Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Words of Wisdom from Our New Saints - part two

Yesterday, in honor of the double canonization of Pope John XIII and Pope John Paul II, we looked at a few of my favorite passages from John XIII. Today, I was planning on doing the same with JP2, but instead I wanted to present a few of John Paul's teachings that are a bit more challenging to certain people that are hijacking the message of Pope Francis. As you read these, remember Francis just canonized this man

John Paul the Great
St Pope John Paul II, pray for us!

On female ordination:
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful. (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis)

On abortion:
Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an "unspeakable crime."
But today, in many people's consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil.
Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name. Procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth. (Evangelium Vitae)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Words of Wisdom from Our New Saints - part one

Yesterday was a truly historic moment for the Catholic Church, the "Day of Four Popes" where we witnessed two great pontiffs being raised to the altars. Both our new saints, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, have left us with some great teachings. Here are a couple favorite passages from Saint Pope John XXIII enjoy.

John XXIII Tiara
St. Pope John XXIII Pray for Us!

On loving the sinner while hating the sin:
It is always perfectly justifiable to distinguish between error as such and the person who falls into error—even in the case of men who err regarding the truth or are led astray as a result of their inadequate knowledge, in matters either of religion or of the highest ethical standards. A man who has fallen into error does not cease to be a man. He never forfeits his personal dignity; and that is something that must always be taken into account. Besides, there exists in man's very nature an undying capacity to break through the barriers of error and seek the road to truth. God, in His great providence, is ever present with His aid. Today, maybe, a man lacks faith and turns aside into error; tomorrow, perhaps, illumined by God's light, he may indeed embrace the truth.
Catholics who, in order to achieve some external good, collaborate with unbelievers or with those who through error lack the fullness of faith in Christ, may possibly provide the occasion or even the incentive for their conversion to the truth. (Pacem in Terris, 158)

On the office of Bishop of Rome:
... the Bishop of Rome, as Peter's successor and Christ's Vicar on earth, is the focal center of the entire visible unity of the Catholic Church... (this) is clearly supported by the evidence of the Gospels and by ancient Catholic tradition, as these words show: "Out of the whole world one man is chosen, Peter. He is set before all the elect of every nation, before all the apostles and all the Fathers of the Church; so that although there are among God's people many priests and many pastors, Peter governs by personal commission all whom Christ rules by His supreme authority. Great and wonderful, beloved, is the share in its own power which the Divine Condescension assigned to this man. And if it desired other princes to share anything in common with him, never except through him did it accord what it did not deny to others"....
There is, moreover, another essential safeguard of the Church's visible unity ... that supreme authority to teach infallibly, which Christ gave personally to Peter, the prince of the apostles, and to his successors. (Pope St) Leo's words are quite unequivocal: "The Lord takes special care of Peter; He prays especially for Peter's faith, for the state of the rest will be more secure if the mind of their chief be not overthrown. Hence the strength of all the rest is made stronger in Peter, and the assistance of divine grace is so ordained that the stability which through Christ is given to Peter, should through Peter be transmitted to the other apostles". (Aeterna Dei Sapientia, 42-44)
On the Second Vatican Council:
the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council, which will draw upon the effective and important wealth of juridical, liturgical, apostolic, and administrative experiences, wishes to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout twenty centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men. It is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will.
Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries. The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.
For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character. (Opening Speech to Vatican 2)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Atheism and Meaning, an Insoluble Problem

A series of posts (HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE) I did disproving atheism has been drawing a lot of conversation over at my Google+ page. Sadly, this has been the "more heat than light" variety so common to internet combox discussions. I've continued through, though, in the hopes that finally we'd get into actually discussing the argument we were supposed to be discussing rather than calling names and changing the topic endlessly. Finally, one commenter (Stan) stepped up to the plate and did just that.

His argument amounts to challenging one term in my argument, "meaning". Before showing why his challenge fails, I thought a quick review on how an argument (any argument) can be refuted. There is only three possible ways. If it can be shown that my original argument made one of these mistakes, I will amend the argument, or if that is not possible, raise the white flag and admit the argument fails. These three ways are:

1) The argument could have committed a formal logical fallacy and thus be invalid. An invalid argument does not prove its conclusion. I dealt with the formal logic (spoiler alert: the argument is valid) here: Life Has Meaning, therefore God Exists (a closer look at the logic).

