Monday, June 30, 2014

5 Early Christians on the Papacy

Yesterday was the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. In honor of our first supreme pontiff, here are five early Christians on the unique role of the Bishop of Rome. These are all quotes from Christians living within the first 10 or so generations after the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. These aren't medieval Christians witnessing to some late accretion to the faith. All of these writers are also writing before the birth of the Emperor Constantine (AD 272), thus making clear that the unique role of the Petrine office was not an invention of the emperor. The first entry on this list even shows a pope in the first century acting as supreme head of the Church, writing with authority outside of his own diocese.

1. Pope St. Clement I 
(circa AD 70, less than 40 years from the death of Christ)
Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and calamitous events that have happened to us, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points about which you consulted us; and especailly to that shameful and detestable sedition, utterly abhorrent to the elect of God, that a few rash and self-confident persons have kindled to such a pitch of frenzy that your venerable and illustrious name... has suffered grievous injury....Joy and gladness you will afford us, if you become obedient to the words written by us and through the Holy Spirit root out the lawless wrath of your jealousy according to the intercession we have made for peace and unity in this letter.
(Letter to the Corinthians, I, 14, 63)

2. Hermas of Rome 
(circa AD 80, less than 50 years from the death of Christ)
"You will write two books, and you will send the one to Clemens (the Bishop of Rome) and the other to Grapte. And Clemens will send his to foreign countries, for permission has been granted to him to do so. (The Shepherd 1:2:4)

3. St. Ignatius of Antioch 
(circa AD 110, less than 80 years from the death of Christ)
"Ignatius... to... the Church that is beloved and elightened by the will of him that wills all things according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, that presides in the place of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worth of being deemed holy, and that presides over love, and is named from Christ, and from the Father.
(Letter to the Romans, Greeting)

4. St. Irenaeus of Lyons 
(circa AD 189, less than 160 years from the death of Christ)
Since, however it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the churches, we put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vanity, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings, by indicating that Tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and the universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the succession of bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every church agree with this church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, in so far as apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those who exist everywhere.
(Against Heresies, 3:3:2)

5. St. Cyprian of Carthage 
(circa AD 251, less than 220 years from the death of Christ)
If anyone considers and examines these things, there is no need for a long discussion and arguments. There is easy proof of faith in a short summary of the truth.... a primacy was given to Peter, by which it is made clear that there is one Church and one chair.... If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he think that he holds the faith? If he deserts the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he be confident that he is in the Church?
(Treatsie 1:4)

San Pietro a Roma
St. Peter, pray for the unity of all Christians

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review: Saint John Paul the Great by Jason Evert

I just finished reading a great new book on now Saint Pope John Paul II. There have been so many books written about or by our late Holy Father that one can be forgiven for thinking yet another one is nothing special, nothing worth going out of your way to purchase and read. One can be forgiven, yes, but one would be dead wrong. Jason Evert has written a great, fresh book examining the life of the man so many Catholics lived with as pontiff for so many years. The secret of his success is his method of viewing JP II's life through the lens of "his five loves." After giving a short bio of the pope, Evert dedicates the rest of his book to looking at the five things JP II held closest to his heart. Admittedly, John Paul II loved many things and yes the list could have been expanded to his ten loves or twenty loves without much of a problem, Evert admits as much himself in the introduction,
...the aim of this work is to paint a portrait of the Holy Father by examining his five loves. Because of the size of his heart, I will grant that it's impossible to place a finite number on such things.... But although the present list of five is limited and subjective, it's not arbitrary. (page xviii)
With that being said, Evert does a great job of pinpointing some the the things most dear to the Holy Father. He lists, as John Paul's "five loves,"

1.Young People - with a special focus on JP II's days as a priest and bishop in Poland and, of course, the phenomenon of World Youth Day.

2. Human Love - especially JP II's Theology of the Body, perhaps the most profound exposition of thought on the meaning and nature of human love in history.

3. The Blessed Sacrament - where he talks about how JP II loved the Eucharist and centered his life on the Mass and Adoration.

4. The Virgin Mary - where he looks at the special role Our Blessed Mother played in John Paul's life and in shaping his pontificate.

5. The Cross - a look at how John Paul appreciated and embodied St Paul's teaching on the redemptive power of suffering, of carrying our cross and following the Lord.

