Showing posts with label charity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label charity. Show all posts

Sunday, June 12, 2022

It’s Iimi: Dubai-ous!

Arriving in Dubai after a fifteen-hour flight, Kismetta arrives in the United Arab Emirates. Her parents hope she’ll be enamored by the glamour and opulence. Zara hopes they can get along. Kismetta is initially hopeful that she might be able to enjoy herself in the glamour. But after an ominous dream and an encounter with some foreign workers, she begins to feel… Dubai-ous.

Pre-Comic notes: This comic contains some characters using stereotypes of other groups (Emirati citizens and guest workers). As always, I don’t use these with approval, but to reflect certain beliefs that exist. Nor am I using the Fallacy of Composition (assuming of the whole what exists in individual parts).

Post Comic notes: The conditions of foreign “guest” workers in Dubai has been widely commented on. Every country has its own blind spots and vicious customs of course. So, I’m not portraying this as “the UAE is the worst place in the world” or “Muslims don’t care about others.” Rather, this is a case of Kismetta becoming aware of things that trouble her which were previously blind spots. 

What’s up with the dream? Well, you’ll have to wait and see.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Truth and Charity: Brief Reflections on Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion”

People who follow my blog’s Facebook page may have seen my occasional sharing of quotes from Calvin’s Institutes of the Catholic Religion# along with my commentary. Having finally finished the thing yesterday, I have been asked to offer my thoughts on it. This will not be an in depth analysis. Rather I intend to comment on something lacking within it that Christians need to have when interacting with each other: Truth and Charity. 

In that respect, I would have to say that I found this work informative—though not in the way that the author might wish—because whatever Calvin’s sincerity might have been, the book lacked both truth and charity.

The book lacks truth to the extent that I would have to use the word calumny to describe it. That is John Calvin constantly presents a caricature of what the Catholic Church actually believes, treating individual corruption as official policy, claiming that we believe things that we explicitly reject, creating straw man arguments, taking Scripture, Patristics, and Church documents out of context*. He contrasts this mess with his own interpretation of Scripture which he declares to be the original intent of the Early Church. Anybody can make their own claims seem true if they do this. But if the accusations are false and the evidence is misrepresented, any guilty verdict that comes from it is an injustice.

I would have to say it lacks charity because Calvin assumes any personal sin on the part of Pope, Cardinal, bishop, or priest must be done maliciously and approved by the Church, while any difference between him and Catholic teaching is a willful perversion of what the Bible teaches.

Obviously, when it comes to truth, if two views are in contradiction, they can’t both be true, and we have to discern which is the truth. Part of that search for truth is removing false understanding of the other side and discovering what they really believe. Without that first step, any attempts at “dialogue” on our part will fail. That is where charity comes in. We don’t assume bad will without evidence. We don’t assume heresy without a thorough investigation.

With this in mind, I think the Catholic reader and the non-Catholic reader should consider some things: 

I should remind the Catholic reader that the Church does not declare any person to be in hell. We simply do not know the levels of culpability in a person’s knowledge, intent or will to say something like “Calvin knowingly and maliciously lied.” After all, he could have been grossly misinformed about what we believe and sincerely thought we held what he accused us of. It’s still false witness of course, but if we assume the worst, we’re doing the same wrong he did.

I should also remind the Catholic reader that, regardless of the culpability Calvin might have, we are not to assume the same guilt exists in the person who was taught Calvin’s claims from youth and assumes that they have to be true. It is truth taught in Lumen Gentium #14 that “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.” So, of course we must defend what is true. But Unitatis redintegratio #3 tells us that “The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection.” So, when sharing what we profess, we must not take a “@#$& you, heretic!” approach in doing so. We must interact with love, even when we disagree with others. Hurling polemics will not convince anybody to listen.

As for the non-Catholic Christian reader—especially from Protestant denominations—I would ask you to remember that we do naturally resent falsehoods being spoken against us. Setting aside the issue of who teaches correctly for the moment§, you need to realize that what men like Luther and Calvin accused us of are misrepresentations, no matter how sincere they were when they wrote against us. Since we are all forbidden to bear false witness, you have an obligation to make certain what you say against us is true before repeating it to others.

 Both Catholics and non-Catholics need to remember that—regardless of what polemics were hurled in the past—we need to remember those obligations of truth and charity today.


(#) Catholics should remember the Church warnings about reading material hostile to the Catholic faith without good reason and without proper care to avoid damaging their faith. I have taken those precautions. But, since there is a lot of false witness in this book, I strongly urge the Catholic who thinks that all denominations have a mix of truth and error, do not have a solid grasp of the truth, or might be inclined to take accusations at face value to avoid it. It is not for casual reading.

(†) 1960 Translation, Westminster Press, unabridged, if you’re curious.

(*) The nice thing about Verbum software is that one can easily read the passage cited in context—if you have the linked books. Unfortunately, that can get expensive. If you want to try it, I’d recommend starting with Verbum Basic (which is free) and only getting what you need when you need it. 

(€) When two positions are contradictory, they can’t both be true. One must be true and the other must be false. For example, Either Jesus is God or He is not. When two positions are contrary, they can’t both be true but both might be false. For example, saying the sun is either water or sand.

(§) Of course, I do hold the Catholic position to be true.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Brief Thoughts about the Catholic Acrimony on Immigration

It’s legitimate when Catholics have different ideas on how to best carry out the Church teaching on treating migrants. However, it’s not legitimate to reject the Church teaching on immigration and accuse those who teach it of being against Church teaching. But many Catholics are choosing the illegitimate action while claiming that those in authority are wrong.

Church moral teaching can be traced back to the Greatest Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40), where Jesus says:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

If we love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15), not look for an excuse to refuse obedience. The problem is, we are seeing an alarming disregard for the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. When people leave their homes and travel ~2100 miles on foot to come here, some of them dying on the way, many more being victims of crime, disease, and other hardships, the commandment to love our neighbor as ourself means we don’t say “It’s your own fault for coming here.” It means we don’t accuse our bishops of “ignoring” other issues when they say we have a responsibility to ease their suffering. We don’t ask why somebody else in Guatemala isn’t helping them.

But the things we must not do are what an alarming number of Catholics are doing. For example, when I blogged about the father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande, I received a number of people who said exactly those things and worse (like claiming it was a staged picture). 

The problem with that way of thinking is, we don’t get to think that way and call ourselves faithful Catholics. Our Lord gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The one person who would have been most justified in refusing to get involved was the one person who acted according to the commandment to love our neighbor as ourself. We’re called to emulate the Samaritan, but we’re acting like the Priest and Levite.

Different people can legitimately have different ideas about how to best help those in need our doorstep, and yes, we should prudently consider safety of citizens. But if we act like the rich man who outright ignores the person suffering on his doorstep, things will go badly for us at the end of our life (cf. Luke 16:19-31).

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Back to Basics: Reflections on Anti-Catholic Attacks

There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church —which is, of course, quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues”; because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God”; because they say “indulgence is a permission to commit sin”; because the Pope “is a Fascist”; because the “Church is the defender of Capitalism.” If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth.

—Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (Introduction to Radio Replies)

Preliminary Note: Not all non-Catholics are anti-Catholic. This article does NOT intend to accuse all non-Catholics. Rather this article is focused on those who not only disagree with us, but also accuse us of spreading error through ignorance, corruption, and/or malice. For the non-Catholics reading this who may disagree with us but are not anti-Catholic, I do not intend to lump you in with them.

Also, this article involves anti-Catholicism within Christianity. It will not deal with any non-Christian versions of anti-Catholicism.


I find anti-Catholic attitudes are similar to anti-Francis attitudes. Both rely on a misunderstanding of what we believe and, instead of determining what we really do believe, presume ignorance, corruption, or malice as the reason for “believing” what we never believed in the first place or “rejecting” what we hold was never part of the faith to begin with.

Under this way of thinking, something the Church has long rejected is accepted by a certain group as “true.” Then our rejection is considered “proof” of our “falling into error.” So long as we refuse to accept how they see things, we are accused of error. But this is the begging the question fallacy. What they assume to be proof of our “apostasy” actually has to be proven.

Separating Anti-Catholicism from Mere Disagreement

Non-Catholics who are not anti-Catholic disagree with us on issues of authority. We hold in common with Protestants a belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, but we disagree that authority stops there. We hold in common with the Orthodox a belief in Sacraments, Apostolic Succession, Councils, and Sacred Tradition. But we disagree that authority stops there. We believe that there can be a legitimate development of Church teaching that does not contradict Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

The Catholic and the non-Catholic (assuming them equally educated about their beliefs) will disagree about what Scripture means in some places. They will disagree about the weight and meaning of Sacred Tradition. They will disagree about who has the authority to make binding interpretation. Of course these differences are contrary to each other and they cannot all be true. At least some of them must be false. But the existence of this disagreement does not mean that the person who disagrees must be anti-Catholic.

The anti-Catholic hates what they (wrongly) think the Catholic Church is. Because they think we embrace error, the anti-Catholic believes that the Catholic Church is a force of evil that must be opposed. Those people who are members of the Church are assumed to be “ignorant” about what the Bible says—deceived by “heresy.” Those people who are not ignorant are assumed to be willful heretics doomed to be damned for spreading error. I’ve encountered some anti-Catholic Protestants who accused me of being a “reprobate” (those predestined to damnation). I’ve encountered anti-Catholic Orthodox who called on God to curse me.

If an anti-Catholic member of one of the Orthodox churches accuses us of inventing Papal primacy, or if an anti-Catholic member of a Protestant church who accuses us of inventing teaching contrary to Scripture, the Catholic must respond, “No, we cannot accept that. We believe what you say is at odds with what the first Christians believed and the legitimate development of doctrine.” We cannot hold that the Pope is merely “the first among equals” as the Orthodox claim. We cannot hold “Sola Scriptura” like the Protestants claim. These claims strike me as a reason created to reject the authority that the Church has always held.

Sincere or not, Anti-Catholicism is Bearing False Witness

Aristotle once defined truth as saying of what is that it is and of saying what is not that it is not. In this context, this means that the person who disagrees with what the Catholic Church teaches has an obligation to know what we believe before condemning us. For example, we do not reject the Bible. We do not believe “earning salvation.” We do not “worship” Mary or the Pope. The person who accuses us of doing these things bears false witness against us. They might not do so deliberately—they might sincerely believe we hold these things—but the fact of false witness remains.

We have an obligation to learn what is true instead of assume that what has been told to us is true. Unfortunately, some people who do not know what Catholicism teaches are willing to believe any number of accusations against us. They assume we are ignorant. They assume our Church is willing to do evil if it serves our purpose. So, when someone tells them something false about us, they believe it to be true... sometimes to the extent of assuming the Catholic trying to correct their false understanding is either deceived or lying.

A variant of this is the “horrifying past history” tactic. Let’s face it, by 21st century standards, crime and punishment of past eras was barbaric. Much of it came from the Germanic barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire (trials by ordeal, burning at the stake etc. are Germanic, not Christian in origin), but even the Romans did some pretty barbaric things. The thing to remember is this: The Catholic Church did not invent and impose these barbarisms. It was not a case that some bishop said “Hey, why don’t we set people we dislike on fire?” Rather, it was a case of governments changing but the means of punishment remaining constant. My point here is, when we hear about horrifying things in history, we need to understand why things were done that way without making excuses for it.

This means when someone says a thing about the Church that sounds horrible, people have an obligation to get to the truth of it before spreading it around. Do you hear someone say that we believe that we can earn salvation? Before you spread it around, you have an obligation to find out if it is true—and the truth is we do not believe that.

Does it Cut Both Ways? A Warning to Catholics

Our Lord, teaching the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31) tells us we must do to others what we would have them do to us. If we would have others stop speaking falsely about us, we must be sure we speak truth about others rather than assume the worst is true. For example, I have encountered incredibly vicious members of the Orthodox Church online. But I learned that these individuals generally came from a small faction within the Church. It would be wrong if I portrayed the wrongdoing of this faction as if it was practiced by all members of the Orthodox churches. Likewise, not all Protestants believe in things like the “prosperity Gospel” or “Once Saved, Always Saved.” It would be wrong if I accused all Protestants of believing it. 

It is not intolerance to believe that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Our Lord. It is not intolerance to believe that where non-Catholic churches disagree with the Catholic Church, they are wrong. But it is wrong if we are willing to believe the worst about them without discerning if those accusations are true. It is wrong to act with a lack of charity towards non-Catholics.

Whatever level of culpability those who broke away from or opposed the Catholic Church at the time of a schism may have had (something I will NOT discuss), the modern non-Catholic was not party to those actions and should not be treated as if they shared that guilt. We should avoid debating “body counts” and whether actions done in the brutality of the 16th century were “justified” or proof of the other side’s barbarism today.

In short, we should not use the tactics that offend us when they are used against us. Regardless of how anti-Catholics may act, we have an obligation to respond in charity.


My point on writing this is not to shame non-Catholics or to claim that the Catholic Church is impeccable. Rather I hope people reading this might reflect on their assumptions and ask whether what they think about us is really true. Obviously we can’t hold to a form of relativism that says “what we believe doesn’t matter. But I do hope we can respond to each other in charity while learning what is true.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Because Hell is Real: Reflections on Our Lord Establishing a Church

Last time I talked about God ultimately being in charge, so we could trust Him to protect the Church when things grew beyond our control. This time, I want to talk about the other side of that coin—the fact that God established a Church as the ordinary means of bringing His salvation to the world. Unlike Protestants and Orthodox, Catholics hold that Our Lord established His Church on the rock of St. Peter and his successors. We hold that God gave this Church under Peter, the Apostles, and their successors the authority to bind and loose. When the magisterium teaches, we are obligated to give assent—our full acceptance of that teaching.

