2014 Catholic Answers National Conference – Day 3

Christopher Check in action!

Christopher Check in action!

Today was very much a history-focused day. It started off bright and early with a dynamic talk from Christopher Check entitled “Modern Martyrdom: Can It Happen Here?” which recounted the story of the Cristeros in great detail.  Normally history tales don’t engage me that much, however Mr. Check’s telling of the plight of the Catholic resistance to the socialist government was very interesting, and I was unaware of how the persecution continued much further into the last century than I had known before.  The most engaging part of the speech came in the retelling of the story of Blessed José Sánchez del Río, a young boy who begged to join the Cristeros and ended up paying the ultimate price for his unwavering faith.  This earned José the nickname of “Mexico’s Tarcisius”… the retelling of this story compelled people in the audience to yell out “Viva Cristo Rey!” – the battle cry of the Cristeros.

Karl Keating, telling us of the plight of the Japanese martyrs

Karl Keating

After a short break, it was time for Catholic Answers‘ president, Karl Keating, to take the stage.  Karl’s presentation was entitled “Fidelity Under Fire”, where he recounted an interesting story that I had never heard before… the plight of the Catholic faithful in Japan.  Mr. Keating’s speaking style is very ambient… carefully weaving a dramatic narrative that painted a very clear picture of the terrors that certain priests and clergymen were subjected to in “the pit”… they were bound with rags and lowered headfirst into a hole filled with sewage.  Some apostatized in hours, some weeks, and many died.  The story continued that after near total eradication of the Japanese Catholic culture, the Western Catholic clergy that arrived hundreds of years later found that some faithful remained entirely in secret and practiced without any clergy present waiting for someone to come that was safe to trust in.

For lunch, I had my first ever In-N-Out Burger while I got to know Trent Horn, his lovely wife Laura, her family and a few other new friends.  For more information about Trent’s talk, check out my coverage from yesterday and his new book, Persuasive Pro Life.  I plan on reviewing Persuasive Pro Life as soon as I can get through it, so stay tuned for that.

The Q&A Panel of Catholic Answers apologists

Q&A Panel

After lunch, the panel of apologists took the stage for a Q&A Panel.  The questions were too numerous to recount here, but they covered a great deal of apologetics topics, material, citations, and jokes in the 75 minute panel.  They took a round-robin approach where the question was assigned to an apologist and after they had completed their short and concise answer, the others could add to the answer to round it out a bit more.  This allowed each question to get a buffet-style response… you see a bit of this on the Catholic Answers Live radio program, but it was multiplied by several times with a stage full of apologists. Like last year, this was a high point in the day and showed the great rapport that the staff apologists have with one another.

Holy Mass with Archbishop Sample

Holy Mass with Archbishop Sample

There was a short break before Holy Mass with Archbishop Alexander Sample presiding and Father Vincent Serpa providing the homily.  Mass feels different when you are in the midst of several hundred devout, on-fire Catholics.  Hymns were booming.  Loud prayers rang out to the ceiling of the ballroom.  Archbishop Sample celebrates the Holy Sacrifice in such a beautiful way, using the traditional Latin prayers and responses and taking special care to display the utmost reverence in his actions and body postures.  Father Serpa’s homily was very moving… he recounted the reasons for our faith and how we must sometimes carry the cross, even when the burdens don’t make sense to us.  He recounted the story of a teenager that wrote him with same-sex attraction and how they were struggling to make sense of why God would create them with such an inclination.  His response showed how suffering can be an act of love, and how we can reciprocate his suffering love for us and how carrying such a cross can be a beautiful thing.  I located the question and answer, so you can read it for yourself.

Banquet and Keynote by Archbishop Sample

Banquet and Keynote

The banquet dinner was held on the marina-facing lawn, and after the food had arrived it was time for our keynote address from Archbishop Sample.  The archbishop spoke about how we must banish a lukewarm attitude and become on-fire in the faith, and how we must grow to know the faith, speak the faith, and live the faith.  He recounted his experiences in reading Francis Caravajal’s book “Lukewarmness: The Devil in Disguise” wherein he learns (and re-learns) to force the temptation to tepidity out of his life.  In the practice of the faith, he called on us to ask ourselves “where is the love, the joy, the devotion?” and challenged us to contemplate the face of Christ, learn to love him, and then do naturally what you do when you love someone – learn everything you can about him, give him 100% of yourself, and become on fire disciples.  We were outside, just off of a somewhat busy road and I often heard cars passing by, and the archbishop’s commanding voice reverberating over the marina.  I was reminded at once of two things: the commanding presence of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and the verse from Scripture, Isaiah 55:12:

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

I challenge any Catholic to come to this conference, hear these presentations, answers, and words from the bishop and not be set on fire.  Archbishop Sample mused in his speech about how the Church’s work tends to be done by around 7% of the population… imagine what it would be like if we doubled that to 14%?  If we could all learn to transmit our faith as effectively as these men did this weekend, I suspect we would be headed for a change the likes of which the world has not seen for hundreds of years.

