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.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Forgetting the Meaning of Sin


The word “sin” is probably the most unpopular word it out there. People tend to look at sin as if it were a sort of “Seal of disapproval” for a behavior. If that behavior is popular, people resent the designation. They consider it as being “judgmental" and want it changed. It is treated as an arbitrary human decision which only has authority by way of coercion in the “do it or go to hell,” threat. That’s why we have the media constantly asking, “Is the Church going to change the teaching on contraception or abortion or homosexuality?” every time the Pope makes a statement (and not just for Pope Francis—they did it for St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI as well). They say “Don’t push your views on me!” or “God doesn’t care about X, so the Church shouldn’t either!"

Yet, at the same time, these people also designate that they know that certain things are always wrong. Racism, sexism, harming other people. People know these things are wrong, and they would not accept someone defending them by saying “Don’t push your views on me!” or “God doesn’t care about X, so the Church shouldn’t either!"

That’s a major clue that people have not only lost the sense of sin, but also lost the concept of what sin is.

At the most fundamental level, sin is about a broken relationship. It always affects the person’s relationship with God, and it can also affect a person’s relationship with other people. It does so by choosing to do something which not in keeping with what God has made us to be. The point is, God has created the universe and designed us with the purpose of living forever with Him. That means that there is a right way to have a relationship with Him and the rest of the people He created. But since He wants us to freely choose to love Him, it means we have the possibility to choose to reject Him by not having a right relationship with Him and the rest of the people He created.

The Tools Needed In Living In Right Relationship With God

Knowing how to live in right relationship with God comes from seeking what is true and living according to it. This isn’t always done. Nowadays, many think of themselves as doing good enough and never begin to ask questions on what they ought to do and where they need to change. They invoke their conscience, assuming it to be some sort of infallible guide. But that’s not what conscience is.

Conscience is present in all men, telling them, “you must do this, you must not do that.” Conscience is not infallible however.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it, conscience can go wrong:

1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits. (1704)

1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct. (133)

1793 If—on the contrary—the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience. (1860)

So, if a person never bothers to seek out what is right, they cannot invoke “conscience” as a defense for the evil they do. They have to seek out what is true. Assuming that because a person’s conscience is quiet means that he or she does no wrong is not true.

Argument from ignorance

Because conscience can be malformed by sinful habit and corrupt societies, so it needs to be trained by seeking what is right. Two of the sources of training the conscience comes from revelation and reason.

Revelation and Reason

Revelation informs us about those things about God that we could not know on our own. For example, His relationship to us is not indifference (the position of the Deists), but one of love, seeking our greatest good. Because of this revelation, we know that our relationship with God is not one of “Do this or I will bash you,” but one of “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

When you think about it, this makes sense. In a loving human relationship, the person who loves another does not choose to act in a way he knows his beloved finds hateful or harmful. It doesn’t matter if he never gets caught. Loving another person means behaving in a way that seeks to cherish the beloved. So God makes clear what way of living is incompatible with love of Him, and urges us to avoid that kind of behavior.

So what of the person who doesn’t have the ability to know about God’s revelation? After all, there are people who are denied the opportunity to receive the Gospel and some who have made an error in judgment as to whether the Word of God is to believed. Do they have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card?

Well no. Those who do not know of the right relationship with God can be saved by seeking out what is right and trying to live according to the truth. As the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (#16) put it:

Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.20* She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.129 Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,130 the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

So reason matters too. It’s not sufficient on it’s own—one can’t say that because they have reason they don’t need revelation—but reason can help in the seeking to do what is right. Provided, of course, that they don’t get led astray by their pride or by despair. Basically, reason is a tool to seek out what is right, a tool to help one in the search for God. (God’s right there, saying “Here I am,” but we can be kind of slow to grasp that.)

Even the atheist, who denies the existence of God and Revelation, can reason that it is wrong to do certain things—even if he or she does not know the reasons for why it is wrong. The vast majority of people out there know it is wrong to rape or murder or steal, regardless of their religious belief or lack thereof. Some people think that this means that religion can’t be the cause of morality because it’s not just Christians who know it is wrong.

