not believe in God or immortality, the moral law of nature must immediately be changed into the exact contrary of the former religious law, and that egoism, even to crime, must become, not only lawful but... inevitable...rational, even honorable... (pgs 72 - 73)
Great Russian Authors

Without religion, then, we see, in short order, the dismantling of love, and all morality. Indeed, the only possible good in such a bleak world would be self-interest pursued through whatever means necessary, including crime, even unto cannibalism if that floats one's boat. There can ultimately be no basis even for limiting the pursuit of animal pleasure to "not hurting anyone," for there can be no reason (save fear of punishment) for restraining oneself even from hurting others, if that is what gets you your jollies or works to your best advantage.

Of course, this is the exact line of reasoning used by Radion Romanovitch Raskolnikoff as a pretext for murdering the old pawn broker, Alena Ivanovna, in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. His best interest is to kill off the money lender to whom he owes a debt, knowing as he does that he can get away with and save himself the trouble of repaying the loan. The after effects of that fateful decision are enough to put the lie to the idea that there is no moral law for Raskolnikoff, thus showing the absurdity of such a position.

Sadly, however, our society seems deaf to these warnings. We've embraced irreligion as our religion and, as anyone with access to the internet can easily see, we are now beginning to witness the predicted consequences of public disbelief. More and more disordered and evil acts become first legal, then celebrated, then a right - we only need to think here of in utero infanticide or sodomy, divorce, and pornography - as we see first hand "the moral law of nature... immediately... changed into the exact contrary" of previous moral law.  As we continue headlong down this alleyway, we'll soon enough get to the point where "every living force maintaining the life of the world (will) be dried up."

Luckily, societies, as well as individuals, can turn back; can repent and believe in the Gospel. That turning back, "conversion", starts, my friends, with you and me. May God give us the strength to do so, even against the prevailing trends of society.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"New" Atheism and the "YouTube Heresies"

Today, I'd like to combat some of the copious amounts of misinformation that exists on the internet regarding Catholicism, Christianity, and theism in general by sharing a few sage words by one of Catholicism's great teachers, Father Robert Barron (check him out over at Word on Fire).

In this first brief video clip, Father looks at what is sometimes styled the "new" atheism, although the only thing that seems terribly "new" about it is its lack of intellectual depth vis-vis the "old" atheism or Catholicism.

And, for good measure, here is Father Barron discussing the "YouTube Heresies," basically silly things people on YouTube believe about Catholicism that couldn't be further from the truth. If you're a Catholic and you've spent any amount of time online speaking with atheists (or even non-Catholic Christians, in some cases), you've encountered all of these. I know I certainly have. If you're not a Catholic, take a listen and see how many of these fallacious ideas have crept into your thinking when it comes to the Church.

Which comes in two parts

What common misunderstandings of the Faith and religion in general do you come across on the internet?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

ALL Things in Your Life Work for the Good

In the second reading today we heard St Paul proclaim,
We know that all things work for good for those who love God,who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8)
It's probably easy for us to hear these words at Mass and kent them pass over us as blandly spiritual, as something we half-concisously nod our heads at without really thinking about them or internalizing them. If we ponder them at all, and most of us probably don't, we might be tempted to think, "easy for him to say, try living my life! I've got real problems!" We might want to brush St. Paul off as an overly pious devotee trying to put the best spin on things. Surely, we mig think,my here words can't apply to someone like me, someone with real problems. In case any of you might be thinking that, I thought a quick reminder of St. Paul's life might be in order:

  • Born into a wealthy family, would live most of his life in poverty preaching the Gospel
  • Given a world class education to become a "Pharisee of Pharisees," only to become a Christian, a sect despised by the Pharisees
  • Hunted and killed Christians, only to learn he was persecuting God Himself
  • Temporarily blinded
  • Stoned
  • Scourged multiple times
  • Went without food or drink for extended periods
  • Founded many Christian communities, only to witness their constant bickering and infighting
  • Imprisoned
  • Shipwrecked
  • Spent two years in chains
  • Beheaded admits a persecution that saw many of his friends also killed
As you read over that list of tragic misfortunes, remember this is the man who so confidently proclaimed "all things work for good for those who love God." We all face various struggles in life, some of us more than others and few of us as many as St Paul did. Do you really believe all things, including those let downs and tragedies in your life, work for your ultimate good, as St. Paul teaches us? 