Remember John 14:15. Loving Him is keeping His commandments. Remember Luke 10:16. Our Lord makes clear that rejecting His Church is rejecting Him. Remember Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18. What His Church binds/looses on Earth is bound/loosed in Heaven. Remember Matthew 18:17. Refusing to hear the Church is a very serious matter. Remember Matthew 7:21-23. If we do not keep His commandments, we will be barred from the Kingdom of Heaven.

I stress this because there is a temptation to separate Our Lord from Church teaching—a claim that Our Lord is merciful but the Church is focussed on “rules.” This temptation claims, “God doesn’t care about X.” It accuses the Church of Pharisaism. But what it tends to mean is, “The Church should not judge my sin.” Let’s be clear here. I’m not equating the Church with individuals who insist you do things according to their preferences, like vote for a certain candidate or you’re damned. I’m talking about the authority of the Pope, as well as the bishop and the priest who properly use their authority in communion with the Pope, to make known how we should live if we would be faithful to Christ, our Lord.

One cannot separate God from the Church, because the Church teaches with God’s authority. It is that simple. So if we dislike what the Church teaches on a subject, our issue is with God. Remember, if we accept the fact that God is in ultimate control, and that He has given the Church the authority to teach in His name, then we must accept what the Church teaches, trusting Him to protect His Church from error.

That doesn’t mean God retroactively turns falsehood into truth. It means God prevents the Church from teaching error. When the Church binds, saying a certain action is gravely sinful, then the person who knows this and freely chooses to do it, commits mortal sin. We do not appeal to God as if He were a higher court. Nor can we use the bad behavior of corrupt Churchmen or harsher methods of law enforcement in harsher times to justify disobedience. If we do, God will no doubt remind us of Matthew 23:2-3. Or as St. John Chrysostom commented on it, 

I mean, that lest any one should say, that because my teacher is bad, therefore am I become more remiss, He takes away even this pretext. So much at any rate did He establish their authority, although they were wicked men, as even after so heavy an accusation to say, “All whatsoever they command you to do, do.” For they speak not their own words, but God’s, what He appointed for laws by Moses.


John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. George Prevost and M. B. Riddle, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 436.

When the Pope and bishops in communion with Him teach, they do not do so from their own authority, but God’s. If some members of the hierarchy behave unjustly, that does not absolve us from being faithful to the Church under the bishop of Rome. So, if we don’t like the fact that the Church teaches that abortion, contraception, divorce/remarriage, or homosexual acts are sinful, we have to remember that when we know the Church calls these things to be gravely sinful, yet we freely choose them, we sin against God, and don’t just “break a rule.”

But what about Pope Francis? But what about mercy? I answer, his stance is not contrary to the teaching about sin and Hell. His Year of Mercy presumes that we are sinners, and we are in need of forgiveness. But his Year of Mercy was not about dispensations permitting sin. They were about reminding us that now is the acceptable time of salvation, and making the Church available to bring God’s mercy to us. This meant if we would receive God’s mercy, we must repent. This isn’t a radical traditionalist screed. This is Our Lord, Himself telling us, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).

Bishop Robert Barron points out the mistakes some make about the Holy Father:

A good deal of the confusion stems from a misinterpretation of Francis’s stress on mercy. In order to clear things up, a little theologizing is in order. It is not correct to say that God’s essential attribute is mercy. Rather, God’s essential attribute is love, since love is what obtains among the three divine persons from all eternity. Mercy is what love looks like when it turns toward the sinner. To say that mercy belongs to the very nature of God, therefore, would be to imply that sin exists within God himself, which is absurd.

Now this is important, for many receive the message of divine mercy as tantamount to a denial of the reality of sin, as though sin no longer mattered. But just the contrary is the case. To speak of mercy is to be intensely aware of sin and its peculiar form of destructiveness. Or, to shift to one of the pope’s favorite metaphors, it is to be acutely conscious that one is wounded so severely that one requires not minor treatment but the emergency and radical attention provided in a hospital on the edge of a battlefield. Recall that when Francis was asked in a famous interview to describe himself, he responded, “a sinner.” Then he added, “who has been looked upon by the face of mercy.” That’s getting the relationship right. Remember as well that the teenage Jorge Mario Bergoglio came to a deep and life-changing relationship to Christ precisely through a particularly intense experience in the confessional. As many have indicated, Papa Francesco speaks of the devil more frequently than any of his predecessors of recent memory, and he doesn’t reduce the dark power to a vague abstraction or a harmless symbol. He understands Satan to be a real and very dangerous person.

Barron, Robert (2016-03-31). Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism (Kindle Locations 613-625). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.

Mercy is not about turning a blind eye to sin. Mercy is about sparing the person from the penalty justice demands. See, we deserve damnation for our sins. But God desires our salvation. So He sent His Son to save us. Yet, we can refuse to accept His mercy, and we do when we choose to do what God forbids. During our life on Earth, God gives us every chance to repent and accept His mercy. But if we refuse to do so, we will face His justice. When the Church teaches something is a grave sin, it’s not because she is obsessed with rules and power. it is because she is concerned for our souls, and wants to save us from the fires of Hell.

Remember that while Our Lord spoke of love and mercy, He also spoke of Hell:

13 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. 14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13–14)

He’s the one who talked about casting sinners out into the darkness (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). These are not contradictions or additions to Jesus’ message of love and mercy. They’re warnings about what happens if we reject His commandments. Neither God nor His Church are cruel or judgmental for warning about sin and Hell. They don’t make dire threats to cow us into submission. We’re warned about Hell because it is real and we can go there if we refuse to keep Our Lord’s commandments. 

What we need to remember about the difference between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) was not that the Tax Collector was a better person. It was the Tax Collector repented, while the Pharisee did not. But not all tax collectors repented—The publicani (tax collectors under contract) were recognized across the Roman Empire as a scourge because of their rapacious ways that bankrupted entire provinces to boost their profits. Likewise, not all Pharisees were unrepentant. Some became Christians, after all. 

The point is, God loves each one of us, and desires our salvation—but that call requires a response. If we demand the benefits, while refusing the call of Our Lord—Repent, and believe in the gospel—we show we do not love Him, regardless of how we profess it otherwise. Instead, we simply want cheap grace. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer described it:

Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 44.

We should think of this when we’re inclined to accuse the Church of being in opposition to Christ. Our Lord established the Catholic Church to be His means of bringing His salvation to the whole world through the sacraments and teaching His way (cf. Matthew 28:19). It is true that as missionaries to the world, we must not be harsh. But as sinners in need of salvation, we must not demand that the Church change to suit us. If we do, we are spurning The Lord who desires to save us. If we spurn Him, and do not repent, we risk facing the reality of Hell.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

What Are We Really Trying to Do?

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15).


Such words are “liberality,” “progress,” “light,” “civilization;” such are “justification by faith only,” “vital religion,” “private judgment,” “the Bible and nothing but the Bible.” Such again are “Rationalism,” “Gallicanism,” “Jesuitism,” “Ultramontanism”—all of which, in the mouths of conscientious thinkers, have a definite meaning, but are used by the multitude as war-cries, nicknames, and shibboleths, with scarcely enough of the scantiest grammatical apprehension of them to allow of their being considered really more than assertions.