That misses the point however. The unbeliever can reason from the existence of humanity and the interactions of the individuals that some behaviors are morally wrong. They can know it is wrong to kill or harm another person or to deprive them of what is rightfully theirs. But what they are doing is discerning some of what God designed humanity to live like. They don’t have the whole picture of what reality is without recognizing the role of God, but using reason helps discern truth from error.

Missing the Point

Unfortunately, some people don’t realize this. They either deny that God exists or they deny that their behavior has an effect on their relationship with God or they deny that what the Church teaches has anything to do with God. It’s basically an exalting of their own self.

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.” (Luke 18:9-14)

It’s kind of ironic. The people who accuse the Church of being the Pharisee are actually holding that position for themselves, denying their sin while saying, “I thank you Lord that I am not judgmental like that Church!,” basically judging people for being judgmental.

The thing is, if God exists and has taught His will, then those of us who know it need to follow it. But when a person says “God doesn’t care about X!” the question must be asked: On what basis do you make that claim? We know about God through His revelation and our reason. So when a person says “God doesn’t care about X,” and the Bible and the Church says “God does care about X,” then we have contradictory positions where one must be true and one must be false. The Catholics who defend the moral teaching of the Church can point to a constant testimony from both the Scriptures and the Christians from the beginning of Christianity. Those who would deny these teachings have to make the accusation that these things must have been added later. But it seems to me that St. Augustine, in his Confessions (Book 5, Chapter XI, #21) pointed out what was wrong with that thinking:

For at this time the words of one Helpidius, speaking and disputing face to face against the said Manichæans, had begun to move me even at Carthage, in that he brought forth things from the Scriptures not easily withstood, to which their answer appeared to me feeble. And this answer they did not give forth publicly, but only to us in private,—when they said that the writings of the New Testament had been tampered with by I know not whom, who were desirous of ingrafting the Jewish law upon the Christian faith;5 but they themselves did not bring forward any uncorrupted copies.6

Even back then, people tried to ignore what was unpopular, remaking Christianity into what they wanted it to say. Basically, such people take Matthew 7:1-5, out of context, assuming that forbidding saying that “judgment” was forbidding saying that an act was wrong. Actually, what is being condemned is the attitude of determining the person’s ultimate end before it is time. We can’t say that a particular person will wind up damned—or saved for that matter—based on his behavior at the current moment. The notorious sinner may repent and become another St. Augustine. The devout Christian might become another Tertullian. We should heed what St. Paul says:

Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.a Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord.b Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God. (1 Cor 4:1-4)

We can see that he is speaking about not judging . . . himself to be worthy.

But that’s ultimately what the person who says, “God does not care about X” is doing. He’s judging himself to be good and does not seek to discover whether or not he is doing what is evil.

What We Believe Against People Who Try to Divide Christ From His Church

Here is another suggestion, which may not be without its value – if you find yourself thus apparently deserted by the light of faith, do not fluster and baffle your imagination by presenting to it all the most difficult doctrines of the Christian religion, those which unbelievers find it easiest to attack; do not be asking yourself, "Can I really believe marriage is indissoluble?  Can I really believe that it is possible to go to hell as the punishment for one mortal sin?"  Keep your attention fixed to the main point, which is a single point – Can I trust the Catholic Church as the final repository of revealed truth?  If you can, all the rest follows; if you cannot, it makes little difference what else you believe or disbelieve.

(Msgr. Ronald Knox, In Soft Garments, pages 113-114).

These words of Msgr. Ronald Knox show the issue to consider. Is the Catholic Church the means Jesus Christ used to evangelize the world?