St Paul with Sword
St. Paul, pray for us who struggle!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Our World is "Enemy-Occupied Territory". Are YOU Ready to Fight?

I ran into this picture online:

Jesus vs Devil

And thought it was great. In fact, better than great. It perfectly sums up the religion of Manichaeism (related to Zoroastrianism). Manichaeism was a religion based on the idea of Dualism - that the world is governed by two equal powers, one evil and one good. Basically, dualists think there is a good god who is the source of good in the universe and an evil god who is the source of evil. Commonly, the "spiritual plane" is considered to be the creation of the good god, while the "physical plane" is the domain of the evil god. Manichaeans, because of this view, hated the physical and extolled the spiritual (this idea is still alive and well in "New Age" spiritualities, which are neither new nor products of our age). Manichaeans thus hated birth, it trapped another soul in a physical body, lauded suicide, were all for sex - as long as it was sterile (contraception, abortion, and homosexuality were fine, monogamous marriage was frowned upon), and basically had a very upside-down view of the world and morality. These two gods were equals and they battled eternally (for what reason, I'm not sure).

Sadly, some Christians are really semi-Manichaeans, like the creator of the image above. They think of Satan as if he was somehow an evil god, equal to and in combat with the True God. Of course, this isn't Christianity at all. If anyone is the good, yet equal, counterpart to Satan in orthodox, historic Christianity, it isn't Jesus, but St. Michael the Archangel, who cast Satan into hell during his rebellion against God. Satan is in no way the evil equal of God, who both created Satan and sustains him in existence. God isn't struggling against Satan, we are. Jesus isn't arm-wrestling Satan, we are (with His help, of course).

This all being said (and it is important to be clear on all of this), dualism (and the picture at the top of this post) doesn't have everything wrong. Like most popular theological errors, it has truth, but it has it has it out of proportion. There is a war in the universe. It is between good and evil, it just isn't the kind of war dualist thought it was. CS Lewis, the master apologist, points this out in his classic Mere Christianity:
...real Christianity (as distinct from Christianity-and-water) goes much near to Dualism than people think.... Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.
Enemy-occupied territory - that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. (pgs 45-46)
The real question then is, are you willing to enter the battle?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

5 Favorite Images of Mary Magdalene

Yesterday was the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene. In honor of this great saint (the "apostle to the apostles"), I want to share five of my favorite images of her. Saint Mary Magdalene, pray for us.

Alexander Ivanov

5. Appearance of Jesus Christ to Mary of Magdala 
by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1860) 
Ivanov manages to capture the moment Mary realizes the man she is speaking to isn't the gardener, but rather is her Lord raised gloriously back to life. Mary falls to her knees in both amazement and joy, while Christ tells her to not hold onto him for He still must return to the Father.

Maria Maddalena
4. Santa Maria Maddalena in Penitenza 
by Orazio Gentileschi (1615)
Here we encounter a popular theme in the depiction of Mary of Magdala, her repentance at her past sinful life (that of a prostitute). Gentileschi shows Mary gazing upon a Crucifix (the instrument by which she would be set free from her sins) as she kneels, barefoot, upon an altar like rock.

Mary Magdalene painting
3. Penitent Magdalene by El Greco (1590)
Working with the same theme and with the same traditional symbols (skull and crucifix), El Greco manages to probe even deeper into Mary's self abasement through his characteristic "mannerist" style.

2. Penitent Magdalene by Donatello (1450s)
I was fortunate enough to lay my eyes upon Donatello's famous woodcarving, Penitent Magdalene, on a trip to Tuscany. Here we see a woman totally dedicated to eradicating sin from her life. Clothed only in her own hair, weathered by years of repenting in the desert, Mary stands victorious, hands folded in prayer to her Lord.

antonio canvoa
1. Saint Mary Magdalen in Penitence by Antonio Canova (1790s)
Working with the same iconography as El Greco and Gentileschi, Antonio Canova shows Mary torn with despair over her past life. She stares down at a simple cross (without a corpus) which rests gently upon a human skull, a reminder of the fate Mary, you, and I will all sooner or later meet. This stands as my favorite image of the Magdalene as it calls me to examine my own conscience by reflecting on both my own mortality and on the price God was willing to pay to bring me home.


