Friday, January 31, 2014

Why Do Catholics Have a Bible at All?

QUERY: If the Magisterium of the Church is infallible, why do Catholics have a Bible at all? Why shouldn't they just be rid of it? What good is it to them? Can't they know everything through Tradition? It would seem there is no real role for the Bible at all, but we know the Bible is important, therefore the Magisterium must not be infallible, which means Protestantism is (at it's core) right.

The Holy Bible

This argument has a hidden premise, which is the causing confusion and leading to a fallacious conclusion. The argument is assuming the Protestant view of the Bible, that the Bible exists to be a regula fidei, a rule of faith. Again, this argument assumes, doesn't prove, that this is true and then asks, if the Church is the pillar of truth why do we need the Bible (another pillar of truth).

But this view of the Bible is exactly what Catholics and Protestants differ on. The Church doesn't understand the Bible to be a rule of faith nor does the Church see the Bible as being opposed to Tradition. The Bible is simply the written portion of Tradition. The role of the Church is akin to that of the Supreme Court, it interprets Sacred Tradition - both oral and written (i.e. the Bible). Just as it is supremely absurd (bad pun, I know) to claim that the existence of a written Constitution makes the organ that interprets it (the Supreme Court) redundant, so to it is absurd to claim that the written portion of Sacred Tradition makes the interpreter of Tradition redundant or for that matter that the interpreter makes the Constitution redundant!

Protestants are to be loudly commended for loving, reading, and studying the Bible. Unfortunately, because of the bad theology of their distant fore-bearers, they try to make the Bible do the job Christ assigned to the Church, i.e. being the pillar the truth (cf. 1 Tim 3:15)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Kerygma - The Least Every Catholic Needs to Know

When called to give a brief account of my Catholic Faith, here is what I go with. It is the basic core of what we believe as Catholics, what is called the "Kerygma." You'll find slightly different lists with different emphases out there, but here is what I go with. I back up each point with a scripture verse for apologetic reasons.

1) God loves us all (Rom 5:8) and wants all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4)

2) But we all have sinned (1 Jn 1:8) & and wages of sin is death (Rom 6:2) and separation from God (Mt 7:23)

3) Christ died for us so we can live forever with Him (1 Cor 15:3-8). He paid the price none of us could.

4) This demands a response from us. We must Repent of our sins and and Believe in the Gospel (Mk 1:15)

5) But this is not the end, it is just the beginning of life in Christ, who we must abide in (Jn 15:5) by being apart of the One Church He founded - the Catholic Church - on Peter (Mt 16:18), the Apostles (Mt 18:18) and their successors (Acts 1:20) until the end of the world (Mt 28:20)

6) We do this by obeying Christ's teaching (Jn 14:21), the teaching of the Church (Lk 10:16) and by receiving the Sacraments, especially Baptism to enter the Body of Christ (Acts 2:38), the Eucharist to remain in the Body of Christ (Jn 6:53-54), and Confession to be rid of our sins (Jn 20:23). 

A shorter version (without quoting) Scripture would be:

1) God loves everyone
2) We all have sinned
3) God became man and died for us in Jesus Christ
4) We must repent and believe to accept God into our lives
5) That's not the end! We must abide in Christ and His Holy Church
6) We do this by obeying Christ's teachings and living a Sacramental life

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

John Adams Goes to Mass

The second president of the United States, John Adams, was a devout Christian man and certainly deserves to be better remembered for his heroic work in the Continental Congress leading up to the establishment of this nation. However, he shared the low view of Catholicism common throughout the thirteen colonies that later formed the USA. In fact, one of the major causes of the Revolution was the passage of the Quebec Act in 1774, which guaranteed the right of Catholics in Quebec to say the Mass, a right Catholics did not have in the American colonies, except as Old St. Joseph's Church in Philadelphia.

It was at this church that Mr. Adams, when in the city of brotherly love for the First Continental Congress, decided to go to a Mass. His written description of the Mass as celebrated in America in 1774 is well worth reading as a reminder that tension between America and Catholicism is nothing new (emphasis mine):

Young John Adams

This afternoon, led by curiosity and good company, I strolled away to mother church, or rather grandmother church. I mean the Romish chapel. I heard a good, short moral essay upon the duty of parents to their children, founded in justice and charity, to take care of their interests, temporal and spiritual. This afternoon’s entertainment was to me most awful and affecting; the poor wretches fingering their beads, chanting Latin, not a word of which they understood; their pater nosters and ave Marias; their holy water; their crossing themselves perpetually; their bowing to the name of Jesus, whenever they hear it; their bowings, kneelings and genuflections before the altar. The dress of the priest was rich white lace. His pulpit was velvet and gold. The altar-piece was very rich, little images and crucifixes about; wax candles lighted up. But how shall I describe the picture of our Savior in a frame of marble over the altar, at full length, upon the cross in the agonies, and the blood dropping and streaming from his wounds! The music, consisting of an organ and a choir of singers, went all the afternoon except sermon time, and the assembly chanted most sweetly and exquisitely.
Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination–everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell. Adieu.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Humble Liturgy

Humility is a virtue. One explicitly extolled by none less than Christ Himself, "Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."  (Matt 18:4) Thus, we all must strive to live humble lives. Our Holy Father, Francis, was done a great deal to emphasize this truth. As Catholics we know that the "source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen Gentium 11) is the Holy Eucharist, is the Mass. So, it follow, the Mass, the liturgy, ought to be humble. With that in mind I ask you is this a "humble liturgy?"

Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Is this?

Forma Extraordinaria

How about this?

Liturgical Abuse

Or this?

Liturgical Dance

Which leads us to ask, what does a humble liturgy look like? Does it express the local culture? Does it transcend local cultural? Can it dare to be "solemn"?

