Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reflections on the Church at the End of the Year

While 2013 had many instances of breaking news, I think the biggest change for the year was the election of Pope Francis and the reactions to his different style.

During the pontificates of Paul VI, Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we grew accustomed to a Pope behaving in a certain way. There were some new things done (for example, the World Youth Days) or old things done in new ways, but for the most part we had a fixed view on how a Pope was supposed to behave. There was some dissent as individuals on the left or right took offense with their actions, but they had strong support from Catholics who looked to the Church as Mother and Teacher.

It was inevitable that Pope Francis would shake things up. He was not a European with a European perspective and a European history. He was not a pre-Vatican II priest (ordained in 1969).  He would do things differently simply because he had a different background.

Unfortunately, many Catholics who were accustomed to the perspective of his predecessors mistook those elements as being part of the essence of what the papacy was supposed to be. Both conservative and liberal Catholics believed he was overturning Catholic belief... to the horror of conservatives and delight of liberals.

Both were wrong. A reading of his pre-papal works would show that he took the teaching of the Church as a given. His difference was how he approached the mission of the Church.

The approaches of Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI were not wrong. Their approach was to deal with a world that wrongly contrasted freedom and religious beliefs. Their teachings made it clear that true freedom comes from doing what is right.  That was right. That was necessary.

But it was easy for some Catholics to reduce the Catholic faith to compliance with certain moral norms. That wasn't the fault of  Paul VI, John Paul II or Benedict XVI, but it had to be addressed.

Pope Francis did address it. He told us that it was not enough to teach compliance with moral norms. We had to put those teachings in the context of Christ's Great Commission.

Unfortunately, many (both conservative and liberal) heard "not enough" and equated it with "not necessary." The media has a large portion of the blame here of course.  By taking quotes out of context, they portrayed the Pope as a "everyone love each other" hippie. It was bad enough that people ignorant of what he said believed the media. But the real problem was ordinarily faithful Catholics -- especially in the blogosphere -- also believed the media instead of seeing what the Pope really said.

The result is a portion of Catholics among those who defended his predecessors, look at Pope Francis as a Pope who has to be endured... with opinions ranging from "he doesn't understand how things work outside of Argentina" to treating him as an incompetent who knows less of Church teaching then they do.

The problem is these criticisms focus on the Pope not saying what they want him to say instead of actually considering what he says.

The Pope has spoken about the need to evangelize those outside or at odds with the Church. That means the need to show love of God and neighbor.

I believe he is right. Sin exists and we must speak out to warn people about the dangers of sin. (see Ezekiel 33). But we must also do so from an attitude of love... we have to give a damn about what happens to Obama or Pelosi.

But it also means we need to give thought to how we present Christ's salvation. Do we come across as disciples of Christ? Or do we come across as Republicans? (The two are not the same thing).

The Pope's admonishment of us is not a denial of sin or a denial of Church teaching. It is a reminder of Matthew 7:3-5...

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Personally, I think Pope Francis is the Pope Catholics need... even if he isn't the Pope some Catholics wanted.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

True For You But Not Me?

A relative shared a link on Facebook. The article itself wasn't too important, but it had a quote in it that got me thinking. The quote was:

All of us have a terrible tendency toward unwarranted certainty -- certain we are right, certain others are wrong, certain that if our ideas were only adopted all would be sweetness and light to the end of time.

When we find the truth, we often decide that what really matters is that everybody else honor the truth that we have discovered. And when we discover that others don't honor our truths -- that they have truths of their own -- we turn against them in confusion and even horror.

Now, in fairness to the author, he was trying to emphasize the Pope's speaking on the need for love in truth -- very true.  But the problem with this quote is it shows a fundamental misunderstanding on what truth is.

Aristotle once defined truth as "To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”

This is too often forgotten. To say "that's true for you," is oxymoronic (and as philosopher Peter Kreeft once mischievously put it, "it's also moronic"). Speaking the truth is to speak in a way that accurately corresponds with reality.

Now truth can be objective (always true regardless of whoever perceives it) or subjective (true for someone who experiences certain conditions but not for someone who not for those who don't experience those conditions).

An example of objective truth is the definition of a triangle. A plane figure with three straight sides and three angles totalling 180°. If you don't have that, you don't have a triangle. If it has 4 sides or if the angles total 190° it is not true to call it a triangle. This is the case regardless of perception or experience.

An example of subjective truth is for a person to say, "my foot hurts."  It's true because that person dropped a cinder block on it. It wouldn't be true for a person who did not drop a heavy object on it or a person with neuropathy.

Once you recognize this, the quote from the article becomes problematic. People may believe different things about how reality works, but if a person believes something contrary to reality,  his or her belief is not true.

For example, either some form of divinity exists or does not.  If there is no form of divinity, then atheists are right and others are wrong. However, if some form of divinity exists, atheists are wrong and the question becomes, in what way does divinity exist.

There are many legitimate either-or questions that must exclude other concepts. Pantheism vs. Monotheism for example. But the point is, the reality is objective truth regardless of what people think. If the reality is that God exists, is triune and the second part of the Trinity established His Church on Peter and his successors (Catholicism) then those who believe otherwise believe falsely -- whether sincerely or insincerely.

Thus the article only partially undetstands Pope Francis. In context, the Pope said:

Here we begin to see how love requires truth. Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey. If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time. True love, on the other hand, unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light pointing the way to a great and fulfilled life. Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit.

If love needs truth, truth also needs love. Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives. The truth we seek, the truth that gives meaning to our journey through life, enlightens us whenever we are touched by love. One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved. In this sense, Saint Gregory the Great could write that "amor ipse notitia est", love is itself a kind of knowledge possessed of its own logic.[20] It is a relational way of viewing the world, which then becomes a form of shared knowledge, vision through the eyes of another and a shared vision of all that exists. William of Saint-Thierry, in the Middle Ages, follows this tradition when he comments on the verse of the Song of Songs where the lover says to the beloved, "Your eyes are doves" (Song 1:15).[21] The two eyes, says William, are faith-filled reason and love, which then become one in rising to the contemplation of God, when our understanding becomes "an understanding of enlightened love". (Lumen Fidei #27)

It's because people fail to grasp that both are needed that we run into error... either a merciless truth or a love that lacks the strength to say "this is wrong. "

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Musings on the Feast of the Holy Innocents

213. Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual”.[176]

214. Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?

(Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)

One thing I notice is the contemptuous way some people view the Bible and the times it describes. It views these times as barbaric and treats modern times as infinitely superior.

The massacre of the Holy Innocents by King Herod show us how false that view is. For fear of losing his throne, King Herod ordered the murder of those children in Bethlehem two years and younger.  We don't know how many children that involved, but whatever the number, it was obviously wrong to massacre the innocent... especially for so selfish a reason.

However, in our society,  Herod lives on. The massacre of innocents is more hidden under the term "abortion," or "reproductive freedom," but the children are slaughtered for selfish reasons. Herod killed them to protect his kingdom. Today people kill them to protect their convenience, comfort or other wants.

Herod's actions showed the sin and barbarism of his time.

Abortion shows the sin and barbarism of ours.

Friday, December 27, 2013

TFTD: Boomerang

One form of the attack on Christian moral values is an attack of negation. The general attack is along the lines of:

● The Christian belief has [alleged flaw]
● Therefore the Christian belief should not be held.

The irony is that, if followed to the end, it actually negates the attacking position.

