Saturday, June 29, 2019

We Don’t Get to Wash Our Hands of These Things

27. Coming down to practical and particularly urgent consequences, this council lays stress on reverence for man; everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all His life and the means necessary to living it with dignity, so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40).

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator. (Gaudium et Spes)

Individual Catholics have the same tendencies as everyone else. We tend to think about ourselves as basically good and our failings minor, tolerant of those who share our secular outlooks. We also tend to be extremely harsh with others’ failings, especially if they hold secular views we dislike. One consequence of this is the temptation of classifying Church teaching according to our secular views. When the Pope or a bishop teaches in a way that we see as matching our outlooks, he’s considered “good.” When he teaches in a way that challenges our outlook, he’s seen as “political” or “heretical,” and we say he should be focusing on “important” issues.

However, Gaudium et Spes #27 (quoted above) shows us that the obligation of Catholics to our neighbor encompasses topics that we tend to classify as both “conservative” and “liberal,” warning that these evils are gravely sinful in the eyes of God. Unfortunately, many Catholics seem to be nonchalant about carving out which issues they’ll obey and which ones they’ll ignore, which means that many Catholics are—without justification—classifying grave sins as unimportant compared to other issues or even morally acceptable. They will side with their parties despite the fact that the Church warns that these things are infamies.

In America, this is clearly shown where roughly half the Catholic population seems willing to ignore the infamy of abortion and the other half is willing to ignore the subhuman living conditions of the poor. When challenged on this hypocrisy, these Catholics make excuses, declaring that the teaching they dislike is merely an “opinion” or a “prudential judgment” while condemning the other side for supporting evils… never considering that the other side is making the same arguments and the same excuses. Meanwhile, non-Catholics look at both sides of this and recognize it for the hypocrisy it is. Unfortunately, they will think that this is the nature of the Church and not the nature of dissenting from the Church (cf. Romans 2:24).

If we want to be saved from damnation, we need to stop making excuses or accusations. If we profess that the Catholic Church is the Church established and protected by Christ, we need to be diligent about praying for the grace to accept and obey those parts of Church teaching which run counter to our politics. Otherwise, our obedience to the teachings we were in no danger of rejecting will not save us from judgment over the teachings we ignored or knowingly rejected.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Golden Calf of Politics

Wherever you live, cities shall be ruined and high places laid waste, in order that your altars be laid waste and devastated, your idols broken and smashed, your incense altars hacked to pieces, and whatever you have made wiped out. (Ezekiel 6:6)

One thing that becomes clearer as we go along is the fact that Christians are turning their political views into an idol that they worship alongside of God. I don’t mean that in the sense of total apostasy from the Christian Faith. I mean that in the sense of the ancient Israelites worshiping God but worshiping Him at the same time that they worshiped the idols as a way of covering all the bases.

The prophets of the Old Testament warned against that attitude. The Israelites couldn’t claim to be worshiping God even if they gave 99% of their loyalties to God and 1% to Baal. It was all or nothing. The Church today, following the teachings of Our Lord, repeats that warning. Even if somebody thinks that they are giving 99% of their obedience to God, and holding back on 1% where they cling to a belief which goes against Him, that 1% means that they are not following God… they’re merely agreeing with Him and His Church when it suits them.

It’s easy to spot when the political idolaters champion a cause we dislike. The typical conservative Catholic rightly reacts with revulsion towards the “personally opposed but…” Catholic who enables abortion as a “right.” The typical liberal Catholic rightly reacts with disgust over those who justify the mistreatment and neglect of migrants. But both of them turn a blind eye towards the sins of their own party, making excuses on why they’re “justified” in supporting the political platform at odds with the Catholic Church while the successors of the Apostles are accused of “playing politics” when they remind us of our moral obligations.

Perhaps we should reflect on where we stand on political idols. If the Pope or your bishop teaches that something our political party supports is wrong, would we try to amend our political views to follow the Church? Or would we accuse them of being “political” when they speak out? The answer is—depressingly—all too often the latter. American bishops are simultaneously accused by Catholics from both major factions of favoring the “other” party when they repeat Church teaching. 

If we feel inclined to defend our parties and politicians while attacking the Pope or our bishop when he reaffirms Church teaching, we have it backwards. We won’t go to hell for rejecting the party. We might find ourselves for rejecting the Church. We Catholics believe that Jesus Christ established our Church and gave her the authority to teach in His name, binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). He made clear that professing His name was not enough if we didn’t do His will (Matthew 7:21-23, John 14:15). He made clear that there were consequences for rejecting His Church (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). This is not because of “ultramontanism” or “papolatry.” This is because we have faith in Christ to guide and protect His Church from error.

If we refuse to listen to the Church, we’re like the idolators among the ancient Israelites… giving God partial attention while refusing to love Him alone with all our heart (see Deuteronomy 6:4). It didn’t end well for the ancient Israelites. It won’t end well for us either.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

They Are Human Lives Lost, Not a Political Statement!

In response to the news of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, who drowned in an act of desperation, the Church expressed sorrow and dismay over the loss of life. The US bishops expressed concerns about the policies that left people, waiting months for asylum, to desperate acts.

Shamefully, some Catholics responded callously with an attitude of “it’s their own damn fault and nothing to do with us,” arguing that any policies we in the US have are entirely blameless. That’s an attitude completely at odds with our Catholic Faith, and demonstrates just how damaging our political divide is becoming.