I know of no better answer to this paradox than one given by CS Lewis. Lewis wasn't speaking directly about the Catholic Mass, rather he was speaking about epic poetry (specifically Milton's Paradise Lost), but his point is relevant to any solemn undertaking. He pointed out these undertakings display

a quality ... which moderns find difficult to understand.... The quality will be understood by anyone who really understands the meaning of ... solemn... A great (M)ass by Mozart or Beethoven is as much a solemnity in its hilarious Gloria as in its poignant crucifixus est. Feasts are... more solemn than fasts... The very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of "solemnity".... In an age when everyone puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connexion with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess lead out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade, a major-domo preceding the boar's head at a Christmas feast - all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient.... The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility, rather it proves the offender's inability to forget himself in the rite... We moderns may like dances which are hardly distinguishable from walking.... Our ancestors did not. They liked a dance which was a dance, and fine clothes no one could mistake for working clothes, and feasts that no one could mistake for ordinary dinners (A Preface to Paradise Lost)
 And we might add liturgies which could not be mistaken for community gatherings.

Which leads us back to our original question, is it more humble to submit to the rite, to be absorbed in the rite, to "say the black and do the red", or is it more humble to impose our culture, our personality, our desires on that which has been handed down from the ages?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary (pt 2 of 2)

Yesterday, we began reading through the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Supremi Apostolatus Officio, in which Pope Leo encourages the faithful to ardently pray the holy Rosary. Today, let's finish looking at this important document...

5. Since, therefore, it is clearly evident that this form of prayer is particularly pleasing to the Blessed Virgin, and that it is especially suitable as a means of defence for the Church and all Christians, it is in no way wonderful that several others of Our Predecessors have made it their aim to favour and increase its spread by their high recommendations. Thus Urban IV, testified that "every day the Rosary obtained fresh boon for Christianity." Sixtus IV declared that this method of prayer "redounded to the honour of God and the Blessed Virgin, and was well suited to obviate impending dangers;" Leo X that "it was instituted to oppose pernicious heresiarchs and heresies;" while Julius III called it "the glory of the Church." So also St. Pius V., that "with the spread of this devotion the meditations of the faithful have begun to be more inflamed, their prayers more fervent, and they have suddenly become different men; the darkness of heresy has been dissipated, and the light of Catholic faith has broken forth again."…

6. Moved by these thoughts and by the examples of Our Predecessors, We have deemed it most opportune for similar reasons to institute solemn prayers and to endeavour by adopting those addressed to the Blessed Virgin in the recital of the Rosary to obtain from her son Jesus Christ a similar aid against present dangers. You have before your eyes, Venerable Brethren, the trials to which the Church is daily exposed; Christian piety, public morality, nay, even faith itself, the supreme good and beginning of all the other virtues, all are daily menaced with the greatest perils.

7. Nor are you only spectators of the difficulty of the situation, but your charity, like Ours, is keenly wounded; for it is one of the most painful and grievous sights to see so many soulssnatched from salvation by the whirlwind of an age of error, precipitated into the abyss of eternal death. Our need of divine help is as great today as when the great Dominic introduced the use of the Rosary of Mary as a balm for the wounds of his contemporaries.

8. That great saint indeed, divinely enlightened, perceived that no remedy would be more adapted to the evils of his time than that men should return to Christ, who "is the way, the truth, and the life," by frequent meditation on the salvation obtained for Us by Him, and should seek the intercession with God of that Virgin, to whom it is given to destroy all heresies. He therefore so composed the Rosary as to recall the mysteries of our salvation in succession, and the subject of meditation is mingled and, as it were, interlaced with the Angelic salutation and with the prayer addressed to God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We, who seek a remedy for similar evils, do not doubt therefore that the prayer introduced by that most blessed man with so much advantage to the Catholic world, will have the greatest effect in removing the calamities of our times also….

11. Encouraged by this hope, We beseech God Himself, with the most earnest desire of Our heart, through her in whom he has placed the fulness of all good, to grant you. Venerable Brethren, every gift of heavenly blessing. As an augury and pledge of which, We lovingly impart to you, to your clergy, and to the people entrusted to your care, the Apostolic Benediction.

Given in Rome, at St. Peter's, the 1st of September, 1883, in the sixth year of Our Pontificate.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary (pt 1 of 2)

Yesterday on the blog we looked at the Combat Rosary. Today, I thought we'd look back to Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio on Devotion to the Holy Rosary.


Venerable Brethren, Health and the Apostolic Benediction.

The supreme Apostolic office which we discharge and the exceedingly difficult condition of these times, daily warn and almost compel Us to watch carefully over the integrity of the Church, the more that the calamities from which she suffers are greater. While, therefore, we endeavour in every way to preserve the rights of the Church and to obviate or repel present or contingent dangers, We constantly seek for help from Heaven - the sole means of effecting anything - that our labours and our care may obtain their wished for object. We deem that there could be no surer and more efficacious means to this end than by religion and piety to obtain the favour of the great Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the guardian of our peace and the minister to us of heavenly grace, who is placed on the highest summit of power and glory in Heaven…

2. It has always been the habit of Catholics in danger and in troublous times to fly for refuge to Mary, and to seek for peace in her maternal goodness; showing that the Catholic Church has always, and with justice, put all her hope and trust in the Mother of God. And truly the Immaculate Virgin, chosen to be the Mother of God and thereby associated with Him in the work of man's salvation, has a favour and power with her Son greater than any human or angelic creature has ever obtained, or ever can gain. And, as it is her greatest pleasure to grant her help and comfort to those who seek her, it cannot be doubted that she would deign, and even be anxious, to receive the aspirations of the universal Church.

3. This devotion... to the august Queen of Heaven, has never shone forth with such brilliancy as when the militant Church of God has seemed to be endangered by the violence of heresy spread abroad, or by an intolerable moral corruption, or by the attacks of powerful enemies. Ancient and modern history...bear witness to public and private supplications addressed to the Mother of God, to the help she has granted in return, and to the peace and tranquillity which she had obtained from God.... There is none among you... who will not remember how great trouble and grief God's Holy Church suffered from the Albigensian heretics, who sprung from the sect of the later Manicheans... Our merciful God, as you know, raised up against these most direful enemies a most holy man, the illustrious parent and founder of the Dominican Order. Great in the integrity of his doctrine, in his example of virtue, and by his apostolic labours, he proceeded undauntedly to attack the enemies of the Catholic Church, not by force of arms; but trusting wholly to that devotion... of the Holy Rosary, which was disseminated through the length and breadth of the earth by him and his pupils ... (H)e foresaw that this devotion, like a most powerful warlike weapon, would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and mad impiety.…