If Jesus did intend to establish a Church (Matt 16:18) and give her the authority to teach in His name (John 20:21-23, Luke 10:16, Matt 18:17-18) and confirms that He will confirm in Heaven what the Church confirms on Earth (Matt 16:19), then it follows that what the Church teaches is backed by Jesus Christ and rebellion against the teaching of the Church is rebellion against Jesus Christ Himself. The bad behavior of some of the members of the Church do not justify rebellion against the Church or mimicking their behavior:

1 aThen Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, *saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. (Matt 23:1-3)

As St. Augustine points out in one of his Sermons on the Gospels on these verses:

For if I should wish to defend myself in such wise before God as to say, ‘Lord, I saw that thy cleric living evilly, and therefore I lived evilly;’ would He not say to me, ‘Thou wicked servant, hadst thou not heard from Me, “What they say, do, but what they do, do not”?’ (Sermon 87.7)


The fact of the matter is the relationship of God is not based on the legalistic following of rules, but the loving relationship with God. But this loving relationship is not one where we can do whatever the hell we want. If we love God, we live in the way He calls us to live and not demand that He change His design to benefit our disordered desires. If we live in accord with how He calls us to live, it does follow that we live in accord with the teaching of His Church who He has tasked with the mission to the whole world.

When we live in a way which rejects what God has called us to do, we hurt our relationship with God and with other people. Calling the Church “anti-woman” or “homophobic” or “bureaucratic” because we don’t like her teaching, we are not rejecting a human institution. We’re rejecting God who loves us, and eventually we will face judgment over what we did and didn’t do (Matt 7:21-23).

Friday, November 21, 2014

None, Some, All


One of the problems with how people view things is when they see some people doing a thing and assume that everybody is guilty of doing it, or they see some people not doing a thing and assume that nobody does it. This is where we get stereotypes and prejudices from. I’m sure you’ve encountered the assumptions like people assuming that because some Muslims are terrorists, it means “Muslims are terrorists,” or because some Hispanics are illegal aliens, it means “Hispanics are illegal aliens.” But that’s not a rational assumption. Why? Because knowing that Some A are B does not mean All A is B:

Some A is B(If all we know is that Some A is B, there’s a lot of A and B we don’t know)

When we know, “Some A is B” (whatever A and B may be), it does not allow us to make a general conclusion about the whole of either A or B.

Contrary and Contradictory Statements

Once we recognize this, we can understand the means of refuting a stereotypical charge.

Two statements can be said to be contrary when they cannot both be true, but both of them can be false. For example, if we say “All A is B” and another says “All A is C” and A cannot be both B and C, but can be something else instead of B or C, then the two statements are contrary.

On the other hand, if someone says “All A is B” and I say “Some A is not B,” then these statements are contradictory—they cannot both be true but one of them must be true. If All A is B, then there cannot be any A that is not B. But if Some A is not  B, then it is not true to say that it all is B.

Once we recognize this, it becomes clear what the debate is in each case.

  1. If someone argues that All A is B, the refutation is to show that at least one is not.
  2. If someone argues that No A is B, the refutation is to show that at least one is.
  3. If someone argues that Some A is B, then the question becomes, What does that prove?
Some people may do a thing, but one can’t conclude from this fact that all people (especially of a group) do a thing just because some do.
Logical Issues
The fact that SOME A is B can tell us things about specific subsets of a group, but it can’t tell us something about the whole group the subset is a part of. To form an accurate judgment on the whole, we need to know characteristics about the whole that we can compare the subset to. Moreover, to form an accurate judgment on the subset, we need to have accurate information on the whole.
There are two choices, when it comes to discussing SOME:
  1. All A is B, Some C is A, Therefore Some B is C.
  2. No A is B, Some C is A, Therefore Some C is not B.

That’s pretty much all you can determine when you only have one universal and one specific premise. 

Unfortunately, some people think that the knowledge on behavior of some is enough to indict the whole, but the problem is, it doesn’t give a person enough information to conclude anything:

Some A is B Some B is C Some C is A

In the above graphic, the area marked “???” is the area we need to know about to demonstrate the relationship between A, B and C. But if we only know that Some A is B, Some B is C and Some C is A, we can’t conclude that A, B and C are related to each other in any way other than coincidence.

Application to What People Say About the Church

This is why attempts to tie The Church (as a whole) to the sins of the members doesn’t work. You can come up with a huge laundry list of the sins of some:

  • Some Catholics Sexually Abuse
  • Some Catholics are Bigoted
  • Some Catholics are Misogynistic
  • Some Catholics are Hypocritical

Etc. Etc.

