Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Face of the Innocent

He did not ask to be a poster child. But he is. A victim of the culture of death -- and of the culture of indifference that has infested even those places that were once -- and must become again -- a sanctuary of life.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Perspective and 60 Million Reasons to Get It Right

Is it really morally superior to simply wash one's hands of the matter when presented with a situation where neither of two choices is really good and just let the chips fall where they may even though it will likely lead to the greater evil prevailing?

When a greater evil comes to pass, when you had a chance to at least try to limit the evil, do we really want to say that we did nothing to stop it, and then pridefully claim that our hands are clean as we pat ourselves on the back for how morally pure we are?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pope Benedict Interview

Pope Benedict XVI recently gave the following interview to Jacques Servais:

Your Holiness, the question posed this year as part of the symposium promoted by the rectorate of the Gesù (the residence for Jesuit seminarians in Rome) is that of justification by faith. The last volume of your collected works (gs iv) highlights your resolute affirmation: “The Christian faith is not an idea, but a life”. Commenting on the famous Pauline affirmation in Romans 3:28, you mentioned, in this regard, a twofold transcendence: “Faith is a gift to believers communicated through the community, which for its part is the result of God’s gift” (‘Glaube ist Gabe durch die Gemeinschaft; die sich selbst gegeben wird’, gs iv, 512). Could you explain what you meant by that statement, taking into account of course the fact that the aim of these days of study is to clarify pastoral theology and vivify the spiritual experience of the faithful?

The question concerns what faith is and how one comes to believe. On the one hand, faith is a profoundly personal contact with God, which touches me in my innermost being and places me in front of the living God in absolute immediacy in such a way that I can speak with Him, love Him and enter into communion with Him. But at the same time this reality which is so fundamentally personal also inseparably pertains to the community. It is an essential part of faith that I be introduced into the “we” of the children of God, into the pilgrim community of brothers and sisters. The encounter with God means also, at the same time, that I myself become open, torn from my closed solitude and received into the living community of the Church. That living community is also a mediator of my encounter with God, although that encounter touches my heart in an entirely personal way.

Faith comes from hearing (fides ex auditu), as St Paul teaches us. Listening, in turn, always implies a partner. Faith is not a product of reflection and it is not an attempt to penetrate the depths of my own being. Both of these things may be present, but they remain insufficient without the “listening” through which God, from without, from a story He Himself created, challenges me. In order for me to believe, I need witnesses who have met God and make Him accessible to me.

In my article on baptism I spoke of the double transcendence of the community, in this way once again bringing out an important element: the faith community does not create itself. It is not an assembly of men who have some ideas in common and who decide to work for the spread of such ideas. Then everything would be based on one’s own decision and, in the final analysis, on the principle that the majority rules, which ultimately would be based on human opinion. A Church built in this way cannot be for me the guarantor of eternal life nor require me to make decisions that cause me to suffer and are contrary to my desires. No, the Church is not self-made, she was created by God and she is continuously formed by Him. This finds expression in the sacraments, above all in that of Baptism: I do not come into the Church through a bureaucratic act but through a sacrament. And this is to say that I am welcomed into a community that did not originate in itself and is projected beyond itself.

The ministry that aims to form the spiritual experience of the faithful must proceed from these fundamental givens. It needs to abandon the idea of a self-made Church and to make it clear that the Church becomes a community through the communion of the Body of Christ. It must bring people to an encounter with Jesus Christ and into His presence in the sacrament.

When you were Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, commenting on the Joint Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation on the Doctrine of Justification of 31 October 1999, you pointed out a difference of mentality in relation to Luther and the question of salvation and blessedness as he had posed it. Luther’s religious experience was dominated by terror before the wrath of God, a feeling quite alien to modern men, who instead sense the absence of God (see your article in ‘Communio’ 2000, 430). For them, the problem is not so much how to obtain eternal life, but rather how to ensure, in the precarious conditions of our world, a certain balance of fully human life. Can the teaching of St Paul of justification by faith, in this new context, reach the “religious” experience or at least the “elementary” experience of our contemporaries?