Packed throughout the book are a ton of anecdotes that bring John Paul the man to life for the reader. Evert painstakingly sorted through nearly endless stories about the pope, selecting only those that past the muster of scrutiny. He describes this process in the introduction,
The challenge was sorting fact from fiction and taking measures to weed out the papal urban legends, of which there are plenty.... Mining through a mountain of papal resources, I looked for the gems. This book is a collection of those jewels, presented as a treasure chest of the saint's life. (page xix)

For those who lived through and followed John Paul's historic pontificate these glimpses provide a welcomed reminder of their shepherd. For younger readers, non-Catholics, and those of us who were on the margins of the Church during his time as pope, Evert brings the person of pope vividly before us, showing us just why he is Saint John Paul.

While in no way meant to replace lengthier biographies, such as George Weigel's, Evert's book demands a place on every Catholic's bookcase.

Jason Evert

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

3 Great Parishes in Pittsburgh, PA

I'll soon be leaving my home and native land, the great city of Pittsburgh, PA (The Most Rev. David Zubik, Bishop). There are a lot of great things about growing up in Western PA (the Pirates, the food, the beautiful parks), but one that might be occasionally overlooked is the multitude of Catholic parishes. I currently live within a 10 minute drive of at least 6 parishes. Yes, we are dealing with the heartbreak of closing some of these venerable old parishes and consolidating others, but we still have a very dense patchwork of parishes. I could write a list a mile long of great parishes I know, but I'll keep this short and sweet. The next time you are in the 'burgh make sure to check out one of these churches!

1. St. Alphonsus, Wexford

St Alphonsus Pittsburgh
A great parish nestled in the Wexford area in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, St. Alphonsus has been my parish since my conversion to Catholicism back in 2011. It is one of the oldest parishes in Pittsburgh dating back to the 1830s! My mother's family has called St. Al's home for over sixty years, with my grandmother putting 10 kids (or as she likes to say "5 boys...pause for effect... and 5 girls") through the parish school. The church underwent an odd expansion in the late Sixties (not exactly the golden age of Catholic church architecture) which resulted in the church almost being two churches facing each other with a shared altar separating them. The odd interior shape was primarily determined by the geography of the land it sits on. This parish has been a great home for my family. We've made many great friends, have been served by outstanding priests, and have grown closer to the Lord by celebrating the Sacraments here. My two sons were brought into the Church here, I was confirmed here, my wife entered full communion with the Church here, my parents were married here. Let's just say St. Al's has a lot of history for both Pittsburgh and my family. Its a great place and I'm happy to have had the opportunity of teaching CCD there this last year. If you live in the area, the  Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program for kindergarteners can't be missed. In fact, the whole CCD program is highly recommended. If you live in the North Hills, make sure you check out the VBS here next week. My eldest was looking forward to attending (and my wife assisting) but our impending move got in the way.

2. St. Teresa of Avila, Perrysville

St Teresa of Avila Pittsburgh 
If St. Alphonsus was the parish home of my mother's family, St. Teresa of Avila in Perrysville was the stomping grounds of the Barontini family. It was here that my grandparents wed, here that my father attended school and made his Sacraments, and here that I was baptized (actually all of those things happened in the old parish church building). This actually is my geographic parish and the place where I usually confess. I can't speak a whole lot to the community over there, but the priests are great, the parish festival is always a must see in the summer, and I've had some really great prayer opportunities there, including a Taize prayer experience that was very contemplative. The outside of the new church (built in the Eighties) isn't exactly my personal taste, but it does have a nice resemblance to a ship plowing through the waters, reminding the faithful that the Catholic Church (and the Catholic Church alone) is the Ark of God surrounded by the flood waters of a sinful world.

3. Holy Wisdom Latin Mass Community, St. Boniface Church

Latin Mass Pittsburgh

After completing a four week Latin Mass challenge issued by Dr. Taylor Marshall, I fell in love with the vetus ordo, the extraordinary form, the "Traditional Latin Mass", right here in St. Boniface Church on the Northside of Pittsburgh. The Mass is stunningly beautiful. The music is angelic. The altar boys are crack. The preaching is solid and strong and frequently challenging (as is my youngest when we attend here). And I get the added benefit of having a communion rail when I receive Our Lord in the Eucharist kneeling and on the tongue (which I do everywhere, its just a lot easier with the rail). What else can I say? If you like the "Latin Mass" then this is the place for you in Pittsburgh. If you haven't been to a "Latin Mass" and are in Pittsburgh make sure to check it out. The first time you'll probably be shell shocked, it takes a few weeks to get used to, but once you do, your appreciation for the Mass (including the Ordinary Form) is heightened. I recommend going at least 6 straight weeks to really give it a fair chance. It is more like a fine glass of Chianti than a can of Coke, it takes some getting used to, but when you acquire the taste you'll find increasingly deep levels to appreciate here.