First of all, regardless of one’s political views, we should grieve over the loss of life without trying to reduce it to the political motivations. Second of all, everyone reading about this story should be asking—again, without political motivation—whether we should do something besides going “tsk tsk” over something “far away” or immediately jumping in to defend government policies. Third, citizens of the countries involved should honestly ask themselves whether policies or conditions in their own countries contribute to these tragedies.

Matthew 25:31-46 gives us a warning. If we refuse to help those in need when it is in our power to do so, we will answer for it (cf. Luke:16:19-31). I’m sure that the people Our Lord was talking about in His parables had excuses for their not getting involved. But those excuses were of no avail when they came to judgment.
Yes, in hindsight, this family would have been better off not trying to cross the river than to drown crossing it. But I think we forget the conditions in other places might be so bad that those living under them are driven to risks we can’t imagine taking ourselves.

The second picture in this article is of Peter Fechter, who was killed in 1962 trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Yes, there are some differences. He was deliberately killed, not killed in an accident. But the similarity is that both cases involved people who were so desperate to escape the conditions they were trapped in that they felt driven to try these attempts. In neither case can we shrug our shoulders and say “they shouldn’t have tried it,” as if it had nothing to do with us. If we do, we might find Our Lord saying at the Final Judgment, Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. (Matthew 25:45)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

To Speak the Truth

Throughout Church history, different factions have challenged the authority of the Church, arguing that she has gone wrong in some manner. Were it only a case of arguing whether the interpretation of a passage in Scripture should be A or B, or whether a discipline should be changed, it would be much simpler to discern the truth about claims.

But these challenger factions—secular or religious—don’t limit themselves to assertions about what they think should be. They have to accuse the Church of making declarations or taking actions with a malicious purpose, usually a purpose that targets whoever the demagogues want support from. 

Some of these accusations are based on misrepresenting real scandals that some in the Church did commit. Some are based on fears of what might follow from the implementation of a teaching. In either case, these are generally portrayed as if the whole magisterium intended, decreed, and knowingly gave its blessing to the evils done by some. 

For example, Hippolytus, to justify his schism, argued that Pope Callixtus was enabling contraception and abortion by lifting prohibitions against slaves and free women marrying. The abuse was possible, yes. But no faithful Catholic would have made use of it. Those who would do this probably would have done it without the change. Martin Luther began with the corruption that did exist in Rome and appealed to the resentment of the German nobility towards the political power of the Pope, as a means of attacking the Pope’s religious authority.

Other claims are simply falsehoods in which those who began them either grossly misunderstood Church teaching or were willing to speak falsely in order to promote opposition towards the Church. Either they said that the Church said or did something she did not, or accused her of failing to do something that she did. 

An example of this would be John Calvin falsely claiming that the Church taught we were saved by our own efforts, not by God’s grace. He spent a lot of time “refuting” challenges to his denial of free will by equating Church teaching as Pelagianism...which was never taught by the Church in the first place. Or we can point to the modern attacks against Church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexual acts. The common attacks are that the Church is hostile to women and people with same sex attraction... things far from our actual reasons for the teaching.

This is why I think Aristotle’s definition of truth is so important. If we believe that we must do X and oppose Y, we must speak truthfully in defending X and refuting Y. Otherwise we are using falsehoods. Here, I think I should make a distinction. A lie is a deliberate act of speaking falsely, but a lie is not the only way of speaking falsely. One can sincerely believe that a falsehood is true (the anti-Catholics often seem to sincerely repeat propaganda dating from the 16th century). One can assume that their personal interpretation of the writings of—or more likely, an excerpt from—an antagonist are correct (as many anti-Catholics and anti-Francis Catholics do, using a small quote without reading it in context) and establish a false “they believe...” accusation.

But sincerely believing an error about somebody’s alleged wrongdoing is not the same thing as invincible ignorance. If I say all of Group X supports an evil, I have an obligation to investigate to see whether what I believe is true. Am I correct that they understand a passage the way I think they do? Am I getting my information from primary sources, or hearsay? Have I interpreted a passage in a way Group X never intended? So long as learning the truth is possible, we can’t settle for what we think we know when an accusation could be rash judgment or calumny.

And, if we must make sure we speak truly in those cases, how much more is the wrongdoing to use evil means to achieve what we think is a good end? If we want to “embellish” the truth to convince people to join our cause because we think it will benefit them, we are doing what God forbids (cf. Romans 3:8).

Ultimately, when we want to point out a wrongdoing as proof of a universal statement or accuse someone of teaching error, we have an obligation to investigate whether what we think is actually true. We must say of what is  that it is and we must say of what is not that it is not. If we’re not sure, we must not accuse until we are sure. Otherwise, we bear false witness.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

How Long Will You Straddle the Issue?

The quote in the graphic reminds us that the Catholic Church is a body whose members span the globe, from every nation on Earth and our moral obligations must reflect that. However, the individual Catholics are members of particular nations, and this fact can limit our perspective.

When faced with these two facts, individual Catholics can either expand their understanding of who their neighbors are (see Luke 10:25-37), or they can decide that what happens outside their nation is less important than the benefits within.

The Catholic who chooses the second option cannot claim to be living according to the teachings of the Church, even if they adhere to the letter of the law.

However, we should also remember that this limited view is not only about national borders. We can also run the risk of limiting our practice of the Catholic Faith by treating Church teaching outside of our political preferences as “simply optional,” “merely prudential judgment, or “the Church getting into politics.” When the Church teaches something that goes beyond our preferred boundaries, we have a choice. We can either admit that we’ve gone wrong—through ignorance or dissent—and need to reassess our values, or we can double down and say “the bishops got played” over issues we disagree.

