Thursday, October 15, 2009

RSV Bible Concordance Review

Title: Catholic Bible Concordance: Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition
Author: Compiled by C.W. Lyons with Thomas Deliduka
Publisher: Emmaus Road
Copyright Date: 2008

After initially writing a positive review of this book, I discovered that there was a significant section missing. On page 286 it jumps from "Chief" to "Commandments." That means the book is missing some fairly important words, including "Church" and "Children." A few examples of these word appear in the Appendix on page 2142, but these are just the instances unique to the Second Edition of the RSV-CE.

Since posting this review, I have been contacted by Emmaus Road, and informed that they are fixing the problem. For more information read the Addendum after the "Original Review" below.
Original Review:

This book is a perfect example of a concordance, so if you want a Catholic Bible concordance, buy this book. It is laid out well, and is an attractive reference book.

The only question is, do you want a Catholic concordance? This is, I suppose, two questions: Do you want you concordance to be Catholic? And do you want a concordance?

First, if you are Catholic, and you want a concordance, you should buy an RSV-CE Bible, and then buy this book, because a Protestant concordance will most likely be missing the deuterocanonical books.

Now, do you want a concordance? I will explain exactly what this book contains, and then you can decide for yourself if a concordance would be of use to you.

Put simply, this is an exhaustive index for the Bible. It lists every noun, adjective, verb and adverb in the Bible. For each word it gives you every chapter and verse where the word is used, and it gives you the immediate context.

I'll give you a sample entry:

Prov 20:8 the throne of judgement W all evil with his
20:26 A wise king W the wicked, and drives the

Pros: The book is beautifully laid out, comprehensive, and is an all-around high quality production. It makes the Bible quite a bit easier to search and to reference. If you want a Catholic Bible Concordance, this is pretty much your only current option, but it's good enough that you don't need another. If you can use a dictionary, you can use this book.

Cons: This book requires that you have some knowledge of the scriptures before you'll even know where to look (though playing around with this book and your Bible might be a good way to familiarize yourself with the scriptures). It can be difficult to think of all the words that might address the topic you're looking up. If you aren't familiar with the RSV-CE translation, you might run into some issues with knowing what exact words will be used in the verse you're looking for. This book is also a bit redundant for anyone who knows a website that lets you search through Bibles. I do want to point out, however, that these aren't flaws with the book itself, just issues which might make concordances in general less useful for some people.

Conclusion: I recommend this book for all who are interested. It only does one thing, but that's all it's supposed to do, and it does it well.
New Addendum: I have just been informed that the problem I discovered is in the process of being remedied. For those who bought a book with the error, Emmaus Road will be providing an insert with the missing section. It sounds like the unsold books will be having the error fixed by some other method. So, it's up to you, if you don't mind having an insert, don't worry about which copy you buy, but if you want a book that comes in one piece, you might want to check the book you're buying before the purchase. You can find out more at

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On Life

A quick quote, from a letter Cardinal Ratzinger sent American Bishops in 2004:
"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
Well, there you have it. We have been clearly told what our priorities should be in building a culture of life. We cannot pretend that all issues have equal weight, though we must of course seek to respect human life in all circumstances.

Monday, August 31, 2009

As Stewards of God's Gifts

I wrote the following as a comment on another comment on an article about the opposition between Socialism and Christianity. This is something I have pondered off and on, though my knowledge of economics is pretty limited, so I don't tend to take too strong a position on these matters.

This is one area where I think it may be right to behave one way in the political realm and another in the personal realm (though the law should support, rather than discourage the personal behavior).

Generally, I think it is best to vote like a capitalist, work like a capitalist, and live like a communist (by sharing what he has, not by thinking like an anti-Christian Marxist).

What I mean is that a free market is simply the most effective economic system, though it should be restrained by some degree of law, to avoid dangerous work conditions, for example.

But also, as Christians we must recognize that our wealth is given to us by God, not simply for our own good, but for the glory of God. Our wealth should thus be freely given to support the Church and to support the "widow and the orphan."

Of course, since it is to us that God has given the stewardship of these goods, it should be up to us how we use them, and it is not wrong to consider them our private property. We do have rights over what we have been given. But as stewards, we cannot imagine these gifts as being solely for our own pleasure.

God gives us graces so that we might pass them on. Then God will reward us with more abundant graces, though not necessarily of the same kind as those we passed on.

Now, this is one of those times when my advice is hard for me to follow, but with God, anything is possible. I must repeatedly remind myself:

"What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world..."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The "Question of Coercion"

I recently came across this challenge to the faith in an Amazon book review:
My belief in God, if not out of love or a want to establish a relationship with God, would be based on nothing more than coercion:

I want a pleasing and pain-free after life; I want to be as happy in the after-life as I am with life, but I don't have or have a desire for a relationship with God; therefore, I may be cast to hell (which, according to this book, I've created). If I want to be happy in the after-life, I need to establish a relationship with God. I don't want a relationship with God either because I don't believe one can exist or I don't believe a relationship with God is beneficial for either participant; however, I want to avoid discomfort and joylessness. I'll establish a relationship with God so I do not experience pain or joylessness.

Unless I missed it, Tim doesn't address this, and I think it's quite possibly the most difficult obstacle for any organized religion; I would like the author to address coercion without resorting to "you've misunderstood the point of God's love."
I would say that the first problem with this "question of coercion" is that it ignores what Christians believe heaven and hell are. Heaven is a place where we are happy because we are in a relationship with God; therefore, if we truly want to be in heaven, we want a relationship with God. Basically, what the one who asks this question wants is to have a part of something without having the whole. He wants to live in a man's house without asking that man if he can come in, and without acknowledging the man once he is inside. He wants love without a lover, a smile without a face. He is separating the inseparable.

The alternative, hell, is terrible because we are separated from God. That is why we go to hell. We didn't want God, so he let us be alone. But, since God is the source of all good, we are left with no good, and thus no joy. This is a deranged choice, but we men make deranged choices all the time.

We cannot separate cause and effect. I cannot ask for sunlight, but without the sun. I think we all ask for such absurdities sometimes, and that is more-or-less the definition of sin. We want to live on a diet of candy, but without gaining weight, rotting our teeth, and having stomachaches. We want to walk through fire without being burned, but burning is inherent with fire.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Truly Present? Physically Present?

I'm sure I'm not alone in finding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist confusing. Surely that is what drove Martin Luther to discard transubstantiation (the bread becomes the body) and replace it with consubstantiation (the body becomes present "with" the bread). This is also probably much of what led most other Protestants to drop the doctrine of the Real Presence altogether.

Now I find myself learning that I'm slightly more confused about the idea than I thought I was.

This got me thinking. I wonder if the Church has not yet decided whether it would be correct to say Christ was "physically" present, or if it has decided that it is incorrect to say he is "physically" present. Further, I suppose I do not know exactly how Catholic philosophy defines "physical."

Still, I'll take the step of pondering what little I do know, in the hope we learn something, and also hoping that we will read more about this before letting ourselves be misled by my thoughts on the matter.

Christ is present under the appearance of bread and wine. We know this "appearance" extends beyond just the visual, and into all other senses and scientific measures. Now, is "apparently," in this case, the same as "physically?"It is possible (from the little I know) that they mean the same thing, but have different connotations. If the Church was to say, for example, "Christ is not physically present," would the problem be that we would misunderstand this to mean he wasn't "really" present? Or would the problem be that it isn't true, because he is, in a sense "physically" present? Or perhaps, is there a third option? Is it both incorrect to say he is not "physically" present, but it is also incorrect to say he is "physically" present?

Now, since I cannot yet answer these questions, I will try an illustration of what it might look like if "physically" and "apparently" are synonymous in this situation.