I could go on about other great parishes I've had the opportunity to frequent here in Pittsburgh, Sts. John and Paul (with its beautiful new church), St. Alexis (with convenient week day confession), our magnificent Cathedral, and many others. We Pittsburghers are truly blessed to have a wonderful diocese (with a great bishop!) to call home. As my family relocates we are leaving more than bit of ourselves behind in these wonderful churches. Thankfully, we can console ourselves with the realization that when we are at Mass in our new hometown, we'll be entering into the same eternal Sanctuary, worshipping the same All Holy God, with the same High Priest. Indeed, "Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf." (1 Cor 10:17).

The Diocese of Pittsburgh as a whole and these parishes in particular have been a great source of faith for my family. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

3 Reasons St Pope John XXIII Loved Latin (and you should too)

"Good Pope John!" Who doesn't love this newest of saints? He called the Second Vatican Council, ushering in the reforms we Catholics have been heir to for these last five decades. Even the most anti-papal "liberal" Catholics bask in the glow from "Good Pope John". Not only is he widely loved (pace sedevacantists, SSPXers, etc), he is also, thanks to Pope Francis, a canonized saint, and thus, someone we ought to seek to imitate and learn from. With this in mind, let's take a cue from "Good Pope John" and learn to love the things he loved... including the Latin language and its unique role in the life of the Church.

Good Pope John

The following quotes (with my emphasis) are from Pope St. John XXIII's Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia

1. Latin is an Universal (aka "catholic") Language.

Since "every Church must assemble round the Roman Church," and since the Supreme Pontiffs have "true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful" of every rite and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite.
When, therefore, the Roman Pontiffs wish to instruct the Catholic world, or when the Congregations of the Roman Curia handle matters or draw up decrees which concern the whole body of the faithful, they invariably make use of Latin, for this is a maternal voice acceptable to countless nations.
2. Latin is an Immutable Language.

Furthermore, the Church's language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings.
But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. it has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use. Certain Latin words, it is true, acquired new meanings as Christian teaching developed and needed to be explained and defended, but these new meanings have long since become accepted and firmly established.
3. Latin is not a Vernacular Language.

Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.
In addition, the Latin language "can be called truly catholic." It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed "a treasure ... of incomparable worth.". It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church's teaching.  It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity.
Saint Pope John XXIII, pray for us and for the Church, especially that all Catholics may come to appreciate the God ordained rule Latin has always played in the legal and liturgical life of His Church.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Clergy Sex Abuse Doesn't Disprove Catholicism - 4 Points

Often when engaging potential Catholics (aka non-Catholics) online the clergy sex abuse crisis is brought up as a hammer with which to bludgeon the Church and all faithful Catholics, a "guilt by association" argument. The idea underlying this argument is if Catholics (especially priests and bishops) do bad things, Catholicism must be false, or at least dismissible. Sometimes, the Crusades or the Inquisition are used as the "bad things" done by Catholics, but most often it is the sex abuse crisis that is used. Whether or not using the pain and suffering of sexual abuse victims to win an argument online is commendable, I'll leave to the reader to decide. How are Catholics to respond to these types of attacks? Here is how I usually do.

1. The Abuse Crisis was Terribly Evil.
Any percentage of priests taking sexual advantage of minors is outrageous and evil, but it tells us nothing about whether Catholicism is true. We all have free will. Any man (yes even priests, even bishops, even the Holy Father himself!) can freely choose misuse that gift and do evil instead of good. That is simply the human condition. It is deplorable when men, especially those in holy orders, commit gravely evil acts. Catholics, of course, should be the first in both condemning evil actions and in forgiving repentant sinners (which, of course, does not entail "letting them off the hook.") Priests that abuse minors and bishops who are negligent in investigating credible complaints should be (and are) held accountable. Period. No one is arguing that.

2. Let's Get Our Facts Straight.
It is often claimed that the sex abuse crisis was about pedophilia, "priest raping little kids." Of course, this wasn't the case at all. In fact, the vast majority of sexual abuse cases by priests were with older teenage boys. Evil, yes (and those priests deserve to be punished to the fullest possible extent of the law), "raping children," not exactly. Some suggest the sex crisis had more to do with homosexuality in the clergy than with pedophilia. As those attacking the Church frequently support homosexual sex as morally licit, the argument is re-framed, making it about "raping children" instead.