But the problem is, no matter how long the laundry list you come up with, you can’t come up with an indictment of the whole, unless you have a universal (ALL or NO) to compare it with. But there is only one universal that does fit, and that is ALL Catholics are Sinners. That’s hardly news, because ALL non-Catholics are also sinners. So, you’ll also find Buddhists who sexually abuse, Muslims who are bigoted, Presbyterians who are misogynistic and atheists who are hypocritical.

In all these other cases, nobody would presume to judge ALL Buddhists, Muslims, Presbyterians and Atheists as having these traits, but when it comes to the Catholic Church, the whole is presumed to be guilty because of the sins of the part.

The Magisterium vs. Individual Vice

The thing to remember is this: The Church has a living teaching authority (magisterium) which passes on and interprets the teaching of Christ through His apostles. Catholics who live in a way contrary to the teaching of Christ are not doing so because of the teaching of the Church, but in spite of the teaching of the Church. We have a Catechism which people can consult to see what we believe (HERE is a searchable version). We have the Pope and bishops in communion with him continuing to make clear what is and what is not compatible with our faith. Certainly we can have people in the Church—even people high up in the Church—who do evil, but one cannot say the Church made them do evil.

Something to think about the next time you see accusations made against the whole Church, on account on some who do evil despite the teaching of the Church. 


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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What If The Media Has It Backwards About Intolerance?

What If Christianophobic

Oh the whole I like British detective series on TV… it’s a lot more difficult to guess who is guilty right off the bat. But today I saw one that was rather heavy-handed in the attempt to tie Christian opposition towards same sex acts as being homophobic. It was full of bible quoting bigots and main characters alluding to Christian teaching as being hateful—even groups trying to lead Christians with same sex attraction to a life of chastity were labeled as hate groups. It’s as if the producers decided that if they repeat something long enough, people will accept it as true.

That’s about par for TV nowadays. Whatever the genre, the assumption is made that opposition to same-sex acts are rooted in intolerance, and there is no distinguishing between one group and another. Catholic Bishops are put on the same level as the Westboro Baptists. When Pope Francis defended marriage as being between one man and one woman, the media scrambled for a reason to come up for the “rollback” in his views. It’s got to be hard. When you’ve defined Christian teaching on same sex attraction as “hateful,” and you’ve defined the Pope as a wonderful, tolerant guy, it becomes hard to reconcile these portrayals with his teaching reaffirming Catholic teaching.

The dilemma is, they can either:

  • Recognize that Christians can oppose things as morally wrong without being intolerant, or…
  • They can conclude that Pope Francis is as hateful as the Westboro Baptists.

I predict that Pope Francis will be thrown to the wolves by the media when it becomes clear they cannot reconcile their distorted version with what he actually says and does.

That’s the problem with the accusation that Christian teaching on sexuality is hate based, whether homophobic or misogynistic. It’s an argument that refuses to consider whether an argument one disagrees with has a valid reason to justify it. It just argues in a circle:

Person 1: Christians are hateful!
Person 2: Why do you say they are hateful? 
Person 1: Because they say homosexuality is morally wrong!
Person 2: Why is it wrong to say that?
Person 1: Because it is hateful!

It’s simply repeating the same phrase over and over again ad infinitum regardless of the question. It assumes Christianity must be motivated by hatred because they hold this position. There’s never an answer to the “why?” It just is, and if you disagree, you must be motivated by hatred. 

So one wonders if the media might be looking in the wrong direction. What if it isn’t the Christians who hate supporters of so-called same sex marriage . . .

. . . What if it’s the supporters of so-called same sex marriage who hate Christians?

If someone accepts the current argument that Christians are homophobic, they can’t escape the reverse accusation, that opponents are Christianophobic. Either abandon the argument or recognize it can be used against the accusers as well.

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."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On True and False Teachers



24 Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, 25 we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Acts 15:24-26)

The Bible has a lot of interesting things to say about false teachers, especially in the New Testament. Back then, they were basically rigorists who insisted that to be a Christian you had to follow the Jewish Law. The Church teaching authority made clear that the ceremonial and dietary law did not have to be followed, but the false teachers still clung to their position.

It seems like today we have false teachers who declare what they hold is the Church teaching—but it is not held by the teaching authority of the Church. They can stir up a good deal of trouble to those who are unaware, but to one who knows the authority of the Church will not be taken in.

