Sunday, May 31, 2015

"We Had to Disobey the Church In Order to Be Faithful." The Irony of Defenders Turned Dissenters

Irony: incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result. Also, literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.


As we get closer to the projected release date of the Pope’s encyclical on the environment, a certain group of Catholics is growing more and more hostile to the Holy Father’s teaching authority. At the same time, the same group of Catholics are decrying the decline in the obedience to Church teaching in general. This is a good example of irony in both the standard and classical meanings of the word. It is incongruous to be offended at others being disobedient to the teaching of the Church, while also being disobedient to the Church—one would expect a person concerned with disobedience to be obedient. It is also something they seem to be unaware of doing even though others can see the contradiction plainly.

But the irony is not humorous, but tragic, because this is not something which is outside of one’s control. It is something which one can do something about—by examining one’s own behavior against what is an authority in assessing what is moral and immoral about our behavior. Since, as Catholics, we recognize that humanity is inclined towards sin and that the Church is given the authority to bind and loose by Christ (cf. Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18, John 20:21-23), it is reasonable to expect that Our Lord will protect that authority from binding us into error or loosing truth. Once we recognize this, it becomes clear that the teaching authority (as opposed to the comments made which are not teaching—like interviews) of the Church is more trustworthy a guide than our own judgment.

The Replacement of Obedience With “Happening to Agree"

For the longest time, Catholics who identified with being faithful to the Church on how to live, recognized this obligation. When certain Catholics sought to justify disobedience to the moral teaching, the response was to show that this teaching was binding and to disobey Church teaching was to put oneself at odds with Our Lord (cf. Luke 10:16). People took this stand in defending the Church teaching on contraception, abortion, same-sex genital acts and other things. St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were staunchly defended by Catholics seeking to be faithful.

But it seems that this fidelity was simply because they were in favor of the teaching of the Church anyway. Flashing forward to the pontificate of Pope Francis, we see that many of these defenders of Papal authority are suddenly becoming dissenters. The Pope, experiencing injustices during his life that we in the Western nations can’t imagine, pointed out that the Catholic teaching went beyond the teaching on sexual morality—that we could sin against God and our fellow man through unjust economic situations and political regimes. This isn’t a new situation. The Church has had to stand up against all sorts of oppressive regimes throughout history, and not only against the ones where the rulers committed sexual sins. Our Popes have spoken out on economic injustice on both sides of the capitalist-socialist debates. They recognized that just because one of two factions was condemned outright, it did not mean that the other side was free of flaws. For example, Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical against atheistic communism, Divini Redemptoris, also wrote:

38. It may be said in all truth that the Church, like Christ, goes through the centuries doing good to all. There would be today neither Socialism nor Communism if the rulers of the nations had not scorned the teachings and maternal warnings of the Church. On the bases of liberalism and laicism they wished to build other social edifices which, powerful and imposing as they seemed at first, all too soon revealed the weakness of their foundations, and today are crumbling one after another before our eyes, as everything must crumble that is not grounded on the one corner stone which is Christ Jesus.

In other words, even though socialism and communism were condemned, the Church recognizes that if nations had not neglected their obligations, these errors never would have gotten a foothold in the first place.

Former Defenders Become Dissenters Because the Church is Not What They Want it to Be

Unfortunately, too many people have not taken the Church teaching fully, instead using them in a partisan manner as if a condemnation of one was an endorsement of the other. The result is, when the Church speaks against the problems of the other side, it is presumed that the Church is endorsing what it previously condemned. So, when Pope Francis warns about the abuses in capitalism, people take it as support for socialism. This mindset leads one to forget that there can be more than two options to consider, and that the Church teaching may actually consist in rejecting both options.

The irony of Church defenders turned dissenters appears in another way as well—that the arguments which were used by dissenters against sexual morality are the same arguments that are used to justify dissent against Pope Francis. The arguments which were once rejected are now embraced—because the arguments suit dissent regardless of what the disliked teaching happens to be. 

Of course, we need to recognize something. Remember, those dissenters who want to change the Church teaching on sexual morality also deny that the Pope is teaching in a binding manner. The question is, are they justified in their reasons for refusing to obey the Church? If they are not, then neither are dissenters who want to deny the Church teaching on social justice. But if the people who oppose Pope Francis want to justify their dissent, they can’t deny the other dissenters—and that’s exactly the situation which they decried in the 1960s-1990s.

So the defender turned dissenter creates the same problem as the usual dissenter that we had from Church teaching on moral issues. A counter-magisterium is set up which tells the faithful that it is OK to disobey certain things. Whether the dissenter is rejecting the teaching on sexual morality or whether the dissenter is rejecting the teaching on social justice, they are rejecting the authority which Christ gave the Church. While they invoke a greater "truth (whether the liberal invokes [their interpretation of] “compassion” or the conservative invokes [their interpretation of] “tradition”), they are faithless in the smaller things. But Our Lord tells us that “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones (Luke 16:10)."

In other words, there are no cases of “What I do isn’t as bad as what they do.” If a person puts themselves and their preferences above the teaching authority of the Church, they are doing wrong and cannot claim their behavior is compatible with the Catholic faith.

Conclusion: What We’ve Lost Is Obedience

Many Catholics bemoan the fact that the Church was stronger and more respected in past times. They compare it today and try to find a cause to explain it. Vatican II is blamed. Popes are blamed. Bishops are blamed. The charge is, if the Church hadn’t made changes, people would still respect her. But I believe this argument is false. What the Church had in times when she was stronger and respected was obedience. People recognized her as the “barque of Peter” who was tasked with teaching the faith which kept us in right relationship with God. But now, whether the dissent is modernist or traditionalist, obedience is no longer present. It is assumed that the individual knows better than the whole Church, and "if the Church doesn’t teach what *I* want, then I won’t follow what she says!"

But as Catholics, we believe that the Church has the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18) and to forgive sins or hold them bound (John 20:23). If God gives her that authority and the responsibility to go out to the whole world (Matthew 28:19), it follows that those who become part of that Church have the responsibility to obey what the Church intends to teach (Luke 10:16).

If we reject the teaching of the Church, if we spend time looking for excuses about why we are justified to disobey teachings for which we are required to give assent, we are not faithful Catholics—We are destroying what we claim to defend, just like the old statementIt became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” Some tactics are incompatible with building the Church, and disobedience is one of those incompatible ones. 

So let’s be clear about what we are doing and what we are fighting for. If we profess to believe in God and we profess to believe that Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church, then let us carry out that belief by trusting God to protect His Church from teaching error when it to things that require our assent. Then let us show our faith in God’s protection by obeying the magisterium when they teach,

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Church Will Survive...But We Have Work To Do

The Internet is full of people gloating over what they see as the defeat of the Catholic Church. Ireland, being long seen as a bastion of Catholicism, has voted for “same sex marriage” (62% voting yes) and the critics of the Church think this is a win-win situation. In their mind, either the Church changes her teaching and becomes what they want her to be or she refuses and goes extinct. In other words, they get what they want either way. At the same time, there are a lot of Catholics are looking for someone to blame. There are accusations being leveled that if the Church had done things differently, this would not have happened. In other words, both sides seem to look at this as a permanent loss for the Church.

