Monday, August 31, 2015

Filling In the Blanks—Wrongly

There is a story that a priest told in a homily once when I attended Franciscan University of Steubenville. Since I cannot find the exact text (though I understand the priest has published a book of his stories), I will try to retell it from memory:

It was the Championship game and the home team was down by six points. It was the Fourth Quarter, Second and Ten, and there was a minute on the clock. The coach told the quarterback, “Get the ball to Jones! He’ll get the touchdown.” The team went into the huddle, then lined up to play. To the horror of the coach, the quarterback didn’t throw the ball to Jones, but did a handoff to another player. The player was stopped for a loss of yardage. Angry, the coach signaled again telling the quarterback to get the ball to Jones. The quarterback started to say something, but the coach waved him back on the field.

Again, the team went into a huddle and then lined up. But the quarterback did not throw the ball to Jones, but to another player. He made up a little of the lost yardage, but not enough. It was now Fourth and Eight and the coach had to decide what to do. Once more he told the quarterback, “Give the ball to Jones!” The quarterback started to speak, but the Coach ordered him back on the field again, telling him not to argue.

Once more the team went into the huddle and lined up on the field. Once more the quarterback did not give the ball to Jones, but to yet another player. The opposing team stopped him cold and the game was over.

Furious, the coach stormed out to the field and confronted the quarterback. “I told you to get the ball to Jones! Why did you ignore me?"

The quarterback looked at the coach and said, “I did tell Jones to take the ball, every time. But he refused to take it."

If the coach had bothered to let the quarterback explain himself, he might have found a new strategy. But in assuming he knew all the facts, he jumped to the wrong conclusion and blamed the wrong man for what happened. One might say that the moral is to investigate thoroughly and don’t merely assume you know all the facts based on what you see.


It’s said that nature abhors a vacuum. From what I see, it also seems true to say that people abhor a vacuum. When relies solely on what they see, and don’t consider the possibility that they have insufficient facts from which to judge, there is a tendency to try to connect those facts based on what one thinks. The problem is, if our knowledge is incomplete, the odds are we will fill in those blanks wrongly, drawing a connection which should not be drawn. This can happen in all areas of life, but in some areas it can lead to some serious errors.

Here’s a secular example. The Obama administration is going to change the name of Mt. McKinley to Mt. Denali, which is the native name for that mountain. Now, I dislike Obama’s politics and how he tends to do things in a heavy-handed arbitrary manner, that seems to be imposing a political agenda that often attacks the Catholic Church.

So, it is easier for me to assume this was yet another one of these actions. But reading the accounts, I learned that this stemmed from a request which began 40 years ago and is supported by the Alaskans themselves, apparently across party lines. In other words, it is easy filling in the blanks to assume this was some sort of politically motivated stunt, when it actually seems to be somebody finally getting around to taking care of a long standing request. But the easy way is the wrong way. One is still free to disagree if they choose, but the facts require the person to stop repeating accusations of political motivations and political correctness. 

Assuming We Know Things About the Church When We Do Not

That seems to be the problem today when it comes to writing about the Church. Whether it is the secular media which is effectively religiously illiterate, the uninformed anti-Catholic, or whether it is the Catholic blogger railing against what they see as wrong in the Church, the fact remains: If you don’t know all the facts, the odds are you’re going to come to a wrong conclusion. Basically, it works this way:

  • Some claim is made concerning the Church, that the observer dislikes.
  • The observer fills in the blanks based on their own biases.
  • The observer draws a conclusion that interprets the fact by their bias.

So, we see the religiously illiterate media hear the Pope say something that sounds different, apply their biases about what they think they know about the Church, and conclude (wrongly) that the Church is changing her teaching. We see the anti-Catholic observe a Catholic behavior without understanding it, apply their biases (that the Catholic Church is evil) and ascribe bad will to the behavior. We see it when the Church teaches on an area the observer is unfamiliar with, the observer applies his biases about the Church being filled with “modernists,” and interprets the teaching as “proof” of the infiltration of modernists.

In all of these cases, the observer has assumed his or her biases are true, and never investigates them. Then when they encounter something unfamiliar, they create a perverted interpretation of the event and treat that interpretation as if it were the truth. Thus we see things like “The Church will change her teaching on marriage,” (whether said in hope or fear) despite the fact that Pope Francis has been just as solid as his predecessors on the subject. We see Pope Francis labelled as Marxist, when he said nothing that was not already said by St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We see Laudato Si labelled as a “global warming document.”