3. Uneven Media Coverage Has Lead to Distortions
Protestant churches, YMCAs, families, athletic programs, the Boy Scouts, and public schools all have higher rates of abuse than the Church had during the scandal (which ended 20 years ago). None of these institutions have, however, been dragged through the mud by the media in the same way the Church has. When is the last time you heard someone smear the current Penn State football program because of the sins of some of its coaches under Joe Paterno? Yet this is exactly what happens with the Church!

4.  The Church Today
As I mentioned above, the sex abuse crisis in the Church ended two decades ago. In the aftermath of the Sexual Revolution some men were ordained priests who should have been screened out by the seminaries, which were coping with the aftermath of Vatican 2. Some bishops, heeding the advice of therapists, handled these cases horribly. People suffered because of these failings, which was awful. That was then. Today, the Catholic Church has stepped up to the challenge of ending sexual abuse and now has more security in place than any other institution. More even than institutions that have higher abuse rates. Is there blame to go around for what happened? Certainly. Has the Church been unfairly singled out. Again, certainly. Has the Church done the most to make sure nothing like this ever happens again? Certainly. Has that been as widely reported as the abuse cases? Absolutely not.

In the end, though, whether or not Catholics (even priests, bishops, or popes) do bad things or handle situations incorrectly has no bearing on whether or not Catholicism is true. No Catholic would ever claim that Catholics (including popes) are sinless. Indeed, we claim the exact opposite. We are sinners in need of a Savior, the man Christ Jesus.

UPDATE: As some have called the accuracy of the statistics cited and the veracity of myself personally into question, I've decided to provide a link to the John Jay Report Executive Summary for anyone who is interested (SEE HERE). For those who don't want to wade through the whole document, the Catholic League has a nice summary (SEE HERE).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Atheism Refuted

This exists...

Therefore, God exists.

This argument is a favorite of Dr. Peter Kreeft, who says you either get this one or you don't (source). Personally, I feel bad for those who don't.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why Ignornace Won't Save Your Soul.

I saw this meme on Facebook the other day. It's worthy of a chuckle, but, theologically, it's barking up the wrong tree (or maybe wrong igloo) and shows the widespread misunderstanding many people have regarding the doctrine of "invincible ignorance".

What is Sin?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sin is
an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."
Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight." Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods," knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God." In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation. (paragraphs 1849-1850).

What is Mortal Sin?  
All sins, unlike all people, are not created equal. Some sins are so heinous that they destroy the life of grace in our souls. It is impossible to attain salvation apart from this "spiritual life" of grace. If we die without grace, we will descend into Hell. This isn't a positive punishment, like getting a speeding ticket for driving too fast. It is a natural consequence, like getting cancer from smoking cigarettes. It isn't something God does to us, it rather is something we have freely chosen to do ourselves. These sins, the ones that kill our souls, are traditionally called "mortal sins".

What Conditions Must be Present for a Sin to be Mortal?
 There are three conditions that all must be present for a sin to be mortal. Grave matter (it must be a serious sin), full knowledge (you have to know what you are doing), and complete consent (you can't sin mortally by accident). If any of these three elements are missing, a sin cannot be mortal. Full knowledge and complete consent are so essential the Catechism says,
Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. (1859)
Isn't this what the Meme is Getting at?
Here is where we get to our meme creator's misunderstanding. He has fumbled the meaning of full knowledge, thinking that someone (an Eskimo here) who hadn't learned the theological concept of mortal sin would automatically go to heaven (being unable to have the full knowledge necessary to commit a mortal sin, which in turn in necessary to commit to go to Hell). The idea here is that the Eskimo lacks the knowledge that any act could be sinful, therefore he cannot commit a mortal sin. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

Why is the Meme Wrong, then?
Because of an oft overlooked fact. Let's go back to the Catechism, paragraph 1860,
Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.
No one lacks full knowledge of the moral law. No one, including our pictured Eskimo. Everyone (this includes atheists) knows right from wrong. The Eskimo might be invincibly ignorant of his obligation to believe in Jesus Christ or to join the Catholic Church, but he is still liable for murder, theft, adultery, masturbation, greed, rape, etc. Any of those actions could still result in his eternal separation from God.