 John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London: Burns, Oates, & Co., 1870), 41–42.

We must do all by love, and nothing by force.

We must love obedience rather than fear disobedience.

[Written to St. Jane Frances de Chantal]


Francis de Sales, Letters to Persons in the World, trans. Henry Benedict Mackey and John Cuthbert Hedley, Second Edition, Library of Francis de Sales (London; New York; Cincinnatti; Chicago: Burns and Oates; Benziger Brothers, 1894), 160.

Some people I know quit Facebook, disgusted over the tone. I can understand the disgust. It seems that most of what crosses my feed involves people who are posting stories giving the worst interpretations possible to the actions of those they dislike, politics and religion alike. The problem I have with this is: giving the worst possible interpretations to an action is not seeking the truth. Instead, the critic has tried the target in abstentia and declared them guilty of openly supporting what the critic fears from him.

It leads me to ask, what are we really trying to do here? Are we trying to inform people about the truth of the matter? Or are we trying to vilify the person, encouraging others to hate the person like we do? I admit this can be a fine line. If we think a person or an idea is dangerous, we want to warn others about the danger. But when we reach the point of repeating whatever makes a person sound evil, often showing no interest in understanding what a person is actually trying to do, I think we’ve stopped warning and started propagandizing.

For example, politically, supporters of the President are called “Fascist.” His enemies are called “Communist.” Both labels assume that the other side is not only wrong but actively trying to overthrow the good. But when pressed, the reasons I’m given for the opposition can be summed up as only their political position is right and there can be no good reason for opposing it.

The same thing happens in terms of religion, people who defend the authority of the Pope are called “ultramontane,” “modernist,” or “liberal.” Again, when one delves into the accusations and rhetoric, the basic assumption is that only the accuser’s interpretation on the application of Church teaching is correct, and there can be no good reason for taking a different view.

If we were serious about warning people about the truth of the matter, we’d start by learning the truth about what a thing is supposed to be and how the person we warn against is violating it. But instead of showing this knowledge, people use these labels aimed at demonizing the person opposed and conditioning the target audience to believe the attack.

Words do have proper meaning, and words can be misused or abused. When we abuse words to invoke a certain emotion, we’re not trying to get to the truth. We’re trying to get others to irrationally accept what we say. For those of us who profess to be Christian, this attempt to replace truth with emotional appeals to buzzwords goes against the great commission, where we are told to teach people. We need to teach people what we must do and why we must do it so they understand. We must submit our opinions to the teaching authority of the Church to be sure we have not deceived ourselves and do not mislead others.

When we’re tempted to use the labels instead of the teaching the truth, we need to ask what we are really trying to do. Are we really trying to help people do right? Or are we looking for recruits to bolster the size of our faction? If we’re trying to help people do right, we’ll stop with the propaganda, the labels, and the ad hominem attacks. Instead we’ll seek to lovingly show what the truth is so they accept it freely. But if we’re focussing on recruiting for a faction, Our Lord warned us harshly against it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

How Will One Return Over the Bridges They Burned?

Bridge burn11 1

You sit and speak against your brother, 

slandering your mother’s son. (Psalm 50:20).

As Catholics continue fighting on social media, a question that comes to my mind is whether some have crossed the point of no return. Charitable disagreement over how to apply Church teaching to voting and political solutions is acceptable so long as a person accepts the teaching authority of the Church and doesn’t try to evade it. The problem is, this year, charity is seems to be entirely lacking. People of one faction not only assume the other faction [†] is wrong, but assume they are maliciously wrong. I’ve seen priests attacking laity and each other because the targets disagree or are struggling to reach a decision the attackers think should be obvious. I’ve seen Catholic bloggers act like they’re doing God’s work by insulting people they disagree with.

The problem, as I see it, is a growing number of Catholics don’t seem to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. They seem to see each other as either allies or enemies depending on whether their political views match or differ. So, what happens when 2017 rolls around and we have to face whoever gets elected? Will we be able to unite to fight whatever evil the government promotes? Or will these burnt bridges separate us—leaving factions who are mutually anathema to each other?

The common objection is, “But these people are wrong! We have to oppose them!” They point to the example of St. Paul withstanding St. Peter to his face, and the examples of prophets from the Old Testament to justify their words and actions. The problem is there’s little to no charity going on. I think we would be wise to consider the words of St. Francis de Sales:

Although S. Paul calls the Galatians “foolish,” 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.


Francis de Sales, Of the Love of God, [Book X, Chapter XVI] trans. H. L. Sidney Lear (London: Rivingtons, 1888), 351.

I wonder how many people who are swift to denounce behavior they dislike, confuse that dislike with a zeal for souls? If we truly believe that people we disagree with are choosing wrong and endangering souls, why do we behave in such a way that will drive away the people we think need to change? Not only will it drive them away, it will keep them away. Some might leave the faith. Others might harden their resolve.

It’s one thing if people hate us because we stand up for our faith. It’s a different matter if people hate us because we behave badly in defending the faith. As St. Peter told us, “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." (1 Peter 2:19–20). In other words, if people accuse us, let’s not be guilty of what they accuse us of.

As we reach the end of this election cycle, maybe it’s time to take stock in how we behaved. Did we promote the faith so people might live according to it? Or did we behave badly enough that we can only reach out to people who happened to think like us to begin with? 

I’m not going to name names. I’m not going to judge which person or blog I think has done right and which I think has done wrong. All I want to do in this article is to ask each Catholic to consider whether they burned bridges they should not have burned. If so, each of us should consider how we can repair the damage we’re personally responsible for and, if it is irreparable, to pray to God to heal the damage we caused.

If we don't, we’ll find our faith divided by a mass of charred wreckage of our own doing.


[†] I don’t like the dualism in American politics, but it is a reality we have to be aware of.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Reaching Out to the Concerned Catholic


First, to my fellow bloggers and apologists:

As a blogger I profess the Catholic faith is true, and that God continues to protect the Church under the Pope today just as much as He did with his predecessors. So when I meet someone who attacks this Church, I respond by showing why the attacks are false and what the truth is on the subject. Sadly, there are some Catholics among these attackers who claim to be faithful to the Church but their fruits show that to be a lie. If a Catholic rejects the authority of the Church in their own time, he rejects God (see Luke 10:16), and we must oppose them if we would block them from leading the faithful astray. But I think we get so focussed on these faithless Catholics that we forget why the faithful, who might heed them, do listen. 

Those of us who do apologetics have invested time into studying the faith and investigating charges against it. In doing so, we’ve accumulated knowledge to defend the faith. But I think we forget that not everybody has our knowledge. What is obvious to us might not be obvious to them. That doesn’t make them stupid—and we should never think that. It means they have different levels of education and specialization. The concerned Catholic might never have heard of Church texts we have read, but have a knowledge of computers we can’t match.