In the Old Testament, angels often took the form of men, and interacted with humans (which they may still do today). In some cases the angels physically interacted with the world and even ate food. So, like the Eucharist, these angels did not just appear as men visually, but appeared as men to all the senses. Still, what were they? They were not "really" men, though they could be called "men" just as statues of men might be called "men." They were "really, truly, and substantially" angels. But physically, are they men, or are they angels? It seems that "physically" they were men, though "really" they were angels. Of course, this leads us back to the same problem.

But either way we define the physical (as just the apparent, scientifically testable aspect of a thing, or as something more), I think the angel illustration does help me to better understand the Eucharist, and how it can fully appear to be one thing while being "really, truly, and substantially" another.

Edit: Okay, I should have read a few more issues. See the following [from This Rock]:
In Mysterium Fidei, Pope Paul VI says, "To avoid any misunderstanding of this type of presence, which goes beyond the laws of nature and constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind, we have to listen with docility to the voice of the teaching and praying Church. . . . [After the consecration] nothing remains of the bread and the wine except for the species—beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in his physical ‘reality,’ corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place"
Not that this completely answers my question, since if we defined physical as I did above, it would be "in the manner in which bodies are in a place." So it still seems to depend on the definition of physical.

Also, being that the Eucharist "constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind," I suppose the comparison with angels might be helpful, but not entirely equivalent.

According to Fr. J. Michael Venditti: "Yes, he is really, physically present, as really present as you are to those around you, though present in a different way--present sacramentally rather than in the normal physical way."

So he is "physically present," but not in the, "normal physical way." Yep, this is going to stay confusing. I can only figure that this means that he is physically present in a unique way, which has no correspondence outside the Eucharist. Thus, any word, such as "physical," that we use will mean something somewhat different than usual when applied to the Eucharist.

I guess this is similar to using words that describe God. If we call God "beautiful," he transcends the normal sense of the word, and at the same time, our normal understanding -- a visual beauty-- doesn't really apply. God is immaterial, and thus not visible to the eyes, yet he is the source of all beauty and infinitely beautiful.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

OSAS 4: Reattaching the Branch

In discussions over this subject, it has been pointed out to me that some of the verses I have cited “prove too much.” To them, if these verses mean that a Christian can lose his salvation they also suggest that once salvation is lost it cannot be regained. Let's look at one example:
If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. [John 15:6]
If we read this a certain way, it sounds like the branches are cast into the fire as soon as they are cut off. Jesus does not say that the branch gets a chance to reattach.

But let's look at the sequence of events: The branch was cut off and thrown away, it withered, it was gathered up, and finally it was thrown into the fire. This does leave at least one step in between the cutting off and the casting into flames. There is a period where it lies on the ground withering.

Now, what if the branch was picked up before it finished drying out, and was nourished and reattached to the vine? Do the scriptures support such a possibility?
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! [Romans 11:17-24]
I bring this up because it uses a similar analogy of branches, but in this case it shows that branches can be removed and reattached. The problem is, however, that this verse is being applied to groups of people (Jews and Gentiles), thus it might not necessarily apply to individuals (e.g. if faith disappeared among Gentiles, the Jews would once again be grafted in). However, in my reading he is actually applying it to both. Yes, the Jews lost their place, but this happened “because of unbelief.” This is an individual level lack of faith. The Jews certainly did not reject Christ “as a people,” for the majority of early converts were Jews, including the writer of this verse.

Still, I will move on to an example that does not have the additional complexity of speaking about whole groups of people.
My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. [James 5:19-20]
First, notice that James is speaking to his “brothers,” meaning fellow Christians. Second, notice that they “wander from the truth.” What would it mean for a “brother” to “wander from the truth?” It means that he was a saved person, abiding in Christ, but he abandoned the faith. But then it goes on to say that someone could “bring him back” and “save him from death.”

Thus, the scriptures do support the idea that one can be saved, but then lose his salvation, and finally be brought back to salvation. A removed branch can be reattached.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Flesh and Bones

The Church is the body of Christ.

Occasionally the people of the Church cause her wounds, but her bones are strong, and Christ will always heal her flesh. Let us, for the moment, envision this body as representing two things: Her flesh is her love and compassion, her softness. Her skeleton is the Truth, composed of her infallible teachings, the deposit of the faith, the Scriptures and Tradition.

Now, what happens when a church breaks off from The Catholic Church? It becomes more prone to decay. When it is injured, it is more likely to get an infection, and Christ is less able to heal it, since it is not as fully connected to him.

Thus, Protestant churches, as time passes will often get infections or tumors, and the only response is to excise the damaged tissue. This provides a kind of restoration, but at the same time it leaves scars and sometimes disfigurement.

Let us now look at some of the extreme examples of this disfigurement:

There is a minister named Fred Phelps whose congregation is often seen carrying signs that read, "God hates Gays." This is what happens when an injured body strips the flesh from its bones. We are left with a broken and gruesome skeleton. It keeps fragments of truth (not that God hates gays, but that god disapproves of sin), but it can no longer reach out and touch with healing hands. It only has vicious bony claws.

At the other extreme we find those in the liberal Episcopalian hierarchy. They have abandoned their bones, seeing them as too hard (or intolerant). They have become like a jellyfish stranded on the seashore, a blob of flesh that knows only how to be soft and has lost its real purpose. It takes bones to walk, and bones to reach out your hand to make a difference.

As another illustration, I would like you to imagine a police officer. He is a strong and confident man, trained to enforce the law. He has his uniform, his badge, his gun, and all his other equipment. This is the way a police officer is supposed to be.

Now, a Pastor in one of the conservative Protestant denominations is like this police officer, but without his uniform and his badge, and missing much of his equipment. He is still willing and able to fight crime, but he is seriously hindered.

The liberal Protestant ministers, like the aforementioned Episcopalians, are in a different position. Such a minister may have the uniform and carry much of the equipment, thus appearing from a distance to be a fully equipped officer. But, when you get closer, you see that it is not a police officer in the uniform, it is a great dane.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Modesty and Madness

Well, I'm still not planning to write much, but I'll point out a couple of interesting articles.

This first one is a great piece on modesty at Mass:

And this second one is about homeschooling parents who are doing a great job of educating their children, but still have the German goverment threatening to take away their kids due to anti-homeschooling laws put in place by the Third Reich in 1938:

German Government... Threatens to Seize Custody of Son from Homeschooling Family

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Been a While

Well, it's been a while since I've posted, and I don't have much to say at the moment either.

But I will explain a bit: I have been working on a project that's been taking up the energy I devote to writing stuff related to Catholicism. In short, I'm trying to develop a ministry or a set of programs which will address certain elements which are often neglected in modern Catholic parishes, primarily community and evangelization.

Lately, one of my favorite Catholic websites has been Fr. Barron's, so check that out if your looking for some good reading or videos.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pseudogamy 101 & 102

I have to recommend this brilliant set of articles by Anthony Esolen. I'll give a little bit of the first one here, but make sure to go and read them both!
I've written [...] that the real social problem we in America face is the number of people who are not married who behave as if they were. I'd like to revise that claim. Our problem is pseudogamy, false marriage, and it assumes many forms. Same-sex pseudogamy is but the latest and most flagrantly absurd, but it is not the first. We find the most fundamental form, from which other corruptions rise up like diseases, when a man and woman go through the ceremony and utter the traditional words "as long as you both shall live," while harboring the mental reservation, "as long, that is, as I am happy," or "as long as the marriage 'works,'" whatever that is supposed to mean. In other words, in the fundamental form of pseudogamy, we don't have people who are not married behaving as if they were, but people who are married (or who present themselves as having been married) behaving as if they were not.
Read the rest of the article and then the next article by following the links below:



Hopefully there are more in this series.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pope Pius XII Video

Here's a short video related to the post below:

Communist Conspiracies & Pope Pius XII

Many of us have heard the accusation that Pope Pius XII was in league with the Nazis, siding with them in their attempts to exterminate the Jews, or the less severe accusation that the Pope was more concerned with protecting Vatican property than with defending the Jews, leading him to remain mostly neutral.

