Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quick Quips: Pope Francis in the USA Edition


So I enjoyed the Pope’s visit and was impressed with what he had to say. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to have been unhappy with the visit, thinking he should have said more on topic A and less on topic B. So here’s another episode of Quick Quips where I put onto the internet the eye-rolling, teeth gritting thoughts I’ve had as I read the news, the blogs and the comments made essentially bashing the Pope. So here we go.

What Radical Nut Came Up With…?—Oh Wait...

So, did you hear the radical words uttered at the Papal Mass this morning in Philadelphia?

"Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance."

What is this radical Marxist agenda being spouted?

Oh wait—the Pope didn't say that. That was from the Second Reading from today’s Mass, the Epistle of James 5:1-6. Maybe, just maybe, the Pope is not spouting Marxist views, but is actually teaching the parts of Christianity that we have forgotten.

So Who’s To Blame For Misinterpretation Now?

So some Catholics have trotted out the old “if he would only speak more clearly, people would not misinterpret him” lament. But after seeing the comments in the (secular) conservative sites where every old bit of anti-Catholic slander going back to the 16th century has been hurled at the Pope (things like “we deny the resurrection because we have a corpus on a crucifix while Protestants have an empty cross” and the old “works alone”), I have to ask—do you really think these people would even want to find out the truth about what a Catholic had to say (as opposed being comfortable in their bigotry)?

If Only The Pope Had...

I've encountered something coming up in blogs and on Facebook, saying that if only the Pope had mentioned abortion directly in his address to Congress, they could have defunded Planned Parenthood successfully in the vote that came up the same day. Personally, I don't believe it. That would require there to be enough Catholics in congress that could have swung the vote that were:

  • Not already determined to vote their position regardless of what the Pope taught.
  • So ignorant of the Church teaching up to now that if the Pope mentioning it directly, they would have said "Oh, wow, what the hell were we thinking? It’s bad for Catholics to support abortion?” after the Pope spoke.

Dissenting Catholics who think abortion to be "a right" haven't changed their views when faced with the Pope's predecessors and I doubt they'd change now either...

The Pope Was So Silent on Abortion That Even Planned Parenthood Spoke Against Him—Wait a Minute...

Also of note is the fact that while conservative Catholics denounced the Pope for not speaking out on abortion, Planned Parenthood denounced him for his pro-life stance, saying the Church needed to change her teaching. When the enemies of the Church know that the Pope is pro-life, maybe—just maybe—the concerned Catholics need to realize that his message is getting through.

Guess the Pope Who Said This...

Here’s a Papal document which speaks on the environment this way:

34. Nor can the moral character of development exclude respect for the beings which constitute the natural world, which the ancient Greeks—alluding precisely to the order which distinguishes it—called the “cosmos.” Such realities also demand respect, by virtue of a threefold consideration which it is useful to reflect upon carefully.

The first consideration is the appropriateness of acquiring a growing awareness of the fact that one cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate—animals, plants, the natural elements—simply as one wishes, according to one s own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the cosmos.”

The second consideration is based on the realization—which is perhaps more urgent—that natural resources are limited; some are not, as it is said, renewable. Using them as if they were inexhaustible, with absolute dominion, seriously endangers their availability not only for the present generation but above all for generations to come.

The third consideration refers directly to the consequences of a certain type of development on the quality of life in the industrialized zones. We all know that the direct or indirect result of industrialization is, ever more frequently, the pollution of the environment, with serious consequences for the health of the population.

Once again it is evident that development, the planning which governs it, and the way in which resources are used must include respect for moral demands. One of the latter undoubtedly imposes limits on the use of the natural world. The dominion granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to “use and misuse,” or to dispose of things as one pleases. The limitation imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically by the prohibition not to “eat of the fruit of the tree” (cf. Gen 2:16–17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity.

A true concept of development cannot ignore the use of the elements of nature, the renewability of resources and the consequences of haphazard industrialization—three considerations which alert our consciences to the moral dimension of development.

Pope Francis and Laudato Si? No. Sollicitudo rei Socialis by St. John Paul II, written in 1987. That’s right, almost 30 years ago.

That Guy From Nazareth Would Be A Lot Better Speaker if He Talked About the Unjust Romans...

Continuing the theme of “The Pope didn’t speak on X,” I was struck by how the Israelites and the Apostles constantly wanted to know when Jesus was going to speak out on the corrupt tax collectors, the Roman occupation, the Samaritans and so on. Jesus rebuked them for their attitudes. But wanting justice was not a bad thing in itself. However, when considering His mission, an approach which did not to condemn the sinners but to sought to bring them to salvation, what people wanted to hear and what they needed to hear were often two different things.  

The Pope seems determined to follow Our Lord’s example in how He approaches things. He didn’t come as a firebrand preacher—you know, the type most people cross the street to avoid. He spoke with gentleness and encouragement, addressing the issues that maybe we need to hear, and not putting the other guy in his place. A lot of people don’t like that—but then again neither did the Pharisees.