A friend of mine told me a story of different knowledge specialties:

In my previous position, I served as the IT Systems Administrator for a space science research center. I was the only IT person for Center, though I had student assistants, and so my work covered a very broad scope. On the same day, I could be both configuring a server and making sure that someone's desktop machine was set up to use the printers. This work environment gave me an exceptionally clear view into how much of a difference specialized knowledge and training could make and into how differences in such knowledge could radically affect perceptions of intelligence. Some of the physicists with whom I worked were quite good with computers. This was especially so if they wrote their own code for simulations. Yet even those physicists were often only good at what they needed to do to achieve their research goals. A number of researchers I knew were very much novices with computers, though, and when they needed my help with their workstations it was not unusual for my computing knowledge to make me appear to be some kind of genius and, at the same time, their lack of knowledge caused their advanced degrees and scientific brilliance to fade into the background.

While I worked with these researchers, though, I did pay some attention to what they were doing in their work. It was readily apparent that they were as far beyond me in mathematics and physics as I was beyond them in computers. Perhaps even moreso. I remember helping an elderly physicist with a very basic computer matter while, on his desk, I could see handwritten notes of mathematical formula so advanced that I could not begin to understand them. This man has a brilliant mind in his own right - just not at computers. Oh, how much folly may come from relying overmuch on perceptions!

We should keep this mind and not be patronizing when giving explanations. Because they don’t have our specialized knowledge, they might not be able to see why arguments that trouble them are bad. What they do know is that the world looks like it is at war with everything they hold important, and the Church seems to be weak in opposing the world. So when they meet people who seem more knowledgeable than they do, who confidently claim the Church needs to change to regain control—especially when they cite some stern Pope from the past and compare it to today—they might assume these people know the answer. Remember, we too looked for teachers to help us understand.

We can’t just lump them all together and assume that the smackdown that the dissenter richly deserves will also be effective against this kind of Catholic. What we need to do is approach them with compassion, hearing their concerns, and giving them the tools they need to fight the battle. Their need doesn’t make them stupid. It makes them everyday people who want to do the right thing. We should help them with encouragement and sympathy. Not mock them by lumping them in with “that thing that used to be conservatism” when they disagree with us or call them Pope-bashers because people they thought they could trust lied to them.

So I think we ought to be more discerning in our blogs and in the comboxes. We shouldn’t assume they’re radical traditionalists and we shouldn’t assume they’re stupid or right-wingers when we meet them. Some Catholics we meet on the internet are not enemies of the faith, instead...

  • they are people of good will, wanting to do what is right.
  • they don’t have our specialized knowledge in defending the faith.
  • they are no less intelligent than we are.
  • they need our help in recognizing the attacks undermining their faith in the Church.
  • we will answer to God if we drive them away.

Second, to the concerned Catholics, wanting to be faithful:

I’d like to take a little time talking to you as well. Hopefully I won’t come across as patronizing or harsh in doing so.

One thing you should know about debates on social media is there is a lot of venom directed at Catholics defending the faith and that leaves us defensive. So, if you repeat the lines these people use, we might think you’re one of them. We shouldn’t, but it happens. I’m not proud of it, but I have verbally done this a few times:

Pope heresy

It’s not fair if we respond to you with wrath, but think of it like dealing with someone at your job who doesn’t know how things work, but insists their way is right. You want to be patient, but if they keep pushing, you might get annoyed. We’re like that too, so please be understanding. We’re trying to explain things and sometimes get abuse from people who don’t know how things work as a result

That leads to the second point. You need to know when you don’t know how things work or don’t understand what something means. I sometimes meet people who don’t understand how the Church governs herself or that her teaching gets expressed with different emphasis from age to age but is the same teaching. So when they see a Catholic openly doing wrong and don’t see any retribution, they think the Church is lenient or even supportive. For example, I’ve seen some Catholics wonder why the Pope with his absolute power doesn’t just excommunicate the pro-abortion politician or silence the priest or bishop who says something foolish.

But what we forget is the Pope isn’t the CEO of a results driven corporation. He’s the chief shepherd of Our Lord’s flock who has the task of bringing them to God. So when he deals with Catholics who go wrong, he has to consider how his response will affect that task. Will a soft touch be ineffective? Will a harsh response drive the sinner away? We don’t know and we shouldn’t demand a different action if we don’t know the situation.

This brings up a third point. As Catholics, we believe that God protects His Church. He will not allow the Church to bind error or loose truth (see Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18). Knowing this, we can spot false teachers. Those who say the Church needs to change her teaching about good and evil, and those who say the Church is teaching error are false teachers because they deny Our Lord’s promise. If God forbids something, the Pope will not call it good, regardless of what his enemies say.

Some critics will point out that we have had some bad Popes. That’s true, we have. The problem is that argument tries to smear the Pope through guilt by association, but just because we have had bad Popes in the past does not mean Pope Francis is one. Some point out that the Pope’s press conferences aren’t infallible. Nobody ever claimed they were. But again, the fact that they’re not infallible does not mean they’re chock full of errors.

Finally, I’d like you to consider this. Some people blame Vatican II and the Popes from St. John XXIII onwards for ruining the Church. They think that if this Council and these Popes had not had their way, the Church never would have had this problem. But that’s false. The entire world went through an upheaval, including non-Catholic (and even non-Christian) nations. There was a general rejection of authority—both religious and secular—and a rejection of morality. So when people try to blame the Church today for the crisis of faith, remember these people are wrong about the cause.


I believe the defenders of the faith and the concerned Catholics need to be willing to listen to each other, not talk past each other. There are problems in the Church. There always have been, and there probably always will be until the Second Coming. That doesn’t mean we should be passive. But it does mean we need to constantly learn about our faith so we will not falter or grow embittered. Let us all trust in God, and remember that God built our Church. He will not let it fall into ruin.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Thoughts on the Rise of Abusive Internet Polemics

29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.


 The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), Ephesians 4:29–32.

I’ve seen several posts recently about Catholics lamenting the harsher tone on social media. Many of them have theories on why this is—such as it being an election year or a reaction to Pope Francis. I think that’s confusing symptoms with cause.  After all, it is possible to be civil in a debate about these things.

My own thoughts on the subjects that some replaced apologetics with polemics, moving from defending the faith to attacking those who have different views. Apologetics are “reasoned arguments in justification of a theory or doctrine.” Polemics are “an attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another.” We could say that apologetics are defensive and polemics are offensive. Unfortunately, on the internet today, we can say many times polemics are offensive in both senses of the word—they attack and they can cause feelings of repugnance.

Polemics are not bad in themselves. Some of the Patristic authors made use of them to debunk heresies, and sometimes spoke sternly (I think St. Jerome would have felt at home on today’s social media). But we have to remember we don’t write with the insights or talent of these ancient authors! Where they might deliver a stinging rebuke, we often wind up delivering a stinging insult that hardens people in their attitudes or treats people of good faith abusively, driving them away. That’s a bad thing, and we need to avoid it. St. John Paul II describes this negative side of polemics in Ut Unum Sit:

[38] Intolerant polemics and controversies have made incompatible assertions out of what was really the result of two different ways of looking at the same reality. Nowadays we need to find the formula which, by capturing the reality in its entirety, will enable us to move beyond partial readings and eliminate false interpretations.