4. The efficacy and power of this devotion was also wondrously exhibited in the sixteenth century, when the vast forces of the Turks threatened to impose on nearly the whole of Europe the yoke of superstition and barbarism. At that time the Supreme Pontiff, St. Pius V…strove…with the greatest zeal, to obtain for Christendom the favour of the most powerful Mother of God. So noble an example offered to heaven and earth in those times rallied around him all the minds and hearts of the age. And thus Christ's faithful warriors... proceeded undauntedly to meet their foe near the Gulf of Corinth, while those who were unable to take part formed a pious band of supplicants, who called on Mary, and unitedly saluted her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring her to grant the victory to their companions engaged in battle. Our Sovereign Lady did grant her aid...the Christian fleet gained a magnificent victory... in which the enemy were routed with great slaughter… Similarly, important successes were in the last century gained over the Turks at Temeswar, in Pannonia, and at Corfu; and in both cases these engagements coincided with feasts of the Blessed Virgin and with the conclusion of public devotions of the Rosary

Virgin Mary with Child

We'll finish looking at this important encyclical tomorrow on the blog. God bless!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Combat Rosary

Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

World War One Rosary 
World War One Combat Rosary

As hard as it might be to believe today, during the Great War the United States government produced and issued special "combat" rosaries for the spiritual welfare of Catholic soldiers. These rosaries were made to withstand the rugged reality of life in the trenches. Made of brass, washed in silver, and blued to darken the metal (to prevent them from making the soldiers easy targets) these rosaries were made to last. Instead of a traditional chain, the combat rosary featured a significantly stronger "pull chain" from which they are sometimes named.

Combat Rosary
Close up of the Crucifix

This rosary has an incredibly strong, rugged, masculine feel. It's definitely not your grandmother's rosary! While some companies, notably Church Militant, produce replicas of this fine rosary, I was lucky enough to receive an original 1916 military issue "combat rosary" as a gift recently from my father. I carry it in my pocket as my "daily rosary" to serve as a reminder that we (you and I dear reader) are engaged in a war much deadlier than even the height of the Great War, for we wage war, not against the powers of this world, but against "Satan and all his evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls" (St. Michael defend us!). We fight not against flesh and blood, but against those who would not seek to destroy the body, but to have our very souls cast into Hell.

What are we to do in a struggle with such a ferocious enemy? Fight with, and for, Christ. How can we do this? Through the Sacraments of the Church and through prayers and pious devotions (sacramentals), first among which is the Holy Rosary.

Endless are the saints and pontiffs who have exhorted Catholics to take up the Rosary. Here are a few quotes from Saint Josemaria Escriva on this most powerful of prayers:

opus dei founder
St. Josemaria Escrica,  pray for us!

The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you will be amazed at the results.
  - from The Way

For those who use their intelligence and their study as a weapon, the Rosary is most effective.
- from Furrow

You always leave the Rosary for later, and you end up not saying it at all because you are sleepy. If there is no other time, say it in the street without letting anybody notice it.
- from Furrow

the Holy Rosary... is a wonderful devotion which I will never tire of recommending to Christians everywhere.
- from Friends of God

So, friends, arm yourself with a combat rosary, or any rosary, and PRAY THE ROSARY!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

First Class Relics - Five Things to Know

QUERY: Relics, especially first-class relics (i.e. body parts of saints), freak me out! Are relics even mentioned anywhere in the Bible? It seems like a weird Medieval custom, can you explain how I can handle venerating them? Thanks! 

First Class Relic
Relic skull and reliquary of Saint Ivo of Kermartin (also St. Yves or St. Ives), (1253–1303) in Tréguier, Brittany, France

1) You don't have to venerate relics (of any class) or have any or view any as a Catholic. So, if it freaks you out, avoid them.

2) Not everything has to have a specific scriptural basis to be a valid and worthy practice. This is the error of sola scirptura which itself has no scriptural basis and is, thus, self refuting.

3) That being said, the practice of relics does have a scriptural basis. The bones of the prophet Elisha bring a dead man back to life in 2 Kings 13, a woman is cured by touching the hem of Jesus' robe in Matthew 9, the sick are cured when the shadow of Peter passes over them in Acts 5, and handkerchiefs that were touched to Paul's body both heal the sick and drive out demons in Acts 19.

4) Remember Catholicism is an incarnational religion - we worship the God who became flesh, i.e. took on matter. Gnosticism (which is present in much Protestant thinking) says that matter is evil and spirit is good. Many today at least believe that matter is indifferent to spiritual things. This isn't a Christian worldview. God created matter (cf. Gen 1), God loves matter. God uses matter to convey spiritual grace. The prime examples of this are the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, but other "sacramentals" including relics are based on the same reality.

5) Lastly, remember - a relic (or any sacramental) has no power of its own - that is magic and superstition and is clearly taught against by scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. God chooses to work miracles through matter, including through the relics of the saints, but the relics themselves can do nothing apart from the will of God. They merely are the instruments through which God freely chooses to convey His grace.

Monday, January 20, 2014

You Can't Legislate Morality... Can You?

How often do we hear it said that we "can't legislate morality"? That we can't "impose our values"? Most Americans take these statements for truisms. They are uncritically assumed to be true. Of course, Catholics are seen as the major violators of this unwritten rule. Again, the idea that we can't legislate morality is uncritically assumed to be true. Let's be a little more critical today and see if such an assumption is really worth making.

What is "law"?
First, we might do well to ask, what is the law for? Why have law at all? What is it meant to do? St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologiae, defines law as "an ordinance of reason made for the common good by him who has charge of the community, and promulgated." Thomas see's a good definition as containing all four of the "causes" - material (what something is made of), formal (the shape, concept, or idea of a thing), efficient (the maker of a thing), and final (the purpose of a thing, it's why). His definition of "law" follows this pattern, it breaks down thus:

Material Cause of Law - promulgated
Formal Cause of Law - an ordinance of reason
Efficient Cause of Law - by him who has charge of the community
Final Cause of Law - for the common good

According to this definition, can we legislate morality? Well, as long as such legislation is issued by a legitimate authority, is published for public knowledge, is reasonable, and is directed to the common good it would appear we could. In other words, there is nothing contradictory about legislating morality, there is nothing in the essence of what we mean by "law" that would prevent morals from being legislated.