Who Are the True Teachers?

The Magisterium is described by the Catechism as follows:

The Magisterium of the Church

85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. (888–892; 2032–2040)

86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” (688)

87 Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me,” the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. (1548; 2037)

The dogmas of the faith

88 The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these. (888–892, 2032–2040)

So, the teaching office is living (not limited to the past) and the job of interpreting of the teaching is the Pope (the successor of St. Peter) and the bishops in communion with him. It has the authority to decide how the Word of God is best carried out, never contradicting the Word of God.

Who Are the False Teachers?

The false teachers are made up of two types:

  1. One who claims binding authority for their teaching when they do not have that authority.
  2. One who says the Church teaching is what it is not, or is not what it actually is.

Radical Traditionalism has long been a source of the first. Claiming to be arbiters over what is or is not authentically Catholic, they have been given no mandate to teach, and in fact rely on what they think pre-Vatican II Church document mean—and it’s always pre-Vatican II. Elevating disciplines into doctrines, claiming that Vatican II was a departure from the true faith—based on their own interpretations. Their position is always begging the question—what gives them the right to declare themselves as having the true faith while the Magisterium which contradicts them does not? The fact is, they merely appeal to the “plain sense” of Church documents in the same way that a Biblical Literalist would appeal to the “plain sense” of the Scriptures.

The point is, when there is a dispute over the meaning of a Church teaching, it is the Magisterium and not the casual reader, who has the final authority. Trying to declare authority over the interpretation of the Magisterium is oxymoronic (and I’m tempted to say, “drop the ‘oxy.’”).

Mind you, it’s not only the radical traditionalists who do this. The modernists who cite Hans Küng as a justification for the rejection of the Magisterium make the same mistake. He’s not part of the magisterium, and his ability to teach as a Catholic theologian was revoked.

The second set of false teachers are those who say the Church teaches a thing that she does not or does not teach something she does teach. The modern media misrepresentation of the Church certainly falls into this category. So do the Catholics who misunderstand the Church teaching or disagree with it. When the media cites Pope Francis saying “Who am I to judge” out of context, they are creating a false teaching.

Did ANYBODY read it in context?

When the conservative Catholic turns the fact that Cardinal Burke’s term of office expired into a “demotion” because of his positions, they too are creating a false teaching. When the SSPXer denies that the Church had the authority to take action against Lefebvre, that is a false teaching.

Our Obligations With the Truth

We are never to do evil so good may come of it (CCC #1789). That means we can’t choose to do or say wrong to further our position. For example, if we lie about the teachings of the Church in order to get more converts, that is to be condemned. If a person dislikes how a certain member of the Church handles their position, we cannot lie about it in order to discourage people from looking at that member positively.

So, when it comes to speaking or writing, we must (as Aristotle says) say of what is that it is, and of that which is not that it is not. So we can’t say that Pope Francis wants to change the Church teaching to allow the same sex couples and the divorced and invalidly remarried couples to receive the Eucharist—because he does not.

Another obligation is to recognize when one does not know the truth. When we encounter something like the expiration of Cardinal Burke’s term and the fact that he was not reappointed to a new position, we do not know the reason as to why the Pope did as he did, but we do know that he opposes careerism and, to date, has not reappointed anybody to the same curial position. So to say he was “demoted” because of his positions at the synod is to speak out of ignorance.

Finally, we have to look for truth. It’s not enough to assume we are right without thinking about it. When we encounter something that makes us think, “What the hell?” the obligation is to find out what the facts and motives are for the action. For example, with all the alleged shocks about Pope Francis over the past year and a half, it has been revealed that not one has been what it was originally represented to be.

In other words, if you don’t know why the Pope did something, don’t assume bad will on his part.

Recognizing Who Speaks With Truth and Authority

As a Catholic blogger, I’ll say this straight out—this blog does not have any binding authority. All I can do is relay the teaching of the Church as accurately as I can and say what I believe follows from those teachings. For example, I can say that given the Church teaching on infallibility, the radical traditionalist seems to come very close to heresy in claiming that Popes have taught error since Vatican II. But I have NO authority to declare them heretical. Likewise, I can say that liberal Catholics embrace heretical positions, but I cannot formally declare them heretical either. All I can do is to contrast their positions with what the Magisterium has said.