In other words, we can get so caught up in fighting each other that we lose sight of what we hope to achieve in service of the truth. The end result is mutual hatred and mistrust that hardens positions to the point where no reconciliation is possible. St. Nicholas of Flüe described it as, “You would not be able to untie this knot in the rope…if we both pulled on each end, and that is always the way people try to untangle their difficulties.” (Congar, Yves. O.P. After Nine Hundred Years (1959) p. 79)

That doesn’t mean Catholics can’t refute error. What it means is we can do more harm than good, thinking of those we meet as foes to vanquish instead of people to help. If we drive them away, how will we bring them to Christ? Charity must reign in all dialogue. We must think about our words and our tone. Yes, there are people inside and outside the Church who attack us and promote error. We must certainly defend the faith and show why the attacks against the Church are unjust. But we must not be jerks about it and we must not give in to wrath—especially when it comes to people who seek the truth in good faith but might have trouble overcoming obstacles.

For example, today many attack Pope Francis, accusing him of error and harming the Church. That’s wrong and we must oppose it. But we have to distinguish between people who unjustly attack him and those Catholics—wanting to be faithful—who see the harm in the Church and fear these critics are right. If we direct abusive polemics at them, we might end up driving them into that camp.

Unfortunately, people today often think the attack on idea is a personal attack on them because they think the idea is true. So when we attack ideas spread by the abusive critics of Pope Francis, we need to make our ideas clear and charitable. Yes, that’s hard at times. We can’t control how people interpret what we say and write. Sometimes people get offended when we mean no offense. In such cases, we need to explain patiently what we do mean. Some might treat us wrongly. But we cannot let our anger drive our response. If we can’t avoid that, then perhaps we should rethink whether we should be part of the attack. 

Not everybody can do polemics with charity. Even if we can, people might still take offense, thinking it is a personal attack, and we might drive them even further away from the truth. So we should consider our words well, striving to avoid treating the other person as an enemy. We should neither patronize nor antagonize others when spreading Our Lord’s teaching.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Political Pharisee


One rather annoying thing I see on Social Media is the number of people who make political posts on Facebook praising how enlightened they are, while looking with contempt on those they disagree with. As always, this is not limited to any one party or political slant. It’s not surprising in an election year, but I do wonder why so many Catholics feel that the obligation to love one’s neighbor gets suspended from the beginning of the primary season in January through Election Day in November.

Political parties, politicians and voters are all sinners, and none of them can claim to be God’s party. But the problem I see is many people are comparing themselves or their political affiliations with those they disagree with—always in their favor—and viewing themselves as living righteously. If they stay in a party, they see the party as angelic. if they abandon that party, they see it as demonic and they portray themselves as martyrs for the truth…even though the only suffering they normally experience is from people rolling their eyes and questioning the prudence of that choice.

In other words, what we’re seeing is Catholics infected by pride. They label their opinions as the only possible Catholic option and name those who disagree as deceived fools or willing dupes. The problem is, other Catholics who reach a different opinion are looking at them in the same way. On account of political partisanship, we divide the Body of Christ.

I’m sure every person who is guilty will say, “Wait a minute! Look at what that party stands for! No good Catholic can vote that way!” Yes, that’s often true. From a Catholic perspective, the Democrats routinely fail at moral obligations, the Republicans routinely fail at social justice obligations and third parties tend to either have the same failings as the major parties they emulate or have ugly positions which are only unknown because the parties are so obscure. In other words, no Catholic can claim moral superiority on the grounds of their party affiliation (or lack thereof). Every political party and every politician falls short in the eyes of God and His Church.

So, does this mean we should throw up our hands and not vote at all? No. Voting is a duty we must take seriously. As Catholics, we promote good and oppose evil in whatever way is possible. That not only means voting in such a way where either we promote the greater good or (more often) try to block the greater, but it also means we challenge the parties between elections and hold the politicians accountable to do what is right. Archbishop Chaput considers the problem of belonging to a party which is pro-abortion, but I believe his point applies to every evil that a party embraces:

My friends often ask me if Catholics in genuinely good conscience can vote for “pro-choice” candidates. The answer is: I couldn’t. Supporting a “right” to choose abortion simply masks and evades what abortion really is: the deliberate killing of innocent life. I know of nothing that can morally offset that kind of evil.

But I do know sincere Catholics who reason differently, who are deeply troubled by war and other serious injustices in our country, and they act in good conscience. I respect them. I don’t agree with their calculus. 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.

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn.

And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-230). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When the party goes wrong on abortion, then we challenge the party on abortion. Obviously the right to life is key and we can never sacrifice this for other concerns. St. John Paul II warned that without the right to life, concern for other issues are false and illusory (Christifideles Laici #38). That’s common sense. No human beings, no human rights. But since we’re supposed to be the light of the world and salt of the earth, we don’t stop once we satisfy one concern. When the party goes wrong on immigration, we challenge the party on immigration. Whatever party platform goes against Church teaching, we challenge the party. We keep working on reforming that party wherever it goes wrong.

We Catholics must stop playing the political Pharisee. We’re not superior to the good faith Catholic (that is, one who obeys the Church and does not support what the Church calls evil) who reaches a different conclusion than ours. Instead, each of us need to look at our political preferences in light of our religious belief and see if we have chosen pride (“I can’t be wrong”) over recognizing our flaws. Then, after making this scrutiny, we must work on bringing the party we choose into following what God commands.

After all, in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the repentant Tax Collector was justified, not the proud Pharisee. If we’re not careful, we might find that the justified person winds up being the repentant one affiliated with the party we despise—not us.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Catholics and Political Debate


The probable candidates for the 2016 presidential elections are dismal enough that many Catholics are deeply divided over what choice best fits the Church teaching on voting. Some are certain that Donald Trump is the only reasonable choice. Others are certain they must oppose him. I’m not going to rehash those arguments here. (See my January 18 article on what we have to consider with each choice). Nor am I going to give support to one side or the other in these arguments.

But I do think some proponents of each group are using bad arguments—usually in good faith—that show a misunderstanding of the Catholic obligation. I’d like to examine these arguments in the hope of exposing what we should be looking for in the search for the best course of action in a series of bad choices. Please keep in mind that this article is not about debunking one side of the debate. Rather it is about things I think get overlooked as Catholics grow more intense about the election.

The Importance of Respecting a Properly Formed Conscience

First, we must remember the primary role of conscience in a situation where there is more than one licit response to a bad situation. To put it into a syllogism:

  • We cannot do evil so good may come of it
  • Violating our properly formed conscience is doing evil
  • Therefore we cannot violate our properly formed conscience so good may come of it

From this, we can see that any debate between Catholics on how to vote must be aware of the conscience of the person one tries to persuade. If the person has misunderstood the teaching of the Church and has a conscience not properly formed, we can enlighten him on that error. But we cannot bully or accuse the other of being a bad Catholic simply because his conscience does not let him make the same decision you do. So, arguments made in this debate must recognize and respect conscience.