In Closing

Ultimately I think that people who approached the Pope’s visit with an open mind and heart, seeking to learn, came away satisfied. But those who approached the visit with the assumption that “that idiot is going to screw it up again…” came away disgruntled. I believe the Pope presented the faith in a gentle manner, speaking to a nation that has forgotten how one is to be good, hoping to get them to listen. But Catholics who wanted blood sports where the Pope denounced Pelosi, Obama, Biden and so on, I think they missed the gifts of the visit.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Overlooking the Essentials: Reflections on the Negative Catholic Reaction to Pope Francis


With the Pope’s visit to the US, people—including Catholics—are scrutinizing his words to use them in order to justify their political positions. If the individual agrees with his words, he is a great Pope, while if they don’t, he is not. Unfortunately this mindset seeks to take the Pope’s words and cram them into a dualistic political mindset: “Either the Pope is conservative or liberal.”

On one hand, we get Nancy Pelosi’s reprehensible statement of “I actually agree with the pope on more issues than many Catholics who agree with him on one issue” where that “one issue" is abortion and St. John Paul II spoke of "Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death." [John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae #18]—a pretty big disconnect. On the other hand, we get the accusation that the Pope is a liberal-leftist-marxist-who-should-stick-to-religion-and-not-get-into-politics (whew!) whenever he speaks on a topic they dislike.

Both views miss the point. Catholicism isn’t a faith of “Well I may have got an F when it comes to abortion but I get an A+ when it comes to holding political positions I can sort of equate with the Catholic teaching, therefore I get a grade of C as a Catholic!” (conservatives would reverse this and come to the same conclusion). Catholicism is about seeking to be faithful to God in all things, repenting and turning back to Him when and where we fall short.

The politician who ignores the Church teaching on abortion does evil. That’s undeniable. But the politician who ignores the Church teaching on social justice also does evil. Does that mean that abortion and social justice issues are moral equivalents? Definitely not. But to say that Issue #1 is worse than Issue #2 therefore Issue #2 is not important is simply false. The unrepented mortal sin will damn a soul whether it is abortion or whether it is adultery.

Labelling the Pope Based on Personal Ideas of What We Think Should Have Been Said

Unfortunately there is a strong anti-Francis mindset (it’s beginning to be called Papal derangement syndrome elsewhere) where the Pope’s orthodoxy is judged based on how often he mentions a topic and how forcefully he does so. It’s so predictable, it's almost like a simple computer program:


This kind of mindset assumes that there is no merit to other topics the Pope might discuss and that if he doesn’t make Issue X the centerpiece of his visit to America, then there was no merit to his visit. In such a case, the individual has made himself or herself into a judge who determines the importance of what issues to discuss in the Catholic teaching and has actually deafened himself or herself to hearing what the Pope actually has to say.

Unfortunately the Pope, like his predecessors, have been slandered. Both the supporters and detractors of Francis, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have bought into the myth that their positions are political. The only difference is that Francis is maligned as being a liberal while St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were maligned as being conservative. But neither accusation is true. If you read Sollicitudo rei socialis by St. John Paul II and Caritas in veritate by Benedict XVI said similar things on social justice and responsibility to creation: Indeed, all three recognized the importance of, and drew from, Blessed Paul VI and Populorum progressio. But while his predecessor’s teachings have been forgotten already, Pope Francis is maligned as being a liberal-leftist-marxist-modernist-heretic (whew!) when all three of them said the same thing.

What We Think Should Have Been Said May Not Be the Best Thing to Be Said

We need to realize that we are not the Pope and do not have his insights into what he thinks this country needs to hear when it comes to being evangelized. Think of it this way. The Jews, in expecting the Messiah, legitimately were concerned about justice against the Romans and wanted Him to declare Himself (see John 10:24 for example and Matthew 11:3ff). But Jesus’ mission was not what the people expected it to be. Those Jews waiting for Jesus to speak about those issues only were going to wind up disappointed. But those who came to listen and learn from what Jesus said would be satisfied.

I’m not suggesting that the Pope = Jesus here. But the Pope is imitating Jesus in his words and actions in America. When he speaks to the President, Congress, the UN, the Bishops and us what he believes we need to hear—not in condemnation but in gentle encouragement. If we dismiss this message, labeling it as not important, we will end up frustrated and dissatisfied by what he said when his visit to our nation ends. But if we approach his addresses with the mindset of “What is he saying to me and how should I apply it to my life?” we will end up enriched by this visit.

Now, yes, I would like it if the Pope chose to speak more overtly on the moral issues like abortion, “same sex marriage,” and the like. But I do believe he is reaching out gently to people who are not ready for the solid food of the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-3), speaking to them gently, not harshly. We should certainly recognize the possibility of the people estranged from or ignorant of the Church being driven away from listening if the Pope spoke as we might wish he would.