First of all, I want to emphasize once again what I wrote in Communio 2000 on the issue of justification. Today, compared to the time of Luther and to the classical perspective of the Christian faith, things are in a certain sense inverted, or rather, man no longer believes he needs justification before God, but rather he is of the opinion that it is God who must justify himself because of all the horrible things in the world and the misery of human beings, all of which ultimately depends on Him. In this regard, I find it significant that a Catholic theologian could profess even in a direct and formal way this inverted position: that Christ did not suffer for the sins of men, but rather, as it were, to “cancel out the faults of God”. Even if most Christians today would not share such a drastic reversal of our faith, we could say that all of this reveals an underlying trend of our times. When Johann Baptist Metz argues that theology today must be “sensitive to theodicy” (German: theodizee empfindlich), this highlights the same problem in a positive way. Even rescinding such a radical contestation of the Church’s understanding of the relationship between God and man, mankind today, in a very general way, has the sense that God cannot allow the majority of humanity to be damned. In this sense, the concern for the personal salvation of souls typical of past times has for the most part disappeared.

However, in my opinion, there continues to exist, in another way, the perception that we are in need of grace and forgiveness. For me, a “sign of the times” is the fact that the notion that God’s mercy should be more and more central and dominant — starting with Sr Faustina, whose visions in various ways deeply reflect the image of God held by people today and their desire for divine goodness. Pope John Paul II was deeply imbued with this impulse, even if it did not always emerge explicitly. But it is certainly not by chance that his last book, published just before his death, speaks of God’s mercy. Starting from the experiences which, from the earliest years of life, exposed him to all of man’s cruelty, he affirms that mercy is the only true and ultimate effective reaction against the power of evil. Only where there is mercy does cruelty end, do evil and violence end. Pope Francis is totally in agreement with this line. His pastoral practice is expressed in the very fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy. It is mercy that moves us toward God, while justice only frightens us before Him. In my view, this makes it clear that, under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, mankind today hides a deep awareness of its wounds and unworthiness before God. Mankind is waiting for mercy.

It is certainly no coincidence that the parable of the Good Samaritan is particularly attractive to contemporary man. And not just because that parable strongly emphasizes the social dimension of Christian existence, nor only because in it the Samaritan, the non-religious man, in comparison with the representatives of religion seems, so to speak, as one who acts in true conformity with God, while the official representatives of religion seem, as it were, immune to God. This clearly pleases modern man. But it seems just as important to me, however, that men deep in their hearts expect that the Samaritan will come to their aid; that he will bend down to them, anoint their wounds, care for them and carry them to safety. In the final analysis, they know that they need God’s mercy and his tenderness. In the hardness of a technological world where feelings no longer count for anything, nevertheless, there is a growing expectation of a saving love, that is freely-given. It seems to me that in the theme of divine mercy the meaning of justification by faith is expressed in a new way. Starting from the mercy of God, which everyone is looking for, it is possible even today to interpret anew the fundamental nucleus of the doctrine of justification and have it appear again in all its relevance.

When Anselm says that Christ had to die on the cross in order to remedy the infinite offense that had been committed against God, and in this way to restore the shattered order, he uses a language that is difficult for modern man to accept (cf. gs iv Expressing oneself in this way, one risks projecting onto God an image of a God of wrath, relentless toward the sin of man, with feelings of violence and aggression comparable to what we can experience ourselves. How is it possible to speak of God’s justice without potentially undermining the certainty, firmly established among the faithful, that the Christian God is a God “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4)?

The conceptuality of St Anselm has now become for us incomprehensible. It is our task to try to understand anew the truth that lies behind this mode of expression. For my part I offer three points of view on this perspective:

a) the contrast between the Father, who insists in an absolute way on justice, and the Son who obeys the Father and, in obeying, accepts the cruel demands of justice, is not only incomprehensible today, but, from the standpoint of Trinitarian theology, is in itself all wrong. The Father and the Son are one and therefore their will is ab intrinseco one. When in the Garden of Olives, the Son struggles with the will of the Father, it is not a matter of accepting for himself some cruel disposition of God, but rather of attracting humanity into the will of God itself. We will have to come back again, later, to the relationship of the two wills of the Father and of the Son.