Saint Mary Magdalene,
woman of many sins, who by conversion
became the beloved of Jesus,
thank you for your witness
that Jesus forgives
through the miracle of love.

You, who already possess eternal happiness
in His glorious presence,
please intercede for me, so that some day
I may share in the same everlasting joy.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why Use Natural Family Planning?

Saw THIS on "The Catholic Mama" and had to share. It features real women giving their real reasons on why they choose to use the natural fluctuations in their fertility to "plan their families" rather than using the spiritually (and physically) harmful "pill." Why do I read "The Catholic Mama?" Well, I admit I usually don't, although maybe I should start, but this particular post features a particularly beautiful Catholic woman I am somehow lucky enough to be married to. Check them out and remember, the homosexual "marriage" movement would never have gotten off the ground if the culture hadn't first fell for the lie that sex and procreation ought to be separated.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Was Anyone Saved Before Gutenburg? A Question for Protestants.

I thought I'd end the week with a question for my Protestant brothers and sisters, something for them to think over this weekend. From Matthew Kelly's indispensable book Rediscover Catholicism (get your FREE copy HERE):
Today, our non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters place an enormous emphasis on reading and studying the Bible. And while I am in favor of both, it is critical that we do not lose sight of the fact that hundreds of millions of people came to know Christ without ever owning or studying the Bible. Many modern Christians make it sound like it is impossible to receive salvation without a Bible. If that were the case, what happened to the people who lived before the Bible was printed? (pg 228-229)
 We can easily forget what life was like for the vast majority of Christian history, before public libraries, before cheap paperbacks, before e-books, before the internet, before the printing press was invented, before mass literacy was achieved. For most of Christian history the overwhelming majority of people couldn't read. Those who could read couldn't afford to purchase a hand-copied manuscript of the Bible (books being among the most expensive things people could buy). How then were these souls saved? It is with this in mind, what Kelly calls "the gap in most Protestants' understanding of Christian history", that the doctrine of sola scriptura becomes an absurdity. It is with this in mind, that one can understand why no one, before Gutenberg printed the first Bible in the 1440's, ever based Christianity on "the Bible and the Bible alone." With this in mind, we can better understand why Christianity is not "a religion of a book" but is a religion of the Word, the Word made flesh, the Word who speaks through the Apostle's and their successors in the Church He founded nearly 2,000 years ago. It is through the preaching, teaching, passion plays, and art that the Catholic Church taught the Bible to all those faithful men and women who lived, worshiped, and died before Luther and his revolution. It is through the hard work of the Catholic Church that the Bible was assembled, the books of the Bible decided upon, and that the Bible was preserved for so many centuries.

So the next time you, my dear separated brothers and sisters, open your Bible, remember you owe everything you take for granted to the Catholic Church.

Catholic Church
St. Peter's Basilica

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets, A Catholic Carnival

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

5 Important Christological Errors. Are YOU a Heretic?

Catholicism ultimately isn't a religion of "rules and regulations" (as important as those can be). Rather, it ultimately is about a relationship, a relationship with Jesus Christ. Because our Faith is ultimately not about a way of knowledge or a style of life (again important as those are), but about a person, who that person is, is the most important question of all. Thus, the early Christians, the first Catholics, unlike the early Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, or even Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, or Anglicans argued viciously against any corruption of the orthodox understanding of who the founder of the Church (Jesus) is. These early battles were all won, but the ideas linger yet. Let's look over the five most important Christological errors from the early Church. As you read these, ask yourself, is this what I believe? If so, you might be a heretic.

5. Adoptionism
Under this view, Jesus of Nazareth was born an ordinary man and lived an ordinary (albeit sinless) life until His Baptism when He was adopted as the Son of God. Under this view, the "lost years" of Jesus were "lost" because they were unremarkable and unimportant. This view, also known as "dynamic monarchianism" was roundly condemned by the Nicaea 1 (AD 325).

4. Modalism
Modalists reject the Trinity, believing instead in one God who is one Person, but who shows Himself in three "modes" - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Explanations of the Trinity that compare God to a man who is simultaneously father, son, and husband or that compare God to water which is ice, steam, and liquid fall into the heresy of modalism. This heresy is also known as Sabellianism (after a priest who popularized it in the third century), Patripassianism (after the implication that God the Father (pater in Latin) suffered on the Cross, and modal Monarchianism.