None of those allegations are true: They come about by using one’s bias to interpret the facts and confusing the interpretation for fact. Atheists and anti-Catholics make the same mistake as traditionalist and modernist Catholics, and we see the Church simultaneously being accused of being too spiritual, being too worldly, being too liberal or being too conservative. When American Catholics are simultaneously calling American bishops as being Pro-Democrat and Pro-Republican, that’s a good sign that the problem is with the one interpreting the Church teachings, not the Church which is teaching.

Avoiding the Error

Since all people are called to seek out the truth, and live according to it, we cannot be satisfied with what we think we know about something. Ultimately we need to root out our assumptions, not use them to fill in the blanks. Otherwise, we run afoul of the proper understanding of the warning of Matthew 7:1 and risk committing rash judgment. So how do we remedy this?

It seems to me that when we come to an unfamiliar situation, we have to ask ourselves whether we really understand something, or whether we just think we do. We have to look for an answer and not assume that because we don’t know an answer, it means there isn’t one. When the behavior of a bishop or a priest seems problematic, the first question is, do we have all the facts? If we do not, we do wrong in assuming bad will.

Second, we have to assess who are the main players. Remember the story I tried to retell above: The twist at the end was that the quarterback wasn’t to blame. Jones was, and the coach shared part of the blame for not finding out what was really going on. How many times does the Pope or a bishop or a priest get blamed for something that he did not say or do, but someone thought he said or did (“Who am I to judge,” taken out of context was one of the most shameful of these).

Finally, we must not speak before we know the truth. A blogger who hits the “Post” button before assessing whether perhaps there is a side he or she didn’t consider is doing wrong, taking part in misleading others. If we cannot establish that the motivation is bad will (as opposed to thinking it is bad will on account of our biases being used to interpret actions), we must not say that the motivation is bad will.

God forbade us to bear false witness. But false witness is not only a deliberate lie. We can also bear false witness by spreading falsehood without verifying if it is true. We risk doing this when we fill in these blanks. Now, each individual must look into their own heart and see if they are guilty of this, knowing God is their judge. All I would ask is, if an individual should find this mindset present, that he or she reconsider their approach. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

"The Face of the Lord is Against Evildoers"

“Whoever would love life 

and see good days 

must keep the tongue from evil 

and the lips from speaking deceit, 

must turn from evil and do good, 

seek peace and follow after it. 

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous 

and his ears turned to their prayer, 

but the face of the Lord is against evildoers.” (1 Peter 3:10-12)

Everybody seems perfectly able to see the flaws of others. Few people seem able to see the flaws in themselves. That is human nature. Unfortunately, when people are shown the flaws in themselves, the usual response is hostility to the one who points it out. This can become quite serious—especially when one considers that societies are made out of people, and when the people of such societies are confronted with their own flaws, they tend to use the power and authority of the society to target the one who opposes the wrongdoing and refuses to go along with them.

This happens often. I find similarities in attitude today with the attitudes of ancient Rome. Consider this account of St. Symphorian:

The city of Autun was one of the most ancient and famous of all Gaul; but at that time the most superstitious, and particularly addicted to the worship of Cybele, Apollo, and Diana. On a certain day of the year, the statue of Cybele was with great pomp carried through the streets in a chariot richly adorned. Symphorian, because he had not on that occasion adored it, was seized by the mob, and carried before Heraclius, a man of consular dignity, and governor of the province, who happened to be then at Autun, very busy in calling the Christians to an account. Heraclius, being seated on his tribunal, asked him why he refused to adore the image of the mother of the gods. He answered, because he was a Christian, and adored the true God who reigneth in heaven. The judge then inquired of the officers whether he was a citizen of the place. One of them answered: “He is of this place, and of a noble family.” The judge said to Symphorian: “You flatter yourself on account of your birth, and are perhaps unacquainted with the emperor’s orders.” He then ordered him to be bound, and said to him: “What say you to this, Symphorian?” The martyr continuing to express his abhorrence of the idol, Heraclius commanded him to be cruelly beaten with clubs, and sent him to prison. 


[Alban Butler, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, vol. 3 (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1903), 441–442.]

We tend to pride ourselves on being more civilized than in the past. But, setting aside the means of punishment (St. Symphorian was martyred), the attitude of society towards one who rejects the public values of society is just as hostile. Witness the treatment of people who refuse to worship the current idol of “same sex marriage.” People are sued, fined, prosecuted and so on because they will not accept it as morally acceptable.