For example, the argument claiming that opposition to abortion or homosexuality is imposing their views on others will, if taken to the end requires us to recognize that the promotion of abortion or homosexuality is also an imposition of views on others. If the imposition of one's views is grounds for rejection, then we must also reject the promotion of these behaviors.

Another example comes from the atheist claiming that the belief in God has no scientific basis. Because (they argue) that it is irrational to believe in something with no scientific basis, it is irrational to believe in God.   However, the statement that God does not exist has no scientific basis either.  Therefore, it is irrational to believe there is no God.

In both cases we see an attempt to silence the Christian belief on the basis of a perceived flaw... a flaw which the attacker's argument has. A boomerang which strikes the attacker.

There is another thing to be aware of. The alleged flaw in the Christian belief is not the reason for the Christian belief.  These attacks actually attempt to avoid looking into the reasons for the Christian moral teaching.

Because the onus of proof is on the person making the claim, we certainly have the right to question the claim. We can meet the accusation of "Christianity is flawed and therefore can be rejected," with "Show me where and how it is flawed."

If the accuser is a person of good will and willing to learn (as opposed to one shouting slogans), we have an opportunity to bear witness to the truth.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Musing

The shepherds in the fields went to Bethlehem to see Jesus.

Because of the Eucharist, we too can go to see Jesus.

A Blessed Christmas to you all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

You Can Only Push So Far


I'm sure A&E was caught by surprise by the huge backlash involving Phil Robertson and his comments on homosexuality.  They assumed people would agree with them in condemning his comments as "homophobic." Instead, they found that not only were a large portion of the viewing public not offended by his statements, they were in fact offended by the A&E suspension.

Those who were caught by surprise shouldn't be. While the case was an unexpected rallying point, the treatment of Christian moral teaching by political, cultural and media elites has been so hostile that it was only a matter of time before American Christians got so fed up that they would revolt.

What This Article Is Not

I don't intend this article to be a defense of Mr. Robertson. Nor do I intend it to be an apologia for the Christian position on homosexuality.  I don't intend to defend all forms of Christianity. Because I recognize Catholicism as the Church established by Christ, the positions I choose to defend come from Catholicism. When other denominations diverge from Catholicism, I feel no need to justify that position.

What this is article is about is the distorted way Christian moral teaching is portrayed.

The Hypocrisy Problem

One problem is that in America, the political, cultural and media elites have contempt for the Christian moral teaching that they run afoul of. They're perfectly happy to point out when conservative thought runs afoul Christianity... or when they think it runs afoul of Christianity. However, when the teaching of Christianity turns to things the elites practice or support, suddenly they are hostile and Christianity is "forcing" itself on others.

This is a case of hypocrisy of course. One can be consistent either by accepting the teaching of Christianity in all areas of life or one can say it has no say in any area. But if a person only permits Christianity in areas one agrees with and denied it the right to speak on position one disagrees with, it makes that person hypocritical. This is because the person only recognizes authority when it benefits them and ignores it when it does not.

The case of Pope Francis demonstrates this.  He has spoken about upholding Catholic moral and social teaching. But the elites only cite passages when it seems to agree with them... regardless of how out of context they have to take his statements.

The Honestly Problem

Another problem is the portrayal of Christian teaching.  Basically the Christian is represented as being ignorant, dishonest or holding malice because they hold to their moral beliefs which say some acts are never good. If a Christian thinks homosexual acts are sinful, it must mean the Christian hates homosexuals.

The problem is, the charge is false. The concern for another on the grounds that he or she is living in a way that leads to damnation is not an act of hatred or contempt. If we hated the sinner (and remember Christians know they themselves are sinners as well), we'd just ignore them satisfied with the thought they'd go to hell.

The Reaction

Christians get annoyed like other people of course. In this case we are annoyed because the Christians are being slandered. Our teachings are selectively cited, misrepresented and we are falsely accused of malice for our motives.

So when this attack on Robertson happened, when Christian teaching is portrayed as something it is not, Christians justly get angry.  It's not that Phil Robertson is a person of great significance.  It's that he said what was true and he was reviled for saying it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Imposition of Ideology, Not Neutrality


One of the tactics used in seeking to displace Christianity is by making the alternative view seem to be neutral in the face of a "partisan" religion. Basically, the argument is that because the First Amendment forbids "establishment of religion," and Christianity is a religion, the First Amendment forbids the establishment of Christianity.

The problem is, the establishment of religion refers to the making a religion the official religion of the nation. In historical precedent, a state religion involved official sanction of one religion over another. It had the rights while any other religions were restricted in some way.

This understanding has been perverted into the sense that the practice of religion cannot be accepted on property belonging to government whether national, state or local... even to the extent that a memorial to the war dead which bears a religious symbol can be ordered torn down decades later.

The Contradictory Positions

Paradoxically, one cannot place a cross on public property as part of the freedom of religion, but one can burn a cross on public property as part of the freedom of speech (if not done to intimidate)... even though both freedom of religion and freedom of speech are part of the First Amendment.

This leaves us with a contradiction: One cannot have a display of religion on public property because it might offend those who do not share those religious beliefs. So why can people air political beliefs on public property without concern over whether it offends those who do not share that belief?

If allowing religious symbols or activity on public property means the establishment or endorsement of religion, then it follows that allowing political activity on public property is the government's endorsement of a political faction. Any political demonstration on the Washington Mall therefore imposes political views.

One can either argue that both religious and political symbols/activity can be allowed on public property or neither can, but one can't argue for one without the other without being hypocritical.

Oh wait... the First Amendment also informs us that we have the "the right of the people peaceably to assemble," so one can't argue neither is allowable.

The Real Issue

The real issue here is the modern movement to restrict religion is not based on neutrality, but on restricting something that stands in opposition to an ideological position. It is an imposition of a position favored by political and social elites and the suppression of those that disagree.

In other words, what we have is the "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion in order to benefit a group that dislikes the calling of sin a sin.

When we see judges determine that so-called "gay marriage" is a human right against the widely recognized knowledge that marriage is between one man and one woman, we see a member of the elite imposing their views on others. When we see government officials refusing to defend just laws they disagree with, they are imposing their views on others.

The Reverse is Not True

Now some try to argue that Christianity is the one that imposes its view on others. This is false. Christianity is no ideology trying to force its way by courts and executive orders into a system of beliefs held across time and geography. Christian morality has long been recognized as being true by people of different lands and eras, and the laws which derive from Christian morality come from the conviction that laws must be in accordance with the truth.

This is important to remember: Christianity did not force itself on an unwilling public by unscrupulous judges and partisan laws. It is now under attack because malcontents dislike being opposed in their desire for their favorite vices.


Despite the media and political propaganda to label Christian morality as intolerant and calling for a "neutral" view, we need to recognize that the views expressed as an alternative are not neutral. They are adversarial to Christianity, thinking of it as a bad thing that needs to be contained or destroyed.

The secular rejection of Christianity is not a movement based on justice, but on partisanship. Once we recognize this we can see their actions for the injustices they are.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Implications of the Phil Robertson Incident

What strikes me about the Phil Robertson case is what it says about religious freedom in America. A man was just blackballed from TV for stating his beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexual acts. Christianity is attacked for being a religion of hatred and intolerance.

Now Robertson, in voicing his views that homosexuality is sinful, is not all that far from the Catholic view at all:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Apparently actually saying that is forbidden however.

The comedian Yakov Smirnoff once cracked that both America and Russia had freedom of speech, but in America you had freedom after you spoke. Apparently, that's no longer true.