Ultimately we should come to learn from what the Pope is teaching and not judge him on what we want him to say.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I've Been Doing This for EIGHT Years?

So, September 22nd is the anniversary of the day I first published an Arnobius of Sicca article on Xanga in 2007. I have to admit I never thought I’d still be doing this today. Nor did I expect the changes in the world that brought on so many attacks and misrepresentations to defend the Church from. You see, when I created Arnobius of Sicca, it wasn’t created as an apologetics blog. It was created as something to do while I was on work related disability.

My friend Brian was concerned I was becoming lethargic and depressed and suggested it as something to do in order to keep myself occupied. So I did. The first couple of posts were kind of a riffing commentary on whatever happened to cross my desk. It wasn’t anything serious. Then I published an article on the nature of the Church and got a reply from a member of the Quakers who was converting to Catholicism, who told me that my post was very helpful in helping him understand things he was struggling with.

To be honest, I had never thought of the blog actually being useful before and it caused me to think that maybe it could be more than just quips on different topics. That comment was probably responsible for the direction the blog took.

The next big shift came with the visit of Benedict XVI to America. Prior to that time, my blog was strongly disrespectful of the American bishops. But when he came, and I saw how enthusiastically the bishops responded, I began to realize that I was wrong in assuming bad will and incompetence in their actions. From that time on it became clear that there were a lot of bishops who had wanted to do their mission well but were not sure how to do it. Oh sure a few still frustrated me (and a few still do), but this was a reminder that the bishops were the successors to the Apostles and not an enemy political faction.

The third big shift came about by discovering how illogical attacks on the Church could be, and realizing how I needed to study logic to aid in refutation of these attacks. (In the earliest years, I tended to often commit the fallacy of the undistributed middle (A is B and A is C, therefore B is C. Something that still embarrasses me today to remember).

Over the years, my blog had to cover many different topics in defense of the faith. Some fell off the radar because they did not cross my path after the first year or so (such as Protestant anti-Catholicism and the New Atheism brought on by the spate of books on the subject).

Others seemed to be minor issues but became extremely serious (I never expected that religious freedom would become so endangered here as it has without America becoming a dictatorship). I never expected to see the Supreme Court legitimize “same sex marriage” in such a high-handed manner.

Unfortunately, one topic which has not changed is the attack of radical traditionalism on the authority of the Church. Believe it or not, the same attacks they level against Pope Francis today, they leveled against St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI—accusing both of being modernists destroying the Church. Even back then, people were asking me why I wrote against this when the attacks against the Church by modernists and liberals were so much more serious. (My answer today is pretty close to what I would have said then: liberal dissent is not likely to deceive Catholics trying to be faithful, but radical traditionalist dissent can).

I guess over the years, my rhetoric has toned down some and I’ve gained a little more tact (and coherency).

While I never thought my blog would have lasted so long, I have to say I am glad I stuck with it


As a special bonus, in case you are interested, here is the text of my first blog entry from 9/22/2007 (which is no longer available elsewhere). It’s a bit embarrassing—because it is rambling and badly written—but you can see that my outlook on life that I approach in my blog with was present here in a less refined form.

[One word of explanation, to put things in context. The link (which I think is now a dead link) in the article below referenced a resolution by the City of San Francisco condemning the Catholic Church for her stand on homosexuality and the refusal to place children for adoption with same sex couples. That struck me as a violation of the establishment clause—though the Supreme Court would later tell us it was OK. That would be a warning that it was open season on the Catholic Church]

My First Post

I don't have anything to say yet, but Xanga I guess abhors a vacuum as much as nature does, as it won't leave me alone until I write this first post.  So here you go.  Hopefully a second post will actually sound intelligent

 <Sounds of laughter from the people who know me>

 I guess you can call me a cynic.  There are very few things that are worth all the effort people put into it.  Belief in God, Moral Values, Truth and raising a family... that matters, and I am not a cynic there.  Obsessing about a pop star and how long she stays in prison, who cares?  Unfortunately the media does, which is why I tend to be skeptical about their being the so-called "defenders of freedom."

 Truth does matter however, as I said, and I find it rather appalling that so many people out there will agree or disagree on a position based on how they feel about it rather than it is true.  We see politicians posturing on various issues and nobody has the sense to ask questions of the truth of an issue... "Yes... yes fine Mrs Clinton, we know you are committed to Choice, but do you think it is a child?  If No, what proof do you have, if I Don't Know, aren't you behaving as recklessly as a hunter who fires at movement into a bush without checking to see if it is a deer?"

 If I held my breath waiting for the mainstream media to ask that one, I'd die of asphyxia.  They're too busy reporting about Brittany Spears and her drug tests and the battle between Kae-West and 50 Cent.

 In spite of this, people have the gall to tell me I left my brain at the door when I became a practicing Catholic , and the Church is anti-freedom.  Not so.  My brain is clearly functional as I find the tripe that passes for news to in fact be tripe.  In fact, the Church taught me to use my brain and trusted me to find that what they taught was true. 