Since this refusal bears witness to the existence of right behavior which is being shunned, the people who see this witness to their wrongdoing are hostile. They want people to publicly accept and acknowledge the idols. They offer rewards and promise to remove threats if one will publicly accept society’s idol—even if they do not personally believe it to be true. The deal offered is to just compromise a little.

But when the person who is tempted to compromise recognizes that this offer is really an attempt to seduce them into doing what they know is morally wrong, they cannot compromise at all. The fact is, no person is ever justified in doing something they believe to be morally wrong. We cannot do evil so good may come of it and therefore, if it comes to a choice, we must prefer to suffer evil than be guilty of doing it.

This is why so many martyrs went to their deaths when they were told, “It’s just a pinch of incense. You don’t even have to believe what you’re doing. Just go along!” They knew it wasn’t “just a pinch of incense.” They knew that their knowledge of and fidelity to the truth of God meant they could not even pretend to believe in the idols of society.

This is the difference between the Christian belief and the belief in moral relativism. Moral relativism says there are no moral absolutes, so we should not act as if things were morally wrong. Under such a view, views that one disagrees with should be tolerated and not opposed. Of course the moral relativist never applies this philosophy to their own behavior—fewer and fewer people tolerate the Christian who says that moral wrongs exist unless that Christian has modified his or her beliefs to avoid speaking out against the idols of society. (if they truly believed in tolerance, they would have to tolerate Christians exercising their rights).

For the Christian—at least the one informed in his or her faith—we must seek out and follow the truth, and God is the ultimate truth. We can never say that evil is acceptable. If one would profess love of Jesus, they cannot ignore His injunction to keep His commandments (John 14:15). God has spoken on how we must live, and has established His Church to shepherd the believers. If we will not listen, if we will not turn from evil and do good, then God will set His face against us.

Every one of us has to look into their own heart. They have to honestly ask whether their actions or their preferences are compatible with what God calls us to be. But because we do have a Church, which Jesus established (see Matthew 16:18-19), we can know that when our actions go against the teaching of the Church, if it sets the teaching of the Church as being in the wrong, we need to look again at them, knowing we need to have a change of heart, praying to God to convert us when it seems impossible to obey.

Monday, August 24, 2015

We Must Be Faithful to the Whole Teaching of the Church

Saw a disappointing article, written by a Catholic who should know better, implying that Pope Francis has been ineffective in spreading the faith. Using the history of St. Celestine V who resigned for the good of the Church, the author indicated that Pope Francis might follow his example for the good of the Church. The article was followed by a parade of the typical Facebook comments concerning how bad the Pope is—citing his so-called “liberal” stance on issues, which basically means he takes a stand on the Church social justice issues.

I am reminded of the Epistle of James, who tells us:

However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not kill. Even if you do not commit adultery but kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. 13 For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:8-13).

St. James makes a good point here. We cannot claim to be faithful if we are only obedient in some things and ignore the other aspects of our Christian obligation. We do well to defend life and the sanctity of marriage. Nobody denies that. But if we ignore the Church moral teachings on other issues that are not to our liking, we are also Cafeteria Catholics, behaving shamefully and causing scandal to others.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we have to embrace the opposite error—that Catholic Social Teaching = embracing political liberalism, as that one reprehensible quote of Sr. Joan Chittister claimed or anti-Francis conservatives claim. Nor does it mean that failing to support the homeless is the same moral level as killing the unborn. What it means is that if we want to be faithful Catholics, we have to live in a way that does not choose to ignore the teachings on issues we find uncomfortable.

In other words, while you can have disagreements on the best way to treat the unborn, the poor and the immigrants and still be a good Catholic—but you can’t be a good Catholic while acting in a way Church teaching forbids.

I think there is a dangerous attitude among some Catholics—one which says, “Why does the Church worry about X when Y is so much more serious?” It’s dangerous because it leads Catholics to think, “As long as I don’t do what they do, I’m good enough.” This is a mindset where citing Matthew 7:1 does fit. When we focus on Y (which we don’t do) being more serious than X (which we do), we’re focussing on the mote in our brother’s eye and ignoring the beam in our own.

No doubt sins like murder do greater harm to the victim than sins like defrauding  a worker of his wages. But both of them fall under the category in Scripture of “Sins that cry out for vengeance.” The fact is, the most serious sin is the mortal sin which condemns one to hell. The person who attends Mass daily, says dozens of rosaries and reads many religious works, but does not apply the faith to how they live their life will answer to God for it. Likewise, the person who supports social justice, but acts contrary to Church teaching over sexual morality will answer to God for it.