At this point, an objector might say, "okay, we can legislate morality, but we shouldn't." Which brings us to the question, should we?

If we shouldn't legislate morality, what should we legislate?
Or, in other words, can we legislate anything other than morality? Everyone agrees that premeditated murder should be illegal. Why? Because willfully planning and killing an innocent person is... immoral.  Everyone agrees that rape should be illegal, that rapists should be imprisoned. Why? Again, because raping someone is... immoral. It's wrong. It's an evil thing to do. In fact, all laws are grounded in some morality. Speeding is against the law. Why? Because speeding needlessly endangers the lives and property of innocent people and endangering the lives and property of others is... immoral. Examples can be multiplied almost endlessly. In fact, if we can't (or shouldn't) legislate "morals" or "values" then we can't have any law at all! Only the most radical of anarchists (a very tiny percentage of the population) would condone getting rid of the law entirely.

Does anyone really believe that we can't legislate morality?
No, at least not anyone I've ever met or spoken to. What people really mean when they say "you can't legislate morality" or "you can't impose your values on someone else" is almost always, "you can't impose your (sexual) morality on someone else" and "you can't legislate (sexual) morality." No one ever says we can't legislate against other morally objectionable things. When have you heard someone throw up their hands and declare, "oh well, you can't legislate morality" when discussing murder? Or child abuse? Or even air pollution? When have you heard someone claim that we must not "impose our morality" on a thief?  No, it's only when it comes to sex that suddenly morality must not be legislated. Dr. Peter Kreeft once asked rhetorically, "If babies came from storks instead of from sex, how many abortions do you think there would be?" 

The next time someone tells you that we "can't legislate morality" or to not try to "impose your values" ask them if they are against punishing thieves, rapists, and murders. When they say no, ask them if they really are only talking about "sex" when they say "morality" and "values", then ask them why sexual morality ought to be treated differently than every other type of morality. If they answer that such acts should be treated differently, a real conversation can proceed without "you can't legislate morality" slogan being used to end discussion.

I answer an objection from the combox HERE

Friday, January 17, 2014

CS Lewis on Annihilationism

Over the last few posts (HERE and HERE) we've been examining the increasingly popular idea that the damned are not "in hell" as such, but are merely wiped out of existence, this is the doctrine of annihilationism. To end this series of posts, I'd like to turn to some thoughts on the matter by C.S. Lewis. His words show us that we can conceive of the damned being annihilated, but such a thought, when thought entirely through, leads us straight back to the traditional understanding of Hell. (bold mine, italics original).

Chronicles of Narnia

"Destruction...means the unmaking, or cessation, of the destroyed. And people often talk as if the 'annihilation' of a soul were intrinsically possible. In all our experience...the destruction of one thing means the emergence of something else. Burn a log, and you have gases, heat and ash. To have been a log means now being those three things. If soul can be destroyed, must there not be a state of having been a human soul? And is not that, perhaps, the state which is equally well described as torment, destruction, and privation? You will remember that in the parable, the saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all. To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter hell, is to be banished from humanity. What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is 'remains.'" (The Problem of Pain)

Lewis' insight here also helps us to understand how the saints in Heaven can (and do) enjoy their blessedness even though they know that the unrepentant are in Hell. The damned simply are no longer fully human, no longer human in a truly meaningful sense of the word. They are "remains." These remains, although they do indeed suffer, cannot spoil the joys of Heaven for the saved.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Can God Destroy our Immortal Souls?

Yesterday, we looked at some problems with the theory of the total destruction of wicked souls after death, annihilationism. Today, I want to look at a more specific sub-question of that conversation - Given that we have immortal souls, can God destroy them?

ARGUMENT: God is omnipotent, all-powerful. He, therefore, doesn't lack that power to destroy immortal souls. Thus, God could, if He so chose, destroy even immortal souls.

This understanding of omnipotence is incorrect, in as far as it assumes that "all-powerful" equals "can do anything." A better understanding of omnipotence equates "all-powerful" with "can do any possible thing." It is true that an all-powerful being (i.e. God) doesn't lack the power to do anything, but some things still can't be done even by God, not because He lacks the power (He lacks nothing), but because they are not doable things.

Logical contradictions are a prime example. It can't both rain and not rain at the same time in the same place in the same way. It's either 'x' or 'not x', it can't be both. Even an all-powerful being can't make both 'x' and 'not x' true simultaneous. Again, this isn't because the Almighty lacks the power to do it, but because it isn't a doable thing - it's sheer nonsense.

From the above, we can see why the answer is clearly "no." Immortal souls, by definition, cannot be destroyed. Therefore, saying immortal souls can be destroyed is the same as saying "souls that cannot be destroyed can be destroyed," an obviously meaningless contradiction. Such a meaningless statement isn't given meaning by adding the words "God can" in front of it. Thus, if people have immortal souls, and according to Christianity they do, then those souls can't be destroyed, even by God.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


 Many people find the Biblical idea of souls being eternally punished in the fires of Hell off putting. If they don't fall into the trap of Universalism (or it's close cousins "the reasonable hope that all will be saved"  and "maybe Hitler and Stalin are in Hell"), they might lean toward another strain of universalism, namely annihilationism.

What is Annihilationism?
 Simply put, the doctrine that those souls that are not saved are utterly destroyed so that no consciousness remains, indeed no trace of the damned soul remains. The attraction of this view is that no one suffers. It's a step child of universalism because annihilationism holds that all (of the souls that remain in existence) are saved. The problem with this view is that it runs counter to the clear teachings of Jesus Christ in the Bible, it would make Hell temporary (like purgatory) instead of eternal (as Scripture clearly says it is), and it makes no sense of the immortality of the soul.

What did Jesus Say about Hell?
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells of the coming Judgement on the Nations when "the Son of man... will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." After the Son of man has finished this separation he will turn to those he's placed on his left and say, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire..." But it is not just the fire that is eternal, so is the punishment, as we see in verse 46, "and they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Christ is telling us that not only are the fires of Hell eternal, but so is the length of the punishment of the wicked. For a Christian, that is the end of it. A Christian who doesn't believe Christ is a contradiction in terms, so His word is enough for us. For non-Christians we can look at what reason alone can tell us.