We should consider the words of Msgr. Ronald Knox before deciding to believe that the Church “got it wrong”:

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.

(In Soft Garments, pages 113-114).

If any of us wants to claim that we are faithful Catholics, we need to ask if we really believe that the Church is the “final repository of revealed truth,” is the Church established and protected by Christ. To paraphrase 1 Kings 18:21, we might ask ourselves, How long will you straddle the issue? If you believe that the Catholic Church is established and protected by God, follow her out of obedience to Him. It is that simple. If the Church can teach error now, we have no way of knowing that she didn’t teach errors earlier. But if the Church was protected from error in the past, it’s unreasonable to think that our dissent is because we’re right. It’s much more plausible to believe that we fell into error ourselves.

Some will no doubt point (selectively) to times in Church history when bishops fell into heresy. Yes, individual bishops can fall into error if they teach in opposition to the Pope, who is the final stop in determining truth and error. And yes, individual bishops and even Popes can sin or make mistakes in understanding. Popes and bishops need salvation like the rest of us. But the Pope and bishops in communion with him have the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18), and rejecting them has serious consequences (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

And don’t say that “this only applies to the ex cathedra teachings. The ex cathedra teachings were defined in response to people rejecting the regular teachings of the Church. They were binding before they were formally defined. 

So, when we’re tempted to dissent, claiming we know better, we need to stop straddling the issue and either accept the authority of the Church as being protected by Christ or admit we do not believe in the teaching authority of the Church.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Dangerous Parallels

One of the things that the anti-Francis Catholics use as a defense is that the Pope is “unclear” or “confusing.” Therefore, they say, it’s not their fault if they think he’s in error and accuse him of heresy. He should just speak clearly and there wouldn’t be this sort of problem. They claim that his predecessors never had this problem with being misunderstood, therefore it must be his fault.

I find that claim bizarre. Catholic apologetics frequently deal with anti-Catholics who misinterpret or take Papal statements out of context to justify their attacks against the Church. However, whether it’s because these anti-Catholics sincerely repeat the false accusations made in the 16th century, or because they are willing to lie themselves, these people could search out what the Popes really did say, but did not [§].

Every group that has broken from the Catholic Church has begun with misrepresenting what the Church has taught and portraying what individual sinning churchmen have done as the sanctioned teaching of the Church. Even before they broke away, these groups used this misrepresentation to justify their own disobedience by way of claiming that the Church herself has gone wrong while insisting that they hold to the real truth.

If one searches, they can find sins and lamentable judgment in the behavior of any saint, let alone everyone else. They can find people deliberately twisting the words of a Pope to justify sins instead of focusing on the good. But one should consider the words of St. Francis de Sales in this case:

But if, instead of making your profit of these examples [#] and refreshing your minds with the sweetness of so holy a perfume, you turn your eyes toward certain places where monastic discipline is altogether ruined, and where there remains nothing sound but the habit, you will force me to say that you are looking for the sewers and dung heaps, not the gardens and orchards. All good Catholics regret the ill behavior of these people and blame the negligence of the pastors and the uncontrollable ambition of certain persons who, being determined to have power and authority, hinder legitimate elections, and the order of discipline, in order to make the temporal goods of the Church their own. What can we do? The master has sown good seed, but the enemy has oversown cockle.

(The Catholic Controversy, Part II, Article III, Chapter X) 

If you deliberately look for failure, you’ll find it. But that doesn’t mean that the Church caused that failure by the teaching of Popes. This is where the anti-Francis Catholics need to ask whether they’re going in the same direction as those who previously broke with the Church. There are Catholics out there who confused discipline and doctrine and hate the Church because they think she “changed” teachings. They are taking soundbites—without reading the full transcript or document—and using their out of context interpretation of these soundbites to “prove” their suspicions are true.

Their behavior dangerously parallels that of the past cases of leaving the Church. If they’re not willing to remember that God protects His Church from error, they may find that they make themselves enemies of the Church under the claim of defending her.


[§] Reading Calvin and Luther, I’ve seen them make vague undocumented assertions about what “popes” say, making it impossible to identify if it was really said, who said it, and in what context. Anti-Catholics seem to repeat their vague assertions as if they were proven facts. Anti-Francis Catholics tend to do the same.

[#] St. Francis is contrasting actual religious life with the occasional corruption used to attack the Church.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reflections on Christian Obligation and Politics

Politics lately tends towards extremely polarized devotion to the party platform while proudly proclaiming that only they have the good of the country in mind. At the same time, they accuse their foes of openly acting to destroy everything that is good and just.

In this mindset, Christianity is cited when the teaching coincides the person’s political views but condemned when it takes a stand against something promoted by the faction. This is not limited to one faction. The Political Left denounces the Church for her stances on issues like sexual morality and abortion. The Political Right denounces the Church for her stances on treatment of immigrants and economic justice. Both factions accuse the Church of being on the “other side” and say that the Church should “stay out of politics” and should “focus on more important issues” (that is, become a religious endorsement of Party X).

Unfortunately, many Christians—including Catholics—are guilty of taking part in this behavior. They believe that the Church should promote their favored political views and condemn what they condemn, while being silent on the moral issues that are at odds with their political party. This cannot be our approach if we want to be faithful. 

