Showing posts with label conversion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conversion. Show all posts

Monday, September 19, 2022

Journey’s End. Journey’s Beginning.

Kismetta finally had come clean to her parents about wanting to become a Christian. Will she be able to resist the pressure against her? What consequences are there? And, since she is a minor, what will her parents (who have authority over her) decide?




























Post Comic notes: While the story is about Kismetta’s conversion, telling it through the perspective of her parents’ anguish was important to give the reader a sense of what she had to overcome. Yes, as Catholics, we know Kismetta made the correct choice. But converting to the Catholic faith is always painful when the family of the convert thinks that the choice is wrong. That pressure is why some fail to move forward with what they believe is right, and that is why we need to support them and pray for them.

Monday, September 12, 2022

It’s Iimi! Go to Jibril!

After finally accepting that Jesus is God, angering her mother, Kismetta tries to take the next steps, hoping it will be smooth sailing. But there are other things in play than she realizes. Meanwhile, her parents hope to find a way to divert what they see as blasphemy. What will happen when Kismetta follows the command to… Go to Jibril!


























Post Comic notes:

 

Jibril is the Arabic version of Gabriel… the Archangel. In Islam, he is claimed to be the one who gave Muhammad the Quran. So, it’s natural that Kismetta would think this is who was referred to in Issue 131. But if you look down at the bottom of the sign on the cover of this issue, you’ll see that perhaps, the meaning was a bit more down to earth.

Monday, September 5, 2022

It’s Iimi! There is Nothing Concealed That Will Not Be Revealed

After accepting that Jesus Christ is who Christians profess He is, Kismetta hopes to avoid strife by keeping this information from her family. But is she about to learn the truth of the words of the Gospel: There is Nothing Concealed That Will Not Be Revealed.





























Saturday, February 22, 2020

Catholic Teaching Must Come First

The primaries continue, and Catholics remain divided on who to support. As they argue on social media, many of them argue either that their candidate is morally superior or at least not as morally bad as the opposing party.

But because both major political parties in America promote things that the Catholic Church must condemn, we’re left with the tragedy of Catholics justifying themselves as paragons of virtue and condemning the other side as diabolical—when they are actually both guilty of what they denounce in others.

And God help the bishops when they teach Catholic moral obligations that a Catholic’s political party runs afoul of. They suddenly get labeled partisans for the other side. If somebody relied solely on the combined opinions of critics, the USCCB would be the first example of “right wing leftists” or vice versa.

The problem with this mindset is Catholics are putting their party first and the Church teaching second. That doesn’t mean that the individual Catholic openly rejects the Church teaching of course. Often it means that they think the issues their party is wrong about matters less than the matters they care about. Thus Catholic Democrats§ come up with excuses why we must set aside our concerns about abortion because of the evils Republicans support while Catholic Republicans argue that issues like social justice must be ignored because of the evils Democrats support.

Settling aside judging whether those Catholics maliciously support those evils they say are “less important” (that would involve violating Matthew 7:1), Catholics of both sides are overlooking the fact that we’re supposed to be opposing evils and striving to overcome them. They overlook this by dualistic thinking: as long as the other party supports Evil X, I have to endure the Evil Y supported by my party.

But our opposition to evil is not limited to those whose name is followed by a -D or an -R, and it’s not limited to the election cycle. Why don’t we see Catholic Democrats opposing their party stance on abortion in off years? Why don’t we see Catholic Republicans opposing their party on unjust immigration policies? Unfortunately, one of the answers is, Catholics don’t vote as a bloc. There’s very little difference between the Catholic vote and the national vote. So people who look at the “Catholic vote” to predict how the election goes is only a view of the country in miniature.

It shouldn’t be that way. I believe that, even if we—as Catholics—think we must vote for party X over party Y to oppose a greater evil, we have an obligation to oppose the evils within our party and try to change it. Maybe we’ll succeed. Maybe we’ll end up moving on to a minor party. But we can’t be silent because we’re afraid we’ll “hurt our party’s chances.”

Our task is to bring the world to Christ, and that includes converting our own political associations. If we want to do this, we must put the Church teaching first.