The book, Pope Fiction: Answers to 30 Myths and Misconceptions About the Papacy, has a chapter on this accusation, which quotes the 1941 New York Times, saying, "the Pope put himself squarely against Hitlerism," and again in 1942 The New York Times reported that, "he assails violent occupation of territory, the exile and persecution of human beings for no reason other than race or political opinion." It also explains that at the end of the war, the Jews praised Pius XII for his help. I'll note that the full quotes, and the rest of the chapter give far more evidence, but this suffices to show that there has been some serious historical revisionism going on.

Then where did this accusation come from? The first time anyone heard this charge it was in a play called The Deputy. This play's supposed author, Rolf Hochhuth, cites an unnamed bishop along with various unconvincing documents (like some which just quote anti-Catholic Nazi officers) as proof of the play's claims.

What I just learned about this matter recently, though, is that the entire charge, and the play that brought it into public knowledge, may have originated as a communist plot.

Former KGB "Romanian point man," Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, who helped perpetrate the plot wrote, "In February 1960, Nikita Khrushchev approved a super-secret plan for destroying the Vatican’s moral authority in Western Europe."

He continues, in a 2007 article, to write, "Eugenio Pacelli, by then Pope Pius XII, was selected as the KGB’s main target, its incarnation of evil, because he had departed this world in 1958. 'Dead men cannot defend themselves' was the KGB’s latest slogan."

Pacepa worked to help "in pilfering hundreds of documents connected in any way with Pope Pius XII out of the Vatican Archives and the Apostolic Library."

Though, "no incriminating material against the pontiff ever turned up," his superior in the KGB, General Ivan Agayants, still went ahead to create a "play attacking Pope Pius XII, entitled The Deputy, an oblique reference to the pope as Christ’s representative on earth. Agayants took credit for the outline of the play, and he told us that it had voluminous appendices of background documents put together by his experts with help from the documents we had purloined from the Vatican."

He goes on to write that, despite the fact that by 1974 "newly released information show[ed] that Hitler, far from being friendly with Pius XII, had in fact been plotting against him. [...]Today, many people who have never heard of The Deputy are sincerely convinced that Pius XII was a cold and evil man who hated the Jews and helped Hitler do away with them."

For an even more detailed account of the whole controversy you can read The Myth of Hitler's Pope, by Rabbi David G. Dalin.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Catholic Scapegoat

This isn't a topic I rather enjoy writing about, but it is still an important issue.

The Catholic Church has achieved notoriety as an institution which has covered up child abuse, passed around abusive priests, and cared more about protecting its reputation than protecting its children. Supposedly it was caused by the particularly secretive Catholic hierarchy and the fiendish practice of celibacy.

I had to deal with these accusations while I was considering entry into the Church, and I found that with a proper look at the real facts, and not the media hype, we see that this problem isn't what the media makes it out to be.

As Catholics, we need to care most about what we are doing to protect our children, and what we can do to avoid repeating our sins in the future. On the other hand, if we are over-cautious, we can end up killing our ability to interact with our Catholic family, and to act as Christians at all, due to our suffocating paranoia.

But we must also recognize that we are not alone in our sins. Our Church does not face these troubles because she is Catholic (with perverting doctrines). No. She faces them because she is comprised of humans. We can see the truth of this if we look at the stories, few and far between as they may be, that show the truth about other institutions. This truth, which mostly seems to escape the media, also escapes legislators, who even now, are still creating legislation that unfairly targets Catholic schools, while leaving public schools alone.

Though I've read the same thing in many media outlets, I will presently quote a statement by the Catholic League's Bill Donohue:
“In 2007, the AP did a major report on this subject. It concluded that child sexual abuse in the public schools was ‘a widespread problem,’ saying there was ‘a deeply entrenched resistance toward recognizing and fighting abuse.’ Moreover, offending teachers are moved from one school district to another, so often that they are called ‘mobile molesters.’

“Two years earlier, author and educator John Seryak concluded that ‘The problem in education dwarfs the Catholic Church problem.’ And a year earlier, Dr. Charol Shakeshaft, the nation’s leading authority on the issue, estimated that ‘the physical abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse of priests.’ So common is the transfer of offending teachers that it is called ‘passing the trash.’
We can clearly see in these, and other accounts, that school administrators acted exactly the same as Catholic administrators (Bishops) by transferring offenders, except that Catholic Bishops did at least try sending many of the abusers to counseling. Note that this was before we realized how ineffective counseling tends to be in these situations. We also see that school teachers are just as likely as our clergy (supposedly corrupted by celibacy) to commit abuse.

I am happy for the probing into the Church. Fine, tear us open, help us to be free from our dark secrets, but don't ignore the problem everywhere else it appears. Tear open public schools, other churches, and any other organizations which have hidden similar crimes.

While this does not, and never could, excuse us from our own failings, it does raise a serious question about the media. Are they really so interested in saving children, or are they really just out to crush the Catholic Church?

When the Catholic Church is the one group which stands most firmly against the culture of death, and the media is the not-so-subtle propaganda arm of the culture of death, I'm not sure we have to wonder.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Hierarchical Principle

For me, in coming from a Protestant position, one principle unlocked a great deal of the challenges presented by Catholicism. I'm not sure if it has a name, but I will call it "The Hierarchical Principle."

For me, unlocking this principle was key to understanding many things:

Why do Catholics have a Pope and Bishops?
What's with the Marian dogmas?
Why the Praying to Saints?
Why call priests "Father?"
Why have priests?

You see, Protestants tend to simplify things. This makes Protestant doctrine easy to understand and quick to learn (at least the basics). As far as hierarchies go, they like it simple: "There's God, then beneath that is us, then there's the rest of Creation." [Note: I may be leaving out a few levels on both sides, but I think you'll get the point] Catholics see these major levels as well, but we also see levels within each of those categories. A Protestant insists that Jesus has given him direct contact with God. A Catholic agrees, but he also sees the purpose in having contact with everyone on the levels between ourselves and God. Thus, a Catholic may praise Mary as being his superior, but a Protestant, only seeing God as his superior sees this as idolatry.

To sum up the principle, I would first relate a common Catholic statement, "Protestants see things as either/or, where Catholics see things as both/and." This is used for Faith and Works, Scripture and Tradition, prayers to God and Mary, etc.

But for some of these things a hierarchical model is more appropriate: "Catholics see some things as both/and-to-a-lesser-extent." Catholics honor God, and because of God they honor Mary. Catholics believe in the ultimate authority of God, and in the subservient authority of the Bishops.

To help explain how this plays out further, let's see how the principle works with Church Authority: In the Gospels Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you [Jn 20:21]," to the Apostles. He also gives a special higher authority to Peter [Matt 16]. Then, after this, the Apostles ordain Bishops to succeed them. This creates a structure something like the following:

God the Father>Jesus>Peter>Apostles>Bishops>Presbyters & Deacons>Laity

Then, after the deaths of the Apostles, and after some clarification on the roles of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons we ended up with the modern structure:

God the Father>Jesus>Pope>Bishops>Priests>Deacons>Laity (divided futher: Parents>Children)

In observing this structure we recognize that each is due honor according to his office. Having an authority other than God does not conflict with God's authority because 1) Its authority is God-given, 2) We recognize that God's authority is higher, and thus, 3) Divine commands outweigh the commands of Bishops etc.

We can look at a similar hierarchy of physical fatherhood:

God, the Ultimate Father>our Ancestors>our Biological Father>Us>our Children

Or in all created and uncreated things:

God>Angels>Man>Animals>Plants>Inanimate Objects

God alone is worthy of all glory and praise, and is the source of all holiness and the ultimate recipient of all praise for holiness. But because God exhibits his holiness through the lives of his saints, we still see a hierarchy of holiness extending down to created beings, for which we give honor and praise:

God>Mary>the Saints in Heaven>the saints on Earth

Understanding that this is the way God works, both in nature and in religion, is a great key to understanding Catholicism. Understanding this, we realize it is not only acceptable to honor Mary, or to honor our father and mother, but it is indeed right, and is God's will. God enjoys sharing his things with his creation, he shares his love, his authority, his supernatural gifts, and even his praise. We are just required to make sure that the greatest honor is given to God.