When some people try to contrast Pope Francis with his predecessors, I think they misunderstand the point of the teachings of both. Yes, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI did have to speak frequently on the moral issues of abortion and sexual morality. But they did not neglect the other aspects of Church teaching—they simply did not receive the same level of coverage. Today, Pope Francis covers the same material, but now the things he says about life and sexual morality are not covered while what he says about other issues are. (Both Evengelii Gaudium and Laudato Si had powerful things to say about defending life and family—but most people don’t know that).

No, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI did not neglect the issues of social justice. No, Pope Francis did not neglect the teachings on morality. But we did!

Ultimately, we have to be faithful to the full teaching of the Church. As our Lord said:

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)

As we can see, the Church seeks to teach us about the Father’s will. If we will not hear the Church (Luke 10:16), we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Reflections on an Anti-Catholic Attack


Longtime readers should be aware of my favorite definition of truth and falsehood, according to Aristotle: To say of what is, that it is or to say of what it is not is to speak the truth. While that is not all there is to the concept of truth, it is an important point. We have to say what is true about a thing, whether we agree or disagree with a position. Otherwise, if we try to refute a position by speaking falsehood (saying of what is that it is not, or of what is not, that it is) about it, we prove absolutely nothing at all.

That means that in refuting something we should speak the truth about it, whether it is about Nazism, about Communism, about racism, about conservatism or liberalism. It applies to religions as well. If we are going to reject something as being wrong, we should do so by showing why the truth about it is repugnant, and not speak falsehoods about it to deceive people away from it.

Anti-Catholicism Does Not Speak The Truth

That is why I find religiously motivated anti-Catholicism to be so perplexing. Such individuals profess to believe in God and to follow the teachings of Christ—but have no qualms whatsoever about speaking falsely about the Catholic Church. Common tactics are misrepresenting teachings, misrepresenting history, misrepresenting Scripture and distorting the defenses of the Catholic faith. 

Now, it should be clear that if one believes that Catholicism is wrong and, out of a misguided sense of goodwill, wants to lead Catholics out of the Church, they should strive to understand what the Church actually believes on a subject and, with that accurate knowledge, investigate whether the Catholic belief contradicts the Scriptures in context. But that is precisely what is not being done.

Instead, the common tactic is to take a Catholic teaching that has been so frequently misrepresented that people no longer question whether the assertion is true. Then contrast that distorted teaching against a specially selected verse of Scripture. Then argue that the discrepancy shows that Catholicism is evil and must be opposed.

One Must Use Authoritative Sources When Investigating Something

If I were to write a paper on quantum physics, what would you want to know before accepting my conclusions? The first thing would be to determine whether my assertions and research were accurate. If I was uninformed about the topic or, if I was uninformed about the fundamentals, my conclusion wouldn't be worth the paper it was printed on. Any truth in the paper would be strictly coincidental, and not a reliable guide. So, when we want to learn the truth about something, we go to the sources that are authoritative. For example, we go to NASA and not to the National Enquirer when we want to learn accurately about what was discovered on Pluto. Likewise, we don't ask Planned Parenthood or NARAL to explain the reasons why people oppose abortion.

This logically follows in other areas as well. If one wants to refute Islam intelligently, one has to know what the Qur'an says. If one wants to intelligently refute Mormonism, one has to know what the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price say—because the individual Muslim or Mormon is going to write you off as an idiot if it becomes apparent that you don't understand what they believe.

Likewise, when one wants to know what the Catholic Church believes, one doesn't go to an anti-Catholic site or an anti-Catholic theologian. One goes to an source which Catholics acknowledge as having the authority to say: "THIS is what we believe." In doing so, we have to interpret the source according to the intention of the authority—not what someone thinks it means based on their own (often uninformed) readings.

So, if one wants to know what the Church believes on a subject, one goes to a source which the Church has approved. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When one wants to know what the Pope meant in a soundbite, one goes to the Vatican website and gets the whole interview or address in context. One studies the Catholic faith to see whether the accusations made against her are accurate or not. They should NOT go to Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Spurgeon, Gerstner, Sproul or Barth. 

This is common sense. If a person relies on sources which are based in hostility, the first question to be asked is whether the hostility blinds the judgment or not. Remember, there are a lot of times people have misinterpreted another's intention and held a grudge which was based on a misunderstanding on the grounds that a person refused to believe goodwill on the part of that which he or she opposed.