 As for freedom, I think St Thomas Aquinas put it best with explanations of just laws: the just person is free and the unjust are constrained.  While with an unjust law, it is the just who are constrained and the unjust are free.  Considering that the Freedom of Speech elitists who run the Newsrooms and the Campuses and pass the laws in fact shout down those who wish to stand up their moral beliefs and forbid them from doing what they believe, which kind of laws do we seem to have at the moment?

 I guess they forgot the First Amendment also protects the Freedom of Religion

 Amendment I

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

  When the Church is told to toe the line on adoptions to homosexual couples, give them Health Benefits and to distribute contraceptives (Catholic Hospitals) and a current candidate's former husband once tried to make it mandatory for Catholic Hospitals to administer abortions without a conscience clause, it's clear that the words of Abraham Lincoln were prophetic:

 Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy hypocrisy.

 When we see actions like this:

 it seems that the idea of the Constitution can be interpreted to be as described by Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'

 Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them - particularly verbs: they're the proudest - adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs - however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

 'Would you tell me, please,' said Alice, 'what that means?'

'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

  So, it isn't a "denial of religious freedom" because we don't choose to call it that, it seems.  And then they wonder why people consider America to be an anti-Christian country.  Could it be because of Supreme Court decisions, a crucifix dipped in Urine is free speech but one on public land is unconstitutional?  Under the logic of the Supreme Court, the only way one can legally put a cross on public land is if you plan to burn it.

  So, anyway this has gone on long enough... 

<applause from the reader>

...but you understand why I am cynical about things perhaps.

2007-09-22 15:05:14 2007-09-22 19:05:14 open Publish post 617469354 firstpost

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bad Reasoning: The Baptist Pastor Doesn&#39;t Crush Anyone

(See: Addicting Info – Baptist Pastor Crushes Kim Davis And The Hypocrisy Of His Fellow Evangelicals In Open Letter)

I’m seeing some posts on Facebook which speaks about the letter a Baptist pastor (Russell Williams from Florida) wrote, calling the Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, a hypocrite for her stance. Since a judge took a heavy-handed response against her (normally one impeaches or recalls an elected official), this woman has been viewed as a hero in some circles and it is natural some would like to attack her credibility. The problem is, the letter uses a lot bad reasoning that does not prove its point.

Williams gives three reasons why he rejects the praise for this woman, but they’re bad reasons. Let’s look at them.


First: This is not a case of the government forcing anyone to violate their religious belief. She is free to quit her job. If she quits her job to honor God surely God would take care of her.

Yes, she is free to quit her job, and perhaps she will reach a position where she should quit her job. But Williams is way off in saying that this dilemma is not an attempt to force someone to violate their religious rights. Whether the person is coerced by the loss of a job, lawsuits or jail time unless they comply with something, that is an attempt to force someone to change their beliefs or leave so someone more malleable can take over. What Williams does not answer is the question, “Does the government have the right to change the definition of right and wrong and force elected officials to defend it against their conscience?

If so, then no religious belief is safe. If the government should become radically Islamic, Communist or Nazi (the big boogey men today), then a person has no right to refuse their orders either. No, I’m not comparing “same sex marriage” with these things. I’m just saying that one can use the same argument to say “go along or quit” in these cases too.

Next, Williams argues:

Second: This is not a case of someone trying to uphold the sanctity of marriage. If she wanted to uphold the sanctity of marriage she should not have been married four different times. If she is worried about her name being affixed to a marriage license that goes against a biblical definition of marriage, she should not have her name on the last three marriage licenses given to her.

Being a Catholic, I belong to a religion that rejects the possibility of remarriage if the first marriage is valid. As such, I do not condone these actions. But Williams is committing a tu quoque fallacy. Her behavior on divorce and remarriage has no bearing on whether her behavior on signing marriage certificates is right or wrong.

Then, he says:

Third: This seems to be a case of someone looking to cash in on the religious right. Churches all across the south will throw money at her to come and tell congregations how the evil American government put her in jail because of her faith in Jesus.

If that was her intention, then yes, it would be a shameful action. But, that is something he has to prove to be true. Even if she does receive speaking fees, this does not change the issue: Did the judge do wrong to imprison her for refusing to sign these marriage licenses? That is independent of what Kim Davis or the different denominations do.

Finishing his three points, he goes on to say:

This is why we are losing.

This is why people have such disdain for evangelicals.

Not because we disagree but because we don’t take the bible seriously. If ever there was a case of “he who is without sin cast the first stone”, this is it. If ever there was a “take the log out of your eye” moment, this is it.

We must stop looking to the government to make America a Christian utopia. Our kingdom is not of this world.

I think he is missing a major point here. Yes, our kingdom is not of this world. But we are called to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth. When the world does wrong, the Christian needs to stand in opposition to the wrongdoing. Nations and governments are made up of human beings. Those human beings can enact just laws or unjust laws. When they enact laws unjust before God, those people sin and must be corrected. We don’t have to turn America into a Christian nation. But when the people of a nation vote or governments govern to do wrong things, we have to bear witness, even up to the point of martyrdom.