How Might a Priest Actually Answer this Question?
Thus we see the "priest's" answer in the Meme is one no priest would ever give. The conversation would more likely run,

Eskimo: If I did not know about God or sin, would I go to hell?
Priest: If you committed a mortal sin (and we all have), yes you would. But I have good news, Jesus Christ is Risen and He wants to forgive your sins!
Eskimo: How?
Priest: To start, repent, believe in the Gospel, and be baptized.
Eskimo: What is preventing me from being baptized here? (cf. Acts 8:36)
Priest: All the water's frozen!

Alright, maybe not as funny as the original, but more accurate.

What Did Vatican 2 Have to Say About Salvation?
All of this is summed up nicely by Vatican 2. The Council Fathers remind us that all non-Christians are not automatically damned, especially those who are outside the Church through no fault of their own. They must still cooperate with the grace of God, however, as we learn in Lumen Gentium 16,
...those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.... Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience....
 How frequently those who have not yet received the Gospel actually pull this, is another matter, one which the Council isn't so optimistic on,
...often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair.
The solution is simple,
Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature",the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.
In other words, everyone has a better chance making it through the flood of sin and inequity that resulted from the first sin inside the Ark (i.e. the Catholic Church) than they do outside of it. Might some make it through on a piece of driftwood that has fallen off the Ark? Maybe. But your best chance is being nice and dry on the Ark.

Noah's Ark
Get thee into the Ark!

So go out there and spread the Good News! Give your neighbors, colleagues, family members, and friends the best chance of making it through unto life eternal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Should Churches be Simple and Cheap? 4 Reasons the Answer is NO!

Frequently, Catholics are charged with building churches that are too nice, too ornate, too beautiful, and too expensive. Is this a valid criticism? Wouldn't that money be better spent on the poor? Should we build the cheapest churches possible? If you think we ought to, here are four reasons to reconsider.

1.  The Temple.
The chief architect of the Old Testament Temple was none other the God Himself. We read of God's plan for His Temple in 1 Chronicles 28. As you read this, ask yourself whether this sounds ornate, beautiful and expensive.
 Take heed now, for the Lord hath chosen thee to build a house for the sanctuary. Be strong, and do it.”
Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlors thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat; and the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God and of the treasuries of the dedicated things; also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the Lord, and for all the vessels of service in the house of the Lord. He gave gold by weight for things of gold, for all instruments of all manner of service; silver also for all instruments of silver by weight, for all instruments of every kind of service; even the weight for the candlesticks of gold and for their lamps of gold, by weight for every candlestick and for the lamps thereof; and for the candlesticks of silver by weight, both for the candlestick and also for the lamps thereof, according to the use of every candlestick.
 And by weight he gave gold for the tables of showbread, for every table, and likewise silver for the tables of silver; also pure gold for the fleshhooks and the bowls and the cups; and for the golden basins he gave gold by weight for every basin, and likewise silver by weight for every basin of silver; and for the altar of incense refined gold by weight, and gold for the pattern of the chariot of the cherubims that spread out their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord.
 All this,” said David, “the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern.” (verses 10-19)
The Temple of Jerusalem, inside
Inside of the OT Temple

2. The New Testament
But what of simple Jesus, you ask. Surely, He wouldn't have anything to do with all of this expensive material being used to honor God. No, He wouldn't ever let someone waste money on Him like that! Or would He? We have to go back to the Gospels and forget the widely popular (and inaccurate) idea that He was a first century hippie. Yes, Jesus didn't live in the opulence of a royal court, but neither did He forbid His followers from honoring Him through the material world. Remember, Jesus was buried in a fine (and expensive) linen shroud. If the Shroud of Turin is truly His, His burial cloth was nicer than even that of the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. Whether or not the Shroud is authentic, He was laid to rest in an expensive garden tomb. He also wore a seamless (again very expensive) tunic. One which was nice enough for the Roman soldiers to gamble over rather than divide. Think of His reaction to Mary Magdalene when she poured expensive perfume on His hair,
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you,a but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matt 26:10-13)

It was Judas, making the same argument many do today, who then decided to betray Christ.