For one, this would mean that if our priest tells us to do something which we well know to be contrary to God's law, we must object. We must also avoid trying to play people lower on the hierarchy against God, like we would if we said something silly like, "Mary, God has not helped me in my efforts as a thief, but you are far kinder, so please help me steal a car." That would be idolatrous, insulting to God's loving nature, and gravely sinful.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

To Nullify Scripture

In the most absurd statement yet, declares that, "The Roman Catholic faith has shown a willingness to raise the pope above Jesus Christ and the Bible by giving him the right to nullify Scripture through papal decrees."

I can see that they would feel compelled to believe that this is true in order to maintain their own Protestant positions, but it is a false accusation. The Church has no power to nullify scripture. It would be absurd to claim such a power when it is the Church herself who declared the scriptures to be infallible.

They then state, "The conscience of the biblical Protestant (like that of Martin Luther) is bound by the Bible alone." I found this humorous, as Luther is a perfect example of someone who gave himself the power to "nullify scripture." Indeed he nullified several whole books. He also changed the meaning of scripture by inserting words (like the "alone" part of "faith alone") in the text itself and adding commentary in the margins.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Christian Answers"

I stumbled across a website called "Christian"

I can agree with a lot of what I've read on the site so far (not that I've read much), but there are some oddities, which is why I'd recommend reading Catholic sites instead. Here are some of the problems I ran into on their "Aren't all religions the same?" page:

I found this statement strange: "Actually, true Christianity is not a religion, but a person, Jesus Christ." I'm not sure this makes any sense. According to Peter Kreeft, the three aspects of all religions are "creed, code, and cult" or "theology, morality, and liturgy." Now, Christianity can be summed up as "Our relationship with Christ" [see The Relationship], but these three aspects are a part of that relationship. Also, Judaism, Islam, and other religions can sum themselves up as "Our relationship with God (or the gods)." This means that Christianity, unique as it may be, is a religion. Now is Christianity Jesus Christ? Is my marriage the same thing as my wife? That's a silly question. They are confusing the person of Jesus Christ with the abstract concept that is Christianity.

Really, this is just another group trying to convince those folks who say, "I like faith, but not organized religion," that Christianity isn't what they think it is. But saying that Christianity is not a religion is either ignorant, or worse, deceptive.

Another strange thing they did was this: first, they identified themselves as being "Orthodox Christian" at one point when comparing the Christian versus the Jewish views of Jesus. Then they claimed that "Christianity" believes in "the Bible alone" while Roman Catholicism (notice, this is something different from "Christianity," and they lump it in with Mormonism and Christian Science) believes in "the Bible plus."

While I can concede that Catholicism does rely on "the Bible plus," I obviously cannot agree that this means we are not Christians. In fact, this accusation would also apply to the unmentioned Eastern Orthodox churches. This puts the writer in an odd (but not uncommon) position of arguing that the two oldest, and most traditional, branches of Christianity are not orthodox, despite their strict adherence to the early Christian creeds which define the central tenets of Christian orthodoxy.

Further, I would argue that while we are "Bible plus" Christians, we are still "God's Word alone" Christians. This being the true barometer for the fullness of the faith, we are left noting that these Protestant Christians are indeed relying on "God's Word minus," and they are even relying on "the Bible minus" since they have removed certain books from the traditional canon, and since they interpret away verses that contradict the "pluses" they themselves have added, these being the very concept in question, sola scriptura, and its brother, sola fide, along with their popular cousin, "disagree with everything the Pope says if at all possible."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bill Clinton on Embryos

God, deliver us from politicians!

Yes, you heard him. Bill Clinton thinks it's wrong to destroy an embryo "if" there's a chance that it might one day be fertilized...

In case you missed the key word there, answer this question: What kind of embryo isn't fertilized?

I don't even think this needs comment (Feel free to comment).

For more about stem cell research I recommend reading this list of treatments that have resulted from adult stem cells.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Christian Insults

Today I was pointed to a discussion about Obama's appearance on the Tonight Show.

I won't relate to you the story on that, since you can just click on the link above. What I'm more interested in at the moment is part of the discussion in the comments below the story.

One person called Obama a "stumblebum." Another person chastised her, and said she was being "unChristian." This immediately brought to mind a chapter of the Bible. I commented (with a few more typos) as follows:

I have to laugh at the idea that calling a man who supports evils like abortion a “stumblebum” is a terribly unChristian thing to do.

Let me quote someone who once addressed leaders who were not fulfilling their duties:

“You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” [Matthew 23:27]

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” [Matt 23:33]

Ah Jesus, worst Christian ever…

(Not that I’m saying we should be be eager to be insulting, but we also might not want to react too harshly when someone is insulting in an appropriate context.)

I was afterwards rebuked and told there is no appropriate context for insults, unless you are Jesus, and thus the judge of men. This is certainly a strong point, but I'm not sure I fully agree with it.

In this blog's comments I list some quotes from Saints calling people things like, "beasts,", "fools," and, "mad women." I think that examples like these are fairly uncommon, but they still show that there may indeed be an appropriate context. It seems to me that such insulting language is reserved for those who are clearly and objectively transgressing the moral law and leading others to do the same.

March 21 edit: I think I've found a missing piece of the puzzle. These insults are mostly intended to instruct the listener, to impress upon them the gravity of the crimes of the insulted party, so that the listeners do not follow their example.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day

I forgot that today was St. Patrick's day until one of my co-workers mentioned it.

This is strange, since St. Patrick is one of my favorite Saints, my co-worker isn't Catholic, I'm at least a quarter Irish, and I even spent some time last night thinking about buying a St. Patrick statue. But I guess there's a difference between loving someone and remembering days associated with that person, as many forgetful men can probably attest.

I realized, this morning (after my co-worker reminded me what day it was), how much I owe to St. Patrick, and how glad I am that God's grace motivated him to do such great things. His immense accomplishment, converting all of Ireland to a zealous Catholic faith, is amazing, and has had a great impact on my life.

My faith comes from two paths. I first learned to be a Christian through my father. He is a good Protestant pastor. As I received my faith from him, he received it from his father. His father was born an Irish Catholic, but he left the Church to marry my grandmother. Still, his faith in Christ was first given to him by the Irish, who owe their faith to St. Patrick.

But it took a second Irish family, my wife's family, to lead me fully into the Church. Without the influence of my wife and her sister I'm not sure that there would have been much chance for me, the pastor's son, to become Catholic. So, to St. Patrick and the faithful of Ireland, I am doubly indebted.

I delight in knowing that Christ's work on Earth did not end when he ascended into heaven, that his story is not just the one in the Bible. Christ's life story continues, and it can be seen in the good that is done by his Saints. How thankful I am that Christ, through St. Patrick, evangelized Ireland.

Pope vs. Condoms in Africa

As happens every time I can remember, the media has once again sided against the Catholic Church. Now, as the Pope visits Africa, they are attacking his stance on condom use in the fight against AIDS/HIV.

Here's a portion of the story I saw on PBS:

Pope Claims Condoms Worsen AIDS Crisis

The interviewer's slant isn't that strong in this particular segment. The part this page doesn't show is that much more time was spent hearing from some restaurant that distributes condoms in another African country.

The first comment on the story read in part:
"As leader of the Catholic Church, the Pope has a moral duty and obligation to ensure followers are educated and lives are saved from HIV infections and AIDS deaths! Around the world, condoms are seen as a necessary requirement for engaging in sexual activity. Promoting condom use has not and does not promote promiscuity... The Catholic Church is promoting practices of abstinence and fidelity, which are widely known to have a high failure rate and allow more HIV infections!"
-Bradford McIntyre
My response follows:

The Pope has a moral duty to do what he is doing. He is teaching the consistent teaching of the Church. It has taught this for nearly 2000 years.