_______________

(§) To avoid accusations of partisanship, I will post the dichotomies of Democrat:Republican, left:right, and conservative:liberal in alphabetical order.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Avoiding the Apostolate of the Outraged

Introduction

I saw a blog attempting to create a Screwtape Letter about these times. It started well, talking about one of the temptations facing our nation. But as it went on, it became apparent that the author (perhaps not intending it) was writing against a politician he or she obviously disliked. The post began attacking Catholics who supported this politician as being guilty of the same temptation and of betraying their faith. There was no attempt to consider other motives for this support, nor any attempt to distinguish between enthusiastic support and reluctant support. It was simply assumed that this politician’s supporters either supported bad policies or did not care about them.

Lest people think I said this because I support this politician (I don’t), I see people on the other side making the same rash judgments. If we don’t support this politician, it means we either support or don’t care about the evils from the other side.

As Catholics fight over this, I see some underlying assumptions:

  1. The belief that only their own preference is right
  2. The belief that those who disagree support the perceived opposite view
  3. The belief that those who disagree must also act out of malice or culpable ignorance

Holding these assumptions can lead to self-righteous outrage. People who hold them not only think their opponents wrong, but also think them morally bad for reaching a different conclusion. However, even if the first assumption is true (the point to be proven), it does not make the second and third assumption true. Those points are rashly assumed because a person is offended others disagree with the way he or she sees it.

Not only a Political Issue, But Hostility over Disagreement

This isn’t just a product of the 2016 elections. This involves any issue where there is a dispute over the morality of an action. For example, when it comes to the decisions of the Pope and bishops in communion with him, some people who assume their own position is right assume culpable wrongdoing or ignorance on the part of the Holy Father. But the whole point to be proven is whether the critic’s position is right in the first place. Everything argued over motive for why a person is “wrong” is a bulverism unless they first proves the person is wrong.

But proving that a person is wrong is the step people don’t take. Some Catholics assume that anybody who voted for Trump knowingly chose to betray the Catholic faith. Some Catholics assume that the Pope’s calling for an investigation into individual culpability is a knowing choice to support divorce/remarriage. In both cases, Catholics think there is only one possible way to apply Catholic teaching, and to reject that particular application is to reject the Catholic faith.

Such arguments start with the fact that some Catholics do support things incompatible with Catholic teaching. The Catholic who supports abortion “rights” or torture is wrong. The Catholic who believes a valid marriage can be broken is wrong. However, just because some Catholics hold positions incompatible with our teaching, it does not mean all do…

Some forget the difference and assume some = all

It is wrong to assume, from the fact that some Catholics act faithlessly, that all Catholics who disagree with our preferred position must act faithlessly. We need to investigate what the person actually holds and see if it is actually wrong. If it is wrong, we need to ask whether the person intends to oppose the Church or not, and what the circumstances are that lead to their position. When we do so, we will often find that the person accepts the Church teaching but disagrees with a certain policy on how to apply it.

If the policy is not the only valid way of following Church teaching, and the person is not trying to evade Church teaching in opposing a policy, we cannot accuse them of willfully rejecting the Church teaching because their politics are different. For example, to accuse a Catholic of “not really being pro-life” on the grounds that they doubt that a certain government policy will actually help defend life is unjust. But, if they merely give lip service to Church teaching while supporting actions that oppose the Catholic teaching, an accusation might be just. That’s what we must discern, and not assume.

Rash Judgment

We must ask what a person did, what their intentions were, and what the circumstances were that led to the decision. All three must be good to have a good act. But we cannot assume that if one or more were bad that the result is a mortally sinful decision to reject the Church. We need to accept the possibility that we have overlooked other legitimate ways to follow Church teaching, that we misread the person’s intention, or that we were ignorant of circumstances in a person’s life. These factors can lead us to assume guilt where there is not, or mortal sin where it is venial. When we do this, we run afoul of Matthew 7:1, where we’re warned against judging. It’s not opposing evil that is judging in this sense. It’s assuming bad will. It’s taking a “guilty until proven innocent” view of anything that seems “off” to us.

But the Church forbids that attitude. In the Catechism, she writes:

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.
 

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

If we assume an evil act or an evil intention when there is none, we act unjustly.

Who Determines?

When it comes to determining what actions are incompatible with the teaching of Our Lord, we must accept the authority of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. When a Catholic decides his personal reading of Church documents supersedes the magisterium, this is a rejection of authority. When a Catholic decides his confessor has no right to say X is wrong, this is a rejection of authority. That is incredibly dangerous when we realize what Our Lord said about rejecting the authority of the Church:

16 Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16).

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:17).