3. The Eucharist

Peter Kreeft, in his excellent book Jesus Shock has this to say,
They were technological miracles, far ahead of their time, like the American moon rockets of the sixties. In fact, they were very much like moon rockets: heavy matter taught to fly like angels... What in the world can explain these miracles? Nothing in the world. That's what makes them miracles. Christ alone explains those cathedrals. Stonemasons did not build them; faith built them. His Real Presence built them, and His Real Presence was worshiped in them. They were built to house not man worshipping, but Christ worshipped. (pages 59-60)
 Reflect on that for a moment. A Catholic church is a domus Dei, a house of God, not merely a domus populus Dei, a house of the people of God. A Catholic church is primarily the physical dwelling place of God in that community because God Incarnate (hidden under the appearance of common bread) physically resides within. Yes, He is spiritually present everywhere (or better everywhere is present before Him), but He is uniquely present in a physical way in the Eucharist, which is housed within a Catholic church. One must ask, why shouldn't His people build the nicest house in town for Him?

Cathedral Medieval
Set for Blast-off

4. A False Dichotomy
There is no institution on Earth that has done more for the poor than the Church. The Church feeds more people, teaches more people, and provides health care to more people than any non governmental institution on Earth today and it has been doing so for nearly 2,000 years. In truth, there simply isn't a single institution in the history of the world that has done half as much for the poor than the Catholic Church. If you think Catholics should be spending money on the poor instead of on church buildings, you've set up a false dichotomy, either help the poor or build beautiful churches. What is being forgotten is how the poor are exactly the ones who donated the time, energy, and treasure to build those soaring cathedrals and it is the poor who, free of charge, can enjoy the splendor and beauty of those churches and the masterpieces that decorate them. Should beauty be the exclusive preserve of the rich?

Building beautiful places of worship, places that proclaim the gospel in stone, is an act of reverence and piety. It is a way of drawing people to the One True God. It elevates our worship by imaging the transcendent beauty of Heaven. Christians have understood this from the beginning, giving the best they could to God from the first. Under the draconian persecutions of the Romans, the best was meeting in the home of a member of the faithful, but as soon as the persecution subsided, beautiful churches began springing up. Opting to build a "functional" monstrosity when the resources are available to build something better is simply alien to the true Christian spirit.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Do Christians Seek to Escape the World?

Q. Christians just want to flee from the world, they are traitors! They want to escape the real world and go to God's dwelling place. Even the ancient Jews didn't believe this! They at least wanted to make a fit dwelling place for God on Earth. They saw the messiah as someone who would rule over the world, not as someone who whisks his followers away from the the world! Why isn't the world enough for Christians? Why do you want to run away!? That's why I'm happy to be a secular humanist, we like the world!!


Well, my friend, it seems you think Christians see salvation as an escape from the world into an ethereal heaven. While right on the money for some religions, this simply isn't the least bit accurate for historic and apostolic Christianity. Christians believe the Kingdom of God is already at hand. Right now. We believe we are called by Christ to transform the secular order in preparation for His Second Coming, which doesn't herald some sort of "Rapture" where faithful Christians leave the world behind, but rather brings the end of the age and with it a New Heavens and a New Earth where we will gloriously live with our King here forever. We believe in the resurrection of our bodies, that eternal life ultimately means an eternity of living in our bodies. Actually even that isn't correct for we don't believe we are souls or brains inhabiting bodies, Christians believe that we are our bodies. CS Lewis, in The Great Divorce, gives a much better insight into a Christian understanding of the relation between heaven and earth than you are operating under. It might serve you well to read the whole book, for now let's reflect on one passage.
“Son,'he said,' ye cannot in your present state understand eternity...That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say "Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences": little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why...the Blessed will say "We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, "We were always in Hell." And both will speak truly.”

Mere Christianity

What Lewis is saying is the difference between heaven and hell is one of such magnitude that it will affect the experience we've had of our entire lives. In that way it "will work backwards" making the damned realize they missed out on the joy of life all along, in fact they "were always in Hell." The opposite is true for blessed, even those moments of suffering will be seen for what they really were... "a glory." This makes this life, and this world we live in, all the more important for the Christian. We aren't terrestrial traitors hoping for a new homeland. Rather we are servants of the God who saw this world and declared "it is very good." It is the Christian who can truly love this world, for it is the Christian who sees the eternal worth of each moment spent in it.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

8 Can't Miss June Feast Days

The liturgical calendar is one of the greatest blessings of being Catholic. If lived, the calendar can become a "fifth gospel" as it directs our attention to the contemplation of the most important events in salvation history. We just left the month of Mary (May) and will soon be finished celebrating Easter (you are still celebrating Easter aren't you?) with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (be ready for red vestments this Sunday). June affords us a great opportunity to live our Catholic faith with many feast days including the following eight.