There is no doubt that the implications of this vote are serious. Catholics have become so uninformed about that their faith that they think they can reject Church teaching as if it was an opinion, or even that it is compatible with the “greater truths” of the faith—as if Catholicism could be compartmentalized or one part set against another. But despite this apostasy in Ireland, this is not the “end of the Church.” Not universally, and not in Ireland (which Catholic bloggers love to ask as headlines).

The Church has faced setbacks and attacks all throughout her history where rulers or people turned on her. At one time the majority of the Roman Empire chose the Arian heresy over the Catholic faith. England turned on the Catholic Church during the Reformation. Japan expelled all missionaries and sought to exterminate the faith during the 16th century. France turned on the Church during the Revolution. Anti-clerical forces attacked the Church in Italy (19th century) and Mexico (20th century). 

The Church has always survived and continued to preach the Gospel. That doesn’t mean that everything turns out peachy in the end. Sometimes the relationship of the Church with the people of a nation is permanently altered as a result (England once was a solidly Catholic nation for example). But the Church will survive.

That doesn’t mean we can take the attitude of “God’s going to win, so lets sit back and wait” however. The fact that 62% of the Irish voters approved of something completely incompatible with the Catholic faith shows that a lot of hard work needs to be done there to bring the message of Christ back to the people. It’s not just Ireland for that matter. Even though, in America, the imposition of “same sex” marriage” is largely done by judicial diktat, the fact remains that there is a growing number of people who have been deceived into thinking this is good and the Christian teaching is based on “hatred.” It’s remarkably similar to how the ancient Romans thought Christians were the enemies of humanity (which I suspect we’re not all that far away from again).

It means Catholics have to abandon the attitude of “Let Father/The Bishop/The Pope do it!” No. Every one of us is called in the role of Priest, Prophet and King” to go out and evangelize the whole world. The people of the world have been deceived into thinking self interest can be labeled as good and virtue can be labeled as judgmentalism and hate. So we need to start again, teaching people that sin exists and we need Jesus as our savior—which includes going and sinning no more (John 8:11).

This may seem to be a hardship. But read the lives of saints throughout history. They spent their lives laboring in the vineyard of the Lord despite tedium or hostility. That’s our task as well. Some of us may suffer martyrdom. Some of us may be persecuted in other ways. This is not something new to the history of the Catholic Church. But we need to stop pointing fingers at others in blame. We need to stop expecting others to do the task. We need to pray to be shown our own task, and then carry it out—in communion with the Pope and bishops to go out to the whole world preaching the good news (Matthew 28:18-20)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"I'm Shocked... Shocked!" Reflections on Rebellion in the House of God

The other day, on Facebook, I saw a Catholic cheer that a Catholic candidate for President was given the highest rating in the field concerning the position of immigration according to a website. Going to the website, I saw that the issue in question was immigration, and that the views that the site saw as “good” was actually against the Catholic views on the subject. In other words, while the highest grade being held by a Catholic candidate was a sign of his being a conservative, it was not a mark of his Catholicity. So, what we were seeing here was a rejoicing that a Catholic candidate Catholic agreed with his or her position, and not a rejoicing that the Catholic position was the most widely embraced.

I was struck by the irony of people thinking this way and, at the same time, being shocked—shocked that 62% of the Irish voted to reject the teaching of the Church, when they were in fact guilty of thinking the same way.

(“I’m shocked—shocked to find widespread disobedience in the Church!”)

Now I’m not going to accuse that person of malice or willful hypocrisy. I don’t even know the person, let alone the state of his or her conscience. However, the trend today that troubles me is I see Catholics quarreling over the Church, the Pope and what teachings they have to follow. The fact is that many seem perfectly complacent with their own standing before God and His Church, even though they put themselves first and obedience to the Church is contingent on whether or not they approve of the teaching in question. If they do not approve of it, they find excuses to justify disobedience. In the meantime the rebellion of others is promptly pointed out and denounced. If anyone dares to point out that their own views are incompatible with the teaching of the Church, the response is to...
  1. Deny that their actions are sinful.
  2. Claim that the actions of others is worse and the Church should go after them instead.
Thus, we see a Church that is hated by both extremes and accused of sympathizing with the worst of the other side. For example, because the Church stands up in defense of sexual morality, she is accused of being “right wing” by liberals. Because she stands in defense of the poor, she is accused of being “leftist” by conservatives. Under such a view, the Church is seen as being in error—and therefore not to be obeyed—in every area where people dislike the teaching of the Church.

In other words, a goodly number of Catholics—including those who profess to be faithful Catholics—are deceiving themselves into thinking the Church is in error and they are not. This isn’t a new trend of course. Our Lord gave us the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and used the image of a splinter in another’s eye and a plank in our own. The situation is not exclusive to this time, or to to a specific political faction. We’ve had this attitude all throughout the history of the Church.

I think what makes this attitude dangerous in this particular time is the fact that communications can be widespread and instantaneous. An opinion over Church teaching can be easily published by anybody over the internet, and can reach a far wider audience than in the past. For example, according to different sources, this blog has been visited by over 11,000 different individuals and total visits to the site is many times that—and my blog is fairly obscure. Other blogs or websites out there have a much wider reach than mine. But there is no oversight over what I or others publish, and a person in error or deliberately intending to teach falsehood (May God deliver me from being in either category) may come across giving the illusion of being authoritative can get away with it—especially with a person confident with their own inerrancy who is convinced by a spurious argument.

This being the case, we are seeing false arguments justifying disobedience to the Church spread like wildfire. A false argument shows up on a social network or website and soon it is widely repeated in comments or blogs. It takes on a life of its own and soon people believe this is official Church teaching and begin using it to justify their own disobedience. Thus we see the SSPX and the modernists using the same arguments to justify why they can ignore the Pope or the bishop, slightly modified to justify their position.

What we have to realize is, no blog, website, Facebook “expert" or forum has the authority to set up a counter-magisterium to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. A blog written by a Catholic can only legitimately point to the authority of the Church and try to explain it. Such a site can only be trustworthy to the extent that it accurately does this. In fact, if it does not do this, it is not at all trustworthy. Moreover, if the source claims that the official magisterium can be disobeyed, it is not trustworthy.

Because it is easy to find people to reinforce one’s rebellion without having to organize dissent, rebellion is running rampant in these times. In addition, organized dissent can use these people, encouraging them to dissent in their favor and giving the illusion that the whole Church is against the faithful Catholic who challenges them. When a number of people are making rebellious comments against the Church, it becomes harder for the truly faithful Catholic to express the truth—because forums tend to believe in numbers.