It is certainly a hard teaching to understand, and a hard one to follow, but that does not make it a false teaching.

People should not be so quick to judge the very institution that has passed on the fundamental idea, taught by Jesus Christ, that every human life has value. Without this idea, which has been implanted in the heart of Western society by its Christian past, we would not care at all about the fate of the Africans.

But, sadly, we have rejected so many other teachings of Jesus, and only the Pope continues to teach them clearly.

The Pope certainly would not deny that condoms can prevent AIDS infections. The problem is that they often fail, and they also contribute to a general promiscuous culture which really only makes the problem worse in the long term.

They are certainly not the only factor, and may not even be the primary factor, which is why abstinence education can not stand on its own. It needs to be a part of a far more comprehensive solution.

The other commenter was right, to an extent, that condoms themselves don't cause promiscuity, but he is wrong in thinking that they do not contribute to promiscuity. They are just one of many contributing factors, and we need to address them all to see real success, but success can not be found by abandoning our morals.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mormon Visitors

My friend recently invited some Mormon missionaries (who probably ambushed him) over to give us "lessons." This was something I'd been kind of waiting for since I moved to this Mormon filled region of the world, wanting to get some real life practice in apologetics.

Sadly, it's really hard to discuss matters rationally with them since they always go back to their testimony: "Well, if you read the Book of Mormon, and pray about it sincerely, the Holy Spirit will let you know it is true. I have done this, and I know it to be true."

So, we're stuck in a land of subjectivity. But perhaps there is some hope for seeds of rational faith to be planted. I don't know.

I already have better-than-average knowledge of Mormonism, but I want to know even more, so I'm researching the subject. I'm reading a book called Inside Mormonism, and I found an interesting website:

If you look long enough on the site (or just go to No More Penalties on this page) you can even find evidence on this site showing the connection between the original secret Mormon temple ceremonies and Masonic rites. I'll note some briefly:
Morgan revealed the oath that Masons took in the "First Degree" of their ritual: "...I will... never reveal any part or parts, art or arts, point or points of the secret arts and mysteries of ancient Freemasony... binding myself under no less penalty than to have my throat cut across, my tongue torn out by the roots..."
Now compare that to:
In Temple Mormonism, published in 1931, p. 18, we find this information concerning the Mormon ritual:

"The left arm is here placed at the square, palm to the front the right hand and arm raised to the neck, holding the palm downwards and thumb under the right ear.

'Adam—" We, and each of us, covenant and promise that we will not reveal any of the secrets of this, the first token of the Aaronic prieshood, with its accompanying name, sign or penalty. Should we do so, we agree that our throats be cut from ear to ear and our tongues torn out by their roots.'...

"Sign—In executing the sign of the penalty, the right hand palm down, is drawn sharply across the throat, then dropped from the square to the side."

Of course, this is has been cut from the current temple ceremonies, so it won't do you much good in an argument. Besides, making accusations like, "Your ceremonies are based on Masonic rituals," isn't a very charitable way to argue in a debate, and will just harden the Mormon against your position.

It may, however, be relevant if a Mormon brings up the pagan influence on certain Christian celebrations. Then you could respond, "Yes, the Church may have adapted existing celebrations to fit the Christian religion when it was converting pagan nations, but the LDS church originally adapted Masonic rites for use in its most sacred ceremonies, so what is your complaint?"

This makes the broaching the subject less of an offensive attack and more of a riposte. But a clever Mormon will counter that the Mason ritual and the Mormon temple ritual both date back to Solomon's temple.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Using Words

Today I came across a website that claimed the popular quote, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” made St. Francis sound like a wimp. I've lost that original site, but the site he links to showing that this is not an actual quotation of St. Francis can be seen here.

Still, I think that calling the quote "wimpy" is based on a misunderstanding. Sadly, I think this misunderstanding is common, and I think that many Catholics use it to justify an attitude of, "I can just go peacefully about my Catholic life, not bothering anyone about religion, and people will be converted by my good example."

The simple fact is that the average "good person" does not glow so radiantly with goodness that they preach their faith just by existing. If they did, we would certainly have many more people converting to the Catholic faith.

So then, how should we view the quote?

First, I think the quote may have come from people in a Catholic country, where leading by example might be more important than preaching.

Second, I think that it could be looked at more clearly if we invert it: Preaching the gospel with your words will have little effect if you are not living the gospel yourself. This is akin to Jesus saying to remove the beam from your own eye before going after the speck in the eye of another.

But I think it is best understood by looking at the lives of some of the saints.

Let's look at (the not-quite-canonized) Mother Teresa. She preached the gospel constantly in her care of the sick. She certainly used many words to preach it as well. But her words gained much more power by her actions.

So, I think the wrong way to apply the quote is, "Don't talk about religion unless forced to."

And the proper way is, "Live the gospel in every moment, and whenever the time is right, preach it."

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Relationship

The Shack claims that Jesus doesn't want religion, he just wants a personal relationship with us. This view is fairly common among Protestants.

Now, he's right to an extent. If we just try to "follow the rules" of our religion, but we somehow do so in a way that does not recognize Jesus as the purpose of everything we do, then we are just engaging in vain works.

But there is a danger going the other direction as well. Jesus does not just want to be our buddy. As the Bible teaches, the relationship we are intended to have with him is far more like marriage than it is like a casual let's-hang-out-at-the-mall-on-Saturday friendship.

Let us compare marriage to our relationship with Christ:

1) Introduction: Before anything can happen, a bride must be introduced to the groom. We are introduced to Christ when we hear the Gospel.

2) Falling in Love: There is a difference between hearing the Gospel, and accepting it. When we really start to know Christ, we will fall in love. He will make sure we are introduced to his father, because if we are to love Jesus, we must get to know and love his father, The Father. We will spend more time with him in prayer, and we will want to make ourselves more attractive to him.

3) Proposal: After we fall in love, we will realize that we are betrothed to Christ, he proposed to us before we were ever born. We have only to say, "Yes," and we will enter into the engagement.

4) Wedding Plans: During our engagement, we plan the wedding, and continue to learn more about our beloved. In the Church we do this by attending RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes, among other things. If we haven't already, we should start meeting more of Christ's family: being introduced to his brothers on earth (our fellow parishioners), his brothers in heaven (the Saints), and his mother (Mary).

4b) Confession: You want your marriage to be a clean start, and you want to be completely honest with your spouse, so before you are married, you share with Jesus your past failings, and ask his forgiveness.

5) Wedding: The wedding is a major point in the relationship. At this point our love is formalized. This corresponds more-or-less to Baptism and Confirmation. At this point we enter into the family of God. Jesus becomes our spouse, his Father becomes our Father, his brothers and sisters become our brothers and sisters, and his mother becomes our mother. This is a momentous change, and may be marked by taking a new name, in recognition of the new life that has begun.

6) Consummation: Only after the wedding do we consummate our relationship (Christ is without sin, after all). In the Church, Christ gives us his body in the Eucharist (communion). Unlike the wedding, this step is normally repeated many times over the course of a marriage.

These are the major steps in the relationship. After this, we will continue to grow closer to our spouse, and only love him more with time. But as sinners, there is still a problem that is likely to come up:

Infidelity: Christ will never be guilty of infidelity, but sadly, it can almost be guaranteed that we will not always be faithful to him. When this happens there are two paths we can take.

1) Divorce: While Christ will never desire divorce from us, no matter how we betray him, we can choose to run off, chasing after our sins.

2) Reconciliation: Even though we have betrayed him, he will always forgive us if we ask. Here's where confession shows up again. To have a lasting marriage, we must learn to say we're sorry.