That’s the same story for other Catholic blogs. We can only speak to the truth or falseness of a person’s claims—we can’t declare something as Church teaching unless it is Church teaching. We don’t have authority, we have integrity (or a lack thereof) which is measured by how we speak the truth or fail to do so.

Certainly the media cannot speak with authority. They can report the facts or they can go wildly wrong (with culpability depending on whether they thought they were being accurate or pushing an agenda). They don’t have authority—only integrity (and, looking at the coverage of the synod and the Pope, not much of that).

The living Magisterium is the source of authority by which all reports on Catholicism are measured. They have the responsibility to lead the Church and that responsibility is matched with the authority to be heeded and the protection given from God that they do not lead the Church astray.

The Problem Today

The problem today is we are seeing a rejection of the true authority of the Church and a reliance on the self interpretation and on sources that one agrees with but are not sources of authority. It creates anarchy, and is being done by parties on both sides of the political spectrum—and that leads us to the second problem . . . that the teaching authority of the Church is based a political agenda—especially when it goes against our personal preferences. Thus we see Pope Francis accused of being a Marxist and the American bishops simultaneously being accused of being the “Republican Party at Prayer” and “liberal modernists."

When you look at all the conflict within the Church, none of it is based on what the Church has taught. It is based on what people think or fear might happen because of what they think it means.

Who Do You Heed?

The Bible tells us that God does not recognize religious division. The division of Israel into two kingdoms are examples of that. God tolerated a political division, but when the Northern tribes chose to erect their own temple as a rivalry to the Temple of Jerusalem, God sent the prophets to warn them. It didn’t matter that Judea had its problems. That was where God chose His Temple to be. The rebellions against Moses by Korah and by Aaron and Miriam were punished because they were rebellions against who God had chosen.

So, the authority given by God is not to be rebelled against. As Catholics we believe that the Church has her authority from Christ and is given through St. Peter and the apostles, continuing through their successors. If we believe the Catholic teaching, the living magisterium of the Church is not to be rebelled against either. That being the case, being a faithful Catholic means keeping to the teaching of the current Pope. Not keeping to this means not being a faithful Catholic.

This system means we have faith in God to protect the Magisterium from teaching error. If God has tasked His Church with His mission and given the Church His authority, then we trust that God will prevent error from being taught by the Magisterium. We don’t have the authority to rebel. This isn’t “papolatry," trusting in the personal holiness of the Pope (though I believe he is a man of good will seeking to do God’s will). This is recognizing that God is in charge and protecting the Church.

Of course that puts his detractors and those who misrepresent him in a spot. The Church teaches things on morality that liberals do not like—and so they misrepresent what is said to hide what they do not want to obey. Likewise, the Church teaching on changing the discipline (not doctrine) of some areas of the Church does not sit well with some conservatives and traditionalists. Because being a faithful Catholic requires obedience to the Pope, they have to create complex theologies about dissent that makes them the ones to judge the Magisterium. (Ironically, before Pope Francis, liberals used to behave that way. Now they just ignore what they dislike).

Remember, the Vatican I document, Pastor Aeternus, tells us this about the authority of the Papacy:

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema.

Reject that, and you’ve rejected the authority which God has given the Pope.

Pope Francis is Our Pope

With this in mind, we have to apply it to the current successor of St. Peter—Pope Francis. If we would claim to be faithful Catholics we cannot place ourselves in opposition to his teaching as Pope. If he chooses to use his papacy to reach out to sinners, seeking to find a way they can return to the Church, we place our trust in God that whatever way the Church decides to carry it out will not be contrary to God’s will.

When accusations are made against him, they must be proven, not assumed. When a person disagrees with the Pope’s means of carrying out Christ’s mission, the obligation is to pray and to learn the truth first. Thus far, every time a scandal is reported about the Pope, the facts eventually showed that the accounts were wrong in some area and what he said in context was in full keeping with the teaching of the Church.

Perhaps one should keep in mind something that Bishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote in his autobiography:

"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."

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.