3. Nestorianism
Named for a patriarch of Constantinople (Nestorius), this heresy sought to separate Christ into two persons, one divine and one human. This led these heretics to reject Mary's traditional title Theotokos (Mother of God), as they claimed that Mary was only the mother of the human person Jesus and not of the eternal Second Person of the Trinity. Some Protestants today have revived this heresy, which was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (AD 431), and refuse to call Mary the Mother of God.

2. Monophysitism
The other side of the coin from Nestorianism, monophysities claimed that in Christ (who they recognized as one Person) there exists only one divine/human nature. Some monophysities thought of this nature as a hybrid, a cross between the divine nature and human nature, frequently comparing Christ's human nature to a drop of liquid being completely swallowed up by the sea. This heresy was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451).

1. Arianism
The biggest and most successful heresy that attacked the ancient Catholic Church, Arianism (named after a Egyptian priest) taught that there was a time when Christ didn't exist. They believed that Jesus, while the highest of all created beings, was just another created being, rejecting His divinity. The Jehovah Witnesses have resurrected this ancient heresy, which was condemned by the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325).

All of these heresies are alive and well in these latter days, some being officially taught by various non-Catholic Christian groups, others being held more or less privately by various Christians. One of the reasons why we still recite the ancient Creed first formulated at Nicaea 1 in AD 325 at every Sunday Mass is to make certain each and every Catholic is aware of who exactly Jesus Christ is. In short, we confess to believe that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity (which is three persons, but only one God, all sharing one Divine Nature). Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, having two natures (human and divine) in which His one person can operate. This means Jesus can do divine things (like creating) through His eternal divine nature and human things (like dying) through His human nature. Being both fully human and fully divine, Jesus (and Jesus alone) can save us by repairing the relationship between God and man which was broken by Adam and Eve.


Jesus Christ, true God and true man, save us sinners!

Monday, July 14, 2014

7 Reasons We Need the Church and the Bible

Q. What's the deal with you Catholics. Don't you know listening to the Church is just listening to the traditions of man! If you want to be a better Christian, don't listen to the Church, listen to Jesus! Read the Bible, that is all a Christian needs.

I appreciate your comment. Your opinion is widely held in the Protestant world, but there are a few small things you might be overlooking.

1) Jesus didn't write a book, He founded a Church (cf. Matt 16:18). 

2) In fact, He never even commanded His disciples to write a book (or anything else for that matter) and most of them didn't. Instead, Jesus commanded them to celebrate the Eucharist (cf. Lk 22:19) and to make disciples of all nations (cf. Matt 28:19), all of which Jesus wants in His One Church (cf. Jn 17:20-23). 

3) This Church He founded is a visible body (cf. Col 1:24). It is His Body (ask yourself was Jesus' Body invisible?) not His Spirit or Soul. Bodies are visible. You can touch them and easily identify them. These characteristics must be true of Jesus' Church if it is His Body.

4) This Church teaches with the very authority of Jesus (cf. Lk 10:16). His Church isn't just for fellowship, it is empowered with His authority, both on Heaven and Earth (cf. Matt 18:18).

5) Indeed, this Church Jesus founded is the very "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). That's right, the Church, not the Bible, is the pillar of the truth, according to the Bible.

6) This Church Jesus founded continues to exist (cf. Matt 16:18) and is lead by the successors of the apostles (cf. Acts 1:12-26). That's right, the apostles were empowered by Jesus to choose other men to become apostles (what they called "Episkopos" (elders) which is translated into English as "Bishop").

7) Finally, while reading the Bible is a great practice (I recommend daily Scripture reading for all Christians), you have to realize it was never meant to be read and privately interpreted. The Bible was written by Jesus' Church for Jesus' Church, by the People of God for the People of God. Reading it in opposition to "listening to a Church" is itself a "tradition of man" and is explicitly condemned by the Bible (cf. 2 Pet 1:20). Remember it was the Church (the Catholic Church) that, as a matter of historical record, decided which books belonged in the Bible. If it wasn't for the Church, the Catholic Church, you wouldn't even have a Bible to read.