Can Reason Alone Tell Us the Soul in Immortal?
The Catechism of the Catholic, in paragraph 366 says that "every spiritual soul is...immortal; it does not perish when it separates from the body at death." Can we know this by reason? Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald Tacelli, in their great book Handbook of Christian Apologetics list twenty-five separate arguments for life after death. Let's looks briefly at three of them, two "secular" and one specifically Christian.

1. How could a mere mortal come up with the idea of immortality?
If the soul isn't immortal, how did anyone ever get the idea that it was? For that matter, how did everyone ever get the idea that it was? It would seem, granting the mortality of the soul, to be the most natural conclusion to think that, when someone died, they were simply gone. How odd it is that every culture, everywhere, at all times firmly believes that the soul survives the death of the body. Unless, it's true.

Some common answers to this question are: fear / wishful thinking and social / religious indoctrination. The latter of these answers, social or religious indoctrination, doesn't answer the question at all. It merely "passes the buck" backwards temporally. If most people believe in the immortality of the soul because someone else indoctrinated them, how did the indoctrinator come to believe in the immortality of the soul? If someone indoctrinated him, who indoctrinated the indoctrinator of the indoctrinator? This quickly gets us into an infinite regress.

The other common answer, fear / wishful thinking, looks more promising on the surface. If fear or wishful thinking is the cause, that is, if annihilation is just too terrifying to contemplate, then we must wonder why so many people believe in something so much more frightful, Hell. In fact, whole cultures have had a basically pessimistic notion of the Afterlife. Homer, reflecting the early ancient Greek view of life after death, has a telling scene in the Odyssey where Odysseus meets Achilles. Odysseus seeing the great warrior's shade in Hades says, "no one was ever yet so fortunate as you have been, nor ever will be, for you were adored by all us Argives as long as you were alive, and now that you are here you are a great prince among the dead. Do not, therefore, take it so much to heart even if you are dead." To which Achilles replies, "Say not a word in death's favor; I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man's house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead." We must ask, why would fear of annihilation or wishful thinking drive these cultures to believe in an afterlife worse than death?

Which puts us back to our original question, why does nearly everyone, everywhere (including the "sages" - the most brilliant thinkers of human history) believe that the soul survives death? The only rational answer seems to be, because it does.

2.  The Argument from the Soul's Simplicity
There are only two ways for something to be destroyed - decomposition or annihilation as a whole. Nothing just pops out of existence as a whole. So, if the soul is destroyed if must be decomposed. But the soul, unlike the body, is not made up of parts. We know this because it, by definition, does not take up space (if it did, it would be a body not a spirit). But what is not made up of parts cannot be broken into parts, it cannot decompose. If it cannot decompose, it cannot be destroyed by decomposition. If the soul cannot be destroyed as a whole or by being broken into parts and everything is either destroyed in these two ways, then the soul cannot be destroyed. It is immortal.

3. The Argument from God's Love
This one is very simple. Love does not destroy, it creates. God is the ultimate creator and the ultimate lover, in fact, God is love. Therefore, God wouldn't destroy our us, He would create us with an immortal soul.

Thus, we see, that annihilationism ultimately is rooted in the misguided, but well meaning desire to see no one suffer that most dreadful fate - Hell, but it stands up to neither reason nor revelation.

Over the next couple posts, we'll look at:

Can God Destroy Our Immortal Souls

CS Lewis on Annihilationism

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ineffabilis Deus. Pope Pius IX declares Mary Sinless (pt 2 of 2)

Today, we are continuing to look at Pope Pius IX's Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, part one can be read HERE.


The Annunciation
When the Fathers and writers of the Church meditated on the fact that the most Blessed Virgin was, in the name and by order of God himself, proclaimed full of grace by the Angel Gabriel when he announced her most sublime dignity of Mother of God, they thought that this singular and solemn salutation, never heard before, showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit. To them Mary is an almost infinite treasury, an inexhaustible abyss of these gifts, to such an extent that she was never subject to the curse and was, together with her Son, the only partaker of perpetual benediction. Hence she was worthy to hear Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, exclaim: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

Mary Compared with Eve
Hence, it is the clear and unanimous opinion of the Fathers that the most glorious Virgin, for whom "he who is mighty has done great things," was resplendent with such an abundance of heavenly gifts, with such a fullness of grace and with such innocence, that she is an unspeakable miracle of God -- indeed, the crown of all miracles and truly the Mother of God; that she approaches as near to God himself as is possible for a created being; and that she is above all men and angels in glory. Hence, to demonstrate the original innocence and sanctity of the Mother of God, not only did they frequently compare her to Eve while yet a virgin, while yet innocence, while yet incorrupt, while not yet deceived by the deadly snares of the most treacherous serpent; but they have also exalted her above Eve ...

Explicit Affirmation . . .
As if these splendid eulogies and tributes were not sufficient, the Fathers proclaimed with particular and definite statements that when one treats of sin, the holy Virgin Mary is not even to be mentioned; for to her more grace was given than was necessary to conquer sin completely.... And hence they affirmed that the Blessed Virgin was, through grace, entirely free from every stain of sin, and from all corruption of body, soul and mind; that she was always united with God... and that, therefore, she was entirely a fit habitation for Christ, not because of the state of her body, but because of her original grace.

. . . Of a Super Eminent Sanctity
...They testified, too, that the flesh of the Virgin, although derived from Adam (important to note that, although she wasn't stained by original sin, Mary is a daughter of Adam), did not contract the stains of Adam, and that on this account the most Blessed Virgin was the tabernacle created by God himself.... For it was certainly not fitting that this vessel of election should be wounded by the common injuries... In fact, it was quite fitting that, as the Only-Begotten has a Father in heaven, whom the Seraphim extol as thrice holy, so he should have a Mother (remember this is all about Christ) on earth who would never be without the splendor of holiness....

Preparation for the Definition
... from ancient times the bishops of the Church, ecclesiastics, religious orders, and even emperors and kings, have earnestly petitioned this Apostolic See to define a dogma of the Catholic Faith the Immaculate Conception of the most holy Mother of God. These petitions were renewed in these our own times; they were especially brought to the attention of Gregory XVI, our predecessor of happy memory, and to ourselves, not only by bishops, but by the secular clergy and religious orders, by sovereign rulers and by the faithful...