Liturgical Calendar
The Liturgical Calendar

1. Pentecost (Sunday, June 8)
One of the major feasts of the Church year and one of the very few times we see our priests in their red vestments (the color of the Holy Spirit). Pentecost officially closes the celebratory season of Easter. This feast, of course, is meant to bring to mind the first Christian Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the frightened and cowering apostles utterly transforming them into heroes who, with the sole exception of St. John, would preach the gospel unto martyrdom. Pentecost is a great time to reflect on our confirmation, when the Spirit was poured upon each one of us, along with the call to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations" by engaging in the hard work of the New Evangelization.

2. Feast of the Holy Trinity (Sunday, June 15)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of the significance of the Doctrine of the Trinity, which we contemplate on this day.
The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith". The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men "and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin". (234)

3. Corpus Christi (Sunday, June 22)
One of my personal favorite days of the year, the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. On this day we celebrate the "source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11) - the Eucharist. It is a day that frequently sees Eucharistic processions, like the following,
Eucharistic Procession
If that doesn't get you excited, then you need to check you Catholic pulse.

4. Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Patrons of Rome (Sunday, June 29)
Two of the greatest saints in history - our first pope, St. Peter, and the missionary to the gentiles, St. Paul - share a feast day as they share patronage of the city of Rome, where they both met gruesome deaths. St. Peter died on a Cross, upside down, while St. Paul was beheaded (he was a Roman citizen and received what the Romans considered a merciful punishment). The strength, wisdom, and courage of these two great men is worth contemplating today, especially as our Western society turns ever more solidly against historic Christianity. Are you ready to be a martyr for Christ? Am I?

5. Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Tuesday, June 24 - not an obligation day)
The last man of the Old Testament and the first of New, St. John the Baptist is well worth remembering for many reasons. One interesting point for today, the Bible tells us St. John was six months older than Jesus (cf. Lk 1:24-27, 36). It also tells us that St. John was conceived right after his father finished his stint as a Temple priest in our late September. Add nine months to September and you get late June as the birth month for St. John the Baptist. Add another six months on and you get late December for the birth day of Jesus, according to the New Testament itself. So much for the myth that Christmas is only celebrated on Dec 25 to replace a pagan holiday! (for more see Dr. Taylor Marshall's Blog)

6. The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (Friday, June 27 - not an obligation day)
Just about every Catholic Church I've been in has a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Today is a great day to pray in front of such a statue, asking Jesus once more into your heart. We must always remember, Catholicism isn't about ideas, it isn't even about rules, it's about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Do your Protestant neighbors talk about having a "personal relationship with Jesus"? Good for them. You should too.

7. The Immaculate Heart of Mary (Saturday, June 28 - not an obligation day)
Where would the human race be without Mary's fiat? It was her willingness to follow the Will of God without hesitation that allowed God to enter the world, taking on her flesh as His own. I've heard it said no one looks at their child or quite understands him as well as his mother. How much more true must this be of Mother Mary? The surest way to stand by Jesus is through His mother. Today is a great day to remember that.

8. Feast of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (Thursday, June 26 - not an obligation day)
This one won't be of universal appeal, but, as regular readers well know, St. Josemaria is my patron saint for 2014 and I'd be remiss if I didn't include his feast here. Today would be a great day to pick up a copy of his book The Way, which ought to be required reading for every Catholic. In it, St. Josemaria speaks plainly to his readers, encouraging them on to virtue. We've looked a bit as the wisdom of St. Josemaria already this year on the blog, today wouldn't be a bad day to review some of that wisdom (HERE).

There is a packed month for you, courtesy of the Catholic Church. Live it. Grow in holiness. Strive to enter the narrow way. BE A SAINT!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Catholic "Song of Death" - Then and Now

I just ran across this mind-blowing video tracing one of the holiest songs in Christendom from the Middle Ages through some modern composers to... the Lion King of all places. If you haven't seen it, it is worth a few moments of your time.

Aside from the interesting history of this most sampled of songs, what really struck me as I listened was how much the average American Catholic has really lost of his patrimony over these last few decades. This chant was an integral part of the Requiem Mass (the Mass for the dead) prior to the sweeping musical changes in the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council (and much against the Council's expressed wishes, I might add, see for example SC 116 - HERE). This powerful chant was known to all Catholics and was deeply associated with their understanding of, and indeed experience of, death. Hence, in the video, the Dies Irae is simply titled "the song of death."