Now, if we look back through these, we can see how the Catholic religion is not a contradiction to the relationship with Jesus, but is rather what you would expect from a deep relationship that is so much like marriage.

We can also see that removing the "Falling in Love" step makes the rest of the events lose all their meaning, but that still doesn't answer why many Protestant groups seem to think that the relationship shouldn't have any more steps after the acceptance of the proposal (though for them, acceptance of the proposal also counts as making wedding vows).

But what about all the things that leaves out? Under normal circumstances, who would say, "It's only our personal relationship that matters," and get married quietly without any witnesses? Who would say, "I don't need anyone interfering with my personal relationship," and refuse to speak with their spouse's family? Who would say, "It's only how we feel about each other that matters," and abstain from a physical relationship and consummation?

The truth is that relationships are both simple and complicated, and our relationship with Christ is no exception. The relationship is rooted in faith, hope and love, but living that relationship, and experiencing it in its fullness, through all the intricacies of our daily lives can get more complicated. That's why we have the Church, through which we come to a fuller knowledge of our beloved, and experience our relationship with him in all the ways he intended.

The Shack

I am currently reading William P. Young's The Shack.

While the book doesn't have the world's greatest writing, I am still mostly enjoying it, and can recommend it for the way it shows God as extraordinarily loving, showing the Trinity as a perfectly loving family, and the way it deals with the difficult question about why God allows evil.

But it also has its shortcomings, some of which I will address in greater detail in the future. The writer has God say that he does not like such man made things as "institutions," "authority," "hierarchies," or "religion." I found this very strange, since the writer appears to be using the Bible as one of his primary sources, and the Bible clearly shows the origin of all these being found not in fallen man, but in God himself.

The book would have been quite a bit better if the author had (for example), instead of blasting authority outright, shown how authority was supposed to function. He could have explained that authority was not given so that those with authority could use their power for their own benefit, it was given so that they could lead with the sole intention of serving those in their care.

But I guess that might point out another value of the book: It's a good introduction to the kind of anti-institutional theology taught by certain Protestant groups.

Our Incompetent Press

Here's another example of the media's horrible ability to interpret anything that anyone in the Catholic Church says: View Rips Catholicism Again

First, some background from the Catholic League:
"A news story in today’s New York Post claims there is “a new study approved by the Vatican” on sin that concludes that “Men and women sin in different ways.” Men are more given to lust; women to pride."
And now part of The View's absurd response to this "study":
Whoopi Goldberg: "Realize the Vatican is the last word in all things that are god. For some folks. But explain how you suddenly can write new sins. You can't do that."
Yeah... apparently being famous requires utterly incoherent thinking. To see the full extent of the craziness, be sure to read the whole story, and it's follow up.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Philosophy Lectures

I just found out that you can download lectures on Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft at his website. I highly recommend visiting:

If you don't know, "Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and at the King's College (Empire State Building), in New York City. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 45 books."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Quoting a Rabbi

Today, I'll just give you an interesting quote by Israel Zolli, once the Chief Rabbi of Rome. He converted to the Catholic faith in 1945, after the end of World War II. When asked by a reporter, "But why didn't you join one of the Protestant denominations, which are also Christian?" he replied:

"Because protesting is not attesting. I do not intend to embarrass anyone by asking: 'Why wait 1,500 years to protest?' The Catholic Church was recognized by the whole Christian world as the true Church of God for 15 consecutive centuries. No man can halt at the end of those 1,500 years and say that the Catholic Church is not the Church of Christ without embarrassing himself seriously. I can accept only that Church which was preached to all creatures by my own forefathers, the Twelve who, like me, issued from the Synagogue."

Read more about his conversion here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Once Saved, Always Saved # 3

This time it'll be short. I stumbled across another parable that doesn't square with the common Protestant notion of "Once Saved, Always Saved" (for other two see Part 1 and Part 2).

Let's look at Matthew 13:18-23:
"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.

"The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

"The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

"But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."
This gives us four kinds of people. The first hears the truth, but never accepts it. The next two hear the truth, but they fall away. The last one is saved.

The two who fall away are familiar images. The first "receives with joy. But... lasts only a short time." He is like the new believer who gets excited and goes forward at an altar call, but falls away after the excitement fades. He may even go forward on more altar calls in the future, always hoping for a dramatic change. But perhaps some of us don't have one life changing moment. Perhaps he's missing the fact that salvation takes more than a one-time mental assent. He has tried, and failed to give this assent in a satisfactory manner. What must he do? Perhaps he needs to realize that the faith must be lived out if it is to continue to grow in us.

The second who falls away has better roots, perhaps, but "the worries of this life" interfere with his faith, slowly killing it. We can probably all identify with this man to an extent. We have experienced "weeds" grabbing at us. Once again, the solution may be perseverance. We have to do what we can, and use what the Church provides, to help kill the weeds that strangle our faith. Perhaps confession can be used to help separate us from our sins. Perhaps balancing our life so that ample time is given to God and his Church will help nourish us. If we can get through this phase, where we seem so weak, and the weeds seem overpowering, perhaps our faith will grow stronger. And this stronger faith will be like that of the fourth example. It is possible that there will still be weeds, but our stem will be thicker, and our roots will be deeper, and our branches will poke out beyond the weeds, so the weeds will no longer strangle us.

But the man in the third example fails to persevere. He does not nurture his faith, and his faith is killed by the weeds.

These examples are natural and identifiable. They speak to our human experience. Why should we try to force them into an uncomfortable "Once Saved, Always Saved" mold?

Protestants rightly observe that we need a "personal relationship with Jesus" to be saved. But what relationship persists when one party rejects and ignores the other? Jesus may wait eagerly for us to return so the relationship might resume, but how can we have a relationship as long as we reject him?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Investigating Planned Parenthood

Live Action Films has an amazing collection of films showing illegal activities by Planned Parenthood. See them here:

They show Planned Parenthood workers pretending not to hear when a 13 year old girl claims her 31 year old boyfriend got her pregnant. They also show these workers coaching girls on what to say to avoid getting her boyfriend in trouble, and giving instructions about how to avoid parental notification laws by crossing state lines.

Other videos on the site show workers accepting donations from a man who says he wants to donate money specifically to abort a black baby because "There’s definitely way too many Black people in Ohio..."

At least this is in keeping with Margret Sanger's Nazi-like eugenic plans which were part of what motivated her to found Planned Parenthood in the first place.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pro Life Rap

My wife found these two great videos posted on the Faith & Family Blog.

While it's not a genre of music I normally listen to, and one of the songs seems to imply that the singer is still continuing in some related immoral behavior, these videos are still a good pro-life witness. Both relate to real life-and-death decisions related to the singers.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Once Saved, Always Saved Again

I already addressed this topic in greater depth earlier, but there were a few important verses I didn't mention the first time, so I'll focus on those now.

The idea of a completed and unchangeable justification is one of the ideas that most separate Catholics from certain groups of Protestants. This is the difference that compels Fundamentalists to say we are not Christians, that we believe in a "works salvation," and that only Catholics who don't really believe what the Church says are saved.

But let's look at the Bible once more to see what it really says on the matter:
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud." [2 Peter 2:20-22]
Now, like most things, this could be explained away, but the most obvious meaning is that Christians, the saved, who were following the way of Jesus Christ, can turn away from the faith, entering into a state that is worse than before they ever knew Christ.

Now let's look closely at one of our Lord's own teachings:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." [John 15:1-8]
First, who is a branch? Is the unbeliever joined to the body of the lord? No, we know from the scriptures that it is Christians (the saved) who are part of the body, of which Christ is the head. So this verse is addressing those who are already saved, by being "branches" of the "true vine."

Now, what does he tell us, as his branches? Does he say, "You, being branches, will remain in me, and will bear fruit?" No. He clearly requests that we do "remain" in him, and that we let his words have life within us, thus bearing fruit. He clearly does not say that we are guaranteed to remain in him. He says that branches which do not bear fruit will be cut off, and such branches will wither, and will ultimately be thrown into the fire.