If we want to be faithful, we must put fidelity to the Church teaching first and judge the political parties according to that teaching. Given the state of American politics today where both major parties have embraced fundamental evils, it’s not surprising that people of good will disagree over how to vote to reduce or at least slow down the evils. Unfortunately, even here the Christian dialogue that should take place is replaced by slogans. I’ve seen people claim that “the bishops got played” in standing up for laws defending life, that the bishops are “ignoring the Catechism” in standing up for the just treatment of illegal immigrants. I’ve seen proponents of one party say “voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil,” to condemn their opponents while ignoring the fact that they are doing the same thing.

I find that Archbishop Chaput’s views on the obligation of those who vote for a pro-abortion party fits for every voter facing the fact that their party supports an evil or rejects a good:

What distinguishes such voters, though, is that they put real effort into struggling with the abortion issue. They don’t reflexively vote for the candidate of “their” party. They don’t accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They won’t be quiet. They keep fighting for a more humane party platform—one that would vow to protect the unborn child. Their decision to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate is genuinely painful and never easy for them. (Render Unto Caesar, p. 228)

Whatever the Church teaches is evil, we cannot support. If we vote for a party in spite of their evil positions, we had damn well better do our best to oppose and change that evil. If we choose party A over party B, we had better be certain what the Church teaches on these evils, and not redefine the meaning of the Church teaching to fit our politics. You might say that issues A+B+C+D outweigh the defense of life (for example), but St. John Paul II taught, in Christifideles Laici:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fĂ­nds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

The Christian’s role in politics is not to benefit a particular view. It is to promote the public good according to God’s commands. What God commands is good because He is good [§], and we cannot say that as long as we don’t commit the evils we weren’t going to do anyway, we’re “good enough.” When the Church warns us against X, it’s not a matter of control. It’s a matter of our salvation. If we find ourselves resisting the teaching of the Church in a certain area, perhaps we should ask if we are in danger over sins in that area.


[§] No doubt somebody will point to the darker portions of Old Testament where God exacted judgment on certain nations through the Israelites. While the issue is off topic, the accusations tend to treat those nations as if they behaved like 21st century “enlightened” Americans instead of barbaric nations practicing what we would consider Class A felonies. God’s earlier commands were aimed at moving the Israelites away from the barbarisms of their neighbors in preparation for the arrival of Christ. God’s laws to the Jews on warfare were restrictions on behavior, not a license to run wild.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Don’t Leave the Barque of Peter For a Ship of Fools

Another day, another case of people committing rash judgment in response to something they think the Pope is doing, but has nothing to do with the actual events.

This time, the case involves a synod called to look into whether the Church should ordain married men living in the remote regions to provide people with access to the priestly ministry when there are too few priests to meet the need of the people living there. If accepted, the Church would call married men of stable families—similar to how she calls married men to be permanent deacons—to fill the role.

This would not be an abolition of celibacy in the West. This would not mean that those already priests could marry. The only precedent it could set is that if it happens that another region should wind up with the same circumstances, the Church could allow this to the people there as well.

But some are declaring that the discipline of celibacy is a doctrine and the Pope is a heretic. In doing so, they have met challenges by denying that Eastern Rite Catholics are in communion with the Church. Others say that the Church should start ordaining women instead (she can’t). Some misinterpreted this as throwing open the doors to allowing priests to marry everywhere. 

All of this shows that the people who are “defending” the Church from the Pope (a small but very vocal portion of the laity) are ignorant about what the Church teaches and/or what is going on beyond the headline [§], and condemning the Pope for doing things he has no intention of doing. They sound increasingly like the typical anti-Catholic who condemns what he thinks is Catholic teaching when Catholic teaching is either nothing like their accusations or else held for reasons completely different from what they think.

These critics are sure that they represent the true Church while holding views at odds with her actual teaching. But they overlook the fact that some Catholics who are convinced that the Church is in error have wound up in various sede vacantist groups, fundamentalist anti-Catholic groups, Old Catholic groups, or the Orthodox church—all of which require deny some part of the long held Catholic teaching. That’s ironic, considering they’re claiming to defend the Church from error. But it’s not surprising because they have never believed a crucial teaching. Blessed John Henry Newman wrote [#]:

I will take one more instance. A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.

An Essay in Aid to a Grammar of Assent, page 240

The critics, whether they leave the Church or remain within, either never believed in or stopped believing in the infallibility of the Church. Whether they stay or go, they have effectively abandoned the Barque of Peter to become a ship of fools, attacking the Church for not accepting their error as truth.


[§] I’ve seen it get as ridiculous as some critics assume that the “Amazon synod” meant that was involved in changing Church teaching. This is not a joke... though I wish it was.

[#] While he was writing about Catholic converts who returned to their original denomination, I believe it also fits cradle Catholic critics.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A War With Words

The political and media elites are going out of their way to portray Christian moral teaching as bigotry. The defense of the teaching on contraception was infamously labeled as “a war on women.” The teaching on homosexual acts is labeled as “homophobia. And of course, if you oppose abortion, you only care about life from “conception to birth.”

Meanwhile, these elites say that, to avoid biased language, they will not use terms that could sway people towards opposing abortion… but use terms calculated to sway people towards favoring it. Abortion is a “woman’s right.” When the media discusses it, you can be sure that the picture will feature pro-abortion signs. Meanwhile, homosexual acts are an alternative but equally acceptable lifestyle.