The implications of the incident is that people holding the Christian belief on morality which run counter to what the media and political elites approve of can be blacklisted and suffer other sanctions.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thoughts on Those Who Think the Pope Errs


Nine months into the pontificate of Pope Francis, there is a certain subset of orthodox Catholics in the blogosphere who think he is going in the wrong direction. Because Pope Francis gives a certain emphasis that doesn't mirror their preferences, the response is to view him as one or more of the following: naive, out of touch, not knowledgeable on the topic or even heretical.

Some of them are polite in their misgivings. Some seem to treat him like an "idiot uncle" who needs to be endured. But what they're not doing is treating him like the Pope.

Many bloggers in this subset have expressed concern with the Pope's teachings, making comments asserting that what he says goes against Church teaching by either poorly expressing himself or by lack of understanding. When the Pope speaks on moral theology in relation to political or economic issues, the assumption is he said something wrong. Nobody seems to ask whether their own understanding of what he said or of Church teaching is faulty.

In other words, this subset of bloggers tends to consider themselves to be more knowledgeable than the Pope on these issues.

I really can't follow these bloggers. They are going in a direction conscience forbids me to go.

There are two reasons for this.

The First Reason

The first is I have a belief that God is active in His Church and will not permit it to teach error in matters of faith and morals binding on the faithful.

Now many might say, "Oh! I would never deny an ex cathedra statement by the Pope, but he didn't speak infallibly." The problem is, the faithful are not only bound by ex cathedra statements. The Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis #20 tells us:

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

The ordinary teachings of the Pope still require the assent of the faithful. Now, is it reasonable to think that when we have the obligation to assent, the Holy Spirit will permit the Pope to teach that which is harmful to the soul of the faithful?

I can't buy into that thinking. It means that unless the Pope declares everything he does ex cathedra, there must always be doubt about what he teaches... we can never know whether a teaching we must assent to is true unless it bears this mark.

That's spiritual chaos and something that contradicts Christ when He says, in Matt 28:20b, "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

Even if Pope Francis turned out to be like Pope John XXII, with a faulty understanding, God protects His vicar from teaching error in a binding way.

The Second Reason

And that brings me to the second reason: I don't believe Pope Francis is a Pope like John XXII. I believe he is a holy man, teaching in full accord with what the Church has always taught.  Reading his insights from before he became Pope, in books like Only Love Can Save Us, Open Mind Faithful Heart and On Heaven and Earth show what he believes and speaks on is not at all going against what the Church had said previously. His recent encyclical and exhortation are solid Catholic teaching as well.

While sloppy journalism has misrepresented him at times, that misrepresentation is not his fault and it is our obligation to seek the true meaning and not rely on the misinterpretation.


I believe that whatever troubles may come to our Church, we cannot accept as valid any group which holds that they are right and the Pope is wrong in matters which require assent. When the Pope speaks on moral obligations towards economic and political actions, we do not do right by saying the Pope doesn't really understand economics or politics. We do right by heeding the moral obligations he warns us about.

Deciding we can ignore the Pope is wrong, whether the disobedience is liberal or conservative in nature.

A good rule of thumb is, if the Pope is reported as saying something that sounds like it goes against Church teaching,  the safe bet is that the error is with the reporter or reader -- not the Pope.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Propaganda vs. The Church

Cardinal Dolan remarked that the Church was outmarketed on the so-called "gay marriage" issue and caricatured as being "anti-gay."  While I agree, I think it is more accurate to say the opponents of the Church used massive propaganda and slander/libel in their marketing of homosexuality and abortion.

This propaganda and slander involves portraying their own position as true without proving it so, and then vilifying anyone who disagrees making them appear to be motivated by bigotry.

It has been quite successful. Looking at comments in news stories about the ACLU suing the Catholic bishops on their abortion directive, I see hateful comments about how the Church is a horrific institution that needs to be destroyed.

Now one needs to take Internet comments with a grain of salt. How representative they are of the population is hard to judge. Are they the common view? Or are they snarky teens mad that mom and dad made them go to Church?

However, such comments show that among part of the population people have been effectively propagandized to support, or at least not care, if the Government should try to attack or control the Church.

Basically the propagandists state (without proof) that the Catholic position is based on hatred and seek to use the appeal to emotion in order to get pity for the favored view and opposition to the Church teaching... before the Church can even speak.

Now some have blamed the bishops, saying that if they were doing their jobs we wouldn't be in this position. I don't believe that. The reason is,  a false statement (whether deliberate or not) can easily fit on a slogan or soundbite. The refutation takes much longer.  Given how short a news story is, the refutation is usually ignored or distorted.

However, all Catholics (not just the bishops and priests) are called to defend the faith. Not all who have been propagandized are extreme. Some of them may be open to the truth, merely believing what they have been told about us because it never occurred to question the reliability of the reports.

Some, especially on the Internet, may be abusive.  All we can do is to be polite and speak to the reader, not get sucked into a flame war with an abusive person.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thoughts on the American Situation

Truth be told America is becoming precisely what our Founding Fathers wanted to prevent -- a government suppressing the inalienable rights this nation was founded on recognizing.

At this time, the right of religious freedom is under attack. The government and certain elites are seeking to restrict the rights by which we live according to how we ought.

At first, the attacks were based on trying to silence people with religious convictions seeking to enact just laws. Christians were told they were wrong to "force" their views on others while those who were trying to overturn laws based on Christian morality were hypocritically forcing their own views.

Then came attacks which sought to bully Christians into silence by slandering them as being motivated by hatred. Homophobe! War on Women! Being concerned for the well being of their immortal souls was misrepresented as irrational fear and hate. It's gotten to the point that a Christian who openly agrees with Christian morality risks repercussions if their place of education or employment should hear.

Now comes the legal attacks. It started in 2009 when Obama threw out the executive orders on conscience protection. Then people could be fired if they refused to do things they found morally objectionable. Then we had the contraception mandate which forced businesses and institutions to provide coverage for abortion and contraception even if it went against what they believed they were obliged to do before God.

Currently we have seen businesses face lawsuits and legal action for making a stand on what they felt obligated to do. Bakeries have been slapped with discrimination charges for refusing to participate in a so-called "gay marriage."  Catholic hospitals are threatened for their refusal to perform abortions.

Consider all of that.  Now consider the first amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment is about the limitations of government in regards to what sort of laws they may impose. The government may neither impose a state religion nor restrict how religion can be practiced.

The government today behaves in a way that violates our Constitution with impunity.

This puts the religious believer in a bad position. Instead of having "certain unalienable Rights" according to the Declaration of Independence, we have a government which treats all rights as if they were favors granted and can be removed at their whim.

In other words, a government that contradicts what America was supposed to be.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Attacks on the Church Escalate

In an extremely perverse move, the ACLU is suing the Catholic bishops on the grounds that their directives on following the Church teaching on abortion endangers the life/health of women.

Think about it. They're not suing a hospital for discharging a woman who still needed medical care. They're suing the Catholic bishops for teaching that a Catholic institution has to operate according to Catholic moral principles, and if they will not, they cannot call themselves a Catholic institution.

The case still needs to be watched. More details are needed to determine precisely what resolution the plaintiff wants.

However, the Catholic Church knowing direct abortion is never permissible cannot comply with any demand that she permit her hospitals to perform them.  Since we must choose to suffer evil rather than commit it, the Church may face unjust consequences for refusing to obey an unjust judicial decree.