The person who refuses to listen to the Church will be judged. God is not mocked by those who feign obedience and act against His will. But we are not to assume that a political disagreement is a sign of feigned obedience. The person who knows his position is against Church teaching but justifies it by appealing to a “higher authority” (previous Church teaching, or perhaps rejecting all Church teaching while claiming to do so as being “faithful” to Jesus) does serious wrong. The person who acts against Church teaching out of ignorance or lacking the ability to give full consent (habitual sin formed out of ignorance) does wrong, but culpability is less.

Our Task

While we must oppose sin, we are not called to do so as some modern day crusader, fighting infidels and vanquishing them. Our task is emulating the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep to bring them back. This requires an attitude of gentleness and patience. If we think something is wrong, we must make certain we properly understand both the Church teaching and what the person intends. If we find that the person has not chosen an intrinsic evil, we must not accuse him of doing so. If the person has done wrong, but not done so out of willful rejection of the Church, we must not treat him as acting that way. 

Even if the person has done wrong, we cannot act in a way which will drive the person away from repentance. If, through our actions, we get them so angry that they think our unjust behavior is Christianity so they want nothing to do with it, we have failed in our mission. Yes some will get angry because we say, “X is a sin,” when they are attached to that sin. Some will reject us regardless of how we act. Obviously we can’t help that.

But we can help how we behave. If we’re so outraged at something we dislike that we treat the other person as an enemy to be vanquished instead of a person to be loved, we do wrong, even if we desire to defend Our Lord’s teachings. Let us remember this when we disagree with each other.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Now is the Time! Picking Up the Pieces From a Divided Election

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

—Francis Cardinal George

Let’s Imagine the worst [*] has happened. The candidate you despise the most has been elected President and now you have to face 4-8 years of a ruler who will use the powers of their office for evil. In such a time, it’s pointless to point fingers over how it should have gone and who’s to blame.  Yes, some fellow Catholics did play the role of Judas by putting their political preferences first and supported a candidate whose positions the Church calls evil. No, we can’t condone that. It’s a sign that many in the Church need to be re-evangelized. But regardless of how they voted, we have to pick up the pieces all the same.

Now, stop imagining. Regardless of how the election goes, there is a lot of partisan and unjust behavior Catholics have directed against each other—even when they’re striving to be faithful Catholics. We have to realize  that these other faithful Catholics were not our enemies when their properly formed consciences led them to a conclusion different from ours [†]. In an election with no good choices, there was bound to be disagreements on what the best Christian witness should be.

We’ll also have to repent over the times when we failed to do the Christian thing. Whether one voted against the teaching of the Church,  whether one rashly judged or calumniated a candidate or group of voters they disagreed with, whether one gave scandal by tolerating evils in their candidate they would not tolerate in an opponent, or whether one behaved like Pharisees, believing in their own righteousness and looking down on others who disagreed as morally bad because they disagreed, there is a lot of fallout over the insults and unjust accusations that American Catholics have hurled against each other.

Now, not after the election, is the time to start clearing up the damage to our souls and our relationships with others. Now is the time to start clearing up the damage that keeps us from witnessing to the Kingdom of God. Now is the time to recommit ourselves to being Catholics first and prepare to defend the faith from the wrongdoing our next President will bring.

Those opposed to the next President will be tempted to reject anything he or she does, even if it is compatible with our beliefs. Those who supported our next President will be tempted to ignore or downplay the evil he or she does. Both attitudes are wrong. When the next President does real good compatible with our faith, we should support it, and when he or she doesn’t, we must oppose it and work to limit it.

We’ll have to stop treating the bishops as enemies of the faith because they took a stand against the evils of a candidate. We’ll have to realize that trying to cite our Catholic teaching selectively to make a bad candidate seem good was a corruption of the Faith.

The point is, over the next 4-8 years, Catholics will have to forgive and seek forgiveness over the wrongs suffered and inflicted. We’ll have to set aside the blame and work together as Catholics to convert society as Our Lord commanded. So why not start picking up the pieces now? Why not start forgiving and seeking forgiveness now? Why not start affirming our Catholic faith regardless of how it affects our preferred candidate now?

Perhaps it’s because of our pride?

The Christian path requires us to live as Our Lord taught, even if it costs us. Yes, at times we may have to suffer an unwanted evil (double effect) in trying to do good. But we can never treat that evil as inconsequential. Under double effect, such an evil is something we would avoid if at all possible and must be less than the desired good. It’s not wrong to want to avoid suffering and hardship. But it is wrong to sacrifice our conscience, beliefs and moral obligations to do so .