Then he says something which is jaw-dropping appalling: 

We must abandon all thoughts of fixing others and let Jesus fix us.

To which I say, What in the hell do you think the Great Commission calls us to do? In Matthew 18:15-17 tells us of the obligation to correct those in error. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands His disciples to go out into the world to baptize and to teach all He commanded them. The entire history of Christianity was about converting nations engulfed in wickedness. Yes, we cannot do it without God’s grace. But we believe that God does give us both the grace and the commandment. We must witness by our word and by our actions.

He concludes by saying, 

If we want sanctity of marriage then stop cheating, stop having affairs, stop looking at porn, stop getting divorces. That is the way for the church to stand up for the biblical definition of marriage, not by someone martyring their self-righteous self.

I agree these things are evil, and Christians should reject them. But here is the problem. Williams is creating a false dilemma. It is not a case of doing either one or the other. We do the first, and if people jail or sue us for taking a stand, then we suffer for the faith.

Ultimately, whatever sins and personal flaws exist in her life, those things are not relevant to the question of whether a judge jailed her with the intention of coercing her into doing what she believed to be wrong. People who believe that the government neither has the right to redefine marriage nor coerce people with Christians to quit or go against their beliefs are not hypocritical in this protest.

Ultimately, while the letter is popular (over 126,000 shares on Facebook at the time I went there), this letter is not helpful. It gives people who want to attack Kim Davis specifically or Christians in general ammunition to use, but ignores the fact that Christians of good will can see what was done by a Kentucky judge to be a travesty and believe that a line needs to be drawn.

No doubt there are good things to say to prevent the Davis case from being politicized or from the Christian faith being exploited…but this letter didn’t have them.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Some Important Words from St. Francis de Sales

I’ve been reading the St. Francis de Sales book Of the Love of God, and in book ten, I came across two very important chapters about zeal that goes too far. It seems appropriate today to post these chapters and share them in the hopes they will be useful to the individual Catholic. In these chapters, he discusses what proper zeal guides us to do and how the examples of zeal by the saints and in the events of Scripture may not be handled properly by the average man in the street—in fact, they may actually do harm. (One example is how people cite St. Paul rebuking St. Peter in a special case. St. Francis de Sales points out that not all people are gifted in a way to do this in a good way.

So I offer this posting of those chapters to my readers.


The Wise Guidance of Religious Zeal

IN proportion to the loving warmth and vehemence of zeal, so is the need that it be wisely guided, else it will easily outstep the limits of discretion. Not, of course, that the love of God, however fervent, can ever be too strong in itself, or in the impulse it gives to the mind; but it is wont to call in the use of the intellect and the passions to effect its object, and these are liable to act too vehemently, and so to hinder zeal, and make it unruly. We see an instance of this in Joab killing Absalom in spite of David’s stringent orders to save his life. In like manner zeal sometimes calls in the aid of anger, bidding it destroy the sin, yet spare the sinner; but passionate zeal, once roused, is like an unruly horse, who cannot be held by bit or bridle. So, again, the householder of whom our Lord tells2 had to check the impetuous zeal of his servants, who would have rooted up the tares at the risk of rooting up the good grain also. Indignation is a strong, vigorous servant, capable of great things, but so eager and inconsiderate that it is wont to do more harm than good. Our peasants say that the peacock is a bad inmate, for although it will Keep a place clear of spiders and the like, it spoils more than it saves. Anger is a natural reinforcement to reason, and grace uses it in support of zeal; but it is a dangerous ally, apt to get the upper hand and overthrow both reason and charity, and we are never safe or sure that it may not suddenly spread like a flame, and become destructive. It is indeed a desperate act to let a besieged city fall into the hands of one who may prove a master instead of an ally.

Self-love often deceives men, and disguises itself under the garb of zeal. Zeal has perhaps made some use of anger, and anger in its turn plays its own game under the name of zeal; under the name only, for, like all other virtues, the real thing itself cannot be used to any evil purpose.