This is unmistakeably the Catholic doctrine on Justification:

By God's grace we are offered salvation. By Faith we accept this gift, and become branches on the vine. Being connected to Christ in this way, his divine life flows through us, enabling us to do good works or "bear fruit." If we "remain" in him, allowing his grace to flow through us, we remain saved. If, however, we turn away, deciding to stop the flow of life from the vine, we will not bear fruit. Then we will be cut off.

This verse doesn't show it, but the Catholic Church also believes that such a cut-off branch can be re-attached to the vine by repentance, and a return to faith.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mormons and Catholics

Mesa, Arizona was founded by Mormons, has a Mormon temple, and has an LDS ward on just about every block. So, living nearby, I am constantly reminded that American Catholics are doing a terrible job of Evangelizing.

This seems bizarre to me, given that we can clearly trace our history back to Jesus Christ, and the Mormons can only spout impossible conspiracy theories to try in vain to contradict our claims.

We interpret the Bible sensibly. They twist every other word to make it agree with Joseph Smith's writings, and even then they have to say that we altered the Bible to take out the Mormon beliefs.

So, why are they motivated to spread this stuff, while we are motivated to keep a tight lid on the truth? Do we think that God will run out of love if we share it? Or are we just scared and pathetic? I think I'd fall into the second category myself...

Of course one of the reasons Mormons evangelize so much is because they are expected to do it. So maybe we need to raise expectations. Maybe we need to take the Lord seriously in his call. He has called every Christian to evangelize.

And while there may be times when the best way to evangelize is to "set an example with your own life," I think many of us use this as an excuse to avoid the harder work of sharing our beliefs, inviting people into the Church, and defending our faith. Of course we must keep showing kindness and being a living example while doing this.

I'm doing a bit of research on this topic right now, so I'll probably mention this more as I grow in knowledge on the subject.

For now, check out the Legion of Mary (a Catholic group that does door-to-door, and other missionary work):

Monday, January 19, 2009

Abraham and Isaac

It is often suggested that "the God of the Old Testament is cruel, quick-tempered, jealous, and warmongering." I'll address more of this later, but for now lets look at one of the cases of supposed cruelty found in Genesis 22:

Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."[...]

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"

"Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.

"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"

"Here I am," he replied.

"Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
Now, this can easily come off as a fairly mean thing for God to do. Ask a man to sacrifice his son, what kind of cruel God would do that?

I have felt that way when reading this story before, but then that's looking at matters in a simplistic and worldly manner. We have to consider more to really understand. It took me just a little time and thoughtful reflection.

First, we must consider our approach. Are we looking to ascribe rotten things to God? If we are, we could imagine sinister motives for even his more plainly kind actions. Are we considering other things that are revealed to us in scripture? If we do this, then the whole matter falls into another light.

Thus we turn to the New Testament and see that God is love [1 John 4:8], and we return to Genesis to try to see if there is a way to understand the story as loving. Let's take it apart, and address the different problems.

1. Isn't it cruel for God to ask someone to kill someone?

The first problem is that this assumes that death is the worst possible thing. For someone who denies the soul, death is the end. But if there is an immortal soul, then it is eternal life which ultimately matters, and this life only matters inasmuch as it affects eternity. Therefore if God takes a life, and he does so already knowing the eternal destination of the soul, then he will be sure that the soul goes to the place he knew it had chosen.

Part of the reason humans must be so careful about killing people, even exercising some restraint in war, use of capital punishment, and in situations of self defense, is because humans are not omniscient, and are not competent to judge when a person is ready to leave this world for their eternal destination.

So, if God were to ask someone to kill someone (not something he does often), he would do so knowing the positive impact it would have on eternity and the moral validity of such an action in this instance, something a human is never competent to judge.

Not that this actually applies to this situation anyway, since God did not let Abraham kill Isaac, and he had never intended to let him.

2. But it's still cruel to make a man think he has to kill his son. It's just creepy.

Now, it was certainly a painful experience for Abraham. I'm sure he walked up the mountain thinking, "will God really make me do this? Why would God miraculously give me a son, and then take him away?"

Meanwhile he is telling Isaac that, "God will provide the lamb," hoping that he's right, trying his best to trust in God, even though God has asked him to do this terrible thing.

Let us remember Abraham was the father of the faith. He knew of God, but God had not yet given the law to Moses, and the Jewish faith was in its infancy. Abraham would certainly have hoped that God wouldn't take his son, but Abraham did not have the entirety of revelation we have today. God worked over many years through many hard lessons to teach his people. He did not just pass everything to them at once.

But would such an experience build the faith, or would it cause injury to Abraham or his son? I think the results speak for themselves. Isaac was not angry with God. He passed the faith down to the next generation.

So, if it caused no harm, and it broke no moral law, what is cruel about it?

3. Why make them go through all that, what possible purpose could such a test have served?

If the test served no purpose, and accomplished nothing, then it would indeed have been cruel to force Abraham through those worrisome days, wondering if he would really have to sacrifice his beloved son. But, if the test served a purpose, then the struggle Abraham went through to pass it could have actually been necessary.

The story seems to imply that God did this just to test Abraham's faith, but if God knows all things he could have known Abraham's faith without the trauma. This means that the purpose of the test was not for God's benefit, but somehow it was for Abraham, and perhaps for us.

Abraham learned that if he has faith, and he does God's will, even when it seems like the hardest thing in the world, God will provide, and things will turn out well in the end. And God rewarded him by making him not just the father of Isaac, but the father of the Jews, and by extension the Christians. And these people would remember his faith forever, and remember the lesson that God will always provide.

But this story's connection to God's providence goes further. The story is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that will redeem all nations.

Isaac, like Jesus, was long awaited and born miraculously. Then, this innocent firstborn son was taken up the mountain which prefigures Golgotha, and carrying the wood which prefigures the cross.

But the two stories end very differently. Isaac, who is only human, and has at least the stain of original sin, is spared by God who substitutes a sheep for Abraham's son. Jesus, who is human, but also God, and entirely without sin, is not spared. For God will suffer himself what he spares us, and his son is the lamb who dies in our place.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

American Beliefs

Well, this isn't new news, but someone wrote a new article on it, and someone else sent it to me, so I'll address it here (click here to see the full article).

Recently a poll of church-goers was done, and the results were widely reported as showing "Unorthodox Beliefs" among Christians.

This article comments that "American individualism has made its imprint on Christianity." This, I believe, is sadly true. We can see Protestant ideas forming the initial individualism of America, and then we can see that American Protestantism was itself affected by the stronger individualism that American culture reflected back at it. Today, it seems to me, even most Catholics have absorbed this American individualism, and with it ideas more befitting liberal Protestants.

The article mentions a few of the results of the survey:
Christians expressed a variety of unorthodox beliefs in the poll. Nearly half of those interviewed do not believe in the existence of Satan, one-third believe Jesus sinned while on earth, and two-fifths say they don't have a responsibility to share their faith with others.
Now, this is certainly unorthodox, and is actually pretty pathetic. We obviously have to try harder to teach the faith to people. Parents need to realize their children won't learn their religion (or morality) on their own (even if they go to catechism classes). Priests and ministers need to speak loud and clear about the truth, and give people reasons to believe this truth. People other than Mormons need to go knocking on doors.

But the supposedly biggest news of the article was this:
The most striking divergence from orthodoxy, however, was first revealed in the 2007 US Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. That comprehensive survey of 35,000 Americans found a majority of Christians saying that people of other religions can find salvation and eternal life.

The results stirred controversy among some Christian leaders for whom Jesus as the only path to salvation is a paramount teaching. Some questioned whether those surveyed about "other religions" might have been thinking of Christian denominations or traditions – such as Protestants referring to Roman Catholicism – rather than non-Christian faiths.