Defending Life is Key

Properly formed is a key term. We need to keep in mind is that the Church affirms that the right to life is the primary right, and we cannot sacrifice this to advance other topics. We can only justify a vote for an openly pro-abortion candidate if there is a more serious danger present. We can’t tally up a number of lesser points and say that the total outweighs abortion. We also can’t say that an openly pro-abortion candidate is “more pro-life” because of stands on other concerns (as some Catholics claimed in 2008). St. John Paul II made that clear:

[38] The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds 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.


 John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1988).

So, we can’t use arguments sacrificing the fight against abortion. That means conservatives hoping for a better candidate in 2020 and liberals thinking other social justice concerns outweigh abortion are both arguing wrongly. That doesn’t mean other issues are unimportant. We must challenge the candidates to address these other problems. But we cannot sacrifice the opposition to abortion in doing so.

As a first step: since the dispute is over the sincerity of one candidate’s claimed conversion on abortion, I believe we need to investigate here. But that means being open to evidence, even if it means we have to reevaluate what we hold. We need to seek and shape our opinions on what is true and apply Christian moral teaching to that truth. That’s simply part of living the Christian life.

Confusing Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils with Choosing to do Evil

This one is popular on Social Media. While phrased in varying ways, it goes like this: I’m not going to choose the lesser of two evils because it’s still choosing evil. That claim shows ignorance about what the lesser of two evils means and some go so far as accusing a person, who says they’re voting for the lesser evil, of violating Church teaching. That has to stop.

Catholic teaching recognizes choosing the lesser evil as discerning which choice will cause less harm when there are no good choices and one of those choices will happen even if one does not choose. At the same time, the Church forbids us from choosing an evil act even if it means less personal harm. That’s why we have to choose martyrdom over apostasy done in order to save our life. But at the same time, we’re not obliged to actively seek martyrdom. If evil will come regardless, we can strive to lessen the impact. St. John Paul II made this clear:

[73] 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.


 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995).

This is an example of seeking to limit evil when we cannot stop it outright. Many people view the 2016 election as another case of limiting evil when we cannot stop it. So long as the person has properly formed their conscience by the teaching of the Catholic Church and has not chosen to do something they believe to be evil, we cannot condemn them for ‘choosing evil.'

Personal Interpretation is not the same as Truth

I think the problem in these cases involves people confusing their personal interpretations about events with the facts of these events. Facts tell us happened. Interpretation tells us the meaning of these facts. But if we make a mistake in interpreting facts, we can reach false conclusions—even in good faith. To avoid this, we must constantly examine what we assume to see if it is true and compatible with our Catholic faith. If it turns out to be false, we must abandon it. Christianity neither condones useful lies nor vincible ignorance.

In this election many assume they have reached the only valid choice and, if they find another person who reaches a different decision, they assume either blindness to reality or bad will. But sometimes two Catholics can obey the Church and yet find two different ways on how to best apply that teaching. 

Conclusion: Charity in Debate

When these two Catholics meet, they can have strong feelings that their own view is the best way to do things. That  is not wrong behavior, so long as they are open to constantly seeking whether their political views are compatible with Church teaching. They can debate which of their views better fits Church teaching, but that debate must be charitable. Assuming that the other must be wrong in this case because he disagrees—especially if that assumption involves accusations of being a bad Catholic—is acting without charity.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Seriously, People? Reflections on Playing the Hypocrite

So, the other day, Fr. Rosica spoke about Catholic presence on the internet and how sometimes they turn “the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!” He’s mostly speaking of conservative Catholic bloggers as well as those who target his group, Salt + Light, so some might be cynical about the objectivity of the article. I’m not here to quibble about the group or its alleged political leanings. What I am here to write about is the rather bizarre sight of seeing on Facebook some Catholics share that post with approval and the next day turn around and savage people they dislike.

Seriously, people?

Now of course Catholics have to stand up for what is right, and sometimes this means taking a stand. We can't be silent and allow evil to triumph. But, we also have an obligation to practice charity towards our neighbor in doing so and we have an obligation to remove the beam from our eye before removing the splinter from our neighbor’s (see Matthew 7:3-5). In other words, if we support something when we apply it to our neighbors, but are blind to how it applies to ourselves, we’re hypocrites—and people will see our hypocrisy. The thing is, when they see our hypocrisy in living the Christian life, they won’t listen to what we say about the importance of them living the Christian life. If we don’t practice it, why should they?

That doesn’t mean false charges of hypocrisy like those people who cite Matthew 7:1 and claim we’re judging them by saying “X is wrong.” I mean real charges of hypocrisy like accusing someone of savaging the Pope and responding by savaging that person. If savaging is wrong for the modernist or the radical traditionalist, it’s wrong for us to savage them, even if we must rebuke them.

For example, we might take pride in never being disrespectful to a bishop. That is good. But do we show contempt for a politician or a fellow blogger instead? That is not good. We can oppose Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump when they do wrong. But if we openly treat them as enemies to vanquish, and not as fellow sinners to love, why should non-Christians believe us when we say we don’t hate people who have same sex attraction or have an abortion? How we treat the people we oppose will make a more immediate impact than the eloquent arguments we make defending the faith. Remember the words of St. John: “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God.” (1 John 4:20)

It’s hard. While I won’t dredge them up for this article (they involve real people who might not appreciate having their names or situations splattered across the internet), I have behaved in a way where my behavior in dealing with people I morally opposed had a greater impact than the words I wrote. I still take part in Facebook mocking of people who do things I find morally wrong and the defensiveness they probably feel alienates them from changing. We might win the battle of words but we don’t win the soul of the one we talk with.

Unfortunately, some people hear this and think it is a call to “sugarcoat” the truth so we don’t offend people. That’s not the case at all. Sometimes people will get offended regardless of what we say or do (see John 15:18-25). We can’t help that. But we can help it they’re offended by our unjust way of speaking. So let’s not think our presentation is a part of the Christian teaching. Yes, we do have to say “X is wrong.” Yes, we do need to stress the importance of avoiding X to save our soul. No, we can't say “You’re an evil bastard who deserves to go to hell because you do X."

I think this is especially important when people hate us and curse us for speaking the truth. Jesus said we had to bless those who curse us, not respond in kind. The modern social media has a bad tendency to turn vile. We’re called bigots and homophobes and transphobes (last week, I didn’t even know that one was a word—and suspect it wasn't) because we refuse to abandon our beliefs that some actions are morally wrong. But if they are going to accuse us of these things, then let us be innocent of the charges. And if we’re going to speak against the gross disrespect of the Pope by a blogger, let us not treat said blogger with gross disrespect in our response.

It may not change what they think of us. But at least we’ll then be innocent of the accusation of hypocrisy (1 Peter 2:19-20).

Friday, November 20, 2015

We Need to Address All Concerns: Thoughts on the Syrian Refugees and the Threat of Terror

After the Paris attacks, proposals for resettling Syrian refugees have become widely debated. On one side, we see people arguing that the risk of terrorist infiltration means we cannot allow anybody into our country, and asking why Muslim countries can’t take them in. On the other side, we see people arguing that we have an obligation to help these people regardless of those risks of infiltration. Unfortunately, these debates are polarizing and tend to demonize their opponents. Those who stress security portray the other side as advocating a blind throwing open of the doors. Those who advocate helping refugees portray the other side as “being afraid of widows and three year old orphans” or being the party of Herod (no lie. I actually saw a Catholic blogger make that charge).