A notorious sinner once cast himself at the feet of a holy priest, humbly seeking absolution, whereat a certain monk named Demophilus gave way to the fiercest indignation at the sight of such a penitent drawing so near the altar, and with blows and sharp words drove him thence, abusing the priest who would have received him, and removing the sacred vessels from the altar, which he held as desecrated. Demophilus proceeded next to write boastfully of what he had done to S. Denys the Areopagite, who answered him in a tone worthy of his teacher S. Paul, pointing out how indiscreet and unwise such zeal was, and illustrating his rebuke by the following instance. A Candiate Christian had been won back to Paganism by one of his former friends, whereupon a certain pious man, Carpus by name, who appears to have been bishop of Candia, was so moved to wrath that he prayed to God to destroy both with the thunderbolts of His wrath. But the Lord opened his eyes in a vision, and he beheld heaven open, and Jesus Christ sitting on His Throne, surrounded with angels, and beneath the yawning gulf, on the edge of which stood the two men he had wished to overwhelm, trembling with fear, while certain men stood by striving to thrust them in. So great was Carpus’s wrath that, as he told S. Denys later on, he scarce cast a glance upon the Blessed Saviour and His company of angels, but gloated on the spectacle of those wretched men, whose fall he longed to hasten, till, raising his eyes, he beheld the All-pitying Saviour rise up and extend His Hand to those miserable beings, while the angels strove to draw them back. Then our Lord turned to Carpus, saying, “Smite Me rather, for gladly would I suffer anew to save men. Bethink thee whether thou wouldst choose to fall into that hellish gulf, or to abide with the angels.” Some men think there can be no zeal without anger, whereas true zeal rarely if ever employs it. The surgeon never uses his knife save in extreme necessity, and holy zeal never uses anger save in a like extreme moral need.


Concerning certain Saints whose Zealous Indignation is in nowise irreconcilable with the above

WE read that Moses, Phinehas, Elijah, Mattathias, and other eminent servants of God, exercised a zealous wrath on sundry occasions; but then we must needs bear in mind that these were great men, who had full command over their anger, and knew how to control their passions, like the centurion in the Gospel, saying to one, “Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh.” But we are of a very different sort, and have not the same empire over ourselves; our steed is not so trained that we can “volt and revolt”2 at pleasure. A well-broken retriever will follow the game or hold back as his master bids, but a young dog is disobedient, and strays. Those great saints, who have subdued their passions by dint of long-practised virtues, are able to wield their wrath at will; but we, with our unruly, ill-trained impulses, dare not let anger loose, lest, once at large, we know not how to restrain it. S. Denys tells Demophilus, above mentioned, that he who would correct others must first give good heed that his wrath do not gain the mastery over his better self, and that it is vain to cite Phinehas or Elijah as examples, for our Lord Himself checked a like spirit even in His disciples. We all remember the circumstances to which S. Denys alludes—how Phinehas slew the impure, and Elijah called down fire upon Ahaziah’s soldiers, in token that the Lord was King.4 As also our Saviour’s reply when James and John asked to be permitted to imitate Elijah, and destroy the Samaritan village which denied their Master entrance: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of,” thereby teaching that His zeal was mild and gracious, never exercising fierce wrath save when all other possible means were unavailing.


When that great master of theology S. Thomas Aquinas lay in his last sickness at Fosse-neuve, the Cistercian monks around asked him to expound the Canticles to them, as S. Bernard had done. To which the Saint replied, “Dear fathers, give me the mind of S. Bernard, and I will expound the sacred words as he did!” Even so, if we poor weak Christians are called upon to put forth zealous wrath like those great saints we read of in the Scriptures, it behoves us to answer, “Give us their spirit and their light, and we will do as they did.” It is not every one that knows when or how to be angry.


Those holy men were under God’s immediate inspiration, and therefore they could exercise their wrath fearlessly, inasmuch as the same Spirit Which kindled restrained it within due limits. Such anger is not that “wrath of man” of which S. James says that it “worketh not the righteousness of God.” Although S. Paul calls the Galatians “foolish,”3 and withstood S. Peter “to the face,” is that any reason why we should sit in judgment on nations, censure and abuse our superiors? We are not so many S. Pauls! But bitter, sharp, hasty men not unfrequently give way to their own tempers and dislikes under the cloak of zeal, and are consumed of their own fire, falsely calling it from heaven. On one side an ambitious man would fain have us believe that he only seeks the mitre out of zeal for souls; on the other a harsh censor bids us accept his slanders and backbiting as the utterance of a zealous mind.


There are three forms which zeal may take: First, the vigorous action of justice in repressing evil; and this appertains solely to those whose avowed office it is to censure and correct, but unfortunately a good many persons who have no right to such office assume it. Secondly, earnest zeal performs striking actions for the sake of example, to remedy evil, and the like, courses open alike to all, but which few care to pursue. And thirdly, a very admirable form of zeal lies in patience and endurance with a view to hindering evil, but scarce any one is found to exercise this. Ambitious zeal is more popular, and men do not let themselves see that it is a mere veil to intolerance, self-seeking, and anger.


Our Dear Lord’s zeal was chiefly displayed in dying to conquer death and sin, wherein He was closely followed by His chosen vessel S. Paul, as S. Gregory Nazianzen well says, “He fights for all, prays for all, is jealous over all, burns for all; nay, more, for those who are his kinsmen in the flesh he could even wish himself accursed! O superabounding courage and zeal! fit copy of Christ, Who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows!” Even as our Lord bore the sins of the world, and died an accursed death for man, being all the while the Beloved Son of God, in Whom He was well pleased; so the Apostle was willing to bear all things, yet without ever willing to lose the Love of his Master, from which, he says, he knows nothing could ever separate him. So, too, the Bride of the Canticles, affirming that love is strong as death, which separates body and soul, goes on to say that wrath (or jealousy) is cruel as the grave,2 for it is like to hell, which separates the soul from the sight of God, but it is nowhere said that love or zeal in anywise resemble sin, which alone separates us from God’s Grace. And indeed, how could ardent love desire such a separation, when love is very grace itself, or at least cannot exist without grace? We find a not unapt copy of S. Paul in S. Paulinus, who gave himself up to bondage in order to set another free.