b) So why the cross and the atonement? Somehow today, in the contortions of modern thought mentioned above, the answer to these questions can be formulated in a new way. Let’s place ourselves before the obscene amount of evil, violence, falsehood, hatred, cruelty and arrogance that infect and destroy the whole world. This mass of evil cannot simply be declared non-existent, not even by God. It must be cleansed, reworked and overcome. Ancient Israel was convinced that daily sacrifice for sins and above all the great liturgy of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) were necessary as a counterweight to the mass of evil in the world and that only through such rebalancing could the world, as it were, remain bearable. Once the sacrifices in the temple disappeared, one had to wonder what could be set against the higher powers of evil, how a counterweight could be found. The Christians knew that the destroyed temple was replaced by the resurrected body of the crucified Lord and in His radical and immeasurable love was created a counterweight to the immeasurable presence of evil. Indeed, they knew that the offerings presented up until then could only be conceived of as a gesture of longing for a genuine counterweight. They also knew that before the excessive power of evil only an infinite love could suffice, only an infinite atonement. They knew that the crucified and risen Christ is a power that can counter the power of evil and save the world.

And on this basis they could even understand the meaning of their own suffering as integrated into the suffering love of Christ and as part of the redemptive power of such love. Above I quoted the theologian for whom God had to suffer for his sins in regard to the world. Now, due to this reversal of perspective, the following truths emerge: God simply cannot leave “as is” the mass of evil that comes from the freedom that He Himself has granted. He alone, by coming to share in the world’s suffering, can redeem the world.

c) Based on these premises, the relationship between the Father and the Son becomes more comprehensible. I would use a passage from a book by Henri de Lubac on Origen which I find very clear on the subject: “The Redeemer came into the world out of compassion for mankind. He took upon Himself our passions even before being crucified, indeed even before descending to assume our flesh: had He not experienced them beforehand, He would not have come to partake of our human life. But what was this suffering that he endured in advance for us? It was the passion of love. But the Father himself, the God of the universe, He who is overflowing with forbearance, patience, mercy and compassion, does He too not suffer in a certain sense? ‘The Lord your God, in fact, has taken upon Himself your ways as the one who takes upon himself his son’ (cf. Deut 1:31). God thus takes upon Himself our customs as the Son of God took upon Himself our sufferings. The Father Himself is not without passion! If He is invoked, then He knows mercy and compassion. He perceives a suffering of love” (Homilies on Ezekiel 6:6).

In some parts of Germany there was a very moving devotion that contemplated the Not Gottes (“poverty of God”). For my part, that leads me to see an impressive image of the suffering Father, who, as Father, inwardly shares the sufferings of the Son. And the image of the “throne of grace” is also part of this devotion: the Father supports the cross and the crucified one, bends lovingly down to him and the two are, as it were, one on the cross. So in a grand and pure way, one perceives there what God’s mercy means, what God’s participation in human suffering means. It is not a matter of a cruel justice, nor of the Father’s fanaticism, but rather of the truth and the reality of creation: the true intimate overcoming of evil that ultimately can be realized only in the suffering of love.

In the ‘Spiritual Exercises’, Ignatius of Loyola does not use the Old Testament images of vengeance, as opposed to Paul (cf. 2 Thess 1:5-9); nevertheless he invites us to contemplate how men, until the Incarnation, “descended into hell” (cf. Spiritual Exercises n. 102; ds iv, 376) and to consider the example of the “countless others who ended up there for far fewer sins than I have committed” (cf. Spiritual Exercises, n. 52). It is in this spirit that St Francis Xavier lived his pastoral work, convinced he had to try to save as many “infidels” as possible from the terrible fate of eternal damnation. The teaching, formalized in the Council of Trent, in the passage regarding the judgment of good and evil, later radicalized by the Jansenists, was taken up in a much more restrained way in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf. § 5 633, 1037). Can it be said on this point that, in recent decades, there has been a kind of “development of dogma” that the Catechism absolutely must take into account?

There is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma. While the fathers and theologians of the Middle Ages could still have been of the opinion that, essentially, the whole human race had become Catholic and that by that time paganism existed only on the margins, the discovery of the New World at the beginning of the modern era radically changed perspectives. In the second half of the last century it was fully affirmed: the realization that God cannot abandon all the unbaptized to damnation and that mere natural happiness cannot represent a real answer to the question of human existence. If it is true that the great missionaries of the 16th century were still convinced that those who are not baptized are forever lost — and this explains their missionary commitment — in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council that conviction was definitively abandoned.