The Mind of the Bishops
Although we knew the mind of the bishops from the petitions which we had received from them, namely, that the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin be finally defined, nevertheless, on February 2, 1849, we sent an Encyclical Letter from Gaeta to all our venerable brethren, the bishops of the Catholic world, that they should offer prayers to God and then tell us in writing what the piety and devotion of their faithful was in regard to the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God (Francis isn't the first pope to "poll" the faithful nor the first to be "collegial")...

We were certainly filled with the greatest consolation when the replies of our venerable brethren came to us. For, replying to us with a most enthusiastic joy, exultation and zeal, they not only again confirmed their own singular piety toward the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, and that of the secular and religious clergy and of the faithful, but with one voice they even entreated us to define our supreme judgment and authority the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin...

The Definition the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."

Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

Hoped-For Results
Our soul overflows with joy and our tongue with exultation. We give, and we shall continue to give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord, because through his singular grace he has granted to us, unworthy though we be, to decree and offer this honor and glory and praise to his most holy Mother.... We have, therefore, a very certain hope and complete confidence that the most Blessed Virgin will ensure by her most powerful patronage that all difficulties be removed and all errors dissipated, so that our Holy Mother the Catholic Church may flourish daily more and more throughout all the nations and countries, and may reign "from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth," and may enjoy genuine peace, tranquility and liberty. We are firm in our confidence that she will obtain pardon for the sinner, health for the sick, strength of heart for the weak, consolation for the afflicted, help for those in danger; that she will remove spiritual blindness from all who are in error, so that they may return to the path of truth and justice, and that there may be one flock and one shepherd.

Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts and fears. Under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless.... Her pleas can never be unheard.

Given at St. Peter's in Rome, the eighth day of December, 1854, in the eighth year of our pontificate.
Pius IX

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ineffabilis Deus. Pope Pius IX declares Mary Sinless (pt 1 of 2)

Last time on the blog, we looked at some responses to a common objection to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Today, I wanted to take a look at the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, with which Blessed Pope Pius IX formally defined this dogma, using the ex cathedra power of the Roman Pontiff to infallibly define a teaching of the faith. (emphasis and comments mine).

Ineffabilis Deus

God Ineffable -- whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom "reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly" -- having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would result from the sin of Adam, decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the Word (The Immaculate Conception is all about Christ, as Pius makes clear in the very first sentence). This he decreed in order that man who, contrary to the plan of Divine Mercy had been led into sin by the cunning malice of Satan, should not perish; and in order that what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so loved her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.

Supreme Reason for the Privilege: The Divine Maternity
And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent (see Genesis 3:15).... It was she whom the Son himself chose to make his Mother...

Liturgical Argument
The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit of God, is the pillar and base of truth and has ever held as divinely revealed and as contained in the deposit of heavenly revelation this doctrine concerning the original innocence of the august Virgin (Pius isn't inventing the doctrine, he is simply formally defining what the Church has "ever held")-- a doctrine which is so perfectly in harmony with her wonderful sanctity and preeminent dignity as Mother of God -- and thus has never ceased to explain, to teach and to foster this doctrine age after age in many ways and by solemn acts. (This) was made very clear by the Church when she did not hesitate to present for the public devotion and veneration of the faithful the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. By this most significant fact, the Church made it clear indeed that the conception of Mary is to be venerated as something extraordinary, wonderful, eminently holy, and different from the conception of all other human beings -- for the Church celebrates only the feast days of the saints....

Ordinary Teaching of the Roman Church
These truths, so generally accepted and put into practice by the faithful, indicate how zealously the Roman Church, mother and teacher of all Churches, has continued to teach this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. Yet the more important actions of the Church deserve to be mentioned in detail. For such dignity and authority belong to the Church that she alone is the center of truth and of Catholic unity. It is the Church in which alone religion has been inviolably preserved and from which all other Churches must receive the tradition of the Faith....


The Roman Doctrine
...our predecessors, the Roman Pontiffs... while directing all their efforts toward an increase of the devotion to the conception, made it their aim not only to emphasize the object with the utmost zeal, but also to enunciate the exact doctrine. Definitely and clearly they taught that the feast was held in honor of the conception of the Virgin.... Hence the words of one of our predecessors, Alexander VII (pope from 1655-1667), who authoritatively and decisively declared the mind of the Church: "Concerning the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, ancient indeed is that devotion of the faithful based on the belief that her soul, in the first instant of its creation and in the first instant of the soul's infusion into the body, was, by a special grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, her Son and the Redeemer of the human race, preserved free from all stain of original sin. And in this sense have the faithful ever solemnized and celebrated the Feast of the Conception."

Moreover, our predecessors considered it their special solemn duty with all diligence, zeal, and effort to preserve intact the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. For, not only have they in no way ever allowed this doctrine to be censured or changed...Not content with this they most strictly prohibited any opinion contrary to this doctrine to be defended in public or private in order that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin might remain inviolate. By repeated blows they wished to put an end to such an opinion. And lest these oft-repeated and clearest statements seem useless, they added a sanction to them.


The Council of Trent
Besides, we must note a fact of the greatest importance indeed. Even the Council of Trent itself, when it promulgated the dogmatic decree concerning original sin, following the testimonies of the Sacred Scriptures, of the Holy Fathers and of the renowned Council, decreed and defined that all men are born infected by original sin; nevertheless, it solemnly declared that it had no intention of including the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, in this decree and in the general extension of its definition...

Testimonies of Tradition
And indeed, illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify that this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, which was daily more and more splendidly explained, stated and confirmed by the highest authority, teaching, zeal, knowledge, and wisdom of the Church, and which was disseminated among all peoples and nations of the Catholic world in a marvelous manner -- this doctrine always existed in the Church as a doctrine that has been received from our ancestors, and that has been stamped with the character of revealed doctrine. For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely...

Interpreters of the Sacred Scripture
The Fathers and writers of the Church... had nothing more at heart than to vie with one another in preaching and teaching in many wonderful ways the Virgin's supreme sanctity, dignity, and immunity from all stain of sin....These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of mankind -- words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, "I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed" -- taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.