Blessed is he, says S. Ambrose, who knows how to control zeal! And S. Bernard says that the devil will speedily mock a man’s zeal if it be not according to knowledge. Zeal must be kindled of charity, governed by knowledge, strengthened by faith. True zeal is the offspring and life of charity, and like charity is patient, kind, peaceful, free from hatred or bitterness, “rejoicing in the truth.” The action of true zeal is like that of an ardent sportsman, who is diligent, careful, active, and very stedfast in the chase, but without fretfulness or passion, for that would only hinder his pursuit. So true zeal is ardent, but gentle, stedfast, painstaking, and indefatigable, while its false semblance is noisy, proud, fierce, quarrelsome, and unabiding.


 Francis de Sales, Of the Love of God, trans. H. L. Sidney Lear (London: Rivingtons, 1888), 347–353.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Avoiding the Error of the Pharisees

In my opinion, the Pharisees are important to consider in this day and age in the Church. I don’t say that to use the group as an epithet, nor to use an ad hominem to target bloggers I disagree with. I think we need to consider them because they did have an attitude towards religion that seemed right from a human perspective, but ultimately that attitude fell short in the eyes of God.

Briefly, the view of the Pharisee was (seeking to avoid pejorative terms) that one was faithful to God by keeping His laws. In doing so, they offered their interpretation of how the Law was best followed. People who did not follow that interpretation were considered sinners. In contrast, because they followed the Law in accordance with their interpretation, they believed they were holy. It strikes me as being an “either-or” fallacy. Either one followed their interpretation of the Law and were holy, or they did not follow their interpretation of the Law, and were corrupted. The problem is, the either-or fallacy overlooks the possibility of there being more than two options—in this case, the fact that it was not enough to follow the observance of the Law. Jesus did not fault the Pharisees for keeping the Law. He faulted them for failing to love God and neighbor while keeping the law (Matthew 23:23).

The historic Pharisees were, of course, something that emerged from Jewish culture. But we should not think that the attitude of the Pharisee is limited to Judaism. it seems to me that the mindset which motivated the Pharisee can exist in Christianity in general. This includes existing in the Catholic faith. The either-or fallacy can be found among members of the faith as well. As Catholics, we believe that if we would love God, we must keep His commandments (John 14:15, Matthew 7:21, 1 John 5:2-3). However, a Catholic who only kept the commandments and did not love His brother, would be just as in the wrong (see 1 John 4:20-21) as the individual who thought one could ignore God’s commands so long as they showed love for the unfortunate. The Catholic teaching recognizes that we must both act rightly and love rightly.

The historical Pharisees were right in recognizing that some actions done against the Law were sins. Likewise, the Pharisee mindset in the Church rightly recognizes that if people refuse to follow the moral teachings of the Church, they do wrong. Where this mindset goes wrong is in assuming that since they do not behave that way, they stand before God holy and righteous. But Jesus called the Pharisees “Whitewashed tombs,” (Mathew 23:27) because their internal attitudes were wrong, regardless of how rigorously they kept the law.

Today, I see the Pharisee mindset most flagrantly in the opposition to Pope Francis. This opposition stems from an interpretation from a certain group of Catholics on how one is to be faithfully Catholic. This interpretation includes an implied mindset of thinking that sinners should be cast off from the Church. Yet the Pope makes an effort to reach out to these people where they are. Whether it is the washing the feet of a Muslim girl in a youth prison on Holy Thursday, whether it is praising a single mother for choosing life, or dialoging with atheists and non-believers, or reaching out to the divorced and remarried and the person with same-sex attraction, he is reaching out to the sinners and calling them to the love of God. As he said in a September, 2013 interview:

“I see clearly, that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.

What he does is laudable. But some people look at this approach, and challenge his supporters with words very similar to the words the Pharisees addressed to the Apostles, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11). The Pharisees were scandalized with Our Lord. Today, many are scandalized with Pope Francis, even though he is not doing anything contrary to the Church teaching—only contrary to a personal (and non-authoritative) interpretation of the Church teaching.

So, how do we avoid the error of the Pharisees? It is imperative that we do avoid it, because Our Lord saw fit to condemn it. We must avoid it by changing our attitudes:

  • We must stop thinking that our keeping the commandments is enough before God.
  • We must stop thinking that those who failed to keep the commandments are to be cast away.