From this came a profound crisis that was twofold. On the one hand this seems to remove all motivation for a future missionary commitment. Why should one try to convince people to accept the Christian faith when they can save themselves without it? But among Christians too an issue emerged: the obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If people can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why Christians should be bound by the requirements of Christian faith and morals. If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith has no motive.

Lately several attempts have been formulated with the purpose of reconciling the universal necessity of the Christian faith with the possibility of salvation without it. Here I will mention two: first, Karl Rahner’s well-known thesis of anonymous Christians. He maintains that the basic and essential act at the root of Christian existence, which is decisive for salvation, in the transcendental structure of our consciousness, consists in the opening to the Other, to unity with God. In this vision, the Christian faith would raise to consciousness what is structural in man as such. Thus, when a man accepts himself in his essential being, he fulfills the essence of being a Christian without knowing what it is in a conceptual way. The Christian, therefore, coincides with the human and, in this sense, every man who accepts himself is a Christian even if he does not know it. It is true that this theory is fascinating, but it reduces Christianity itself to a purely conscious presentation of what a human being is in himself and therefore overlooks the drama of change and renewal that is central to Christianity.

Even less acceptable is the solution proposed by the pluralistic theories of religion, according to which all religions, each in their own way, would be means to salvation and in this sense, in their effects must be considered equivalent. The kind of critique of religion used in the Old Testament is, in the New Testament and in the early Church, essentially more realistic, more concrete and truer in its examination of the various religions. Such a simplistic reception is not proportionate to the magnitude of the issue.

Let us recall, lastly and above all, Henri de Lubac and with him several other theologians who laboured over the concept of vicarious substitution. For them the “pro-existence” (“being-for”) of Christ would be an expression of the fundamental figure of Christian life and of the Church as such. It’s true that this doesn’t completely resolve the problem, but it seems to me that in reality this essential insight touches the life of every single Christian. Christ, insofar as he is unique, was and is for all people and Christians, whom St Paul magnificently describes as His body in the world. They participate in this being-for. Christians, so to speak, do not exist for themselves, but, along with Christ, they exist for others. That does not mean some kind of special ticket to eternal beatitude, but rather it is a vocation to build together, as a whole. What a person needs in the order of salvation is an interior openness to God, an interior expectation for and adherence to Him. And this in turn means that we together with the Lord whom we have encountered go forth to others and seek to render visible the coming of God in Christ. It is possible to explain this being-for in a more abstract way. It is important to mankind that there be truth in it, that it be believed and practiced. That one suffers for it. That one loves. These realities penetrate with their light into the world as such and support it. I think that in this present situation what the Lord said to Abraham becomes for us ever more clear and understandable, that is, that ten righteous men would have sufficed to save a city, but that it would self-destruct if that small number were not reached. It is clear that we need further reflection on the matter as a whole.

In the eyes of many secular humanists, marked by the atheism of the 19th and 20th centuries, as you have noted, it is God — if He exists — not man who should be held accountable for injustice, for the suffering of the innocent, for the cynicism of power we are witnessing, powerless, in the world and in world history (cf. ‘Spe Salvi’, n. 42).... In your book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, you echo what for them — and for us — is a scandal: “The reality of injustice, of evil, cannot be simply ignored, simply set aside. It absolutely must be overcome and conquered. Only in this way is there really mercy” (‘Jesus of Nazareth’, vol. ii, page 153, quoting 2 Tim 2:13). Is the sacrament of confession one of the places where the evil done can be “remedied”? If so, how?

I have already tried to expose as a whole the main points related to this issue in my answer to your third question. The counterweight to the dominion of evil can consist in the first place only in the divine-human love of Jesus Christ that is always greater than any possible power of evil. But it is necessary that we include ourselves within this answer that God gives us through Jesus Christ. Even if the individual is responsible for a fragment of evil, and therefore is an accomplice of its power, together with Christ he can nevertheless “complete what is lacking in his sufferings” (cf. Col 1:24).