So let’s stop tearing into each other because we disagree in matters where the Church allows prudential judgment. Let’s also show mercy to those who do wrong (it is still the Year of Mercy after all). Yes, we must correct others who are in error, but we must do so in charity—not by being so harsh that we cause people to reject what is true because of how we present it.

No, it’s not going to be easy. As I write this, I reflect on my own behavior. There have been times when I have been rude or sarcastic or even judgmental of others who were properly applying prudential judgment according to the teaching of the Church. I regret that. It hurt feelings and didn’t help preach the Kingdom. Each one of us will have to prayerfully seek out how to change. But we must all seek change and turn back to God in the areas we failed.

We should not wait until November 9 (the day after the elections), or January 20, 2017, (Inauguration Day) to start picking up the pieces and healing relationships with God, the Church and each other. We should start now.

_________________________

[*] Relatively speaking. I’m sure believers from other parts of the world wish they could have a “worst” like ours.

[†] That means they didn’t vote against the Church teaching. Unfortunately some think that means “You must vote this way!”

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Catholics and Political Debate

Introduction

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, July 23, 2015

Forgetting the Inconvenient Parts of Scripture

Some of the common attacks against the Christian moral teaching involve the attempt to negate or evade the parts of Scripture that are disliked. For example, the teaching on homosexuality involves people trying to negate it on the grounds of other teachings--Leviticus is denied on the grounds that the Church doesn't oblige people to keep the dietary codes also listed there. St. Paul's epistles are denied on the grounds that people don't like what he had to say about the role of women. In other words, such attacks take the "all or nothing" view, saying that if one wants to insist on the moral obligations of Scripture, they have to take the rest of the demands as binding as well.

I am certain that such people believe that they have created a reductio ad absurdum to confound the Christian. In their eyes, they believe they have created the perfect foil: Either the Christian is forced to adopt other rules of behavior they find repellant or they will be forced to admit that others have the right to pick and choose as well. 

The problem with such an argument is that it assumes that all Christians are sola scriptura literalists who have the Bible as their sole rule of faith and assume everything must be given equal weight. Such Christians do exist, but it would be a mistake to assume that all Christians hold such a view. It would also be a mistake to assume that Christian moral teaching was invented out of this way of reading the Bible.

The fact of the matter is, Christian moral teaching comes from several sources. The Catholic Church, for example, believes that the Word of God comes from both the words of Scripture and the Sacred Tradition (which we deny is the same as the human tradition Our Lord denounced in (reference). We believe that the Church established by Our Lord has been given the authority and the responsibility to assess whether an action is in keeping with the Word of God. But the Church is the servant to the Word of God, and does not have the authority to go against what God commanded. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:

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

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

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

Once one recognizes this, we have to ask some questions:

  1. What exactly is the teaching? (As opposed to what someone might think it is)
  2. Why does the Church teach what she does?

In other words, before a person understands what the teaching is, and why it exists, a person is making an ignorant assumption in attacking it.  GK Chesterton wrote once, in the article, The Drift from Domesticity:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." 

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

His point is a good one. Not understanding why some teaching exists is not a valid reason for overturning it. If one wants to overturn something, that person has the obligation to understand why it exists and whether it might still remain valid after all once understood. That doesn't happen however. Instead, the modern world assumes that because they are not aware of a reason to justify a teaching, it does not exist (the argument from ignorance fallacy) and the only reasons to hold to such a teaching is hidebound ignorance and intolerance. Both of these are charges we would deny.

The fact of the matter is we oppose behaviors which go against our moral beliefs because we hold that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship which is open to the possibility of fertility and the mutual support of the spouses. Behaviors which violate this design: adultery, fornication, homosexuality, masturbation (I'll leave out the more repellant behaviors that most people already recognize as wrong and, when mentioned, invariably bring up the accusation that we are equating the disputed behavior with) are condemned—not because the teachings were made up by cranky old celibates who were suffering from an "ick factor" (a common straw man fallacy)—but because those behaviors violate in one way or another what marriage was designed to be.

Now, yes, in the earlier years of Hebrew history, we did see things like polygamy seen as normal. Just like we did see all sorts of other behaviors mentioned which cause us to raise our eyebrows today. But one needs to understand the concept of divine accommodation. The problem people have is they assume that the world was an enlightened place until the Jews (and later, Christians) showed up with their "barbaric" laws and started slaughtering people willy-nilly who didn't happen to agree. It's a common view, but dead wrong.