More and more Lincoln's words, which I have cited over the years seem prophetic:

As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it, "All men are created equal, except Negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, "All men are created equal except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some other country where they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

Hypocritical because Americs claims to be a nation which respects freedom and liberty but is perfectly willing to interfere with Constitutional rights which belong to groups unpopular with the political and media elites.

This is a time to pray for our nation, that it may repent of its injustice, and pray for our bishops, that they will not falter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I came across an article while checking out the news this morning. Basically it involves people who have gotten a so-called "gay marriage" in one state and wants a divorce in a state that does not recognize such relationships as marriage.

What struck me as I read this was the rhetoric used by the proponents of this "gay marriage."  The statements like:

"[T]o be in a state that doesn't recognize you as a human being, or recognize you for who you are, for who you love, it's hard... I'm not treated like the neighbors next door. I'm treated like a second-class citizen."

...show the propaganda against the reality of marriage being between one man and one woman... portraying it as looking down on people with same sex attractions.

In logic, we call this the Straw man fallacy.  The caricature of an argument which is attacked to make it seem as though the whole position is without merit.  Supporting traditional marriage is not to refuse to recognize a person with same sex attraction as a human being.  Nor is it treating them as a second class citizen.

Rather it is based on the fact that the family which raises children is the building block which society is based on. It is where the child is instilled with the teachings enabling them to build up society.

Reduce marriage to sex and emotional bond and you're destroying that building block. But you don't hear that or other reasons as to why same-sex couples can't be married.

Instead, we get appeals to pity... "the mean state (or Christians) treat us as less than human second class citizens just because we love each other."

That is biased, misleading language used to promote a political cause or point of view... the definition of Propaganda.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Judge Not?

Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.  (Matt 7:1-5)

There are two things, moreover, in which we ought to beware of rash judgment; when it is uncertain with what intention any thing is done; or when it is uncertain what sort of a person he is going to be, who at preset is manifestly either good or bad. If, therefore, any one, for example, complaining of his stomach, would not fast, and you, not believing this, were to attribute it to the vice of gluttony, you would judge rashly. Likewise, if you were to come to know the gluttony and drunkenness as being manifest, and were so to administer reproof as if the man could never be amended and changed, you would nevertheless judge rashly.

--St. Augustine, Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount #61.

One line of attack against the moral teaching of the Church is the use of Christ's statememt on not judging others.  The general argument is along the lines of:

1) Jesus said not to judge.
2) But by saying homosexuality (or another sin) is wrong, you're judging.
3) So you're going against what Jesus said by saying homosexuality is wrong.

The problem is, using that line of reasoning, you couldn't condemn Nazis or rapists or murderers either. That's absurd of course, so it demonstrates that the argument is flawed.

Moreover, Jesus also said, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (John 20:23). Obviously one cannot forgive and retain sins without judging. Therefore Jesus cannot be interpreted in the sense of being unable to say an act is morally wrong.

What we have here is the fallacy of equivocation -- the using a word with a different meaning than intended.  An example of this would be:

1) Nothing is better than a diamond.
2) A cheap rhinestone is better than nothing.
3) Therefore a cheap rhinestone is better than a diamond.

The Equivocation is in the word "nothing."  In the major premise, it is used to mean the diamond has no rival to exceed it in value.  In the minor premise it is used to mean it is better to possess something than not to possess anything at all.  The result is a false conclusion.

The concept of judgment also has multiple meanings:

▪the ability to make considered decisions or form sensible opinions.
▪an opinion or conclusion.
▪a decision of a law court or judge.

Now it is reasonable to assume Jesus is not condemning making considered decisions or sensible decisions.  Nor, when considering John 20:23, can we think Jesus was denying the authority to decide questions of law.

However we can jump to unreasonable conclusions about the motives or ultimate destiny of a person who sins.  We can't know that a murderer is irredeemable and doomed to Hell.  We don't know that the suicide deliberately acted with full knowledge and free consent and is thus damned.  We don't know if a person died unrepentant. We don't know if a person who is holy now will perservere or not.

Ultimately what we don't know is the role of grace granted by God to others and what the ultimate choices of free will result in at the end.

So I can't say Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi are doomed to damnation because of the evil they did... not because we can't know that things are evil, but because we can't know whether or not they will repent. Our obligation is to pray for them, not write them off.

If we couldn't judge whether acts were wrong we would never be able to obey Christ when He said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

This is why the Church can speak of sin and the danger to the soul and not disobey Christ.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Musings on the Church and Social Justice

When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a Communist.

--Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian archbishop

The concern for the poor is a dual edged sword for the Church. When she cares for the poor, she is praised. When she challenges people to consider their behavior and obligations to the poor, she is considered to be naive, out of touch and unrealistic at best or leaning towards socialism at worst.

And admittedly, some in the Church do lose sight of the Christian obligation and try to reduce the Church teaching to a political or economic way of thinking.  Things like liberation theology are a distortion of the Christian belief.

Unfortunately, some falsely reason:

1) Either Socialism or Capitalism
2) The Pope is not speaking of Capitalism positively
3) Therefore, the Pope is pro-Socialism.

The problems with this assumption is that not speaking of capitalism positively does not mean speaking in favor of socialism. It can merely mean that the Pope is speaking against abuses in capitalism and calling for a change of heart.

The Church social teaching is not about embracing ideologies. It is about reminding people that Christians are obliged to live their faith in all aspects of their life.

People today get offended by Pope Francis speaking about the waste and lack of concern for others. But they forget that in 1937, Pope Pius XI wrote (in an encyclical condemning Communism):

But when on the one hand We see thousands of the needy, victims of real misery for various reasons beyond their control, and on the other so many round about them who spend huge sums of money on useless things and frivolous amusement, We cannot fail to remark with sorrow not only that justice is poorly observed, but that the precept of charity also is not sufficiently appreciated, is not a vital thing in daily life. We desire therefore, Venerable Brethren, that this divine precept, this precious mark of identification left by Christ to His true disciples, be ever more fully explained by pen and word of mouth; this precept which teaches us to see in those who suffer Christ Himself, and would have us love our brothers as Our Divine Savior has loved us, that is, even at the sacrifice of ourselves, and, if need be, of our very life. Let all then frequently meditate on those words of the final sentence, so consoling yet so terrifying, which the Supreme Judge will pronounce on the day of the Last Judgment: "Come, ye blessed of my Father . . . for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink . . . Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren you did it to me."[33] And the reverse: "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire . . . for I was hungry and you gave me not to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink . . . Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least. neither did you do it to me."[34]

(Divini Redemptoris #47).

It's the same message, 76 years before Pope Francis wrote Evangelii Gaudium (in fact, only a year after he was born).  There have been huge upheavals in the political and economic landscape since 1937, but Pope Pius XI wrote what was true then and is true now. People can sin in ways involving the economy. Some in ways always wrong (like the injustices of Communism). Others in ways that misuse the system for personal gain.

Unfortunately people either want to coopt the Church teaching into looking like an endorsement of their partisan views or treat it as if the Church was deceived into endorsing "the other side."

That's happening again. Communism is largely irrelevant today and Capitalism exists even in Communist nations to some extent. So the Pope doesn't need to speak against Communism's wrongs.  Capitalism is alive and well, so when it goes wrong, the Pope would be remiss to be silent on these wrongs.

The Church teaching is not politically motivated. It is concerned with our relationship with God and neighbor -- relationships which should be our highest priority in life.  If we think of these teachings as political, perhaps we should think about where we stand in our relationships with God and neighbor.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

TFTD: Political Critics

I see it reported that Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh have begun to disparage the Pope over his Apostolic Exhortation. Now it is understandable that non-Catholics might not understand the Catholic teaching on different subjects. However it is sad to see people judging a Papal statement from the perspective of political ideology.

Christianity is not a political platform. It is not an economic policy.  It is about the love of God for each one of us and His plan of salvation. Not everything about it fits in with what human beings find most economical or politically expedient.

Because Christianity is about our salvation and because the Pope is the successor of Peter, head of Christ's Church, it stands to reason that when the Pope speaks about the moral issues that involve political or economic issues we should take heed of whether our actions or attitudes put us in opposition to Jesus Christ.

Jesus told us (Mark 8:34b-38)

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Our political and economic gain do not outweigh our need for salvation. While capitalism is not intrinsically evil, it can be practiced in an immoral way. Those practices must be rejected by any person concerned with following the Lord.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

TFTD: Corporations Have No Rights?

On the CNN newsfeed, I saw an editorial claiming that individuals have rights but corporations do not. Therefore corporations like Hobby Lobby should not be able to get an exemption from the mandated contraception/abortion coverage since such rights only extend to the individual practice of religion -- which the author seems to interpret as worship.

But that's too narrow. The First Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The key words in this case are, "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The free exercise of religion involves all aspects of a person's life... including the right to go into business.

If corporations founded by religious believers may not be run according to the religious convictions they hold, this is a restriction on the free exercise of religion.

Moreover, if religion is merely a right of individuals, then it follows that freedom of speech, press, peaceable assembly and petition of grievances are also individual rights.  That means organized social justice groups, the New York Times, unions and organized protests are also restricted.

That means Elizabeth B. Wydra has the individual right to opine on religious freedom but neither CNN (which published the linked article) nor the group she represents has that right.

Ridiculous? Of course. But that is what follows from her argument.

What we have here is not an appeal to reasonable constitutional law. We have partisan behavior seeking to abuse the laws and courts to compel a group to support a behavior the author approves of but they oppose.

Usually we call that fascism.

Monday, November 25, 2013

TFTD: Judgmental

One irony I see on the Internet is how the people most critical of the Church as judgmental and intolerant are actually judgmental and intolerant themselves when faced with different views in conflict with their own.

Whatever the cause they promote, they will not tolerate a view which contradicts it.  If they favor so-called "gay marriage", they will not permit a view defending marriage between one man and one woman.  In fact they attack the view with as much force as they have the power to use.  Certainly they will bully and intimidate. If they can, they will try to impose sanctions against those who hold other views.

Likewise the issue of abortion. The supporter will not accept the right of the view of the opponent to exist, seeking to bully and intimidate their opponent into silence.

What makes this mindset dangerous today is the corrupted political mindset which justifies any tactic used in favor of a position and any form of harassment against opponents.

What makes this kind of mindset alarming is history is full of regimes that used these tactics and eventually became a one party system when one part of the spectrum had the tools available to silence their opponents.

With that in mind, we should consider the current situation in America. People who publicly hold the views of Christian morality do risk loss of their jobs and perhaps risk legal action -- both of which have happened with businesses which won't recognize "gay marriage", hospitals which won't do abortions and pharmacists who won't sell abortifacient drugs.

That's just America. Canada and England can prosecute people for hate speech if they defend the Christian view of marriage.

But there is a difference between Christian morality and the opposition to it. Credible Christian leaders don't behave like their opponents. Blessed John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have never used slurs or insults in teaching. They have never threatened or bullied or sought to silence their opponents. Small extremist sects have done so, but small extremist sects don't represent the whole.

Yet their opponents have used all these tactics against Christians. This leads me to ask, Who is judgmental? Who is intolerant? Who is a threat to the freedom to do what is right?

Not the Christians.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TFTD: Distorting Christ

Certain dissenters who want the Church to change the teaching entrusted to her make much of the statement "God is love." It is presumed that any Church "rules" interfering with what they call "love" is against Christ.

Christ, however, said "Your sins are forgiven," and "Go and sin no more." His words indicate there are evil acts which He can forgive and we are to seek to stop living in sin.

The dissenters essentially say, "there is no sin." That effectively makes Jesus nothing more than a nice guy teacher, denying His bringing us salvation.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

TFTD: God Cares About the Church He Established

I think in dealing with Catholic concerns about the direction the Church is going in, we have to remind them that God has a role to play, and it is not only in the hands of human members.

I think the trilemma is an important thing to keep in mind here. Let us demonstrate it by creating two sets of categories.

1) Either God exists or He does not.
2) God either cares about His Church or He does not.

This leaves us with the following:

1) God does not exist (if He does not exist, whether or not He cares about His Creation is irrelevant).
2) God exists and cares about His Church.
3) God exists and does not care about His Church.

Now, with options 1 and 3, the direction the Church is going in doesn't matter. If God doesn't exist, there is no direction for the Church to go in. If God exists, but does not care about what happens to his Church, then it is pretty irrelevant what direction the Church goes in... since He does not care.

However, if God exists and does care about His Church, it stands to reason He will look after it and protect her. That means He won't permit the Church to teach error in matters involving salvation.  He will not let the gates of Hell prevail against the Church.

So why all the fear? Unless a Catholic denies God exists or believes God does not care for His Church, he or she should have faith that the Pope isn't going to formally teach error or change Church teachings.

That isn't some sort of "papalotry" claiming the Pope can do no wrong. That's faith in God that He will be keep His promises out of love.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Deceiving the Faithful?

Two years ago, I asked what if the antichrist wasn't a liberal as is usually portrayed in Apocalyptic fiction. What if he turned out to be someone seeking to deceive the faithful into rejecting the true Church and the Successor of Peter?

Back then, I asked this in a speculative sense of what if we end up looking in the wrong direction? Now, I find myself wondering if it would explain the discontent among some faithful Catholics with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis is the legitimate Pope with the protection from teaching error in matters of faith and morals and he has the authority:

Not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme Pastor, through the preservation of unity, both of communion and of profession of the same faith, with the Roman Pontiff. (Pastor Aeternus)

Yet we do have Catholics who stood up for Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI who treat the Holy Father with suspicion and doubt. It makes me wonder, if a conservative anti-pope appeared, would many be tempted to follow this anti-pope?

And might some be tempted to follow a conservative antichrist who sounds very holy, but makes small corruptions that lead people to emphasize ideology over the faith?

Pope Francis does do things differently than his predecessors, and it is natural to be surprised on occasion. But when people question his orthodoxy, that is a temptation to make oneself the measure of the Church.

That is essentially a victory for Satan to separate a person from the true Church out of pride.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

TFTD: Missing the Point

A fellow parishioner once complained that our Pastor never spoke about homosexuality or abortion. I was tempted to reply, "Why? Are you a homosexual abortionist?" (Thankfully God gave me the gift of prudence not to do so).

The comment wouldn't have been flippant though. It points out a problem with Catholics. That problem is focusing more on judging others than on asking ourselves where we stand with God.

Remember the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 18: 9-14.)

All of us are sinners, but sometimes we miss the point in judging ourselves against the sins of others instead of against who God calls us to be.

To be sure, practicing homosexuals and abortionists do need to be warned about their sins. But so do we. The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium (#14) reminds us:

All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

If the abortionist or the practicing homosexual repents, but we remain self righteous, they will be saved and we will not.

Let's keep that in mind when the Pope, Bishop or pastor seems to hit close to home instead of talking about "them."

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

TFTD: Missing the Main Point

There was much said on the airwaves, in print and online about the glitches on the Obamacare website and the number of people either dropped from coverage or having their rates jacked up.

While these show the lack of prudence and perhaps honesty about the ACA, these are somewhat of a distraction.

Even if the website worked flawlessly and nobody had their rates jacked up, we still have heathcare where Christian employers still have to pay (through a shell game) for abortion and contraceptive coverage against the teachings of their faith.

Let's not forget this in the media circus currently in play.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reflections on the Either-Or Fallacy


One of the fallacies that plague America is the either-or fallacy (also called "black and white" or bifurcation." If one does not support A, he must support B. You can plug in any number of opposed concepts. Conservative:Liberal, Capitalism:Socialism and others are viewed as opposites and the only two choices to make.

I've noticed that this fallacy shows up a lot in a tendency to assume that A and B are truly contradictory and one must be endorsed. It is presumed that if a person speaks against a thing, he must endorse the other.

However, it is quite possible that both can be false. For example, if someone said "either Nazism or Stalinism" one could legitimately speak against one as immediately relevant to the situation without automatically endorsing the other.

It is also possible to support something that is similar to a plank in a party platform without endorsing the party or its platform.

Ultimately the problem is to pigeonhole a statement into one of a limited number of factions and assume the speaker endorses the faction with all the assorted baggage.

Absolutes vs. Multiple Options

Before moving on, we need to distinguish something. Not all either-or situations are fallacies. Some things truly either are or are not true. If A is true, it cannot be not true in the same way and same time

Thus, if Catholicism is the Church established by Christ, it can't be said it is not the Church established by Christ. Or, if rape is always evil, it can never be said to be not evil.

That's simple reason. It can't be raining and not raining in the same place and time. I can't, at the same time, have and not have a hundred dollar bill in my hand.

Contradictory vs. Contrary

So, if two statements contradict, they can't both be true, but one must be true. (A vs. Not-A). However, we need to realize that we can have opposed statements where both are false. For example, saying "either rain or snow tomorrow," prevents it from being both, but the statement overlooks the option of clear weather.

So when getting to the truth, we must be clear on whether opposing statements contradict or are merely contrary.

Statements by the Church and Interpretation

The Church gets constantly attacked by people who use this fallacy. If the bishops speak in favor of immigration reform, the Church is portrayed as being opposed to any restrictions at all. If the Church speaks on the evil of abortion, she is accused of being anti-woman.

When Pope Francis says of the Church, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible," that does not mean the Church can never speak on these issues... as many inside the Church and out took it to mean. (In fact, the Holy Father went on to say, "But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.")

The problem was faulty reasoning, not the Pope's words. His statement was reduced to an either-or statement: either the Church speaks on this subject or does not... as an absolute statement. Instead, he intended to express a view on this topic that he won't solely speak on these issues, but when he does, it must have a frame of reference in mind.


Ultimately, our obligation is to determine whether our interpretation is correct before we try to draw conclusions from what was said. If we use faulty assumptions, our conclusions will not be reasoned ones.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Pharisees and Reaching Out to Sinners

“What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. *Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you." (Matthew 21:28-31).

I think what troubles me the most about the new conservative dissent against the Pope is how much it is based on the fact that he is reaching out to the public sinners with compassion, rather than judgment.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the Church should be liberal (and, for that matter, neither is the Pope). But as I see how many Catholics columnists -- even those I ordinarily approve of -- taking an attitude of disappointment, annoyance, even anger -- against the Pope, I find myself struck with a sense of deja vu. It's a sense that here in the 21st century we're seeing the same attitude that the New Testament described in the First century -- that there are a group of religious people, seeing the (real) sin of people being reached out to, but can see no further than their sin.

Now Jesus knew the prostitutes and tax collectors were sinners. He also knew the Scribes and Pharisees did not commit the sins they did. But that wasn't the important part. The important part was Jesus loved both the Pharisee and the tax collector and wanted to save them both. 

To do so, He took different approaches based on what each needed to hear. To the prostitutes and tax collectors, his approach began with the love of God... letting them know God loved them and wanted them to turn back and seek the Lord.

To the scribes and Pharisees however, he needed to shake them out of their idea that because they didn't sin as the prostitutes and tax collectors did, they didn't need to repent.

In Mark 2:16-17, we have this interesting exchange:

Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them [that], “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

They were scandalized because Jesus did not deal with them as they thought he should.  Instead, He engaged them where they were. He chose to dine at the house of Zacchaeus. He told the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:11).

Now we know these lessons. But do we take them to heart? I wonder.

I mainly wonder how we might react if Jesus said to us, "The liberals and the homosexuals are entering the kingdom of God before you."

That would probably be as shocking to us as “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you" was to the Pharisees.

I think of these things as Catholics are scandalized by Pope Francis. In the time since he became Pope, he has spoken gently to those estranged from the Church and admonished us who might be too complacent about our relationship with God.

But speaking to those estranged gently is not to sanction their sins. Jesus ate with sinners. But He didn't say it was OK to remain in their sins. Prostitutes and tax collectors may have been entering the kingdom before the pharisees, but that doesn't mean they remained prostitutes and dishonest tax men.

Likewise, Pope Francis calls sinners with compassion. But he doesn't say they can remain sinners.

Pope Francis seeks to emulate Jesus Christ. When we respond, let us be careful not to emulate the Pharisees.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Something to Keep in Mind About the Media

With the hubbub slowly dying down over the Papal interviews, it seemed like a good idea to discuss the past problems of the media misinterpretation of the Church.

The American media seems to be incapable of viewing the Church apart from seeing her as political factions and appears to seriously believe that someday there will be a Pope who agrees with them... or that someday a Pope will "realize" the Church is wrong and change things.

Way back when Veritatis Splendor was written (1993), the media scoured it in hopes of finding that Bl. John Paul II had lifted the condemnation on contraception. The same thing happened with Evangelium Vitae. The media was asking, "Did the Church change its teaching?"

In both cases, the encyclcals were strongly affirming of Catholic teaching.

During the papacy of Benedict XVI, the media took a different approach. Perhaps because by this time, the Internet was in full swing and information was instantaneous -- though comprehension was not -- the media was interpreting what the Pope said on their own.

Unfortunately, they were interpreting the statements according to their own perspective, often giving a political twist when none was intended.

Thus, encyclcals of Benedict XVI which spoke on the role of government in a moral society were interpreted as advocating centralization -- despite the attempts to explain otherwise.

When, in an interview, Benedict used a hypothetical example of a male prostitute with AIDS to illustrate a point of people beginning to think of moral consequences of actions, the media thought he finally "understood" and was changing Church teaching.  Despite the attempts to explain what was really meant, some people still think he "changed the teaching."

Likewise, when Obama was elected, the Vatican indicated it was a good sign for America. This was interpreted as an endorsement of his policies. It was nothing of the sort. Rather, the Church had been deeply concerned for decades with the racism in America and the fact that a black man could be elected was a sign of change in American attitudes.

So, with this background, it comes as no surprise that the media has given a wrong interpretation to the words of Pope Francis. They keep expecting the Church will someday "realize it is wrong," and make "reforms."  With that mindset, errors should be expected when the media reports on the Church.

Thus, when the media reports a "change" in Church teaching, our first assumption should be they probably got it wrong and not assume the Pope changed Church teaching.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Clarification on Where I Stand


I was asked recently about my stance on Pope Francis and the controversial second interview and whether I held the position that everything the Pope says or does is unquestionable.

This was cleared up in the conversation, but it struck me that perhaps others who read this blog might have similar questions about the position I hold. So, let's see if I can clarify where I stand.

Popes and Obligation

Not everything a Pope says is intended to be binding on the faithful. When he intends to teach, we are of course called to obedience. But when he speaks as a private theologian (for example, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and his Jesus of Nazareth books), this is not a matter of binding teaching.

Now Pope Francis did not give his second interview with the intention of teaching the Church, so we are not obligated to see what he said as a new teaching that binds us. (This is the typical media error).

However, that doesn't mean we can write off these private theologian moments as holding the same level of truth as any idiot with a blog. The Pope is an educated theologian who has the good of the Church in mind.

So, in cases like this, we are obligated to assume good will on the part of the Pope, and not act like he is rejecting Church teaching. When statements are made which seem confusing or troubling to us, we need to try to consider who he is speaking to and what he is trying to say to the intended audience.

Above all, we need to show respect. Sometimes, when speaking as a private theologian or when intending to teach the Church, he speaks in a way which can be misunderstood. It is grossly disrespectful to presume he intends to teach contrary to what the Church holds, or to presume he is ignorant of Church teaching.

Popes and Options

Now, when the Pope intends to teach X, we cannot hold Not-X as a belief. However, when the Pope teaches X, there are different ways to carry out X. These ways must be in keeping with the moral teaching of the Church of course, but it does not mean all Catholics in a region are obligated to subscribe to a particular form of political platform (though, again, they cannot support a political platform that goes against Church teaching).

For example, Catholics are required to protect the sanctity of life. But that doesn't mean everyone is obligated to show up in front of abortion clinics.

So, when the Pope teaches us about caring to the poor, we are not free to be indifferent to them.  However, we are free to use different means to care for them which are compatible with the Church teaching.


Ultimately, when the Pope intends to teach the faithful, obedience is required, whether by ex cathedra or by the ordinary magisterium (see Humani generis #20). But when he speaks as a private theologian, respect is required, even if one should disagree with that which was said.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Aut Deus aut homo malus re-revisited

CS Lewis' aut deus aut homo malus (either God or a bad man) argument demonstrates that Jesus can't be is merely a good man . Since nobody thinks Jesus is a bad man, and he can't be a (merely) a good man, there's only one choice left.

But some atheists try to deny the argument, claiming it is an either-or fallacy. The reason that argument fails to refute Lewis is it ignores the fact that there are three choices and one must be rejected.

So here's another syllogism to prove one choice must be eliminated:

1) No [good man] [claims to be God] (no A is B)
2) [Jesus] [claims to be God] (C is part of B)
3) Therefore [Jesus] is not a [good man] (therefore C is not part of A)

This supports CS Lewis' argument because it shows one can't say Jesus is a good man -- good men do not claim to be more than they are. But for a mere human to claim to be God is to claim to be more than they are.

Moreover, Peter Kreeft points out that if Jesus intended to speak figuratively, it makes him a bad teacher (everyone misinterpreted him then) and eliminates the "good man" claim.

Thus we have two choices left:

1) if he spoke truthfully, he must be God.
2) if he did not speak truthfully, he must be a bad man.

So, if he can't be a good man, and nobody thinks he is a bad man, what's left?


Monday, October 7, 2013

Judging the Pope

I have quoted this section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church many times over the years:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

It's clear that the Catechism, being defined as a sure norm for the faith, makes it beyond a doubt that judging others of possessing moral fault without sufficient foundation is condemned.

So, when the Pope gives an interview, which some people find unclear, the troubled reader is required to find out what the Pope intended to say -- not assume the Pope spoke error, wittingly or no.

The burden of proof is on showing that the Pope's intended message is in error. NOT for the Pope to be required to prove his innocence.

Unfortunately, there are a certain set of bloggers who do judge the Pope who presume that any misunderstandings must be the fault of the Pope. Some say he spoke wrongly. Others say he spoke unclearly. But without a sufficient foundation to base this judgment on, it is rash judgment.

So how do we avoid rash judgment? We can do this by looking at other statements the Pope made on the topic. Do you really think he's indifferent on abortion and homosexual acts? We know he spoke out against both in Argentina and as Pope.

So, if the Pope has taken a strong stand in the past on moral issues and spoke less clearly in an interview, which view is more probable?

1) That the Pope was misunderstood and actually still is a "son of the Church" (his own words) on Catholic moral teaching?

2) That the Pope changed his mind on these issues?

The reasonable answer is #1. #2 is Rash Judgment.

The Pope Six Months Later

Shortly after his election as Pope, I wrote an article on how the Pope would be judged on people's personal preferences of what the Pope should be.

About six months later, I believe my point has been proven. We have a Pope who is unconventional according to the behavior of Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. However, when Pope Francis speaks, I see a Pope who is challenging us Catholics not to be complacent instead of condemning our opponents.

Unfortunately, certain conservative Catholics -- and not just "rad trads" -- are taking offense with his unconventional style.

To this, I find myself thinking this:

It's one thing to desire the Pope to speak on certain subjects. That's natural. But to consider him a disappointment (or worse) because he doesn't match our preferences? That's being judgmental and making ourselves the arbiter of what is authenticly Catholic.

Think about it. If we act churlishly when the Church challenges us, how can we serve as a witness to the Church when she challenges the world?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Blogs to Consider

I wanted to write about how certain kinds of Catholic blogs have a troubling approach to Pope Francis' comments, but every attempt I have made seems to lack charity. So they'll never see the light of day.

So here are two blogs that succeeded where I have failed.


Tracy Trasancos

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thoughts on the Pope's Second Interview

Thus far, the mainstream media seems to pay little attention (as of yet) to the Pope's second interview -- probably because there wasn't much to misrepresent. A few commentators on the Internet seem to have missed the point however, either implying or accusing that the Pope is guilty of outright relativism.

That's understandable though. A few statements in there initially gave me a WTF? kind of reaction, almost looking as if the Pope took a relativist view of truth, when he said:

" Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."

Rereading the interview, I don't think that is a correct interpretation.

What the Pope is talking about is that all individuals are obligated to seek out the truth. See, a lot of people take an argument from silence approach to conscience -- "I don't feel anything wrong so it must be OK."

But that isn't conscience. Conscience says "I must do X" or "I must not do Y." Conscience can be wrongly informed,  yes. But the erroneous conscience still commands the person who does not know better.

But too many people are willing to rationalize away their conscience out of fear, expedience, ambition or other reasons. But what if  Germans in Nazi Germany had heeded this when they were told to do evil?  What if the woman considering abortion listened to her conscience instead of her fear?

The Pope is speaking to an atheist, not to a practicing Catholic. The atheist does not have an understanding of the complete truth as Catholics do. He can't say, "listen to the Church," because they don't recognize the authority of the Church. But he can appeal to the conscience because that is at least a common point of reference.

But the thing is, conscience requires one to seek and follow the truth. The man or woman who does not seek out whether they err are doing wrong. The person who, through no fault of their own, does not realize the importance of Christianity won't be condemned for that. But he or she will be judged if they refuse to seek out what is true.

As Catholics we should understand this, and not bash the Pope for trying to help an atheist begin to see his obligations.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

TFTD: Do We Really Want to Hear of Sin?

I find it interesting to see that certain Catholics had been complaining that the Church never talked about sin...

...yet, when the Pope speaks out about sins against charity it is easy for the affluent westerners to commit, these same Catholics get offended.

Perhaps they were more interested in seeing the Church condemn other people than to hear what we need to do to grow closer to Christ.

That's not to say those other sins are unimportant of course. But everyone should ask themselves whether they are concerned with salvation or vengeance.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Resources to get unedited stories from the Vatican

Several people have been asking me about the statements the media make from Vatican press releases. So I thought I ought to share some resources I use to counteract the mainstream media distortions.

For a daily email, you can go HERE to sign up with Vatican Information Service.

If you have a tablet, I recommend The Pope App for Android or iPad.

Given the media's rather suspicious reporting of the Pope, I recommend these highly.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

TFTD: The Pope, The Gospel and The Love of God

Today's Gospel reading is:

Matthew 9:9–13

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Pope Francis' on today's reading:

“And sinners, tax collectors and sinners, they felt that Jesus had looked on them and that gaze of Jesus upon them – I believe – was like a breath on embers, and they felt that there was fire in the belly, again, and that Jesus made ​​lifted them up, gave them back their dignity. The gaze of Jesus always makes us worthy, gives us dignity. It is a generous look. ‘But behold, what a teacher: dining with the dregs of the city!’: But beneath that dirt there were the embers of desire for God, the embers of God's image that wanted someone who could help them be kindled anew. This is what the gaze of Jesus does.”

Perhaps it would be good for the mainstream media and those bloggers who were scandalized by the Pope's interview to reflect on the reading and consider that just maybe the Pope's intent was not to deny the Church teaching, but rather was giving us a chance to consider whether we show Christ's love to the sinners we encounter.

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

TFTD: Male Bovine Excrement

"All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again."

--Battlestar Galactica.

Pope Francis gave an interview which was published today. The gist of the mainstream media coverage was that the Pope was indifferent to moral issues such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception.

The mainstream media coverage is a bunch of male bovine excrement of course,  but what irritates me is the coverage of certain conservative Catholic blogs. The reason it annoys me is because these conservative bloggers would in any other case challenge the media claims. Here many accept the media claims, assuming the Pope was speaking in a fuzzy manner allowing unclear language to confuse the message.

I believe this is also male bovine excrement.

This is not the first time this happened. A few years back, Pope Benedict XVI gave a book interview with Peter Seewald... which I blogged about HERE. The mainstream media took an excerpt from L'Osservatore Romano and proclaimed that the Pope was changing Church teaching on condoms.

He wasn't. He was giving a hypothetical example of a person beginning to think of moral consequences. He reiterated he held the Catholic position. But that was ignored by the media.

Then too, conservative Catholic bloggers took the media at their word. The editor of L'OR was bashed. The Vatican Press Office was bashed. The Pope was... gently criticized for being imprecise.

This is more of the same. The media grossly took out of context what was said...and conservative Catholic bloggers assumed the Pope was speaking in a fuzzy and vague manner.

He wasn't. What we are seeing is a Pope who is deeply in love with Christ and the Church established by Christ. He wants to show that Christ's love and forgiveness is available to all. He doesn't deny the Catholic moral teaching.  But he does want the whole teaching to be taught.  Not just that homosexual acts and abortion are evil, but that the sinner is loved by God.

If we leave that out, we forget a crucial message of Christianity. God sent His Son for our salvation. We need to keep this in mind or we will miss the point of why we preach the Gospel.

I think what pisses me off the most about this is the way certain bloggers have made a beautiful explanation of the faith appear to be fuzzy thinking. They undermine the confidence in the Pope when they should be challenging the mainstream media.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Underlying Assumptions

Occasionally I encounter materialist atheists who demand physical proof for the existence of God. Such demands are what is known as a categorical error. Science belongs to the category of the natural... that which can be observed and studied and tested. The category of the natural involves the entire physical universe.

The problem is, if something has existence in a way that goes beyond physical existence -- what we call supernatural -- then trying to apply the principles of the natural universe to studying the supernatural is using a tool which is entirely unsuited for the task. It would be like using a microscope to try to study the stars.

Atheists of this type make some underlying assumptions that they do not question. But the problem is, they make arguments using these assumptions but the underlying assumptions need to be proven before their questions can be considered justified.

Some of the assumptions are:

1) The supernatural does not exist
2) If God exists there must be physical evidence for that existence.
3) Belief in the supernatural comes from pre scientific superstition
4) Science has eliminated the need to believe in God

Others exist, but these are some of the basic ones.

The problem is, when the atheist demands physical proof of God's existence, they are effectively making a universal negative claim about reality. The onus of proof is on them for making that claim, but being a universal negative, it is impossible to prove.

This is where you get ridiculous statements like "the burden of proof is on the person making the more extraordinary claim," or "since you can't prove a negative, the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim."

It is always the person making an argument who has the burden of proof, so the atheist making these statements is guilty of shifting the burden of proof. He or she makes an assertion and then, instead of proving it, demands it be disproved. 

Such a tactic tends to be used on the Internet against believers who the atheist believes is not skilled in argument. When that particular believer lacks the skills to refute the challenge, the atheist then declares victory for "disproving" Christianity.

But he hasn't. Refuting a weak opponent doesn't automatically mean the case for Christianity is weak. It could just means the weak opponent does not know his faith well enough to understand a complex philosophical attack against it.


Once you can see the big picture, you can see this kind of attack is unquestioned assumptions that need to be proven combined with shoddy tactics used to confuse and intimidate the opponent and make observers think the atheist has proven a point he has not proven.

Unfortunately, the Internet being what it is, attention spans are short. Usually the best you can do is make your case -- politely -- in the hopes of reaching people of good will and encouraging them to consider what the truth is.

As an afterwards, I'd like to point out that not all atheists use these dishonest tactics. Nor is it limited to atheism. I've seen fundamentalist anti Catholics behave similarly, as well as radical traditionalists bash other Catholics.

The basic flaws in all cases are:

1) unquestioned assumptions used as a basis even though the opponents believe it to be false.
2) attempts to shift burden of proof
3) tries to make defeat of unskilled opponents into refutation of position.

The basic counters are:
1) don't let the false assumption go unquestioned.
2) don't let the opponent shift the burden of proof onto you when he made the assertion
3) study what you believe so as not to be an unskilled opponent.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

TFTD: Argument from Ignorance

Reading a post on a website this morning, I had the misfortune of reading the combox comments where a radical traditionalist was blasting a religious order (in this case, the Jesuits).

When this person was challenged by another commentator who pointed out that those who do wrong do not prove the whole order is bad, the response was a demand to name 5 good priests from that order.

In logic, we call this the argument from ignorance. It presumes that just because a person is unaware of examples of something it means that thing does not exist.

But just because a person does not know something exists, it does not follow that it does not exist. It may or may not exist.  That's to be determined by evidence.

Personally, I can only think of four living Jesuits by name off the top of my head who I think highly of... but So what? I can only think of two living Jesuits I think poorly of off the top of my head. 

For that matter, off the top of my head I can only think of a few good living Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines... and fewer bad ones.  Does the fact I can't list 5 good living Trappists by name mean the Trappists are rotten?

Fame and notoriety of some members of a group does not mean the whole is good or bad.

(In addition, the radical traditionalist was also guilty of shifting the burden of proof. One does not prove X by demanding proof of Not-X.)