Pew undertook a follow-up survey, which it released in late December. That poll found 65 percent of American Christians (including 47 percent of Evangelicals) do indeed think that many different religions can lead to eternal life. Among these Christians, 80 percent cited one non-Christian faith as a route to salvation; 61 percent named two or more.

Now, I don't know the exact wording of this survey, nor can I imagine how those surveyed understood the meaning of the survey, but this just does not strike me as proof of unorthodox belief.

As Catholics, we believe there is one path to eternal life. That path is Jesus Christ. We also believe he established many steps along that path, such as baptism, faith, love, etc. But we also believe that a person who does not explicitly know the path can still follow Christ to the extent that their knowledge allows, and thus attain eternal life.

In this way it could be correct to say that other religions can lead to eternal life, since those religions do help their adherents to grow in many ways closer to Christ without even realizing it. This is especially true of Judaism, so when the article says, "Sixty-nine percent of all non-Jews say Judaism can lead to eternal life..." I'm not all that bothered.

Of course my complaint may be for naught, since the article does say, "29 percent say theirs is the one true faith." If this means what they make it sound like it means, then only 29 percent of respondents actually believe their religion is objectively true, and not just "true for them." But I guess I'd have to know the exact wording of that as well.

Personally, I think the biggest news may be this:
The survey also asked about views on how one obtains eternal life. Among all adults with a religious affiliation, 30 percent say correct beliefs are what counts, 29 percent say salvation depends on one's actions during life, while 10 percent say both are essential.
I actually find it bizarre that only 10% of people believe that both beliefs and actions are essential, but I also find it odd that 30% of respondents are unaccounted, and once again we'd have to see the exact wording of the question and the available answers to really know everything.

I'm not sure why the News Media thinks it can filter results like this in any sensible way when they don't generally have any clue what religious people are talking about.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sacrifice of the Mass

I recently stumbled across this Q & A by Reformed Baptist minister, John Piper:

Should former Catholics still participate in the mass?

No, I don't think they should participate in the mass (that is, have communion). The reason is that its conceptuality is one of the most serious mistakes of the Catholic Church.

I revisited a Catholic mass recently, for a funeral, and it had been a long time since my last visit. When I watched it again I was so appalled that I wanted to walk out. I really wanted to scream, it was so awful. The language that was used about sacrifice, the kissing of the table, the kneeling down—it was all just so offensive to me that I could hardly stand it.

I think that participating in the Catholic mass comes close to compromising the faith, because it is believed to be a reenactment of the sacrifice of Christ and a saving ordinance.

So no, I wouldn't recommend that someone participate.

What was funny about this was that I had just been reading Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, and remembered the "language of sacrifice" being used in the Didache (c. 60-100 AD), and vehement insistence on the Real Presence in Ignatius' Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (c. 106-113 AD). Let's look at a short portion of the Didache:

But every Lord's day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.
And then, for a more explicit look at the early Mass, let's see Irenaeus' Against Heresies, which wasn't in the book I mentioned (since Irenaeus wrote this closer to 200 AD, dying in 202 AD), but it is applicable:

Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.

It seems that John Piper could have easily said something like, "The Mass, conceptually, is one of the most serious mistakes of the early Christian Church. The language that was used about sacrifice, and the ritual practices—it was all just so offensive to me that I could hardly stand it. I think that participating in early Christian worship comes close to compromising the faith."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Name that Bishop

I'm working on another stab at a letter to try to provoke interest in what the Catholic Church has to say. Let me know what you think.

Dear Friend,

I have been trying to think of whether there was one simple thing that hit me, and made me realize that there might be something to the claims of the Catholic Church. I was not persuaded by arguments unless I saw evidence to back them up. I know that reading the Catholic point of view on interpreting various parts of the scriptures was key, but there is no one verse that makes all the difference, so this cannot be narrowed down enough for one letter. Then, recently, I reread one of the things that struck me. It is a letter by a well respected bishop.

Perhaps I have misinterpreted the facts; those regarding this bishop, and others. I am, after all, human, and am capable of self-deception. And after all, all Americans "know" instinctively that the Catholic Church MUST be wrong, don't they? We "know" that submission to authority is just wrong, we "know" the Catholic Church was incomparably cruel and oppressive in the middle ages, we "know" that the superstitious Catholic Church tried to suppress real Christians, we "know" the Catholic Church hates the Bible, we "know" that Roman inventions crept into the Church after a few hundred years, and that there was no Pope until Constantine created the Roman Catholic Church.

But do we really know these things, or is this just what we have been led to believe? Examine with me this (somewhat long) set of quotes from the bishop's letter:
"For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death."

"Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels, and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." [Matthew 19:12] Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty."

"They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils."

"See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid."
The first two paragraphs could well have been any traditional Christian. But what about the next two paragraphs?

Is this bishop not a Catholic bishop? He asserts that the Eucharist (or Communion) is the flesh of Christ (in another translation, "the self-same body..."), the very flesh that the Father "raised up." He insists that the believer follows his bishop. He calls the true church "the catholic church." These are peculiarly Catholic things. Other churches have bishops, but they would not ascribe this kind of power to them, and other churches do not teach that Communion is the flesh of Jesus Christ.

Who was this bishop? When did he live? Was he from 1500 AD? 1000 AD?

What shocked me was that this quote was from the Epistle to Smyrnaeans, written by Ignatius, fourth bishop of Antioch, around 113 AD. He was martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan, who reigned from 98-117 AD. That means he wrote this within 25 years of the death of the Apostle John. He was neither obscure, nor a heretic. He was well respected in the early Church. As you see from the quote, he was someone who fought early heresies, here attacking Docetism, the belief that Jesus was not truly human (thus denying the reality of his death and resurrection).

Further reading of such early Christians supports the idea that there were only two kinds of Christians: Those who were united to their bishops and carried peculiarly Catholic beliefs, and those dissidents (heretics) who denied some fundamental aspect of Christian doctrine (and thus weren't truly Christian at all).

Now it seems to me that there are a few ways to view this information. One is the conspiracy theory view: The reason we only have the writings of Catholics and heretics during the early Church is because the Catholic Church destroyed the records of the Protestant-like True Christians (Mormons, Muslims, and other groups rely even more heavily on this theory, saying that even the Bible was altered). But if this were the case, then why are so many gnostic writings and other documents which conflict with Catholic teaching still in existence? Why were only the Protestant documents destroyed? Why would God not preserve some record of this True Church?

A second Protestant view goes something like this: The Catholic Church was the only Christian Church for some time, but over time they grew further and further away from the truth, so eventually God had to inspire the reformers to set the truth of the scriptures free again. Of course this view doesn't hold up as well if the modern Catholic Church holds doctrines compatible with the early Christian views, and Protestants deny the beliefs of these early Christians.

Another way to view the information is simpler: The Catholic Church is the same Church as that of the early Christians. It has certainly grown, as Christ said it would, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed[...]. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."[Matt 13:31-32] This Church is still united, and orthodoxy can still be found reliably by listening to her bishops.

Of course this would not have been enough to convince me the Catholic Church was right. I have not sought here to answer every question about the Church. But on the off chance that early church history is not covered up by conspiracy, but is exactly how it seems, should we not give the Catholic Church some consideration? Should we not be moved by the possibility that our Lord Jesus Christ established a visible Church which the Holy Spirit uses to guide us, even if that church is composed of humans who have often committed horrible sins? Or should we be like those who disdained Christ for eating with the tax collectors?

With this example in mind, doesn't it seem likely that what we "know" about the Catholic Church is wrong? Couldn't these things be like the things that secular modernists "know" about Christianity? They just "know" Christians hate everyone else and want everyone to go to hell, they "know" there's no such thing as miracles, they "know" we hate science, and that somehow science disproves religion, and they "know" that morality is relative.

Perhaps it is different to think we know about something, and to actually know it.