The fact of the matter is, if you understand the behavior of the times, the culture of the region was extremely brutal. Mass extermination of an entire population in a city, rape and enslavement of captive women etc., were widely practiced. When you look at the other cultures of the region, it becomes clear that the teachings God gave to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were not opening the floodgates to a psychotic people. They were putting restrictions on the Jews that set them apart from the barbarism of other cultures. They did not have the permission to commit genocide. They were sent to drive out those practices which were incompatible with serving God.

For example, those cities mentioned in the Bible as being "put under the ban," (herem) were guilty of practices we don't even tolerate today (though Planned Parenthood seems to be moving in that direction) such as the human sacrifice of children. The fact of the matter is, the Law of Moses made the ancient Israelites far less barbaric than their neighbors. But people who are ignorant of this fact assume the exact opposite. 

Divine Accommodation is the term used to describe how God picked out the descendants of one chosen man (Abraham), set them aside to be His holy people and moved them away, gradually, from the practices they shared with their neighbors, first by putting restrictions on them and then by forbidding them. The Law was not intended to be the final state of the Israelites, but a preparation for Christ.

Unfortunately, people today assume that Jesus was some sort of a teacher who said "Be excellent to each other," and wanted us to be nice to each other and never say that something is morally wrong. People who say that actions are wrong and that hell is the ultimate result of choosing to refuse to obey God are accused of "judging others" contrary to Matthew 7:1 and that hell is contrary to the idea of God being love as expressed in 1 John 4:8.

But such views ignore the fact that Jesus was the one who warned us about hell in the first place. Think about it. If Jesus warned us about hell and died to prevent us from going there, isn't the possibility of going there something to be avoided at all costs? Jesus thought so. Remember He once told us:

If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna. (Matthew 18:8-9)

So why are we going so out of our way to pretend that the warnings of the Bible to do good and reject evil are something we can ignore? Why do we pretend that "God is love" means there is no hell when it is clear that He meant it in the sense of God desires to save us from hell? Why do we pretend that God changed things from "X is a sin" to "X is OK" just because the thought that X is no longer a sin is pleasing to us (see Peter Kreeft’s thoughts on the attitude here).

But people who do that forget that Jesus called us to take up our Cross and follow Him. The “be nice to each other” smiley face Jesus is someone who the world would not hate, and followers of smiley face Jesus would not be hated. But Jesus told us:

18 “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 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. 20 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. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name,* because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law* might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’

In short the smiley face Jesus is a counterfeit who has nothing in common with the Jesus who spoke against sin and warned us against hell and was willing to die to make it possible for us to be saved. We should keep this in mind and remember the teachings of Jesus that speak about our need to repent, turning away from evil and towards Him.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Because Sin Is Real: The Truth America Forgot

If you read the works of the saints, or their biographies, you can see that they were aware of a truth that America has forgotten—sin is real and it alienates us from God. Instead, America (or, rather the whole of Western civilization) has a bad habit of presuming that God “doesn’t care” about the action we do that falls under the category of sin. As a result, we have an understanding about sin that is both self-contradictory and has nothing to do with the reality:

  • When others do something we dislike, we have no qualms about acknowledging it as a sin.
  • When we do something that is a sin, we refuse to acknowledge it as a sin and call it an arbitrary decision made by human beings that doesn’t matter to God.

In other words, while people are perfectly willing to denounce others, the fact is that, instead of thinking rationally about the good or evil of our actions we contemplate doing, we rationalize the things we already do to avoid thinking about whether they are good or evil or rationalize a reason not to do what we ought to do.

This mindset actually convicts the person before God—because we call the actions of others “sin” or “wrongdoing,” we acknowledge that there is a good which must be lived and an evil which must be avoided. But because we refuse to apply this knowledge to ourselves, we show ourselves to be hypocrites and evildoers.

When we think of it this way, the proper way to interpret Matthew 7:1-5 suddenly becomes a whole lot clearer:

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

If we refuse to acknowledge our own sinfulness, we become unfit guides for helping others avoid sin—having that beam in the eye. Unfortunately, because everyone seems to think that sin is affiliated with those we disagree with, but not ourselves, that is in essence a refusal to repent. If we get angry at the Church for saying that it is sinful to commit fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, contraception, abortion, etc., and claiming it is not a sin to do these things then, by refusing to stop doing them, we show to God our refusal to repent and turn back to Him.