The result is a “heads they win, tails we lose” situation where the proponents of behavior incompatible with Christianity is portrayed as normal while Christian teaching is portrayed as bigotry. Then, after decades of propaganda, the elites profess to be pleasantly surprised to “learn” that an increasing number of Christians are becoming “enlightened” and rejecting “outdated norms.” There’s nothing surprising about it. If a Catholic doesn’t seek to understand why the Church teaches as she does, he or she will probably fall for the straw man arguments used by the elites to attack our teachings. And if elites can lead the masses to think that the teaching is based on bigotry while combining it with distorted negative stories [§] about Christianity (see HERE for a 2013 article I wrote about this), hostility is a natural result. It’s a standard tactic of totalitarian dictatorships.

Unfortunately, there’s very little we can do from a worldly perspective. Those who hate our teachings have a much wider reach and a much larger budget for spreading their attacks than we do for responding with truth. So, from a worldly perspective, the lies will travel further and faster than the truth. This should not surprise us. As Our Lord warned us in John 15:18–21,

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.

But our powerlessness by the standards of the world does not mean giving up in despair. By worldly standards, it’s hopeless. But we are not limited to worldly power. In our own limited ways, we can spread a little bit of truth, telling people, “No, that is not what we believe, we believe this.” Whether in conversation, or on social media, on blogs, podcasts, YouTube, etc., we can reach out to a few people and possibly change their minds through the grace of God.

But, if we want to do this, we must do four things:
  1. Pray always for those in error.
  2. Make sure what we say and write follows the teachings of the Church and shows respect for those tasked to lead her.
  3. Speak with charity towards those who spread error.
  4. We have to act too, not just “let Father do it.”
I think we’re all tempted to drop one or more of these things. We forget about praying and that God is ultimately in charge. We behave as if the Church has problems and forget obedience, leading others to question why they should obey. We speak rudely, and alienate not only those we are disputing but also those watching our exchange. We expect the priests, bishops, and Popes to do everything, and forget about the individual witness we can bring in small communities.

It won’t be swift, but remember: it took close to 300 years for Christians to convert the Roman Empire. Our efforts won’t be once for all. The Church still has to continuously speak out against recidivism and new errors. But if we do these four things, we might find that God allows our actions to bear fruit, a little bit at a time, bringing people away from error and too truth. Our small effort might turn out to be like the loaves and fishes a child offered to Our Lord… and were turned into something far greater.


[§] That’s not to deny that some Christians have done evil. But it is interesting that those condemning the Church for her teachings always bring them up (tu quoque) as if the sins of some disqualified her from teaching.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What Will You Become?

In the classic version of the online game called World of Warcraft, there was a group called “The Scarlet Crusade.” If you followed the quests in order, it started out looking like they were devoted to protecting the world from the hordes of undead. But you quickly learned that they were extremists who operated under the principle that the ends justified the means, turning on anyone who disagreed with that approach. 

In the reboot, taking place about five years later, you encounter the Scarlet Crusade, where they have become undead themselves. The implication is that their “ends justify the means” approach led them to becoming what they hated while remaining in denial about the fact that they caused their own downfall. As one NPC shouts in game as you fight, “The Scarlet Crusade is not over! Undeath is merely a setback!” Later, when you return from your quest, an NPC of another group (who sent you to fight the Scarlet Crusade) says that they fight evil without being bound by morality… implying that the cycle will continue.

I find this bit of game lore makes a good illustration of the principle of someone gradually becoming what they hate through justification of their own wrongdoing.

This came to mind when studying the attacks made by Martin Luther against the Church [§]. In his early days, Luther claimed that he was not against the Church, but trying to reform abuses within her. But shortly before he was excommunicated in 1520, he was openly attacking the authority of the Church, and treating the defense of the magisterium as defending the sins committed by the men holding the office:

They allege that the words of Christ were spoken to them: “Whoever hears you hears me; whoever rejects you rejects me.” They rely strictly on these words and have no compunction about saying, doing, or not doing whatever they want. They ban, curse, rob, kill, and perpetrate all the evildoings as they please without any restraint. In no way did Christ mean that we should obey them in everything they say and do but only when they speak his word, the gospel, and not their own words and do his work and not their own.

—Martin Luther, Treatise On Good Works (1520)

Yes, abuses did exist, but reforms had begun before he was born, slow and resisted as they were. Luther appears to have committed the logical fallacies of composition and hasty generalization in assuming that the real regional abuses were universal and caused by false teachings, while committing the begging the question fallacy in claiming that adopting his theology was the only true reform (Luther believed he was trying to “restore” what the Church had “lost” [#]). Because the Church could not accept his personal interpretation of Scripture and the Patristics that he used to justify his claims, Luther believed that the magisterium had to be opposed.

What struck me while reading this was how similar Luther was in reasoning to the anti-Francis Catholics in the Church today. Yes, their theology is vastly different, but their reasoning is almost identical: that because the Church today rejects their personal interpretation of past Church documents, the magisterium is accused of teaching error. Like Luther, these critics argue that until the Church accepts their interpretation (“returns to the true teaching”), they will be in error.

Those defending the authority of the Church magisterium today point out that the mistaken judgments and sins of the person holding the office (for all people sin) are not the same thing as the teachings of the Pope and bishops in communion with him and that the teachings are binding despite the sinfulness of the individual Pope [&]. But, like Luther, the anti-Francis Catholics equate this defense with defending the “errors” of the Pope and saying that anything the Pope says or does.

This brings us to the issue of concern. The modern anti-Francis Catholics are sounding increasingly like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others who made false statements about the beliefs of the Catholic Church. Like the 16th century founders of Protestantism, they set their interpretations as doctrine and accused the Church today of doing wrong. Luther, et al, when faced with the choice of rejecting their personal interpretation and rejecting the Catholic Church, chose the latter. 