Yes, what happened in Ireland was shameful. It shows that the nation needs to be re-evangelized—as does the entire West. But it’s not surprising. So long as the average Catholic puts his or her own preferences above the moral obligation to follow the teaching the Church, it’s inevitable. Every one  of us has the obligation to spread the Gospel to all nations, bearing witness. But obedience to the Church is part of that witness—if we are unwilling to give it ourselves, the result is our witness is that this is not important.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Who Safeguards the Purity of the Gospel? A Reflection on Dissent

(God takes a dim view of those who challenge the authority of those He chose to lead)
[See Numbers 16:1-35 for context]


The Catholic Church sees, as one of her tasks, the duty to safeguard the purity of the Gospel (Sources of Catholic Dogma #783) which includes both the written word and unwritten tradition of what Our Lord passed on to the Apostles. She does this so she can carry out her mission given to her to preach to all the nations His word, which is, “the source of every saving truth and of instruction in morals.” This duty to safeguard the purity of the Gospel did not become crystalized at a certain point in history, where the teachings of the Church became a written document where any person could claim a “plain sense” and apply it against the living magisterium of the Church in the same way that anti-Catholic fundamentalists claim a “plain sense” to Scripture and apply it against Catholic teaching.
We believe, as Catholics, that there is an authority which makes the final decision whether something is in keeping with the Catholic faith or not. This authority is what we call the Magisterium, which is defined as the Pope and bishops in communion with him. When the Pope intends to teach the Church (as opposed to making some informal statement), what he teaches is binding on us, and we are required to give our assent to these teachings.
This is a basic understanding of the Church, long understood. In fact, Canon Law (#751) describes schism as “the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” So, when a person refuses to follow the teaching of the Pope, he or she is committing schism, whether he or she intends to or not.
Ignoring a Key Teaching

The question then is, if this is a basic understanding, why do so many refuse to apply it to themselves? People are perfectly happy to point out when others are behaving wrongly when it comes to defiance of the Church. But they never look to their own actions and ask if they are guilty of the same thing. Thus modernist dissent refuses to accept when the Pope teaches on some issues. But traditionalist dissent also refuses the authority of the Pope when they dislike what he has to say. Both sides have created a theology which attempts to deny that a teaching that binds actually does bind. They claim that only an ex cathedra statement binds and anything else that the Pope or a Council might have to say is mere opinion which can be safely ignored. They claim that the Pope teaches error and therefore they do not have to listen to him.
The fact is, the modernist and the traditionalist dissenters are guilty of the same act—the only difference is they dissent over different things. They condemn the dissent of the other side but consider their own dissent as justified and being faithful to a “greater” truth. But this attitude is nothing more than self-deception used to justify the refusal to obey what one does not want to do.
On Whose Say So?

People who dissent against the authority of the Church have created elaborate justifications on why they will not obey what they do not want to obey. But there is a problem with such justifications—where is the authority for the justification? With the advent of the internet, it has been easy for people to collect a selection of quotes which serve their purpose and present them saying, “See, the Church taught THIS!” where “THIS” actually means “What I think." The problem is, we need to ask two questions:
  1. Whether this person has the authority to decide what interpretation is compatible with Church teaching.
  2. Whether this person has correctly understood the cited document.
People make an error in assuming that they interpret the Bible, or Church teaching in an unbiased sense and what they think it means is assumed to be “What it means!” in the eyes of the Church. The problem is, it doesn’t work that way. Yes, individuals are called to learn from the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. But we are to learn and not be judges over the meaning. 
The Pope and bishops in communion with him are given the authority and responsibility to safeguard the purity of the Gospel, so it makes sense that Our Lord, who gives that authority and responsibility, would make certain that they do not lead the faithful into error where the faithful are bound to obey. We, the faithful, have not been given that protection. Certainly all clergy, religious and laity have a role to play in the Church and can contribute to the good of the Church. But, when the teaching authority of the Church says “No,” we do not have the right to say “Yes.” In other words, what the successors of the Apostles bind, we do not have the authority to loose and what they have loosed, we do not have the authority to bind.
So, when a person tries to argue that their dissent against the Church is justified, they have the obligation to show that they have the authority to interpret in a binding way and the obligation to show they have understood the meaning of the document correctly. They cannot appeal to the authority of the text in opposition to the magisterium because it is their own interpretation that is in question.
Mirror Images—Modernist and Radical Traditionalist

The Modernist and the Radical Traditionalist like to put those they disagree with in the opposite camp while portraying themselves as having the true sense of the faith. But the fact is, they make the same error.
  • The Modernist assumes the magisterium teaches error today. The Church made a change in the past that was wrong (in their view) and has to be changed to become right (Claiming the Church needs to move “Forward”)
  • The Radical traditionalist assumes the magisterium teaches error today. The Church made a change in the present that was wrong (in their view) and has to be changed to become right (Claiming the Church needs to move “Back”)
Neither side considers the possibility that they made the error in clinging to an interpretation which was never what the Church intended to teach. Confusing custom and Sacred Tradition, or assuming binding teaching is optional, they assume that they alone have the proper understanding of what the Church is meant to be, and if the magisterium disagrees, it is proof the magisterium is wrong (begging the question fallacy). Both assume that the Church, to be saved, must become what they think it should be.

Some have objected that this means that they are being told to “shut up and obey” in the face of clergy behaving badly (doctrinally or personally). That is not the case. Certainly, you will find people who abuse their position, promoting politics or error over the Church teaching, and that is wrong. When the Church teaches “X is a sin,” the person who teaches “X is not a sin” does act against the Church. That’s not a matter of dispute.
However, the problem is that dissenters often argue that there is a change in teaching when there is not. Sometimes a member of the clergy might speak unclearly, but an analysis shows there is no such intent. Sometimes the media misinterprets something said to the point that the meaning is distorted. The point is, we have to carefully assess what was said to make sure we do not rush to judgment and accuse them of saying something they had no intention to say to begin with.
We also have to be sure that we have properly understood the Church teaching before saying that Pope, Bishop or Priest is acting against it. Many people have misinterpreted Jesus’ words against judgment (Matthew 7:1) to mean we cannot say something is a sin. Others have drawn from Church disciplines (such as the universal use of Latin in the western Catholic Church) and wrongly assume that this discipline is a doctrine. The result is they say the Church has “changed her teaching” when she has not.
Another problem is that many people assume that certain teachings have an ideological slant and certain words are ideological buzzwords. Therefore, when the Church speaks on these teachings or uses these words, it is assumed that the Church is a captive of a certain political faction. Hence the simultaneous accusations of the American bishops being “Liberal Democrats” and the “Republican Party at Prayer.” Such accusations reflect a wrong belief that a moral teaching which predates the discovery of America has a motive rooted in a modern political ideology.
Conclusion—If the Church Is Teaching Error, Why Remain?

The point of this is, the Church—under the headship of the current Pope and bishops in communion with him—does have the authority and the responsibility to safeguard the purity of the Gospel. Because they have this authority and responsibility, we believe that when the Church makes a teaching—something we have to give assent to—we put our faith in God that the Pope will not bind us to error or loose us to truth. Certainly they can make mistakes in private statements and in prudential judgments. But when they intend to teach the Church on sexual morality, economic morality or ecological morality, this does involve an area where they do have authority to have us give assent.
If we don’t have faith that the magisterium today has this protection from God, the question is: Why in the hell are we still in the Church? If the Church we belong to is now in the wrong, we can never know when she was right. How do we know she was right when she ruled against the Arians, Nestorians, Monophysites, Monothelites, or Iconoclasts? On the other end of history, how do we know the Church was right in Vatican I or Trent? How do we know that it isn’t the Eastern Orthodox or Protestants who are right? How do we know that it isn’t Islam or Judaism that is right while we are in error?
If the Church can go wrong in the teaching of the Church by the Pope and bishops in communion with him, we can never be sure that it hasn’t gone wrong before. It is only when we trust that God protects those with the authority to teach from teaching error that we can trust that the Catholic Church is anything other than a human institution.
I believe that God protects His Church—The Catholic Church under the Pontificate of Pope Francis—and trust that the Church under the leadership of the current Pope will never teach error. It’s not putting unreasonable faith in a human being. It’s putting faith in an entirely trustworthy God.

Monday, May 25, 2015

TFTD: The Scandal that Wasn't...