This sublime and singular privilege of the Blessed Virgin, together with her most excellent innocence, purity, holiness and freedom from every stain of sin, as well as the unspeakable abundance and greatness of all heavenly graces, virtues and privileges -- these the Fathers beheld in that ark of Noah, which was built by divine command and escaped entirely safe and sound from the common shipwreck of the whole world; in the ladder which Jacob saw reaching from the earth to heaven, by whose rungs the angels of God ascended and descended, and on whose top the Lord himself leaned' in that bush which Moses saw in the holy place burning on all sides, which was not consumed or injured in any way but grew green and blossomed beautifully; in that impregnable tower before the enemy, from which hung a thousand bucklers and all the armor of the strong; in that garden enclosed on all sides, which cannot be violated or corrupted by any deceitful plots; as in that resplendent city of God, which has its foundations on the holy mountains; in that most august temple of God, which, radiant with divine splendors, is full of the glory of God; and in very many other biblical types of this kind. In such allusions the Fathers taught that the exalted dignity of the Mother of God, her spotless innocence and her sanctity unstained by any fault, had been prophesied in a wonderful manner....

We'll look at the rest of Ineffabilis Deus tomorrow. God bless!

Immaculate Heart of Mary

Friday, January 10, 2014

Was Mary Born without Sin?

QUERY: Saint Paul clearly says that all have sinned (cf. Romans 3:23), in light of this how can Catholics believe that Mary is sinless, indeed without sin from her very conception (the dogma of the immaculate conception)?

St. Paul, of course, is right, but he isn’t speaking literally when he says ALL have sinned. How do we know this? Because Christ is like us in all things except sin (cf. Hebrews 4:15). If all men have sinned and Christ was a man then obviously there is at least one exception to what Paul is telling us in Romans. Is Christ the only one to have not sinned? No, we can think of a few others. Babies that die in the womb never commit actual sin, neither do the severely mentally handicapped. So Christ isn’t alone in having never sinned. Could Mary also be in this group? 

Ave Maria

"Full of Grace"
We see in scripture that Mary is hailed by the angel Gabriel as being “full of grace" (cf. Luke 1:28). Further, scripture tells us that we are saved by being in a state of grace (cf. Eph 2:8-9) and that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Being in sin is the opposite of being in grace. Therefore, we (Mary included) are not "full of grace" when we are in a state of sin. The angel was, therefore, either lying in Luke 1:28 or Mary was without sin when he hailed her. But to be "full of grace" Mary would have had to be without all sin, including original sin.

We are freed from the state of original sin and put into a state of grace by being baptized. Mary, however, wasn’t baptized when she was greeted by Gabriel because baptism wasn’t available yet, therefore she must have been freed from sin without baptism, she must have been preserved from even original sin, which is removed by baptism ordinarily, without baptism to be rightly called “full of grace.” If Mary was conceived without sin, without even original sin, she was immaculately conceived.
The Old Testament prefigures the New Testament or as the Church Fathers said, “the old is fulfilled in the new and the new is hidden in the old.” If this basic principal is true, then we must look into the Old Testament to see if we can learn anything more about Mary being conceived without sin. 

1. Who is Mary? She is the theotokos, the carrier of the Word of God. Why? Mary holds Jesus in her womb and Jesus is the Word of God (cf. John 1:1), therefore Mary carries the Word of God in her womb. Where was the Word of God carried in the Old Testament? Inside the Ark of the Covenant, which was both God’s presence among His people (as is Jesus, Emmanuel) and which held the Ten Commandments, God’s word in stone (as Jesus is God’s word in flesh). Was the Ark anything special? Was it required to be pure? Indeed it was. In fact, Uzzah is killed for even touching the Ark (cf. 1 Chron 13:10)! How much purer must Mary have been to contain Christ than the Ark was to hold the 10 commandments!
2. We also know that Mary is the new Eve, as Christ is the new Adam. Just as Eve is called "Woman" in Genesis 3, so too is Mary called "Woman" by Christ in John 19. Just as death entered the world through the fruit Tree of Knowledge, so too does life enter he world through the fruit of the Tree of Life (as the fathers called the Cross). Who was at the Tree of Knowledge? Adam and Eve. Who was at the Tree of Life? The new Adam and Eve. Christ does what Adam couldn’t (offer perfect obedience unto death) and He is joined by the Woman, Mary, who (being greater than Eve) was (like Eve) created from the first instant of her life without sin.

Blessed Duns Scotus
Blessed Duns Scotus
Duns Scotus
Perhaps the best argument for the Immaculate Conception is that of Blessed Duns Scotus. He argued that God had the power to preserve Mary from Original Sin, that it was fitting for Him to do so (to provide a worthy receptacle for the Word made Flesh), so God did so.

A poor, uneducated girl by the name of Bernadette began seeing an apparition of a beautiful woman in 1858. After several meetings with this woman, including the discovery of miraculous waters with the power to heal the sick, Bernadette worked up the nerve to ask the woman her name. The woman, with a trembling voice, responded, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Bernadette, who had never heard the unfamiliar and technical term before, ran to her parish priest repeating the words over and over again to herself. When she reported how the woman had identified herself, the priest was shocked that Bernadette would even know the term (this was only four years after the declaration of the Dogma of Mary Immaculate by Pius IX). Miracles continue to this day at Lourdes in honor of the Immaculate Conception.

Mary Immaculate

Why Not?
Honestly, why wouldn’t God have preserved Mary from sin? If you had the chance of creating your mother wouldn’t you honor her so? Would we expect less from God? Remember, Jesus is the only man to ever perfectly live the Ten Commandments, including the fourth commandment (fifth if you're Protestant) "Thou shalt honor thy father and mother." What greater honor could Christ have paid Mary than to save her from sin from the first moments of her life?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Limerick in Honor of the Cold

It's cold and we all are suffering through it, so to brighten the day here's a little limerick I composed in honor of this usually cold day:

Today a man went straight to Hell
He found it was cold there as well
It was circle nine
From Dante's great rhyme
Accursed he froze where he fell.

God bless you. Stay warm!

Prayer to the Magi

I came across this prayer written by St. Helena (the mother of Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome) on the blog of Father Z and wanted to repost it here. As a late comer to the faith myself and one who came "laboriously...taking sights and calculating" this really struck a never with me. If you haven't seen it already, enjoy (emphasis and comments are mine).