The modern critics should be very cautious that they don’t make the same choice. Otherwise, similar to the fictional Scarlet Crusade mentioned above, they might find themselves outside of the Church proclaiming: “Schism is only a setback!”


[§] In case you’re worried, I read the writings of the16th century founders of Protestantism to make sure I am accurately reporting their positions instead of getting information second hand.

[#] At the risk of oversimplifying: with the reemergence of interest in the classic (pagan) Greco-Roman philosophers, there was a movement to go back to the original sources (ad fontes) of Greek documents to get the proper meaning, since some texts did have copyist errors. Renaissance thinkers applied this to Scripture, assuming that the translation of Scripture was equally compromised.

[&] See canons 751-754.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

An Ignorant Wrath

Whoever answers before listening, theirs is folly and shame (Proverbs 18:13)

You might have heard the story about Pope Francis “changing” the Our Father. Actually, while you might have heard that from various news sources, it’s just another case of the media getting the story wrong. The real story is that the Pope approved a revision of the Missal by the Italian Bishops conference to make the Italian translation more accurately follow the Latin text—which is the standard to judge by—in the Our Father and the Gloria. As Catholic News Agency pointed out:

News reports in English may have given the impression that Pope Francis had changed the Our Father for the whole of the Church, rather than his see having confirmed a change made by the bishops of Italy.”

So, there was no story here. Everybody laughed it off, right? Wrong. The internet erupted with attacks from anti-Francis Catholics and anti-Catholics… two groups that are depressingly sounding more and more alike each day. His accusers immediately said he was “changing the Bible.” Except he wasn’t. The Latin Missal was revised in 2002 (under the pontificate of St. John Paul II) and the Italian Missal was revised to more accurately reflect the Latin. The Vulgate wasn’t changed. The Greek original wasn’t changed. 

Critics said he was ignorant of languages because the Lord’s Prayer matched the Bible “perfectly.” And to “prove” it, they quoted Scripture to “refute” him…using the Douay-Rheims Bible, despite the fact that English wasn’t even involved. Unsurprisingly, the line “lead us not into temptation” the prayer did match the verse in Matthew 6:13, which is not a surprise because that (with the exception of Matthew 6:11) is where the English translation of the prayer came from. (Citing the Douay to justify the current phrasing of The Lord’s Prayer in English is essentially a huge circular argument).

The Douay is a translation of a translation. The original Scriptures exist in Hebrew and Greek. The Vulgate translated it into Latin. The Douay translated the Latin Vulgate into English. The problem is when you translate from a translation, the result is less optimal than translating it from the original language because while Greek and Latin translate into each other well, neither corresponds with English as easily. 

That doesn’t mean that the Vulgate or the Douay is defective. It means that translating the same thing twice into two different languages is less clear than translating once. It does mean that the Douay That’s why Ven. Pius XII called for more accurate translations of the Scriptures in the encyclical Divini Affluante Spiritu (1943). The Douay predates the standards he called for, so it should not be used to counter more recent translations approved for use in the Church.

These accusations against the Pope show that wrath directed at him was born in ignorance. They did not know that the Pope changed nothing but only approved a legitimate change. He did not make a global change for the Church. He did not change the words of Scripture. He did not mistranslate the prayers of the Church. All of these accusations were based on critics not knowing the facts of the story, and a lack of knowledge about the teaching and history of the Church on these matters.

Yet, these critics are driving the attacks on the Pope, arguing that he is unfit to lead the Church. What they say is false, but some Catholics follow them anyway. Those Catholics should remember the warning of The Lord in Matthew 15:14–Let them alone; they are blind guides (of the blind). If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit.

A Catholic who denounces the Pope based on ignorance, is a blind guide. A Catholic who follows such a guide will be led astray and might wind up in the pit of schism or other errors.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Thoughts on Gradualism, Defeatism, and Overcoming Intrinsic Evil

■ noun a policy or theory of gradual rather than sudden change.


I’ve encountered some pro-lifers who are objecting to the recent laws strictly restricting abortion. From my reading, they seem to make two arguments.
  1. That many opponents of abortion are not willing to go so far as to give up exceptions for incest, rape, and “life of the mother.” If we alienate them, the fear is they will go to the pro-abortion camp.
  2. That laws that strict are more likely to be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, thus locking in abortion as a right.
Therefore, they argue, we should start with a lower goal and work our way up. These people seem sincere about being pro-life but, in all honesty, I think they’re wrong in their reasoning that leads to their conclusion. St. John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (#73), wrote about politicians trying to limit the effects of abortion laws:

In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

Note, this is not about reducing the effectiveness of a law to improve popularity among people. This is about “half a loaf is better than none” in cases where a pro-abortion law is inevitable. In such a case, putting whatever restrictions one can achieve into such a law is better than no restrictions at all. But that isn’t the case here. Here, we have legislators who believe we have the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade and other unjust abortion rulings.

Case #1: Alienating Supporters

With this in mind, how does the first argument fit in with Catholic teaching? Badly—it’s practically an inversion of Church teaching. In this case, it’s not about “limiting the harm done by such a law” because the law is passed and signed already. It’s about “limiting the law in the name of public opinion” by keeping people who have an imperfect understanding of the defense of life from jumping ship by creating exceptions. 