In other words, the sin of the pharisee is not limited to the religious zealot. It is committed by every person who refuses to say ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13b).

Unfortunately, people like to misinterpret Matthew 7:1-5 to mean that any person who says “X is a sin” is disobeying Jesus. But if that were a true interpretation, then it would certainly be disobeying Jesus to accuse them of being judgmental. But anyone who takes the time to read Chapter 7 of Matthew can see that Jesus certainly does not forbid us to say that actions are evil. In fact, near the end of the chapter, Jesus also says:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,* but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Luke 7:21-23)

Indeed, elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 18:15-17), Jesus tells us about admonishing sinners:

15 “If your brother* sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. 16  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.* If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

These teachings of Jesus show that “Don’t say X is a sin” is a false interpretation. In fact, if we love Christ, we keep His commandments (Luke 14:15) and if we reject the Apostles and their successors we reject Him and His Father (Luke 10:16). That is a message which is widely forgotten today by a people which thinks that the only moral obligation is being nice to those we think deserve our being nice to.

Our nation has forgotten the reality of sin as something that rejects God and harms our neighbor. In replacing it with “be nice to each other,” it has perverted the Christian message to the point that it accuses actual Christians of behaving in an “unchristian” manner. Not for bad behavior (which unfortunately does exist among who profess a belief in Christ) but for following their faith and saying “X is wrong!"

Until America recognizes the difference between rejecting evil and actual intolerance it will continue to justify evil while praising itself for “being nice."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Taking A Hard Look At Ourselves: Chapter VI of Laudato Si

The Pharisees Question Jesus

Introduction

One of the things that strike me about Our Lord’s interactions with the Pharisees is that the Pharisees clearly believed they were living God’s Law as He wanted the Jews to live it. So when Jesus began pointing out how they were missing the point on some crucial areas and putting emphasis on things that were less important (“straining the gnat and swallowing the camel”), they resented it. The fact that Jesus was telling them that they too needed to repent offended them. Indeed, Our Lord was seen as dangerous in their eyes and a threat to their comfortable view on what was right and wrong with the world.

The Church tends to get treated the same way as Our Lord does (which He warned us about). The Pope teaches on a topic which threatens our comfortable ideas on what is wrong in the world, and suddenly we get offended. We accuse him of being ignorant, or of being political or of being heretical. But when we consider what the Pope is supposed to do (shepherd the Church as the vicar of Christ), we should be considering whether we are blind to faults that interfere with our relationship with God.

That brings us to today’s discussion on the encyclical. 

Considering Where We Are and Where We Should Be

The Pope starts Chapter VI by stating that human beings need to change (¶202). We are unaware of our common origin, mutual belonging and shared future, and we have to become aware of them if we are going to face the changes in life. Basically, this is an application of metanoia—changing direction and repenting of our past wrongs and turning back to God again.

The problem (which St. John Paul II called the “Culture of Death”) in the eyes of the Pope is a focus on consumerism and the equating of freedom with the freedom to consume (¶203). As he puts it:

When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears. As these attitudes become more widespread, social norms are respected only to the extent that they do not clash with personal needs. So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction. (¶204)

However, he does not stop with the negative, as if we were totally depraved and could not do otherwise. He says we are capable of rising above these behaviors with the help of God-given abilities. In doing so, we can consider what changes we need to make to our lifestyle and how that can impact the world. He reminds us of the successes of boycotts in the secular world as an example of effecting a moral change, and says we can do the same with the moral issues in relationship to the environment (¶206).

He also calls for environmental education, which makes a lot of sense. We tend to use ideological preferences as a substitute for informing ourselves. We have two factions (I leave for others to decide what percentage they make of the whole) who assume that the other side is based on politically motivated bad will. Such education needs (¶211) to help instill good habits at the basic level for individuals. Basically we need to ask ourselves whether we could change our behaviors in such a way which leads us to be the good stewards of creation that God calls us to be.

He then gets into the role of Christians in ecological education. It’s important to keep chapter II in mind here, because the Pope stressed there the fact that God created everything and saw it was good. He makes a good point that seems to bring hope to the faithful (or, at least those who did more than selectively read chapters I and V):

217. “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast”.[152] For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.