(See: Pope to US Christian Unity Event: Jesus Knows... - Zenit News Agency)

So, opening Facebook this morning, I had one of those What in the Hell??? moments when ZENIT gave us the headline, “Pope to US Christian Unity Event: Jesus Knows All Christians Are One, Doesn't Care What Type.” This was a statement that would scandalize the faithful. Was this one of those incidents where Pope Francis spoke “off the cuff” and created another headache for apologists? I mean, this is the level headed ZENIT, not some uninformed secular news site or radical blog that shoots first and asks questions later.

A portion of the article would lead you to think this was the Pope’s fault:

Francis pointed out that Jesus knows that Christians are disciples of Christ, and that they are one and brothers.

“He doesn’t care if they are Evangelicals, or Orthodox, Lutherans, Catholics or Apostolic…he doesn’t care!” Francis said. “They are Christians. 

Is the Pope offering a heresy of indifferentism?

The short answer is “No.” The longer answer is “HELL NO!"

The complete transcript is found HERE and it is clear that the author of the first article (probably in good faith) completely misunderstood who the article “He” was referring to in the article. What the Pope actually said was:

Together today, I here in Rome and you over there, we will ask our Father to send the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and to give us the grace to be one, “so that the world may believe”. I feel like saying something that may sound controversial, or even heretical, perhaps. But there is someone who “knows” that, despite our differences, we are one. It is he who is persecuting us. It is he who is persecuting Christians today, he who is anointing us with (the blood of) martyrdom. He knows that Christians are disciples of Christ: that they are one, that they are brothers! He doesn’t care if they are Evangelicals, or Orthodox, Lutherans, Catholics or Apostolic…he doesn’t care! They are Christians. And that blood (of martyrdom) unites. Today, dear brothers and sisters, we are living an “ecumenism of blood”. This must encourage us to do what we are doing today: to pray, to dialogue together, to shorten the distance between us, to strengthen our bonds of brotherhood.

In other words, the Pope was saying that the devil didn’t care what denomination he was persecuting—he wants to destroy Christians!

Now this was a completely orthodox site, and they got things drastically wrong. Now keep this in mind when a secular newspaper misinterprets something the Pope says.

Also keep this in mind when a “Super Catholic” gets outraged and bashes the Pope on the basis of what is reported in the news.

The moral is—always use the transcripts and always read carefully if you think something sounds strange. It’s easier to believe the reader is in error than that the Pope is teaching heresy.

"Do Not Be Afraid!" Reflections on God and His Church

5. Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it.

So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.

[John Paul II, Homilies of Pope John Paul II (English) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014). October 22, 1978]

The powers of darkness are doubtlessly smiling over the vote in Ireland recognizing “same-sex marriage.” I have seen Irish news sites crowing about how the power of the Church was “finally broken.” Media sources and politicians are full of advice telling us that we need to change our teachings if we are to “remain relevant” and survive. 

The Flood2(The ultimate result of breaking the bonds with the Church, the Barque of Peter, is being stranded when the floods come)

Meanwhile, many Catholics are stunned, and thinking that if only the Church had done things differently, we would not be seeing the revolt carried out once more in a nation which was once solidly Catholic.

I am inclined to think that both groups are missing the point of what God’s intention is and what the task of His Church is.

God is our Creator. He loves us and designed us for good. However, He did not want mindless slaves who have no choice but to live the way He wants. He wanted our response to be love freely chosen. This means: If we are free to make the right choice, we are also free to make the wrong choice. God gives us the grace to respond to Him in love and obedience. However, we are free to refuse that gift of grace, placing ourselves first and seeking things that are pleasurable in the short term, but ultimately destructive.

Because of the choice of our first parents (see HERE for a reflection on the Fall and the need for Baptism), we have an inclination to sin and we need salvation—something we are unable to give ourselves or earn. The acts of Jesus, suffering and dying for us opened Heaven to all who would accept His gift. But that acceptance is a free choice. We need His grace to accept it, but we can refuse it by choosing to live in a way against what God calls us to be. If we do refuse that gift, we do have nobody to blame but ourselves if we die in opposition to His commandments.

As Catholics, we believe that the Catholic Church was established by Our Lord as the means of bringing His salvation to the world. The Church does not act as a self-appointed association of do-gooders or meddlers who are putting their noses in the affairs of others, or are a charitable NGO. As the Catechism begins:

1 God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

2 So that this call should resound throughout the world, Christ sent forth the apostles he had chosen, commissioning them to proclaim the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Strengthened by this mission, the apostles “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.”5

The Church exists to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to live as Our Lord has commanded. It follows from this, that the Church is not free to change her teaching from saying “X is evil” to saying “X is good.” If the Church sanctions behavior which goes against the commandments of God, she is failing in her mission.

But at the same time, she does not have the ability counteract free-will. No matter how firmly or clearly she teaches the truth about God and how we must behave if we truly love Him, people can misuse free will in defiance of that teaching (cf. Revelation 22:11). History is full of instances where faithful nations turned to error and rejected the Church—not because the Church failed to teach, but because those who ruled found the Church to be an obstacle. Consider England’s shift to Protestantism at the whim of the King, the French Revolution and others.

Unfortunately, some people fail to make that connection. Instead, they assume that the existence of rebellion against the Church must be the fault of the Church. The logic runs like this:

  • If the Church (Bishop/Priest) fails to teach, people will embrace error. (If A happens, B will happen)
  • People embrace error (B happens)
  • Therefore the Church failed to teach (Therefore A must have happened)

In logic, we call that affirming the consequent. The flaw is this—just because A can cause B is not proof that A did cause B. There may be other causes and these causes must be eliminated before we can affirm that A did cause B. In this case, the assumption is that the rejection of Church teaching must be ignorance because somebody failed to teach properly. Sometimes that is true. But it is not always true. Hostility and a willful decision to reject the Church teaching is also possible. So can the corruption of society into embracing something the Church speaks out against. So can the corruption of a government to take an antagonistic view of the Church. These are all possibilities where the assumption can be false.

So it important to remember what the Church is for—to proclaim the Gospel, baptizing and teaching what God has commanded. This task does not permit the Church to change God’s teaching. It only permits her to discern what is the best way to do this. This task does not mean that a person listen to the Church or will persevere in the faith either. A person might make a shipwreck of their faith. 

Also, we need to remember that God is in charge. We trust Him to look after the Church under the headship of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, trusting when the Church does require us to give assent, God will not allow the Church to teach something that obligates us to commit sin. Even if some are unfaithful, The headship of the Pope is still where we must look for the true practice of the faith, because we trust God’s promise to protect His Church.

Finally, we need to remember that the behaviors of a nation which repudiate the teaching of the Church is not the death knell of the Church. The Church had survived the breaking away of whole nations through heresy and schism, and she will continue to do so with the Irish apostasy. It will be hard on those nations and the Church in those nations. We certainly need to pray for the Church and the shepherds in this countries. We need to re-evangelize those nations. But panicking is not acceptable.

We must not be afraid to bring Christ to the world, even when we are hated and ridiculed for speaking out. We must not allow ourselves to give into panic and assume the battle is lost whenever the politician promotes evil. Certainly, let us pray for the clergy, religious and laity that all may carry out their task in serving the Church faithfully. But let us always remember the role God intends the Church to play and not blame her for not being something she never was to begin with.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Dark Times: Reflections on Anti-Religious Propaganda

12 The wicked plot against the righteous 

and gnash their teeth at them; 

13 But my Lord laughs at them, 

because he sees that their day is coming. 

14 The wicked unsheath their swords; 

they string their bows 

To fell the poor and oppressed, 

to slaughter those whose way is upright. 

15 Their swords will pierce their own hearts; 

their bows will be broken. [Psalm 37:12-15]

Reading the news, it seems that the foes of the Church have largely abandoned the pretense of trying to separate Pope Francis from the teaching of the Church. Because they believe that victory is imminent, they now write as if the Church is defeated and needs to change and get with the program if she would survive. However, we refuse to roll over and submit, and this angers those who hate us. The thing is, people who oppose the teaching of the Church are not satisfied with having usurped the legal power to implement what they desire. Rather, they want everyone to accept their desires as morally good. But as long as we’re here to remind them that God exists and their behavior separates them from Him, we are a stumbling block to their plans. So, they hope that they can drive us into irrelevancy by silencing us and persuading people to come over to their side. 

They do this through both overt attacks to drive us out of the public square and through persuading individuals that it is better to follow them than to follow the Church. But they can’t do this by giving their position and letting each person decide what is true. They have to misrepresent our beliefs to make them seem dangerous and malicious. They have to make it appear as if it is the Church who is trying to force changes, when the Church is simply insisting that the truth remains true, regardless of culture or era.

Dr. Peter Kreeft shows the problem in one of his Socratic Dialogue books:

Libby: It sounds like sour grapes to me. You’re complaining because we’re winning.

‘Isa: No, I’m complaining because you’re lying. For a whole generation now you small minority of relativistic elitists who somehow gained control of the media have been relentlessly imposing your elitist relativism on popular opinion by accusing popular opinion—I mean traditional morality—of elitism, and of imposing their morality! It’s like the Nazi propaganda saying Germany was victimized by Poland.

[Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 141.]

The political and cultural elites of our nation have portrayed the situation as if a group of antisocial misfits suddenly appeared in society with the intention to persecute people who think differently than they do. They portray it as if “enlightened” people are finally throwing off the shackles of these misfits and benefitting society in doing so. So they tell the world that Christians “condemn” because we hate—that we hate and fear anyone who will not submit to what we say. They dredge up the behavior of the worst history has to offer and portray it as if this was the norm for what we would do if they let us get away from it. Basically, the lie they use is to say that the world was as enlightened as the 21st century until religion—especially Judaeo-Christian religion—came into being, and sought to control human thought through fear and superstition.

This is, of course, false. But it is quite effective. Look at modern programs on TV. Look at how they portray religion. Practitioners of religion fall into two groups. Either they are cold, hostile people who are bigoted and hostile to anyone who thinks differently, or they are willing to compromise their beliefs to get along with the world. The former are villains and the latter are heroes.

They tried to fit Pope Francis into this mindset. They took his words out of context and tried to make it seem as if he was “heroically struggling” to bring the Church into an “enlightened” view. But he had too much to say in defense of the family and Catholic teaching to spin. Now they either ignore him or lump him in with those who they once contrasted him against. Now the media has to look to individual Catholics who rebel against the authority which Christ gave His Church and portray them as the enlightened ones. The ultimate result of this distortion of the Pope was not the changing of Church teaching, but deceiving many hitherto faithful Catholics into questioning or rejecting his authority as the successor to St. Peter, wrongly thinking that the Pope is in the camp of the compromisers.

At this time, the elites of our nation seem to think they have won. The Church is on the defensive while the courts seem willing to give them everything they ask for, ignoring the fact that these rulings violate the beliefs that our nation was founded on—that the government does not have the right to compel a person to do what their religious belief forbids them to do.

So, it is indeed a dark time. But we need to remember we cannot give up in despair or simply hunkering down in a bunker, deciding to survive while the whole world goes to hell. There have been dark times before, where the state wrongfully sought to usurp authority by making laws it had no authority to make. Yes, things can indeed get worse. We can indeed be personally targeted by unjust laws or even physical persecution. But we have to remember that this is not the first time such dark times have happened. In every other time, the Church continued to stand up and perform the mission Christ gave us.

People may hate us for telling them the truth, showing them that their chosen actions are not compatible with the love of God. But they are not our enemies, but our patients. God doesn’t want them damned, but wants them to turn back to Him. Our task is to cooperate with that great commission, regardless of whether the world wants to hear it or not.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dissenter's Deception

And since, by the divine right of apostolic primacy, one Roman Pontiff is placed over the universal Church, We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful,* and that in all causes the decision of which belongs to the Church recourse may be had to his tribunal,† but that none may reopen the judgement of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgement.‡ Wherefore they err from the right path of truth who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgements of the Roman Pontiffs to an Œcumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.


If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema.


[Pastor Æternus Chapter III. First Vatican Council]

I’ve been reading a book, What Went Wrong With Vatican II by Ralph McInerny that leaves me with a strange sense of déjà vu. The main premise is the rejection of authority in the 1960s did not come about because of Vatican II, but because of Humanae Vitae. A good portion of this book deals with the fact that the Pope made a binding teaching of the ordinary magisterium which people did not like, and to justify their dislike, they invented a theology  which never had been taught before which claimed the right to judge the teachings of the Church and reject those which they did not wish to follow.

The déjà vu portion comes when I see what liberal dissenters did in 1968 in rejecting magisterial authority—and see just how similar their arguments are to the arguments used by radical traditionalists today in rejecting the magisterial authority of the Church when it makes decisions they dislike.

The basic premise of both groups of dissent is in the argument that when the Pope makes a teaching which is not ex cathedra, it is fallible and therefore not binding. Liberal dissent used this argument from the 1960s on in trying to undermine the teaching authority of the Church when it came to sexual matters. It was argued that because the Church teaching on contraception was not made in an infallible pronunciation like the pronunciation of dogmas in 1854 (The Immaculate Conception) and 1950 (The Assumption of Mary), there could be error in it. Playing on the fear of uncertainty, a string of spurious reasoning was created:

  1. This document was not infallible, therefore it is fallible. 
  2. Because it is fallible, it contains error.
  3. We cannot be bound to follow error.
  4. Therefore we cannot be bound to follow this document.

The whole string is laden with error. It starts out with the development of the “Either-Or” fallacy by way of giving an equivocal meaning to the word fallible. The meaning is, generally speaking, “capable of error.” All of humanity is fallible by nature. But dissenters like to manipulate the meaning to make it sound like it means “containing error.” Thus the argument is made that, “if it’s not infallible, I don’t have to obey it.” But the problem is, dissenters are giving infallibility a meaning that is too narrow, while giving fallibility a meaning which is too broad. The fact is, the Church does not teach that one may ignore a teaching which is not made ex cathedra. The truth is quite the opposite.

What the faithful are bound to accept is not limited to the ex cathedra pronunciation—those are intentionally rare and the Popes govern by other methods. Indeed, the Church has taught that there are two means of teaching—both of which are binding. The Catechism says:

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.”420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

Regardless of whether the Pope is speaking on contraception, abortion, economics or ecology (or other topics involving faith and morals), if he teaches in a way that is not ex cathedra, he is still teaching in a way which binds us to obey. As the 1983 Code of Canon Law says:

can. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

So, the teaching of the Church is something we must give the obedience and assent of faith to, making a religious submission of intellect and will, and avoiding those things that are contrary to this teaching. Unfortunately, many confuse a teaching which is not done in a “definitive manner” with a mere opinion. But there is a massive difference. A Pope can offer his opinion on the best way to carry out the Church teaching on social justice, but that is different than the Pope teaching that social justice requires economics to be carried out with ethics.

So the dissent from the radicals in the 1960s to the present against the Church is no different than the dissent of the modern anti-Francis mindset of today. Both reject the authority of the Church to interfere with behavior they do not want to change. Both want to give the impression of being faithful in a larger sense by being disobedient in a “smaller” sense. Both feel that it’s both the other side and the magisterium who are the problem.

The fact is, being a faithful Catholic requires that we are obedient to those who have the authority to determine what is in keeping with the Deposit of Faith and what is not. If we refuse to be obedient, then regardless of our work on the defense of marriage, social justice, life issues or any other area, we are being faithless and usurping the authority of the successors of the Apostles. Such people can claim to be faithful, but they are deceiving both themselves and others.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Corruptio Optimi Pessima (Corruption of the Best is the Worst)

Temptation(The Temptation of Jesus—James Tissot)

Very few people set out with the intention of “Hey! I’m going to be an evil bastard!” But many people who start out with the intention of being good do wind up with the end result of having done evil.

Consider that statement. I bet a lot of us immediately thought of other people as falling under this category. I also bet that very few thought of ourselves. That means we’re either a bunch of saints (in which case, consider 1 Corinthians 10:12), or we’re blind to our failings. Personally I think the second option best describes our lives.

The fact is, the devil is out to ruin every one of us individually, and every one of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. The intention of the devil is to play on our weaknesses—our passions, our opinions, and so on. Unfortunately, we tend to be blind to this. We expect the devil to come with a direct attack against what we find important. A lot of our apocalyptic religious fiction tends to work that way. If you look at the Left Behind series or the Michael O’Brien novel Father Elijah, we see an antichrist who is a political liberal. He gives people what they want in terms of libertine debauchery and undermines the Church by turning people away from it. And this is happening today. We see this, and we make our decision to be faithful—praying to God that we be given the grace to stand in the face of persecution or seduction.

But what we don’t consider is that the devil wants our damnation as well. It doesn’t please him to destroy our body if our soul is brought to God. Some have apostatized in the past in the face of persecution, but others have stood firm with the grace of God supporting them. Some have been seduced into accepting libertine behavior, but others have not—through the grace of God. Are we to think that the devil will only succeed in trapping the political left and the weak minded, and as long as we’re politically “conservative” we’ll be safe?

I think we would be foolish to think so. The devil has other tactics besides the use of brute force. One of them is to deceive people into thinking that they are in the right while others who disagree are wrong—even if that disagreement comes from the magisterium of the Church. When one refuses to consider the possibility of being wrong, how can they repent and turn back to God? If one refuses to consider that the Church teaching is right when it goes against the individual’s own preferences,are no longer giving the religious assent that even the ordinary magisterium requires (See CCC #892).

But the whole point of metanoia is turning away from sin and towards God again. It requires being sorry for the wrong we have done. In metanoia we have the change of perspective in our lives. We realize that what we have been doing is not compatible with what God calls us to be and we want to change to be what God calls us to be. We can’t do it without His grace, but if we refuse to consider the possibility of our doing wrong, we won’t be open to seeking that grace. 

This is how people are corrupted. They deceive themselves into thinking they are good Catholics even when they are refusing to obey the successors to the Apostles—whom they deceive themselves into thinking are bad Catholics. This is not something limited to one theological outlook. The rebellion of the liberals in the 1960s forward is being taken up by conservative dissent today…the arguments used to defy the Church over Humanae Vitae in 1968 is being used to defy Pope Francis here and now. 

This is the corruption of the best intentions—to be faithful to God and the Church, and in corrupting such people, they become the worst. We need to pray that God open our eyes so we might see where we fall, so we might turn back to Him. Let us not be so sure that we are right that we ignore the flaws that might lead to our fall...


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fundamentally Missing the Point: The Danger of Assuming Everyone Thinks Like You

(See: Israel hawks to Pope Francis: Stay out of politics - Rachael Bade - POLITICO)

One of the more foolish things a person can do, especially in terms of politics, is to assume that everybody sees things the same way and if a person sees things differently that us, it means they are doing so for the same motivations and with bad will. For years, liberals accused Catholics of violating the separation of Church and State, getting involved with politics when she spoke out on moral issues like contraception, abortion, “same sex marriage” and the like. This assumption overlooked the fact that the Church had been teaching on these issues long before the modern concept of “liberal vs. conservative” even existed.

But this is not an error limited to liberalism. Conservatism has its own “sacred cows” as well, and can get just as irrational when the Church says something that strikes too close to home for them as well. For example, the outrage that happens when the Pope says that capitalism sometimes falls short of the mark and needs to be corrected. The conservatives then act just as irrationally as liberals and accuse them of getting involved in “political” affairs.

This time, the issue is over the fact that the Church intends to establish diplomatic relations with Palestine. Some conservatives are upset, believing this is an endorsement of the behavior of Palestinian terrorists and opposition to the right of Israel to exist. That kind of thinking is the “either-or” fallacy—the assumption that there are only two choices and to choose one means the rejection of the other. It overlooks the possibility of rejecting both choices, or there being a third choice, or holding to both views because they are not contradictory.

The fact is, the Church does sometimes need to establish diplomatic relations in a country in order to carry out her mission in that country. This is why the Church had established diplomatic relations with repugnant nations like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. We forget, being Americans, that the free practice of religion is not always present in other nations—even in democracies (let alone autocratic nations)—like it is in America. The whole idea of the concordant (an agreement between the Church and a nation) is intended to get the freedom for the Church to carry out her mission in that nation, and gives the Church standing to approach another nation as a diplomatic entity and not as a subject.

The fact is, there is a Catholic population in the Palestinian territories, and the Church does need to look after them. Also, in her commitment to peace, she does need to be able to speak to the leaders of both Israel (with whom the Church does have diplomatic relations already) and Palestine both without the emissaries being seen as subjects of one of the nations.

The point is, when the Church acts in establishing relations with a nation, that does not mean that the Church endorses the policies of that nation. It is foolish to assume that the Church looks at matters in the same way as an American politician and, when the politician disagrees with the Church teaching, that means the Church is deliberately taking a position in opposition to the political slant which the politician supports.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!" Thoughts on Ignoring God's Warning


Reading the Old Testament—the history and the prophets—we see a fascinating picture of God’s love and man’s failure to respond. God cares for his people enough to tell them of the need of repentance, and warns them of the consequences of living in rejection of this call. God sent prophets to Israel and Judea to plead with them to turn back, using strong language when needed, equating His people with playing the role of the prostitute because of their sins. Because they refused to listen and repent, the ultimate fate was one of exile. They were handed over to their enemies and forced from their homes. Because the land they were driven from was the land their ancestors were promised, it was a sign of just how far the people of Israel and Judea had alienated themselves from God.

But during that time when God sent His prophets to warn them of their sins, the response was always hostile. Prophets were mocked, jailed and killed. The prophecies against Israel and Judah were seen as treasonous—people viewed them as the individual wishing evil upon their own nation. They also presumed they would be safe from any promised punishments. After all, didn’t God establish His temple here? He was not going to permit it to be destroyed.

But the prophet Jeremiah warned them about that false mindset:

The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand at the gate of the house of the Lord and proclaim this message there: Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord! Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Reform your ways and your deeds so that I may dwell with you in this place. Do not put your trust in these deceptive words: “The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!” Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with your neighbor; if you no longer oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow after other gods to your own harm, only then will I let you continue to dwell in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors long ago and forever. (Jeremiah 7:1-7)

I think that America today behaves like ancient Israel and Judea. We consider ourselves to be fine as we are, and refuse to consider that we need to change our ways. We invoke our own version of “The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!” by announcing that “God doesn’t care about those actions!” or “If God is Love, He won’t send me to hell.” The prophet warning of the need to change our sinful ways (the Church) is scorned and attacked—told to be silent. Peter Kreeft once described the American situation in a Socratic dialogue as follows:

Libby: I see. Professor, don’t you think your doomsday scenario runs afoul of facts? Look at America. This “Dracula”[*], as you call it, is one of the most religious countries in the world. Half the people go to church, and 95% believe in God. America’s got more religion than almost any other country.

‘Isa: Yes, and it’s also got more guns, more suicides, more abortions, more divorces, more drugs, more pornography, more fatherless children than almost any other country.

Libby: How can that be? Doesn’t that refute religion’s claims? Isn’t religion supposed to be the cure for all these social diseases?

‘Isa: Not if the religion is as relativistic as the society. Not if the doctor is as sick as the patient. A God made in the world’s image can’t save the world. You see, American religion wants to make you feel good and be comfortable, not to shock you or scandalize you.

[Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 21–22.

The religion America prefers, aimed at making us feel good and comfortable, prevents us from thinking about whether we do things which are evil in the sight of God. We reduce the concept of “God is Love” (1 John 4:16) to sentimentality, and think warnings are contrary to love as opposed to being motivated by love. Because we do not think of where we stand before God, we do not repent. Because we do not repent, we remain in our sins. Because we remain in our sins, we risk damnation.

The Catholic Church is sent to the world to tell all people in all nations and times of the message of salvation and our need to turn back to God, repenting of the evil that we do. She tells us that God is the greatest possible good, and nothing that separates us from Him is worth the ultimate cost. She reminds us that we have the free will to accept God’s grace that we need to be saved and we have the free will to reject it. But if we use the free will to reject God, there are consequences. We cannot reasonably expect that we can reject God while believing we are owed the benefits that come from following Him. As St. Epiphanius wrote, “God gives not the kingdom of heaven but on condition that we labor; and all we can do bears no proportion to such a crown.”

But that is exactly what our society is demanding. They want the reward without the labor. They want salvation without repentance. In short, they want God to repent and change His ways—a blasphemous impossibility. The Church cannot promise such a false message, and the person who demands it is on a fool’s errand. But the political and cultural elites are indeed on this fool’s errand, demanding that the Church change her teaching as if she had invented the moral obligations she feels bound to teach.

America will continue to utter the modern equivalent of “The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!” America will continue to lull herself with a false sense of security, and if she does so, she will face destruction. I do not know if this will be a physical destruction like past nations have suffered as a warning, or whether it will be the ultimate damnation of hell. But turning back to God is the only thing that can save us.

Meanwhile, the Church will continue to teach and to administer the sacraments, even at the cost of the hatred of the world. We will be hated and persecuted as Our Lord has warned. But we will remain in carrying out our mission, even as we pick up the pieces of a society which destroys itself by refusing to hear the truth.

Die in bed

The nations cannot destroy the Church, but they can destroy themselves. God’s ultimate victory will happen whether we are cooperating or opposing Him. However, the Scriptures and history warn us that we would be far wiser to listen to God and obey Him, rather than oppose Him. The question is—will we listen? Or will we find ourselves paying the penalty for ignoring our plight while saying "The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!"


[*] Previously in the dialogue, ‘Isa refers to America as Dracula because America’s cultural imperialism is imposing moral relativism on the rest of the world.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Hating the Word of Salvation

2. “Whilst the guilty approach unto me to eat up my flesh” [Psalm 27:2]. Whilst the guilty come near to recognise and insult me, that they may exalt themselves above me in my change for the better; that with their reviling tooth they may consume not me, but rather my fleshly desires. “Mine enemies who trouble me.” Not they only who trouble me, blaming me with a friendly intent, and wishing to recall me from my purpose, but mine enemies also. “They became weak, and fell.” Whilst then they do this with the desire of defending their own opinion, they became weak to believe better things, and began to hate the word of salvation, whereby I do what displeases them.


[Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 64.]

America, to be blunt, is metastasizing into something terrible and dangerous—a perversion of what it was intended to be. It prides itself as being the most advanced defender of freedom, while it is actually moving backwards to where the freedoms we thought were inalienable are now quite alienated—where the rights for all have been replaced with government privileges for favored groups. The Church has warned against this decline, and has been declared an “enemy of freedom” for her pains.

It is no longer even enough for Americans to tolerate relativism about morality that was pushed through out the 1980s and 1990s. Then, the insistence was people should be allowed to believe whatever they like and people who disagree with this position should have no right to impose otherwise. Today, whoever does not accept the current diktat about changing morality to accept what was once condemned as morally wrong can expect to be viewed with suspicion at best and, increasingly, hostility which is unchecked—and even encouraged by—the government.

Christians who have not compromised (and that number is sadly dwindling) and reject the idea that we can change morality to suit themselves are greeted with increasing hostility. It’s no longer a case of:

Now it’s a case of “If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed!"

We can see this in the antics by the media over the Church. An attempt to co-opt the Catholics by misrepresenting the words of the Pope and trying to make the Pope appear to be in opposition to the bishops, the Pope has said too many things standing up for the traditional Catholic teaching. Only the least informed still believe he is going to change the teaching of the Church. So, we’re seeing the media move away from the lie that “Even your Pope is with us,” towards seeing an increase in hostility towards the Church in general.

This increased hostility is simply because the Church will not go along with calling evil “good.” The world wants approval for its sins. But the Church will not give this approval. The Church speaks out against many things that the world wants to do. Not because she is reactionary, or ornery. She speaks out because she is tasked with going out to the world in order to spread the Word of Salvation and to speak out against the behaviors which separate humanity from God.

The world does not mind a belief in God. What it does is resent a belief in God which requires change in behavior. People who want to think of themselves as “good,” resent being told that they do evil—especially when the evil condemned is something they do not want to give up. People have no problems speaking against evil which offends them, but tell them that the behavior they like is wrong and people become hostile.

The message of the Church is simple:

  • God Exists and loves us.
  • But, we are alienated from Him.
  • He sent His Son to free us from our sins and restore our relationship with Him—which is impossible to do apart from Him
  • We must respond by ceasing to live in a way which separates us from Him

Unfortunately, people don’t want the conditions of repentance. They want Cheap Grace, where God’s grace is given them without needing to do anything. They hate the requirement that we respond to God’s call in any meaningful way. But most people don’t want to actually reject God outright. They want to think of themselves as being “good.” So they respond by pretending that anything in the Christian message which says they are sinners who need to repent must be invented by the Church. The Church is seen as “cold and bureaucratic” because she insists on being faithful to God’s Great Commission.

Ultimately, the hostility to the Church in these matters is a rebellion against God while people pretend they are not rebelling against God. People tell themselves that if only the Church would change, things would be fine. But the problem is, the Church is only teaching what God has taught. If people hate this teaching, they are hating the Word of Salvation—even if they try to pretend that they love God.

People want what H. Richard Niebuhr called “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” But that is not the reality. It is the complete perversion of the truth.

People have free will of course. They can refuse to accept what God called them to do (repent) and can refuse to hear the means He chose to reach out to them (the Church). But they need to realize that, in doing so, they are not rejecting a human group. They are rejecting God (Luke 10:16). That’s pretty serious. We need to realize that this life and this world is not all there is. What we are called to goes beyond the present. What we choose to do has consequences. If we choose what goes against God’s call, and refuse to repent, we will eventually discover that we have used our free will to our ruin. It will not be a case of God being petty or the Church being bureaucratic. It will be a case of us refusing to board the ship before it sails. Once it sails, it will be too late to get on board. 

The Flood(How Can A Person Blame God or the Church, Once the Ship Has Sailed, When the Person Was the One who Refused to Board In the First Place?)

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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

On People and Actions: You Are Not Your (Expletive) Khakis.

You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You are not your @#$%ing khakis.

—Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

One of the major problems that comes up when people hear the old adage of loving the sinner and hating the sin is that nowadays, people assume that what they do is what they are. Therefore, when the Church condemns an action, people assume this means the Church hates them personally. This is why people assume Christianity is “homophobic” or “anti-woman” when they condemn behavior like homosexual acts, contraception, abortion and divorce/remarriage. Then we get to hear a lot of people quoting Matthew 7:1 out of context.

As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, "Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine.” (“Small error in the beginning; large [error] will be in the end”). From the beginning error of believing a person is what they do, the concluding error is condemnation of a sin = condemning a person. A person may have a job as an accountant, but that does not make the person an accountant and a person may have a same sex attraction, but that does not make the person a homosexual. The Church believes that a person is more than their actions or ethnicity—and to reduce them to their behavior is to treat them as less than human. 

In terms of Catholic teaching, the person is primarily a child of God. The individual may be ignorant of that fact. The person may reject that fact. The person may accept that fact. But regardless of what the individual does with that information, the fact remains that he or she is a child of God and however they are treated must reflect this fact. Because of this, the Catholic Church never allows us to turn our backs on the sinners, the poor or anyone else—we’re not allowed to write off anyone as irredeemable.

But the fact that we, as Christians, cannot write off anyone as irredeemable has one very important fact that follows from it—every person is in need of redemption. That indicates that we are at odds with God in how we live to some extent. When we act in a way which is contrary to how God calls us to live, that needs to change. Living contrary to God’s call blocks us from Our Lord's redemption, and such behavior must be abandoned if we would be saved. People who know what the truth is can offer correction, just as the person who teaches can offer a student correction when the student gets a wrong answer. That’s not being judgmental. Consider this excerpt from a Socratic dialogue by Peter Kreeft (one that does not deserve to be in obscurity):

Libby: You sound so damned sure of yourself, so dogmatic, so judgmental! Your namesake[*] said, “Judge not.” But you don’t dig that soft stuff, do you?

‘Isa: What do you think Jesus meant when he said “judge not”? Do you think he meant “don’t judge deeds, don’t believe the Commandments, don’t morally discriminate a just war from an unjust war or a hero from a bully”? He couldn’t have meant that. He meant “don’t claim to judge motives and hearts, which only God can see.” I can judge your deeds, because I can see them. I can’t judge what your motives are, because I can’t see that.

Libby: Then stop being so judgmental about that, at least.

‘Isa: But I can judge what your motives ought to be—just as you’re doing, when you judge “judgmentalism”.

—Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist
(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 108.

So the Christian teaching is not “homophobic” or “anti-woman” (two popular epithets today). Rather the teaching is concerned with letting people know how their lives estrange them from God and what they must do to be saved. It’s not a hatred. It’s a case of viewing a person as being worth the effort to save—worthy of receiving our love because God loves them.

Sure, you’ll find Christians who are judgmental and hateful. You’ll also find atheists and Buddhists who are judgmental and hateful. But the Christian who actually hates another person because of their sins is not acting as God commands them to act. They are not acting as the Church commands them to act. I think people forget that. Yes, in the Middle Ages, punishments that we now see as barbaric were seen as normal. But even then, the person was not reduced to the evil they did. Even when the evil done resulted in Capital Punishment, the Church was still concerned for the salvation of the person—to bring them back to right relationship to God before they died.

But what happens when a person refuses to be brought back into right relationship with God? We certainly cannot say “Oh well, might as well go ahead and do it then.” We cannot allow people to redefine their action as “good.” But we can try to show love in pointing out that this action is harmful to a person based on what God wants them to be—because trying to encourage a person to abandon a harmful action is an act of love, not an act of hatred.


[*] The Arabic form of “Jesus” is ‘Isa. Hence the reference to “Your namesake” in the quote from Peter Kreeft.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Heads, They Win. Tails, We Lose: The Tactic of "Don't Impose Your Beliefs on Others!"


Americans have a funny way of thinking these days. We’re determined that nobody should be allowed to impose their beliefs on others. But when you think about it, there’s one slight problem… this is in itself a belief, and if nobody should should impose beliefs, then nobody should impose this belief. This is a self-contradicting idea that seems more interested giving a selfless appearance while aimed at silencing people they do not agree with.

Nobody ever tells atheists not to impose their beliefs on others. They tell Christians not to impose their beliefs on others. If pressed on this, they might say that Christianity is more harmful than atheism and so atheism need not be pressured to be silent. But… once again this is a belief, and if beliefs should not be imposed on others, then atheists cannot impose their views either.

This idea simply cannot be sustained. Every conscious behavior we do, we do based on the values we hold. Some of these values we hold contradict values held by others. Are we to tell the rapist’s victim not to impose her view on the rapist? No sane person would think of saying such a thing. They would argue that the rapist has no right to the victim’s body. But this way of thinking could leave us with a rapist who says, “don’t force your beliefs on me!” There the person who says “don’t impose your beliefs on me” is suddenly faced with a dilemma: Either abandon the belief or abandon justice.

In other words, we do recognize some moral values as being absolute—we cannot force our wants on another person, but we can insist that all people are obliged to act in a way which is moral and say we cannot act in a way which brings harm to another because it benefits our desires. If we must impose something on others, this imposition must be aimed at protecting the common good. This is why we forbid the drunkard from driving himself home from the bar—this denial of his freedom to drive is based on the public good of safety for others on the road.

The problem is, too many people do not think things through and consider who is harmed. People insist on the “right” to an abortion because it will interfere with their lives—but do not consider the lives of the unborn children who are destroyed by abortion. It is simply assumed that the mother’s convenience outranks the child’s right to exist. Ultimately, this is a case of deciding that my convenience outweighs your existence. 

So, what we have here is a Heads I win, tails you lose situation. We’re bad because we’re “imposing our beliefs on others.” At the same time, they’re imposing beliefs in opposition to Christian belief and pretending that this is not an imposition.

Now of course, we need to be loving and compassionate when sharing our beliefs and teaching the world the way of Our Lord. We can’t bully or coerce people into belief. But we can’t be cowardly and refuse to share our faith with the world. We believe in an objective truth, and that certain behaviors are against what God calls us to be. We have no right to be silent when God calls us to speak.