As I see it, if these people object to not allowing exceptions now, why should they accept eliminating these exceptions later? I think it’s more likely that when we move to eliminate those exceptions later, these people will think we’re guilty of “bait and switch” and resist our actions anyway. The difference is they’ll also think we’re liars.

One person who used the “alienating supporters” argument suggested to me that after doing the more limited law, we can work on education. To which I say we should have already been doing that and we should still do it for those who are sincerely pro-life but misled regardless of the status of laws.

Such people of misdirected good will need to understand that:
  • “One may never do evil so that good may result from it.” (CCC #1789)
  • Abortion—which is deliberate termination of pregnancy by killing the unborn child (Catechism, Glossary)—is an evil act 
  • Therefore, one may never commit abortion so good may come of it.
This is not intended to be a logical form. Rather I’m showing that two of principles that one must hold to be pro-life lead to the third principle. This third principle excludes exceptions for rape, incest, and “life of the mother.” Rejecting these principles means one is mistaken about what being pro-life means.

Let’s apply the principle of St. John Paul to this: we can say that while abortion laws that only allow it for rape, incest, and life of the mother are less evil than laws allowing unrestricted abortion and can be tolerated if those are the only two options. But if the option exists to ban all abortion in a state legitimately exists, we cannot choose the exceptions option instead.

Think of it this way. Imagine a person who opposes slavery or segregation in most cases, but wants exceptions in case they need it. Such a person would not be pro-freedom, no matter how sincere they were about opposing 99% of the cases of slavery [#]. We would not include that 1% exception in our attempts to abolish slavery if the option to abolish it entirely existed. Abortion is the same case: something that is always evil and the exceptions are still evil acts.

Case #2: The “unconstitutional” fear

This leads us to the second objection: that a total abortion ban might get thrown out, enshrining abortion forever, while a law with some exceptions might be upheld. My response to that is: the Supreme Court judge who would vote to rule a total ban unconstitutional, would also rule the abortion ban with exceptions of rape, incest, and the life of the mother to be unconstitutional. As long as we have any Supreme Court judges who think abortion is a human right, instead of a human rights violation, there is a danger that any restrictions at all will be thrown out.

I find that there is a defeatist attitude about passing laws restricting abortion. I’ve seen some go as far as to say Roe v. Wade will never be overturned, so we should spend our time instead making abortion less “necessary” instead of opposing it. Some have also said that people will just seek illegal abortions, so even if we do overturn it, we’ll never end it [%]. That attitude betrays a false understanding of Christian obligation. St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae #73, also reminds us:

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.

Capitulation that accepts abortion as inevitable is incompatible with our call to change injustice. We cannot put our faith in a corner. We have obligations here. As the Vatican II document, Apostolicam actuositatem (#5), puts it:

Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders.

Refusing to fight injustice is to fail in our obligation. Moreover, it is ironic that people who take this defeatist attitude don’t take it with other injustices. They’re quick to invoke the Seamless Garment on other issues. But they forget another teaching of St. John Paul II in Christifideles Laici, #38:

“Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”

Remember, Gaudium et Spes #51 [§] equated abortion with murder, genocide, torture and other evils these people normally oppose. If we think that a person is wrong to oppose subhuman living conditions while saying we’ll never get rid of genocide, we should think the person who opposes subhuman living conditions while saying we’ll never get rid of abortion is equally wrong [~].

Since we recognize these other things are evil, we must treat abortion with the same gravity.


An intrinsic evil is something which is always wrong by nature and can never be turned into a good act by circumstances or intention. Saying we should create unnecessary exceptions to banning the evil, or refusing to fight it are incompatible with our Catholic calling. Abortion is one of these intrinsic evils, and the proposed “necessary” exceptions and “focusing on other areas” is therefore also incompatible with our Catholic calling. We need to be on our guard not to allow these attitudes to enter our thinking. Otherwise, regardless of our intentions, we are not really pro-life.

True, there are different ideas on how best to fight the evil of abortion. But not fighting it is not an option.


[#] Remember, the three exceptions demanded for abortion are less than 1% of all abortions.

[%] This is the “argument from consequences” fallacy, trying to argue that banning abortion is wrong because of negative consequences. But replace “abortion” with “murder” or “rape.” Is the argument reasonable? No, and using it for abortion is equally unsound.

[§] The relevant text of Gaudium et Spes #51 is:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

[~] While I support the Seamless Garment as properly understood, the problem I have with the late Cardinal Bernadin’s speech on the seamless garment is it can be misunderstood as saying X+Y+Z > abortion. I don’t believe the Cardinal meant that, but people have twisted it to argue exactly that.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Just a Pinch of Incense 2019

Let us not then seek relaxation: for Christ promised tribulation to His disciples: and Paul says, “All Who will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12.) No noble-spirited wrestler, when in the lists, seeks for baths, and a table full of food and wine. This is not for a wrestler, but for a sluggard. For the wrestler contendeth with dust, with oil, with the heat of the sun’s ray, with much sweat, with pressure and constraint. This is the time for contest and for fighting, therefore also for being wounded, and for being bloody and in pain.

—St. John Chrysostom, Homilies On Hebrews V, #6

You might have heard of Bishop Tobin being attacked because he publicly stated that the “Gay Pride” events are incompatible with the Catholic Faith, and we should not participate in them. Or you might have seen (or been) the Christians savaged on social media for standing up for our beliefs on sexual morality. It’s ugly, it’s committing the same actions they falsely accuse us of. But it’s not anything we weren’t warned about.