The Three Wise Men

This is my day, and these are my kind.
“Like me, you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before, even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way.
How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!
You finally came to the last stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!
Yet you came and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass.
You are my especial patrons, and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.
Dear cousins, pray for me, and for my poor overloaded son (the Emperor Constantine). May he, too, before the end find kneeling space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly.
For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

Monday, January 6, 2014

Top Six Reasons Pope Francis is Misunderstood

Over at the Catholic Answers Forums a poster asked a pointed question on a thread about the latest dust up over comments of our Holy Father. He asked why so many Catholics have to spend so much time explaining and defending what Francis says and he contrasted this with how this wasn't necessary with either Benedict XVI or John Paul II.

I think there are a few reasons.

1) Not all people are equally clear when they speak. Francis seems to be, so far, less clear than his immediate predecessors.

2) JP2 and B16 both are European, Francis is South American. This means that Francis' experiences are quite different from his predecessors which naturally leads to a different way of expressing himself. Many of us in America are unfamiliar with those experiences and with having a third world pontiff, which has lead to some miscommunications.

3) JP2 was a brilliant philosopher. B16 was a brilliant theologian. Both disciplines require great precision with language. Francis is a brilliant pastor. Pastors don't typically use language as precisely as philosophers and theologians do.

4) Francis speaks "off the cuff" a lot more than either B16 or JP2, both of whom spoke from written notes. When anyone, including a pope, speaks off the cuff they are more likely to be imprecise and thus more likely to be misinterpreted.

5) Hermeneutics. The media saw JP2 and B16 as the orthodox Catholics they were and saw their statements through that lens. The media has decided that Francis is a "liberal" (by which they mean heterodox) Catholic and interpret his statements as harbingers of the massive changes they hope to see. This skews how they interpret Francis, which, in turn, distorts the message most people are getting about Francis, which leads to misunderstandings. The media even misinterpreted B16's statements on condoms and they had a much better read on him, of course they will misinterpret Francis even more so.

6) He's new on the scene. Unlike B16 and JP2 who were established figures before they were elected to the Chair of St. Peter and who wrote quite a bit, Francis is (for most Catholics) still an unknown figure. There isn't a lot of his pre-papal writings widely available in English and most Catholics are either still adjusting to the new pope or have bought into the media storyline that he is the anti-Benedict (which is ridiculous). Francis is also still adjusting to the papacy and will with time make himself clearer and clearer.

We know Francis is a "son of the Church," we know he is personally orthodox, and we know the Holy Spirit will not allow any Pope to formally teach error. The best thing we Catholics can do when we read something inflammatory that Francis supposedly said or is going to do, we need to take a deep breath, read the original source in context, try to understand what Francis is telling us in continuity with what popes have been saying since Peter, and trust in the Church.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Books Read in 2013

I did something a bit different in 2013, something that I hadn't done before. I decided I'd keep track of all the books I read and figured I'd post it here. Have you read any of these? What books did you read in 2013? What was your favorite? What books would you recommend for 2014?

1. Jesus of Nazareth - the Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict (3rd time)
2. Jesus of Nazareth - volume 1 by Pope Benedict (2)
3. Jesus of Nazareth - volume 2 (Passion Week) by Pope Benedict (2)
4. Benedict's Reform - Bux
5. The Life and Death of King Richard III - Shakespeare
6. Covenant and Communion, Benedict's Biblical Theology - Dr. Scott Hahn (2)
7. How to Read Churches - Dennis MacNamara
8. The Snakebite Letters - Dr. Peter Kreeft
9. My Brother, the Pope - Georg Ratzinger
10. Discerning the Will of God -Thomas Gallagher
11. History of the Catholic Church - James Hitchcock
12. The Feast of Faith - Pope Benedict XVI
13. The Great Heresies - Hilarie Belloc
14. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist - Brant Pitre
15. Evangelical Catholicism - George Weigel
16. God's Battalions by Rodney Stark
17. Consuming the Word - Dr. Scott Hahn
18. Behold the Pierced One - Pope Benedict XVI
19. American Church - Russell Shaw
20. Jacob's Ladder - Peter Kreeft
21. Man to Man, Dad to Dad - Brian Caulfield
22. The Great Divorce - CS Lewis (2)
23. What Catholics Really Believe - Karl Keating
24. The City of God - St. Augustine of Hippo
25. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
26. Fundemental Speeches from Five Decades - Pope Benedict XVI
27. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
28. If your Mind Wanders at Mass - Thomas Howard

1. Leisure the Basis of Culture - Josef Pieper (2)
2. The Philosophical Act - Josef Pieper (2)
3. Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life
4. Man or Rabbit? C.S. Lewis (2)
5. The First Apology of St. Justin Martyr
6. Benedictus Deus - Benedict XII
7. Christmas Address 2005 - Benedict XVI (2)
8. Democratic Education - CS Lewis
9. Equality - CS Lewis
10. Lumen Fidei - Francis
11. Deus Caritas Est - Benedict XVI (2)
12. Apostolic Consitution Quo Prīmum - Pius V
13. Mortalium Animos - Pius XI
14. Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctirne on the Church
15. 1986 Apostolic Letter on St Augustine of Hippo - John Paul II
16.  Interview with Pope Francis in America Magazine
17. The Martyrdom of Polyarp
18. Catholic Answers Mag. Subscription
19. Summorum Pontificum - Benedict XVI
20. Encyclical on the Quadri-centennial of Columnus' Voyage - Leo XIII
21. Humani Generis - Pius XII (2)
23. Nostra Aetate - Vatican 2 doc
24. Priestesses in the Church? - CS Lewis
25. Quas Primas - Pope Pius XI
26. Sacrosanctum Concilium

1. The Gospel according to St. Luke
2. The Gospel according to St. John
3. The Book of Proverbs
4. The Book of Job
5. Paul's Letter to the Galatians
6. Genesis
7. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians
8. Paul's Letter to the Philippians
9. Paul's Letter to the Colossians
10. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians
11. Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians
12. Paul's Letter to Philemon
13. Paul's Letter to Titus

1. What Does the Prayer Really Say - Father Z
2. Crisis Magazine
3. Standing on My Head - Fr. Longnecker
4. Arch. Dio. of Washington - Mgsr. Pope
5. Canon Law Blog - Dr. Peters
6. Canterbury Tales - Dr. Marshall