In other words, even committed Christians can be misled into rejecting the concerns of the environment. That’s understandable. In my 20s, environmentalism, when it was considered at all, was considered part of the whole “New Age” “Gaia” concept of Pantheism. The only part of St. Francis that we ever saw was the rather goofy Brother Sun, Sister Moon. So, yes, we were skeptical. But actually we were guilty of the argument from ignorance fallacy—we assumed that because we never saw any orthodox discussion about the environment, that it didn’t exist. But it does exist, as Pope Francis and his predecessors have pointed out—indeed it was Benedict XVI who first persuaded me that we had to consider moral implications as to how we treated the environment.

He points out that an attitude of repentance involves considering all of our “our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change” (¶218). Logically that includes our abuse of God’s creation. But it’s not enough to do individual actions—individuals who feel alone can be crushed (see ¶219). It takes communities to make a stand that can be effective. 

He then describes the kind of conversion we need to have:

220. This conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness. First, it entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4). It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1). We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.

In other words, we need to apply to our stewardship for God’s creation the same things we are called to apply in the rest of our life. Moderation, being grateful for what we have, overcoming materialism with the attitude of “less is more.” (¶222) If you think this sounds like liberalism, I strongly advise you to pick up the old Lives of the Saints by Alban Butler and read about how the saints—even those who were kings and queens—carried out this mindset. The Pope also urges people to get back in the habit of saying grace before and after meals (¶227) because it reminds us of the blessings God has given us in life, reminding us of our dependence on Him and being grateful for what we have been given.

He also reminds us of the fact that love has civic and political impact (¶231) in working to build a better world out of love for God and neighbor. Finally, he points to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist:

236. It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”.[166] The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation.

Conclusion

Laudato Si is not a climate change document. It is a document about the stewardship God has given us over the Earth. Such a stewardship is not a license to use or abuse the world in whatever way benefits us. Ultimately, we are called to love God and love what He has created. That’s obvious when it comes to our fellow human beings—or rather, it used to be obvious. But ultimately, we in the industrialized world have become utilitarian and look at the Earth, each other, and even God in the sense of “how can this benefit me?"

Pope Francis reminds us that our first approach is love of God. Out of love for Him, we love our brothers and sisters and do not do things which cause them harm. Also out of love for Him, we show gratitude for the world He has made and use it responsibly. When our actions break one or more of these obligations, we have turned away from God and towards sin. Hence, the Pope calls us to turn back to God—in all areas of our life.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

TFTD: My Moment of Conversion on Abortion...and Other Things

Cvggo conv2

Way back in my early 20s, I was very ignorant about by faith. My morality was based on a very partisan hyper-patriotism instead of right and wrong (I even supported the concept of the ends justify the means—a concept I condemn today). It was the 1980s, and things like supporting a strong national defense, while opposing communism seemed important. Things like abortion seemed to be a small issue. Yeah, I had a vague sense it was wrong and I was never pro-abortion, but if you pressed me on it, I probably would have rather compromised on that than on the Strategic Defense Initiative. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I tell this to show what I changed from.

I recall my moment of conversion well. It was 1989. My habit in my undergraduate years was to spend a lot of time reading newspapers and magazines to see what the political trends were (while I have a Masters in theology, my BA was actually in International Relations). In reading one article in Time magazine, I came across a discussion on late term abortion and how some abortionists would kill the baby aborted alive through what the article euphemistically called “aggressive neglect."

That sickened me. As muddled as I was in my thinking on abortion, I could realize that once the baby was outside of the mother, that was murder. I believe that God used that moment to reach me, because I realized: If the baby was alive outside of the mother, it would have to be alive inside the mother before birth, (I was still thinking of the unborn baby as an it instead of a he/she) and abortion must be condemned as long as the fetus is alive.

That’s when I believe God asked me a question—How far back was the baby alive before being born? 

I realized I did not know, and because I did not know, I could not in good conscience tolerate abortion at any time. It was better to err on the side of caution and never support abortion than to risk murdering a human being.

The moment of conversion on abortion was a sort of mental Road to Damascus moment for me, showing me that what I thought was right and what was right were often two different things. It was the beginning in thinking of things as God was calling us to consider. It was a long road. In the 26 years since that day, I grew in understanding of the issues of life, recognizing that the Church teaching needed to be followed because what she taught was true. Life begins at the moment of conception, and the right to life was the fundamental right. In embracing the Church teaching on abortion, I was gradually able to learn about and reject my flawed concepts of morality and see the Church as mother and teacher. In short I learned to trust the Church over myself when I felt a conflict.