All of this isn't to say the Bible is less important than you think it is. It is more important. So important, in fact, that God gave us not just a book, but the author of the book as an infallible teacher to guide His people through the centuries. Let's not drift into false dichotomies, "Bible vs. Church". It's not an either/or, it's both/ and. In fact, if you get rid of the authority of the Church, you'll soon find yourself without much of a reason to trust Scripture either.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Did the Early Christians Practice "Open Commuion?"

One of the more controversial teachings of the Catholic Church (and one not shared by many, if any, Protestant denominations) is what is called "closed Communion." This is the practice whereby only Catholics in a state of grace may receive Communion during the Mass. While this teaching might sound harsh, it dates back to the very beginnings of the Church and is a necessary consequence of taking Jesus at His word when He said, "this is my body" (not "this isn't my body, its just an oddly chosen symbol"). The earliest Christians were very vigilant in making clear this perennial teaching of historic, orthodox Christianity. Indeed, the early Christians, much like Catholic priests and bishops today, were even instructed to "drive off" notorious (i.e. public) sinners (as they are today, see Canon 915). One such man, St. John Chrysostom, born in the mid-fourth century, gave a striking homily bringing out just these points. Let's listen in (emphasis mine).
These things I say to you that receive, and to you that minister. For it is necessary to address myself to you also, that you may with much care distribute the gifts there. There is no small punishment for you, if being conscious of any wickedness in any man, you allow him to partake of this table. His blood shall be required at your hands. (Ezekiel 33:8)...  You, if you were entrusted to keep a spring of water clean for a flock, and then were to see a sheep having much mire on its mouth, you would not suffer it to stoop down unto it and foul the stream: but now being entrusted with a spring not of water, but of blood and of spirit, if you see any having on them sin, which is more grievous than earth and mire, coming unto it, are you not displeased? Do you not drive them off? And what excuse can you have?
For this end God has honored you with this honor, that you should discern these things. This is your office, this your safety, this your whole crown, not that you should go about clothed in a white and shining vestment.
And whence know I, you may say, this person, and that person? I speak not of the unknown, but of the notorious.
Shall I say something more fearful.... For he that has fallen into sin and draws near, is worse than one possessed with a devil. For they, because they are possessed are not punished, but those, when they draw near unworthily, are delivered over to undying punishment....
Let no one communicate who is not of the disciples. Let no Judas receive, lest he suffer the fate of Judas. This multitude also is Christ's body. Take heed, therefore, you that ministerest at the mysteries, lest you provoke the Lord, not purging this body. Give not a sword instead of meat....
But if you dare not to do it yourself, bring him to me; I will not allow any to dare do these things. I would give up my life rather than impart of the Lord's blood to the unworthy; and will shed my own blood rather than impart of such awful blood contrary to what is meet.
But if any has not known the bad man, after much inquiry, it is no blame. For these things have been said about the open sinners. For if we amend these, God will speedily discover to us the unknown also; but if we let these alone, wherefore should He then make manifest those that are hidden.
But these things I say, not that we repel them only, nor cut them off, but in order that we may amend them, and bring them back, that we may take care of them. For thus shall we both have God propitious, and shall find many to receive worthily; and for our own diligence, and for our care for others, receive great reward; unto which God grant we may all attain by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory world without end. Amen. (Homily LXXXII on the Gospel of Matthew)
The early Church practiced the same general guidelines in the centuries immediately following the life of Christ as it does today. The idea of an "open communion" of "merely symbolic" bread and wine to demonstrate "table fellowship" was unheard of and would have been considered sacrilegious and heretical. Our Catholic discipline surrounding reception of the Eucharist may not be presently popular, but it is the practice of the Church from the beginning.

John Chyrsostom
St. John Chrysostom, pray for us!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Is Drunkenness a Sin? 3 Bible Verses that Say "YES!"

Yesterday, we looked at 5 Bible Verses showing that God has no problem with moderate alcohol use. In fact, the Bible tells us to "stop drinking only water" and to "enjoy wine with a joyous heart". While it is good to reflect upon those verses to avoid the errors of some non-Catholic Christians, it is also necessary to realize that drunkenness (i.e. the overindulgence of alcohol) is indeed condemned by the Bible. Here are three balancing verses to remind us to enjoy our wine with a joyous heart in moderation only.