The attacks we face at this time are both soft deceptions and hard attacks. We’re told, “love is love.” We’re shown books, television shows, and movies portraying these relationships as either completely accepted or horribly persecuted. The message is that there is no valid reason to oppose these relationships and whoever does so must be motivated by ignorance and hatred. Since the social and media elites declare there can be no justification for hatred, those who refuse to comply with their views must be driven out and silenced… punished until they confess their guilt and yield.

Early Christians could offer “a pinch of incense” or face persecution.
So can we… by betraying our fidelity to Our Lord, Jesus Christ

Of course, we must be certain that our behavior is not deserving of reproach. As St. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:19–20,

For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God, that is a grace. But what credit is there if you are patient when beaten for doing wrong? But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.

But we must not confuse speaking the objective truth that “this act is morally wrong, and we may not participate or appear to give support” with speaking harshly or dogmatically. Yes, unfortunately some Catholics—including some clergy—have spoken that way. But to assume that any speech saying “X is wrong” is bigotry against practitioners of X is the “either-or” fallacy. To judge the belief of the Church based on the worst people who agree with it is the “guilt by association” fallacy. To assume that the bad behavior of some members represents the teaching of the whole Church is the fallacy of composition.

What Bishop Tobin did here was remind the faithful that we cannot burn incense at the altar out of agreement or fear. If we profess to follow Christ, our words and actions must bear witness: not just in showing love for our neighbor, but in standing up for what we believe in the face of hostility. As St. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:2–4, we must:

…proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.

When the world is wrong, we must testify to that fact, even though the world (or the elites who shape the mob) hate us for it. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Normality is not the Same as Reality

Those readers who don’t follow my blog’s Facebook page might not know that I had been in the hospital for a month due to a below the knee amputation and subsequent rehabilitation. During that time, I felt graced by God because I didn’t feel the anger or bitterness that I heard others frequently go through. But one thing I do have to deal with is the sense of “I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”

Of course, things will never “get back to normal” as I knew it before. I understand that, with the advances in prosthetics, I’ll probably be able to walk again. But there will be adjustments, learning, new routines. Eventually, it will become my new “normal.” But I am gradually realizing that even though my situation is no longer normal, it is reality. So, if I’m going to adjust, I need to stop clinging to what I think of as normal and deal things as they really are.

Reflecting on that, I thought of the disputes in the Church. I’ve written on several of them before: the dislike of Vatican II, the Mass, Pope Francis, etc. It occurred to me that much of the dissatisfaction comes from people confusing normality with reality. Normality is the state we are accustomed to. Reality is the state things are currently in. If people like (or have an idealized version of) the way things were, then the changing conditions of reality can leave them angry or bitter, wanting to go back to the way things were.

Accepting reality in this sense doesn’t mean compromising or settling. It means recognizing the state of things and—if conditions change from what seems normal—adjusting the tactics needed to bring what is objectively good back to the changed reality. Looking to an idealized version of the high Middle Ages or pre-Vatican II Church as “normal” and demanding the Church “change back” is a denial of reality. For better and worse, the world has changed. People no longer grasp the concept of objective truth, thinking that moral obligation is an opinion. To reach people in this time, where many think the Church is just about imposed rules and restrictions, St. John XXIII, at the opening of Vatican II, said:

The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the Sacred Deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. That doctrine embraces the whole of man, composed as he is of body and soul. And since he is a pilgrim on this earth, it commands him to tend always toward Heaven.

It’s not enough to just decree forcefully and threaten those who question it with excommunication—though some think that the Popes need to do exactly that. When people begin questioning the authority of the Church to teach at all, a new approach is needed. Hence, in Matthew 13:52, Jesus tells us:“Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

The Church today is following this. The truth is timeless and unchanging. The means of teaching it are changeable.

That brings us to the other side of the coin. While I tend to focus on the current rebellion against Pope Francis because I think it is an immediate threat that misleads people into thinking that being faithful means rejecting the magisterium, there is another movement. That movement holds that the Church got it wrong on certain moral teachings and needs to change.

However, because we profess that Jesus is God, and we profess belief in the Trinity, we cannot argue that the teaching of Jesus contradicts the moral teaching in the Old Testament. We can say that God taught the Hebrews in the time of the Old Testament with divine accommodation, gradually moving them (cf. Matthew 19:8) away from the barbarisms of the time, preparing them for the fullness of teaching in Christ [§]. When it comes to the moral law (with ceremonial law, dietary laws, and ritual cleanliness, see Acts 15), we don’t see moral evils becoming good under Christ. Rather, we see Christ hold us to a higher standard where we are expected to keep His commandments (cf. Matthew 7:21, John 14:15).

Among these commandments is obedience to His Church. As Catholics, we do profess that the Church established by Christ is the Catholic Church (Matthew 16:18), that the Church binds and looses through God’s authority  (Matthew 16:19, 18:18) and that there are consequences for refusing to heed the Church because it is rejecting God (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). Therefore, we cannot claim we are being faithful to Jesus by rejecting His Church.

People in this second group have an idea of what they think should be normal, but this view is also at odds with reality, because the unchanging truth that the Church professes and they oppose is taught with Jesus’ authority.

If people want to accept reality instead of insisting on their idea of what normal should be, they will have to accept both the timeless teachings of the Church, and the new methods of carrying out God’s mission. Otherwise, they’ll be out of step with reality, chasing the myth of what they think should be normal.


[§] Because we tend to be shocked by the violence of the Pentateuch, it’s easy to forget how much more brutal their neighbors were. God’s herem commands to the Hebrews were restraints compared to what the other nations did.