Or, as Jesus said:

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them [a scholar of the law]* tested him by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

If we forget this, we are not keeping His commandments—a requirement of loving Him. Each individual will have to look into their own heart, knowing God is their judge, and ask whether they have fallen into the error of the Pharisee, thinking only about keeping the commandments and lacking the love that goes with it. It is an easy thing to do today with such hostility towards the Church and some Catholics flagrantly defying the Church teaching and seeming to get away with it.

Yes, we need to speak out against sin—but not in the mindset of “The Church needs to put those bastards in their place!” It needs to be done out of love, with concern for the fate of the individual who falls into sin. We need to love the person with same sex attraction, the woman who has an abortion and the Catholic politician who flagrantly votes against Catholic teaching, and our approach to their sins should be one of bringing them back to God and reconciled with His Church. Otherwise, we may have to face the final judgment with the reality of “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:1b)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

We Don&#39;t Have the Right to Bind What Peter Has Loosed, Nor Loose What He Has Bound

During the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, one question I constantly faced was over why they worried about traditionalist dissent (actually, they claimed that these Popes ignored liberals and punished traditionalists, when it was obvious that liberal dissent was worse. The obvious answer is that dissent is wrong, regardless of what side it comes from. When the Church formally teaches on faith and morals, we are required to give assent to the teaching—even if the teaching is part of the ordinary magisterium. It’s actually an error to hold that only an ex cathedra teaching is binding. As the Catechism says:

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

But the question raised in protest does raise a point to ponder: Just what authority is being challenged when a Church teaching is challenged?

Matthew 16:18-19, Matthew 18:18 and the Old Testament verse it was based on (Isaiah 22:22) give us the answer. God gives the successor of Peter (and the successors of the Apostles in communion with him) the authority to bind and loose. When Jesus says that what is bound on Earth will be bound in Heaven, or when He says that what is loosed on Earth will be loosed in Heaven, this is Our Lord’s testimony that when the Church intends to teach, it has His authority. What logically follows from that is that if we trust God, then we can trust Him not to bind error or loose truth. Of course, this means that, when the Pope teaches on faith and morals—where we are required to give assent—we have faith that God protects us from being bound to obey error or given permission to sin.

Without this faith in God, we could never know when a Pope was teaching truth or error. That’s quite serious. If we do not know whether a teaching is truth or error, we’d have bedlam. We couldn’t know whether the Trinitarians were right or the Arians were right, for example. In such a case, Pope Francis and his teachings would be irrelevant. We couldn’t know if any Church teaching could be binding.

Dissent from the teaching authority of the Church, whether modernist or traditionalist, denies the belief that God protects His Church from teaching error. It might not be a formal denial, but generally the arguments are that the Pope is teaching error. Whether it is Blessed Paul VI and Humanae Vitae or Pope Francis and Laudato Si, the idea is to try to discredit what the Pope said so people have a cover for being disobedient. But once you open the door of dissent on your issue, you remove the basis for opposing any other person dissenting on their issue.

For example, traditionalists and modernists tend to behave like atheists and anti-Catholics in pointing out the bad Popes of past history to justify their rejection of Papal authority when it goes against them. The argument is, popes have taught error in the past. Therefore Pope Francis can teach error. The problem is, such an argument assumes that the Church can teach error, as opposed to do wrong. Yes, we all know about the bad behavior of John XII, Benedict IX, Alexander VI. We know about the other popes who did wrong through private error or bad personal behavior—but they never taught binding error. The instance a Pope does teach error as binding, the whole structure comes crashing down like a house of cards—it would mean that Jesus did not protect His Church from error and the entire faith in Christ is for naught.

Under such a view, the Church is reduced to factions jockeying for power and pushing their political platform. The Church is to be obeyed when she teaches what we want, but not when she teaches what they want.

Ultimately, we believe that the Pope and the bishops in communion with him are the ones who have the authority and responsibility to interpret the long held teachings of the Church and determine how they are to be applied to the modern issues. The magisterium binds or looses, but never in a way to go from saying “X is a sin” to saying “X is not a sin.” We can trust that because we trust in God. He promised to protect the Church (Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 28:20). If we can’t trust Him to keep His promise, we can’t trust Our Lord at all (God does not break His promises) and we might as well go join a synagogue.

Ultimately, when the traditionalist rebels against Pope Francis or when the modernist rebelled against St. John Paul II, it is a declaration that their personal interpretation of Scripture and previous Church documents is superior to the decisions the Pope makes when protected from error. Who is more likely to err?

Once we recognize this, the Catholic has to have a change of heart. Whether the Church is unpopular teaching about the sanctity of marriage or unpopular concerning the treatment of illegal aliens, the obligation to obey the Church when she teaches what we must do, we have to set aside our personal preferences and trust God, obeying the Church as a way of obeying Him (Luke 10:16). Otherwise, we are no better than the dissenters from another faction whom we oppose. Certainly some sins are worse than others. But we also need to remember that the most deadly sin to an individual is the one that sends the individual to hell.