I reflect on this on the 42nd Annual March for Life. God was merciful to me to provide me with a moment of conversion. I pray that He may provide the same to others who are as muddled in their thinking as I was.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

WIN Over? Or Win OVER?

The current culture war is certainly getting grim. We have a growing part of the population going along with the Orwellian notion of thougtcrime, believing that those people holding views which run afoul of the views of the current elite can be punished for having these views, if there is any evidence that you hold them.

In this cultural war, this elite is not satisfied with having vice tolerated. No, now it is expected that these vices are to be held as true. Those who refuse to accept these views can expect to suffer consequences, with the persecutors justifying their behavior by saying in essence: "Free Speech just means we can't jail you. We can do pretty much anything else."

This is the battle of WIN over (defeat) vs. Win OVER (convert).

WIN Over

On the side of the current elite, we have the position of WIN over. Either their opponents accept the preferences of the elite, be silent or be sorry. The existence of opposition is a threat which cannot be tolerated... which is ironic, given the fact that they began by championing "tolerance."

The results of such thinking is obvious in America today. The Contraception Mandate. The lawsuits against people who will not let their business participate in a so-called "gay marriage." Anyone who challenges the views favored by the elites will regret it. There will be no refuge under the law. The law will be used to enshrine the preferences of the elite.

Win OVER

In light of this hostility, it's natural to want revenge. Why doesn't God punish these people? Why doesn't Pope Francis just issue a scathing condemnation of these miscreants who favor these evils?

I believe that is because the Pope wants to Win OVER (convert) the people who hate us. Peter Kreeft once said (I'm paraphrasing here) that our enemies are demons. The people out there, even those who hate and harm us, are our patients.

The condemnation of sinners is not what God wants, but that doesn't mean our only choice is accepting the evil done. As God says in Ezekiel 33:11, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live."

This means that even when we must oppose the evil that they do, we must show our love for them, showing them that we do not act out of hatred but out of love.

They may refuse to accept us and may attack us when we take a stand in public. While we cannot be blamed for their obstinacy (which is out of our control), we will be judged for making the Christian message odious.

As hard as it may seem, our task is not to WIN over (defeat), but to win OVER (convert) the abortionists, the people with same sex attraction disorder and the rest. Since God wants the salvation of the sinner, and not his damnation, and since He has tasked us to bring His message, let us remember our obligation before God.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Loving Christ Requires Change

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “It's ok to go on living as you did before. Just be nice to people and don't make judgments on whether behavior is right or wrong." Then he led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are being victimized by your intolerance."

As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Matthew went back to collecting taxes. Peter and Andrew went back to fishing. The woman caught in adultery went back to her lover, telling the Pharisees not to push their morality on her. The Samaritan woman moved back in with the guy she was living with, working on making him husband number six. It was all okay because all that Jesus wanted was for us to be nice to each other and not judge.

--The Gospel according to... absolutely NOBODY.

The above passage is of course a perversion of Matthew 28, John 20 and Luke 24. It runs entirely against what Jesus actually said. But this is the Jesus the modern world seems to think exists. The world takes two passages from the Bible: Matthew 7:1-5 ("Judge not") and 1 John 4:8 ("God is love") and uses them to justify their own behavior, rejecting the concept that they are sinners who need to respond to God's love and gift of grace.

Thus, when the Church speaks about the moral obligations that come from God's love, like John 14:15 ("If you love me, you will keep my commandments"), the response is to condemn the Church for being judgmental, homophobic, anti-woman... basically to accuse the Church of being in opposition to Christ.

That's a mindset that puts souls at risk of eternal damnation. Jesus didn't come to tell people "be nice to each other." He came to save us from our sins.

But that action tells us a couple of things:
■ There are actions we do that are sins.
■ We are to respond to this by amending our lives, turning from evil and seeking to live as God commands (both with the seeking and depending on His grace).

Indeed, the modern world makes a mockery of His actions when they reduce His teaching to the Wiccan  'An it harm none, do what ye will.' It presumes other people are the problem because WE don't harm anybody (at least not anyone that matters), but THEY are trying to keep us from doing what we want.

But Jesus wasn't a "nice guy." He spoke very clearly about sin and Hell and the need to repent. Salvation comes to the penitent who knows his sin and is sorry for it. Not to the arrogant who believe they have nothing to be sorry for (Luke 18:9-14).

The arrogant aren't only the Pharisees. They can be found wherever the person refuses to consider his or her own behavior as being in conflict with God.

Think about it...