One Must Consider the Agenda of Those Who Attack the Church

That must be remembered. When it comes to Catholicism, there is a lot of hostility from former members. At various times, groups have broken away from the Church. Such actions are based in opposition. Was the opposition justified? There is a lot of propaganda used to exaggerate the corruption in the Church to make it appear that the entire Church taught heresy and was out for malicious self-benefit. But often the people who made such claims had a vested interest in justifying their schism—they needed to make it look as if the Church was teaching falsely.

The problem is, when someone takes the worst possible elements about a person and exaggerates them, you can make anybody look bad—and some have gone so far as to try to slander Jesus Himself. So, we need to remember that we do not accept what a person says about their enemy simply on their own say-so (that's the ipse dixit logical fallacy). When one makes an accusation, proof is required.

But proof is not the same thing as assertion. Imagine a trial where all the evidence presented was only interpreted by the prosecutor. How likely is the accused to get a fair hearing? If you answered "not likely to be fair," you are correct. (if you answered "likely to be fair," perhaps you might prefer the legal systems of Iran or North Korea). So, when it comes to seeking to refute the Catholic Church and lead people out of her, the right way to do it is to study the Church teaching so that the evidence presented is evidence that the Catholic will say, "Yes, this is true." The wrong way to do it is to make claims which the informed Catholic will say "You are either deceived or lying."

And that's the thing about the Catholic faith. When one actually does the research and presents the truth about the Catholic faith, it cannot be refuted. One can honestly say "I disagree with the Church!" (there's a vulgar but accurate saying about opinions and posteriors which I won't repeat here), but one cannot honestly say "the Church is teaching error!"

Even the Devil Cites Scripture (Matthew 4:1-10)—So Check the Context

And that brings us to the next point. The whole attack on Catholicism from a Christian perspective depends on an individual interpretation of the Bible—generally from the assumption that Protestantism (in whatever form) is true—which requires us to ask "Why should we believe your interpretation of the Bible and not mine?" Remember, there are all sorts of ways to make a Bible verse fit whatever you want—look at the denominations that try to justify "Same sex marriage" for example.

So when an anti-Catholic tries to contrast Scripture with Catholic teaching, we have to ask:

  • Have they properly understood the verse of Scripture?
  • Have they properly understood the Catholic teaching?

Because the fact is, while the Bible is without error, that does not make the individual interpreter infallible—again, remember the denominations which justify "same sex marriage." If the Plain Sense of Scripture was so easy to find, then Lutherans and Zwinglians should have agreed on the meaning of the Eucharist, while the Presbyterians and Baptists should agree on the meaning of Baptism. The fact is, they don’t.

See, the Catholic accepts the authority of Scripture. That's a plain statement of fact. What the Catholic rejects is blindly accepting every personal interpretation that comes down the pike about what verses mean. If one wants to sling verses against the Church, expect us to take offense when those verses are taken out of context or are misapplied against the Church.


There is a whole raft of objections against the Church, and Catholics have been refuting these claims since the beginning of the Protestant schisms in the 16th century. Basically, it is a case of the same false accusations—that we worship Mary, statues, saints, the Pope—which Catholics emphatically reject as false. The attack is essentially the logical fallacy of begging the question. The opposition to Catholic practices have always depended on a misinformed understanding of what is actually being done and an overly literalistic interpretation of Scripture. 

The person of good will who thinks Catholicism is wrong and wants to “save” us from it has to recognize that God is truth and opposes lies. One who repeats falsehood is either deceiving or deceived, depending on whether the person knows the claim is false or whether the person never bothered to investigate the truth of the accusation. Since every person has the obligation to speak truthfully, the person of good will has to stop repeating false claims about the Church. This applies to false history and misrepresentations of history. 

God forbade false witness, and when one feels the need to speak against something, they have the obligation to seek the truth first, because even when acting out of ignorance, slander/libel does bear that false witness. It stands to reason that if we love God, we will seek to live in a way pleasing to Him, and that means not speaking falsely.