2) The argument could equivocate on one, or more of its terms, and thus be ambiguous. This is the line of attack taken by Stan. However, Stan fails to show how my argument equivocates. To defeat the argument it needs to be shown which term equivocates and how. An example might help. Here is a text book example of an ambiguous argument:

Everything the has bark is a tree.
My dog has a bark.
Therefore my dog is a tree.

The logic is spot on, but the argument equivocates on the word "bark" making it both ambiguous and inconclusive.

To mount this kind of attack, the ambiguous term ("bark" in our example) must be identified and shown how it changes meaning in the course of the argument.

While Stan doesn't do this, he did ask me to define "meaning". Fair enough, requesting a clarification of a term (while not enough to refute an argument via the second way) is a fair part of rational discourse.

What do I mean by "meaning" or "purpose" in my argument? As you can see from the original post, HERE, "meaning" means any meaning whatsoever. Either life/ the universe is completely without all meaning or it has some meaning/ purpose. Again, any meaning will do, ANY. Either life is "sound and fury signifying nothing" and nothing we do or think has any point whatsoever (including this conversation) or God exists. To be clearer still, let's refer to an impartial source, dictionary.com, for a concise and precise definition of meaning: "the end, purpose, or significance of something". You'll note, this definition is stable (that is univocal) throughout the entirety of the original argument. There is no equivocation and none has been shown by Stan.

3) Finally, my argument could still fail (even without a formal fallacy or an equivocation) if one of the two premises are false. A false premise will lead to an unproven (although not necessarily false) conclusion.

The first premise in my argument is that the universe could only derive meaning from God, from a Supernatural (in the sense of "beyond natural") Creator (a Creator of the universe is what men commonly mean when they say "God"). Why this is was dealt with (and remains unchallenged) in my original argument. I won't rehash it here. Suffice it to say that establishing a Creator is enough to refute atheism, which denies such a being exists. Why must the Creator be supernatural? Because the Creator creates nature and nothing can create itself (for this would require it to act when it lacks existence, which is impossible).What characteristics this Creator has is beyond the scope of this argument, which only seeks to refute atheism not establish any particular religion (that is the job of other arguments). The second premise is that the universe / life has meaning. This is self-evidently true. With both of these premises in place and without equivocating in any terms, and with sound logic, the conclusion is proven.

At this point, Stan has a tough choice. Either accept the argument and abandon atheism or don't accept it and abandon reason, continuing to accept atheism on Faith alone. That is unless he can produce an equivocation, a false premise, or a formal logical fallacy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pope Benedict on the Liturgy, New Book

I just got word that a new book from our beloved Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI (aka Joseph Ratzinger) will be published by Ignatius Press and will be available on May 15! While it won't  contain any new, post-papacy writings, it will gather many of this great theologians writings on the liturgy in one volume! Reading this book along with Benedict's liturgical masterpieces, The Spirit of the Liturgy and The Feast of Faith, will give any Catholic a deep appreciation of the Mass, what the Second Vatican Council called "the source and summit of the Christian life." I can't wait to get my copy! A late Easter present!! And remember, Pope Benedict XVI will be a future Doctor of the Church!!

Pope Benedict XVI

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Is NFP Contraception for Catholics?

Q. I read your post on Catholics not mindlessly breeding. NFP is just a less effective version of contraception. I don't think Catholics should even use NFP! NFP is just as immoral as any other part of our culture with its contraceptive mentality. I say good Catholics must avoid all contraception - artificial or natural.

As we saw in that earlier post, the Church has already settled this debate. Couples may morally have recourse to the God given infertile periods of a woman's cycle. Roma locuta est, causa finita est. The infallible teaching of the Church was affirmed by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae
If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained." (16).

And just in case you might be thinking "that's post Vatican 2" here is Pius XII in 1951 from an address given to midwives:

If the application of that theory implies that husband and wife may use their matrimonial right even during the days of natural sterility no objection can be made. In this case they do not hinder or jeopardize in any way the consummation of the natural act and its ulterior natural consequences... the moral lawfulness of such conduct of husband and wife should be affirmed or denied according as their intention to observe constantly those periods is or is not based on sufficiently morally sure motives...Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called "indications," may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned.