The sacrament of penance certainly has an important role in this field. It means that we always allow ourselves to be molded and transformed by Christ and that we pass continuously from the side of him who destroys to the side of Him who saves.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mercy in the Face of Divorce

Suppose a man and woman marry in the Church, that is, they receive the sacrament of matrimony. Then ten or so years later, perhaps with kids in the interim, they divorce. A not uncommon scenario. Maybe one or both goes on to meet someone else, date, and enter into another marriage at the courthouse, or maybe not. Let's just stick to them being divorced civilly for now.

When the man and woman receive their divorce papers, what happens to the grace of sacrament? That is, what happens to the divine help that God has provided to each of them and both of them? (Because that is what grace is - a helping hand from God that allows one to do things that otherwise would be humanly difficult or impossible.) Does this grace disappear too? No. It remains there for either or both to take advantage of.

Back to those who remarry civilly. Of course, Church teaching regarding the permanance of marriage still recognizes the first marriage at continuing. This is said to impose a hardship on those who civilly remarry and that in mercy they should receive Holy Communion in order to obtain the graces therefrom.

It is right and good that they should receive grace. They need that grace. Very much. We all need God's help, especially in difficult circumstances.

But those who call for Communion for those who are civilly remarried are forgetting something. No, not the indissolubility of the marital bond. They -- and those who focus on the bond of marriage overlook this too -- they are forgetting the grace of the prior sacrament of matrimony. It is still there. When we speak of indissolubility, included in that is the indissolubility of matrimonial grace. No one can separate us from the love of God.

God offers us his mercy and grace if only we will accept it. He offers us his mercy and grace in a number of ways. Two ways in particular are -- the revealed teaching of the Church and in the sacraments. Church teaching on marriage, family and human sexuality are not a burden, they are not a bunch of harsh rules, they are the Good News of God, they are given us by Christ in his mercy through the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of marriage that is lifelong is not bondage, it is not a chain -- it is itself a mercy and a grace that frees those who receive it.

The problem is that like the other sacraments -- Confirmation being high on the list -- too many people take the gift of those graces and leave it unopened, or they open the gift, use it for a while, and then stick it in the back of the closet, where it sits unused.

The man and the woman who marry in the Church, only to divorce ten years later, ten years after that they still have those graces they received in the sacrament. They each only have to take them out of the closet. And it is there they will find the mercy and help they desire.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sigh. No. Just no.

One of the most grave threats to the faith and to the well-being of society is a grossly distorted and erroneous understanding of conscience. This highly destructive error was most prominent in the wake of Humanae Vitae, effectively giving license to reject objective moral truth and do whatever you want, but now it has once again reared its ugly and evil head. (See recent confused comments of Archbishop Blase Cupich)

The word "conscience" comes from the Latin "con-scientia," meaning "with knowledge." Knowledge of what? Knowledge of something other than our subjective selves, something that is beyond the self -- it is knowledge of objective and eternal truth, the "anamnesis" of the Creator who exhorts us to love in truth.

Conscience is not the same as one’s opinions or feelings, and one cannot choose or create his own conscience. That is not the conscience, that is the will.

The Nazi leader Hermann Goring proclaimed, "my conscience is Adolf Hitler." Others proclaim, "my conscience is myself." But the foundation of conscience is not man, but God.

Rightly understood, conscience is not the voice of self or the personal will, but is the voice of God within our hearts, our very souls; it is the light of objective moral truth which is given us so that we might make our way in the dark. (See Dominum et Vivificantem, 43) In this, God speaks even to the hearts of atheists and, if they are otherwise of good faith, they can hear Him even if they do not realize that it is His voice speaking to them.

We ourselves are not the light, God is the Light. The task of conscience is not to create moral truth, but to perceive it and then apply it, not ignore it. The judgment of conscience does not establish the law or decide for itself what is right or wrong; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law, it is the voice of Truth within the person calling him to act in conformance with truth, to do good and avoid evil. In other words, conscience is a judgment of reason in the application of objective moral truth to a particular case.

In our perception of such moral truth, we are assisted by the Magisterium of the Church, by the Pope and bishops, who are in turn specially guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete promised to us by Jesus Christ. Thus, as Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman noted, a properly-formed good conscience cannot be one that is in contradiction with the teachings of the Church.

Prior to the obligation of conscience is the obligation to properly form one's conscience, or more specifically, "an actual conscience, conscience understood as a 'co-knowing' with the truth," in the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in his 1991 talk, Conscience and Truth. If we have a false, improperly-formed conscience, one that is not "with knowledge" of objective truth, but is instead one that is "with ignorance" of objective truth, including knowing contradiction with authoritative Church teaching, including those teachings on human sexuality and marriage, then we cannot assert a right to follow it.

The "obligation" to follow one’s conscience is an obligation to follow a good conscience, one that is "with knowledge" of transcendent objective truth, and not a bad or malformed counterfeit "conscience."

Conscience is meant to accuse one of error in sin, not justify sin, and conscience is most emphatically not a license to delude ourselves to truth so as to justify doing, facilitating, or participating in that which is intrinsically wrong or mala in se (evil in and of itself). One's "subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples which follow therefrom" are not sufficient, explains Cardinal Ratzinger, "it will not do to identify man's conscience with the self-consciousness of the I, with it subjective certainty about itself and its moral behavior," especially in a relativistic age when so many can no longer see moral fault and sin. (see also Evangelium Vitae, 24)

With this connection to transcendent objective moral truth, in all things we have an obligation in conscience, written as law upon our hearts, to do the good and resist evil. (Gaudium et Spes, 16) This obligation to follow a good conscience, properly formed in conformity with the teachings of the Church, does not restrict human freedom, but instead calls the person to genuine freedom in truth, for only in truth will one be set free.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Once Again Before the Tree of Knowledge

Today, we are called to preach the Gospel of Truth, praying that people turn away from the culture of self-delusion and lies that leads to death.

On Friday, June 26, 2015, we were treated to this from on-high:
Obergefell v. Hodges, ___ U.S. ___ (2015).
The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. . . .

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. . . . The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. . . .

Choices about marriage shape an individual’s destiny. As the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has explained, because “it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.” Goodridge, 440 Mass., at 322, 798 N. E. 2d, at 955.

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. . . . The right to marry thus dignifies couples who “wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other.” . . .

The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era.
We've heard this before. It was said in a more concise way a dozen years ago:
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).
These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.
But these words were heard even further back -- all the way back to the beginning:

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-8.
The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The LORD God gave man this order: "You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die." * * *

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God had made. The serpent asked the woman, "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?"

The woman answered the serpent: "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, 'You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman: "You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad."

The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Once again those words uttered at the dawn of human history have echoed from the bench and through the land. Those who proclaim with unbounded hubris to know better than all of humanity, to have a "better informed understanding," to be greater and wiser than all who have come before, again repeat the lie that one can be like a god, with the freedom, the power, to choose one's own reality, one's own conception of truth and error, of right and wrong.

Do not eat the fruit of the tree being offered you. The judicial fiat proclamation of "same-sex marriage" in Obergefell, like the words of Lawrence before it, is founded on a lie disguised as liberty and equality. In a very real sense, it is that very first lie uttered in the Garden – a corruption, not only of God's gift of creation of man as male and female, complementary of each other in a way that is intrinsically unitive and fruitful, but His gift of free choice. It is the lie whispered by the serpent in Eve's ear, "You can be a god. Eat of this fruit and you yourself can choose what is right and wrong. You can choose your own truth, your own reality. You can decree that what is different is actually the same, you can choose your inherently sterile relationship to be the equal of one that is procreative."

But this so-called “right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” is completely divorced from transcendent Truth. We are not, we cannot be, gods unto ourselves. Existence is what it is. We have free will, but we cannot choose our own truth, we cannot choose our own reality.

And, as with that first lie, the lie of today that is "same-sex marriage," and gender change, where a man is now a woman and all are supposed to applaud, and abortion, and cloning, and embryonic experimentation, and physician-assisted death for the sick and elderly, as with the first lie, these modern lies have taken and will take an enormous toll.

Nothing Has Changed

The sun still rises in the east. Blue is still blue. Two plus two are still four. And the conjugal union of a man and woman is still the only relationship that is capable as constituting marriage.

Truth does not change. A thing is what it is. Unfortunately, that includes Justice Kennedy being Justice Kennedy.

The question is -- Do you stand for truth? Or do you bend to legal fictions? Will you marvel at the emperor's pretend clothes? Or worse, will you eat the Fruit of the Tree that we are being encouraged to eat?

Monday, November 03, 2014

Praying for the Dead

There is news about a young woman who killed someone. She told everyone that she was going to do this evil act and many people enthusiastically supported her and a few even helped her do the deed. This woman, this killer, is now dead.

Do you pray for the perpetrators of evil who are now dead? If so, how do you pray? What do you pray for?

We might start with mourning, with recognizing that it is a tragedy that she is dead, even if one is justifiably angry at the evil that was the murder she committed. We might pray that God remember that, despite whatever evils she might have done and did do, she still is a child of God. We might pray that God’s will be done -- that is, given that she is a child of God, that He forgive her this great evil if it be His will to do so and take her into heaven.

Now, as a general matter, forgiveness implies that the deceased had repented of any mortal sin and accepted such forgiveness and redemption before dying. And if they died while in a state of mortal sin, that would be, again as a general matter, an indication that they did not seek or want such forgiveness. But what if the evil were committed in the very act of dying (as it was with this young woman)?

Again, it is a tragic thing that happened. Both the death of the sinner is a tragedy and the committing of the evil, of the sin, is a tragedy. And it is made all the more tragic because such evil tends to cause other people to commit the same evil. Although the evil was committed concurrent with death, we might pray that God find whatever ember of remorse might have been present. We might recall that the Lord delights not in the death of even the wicked (Ez. 18:23, 33:11).

Often we pray, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.”

If we were to be so presumptuous to judge the soul of this young woman who was a killer -- and it is NOT our job to do so, but if we were to -- we might conclude that she is among those “most in need” of Christ’s mercy. So, in saying this common prayer, we are already praying for her and others who have done such evil.

We might also pray that people having sympathy for this young woman's death (as would be proper) not think that such sympathy dictates overlooking the evil that she did. To do that risks presuming upon God's mercy and presumption is one of the gravest sins that we can commit. In addition, we might also pray for our society, for those who effectively cheered at the prospect of a young woman being killed. Too many people in this culture have made a covenant with death, they revel in killing, their consciences having been effectively killed long before.

God save us. It's clear that we aren't going to save ourselves.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

You Can't Own God

The Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is basic stuff in Catholicism.

As such, a consecrated Host - the Eucharist - is not an article of property. You can't own the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The very idea is absurd and contrary to every teaching on the Real Presence. No human can assert ownership over Jesus as if He were mere chattel.

An unconsecrated host, being merely a kind of bread, can and is property. But once it is consecrated it is no longer possible to be a species of property. And to claim that the Host still is property and that can be owned - that anyone can own the Body of Christ, the Divinity of Christ - is among the highest kinds of hubris that one can imagine.

Clearly, anyone who would claim that the Eucharist is property capable of being owned is either a heretic of the grossest kind or he is someone who really hasn't quite thought through the ramifications of his too-cute-by-half argument.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Santa Claus Question

Growing up, nobody ever questioned parents indulging their children in the belief in Santa Claus while at the same time fostering love for the baby Jesus at Christmas. Few, if any, thought that the two were incompatible.

Of course, times have changed. Some foster only a belief in Santa. I remember hearing one young boy at Christmas time tell his mother that some other kids had mentioned Jesus and he asked, "Who is he?" His parents - who were completely non-religious - had never told him that Christmas is about, you know, Christ. Other parents go to the other extreme, thinking that to speak of Santa is to, at best, engage in pagan fantasy and, at worse, to lie to their children.

When one mother claimed that her daughter told her, "you told us the Tooth Fairy and Santa were real, and they’re not. So, it’s hard for me to believe God is real.” I responded with telling her that Santa is real, just as God is real. But one is metaphor and the other is the real deal. Properly understood, “Santa” is not the commercialized guy of the materialistic modern world, but is instead an icon of the Son of God Himself and, hence, a model for us.

"Santa Claus" is representative of the giving and joy that we are each called to, and which originates in God giving Himself to us on Christmas morning. The only problem is in not locking yourself in by presenting Santa in such a fashion that one cannot then later explain exactly who "Santa" is. Yes, he was an actual real historical person by the name of Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6 (see below). And the clothes that he wears (red suit, white lining) are the real historical clothes worn by bishops. But the "Santa" of today is you and me. Santa is us, who are called to give to others.

Thus, it is probably wise, when kids see all the various “Santas” at the mall, to explain that that is not really Santa, but “Santa’s helper.” That can bridge the gap to later telling the children that “Santa” is symbolic. When children learn that Santa is actually mom and dad, the parents who love them, they receive a better gift than the toy giver from the North Pole could ever give. When they understand that the real Santa is each of us, they are more ready to understand that they are Santa too, they are called to self-giving.

Moreover, there is absolutely no reason that this should cause a crisis of faith. Kids are sophisticated enough to "believe" in the Easter Bunny without losing faith in God Himself - after all, it is obvious that they are receiving the very same eggs that they were helping mom and dad paint a couple of days before. Here, again, is the lesson of self-giving.

If done right, parents can avoid the two extremes of teaching fantasy and lies to children on the one hand and being a grumpy wet-blanket Grinch on the other. Fostering a belief in "Santa Claus" can be a teaching tool if carefully done, a tool that leads children to Christ and His call to love one another.

As for the real Saint Nicholas --

He was born in Lycia, Asia Minor, and died as Bishop of Myra in 352. He performed many miracles and exercised a special power over flames. He practiced both the spiritual and temporal works of mercy, and fasted twice a week.

He is undoubtedly one of the most popular saints honored in the Western world. Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Peter Damian called him the glory of young men, the honor of the elderly, the splendor of priests and the light of Pontiffs. In the United States, his memory has survived in the unique personality of Saint Claus — the jolly, rotund, white-bearded gentleman who captivates children with promises of gifts on Christmas Eve. Considered primarily as the patron saint of children, Nicholas is also invoked by sailors, merchants, bakers, travelers and pawnbrokers, and with Saint Andrew is honored as the co-patron of Russia.

St. Nicholas was born in the last years of the third century in Asia Minor. His uncle, the archbishop of Myra in Lycia, ordained him and appointed him abbot of a nearby monastery. At the death of the archbishop, Nicholas was chosen to fill the vacancy, and he served in this position until his death. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted the Christians, St. Nicholas was arrested, taken away from his home by the pagan soldiers, and thrown into a prison at the beginning of the fourth century. He suffered the hardships of hunger, thirst, loneliness, and chains. Released by Constantine the Great, he returned to his city, and he later attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. He died in Myra about 345.

Popular legends have involved Saint Nicholas in a number of charming stories, one of which relates Nicholas' charity. A man of Patara had lost his fortune, and finding himself unable to support his three maiden daughters, was planning to turn them into the streets as prostitutes. Nicholas heard of the man's intentions and secretly threw three bags of gold through a window into the home, thus providing dowries for the daughters. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. The three bags of gold are also said to be the origin of the three gold balls that form the emblem of pawnbrokers.

Saint Nicholas labored in his domains to stop the worship of false gods, still practiced there as elsewhere. With his own hands he cut down a huge tree, site of a sacrilegious cult of the goddess Diana. During a famine his prayers multiplied the provisions of wheat which he had ordered for the port of Myra, to such an extent that what would have sufficed for his people for only a few days, was found to be sufficient for more than two years. He rescued from death, just before they were hanged, three innocents condemned by a judge who had been corrupted by money, reprehended the latter for his crime and sent these liberated ones home, entirely exonerated.

After Nicholas' death on December 6, his body was buried in the cathedral at Myra. It remained there until 1087, when seamen of Bari, an Italian coastal town, seized the relics of the saint and transferred them to their own city.

By the year 1200 St. Nicholas had captured the hearts of all European nations. Many churches, towns, provinces and countries venerate him as their patron saint. Merchants, bankers, seamen and prisoners made him their patron, too. But his main patronage is the one over little children. Countless miracles were attributed to the saint's intercession. His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari; an oily substance, known as Manna di S. Nicola, which is highly valued for its medicinal powers, is said to flow from them.

The story of Saint Nicholas came to America in distorted fashion. The Dutch Protestants carried a popularized version of the saint's life to New Amsterdam, portraying Nicholas as nothing more than a Nordic magician and wonder-worker. Our present-day conception of Santa Claus has grown from this version. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013