1. Ephesians 5:18
It was in a letter to Timothy that Saint Paul wrote "stop drinking only water and use a little wine" (1 Tim 5:23). Here in Saint Paul's letter to the Ephesians we see a more direct command emphasizes the "little" part of that advice.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (Eph. 5:17-18)

2.  Isaiah 5:22
In the fifth chapter of the Book of Isaiah God, speaking through his prophet, launches into a list of condemnations, declaring "woe to those who..." and running through a variety of sins. One of these is overindulgence in alcohol.
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks (Is 5:22)

3. Proverbs 20:1
One of the best places to turn to for advice in our struggles is the Book of Proverbs. In the twentieth chapter of that book we read this sage advice,
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. (Prov 20:1)

What Does St. Thomas Aquinas Have to Say?
So while God doesn't condemn the use of any and all alcohol in the Bible, He does condemn overindulging in alcoholic drinks to the point of drunkenness. This leads the Catholic Tradition to allow for moderate use of drink, but not for drunkenness. St. Thomas Aquinas treats drunkenness in Question 150 of the Second Part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae.
The sin of drunkenness, as stated in the foregoing Article, consists in the immoderate use and concupiscence of wine. Now this may happen to a man in three ways. First, so that he knows not the drink to be immoderate and intoxicating: and then drunkenness may be without sin, as stated above. Secondly, so that he perceives the drink to be immoderate, but without knowing it to be intoxicating, and then drunkenness may involve a venial sin. Thirdly, it may happen that a man is well aware that the drink is immoderate and intoxicating, and yet he would rather be drunk than abstain from drink. Such a man is a drunkard properly speaking, because morals take their species not from things that occur accidentally and beside the intention, but from that which is directly intended. On this way drunkenness is a mortal sin, because then a man willingly and knowingly deprives himself of the use of reason, whereby he performs virtuous deeds and avoids sin, and thus he sins mortally by running the risk of falling into sin. For Ambrose says: "We learn that we should shun drunkenness, which prevents us from avoiding grievous sins. For the things we avoid when sober, we unknowingly commit through drunkenness." Therefore drunkenness, properly speaking, is a mortal sin.
Thus, getting deliberately drunk is mortally sinful (and therefore reason to abstain from receiving the Eucharist until first going to Confession. Remember, mortal sins are those that, if not confessed, will send a soul to an eternity in Hell. Enjoy wine but do so in moderation.

Avoid Drunkenness

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is Drinking a Sin? 5 Bible Verses that Say "No!"

As Catholics we know there is nothing wrong with moderate consumption of alcohol (drunkenness is another issue to be looked at tomorrow). In fact, the holy thing we can possibly do (celebrate Mass) climaxes with Jesus becoming present among us precisely under the appearance of bread and wine. While many people in society think nothing of drinking, there are some Protestant Christians (Baptists, "Dry" Methodists) who condemn any consumption of alcohol as sinful. As these Christians come from a sola scriptura ("the Bible and the Bible alone") theological outlook, it might be helpful for Catholics, especially those living in the South, to have a few Bible verses handy for encounters with these Protestants. Here are my top five (two from the Old Testament, three from the New):

1. Genesis 27:25
Issac, before giving the blessing of the covenant to his son Jacob (thinking he is Esau) drinks game and wine 
And he said, "Are you really my son Esau?" And he said, "I am." So he said, "Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son's game, that I may bless you." And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, "Please come close and kiss me, my son."Then he said, "My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing." Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. (Gen 27:24-25)
2. Ecclesiastes 9:7
Isaac of course was a holy man, a patriarch of the Old Covenant, but perhaps our Southern Baptist brothers will suggest that he sinned when he drank the wine before imparting his blessing. Here in Ecclesiastes chapter 9 we see that God Himself approves of drinking wine
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.  Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.  Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)
3. Luke 7:34
That, of course, was the Old Testament. Jesus, our Baptist brethren might reply, certainly wouldn't want us drinking alcohol! Then again...
Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Luke 7:31-35)
4. John 2:2-10
The Wedding at Cana. Jesus first miracle. He turns a non-alcoholic beverage (water) into an alcoholic beverage (wine). Not just any wine either, the best wine of all.
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so,  and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. (John 2:1-12)
5. 1 Timothy 5:23
St. Paul writing to Timothy tells him to drink wine. Period.
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23)
So the Bible tells us to stop "drinking only water" and to instead "drink wine with a joyous heart" just like Isaac and Jesus Himself. Of course, the Catholic Church has taught this all along, which is why