Something that you seem to be overlooking is that, far from being immoral, the NFP is morally neutral. NFP is simply a way of gaining and keeping track of knowledge about a woman's cycle and can be as easily used to get pregnant as it can be used to avoid pregnancy. The Church allows the use of God ordained infertile periods for reasons stretching from child spacing and financial woes to life jeopardizing medical conditions.

Further, NFP can never be used as contraception. Contraception is, by the very etymology of the word, an action against conception. Contraception, because it perverts the sexual act (not because it reduces the number of children a couple may have) is always immoral. NFP, which doesn't pervert the sexual act, is never intrinsically evil. A given couple can, when "serious reasons" are not present, use NFP selfishly and even immorally, but NFP in and of itself isn't, indeed can't be, immoral.

The same distinction is made between drinking wine and smoking crack cocaine. One can misuse wine to get intoxicated and to do so is immoral. But drinking wine in and of itself isn't immoral (as we see from Jesus' own example) because wine can be used in moderation. Smoking crack cocaine, on the other hand, is immoral and is never morally permissible because it always results in a loss of reason ("getting high").

NFP, like wine, can be used for moral purposes or for immoral purposes. Contraception, like crack cocaine, is always immoral because it always results in a perversion of the sexual act.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Happy Birthday, Papa!

The writings of Pope Benedict XVI helped bring me home to the Catholic Church after wandering far, far away. The clarity with which he wrote (writes!) and his defense of the marriage between reason (exemplified by Greek philosophy) and faith (exemplified by Israel) in Christianity opened my eyes to worlds formerly undreamed of. His brilliant defense and example of offering dignified and solemn worship to God (rather than the sloppy and "we-the-people-centric" liturgies of my youth) in what he termed the "ordinary form" of the Mass and his liberalizing what he termed the "extraordinary form" (aka the traditional Latin Mass) extended his impact beyond my heart and into my very soul. Needless to say, I'm eternally indebted to this great man, who stands as my favorite pope (nothing against Francis or JP2 or Peter for that matter, I love them all, but Benedict has transformed my life as no other pope).

If you haven't read anything of his, here is a very abbreviated "top ten" recommended list to get you started:

The Spirit of the Liturgy
Jesus of Nazareth (all three volumes)
Introduction to Christianity
Behold the Pierced One
The Feast of Faith
Light of the World
The Ratzinger Report
Spe Salvi
Deus Caritas Est
Verbum Domini

Today, this great man (and future Doctor of the Church!!) turns 87. May God bless his servant with many more years (and much more writing).


Joseph Ratzinger as a young man

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Does God Have a Purpose for YOUR Life?

Q. I've been directionless of late and have really started to question whether God has any real plan for my life, if there is any point for me to be at all. Do you think God has a specific purpose for each of our lives? Some reason that He chose to put each of us here?

God does nothing without purpose, so yes, he puts us here for some specific purpose. In fact, He puts us all here for the same two purposes:

1) To Glorify God.

2) To save our souls (and as many other souls) as possible from Hell.

Because God has created us to do these two things, everything we do should take into account these twin aims. That doesn't mean that we can't do anything that doesn't immediately forward one of these two ends, for example watching a football game, but it does mean we should never do anything that works against these ends, for example sinning. It also means the primary thrust of each of our lives should be toward these two ends. Putting any other goal (making money, pleasure, etc) is to fall into the treacherous pits of idolatry and to risk an eternity in hell for a life failed.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Charlemagne Holy Week Lenten Challenge II

Last Friday I issued the following Lenten Challenge to my fellow Catholics
let's observe the old time fast for just Holy Week. We'll make it simple and just follow two rules:
1) No meat
2) No eating before nightfall (or at least until "the seventh hour" - noon)
Charlemagne and his fellow eighth century Catholics kept this fast for all of Lent (and abstained from other foods besides). Our challenge is just one week. What do you think?
As Holy Week starts this Sunday, I wanted to take a minute and look at some reasons to take up the challenge by reflecting on the writings of my patron of 2014, St. Josemaria Escriva.