This is actually the Either-Or fallacy which assumes the two extremes are the only possibilities and the position which is contrary to the support view is very bad. The fallacy overlooks the possibility that there can be three or more possible actions to take and that their opponents don’t actually hold the position attributed to them (the Straw man fallacy). Some of these debates can be quite uncharitable...

Rash judgment

Unfortunately, when it comes to considering the religious obligations in this issue, the tendency is to misuse the words of the Bible and Christian moral teaching to justify a view which has a political motivation. Facebook is covered with memes of people mocking Christians with security concerns by comparing that with the Nativity story of Sts. Joseph and Mary finding no room at the inn and implying that these Christians would have denied Jesus’ parents hospitality. On the other side, people are pulling up quotes from the Bible and from Theologians (out of context) to imply that the duty of security of a nation allows Our Lord’s words about charity to our neighbor to be set aside.

These debates fail to do something important—to find a way to help people in need without endangering others living in the country. In other words, searching out a third position that falls between the extremes.

Now Our Lord did have some strong things to say about caring for the people in need in both the Old and New Testament. Parables like the Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25:31-46) and the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) tell us about the dangers to our salvation by neglecting people in need. So we cannot try to explain away our moral obligation by selectively quoting theologians without being guilty of setting aside the Word of God in favor of the tradition of men (Mark 7:1-15). But in helping others, nations and groups do also have the obligation of insuring that people are protected from the predations of those who would misuse our hospitality to harm others.

So that brings us to the question of applying both obligations and seeing how we can help while avoiding harm to the people who live here. That means we have to consider the legitimate concerns of both giving aid and protecting the innocent. Now that is not always easy to determine. But we need to avoid thinking in terms of “All or Nothing."

For example, if it is determined that America is too much at risk to allow refugees to come here, that does not eliminate our obligation to help. Certainly as a nation and as individuals we would still have an obligation to see how we can help the refugees where they are, providing them aid and security from harm. But if it is determined we can take in refugees, our government has the obligation to protect the population from those who might slip in with the intention to do us harm.

Ultimately, we need to consider this. Christians who are stressing security must not do so in a way that makes Christians appear to be hypocrites in the eyes of the world. Christians who are stressing helping those in need must not appear to be reckless in terms of security. We must seek to carry out both the obligation to help those in need and to protect the innocent from harm. This is not an either-or situation. It is a both-and situation.

So, we need to stop the infighting and demonizing of those we disagree with. We need to find solutions and not just say that because we can’t find one, we’re not obligated to meet the needs of one of the two concerns. Let’s keep this in mind when we are prepared to debate this on the internet and tempted to demonize those we disagree with.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Intersection of Our Concerns With Truth and Charity

Catholics on Facebook and the Blogs seem to be at sixes and sevens over the state of the Church. On one hand, the Pope and the bishops are the successors to the Apostles and, as such, possess an office worthy of our love and respect when they teach. On the other hand, we have to deal with scandalous statements by some of these successors to the Apostles that seem to be appalling. The question we have to ask is: Where the line is to be drawn? How do we express our concerns without sinning against truth and charity? What makes things harder is the fact that some people, in expressing their concerns, seem to think scandalous behaviors by some justify an indictment against the whole Church.

So, we have an issue of discernment here. We want to reject the noxious weeds—whether scandalous statements by Cardinals Kasper and Daneels or scandalous statements by Catholic bloggers who reject the legitimate authority of the Church when they dislike it—without stifling legitimate petitions for redress. This discernment is one of recognizing where truth and charity intersect with our concerns. 

The issue of truth requires us to make sure that we say of what is, that it is and of what is not, that it is not (to borrow from Aristotle). But, before we can say “X is true” or “Y is false,” we have to actually know that “X is true” or “Y is false.” That’s where the problem arises. Often we tend to think that we know something, but that something is actually based on a false assumption. For example, we assume meanings to words that the speaker does not assume—because the meaning of the word has a broader meaning than the interpreter assumes. In such a case, we impute a negative meaning to the speaker and accuse him of holding that position. For example, the accusation that the Pope is a Marxist or a Liberation Theologian based on his critique of laissez faire capitalism is based on the assumption that his rhetoric has Marxist meanings. Likewise, the person who hears the Pope say “Who am I to judge” and creates out of thin air a claim that the Pope is “changing” the teaching on homosexuality. Quick research could have revealed the source of the quote—which makes that interpretation impossible.

In both cases, people assumed they knew what the Pope meant, solely based on the individual assumption on what the words mean. But truth requires us to go beyond our assumptions and find out if [What we think we know] = [The Truth]. If we do not search out the truth, we are most likely either skirting the edge of Rash Judgment or have already fallen over into outright calumny:

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

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

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

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

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

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

2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity. (1753)

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 594–595.

That brings us to scrutinizing our concerns with charity. Are we prepared to consider the possibility that a bishop isn’t acting out of bad will jut because his way of handling things isn’t the same as ours, and that we might think differently if we had his information? Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes there is no alternative interpretation possible. But when we reach that level (and remember our obligation to seek the truth requires us to ask whether our assumptions are true) then we have to correct with love. That is often neglected. How many people who rightly recognize that the Church is not a democracy, become quite “democratic” in dishing out abuse to the clergy they dislike? How many people actually consider St. Thomas Aquinas’ words:

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.


Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Tim. 5:1): An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father. Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii.), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church.


Reply Obj. 1. It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified by God’s condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark. (Summa Theologica STh., II-II q.33 a.4 resp.–ad 1)


 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne).

With all seriousness, where is this gentleness and respect? People are willing to insult a bishop or even the Pope with what St. Thomas Aquinas calls “Impudence and harshness,” never seeking to discover whether there might be misinterpretation by one’s personal reading or by the source one gets their information from.

That’s ultimately the problem. Whether it is a conservative Catholic who disagrees with the Pope, a liberal who disagrees with the bishop, (or, recently, the academic who wants to get Ross Douthat fired from his position), we find one of three problems:

  1. The attack lacks truth
  2. The attack lacks charity
  3. The attack lacks both truth and charity.

Whenever we feel the need to write about a problem with the Church, or a leader of the Church, we have the obligation to seek the truth, to be charitable in how we interact with those we disagree with and make sure we do respect those in authority when expressing our concerns. Otherwise, our behavior is not praiseworthy, but shameful. This is something we all need to practice—I’m sure some of my readers are looking at what I’ve written and are rolling their eyes over my own blind spots in this area. Yes, I have to work on this too."So let us show love and respect for the Pope and bishops when we are troubled with the behavior of some, and let us show love and respect for our fellow Catholics with whom we disagree with. Let us make sure that we seek out the truth and not merely the views of our preferred news sites. Let us show charity, and not disdain for those we disagree with.

Otherwise, we may find that the measure we used will be used against us (Matthew 7:2)