Postscript for Catholics

One of our responsibilities in defending the faith against those who attack it is not to automatically accept what those who attack the Church claim. Many anti-Catholics sound quite confident when they say that what we believe contradicts the Bible, but their confidence relies on believing certain stock phrases are true. We have the obligation to learn our beliefs—not just what we believe, but why we believe it. When we understand these things, we will not be led astray by spurious arguments that depend Catholics being ignorant about what they believe. Remember, to pray and to study

Monday, August 10, 2015

Truth and Its Counterfeits

The World vs. The Church

The West, being effectively apostate, preaches a counterfeit message of love and salvation which claims that because God loves, He does not judge. Therefore , they think, the Church goes against God when she insists that some behavior is morally wrong. Such a mindset looks at Catholic moral teachings and thinks there is no reason to continue to cling to them. So, when the Church says that a valid marriage exists until the death of one of the spouses, says that abortion is never justified, says that marriage can only exist between one man and one woman, people get offended at the Church’s “intransigence” (one wonders why nobody ever uses that term about those who challenge the Church) and call her unreasonable, bureaucratic, intolerant, and so on. These are ad hominem attacks and not rebuttals, but they are repeated so often that many people believe it.

But the Church, believing God exists and has set down commandments regarding our moral obligations, cannot accept such a view. She recognizes the fact that God created humanity with free will—something He will not violate—and individuals can and do use their free will to reject the moral obligation that goes along with God’s loving and salvific act. Essentially, to accept God’s salvation is to accept His commandments. As the Catechism says:

678 Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light.583 Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude about our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.585 On the last day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (1470)

679 Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He “acquired” this right by his cross. The Father has given “all judgment to the Son.” Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself.588 By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love. (1021)

If Our Lord chose to die for us so that we could be saved, what will happen to those who refuse to accept this gift, or treat it cheaply?

The World vs. Reality

This rejection does not have to be an overt rejection of everything good and decent in the world. It can be as simple as refusing to accept the reality of what God has commanded and the Church teaches. For example, in the Robert Bolt play, A Man For All Seasons, St. Thomas More is beginning to experience the hostility of refusing to go along with accepting King Henry VIII in his attempts to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. More's wife, Alice, is angry and worried about the possible effects of his refusal to go along with the king’s divorce and remarriage:

Alice: (irritation) And you stand between them!
More: I? What stands between them is a sacrament of the Church. I’m less important than you think, Alice.

[Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 882-884). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

The hostility directed at St. Thomas More and the Catholic Church is not due to intransigence on the part of the Church or individuals. It is due to the fact that the reality of the situation does not allow them to do anything else, even if it it means facing hostility and suffering. as a result.

This forces the individual to make a choice. When the world says there is nothing wrong with X, and the Church says X is a sin, the question that must be asked is how we are so confident that the Church must be wrong—especially when we are individually so uninformed about Church teaching as to think that the words of the Pope or the Catechism or the Second Vatican Council are a change from previous teaching. Before one can condemn the Church teaching, a person has to ask whether they fully know and understand the teaching or not. If they do not, they must not presume to judge.

The World Fails to Consider the Truth of What It Does Not Want to Hear

Unfortunately, many people either judge something without learning about it or else only read about it after they have made up their minds on the subject. If one decides “The Church must be wrong,” and reads what the Church has to say on the subject with that mindset, such a person—and not the Church—is guilty of intransigence. Ultimately, what it comes down to this. A good person—one who wills to do good to the best of their ability—has to start by looking for the truth. Ideas must be examined to see if they are true or whether there are some valid objections against them. However, when there are objections, one has to see whether they have accurately represented the view they oppose or whether they have turned it into a caricature. Refuting a caricature is not a refutation of the argument.

Since the rejection of the Church can only be legitimately done by refuting what she truly believes—not a caricature of that belief—the person who opposes the Church teaching has to show how her actual teaching is wrong before his accuser can say that the Church has been refuted. But the fact is, the Church has never been truly refuted. There have only been misrepresentations of Church teaching which have been refuted. Whether that misrepresentation is by portraying the bad behavior of a member of the Church as a teaching of the whole or whether it is falsely alleging that the Church “worships statues,” or calling her moral teaching on sexuality “a war on women” or “homophobic,” all we have are straw men (misrepresentations of the truth) and ad hominem attacks. Either the teaching itself or the motive for the teaching has been misrepresented so as to lead one to believe we are a dangerous group who seek to oppose freedom and goodness out of malice—charges we deny and reject.

Ultimately, a person of good will who seeks to do what is right must begin with no longer believing what “everybody knows,” and instead checking to see if the things which were long assumed on the basis of being told by another person are actually true. If it turns out such things are not true, such a person must stop repeating them and believing them. We must seek to find and once we do find, we must change our ways to live according with the truth. If we do not, our blindness is willful and we will be judged for our hard hearts.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Stop the Bishop Bashing: An Open Letter to my Fellow Catholic Bloggers

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ who blog about the Catholic faith.