Today, Catholics seldom here the Catholic "song of death" at a Catholic funeral. Instead, it is much more likely that they'll hear this:

The Church, of course, hasn't changed any of its teachings regarding the Last Things - death, judgement, Heaven, and Hell. The Church professes all she ever has, all she did when the Dies Irae heralded the death of a Catholic, instead of On Eagle's Wings. In fact, the Holy Spirit prevents the Church from ever professing or believing anything other than what she always had. The theologians knows this. Those of us who enjoy reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church know this.

But we also know lex orandi, lex credendi (how we pray determines what we believe). With this in mind, I ask you, dear reader:

1) Does the ordinary Catholic still believe the same thing about death as his mighty forebears? Is the same understanding still there?

2) Does On Eagles' Wings represent the same theology of death as the Dies Irae?

3) If it doesn't, why should we not immediately return the Dies Irae, a song that has hallowed our church's since the sixth century, to its proper place in parish life, banishing On Eagle's Wings to a non-liturgical role (perhaps used at wakes)?

Note: I have no personal animus against On Eagle's Wings. It is a nice song and certainly can have a place to play in the devotional life of Catholics. The question here is not one of "personal taste" (I like this song better than that), but of which song ought to fulfill a liturgical role in the Church's life. It is a question of propriety, not of preference. For more on the this distinction see:
Should Personal Taste Influence the Liturgy?  and
This isn't Football Music

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Top 3 Great Paintings of the Annunciation

A reader of the blog, Christian (whose blog Smaller Manhattans should be added to your "must read" list ASAP) commented on my recent list, Top 5 Favorite Images of Our Lady, adding a couple of his own favorite pics, both of the Annunciation, specifically

tanner annunciation
The Annunciation by Henry Tanner


annunciation - isenheim altarpiece
The Annunciation by Matthias Grünewald

Both of which are great devotional images. My personal favorite painting of the Annunciation, however, has to be

Annunciation Uffizi
The Annunciation by Sandro Botticelli
The positioning of the hands of Gabriel and Mary strongly suggest the coming of the Holy Spirit and the conception of Our Lord. Of course the pallet is strong and the image seen through the window is captivating. However, it is the look on Gabriel's face, one almost of fear and awe, that makes this both my favorite Annunciation and my favorite Botticelli.

Do you have a favorite painting of the Annunciation?

Monday, June 2, 2014

What Can Sales Teach Us About Evangelization?

Looking at this list of sales statistics a few thoughts jumped to mind.

Our popes, for the last fifty years, have been calling us lay Catholics to evangelize the world. One noted Catholic blogger, Dr. Taylor Marshall, pointed out that there are 1 billion Catholics in a world of 6 billion people. If each of us brought just 6 new people into Christ's Church, we'd convert the world. Sadly, most Catholics are not concerned with getting the hard work of the New Evangelization done. A large percentage of American "Catholics" don't even manage to make it to Mass each Sunday, showing they are more apt to be evangelized than to do the evangelizing. Another segment attends Mass weekly, aiming to skate by doing the bare minimum. Some fired-up Catholics want to be more engaged, but dissipate their energies in the Sanctuary distributing communion or reading the Scriptures (jobs that could be done by a priest or deacon) instead on focusing on converting their friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors.

For those Catholics left who really want to set the world afire for Christ, we are left wondering exactly how to accomplish the task? Ought we to bang on doors in the style of the Mormons? Maybe we need to done sandwich signs proclaiming the end of the world. Or are we better off engaging non-Catholics in apologetic arguments over creed, code, and cult?

I immediately thought of all this when I saw the above sales graphic, which, I think applies just as well to evangelization as it does to selling a widgit. Perhaps, these sales stats give us the answer. Maybe, the best way of making disciples for Christ, is to continue to make contact, time and again, with "prospective Catholics" (that is, maybe, a better way of seeing non-Catholics). Building real relationships with them, real friendships with them, so that we can introduce them to Jesus Christ, who seeks to call all men His friends (cf. John 15:15)

Which leads to the question, just how many contacts might it take to make a "prospective Catholic" into an "actual Catholic"? If sales stats can teach us anything here, it seems it might be as many as five to twelve. The challenge of the New Evangelization, then, is to make our "pitch" for Christ multiple times without seeming pushy, without getting argumentative, but with great kindness and joy inviting these non-Catholics to enter into the mystery of life with Christ in His one holy Church. Don't be one of the people who give up too early to make a new disciple for Christ. We Catholics have something much more valuable than anything offered by any salesman, the words of eternal life.