All Christians know prayer is essential for living a good spirit-filled life. No less of an authority than St. Paul tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17), a high standard indeed! Of course, many Christians, Catholic and non, seek to live full prayer lives, but St. Josemaria makes a powerful, and to many surprising, observation, "unless you mortify yourself you'll never be a prayerful soul." (The Way, 172). Why we might be tempted to ask. St. Josemaria answers, "no ideal becomes a reality without sacrifice. Deny yourself. It is so beautiful to be a victim!" (The Way, 175). This truth is a meditation on the very teaching of Christ, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Lk 9:23) Which leads St. Josemaria to remark, "don't complain if you suffer . It is the prized and valued stone that is polished." (Furrow, 235). Why is self imposed suffering, i.e. mortification, so aidful to the Christian faithful? Because it is the most effective way of battling what St. Paul called "sarx" (the flesh). "The body must be given a little less than it needs. Otherwise it will turn traitor." (The Way, 196).

The end of Lent is the perfect time to ramp up our penance, our mortification, in preparation for the banquet of Easter... and in preparation for the Heavenly banquet that awaits those who persevere until the end (cf. Matt 24:13). Don't let such a great opportunity to grow in holiness pass.

Pax Christi.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Must Good Catholics 'Mindlessly Breed'?

Many times we'll hear people claim that the Catholic Church is against all birth control. The caricature presented of the Church's teaching is that she simply wants Catholics to reproduce at high rates to increase the number of Catholics in the world. It's as if every Catholic was required to be the Duggars to be faithful to the Magisterium.

Of course, this simply isn't the case. The Church doesn't want her children to "mindlessly breed", in fact, 
"The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God." (Humanae Vitae, 16)
Far from mindless reproduction the Church calls the faithful to a greater standard of reason than that demanded of the contracepting world. Indeed, it is contraception that allows for mindless sexual activity, while the Church requires Catholics to think about what they are doing, indeed, to have reasons for spacing births.
If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained." (Humanae Vitae, 16).
Like most things, the Catholic Church, zealous protector of faith and reason, seeks the greatest dignity of her children and calls them to use their reason in deciding to have more children.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Where Do Unbaptized Babies Go When They Die?

Q. In reading Dante's Inferno, I was taken aback by reading his account of Limbo. What exactly is Limbo? Does the Church still teach it? 

First, "limbo" can refer to two distinct places, so we have to be clear from the get go exactly what we are talking about. "Limbo" can be either:

1) "The Limbo of the Fathers" - the place where the righteous dead went before Christ died and opened the gates of heaven for them. This is in the Bible - see 1 Peter 3:19. This Limbo surely existed, although there would be no one in it for the last two millennia.

2) "The Limbo of Infants" - the place where unbaptized babies go. This isn't explicitly mentioned in Scripture (but neither is the Trinity, so that isn't an argument against it). It can, however, be inferred from the doctrine that all must be baptized to go to heaven (see John 3:3).

Your question concerns "the limbo of infants."

 It might be interesting to look at the word "limbo" and see what that tells us. The English word "limbo" comes from the Latin "limbus", meaning "border" or even "hem". Thus, limbo would refer to a place at the border of, but not inside of Hell. The souls in limbo, therefore, are not numbered amongst the damned.

Although not popular today, some of the greatest minds in Church History have taught that unbaptized babies go to limbo, including Dante Alighieri, the greatest poet and lay scholar in Church history; St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest doctor in the history of the Church (see HERE); and various Church Fathers including St. Gregory Nazianzen , Tertullian, and St. Ambrose. Other great Catholics, including the second greatest doctor in the history of the Church, St. Augustine didn't teach limbo (Augustine taught that unbaptized infants would go to Hell, but have the mildest of all punishments).

More recently, especially in the twentieth century (even before Vatican Council 2), theologians began contemplating the idea that the unbaptized go to Heaven. The Church has never officially endorsed this position. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (then called simply the Holy Office) issued a statement in 1958 urging parents to baptize their children ASAP, noting that the state of the unbaptized after death is unknown,
"The practice has arisen in some places of delaying the conferring of Baptism for so-called reasons of convenience or of a liturgical nature" a practice favored by some opinions, lacking solid foundation, concerning the eternal salvation of infants who die without Baptism. Therefore this Supreme Congregation, with the approval of the Holy Father, warns the faithful that infants are to be baptized as soon as possible..."
 The Catechism of the Catholic Church likewise leaves the door open stating, in paragraph 1261:
"As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus" tenderness toward children which caused him to say, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism"

The closest the Church has ever gotten to making a definitive statement on limbo was with Pope Pius VI's Auctorem Fidei in which he condemned the Jansenists for teaching, as certain, Augustine's theory that the unbaptized were in Hell, but were not tormented by the flames of Hell. Pius doesn't declare that limbo exists, he simply rebukes the Jansenists for teaching that limbo doesn't exist, Pius, like the Church today, was leaving the question open.

Unfortunately, many Catholics today think that Limbo has been definitively rejected in favor of the idea that all unbaptized babies are certainly saved (which dovetails with an increasing tendency toward universalism, that all will be saved, in the minds of many Catholics). This simply isn't the teaching of the Church. The fact is, we really don't know what will happen to them and Catholics are free to decide for themselves between Augustine's theory (they go to Hell), Aquinas' (they go to limbo), and simply trusting in God's mercy (they go to Heaven).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why Would We Ever Want the Mass to be in Latin?

Q. I don't know why anyone would think that the Mass should not be in English! Don't we see, in the New Testament, Jesus giving His disciples the gift of tongues to be able to spread the Good News to the nations in their own separate languages? Didn't the Holy Spirit come down on the Apostles so that the people could hear them in their own languages? Isn't this exactly what the English Mass is doing today? I'm glad Vatican 2 saw that a new Pentecost was needed with vernacular Masses leading the way!

First, Vatican 2 didn't change the language of the Mass from Latin to the various national languages. In fact, Vatican 2 called for "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites." (SC, 36). The Council did allow for some use of the various modern languages, but the idea that Vatican 2 wanted (or even foresaw) Latin being entirely abandoned in the Mass is as wrong as it is oft repeated.

Second, the gift of tongues signals the exact reverse of putting the Mass into various languages. The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was reversing the punishment God laid on mankind at the Tower of Babel. Before Babel all men spoke one language, every could understand everyone. After the pride of man was raised by sin to such a fever pitch that man tried to build a tower to Heaven, God, ending this ill-conceived project, confused men's languages. The various tongues that man would come to speak ever after is a divine punishment. The Spirit, at Pentecost, reverses this when the apostles are able to preach and be understood by all (just like all men could pre-Babel).

Taking the Mass from one universal language, a language that all Catholics share in common and that privileges no group inside the Church, and putting it into a multitude of ever changing languages has made our worship more like Babel and less like Pentecost. It divides us from our ancestors (who worshipped in Latin) and from other nations (who worship in other national languages). Before the Council, a Catholic could travel and hear Mass in Latin anywhere in the world. No matter how strange the rest of the customs of a foreign land might have been, the Mass was the same - the same language, the same movements by the priest, etc. This was a visible expression of the universal ("catholic") nature of the Church. Today, with the nearly exclusive use of all vernacular Masses, each nation has its own translation of the Mass, its own version of the Bible for the lectionary, etc. Travel now to a foreign country and the Mass is as foreign as anything less you run into. You will find the same structure and be able to follow along, but gone is the homey familiarity of stepping into a Church and being surrounded by the entirely familiar.

In fact, you don't even have to travel to another country to experience the division that can occur when we worship exclusively in modern languages. Where I live even local parishes are divided by the language used at Mass. We have English Masses, Spanish Masses, Chinese Masses, Vietnamese Masses, etc. We've gone from a Pentecost-like environment where we can all worship together in one common tongue, where all can understand, to a Babel-like state of rupture and division.

Further, by losing Latin, we've lost the patrimony of sacred (not just religious, but sacred) music. Masses by Palestrina, Mozart, Beethoven, etc are all lost and replaced by Matt Maher songs (not that I don't like Matt Maher, but his music isn't sacred nor is it Palestrina, as even he'd admit.)

Switching to an almost exclusive use of the vernacular might make the Mass immediately more understandable, but peasants (with less than a middle school education) were able to understand the Mass for centuries despite it being in Latin. Catholics today, especially here in the West, are more educated than Catholics have been at any time in the past. In this day, when we find ourselves more and more isolated from our past and from other cultures, perhaps a return to Latin would be a salve for the soul.