During Lent of this year, I wrote a post about the problems with attitudes in Catholic blogging. It was one I was afraid to post because I did not like the idea of being confrontational. It turned out to be one of the farthest reaching posts I made. However, since I am seeing certain blogs that I once admired slip into a nasty mindset, perhaps it is time to write again on the topic. I do not write this article with the intent of singling out a particular article or blogger. Rather, I write this to alert my fellow Catholic bloggers to an attitude we should watch out for and, if necessary, correct.

I’ve seen the posts shared on Facebook. Some have impressed me enough that I follow the Facebook page, Twitter, or RSS feed. So long as one defends the Catholic faith and show love for the Church established by Our Lord, all is well. Sometimes that defense of the faith involves speaking about misrepresentations of the faith from members of the Church. That is understandable. That is permissible—provided the correction is done in love and with the due respect for the office the person holds and gives obedience to those in persons of authority.

But some of these blogs have gone from showing love and charity for our fellow Catholics to the old and wearisome sport of “Bishop bashing.” Such blogs have gone from showing love for the Church as the Bride of Christ to showing bitterness towards the Church and treating bishops with contempt and scorn if they do not speak effectively about an issue we are concerned with or fail to openly champion a political platform which we prefer.

My brothers and sisters, when one reads the lives of the saints and the histories of the Church, we see that weak bishops and even bad bishops are not something that is present only in this present age. They have existed in all ages of the Church. Moreover, some bishops which are derided in this age actually are speaking the Catholic moral teaching but the critics seem to be unaware of it.

Now I do not speak to you as a moral authority who says “Be like me, for I am without flaw!” I’m quite aware of the log in my eye. The fact is, my blog (in the early Xanga days of 2007 through mid 2008) did take part in the sport of “bishop bashing.” Back then, I saw the crisis of the faith in America with the dissenters openly scorning the teaching of the Church, I saw the bishops speaking ineffectually on a topic or even focussing on a different topic. I bought into the belief that we had bad Catholics because we had bad bishops.

I was wrong. I used bad reasoning (the affirming the consequent fallacy) which failed to consider other possibilities. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I can attest to that. I believed (committing an argument from ignorance fallacy) that because I did not hear of the bishops defending the faith, it meant that they did not defend the faith. Yes, there were some bad decisions made and some members of the clergy expressed themselves poorly, or even had a wrong conception of the faith. But what it took me time to learn was that these things did not prove the existence of a willfully heretical bishops’ conference. 

Bishops are human. They can make bad administrative decisions. They can speak poorly on a subject. They can do these things because, like us, they are sinful human beings in name of salvation. They need our prayers that they can successfully carry out their task of shepherding us. Again, that’s not solely a modern problem. We’ve had this in every age of the Church.

Now, some may ask about the actual faithless bishops in Church history. Does this mean that we are to accept whatever someone says because he is a bishop of the Church, even though this goes against what the Church has taught? No, I do not say that. After all, Pope Francis has said, “Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.” So sometimes we are right to be concerned. However, we do have to keep perspective and recognize where the authority to judge exists and what we must do when a member of the Church teaches wrongly.

Yes, Canon Law does recognize that the faithful have the right to manifest their opinion on the good of the Church, but that canon needs to be read in full:

CAN. 212 §1.† Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.

§2.† The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3.† According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

So, yes, when the faithful have concerns about the direction the Church is going in, when they have concerns that the statement of a bishop sounds strange, they can certainly express that concern—but only in the context of obedience to those entrusted with the mission of shepherding us. If such a shepherd creates a confused message, we can ask for clarification and we can appeal to a higher source. But we cannot do so in a disrespectful manner. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote well in his Summa Theologica on the subject.

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

 Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Tim. 5:1): An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father. Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii.), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church. (II-II q.33 a.4 resp.)

I would ask any person, who criticizes a bishop openly, whether they take this approach. If they do not, they are not behaving according to our moral obligation.

Now, some have asked whether I think this should apply to a heretical bishop like the Arians. My answer is twofold. First, if they have formally broken away from the Church, they are not in communion with the Pope and bishops in communion with them and by that fact have no authority over us. Second, the modern bishops today are certainly not in the same class as those bishops who fell into heresy.