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

One Communion is Worth More than Everything in the World

As the end of human life is two fold (giving glory to God and saving our souls) and as the Blesseds and Saints of the Church are the shining exemplars of real men and women who have attained these ends, it is best, from time to time, to sit and reflect upon the lives and thoughts of these heroes of the Faith. Much as an aspiring basketball player might watch tape of LeBron James or an aspiring cellist might listen to hours of Yo-Yo Ma, we Catholics (and indeed all men) should reflect upon those who've gone before us successfully navigating the treacherous waters of life to arrive at the eternal port from which we will never wish to sail forth again.

One such man is Blessed Charles de Foucauld. His reflection on the importance of the Eucharist and of Communion with Christ under the species of bread and wine, should be something all Catholics should be able to read with a knowing longing in their hearts.
...remember that Mass is both Christmas and Calvary. A single Mass gives more glory to God than the martydom of the whole of humanity, united with praises of all the angels and the saints. 
Quite a claim, this. How can de Foucauld make such a claim? By simply remembering what the Eucharist is, or rather who the Eucharist is.
Where you have the Blessed Sacrament, there you have the living God, the Saviour, as really as when he was living in Galilee and Judea, as really as when he is now in heaven.
Which is why de Foucauld (and all the blessed in Heaven) hate sin (while loving sinners). Sin separates us from God and His Love. Sin separates us from the Eucharist, turning Communion from a blessing into a curse for those who knowingly approach in a state of mortal sin. De Foucauld goes as far as saying,
Never lose a Communion by your own fault. Communion is more than life, more than all the goods of this world, more than the entire universe. It is God Himself, it is Jesus.
I pray that the next time you, my dear reader, are tempted to sin you can recall those words of Blessed Charles de Foucauld and that you can decide to prefer Christ to any worldly attachment or sin. I also ask that you pray the same for me.

Kyrie eleison.

Catholic Saints
Charles de Foucauld, pray for us

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why Do Catholics Wear a Crucifix Rather than an Empty Cross?

Most Catholics, at least those who regularly interact with Protestants and who wear a Crucifix, have dealt with the objection that we somehow are ignoring the Resurrection by portraying the Crucifixion.These Protestants demand to know why we don't wear an empty cross instead, which they contend symbolizes Jesus Raised from the dead. Of course, the empty cross is no such symbol (the cross was empty while Jesus was dead, the empty tomb perhaps would be a symbol of the Resurrection, not the empty cross). While I frequently quote scripture in such circumstances (especially 1 Cor 2:2 - " I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified"), I know of no better answer than that given by the inimitable G.K. Chesterton:
The kind of Evangelical who demands what he calls a living Christ must surely find it difficult to reconcile with his religion an indifference to a Dying Christ; but anyhow one would think he would prefer it to a Dead Cross. To salute the Cross in that sense is literally to bow down to wood and stone; since it is only an image in stone of something that was made of wood. It is surely less idolatrous to salute the Incarnate God or His image; and the case is further complicated by the relation of the image to the other object. If a man were ready to wreck every statue of Julius Caesar, but also ready to kiss the sword that killed him, he would be liable to be misunderstood as an ardent admirer of Caesar. If a man hated to have a portrait of Charles the First, but rubbed his hands with joy at the sight of the axe that beheaded him, he would have himself to blame if he were regarded rather as a Roundhead than a Royalist. And to permit the engine of execution, while forbidding a picture of the victim is just as strange and sinister in the case of Christ as in that of Caesar. (Autobiography of GK Chesterton)
 Next time you are confronted by this question (you do wear a Crucifix, right?), remember the words of Chesterton and the absurdity of the Protestant position.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What Can Art Teach Us About the Goodness of Life in the Midst of Suffering?

In the following video clip from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Louis Bosco (who I taught under at St. Alphonsus Parish in Pittsburgh) uses the art of a local Pittsburgh woman to delve into the continued goodness of life even when confronted with death and suffering. Definitely worth your four and a half minutes.

The entire hour and a half talk, entitled "Images of the Unseen: The Mysteries of Life Revealed in Sacred Art" is also worth your time if you enjoyed that clip: