Sunday, November 30, 2014

TFTD: Reflection on Advent Through a Sermon by St. Augustine

In his Tractate XII, #14, St. Augustine wrote something rather profound on the need for conversion for everyone, not just the ones guilty of notorious sins. He wrote:

14. Run, my brethren, lest the darkness lay hold of you. Awake to your salvation, awake while there is time; let none be kept back from the temple of God, none kept back from the work of the Lord, none called away from continual prayer, none be defrauded of wonted devotion. Awake, then, while it is day: the day shines, Christ is the day. He is ready to forgive sins, but to them that acknowledge them; ready to punish the self-defenders, who boast that they are righteous, and think themselves to be something when they are nothing. But he that walks in His love and mercy, even being free from those great and deadly sins, such crimes as murder, theft, adultery; still, because of those which seem to be minute sins, of tongue, or of thought, or of intemperance in things permitted, he doeth the truth in confession, and cometh to the light in good works: since many minute sins, if they be neglected, kill. Minute are the drops that swell the rivers; minute are the grains of sand; but if much sand is put together, the heap presses and crushes. Bilge-water neglected in the hold does the same thing as a rushing wave. Gradually it leaks in through the hold; and by long leaking in and no pumping out, it sinks the ship. Now what is this pumping out, but by good works, by sighing, fasting, giving, forgiving, so to effect that sins may not overwhelm us? The path of this life, however, is troublesome, full of temptations: in prosperity, let it not lift us up; in adversity, let it not crush us. He who gave the happiness of this world gave it for thy comfort, not for thy ruin. Again, He who scourgeth thee in this life, doeth it for thy improvement, not for thy condemnation. Bear the Father that corrects thee for thy training, lest thou feel the judge in punishing thee. These things we tell you every day, and they must be often said, because they are good and wholesome.

It’s a good point. It’s easy to focus on the big sins of others. But are we in danger of neglecting the cumulative effect of our own small sins that deaden our consciences and eventually lead to our ruin just as surely as big sins might ruin others?

Advent is a preparation for the coming of Christ in the manger. Advent is also the preparation for Second Coming of Christ. As we prepare for celebrating Christmas, let us also prepare our lives for the return of our Lord.

Monday, November 24, 2014

More Thoughts on Sin and the Sinner

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.c 10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’d 13 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.’e 14 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.”f

The standard interpretation of the verses today is to equate the Pharisee with the Church. The fact that she says sins exist and that all are sinners is seen as judging the world while praising herself. That is to miss the point of why the Church exists. The Church doesn’t exist to pick out and exalt the exemplary person while shaming the rest. She exists to carry out Christ’s role of bringing back the Lost Sheep to the fold and the Prodigal Son to the family, each Christian acknowledging his or her own sins. The Christian, properly formed in his or her faith, knows they sin and seeks out Jesus as Savior. The Prayer of St. Ambrose before Mass expresses well how Christians should see themselves:

I approach your banquet table in fear and trembling,
for I am a sinner,
and dare not rely on my own worth,
but only on your goodness and mercy.
I am defiled by many sins in body and soul,
and by my unguarded thoughts and words.
Gracious God of majesty and awe,
I seek your protection,
I look for your healing.
Poor troubled sinner that I am,
I appeal to you, the fountain of all mercy.
I cannot bear your judgment,
but I trust in your salvation.

None of us can approach Our Lord with the attitude of “I am Good, Praise me!” All of us must acknowledge that we do evil and seek His help in repenting from this evil. If we do not recognize that we are sinners, we cannot seek out His healing and His mercy.

Unfortunately, the curse of modern times is the fact that people don’t recognize that they do evil anymore—instead they assume that their sins “aren’t important,” and point to the sins of Christians throughout history as a way of showing their superiority to the Christian. “My sleeping with my boyfriend/girlfriend isn’t as bad as their intolerance!"

It is that charge of “intolerance” as an unforgivable sin” that seems to place the modern person in the category of the Pharisee and not the Tax Collector. The modern person looks at Christianity as hating the person who sins, but this is because the modern person cannot distinguish between the person and the acts they perform—they are seen as one and the same. But Christianity has a view which divides what the world will not divide. G.K. Chesterton expresses this division very well:

A sensible pagan would say that there were some people one could forgive, and some one couldn’t: a slave who stole wine could be laughed at; a slave who betrayed his benefactor could be killed, and cursed even after he was killed. In so far as the act was pardonable, the man was pardonable. That again is rational, and even refreshing; but it is a dilution. It leaves no place for a pure horror of injustice, such as that which is a great beauty in the innocent. And it leaves no place for a mere tenderness for men as men, such as is the whole fascination of the charitable. Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. It was not enough that slaves who stole wine inspired partly anger and partly kindness. We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. (Orthodoxy, page 175)

The distinction is important. It points out that Christianity recognizes forgiving the sinner always, but never accepting the sinful act as allowable. So, the murderer can be forgiven for his sin, but murder can never be redeemed as a good act. The man is not destined to be a murderer forever. Jesus gives grace to repent and if the sinner chooses to say, “I did wrong,” he can be cleansed of his sin with the admonition to “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). But the choice has to be made—does he reject the sin and repent or does he let the sin define him and refuse to repent? 

Now in cases like murder and rape, we tend to all be in agreement, but I think the problem in the modern West is we don’t want to give up certain sins and resent the implication that we are sinners because of this attachment. We let the sin define us and denouncing the sin is seen as hating the sinner. But that’s the problem. The teaching of Jesus Christ is that all of us are sinners—both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector—and repentance is required if one wants salvation. When the Pharisee praises himself, he does not go away justified. But what if the tax collector praised himself and refused to recognize his sinful actions as sinful? He would not be justified either.

When we look at things this way, I think we see why modern society is in such moral danger today. It defines Christianity as self-righteous in judging others, but it refuses to judge itself. Essentially, modern society stands the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector on its head, saying “I thank you I am not like that Christian!" 

So, that’s the trap. Both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector can repent and be justified because they humbled themselves. But both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector can deny their sins, look down on others and walk away unjustified because they exalt themselves.

Perhaps Advent, less than a week away, would be a good time to reflect on where we individually stand before the Lord.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

TFTD: An Apostolate? Or A Group of Complainers?

Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence5 both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil. Let all things, then, abound to you through grace, for ye are worthy. Ye have refreshed me in all things, and Jesus Christ [shall refresh] you. Ye have loved me when absent as well as when present. May God recompense you, for whose sake, while ye endure all things, ye shall attain unto Him. (St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans Chapter 9)

I see news reports tell me about a Catholic launching an apostolate in defense of the Church teachings (I’m leaving off the link because this is not going to be a positive review). I’m interested in such things because I believe the faith is grossly misrepresented, and a group seeking to defend her teachings is a good thing—or that’s the theory anyway. Unfortunately, what I see when I go to the page are not defenses of Church teaching, but attacks on groups associated with the Church. 

I’m not saying that Catholics need to defend the indefensible. There are Catholics who do or support things which are incompatible with the faith, and admonishing the sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. However, if this group goes down the road of attacking what is wrong instead of teaching what is the truth, that’s going to be missing the point of what defending the faith is about.

Of course it’s early days yet. This group may get up to speed and provide a valuable service.

But if it doesn’t, it’s not an apostolate—it’s a group of people complaining about what they don’t like about the Church. We have more than enough of those already.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When Christianity Stands Against Favored Causes



The foundation of America was based on the premise that no person was naturally superior to another and that no group could coerce a person or group to do something they believed was evil. Of course, this premise also presumed some common sense responsibilities as well. If you believed a group believed the wrong thing (for example, believed that a religion taught error), you didn’t try to force that group to change because they had rights too. You simply didn’t associate with that group (either by leaving it or not joining it in the first place), and you used reason and politeness to explain the truth as you understood it, recognizing this as a civilized exchange that led to a greater understanding of what was true.

That’s not the case nowadays. Today we have favored causes and favored classes whose beliefs are given special treatment, imposed on all at the expense of those groups who believe they are wrong. It doesn’t have to be this way of course. It is possible that even if one way of thinking is recognized by a majority of a nation, that the minority can practice their beliefs without being hindered by the majority—provided they do not do harm on others. But that isn’t the way things are here in America. Here we take the all or nothing approach where if something is deemed favored, all must accept it.

Right now the denigrated class is Christianity—specifically Christianity which insists on moral values that the state has no right to alter. This is the belief in God who encounters the human person individually and as a group and teaches them the right way to live, and what acts are not compatible with this belief. It is reasonable that an institution that is established by a Christian denomination (like a University or a Hospital) will be run in accordance with the beliefs of this denomination and it will not act contrary to these beliefs. It is also reasonable that an individual who belongs to a religion (and takes it seriously) and owns a business will not run his business in opposition to what he believes. So a customer or an employee who wants a service which runs contrary to the religious beliefs of the employer should either do without or go to where the service can be provided—so long as it is not harmful to others. Otherwise that customer or employee is trying to violate the civil rights of the employer.

Now, if an employer does not have a philosophical basis, then the beliefs of the employee do not matter, and it would be unjust to take action against them because they hold a belief.

The History of Racism and Its Misapplication By Weak Analogy

The problem we have in America that is we have a legacy in this country of racism. It formally (that is, enshrined in law) extended from the founding of the country to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and informally (that is, held by individuals and some groups, but not recognized as acceptable government policy) even today. It was an ugly legacy with dehumanizing slavery and then attempts to keep an ethnic group separate and oppressed. Most people today recognize it was a shameful part of our history.

Unfortunately, Americans have a habit of using the fallacy of weak analogy which looks at two events and assumes they are identical when the differences are actually more significant than the similarities. For example, some have actually tried to argue that the opposition to "same sex marriage" is the same as the racist laws which forbade interracial marriage and conclude that opposition to “same sex marriage” is also motivated by bigotry. The problem is, this analogy is weak because it has only one point of similarity, laws limiting who can be married, but many points of dissimilarity.

For example, the laws against racial marriage presumed that reproduction between a member of a Caucasian ethnic group and a member of an African ethnic group would end up “diluting” the “superior” Caucasian ethnic group. “Same sex marriage” cannot involve reproduction. So, right off the bat, this is a major difference. Another difference is that the shameful laws of racism in America were based on the belief that the people of African origin were less human than Caucasians, while the opposition to “same sex marriage” is based on the belief that some behaviors must never be acted on. I could go on, but these two examples show that the motivation for the two laws were entirely different. Sure there could have been people who took a moral prohibition and treated the person acting on it with hatred, but the hatred by some of people with same sex attraction did not cause the laws against “same sex marriage,” but hatred did cause the laws restricting African Americans.

The Begging the Question Leads to Self-Righteous Justification

This Weak Analogy leads to the fallacy of begging the question. This is where a proposition which needs to be proven is assumed to be true without proof. Opposition to abortion and contraception is assumed to be based on “controlling women,” when that’s the point that needs to be proven. Opposition to “same sex marriage is assumed to be based on “homophobia,” when (again) that’s the point which needs to be proven.

The Supreme Court of the United States made this fallacy when it struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor), assuming the motivation was intolerance, when that was the point to be proven. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.” That the purpose was “to disparage and injure” is precisely what needed to be proven. Instead it was assumed to be true.

The Result Is The Attacking of Christianity For Opposing a Favored Cause

When Christianity opposes legitimizing something that is morally wrong, and that moral wrong is a favored cause, the result is that Christianity is accused of holding these views out of hatred and intolerance. Basically, the argument is:

  • Nothing Good can Oppose X
  • Christianity Opposes X
  • Therefore Christianity is Nothing Good.

The problem is, the major premise (Nothing Good can Oppose X) needs to be proven, not assumed to be true. But because nobody is questioning the major premise, the conclusion is assumed to be true (falsely). This means that Christianity is viewed as a hate group that needs to be isolated from society, much as one would want to isolate a Klansman or a Neo-Nazi.


What we have now in America is a case where politicians and judges favor certain stances and promote them in law and judicial rulings. When they declare X good, they effectively declare those who oppose X to be enemies of the state. Because the favored causes today involve things that are morally wrong from the Christian belief, Christianity must be the enemy of the state. The problem is, the Constitution does not allow the government to decide Christianity is an enemy of the state. But so long as the branches of government set aside the Constitution to favor a cause, we can expect this attack to continue.

Monday, November 17, 2014

They're Not In Limbo, They're In Defiance: Attempts to Divide and Conquer Church Teaching

The article, "Lewistown couple remains in limbo with Catholic Church,” reflects the advocacy journalism common today. We get the appeal to pity in favor of the position supported, and zero mention of why the Church acts as she does. The result of such advocacy journalism is to pit the “poor persecuted couple” against the “cold legalistic church."

But the problem is this: The Church believes that God condemns homosexual acts, and her role is to help people who are struggling in sin to return to God’s grace. The couple in question publicly rejected the Church teaching about homosexual acts by having a same sex “marriage” performed. Given the choice between loving and obeying God or remaining in their relationship, the couple chose the second option. Thus the Church had no choice but to deny them the Eucharist.

John 14:15 records that Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In Luke 16:10, Jesus teaches, "The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” Finally, in Luke 10:16, speaking of the authority of the Apostles, Jesus says, "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The point is, rejecting the teaching authority of the Church is rejecting Christ—no matter how people might wish it otherwise.

So, the couple and the author of the article plays the tactic of “divide and conquer.” They try to divide the pastor in question from the bishop ("What’s odd to me is the censure comes from Father Spiering at St. Leo’s, but the bishop hasn’t acted on it, he hasn’t changed it”), and the teaching from the Church (pointing to the statements of a German and French bishop).

The article portrays the couple as waiting it out, expecting the Church to change. But she won’t change from saying “X is a sin” to saying “X is not a sin.” All she might do is change the focus on how to reach out to sinners with the intention of bringing them back to the Church. Truth never changes, but the ways one reaches out to the one denying truth might change, so long as it doesn’t forget the truth. GK Chesterton once wrote:

An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century. (Orthodoxy pp. 135-36)

It’s a good point. God, being all powerful, all knowing and perfectly good, as well as being outside of time, does not change His mind about what is good and evil. He has, in the early days of bringing his plan of salvation to the whole world, gradually brought about prohibitions on what could be done in preparation for the fullness of revelation (the term is Divine Accommodation). But He has never gone from saying “X is evil” to saying “X is permissible."

Unfortunately, some people do think that because the believers in God moderated their positions on war, slavery etc, it means that the position on homosexuality must also change. But that is to miss the point. The shocking accounts of the Jews in gaining their homeland was not to say that it was once all right to commit genocide but not longer. The issue was the horrific practices of the people living in the region and God exacting His punishment, and removing such practices from the land:

After the Lord, your God, has driven them out of your way, do not say in your heart, “It is because of my justice the Lord has brought me in to possess this land, and because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord is dispossessing them before me.”* No, it is not because of your justice or the integrity of your heart that you are going in to take possession of their land; but it is because of their wickedness that the Lord, your God, is dispossessing these nations before you and in order to fulfill the promise he made on oath to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Know this, therefore: it is not because of your justice that the Lord, your God, is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Deuteronomy 9:4-6)

Idolatry and child sacrifice were wrong in those days and are wrong now. The difference between then and now is that then God was restricting the behavior of warlike tribes that would otherwise have done worse, and He continued to restrict them in bringing them closer to His plan of salvation.

Jesus did not release moral prohibitions. He made them stricter:

Teaching About the Law. 17 *“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.* 20 I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

Teaching About Anger.* 21 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’* 22 *But I say to you, whoever is angry* with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. 

Teaching About Adultery. 27 *“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 *If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. 

Teaching About Divorce. 31 *“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 

Teaching About Oaths. 33 * “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all;* not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. 37 *Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one. 

Teaching About Retaliation. 38 *“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile,* go with him for two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. 

Love of Enemies.* 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors* do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect,* just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:17-48)

In every single case, Jesus showed that the teaching of the Old Testament was not reversed. It was expanded to be more binding— not just avoiding the acts of murder or adultery, but rejecting the cause of those acts.

The Apostles did not believe they had the right to overturn the teaching of God, and so they never committed the argument from silence fallacy that modern critics do in trying to separate Jesus from St. Paul or the Old Testament when it comes to the condemnation of homosexual acts because they mentioned these acts while Jesus did not—ignoring the fact that Jesus defined what marriage was in a way that excluded their attempts to divide:

* He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

You can’t separate God from Jesus. You can’t separate Jesus from His Apostles. You can’t separate the Apostles from the Church today. You can’t separate the Church teaching from the Pope and the Bishops or the Bishop from the Priest who is carrying out his assignment. While you get some in the Church who want to change what the Church believes God has commanded, those people are not the Pope or the bishops in communion with him, but people who put their opinions above the teaching of Christ.

People who do this may be willfully in defiance or they may be acting out of ignorance—THAT’S where Christ’s words of not judging apply—so we can’t write them off as irredeemable. We have to continue to reach out to them, helping them to understand when actions separate them from God’s love, helping them to come back.

That’s what the Pope is calling for—not changing “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TFTD: The Facts Do NOT Justify This Reaction!

The reaction to Cardinal Burke’s assignment among certain Catholics is simply not justified, and is not supported by the facts of the case. The sequence of events do not support the view that the Pope “demoted” Cardinal Burke for any reason—let alone for his actions at the synod.

See, Cardinal Burke’s five year term as head of the Roman Rota expired in December 2013. The Pope had previously made it clear that he was opposed to the mindset of “careerism” in the Church, so it stands to reason he might not want to renew the cardinal’s term of office. Do a google search for “Pope Francis reappoints” and you will see that there are zero hits for the curia and only a few entries for non curia positions. He has shuffled some people from one position to another but he has not reappointed anyone to the same position in the curia thus far.

So, one cannot complain that the Pope did not make a special exception for Cardinal Burke.

So one might ask why the Pope didn’t appoint him to another position. Well, that requires there to be another position to which Cardinal Burke is qualified for that is open. Was there one? If not, the Pope would have to remove someone else from their position. That seldom happens without serious cause.

So, the expectation that he be appointed to a position of equal status is not reasonable if there was no assignment for him available. The Pope may or may not consider Cardinal Burke for a position that opens up further down the road—but the Pope does not owe him a position.

Perhaps instead of screaming that the Pope is trying to destroy the Church, we can follow the Cardinal’s example and remain faithful to the Pope.

Monday, November 10, 2014

God Protects His Church In Communion With the Pope...Even Pope Francis


The case of the media getting the news wrong about the workings of the Church is nothing unusual. When you assign reporters to the religion beat who know nothing about  the topic, the results are going to be bad (I’ve seen them cite the Landover Baptist Church before, not realizing it is a parody). So, of course when the secular media covers the Church, you’re going to see reporting that is very badly informed.

On the other hand, it is curious to see how self-professed faithful Catholics who claim to be well informed about the faith can make the same mistakes about the news of the Church. If one understands what the Church is, and what she teaches, it becomes clear that the Church is not going to be changing her teaching under Pope Francis. Even if he wanted to (and he doesn’t), God would protect him from teaching error in matters pertaining to salvation. The issue of saying that one may receive the Eucharist when it would be sacrilegious to do so is something that falls under the category of matters pertaining to salvation.

Ultimately, these Catholics have forgotten that the Church is protected by Jesus Christ, and He sustains her in different ways.

The Ground Floor Failsafe: Jesus Christ Protects His Church Always

So, trust in Jesus Christ to protect the Church from teaching error in matters pertaining to salvation means we don’t fear that Pope Francis will change the Church teaching in such a way that puts peoples souls in jeopardy.

But some people who profess to be faithful and informed Catholics do not know this. They believe the Pope can err, and need to be disobeyed—and they believe this is happening at this time under Pope Francis.

The Vatican I document Pastor Aeternus describes it as such:

For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles. And indeed all the venerable Fathers have embraced and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed their apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren.”

This belief is sound. If Jesus Christ promised St. Peter that what was bound on Earth would be bound in Heaven (Matthew 16: 18-19), there are two choices:

  1. God will accept the binding of error and loosing of truth.
  2. God will protect the Church, under St. Peter, from binding error and loosing truth.

Remember, Jesus Christ willed that there be a Church, under the headship of Peter, that carried out His mission, and He gave it His authority (Matt 28:18-20 and John 20:21-23). If this Church, under the headship of Peter and his successors, can teach error, she cannot fulfill Our Lord’s mission. If we trust Our Lord, we trust His Church. Even when a Judas may appear, that does not destroy the whole Church. St. Peter is the cornerstone because God has decreed it and we can have faith in the Church because we have faith in Him.

The Second Level: Grace and People of Good Will

That first level means even if we should get a rotten person in there as a Pope, he would be unable to teach error as if it were truth when teaching as Pope. But that is not the only level of protection. God also sends us people of good will, filled with grace to us. People who seek to do God’s will in the role they are in. God has blessed us in recent history in sending us a string of Popes recognized for their wise shepherding and love of Christ.

Being human, they can sin, but loving God and aided by His grace, these people seek to do His will in spite of their sins, repenting when they do sin. They won’t choose to live in a way which contradicts their love of God, even if they choose a means which is different than how you or I would prefer to do it.

Remember, even when God says “You shall do this,” there can be different methods of carrying it out faithfully. If method A or B both carry out God’s command, it is unjust to say a person does wrong if he chooses to do method B.

That’s ultimately what we have today. The Pope is saying, “Let’s try B,” and people used to A are upset.

Basically, the reaction today is this: There are some Catholics, claiming to be good Catholics who deny that the Pope is a person of good will and operating under the Grace of God because He uses a different approach in being obedient to God.


The thing to remember in all the hype, whether secular media or Catholic media, is that God protects His Church and looks after the Pope . . . even Pope Francis. The Holy Spirit did not take a coffee break in 2013. Sure, he can make administrative errors. Sure he can sin personally. But God protects him through both the charism of the office of the papacy and the personal grace He bestows on Pope Francis.

I have faith in the Church, because I have faith in God.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

TFTD: Thoughts on Judgment and Mercy

St. Augustine, in one of his sermons  about the woman who washed the feet of Jesus (Sermon 49, #6), wrote:

 The one has committed many sins, and so is made a debtor for many; the other through God’s guidance has committed but few. To Him to whom the one ascribes what He hath forgiven, does the other also ascribe what he hath not committed. Thou hast not been an adulterer in that past life of thine, which was full of ignorance, when as yet thou wast not enlightened, as yet discerned not good and evil, as yet believed not on Him, who was guiding thee though thou didst not know Him. Thus doth thy God speak to thee: “I was guiding thee for Myself, I was keeping thee for Myself. That thou mightest not commit adultery, no enticers were near thee; that no enticers were near thee, was My doing. Place and time were wanting; that they were wanting again, was My doing. Or enticers were nigh thee, and neither place nor time was wanting; that thou mightest not consent, it was I who alarmed thee. Acknowledge then His grace, to whom thou also owest it, that thou hast not committed the sin. The other owes me what was done, and thou hast seen forgiven him; and thou owest to me what thou hast not done.” For there is no sin which one man commits, which another man may not commit also, if He be wanting as a Director, by whom man was made.

(Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament,” in Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. R. G. MacMullen, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 417–418.)

I think of this when I see some of the reactions to Pope Francis and Bishops reaching out to sinners showing up in the comments made on Facebook and in blog comboxes. There are some people who get offended when they speak of mercy, trying to reach out to the sinner and bring them back. The objections made by these people seem to run along the lines of offering any outreach to the sinner is offering sanction to the sins committed.

Now, of course we must not dismiss as “not evil” that which God as decreed as evil. When one calls evil good, they do great wrong (see Isaiah 5:20). But when they don’t promote accepting evil as OK, but instead express compassion for the sinner, then their actions are not sanctioning sin and it is wrong to make such an accusation.

We need to remember the stories of Zacchaeus, the woman taken in adultery, the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. In these stories we see Jesus interacting with the sinner. Not to condemn, but to each out to to lead them to salvation.

We can never write off any individual as being irredeemable. God can soften the most hardened heart, and when we meet the heartened sinner, we cannot know that he or she has refused the gift of grace. He or she might never have felt the call yet. Those of us who are seeking to be faithful to Christ must realize that our fidelity is not do to our own cleverness, but to His grace.

See, behaving in this way towards sinners doesn’t mean we deny the reality of sin. It means we don’t give up on them because God has not given up on them. How are we to know that the notorious sinner will not be converted and saved?

So just something to think of.

The Dangers For the Conservative Catholic Grows

There is a danger that seems to be growing more apparent, and it seems to be targeting the conservative Catholics. That danger seems to be the pushing the view that Pope Francis is teaching error and not to be trusted. Since his election in 2013, every major act he has done has been given a negative spin by conservative Catholics. Whether it’s accusing him of holding error or supporting Marxist views, the conservative Catholic press has always chosen to emphasize a negative interpretation for his actions and imply bad will for his teachings.

That’s shameful.

But the problem it isn’t with Pope Francis. He hasn’t taught anything that hasn’t been taught by his predecessors.

The only difference from his predecessors is that his style is different.. There was nothing wrong with St. John Paul II or Benedict XVI of course. They taught things that needed to be taught. The objections basically amount to Pope Francis teaching things with a different style—and that teaching is coming uncomfortably close to home for some Catholics who always prided themselves as being faithful. Why? Because he is reminding us that it’s not only the pro-abortion politicians and the same sex “marriage” advocates that need to repent—it’s us too.

Now this is not some “vast right wing conspiracy.” I believe most of the people who object to Pope Francis are sincere in their belief when they hear the accusations against him. But it strikes me that they are believing it because they are giving too much credit to the people who are making these accusations, not asking if they are true, but just accepting the unproven word of the accusers, and becoming enraged on cue—never asking whether they are being manipulated.

That’s a trap for Catholics. The devil doesn’t have to make a person leave the Church to entrap him or her. All he has to do is to convince the person that the teaching authority is not to be trusted and therefore the person cannot take a chance of obedience out of fear that the teaching authority is in error. The person is deceived into thinking he or she is a good Catholic, but in fact the devil is encouraging them to put their own will in front of the Church and if the Church does what the person does like, it “proves" the Church has gone astray.

That’s a real danger. It prevents conversion because if a person is blind to this, they cannot repent of their sin. They’re deceived so as to exalt themselves instead of humbling themselves.

What needs to happen was described by Fulton J. Sheen when he met the Pope:

Your Holiness, I have just discovered how easy Judgment is going to be."

"Oh," he said, "tell me, I would like to know."

"While I was waiting to come into your presence I had come to the conclusion that I had not loved the Church as much as I should. Now that I come before Your Holiness, I see the Church personalized. When I make my obedience to you, I make it to the Body and to the invisible Head, Christ. Now I see how much I love the Church in Your Holiness, its visible expression."

He said: "Yes, Judgment is going to be that easy for those who try to serve the Lord."

If we can remember that loving Christ means loving His body, in the presence of the Pope, it means we must love the Church under Pope Francis.

In addition to what Bishop Sheen has said, I think we need to realize that Christ loves His bride, the Church and will not permit her to fall away into error. So fearing that the Church under Pope Francis will fall into error shows a profound lack of trust in God.

So, we need to remember this: When the Pope acts in a way that is different than we think it should, we should be asking ourselves questions. How sure am I that the error is not with me? Do I even have all the facts to judge the right and wrong of the situation? Am I assuming the Pope is wrong just because he is challenging me? There are others to ask. 

For example, the latest blowup is over Pope Francis transferring Cardinal Burke from the head of the Roman Rota to the head of the Knights of Malta—which is considered a ceremonial post. Some have called it a demotion which is a term that claims to have facts about the situation when it does not. From that word “demoted” (which needs to be proven, by the way) people begin to fill in blanks that they have no right to fill in: “unjustly demoted” or “demoted because of his views.” These are statements made without proof, all holding the view that the Pope has wronged the Cardinal.

But maybe the Pope hasn’t. Maybe he wants to prevent keeping one person in one place for too long. Or maybe he plans to have Cardinal Burke fill a different role when the space becomes available. Or maybe there’s a problem with the cardinal. Or maybe not. The point is, we don’t know the facts, and as long as we don’t know the facts, we have no right to start decreeing people as heroes and villains in the story. We have no right to assume the Pope is doing this for the purpose of change in Church teaching. Even if the Pope made an error in judgment in replacing Burke (which again, would be rash to judge), that does not mean he is promoting error, and it does not mean that the Church is irreparably damaged. 

So, that is the danger I am seeing. That people mistrust the teaching authority of the Church and second guess everything that is done out of fear that he will ruin the Church out of malice or incompetence . . . things I must say I disagree with.

I strongly doubt that we will see any cardinals fall into schism. Cardinal Burke himself seems to have a sense of loyalty and obedience on the whole affair. I certainly don’t mistrust him. But if people are led to think they know the facts of the case when they do not, then there is a real danger of them being deceived into trusting in themselves when they should be trusting in God to guide the Pope.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

TFTD: Do People Understand What the Church is For?

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 13 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.’ 14 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)

When one reads the comments on blogs and on Facebook, it’s easy to feel despair at the state of the average Catholic. I’m not talking about the trolls here. I’m talking about those people who think they are faithful Catholics, but their comments show a fundamental lack of understanding on why the Church exists. They get upset that the Church does something they think should not be done, or does not do what they think should be done.

But I think this is to miss the point of what the Church exists for. The Church is the ordinary means Christ chose to bring His salvation to all the world. That salvation is for both the people who know they need salvation and those who do not know they need salvation.

The people who know they need salvation are those who recognize their sinfulness but do not necessarily know how to come back to the Church. The ones who don’t recognize their sinfulness either think they are without sin or else think that their sin is nothing to worry about in comparison to them. Because they don’t see their own sin, they don’t seek to come back to Christ.

I believe Pope Francis is frequently speaking to this second group. It’s easy to focus on the notorious sinners out there, like the Catholic politicians who take a public stand in opposition to the Church. But if we use their behavior as the norm for what is sinful, we’re going to be exalting ourselves and denouncing others—which is exactly what Christ said not to do.

So, I would say that when people are upset that the Pope doesn’t speak out more on topic X, perhaps they should be asking themselves whether he is following Christ’s example and speaking out to them.

Perhaps he isn’t neglecting other sins. Maybe he’s being the vessel of Christ to reach out to us to make sure we don’t become pharisaical.

At least that’s what I think when I read his sermons.

Friday, November 7, 2014

TFTD: The "Followership" Problem in the Church

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

—William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

Many Catholic writers have decried the leadership problem in the Church. It is true that sometimes the Church has people in positions of authority who do not guide as well as they should, some even shirking their position. That is a serious matter. As St. Paul points out in 1 Cor 14:8, "And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” 

But I think there is another problem as well, and that is that some Catholics simply do not like the sound of the bugle they hear, and grumble against it.

It’s easy to point fingers at political factions in the Church. For years, conservative Catholics pointed fingers at the liberal dissent in the Church, blaming bishops for it. Now, we have some conservative dissent, and liberal Catholics are pointing their own fingers and trying to implicate bishops for it. Each side tries to cast themselves as the “good” Catholics and the other side as the dissenters.

The problem is, Catholicism is neither conservative nor liberal. There are some positions in Catholic teaching that may sound conservative or liberal, but the reasons the Church teaches is different from the political motivations for a position. So the American bishops are called “The Republican Party at Prayer,” and the Pope is called a “Marxist.” But the fact is, these are condemnations from people who assume that similarity means sympathy. These people either try to misrepresent the Church message as a political ideology to bolster their own credibility or to justify their own disobedience from that teaching.

As a result we are seeing Catholic media and blogs, which had defended the Church from being misrepresented, now suddenly believing the misrepresentation. They show signs of lacking conviction that the Church remains what she has always been, and are attracted to the passionate intensity of those who attack the Church from within.

We on Earth are the Church Militant. That means we have to be prepared for battle. Regardless of whoever may be shirking their duty, that doesn’t reduce our own need to be ready. Some of the officers (clergy and religious) may be shirking—but not all of them are. We need to be ready to defend the Church teaching in it’s fullness, and not accuse the faithful officers (including the Pope) of being shirkers because the orders given are not the ones we would prefer to have.