For example (to cite the most recent example of bishop bashing), when Archbishop Cupich brought up several topics of moral concern after the Planned Parenthood videos went public, he spoke no heresy or material error. The Catholic Church does require us to be concerned about the issues he brought up. One may (respectfully) believe that this was not the time to speak about those issues. One may respectfully believe that in doing this, he gave the wrong impression that these issues are the moral equivalent of abortion and disagree with him. But, he is not a heretic nor betraying the Church in mentioning these things.

But, by insinuating that bishops like this are heretical, when they say these things, we are causing scandal by undermining the faith of our readers in the Church. We cause people to stop trusting the leaders of the Church and use one’s personal views to stand in judgment over whether the Church can be trusted. But in doing so, we are playing into the hands of the enemy who wants to attack and destroy the Church—and sees destroying the faith in the leaders as a good tactic. It’s remarkably similar to the 1943 Walt Disney Cartoon, Chicken Little:

We need to ask ourselves who benefits from our bishop bashing. It’s not the Church and it’s not the faithful. It’s not even ourselves. So, let us always remember to act in love and charity, even when we find ourselves needing to voice our concerns. Otherwise, we are the ones causing harm to the Church and we will have to answer for it.

Monday, August 3, 2015


15 Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. 16 They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. 17 Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” 18 Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. 20 He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” 21 They replied, “Caesar’s.”* At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)

A popular attack today in response to Christian moral teaching making inroads against the worldly view is to take an aspect of the Christian message, give it a personal interpretation, and then label Christians who do not believe that personal interpretation to be valid as hypocrites. This is how we see the citation of Pope Francis’ saying “Who am I to judge?” being (wrongly) interpreted and thrown in the face of Catholics (like the US Bishops) who oppose “same sex marriage.” We see Matthew 7:1 being thrown at Christians who say an action is morally wrong, accusing them of being judgmental.

The tactic is popular because they give a soundbite that sounds convincing to the uninformed or misinformed person and seems to "put Christians in their place,” (a popular comment on Facebook). But the problem is, nobody bothers to question whether the personal interpretation is true. After all, it is only if the interpretation is true that one can justly accuse Christians of hypocrisy on the issue.

Once we recognize this, it becomes obvious that the personal interpretation cannot be an objective standard for assessing the truth. There are simply too many contradictory “personal interpretations” out there and in a contradiction, both positions cannot be true. The correct interpretation corresponds with the intended teaching. If the intended teaching is, “X is a sin,” the personal interpretation that “X is not a sin” must logically be false. So, when a person seeks to cite Scripture, Church teaching or a statement by the Pope to entrap a Christian in a complex question, the first question must be, “Is this personal interpretation accurate?” If it is not, it is just a cheap soundbite which leaves us with the tedious task of explaining why the argument is false and trying to explain the truth while being accused of “explaining away challenges."

So, when someone throws Matthew 7:1 at us, throws “Who am I to judge?” at us or if Joan Chittister or her cronies throw Catholic Social teaching at us, the person of good will has to ask, “Is this being cited in context? Is it being used accurately?"

Actually, in Matthew 7:1, we know it is not because in the very same chapter, Jesus did judge behavior—the parable of pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6), the Narrow Gate (Matthew 7:13-14), the False Prophets (Matthew 7:15-20) and so on. Jesus condemns judgment that says “This person is beyond redemption.” But He did command that we choose good, reject evil and teach the nations to live according to His will (Matthew 28:19-20).

Likewise, when Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” is used, a reading of the transcript will show he was speaking about an individual who was reported to have a notorious past but had since repented. Likewise the dredged up Joan Chittister quote, because the Church recognizes there can be many ways of carrying out the Church’s pro-life mission, and we are not all bound to one tactic. But, no matter how many taxes one supports, nothing can be considered “truly pro-life” that supports abortion as a right.

Once we recognize the fact that the interpretation can only be accurate when it corresponds with reality, we have to ask, “Who has the authority to determine what interpretation of Scripture, Church teaching or Papal quote is authentic and which is not?” For the Catholic, we believe that the Pope and the bishops in communion with him have been given that responsibility and authority from Our Lord.

Certainly a person can reject the authority of the Church—not in the sense of “rightly reject,” but in the sense that Cardinal Ximenez and company won’t show up at their door...

…but the fact that such dissenters reject the authority of the Church does not make their view true. Such a person has to prove that their alternate view corresponds with reality. Unfortunately, they never do. So the person of good will has to investigate such cheap shot soundbites and see if the “gotcha” is actually valid. Such a person needs to realize that speculation is not the same thing as an authoritative source of what the Church believes.