This conference was a tremendous experience.  The quality of apologetics is some of the best in the world, and the sense of community was palpable… people were excited to get the opportunity to get to know one another, to share and hear about each other’s struggles, and to learn to transmit the faith more effectively.  The biggest thing that I can take away from the conference is this: I don’t feel alone when it’s over.  This was as much of a retreat as it was a conference, and I feel rejuvenated now that it is through.  I have made many friends this weekend and with luck we can continue to work together to be the leaven for this world.

You can find the rest of my coverage of this year’s conference here.


2014 Catholic Answers National Conference – Day 2


Jimmy Akin, and his epic cowboy hat

The speakers got underway quickly, after a big continental breakfast provided by the Sheraton.  The day started off with Jimmy Akin‘s talk entitled “Pope Francis: The Man, the Myth, and the Media”, where he began by making an astonishing connection that only fellow nerds and Catholics would be capable of making… that the world reacts to changing of the Holy Father in the same way they respond to a change in the doctor from Dr. Who.  It struck me quickly that a game of Dungeons and Dragons would be very interesting with Jimmy Akin involved… but back to his talk.  Jimmy continued to discuss the way that Catholics understand this change and how we often make bonds with a certain Holy Father, but we must take caution not to factionalize this and take it too far.  He also spoke of the honeymoon period that all pontiffs experience, and how that can quickly wear off and the fervor and scrutiny of their words fades somewhat.  He also spoke of how important it is to view differing papal styles in the same hermeneutic of continuity that Pope Benedict XVI often spoke of.  Jimmy’s time went by far too quickly, and before long it was time for a break.

This year, they built in a longer break between speakers which is both good and bad… it is good because one needs a few minutes to process all of the received content.  It is also good because it gives far more time for mixing and chatting with the apologists.  The bad part is that has caused a continuous stream of money to fly out of my pocket as I keep finding more good things to buy.  It doesn’t help that they are offering their lowest prices of the year  right now… it’s a perfect storm of reckoning for my debit card.

Tim Staples

Tim Staples

Next, it was time for the indomitable Tim Staples with his presentation “What Our Lady Reveals To Us – About Ourselves”.  Tim began by providing an overview of his background, and how along the way he encountered the work of the evangelical Walter Martin.  Martin, as many evangelicals and Protestants do, rejected the teaching that Mary is the Mother of God.  Tim continued to examine Martin’s claims and found that if you claim to deny that Mary is the Mother of God… then who was she mother of?  And quickly, with a few steps of logic down that road you lose both Christ’s Divinity or his human nature, and if you lose Christ’s Divinity then you also lose the notion of the Father along with it.  Please understand here that I am doing a shockingly poor effort at recreating Staples’ argument, but suffice it to say the logic was very sound and the discussion compelling.  If you’re interesting in learning more, Tim has a new book coming out entitled “Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of Marian Doctrines” which he describes as a comprehensive attempt to outline Marian doctrines and how they are both Biblical and defensible and necessary for our adherence as Catholics.  For those of you that have never experienced Tim Staples’ presentation style… someone once described it as “Holy Spirit Power” and that’s the truth… I challenge any Christian to listen to him and not leave completely fired up.

Another break after Tim’s talk, luckily this time I succeeded in keeping my debit card in my pocket.

Trent Horn

Trent Horn

The last speaker of the day was Trent Horn, who helped us understand “How To Talk About Same Sex ‘Marriage'”.  Trent is a uniquely different sort of apologist from Staples and Akin, however he presented an equally densely-packed presentation about the common ineffective arguments against same sex marriage, common arguments for same-sex marriage and how we might refute them, and some more effective strategies to defend marriage.  The thing I appreciate most about Trent Horn is his practical advice for entering into dialogue about difficult topics.  I have heard him on the radio use pure logic to walk someone to a conclusion that a few minutes prior they never would have considered, and it is impressive.  He also had a few of the most genuinely funny jokes of the day, but I won’t spoil that for you… you’ll have to wait and buy the talks to enjoy those.

The last main break of the day caused another minor hemorrhage of cash, followed by the live broadcast of the Catholic Answers Live radio program.  The crowd participation was infectious and the guest, Archbishop Sample of Portland, was fantastic.  I don’t know if this is a charism shared by all bishops, but Archbishop Sample’s kind, direct, and charitable answers to difficult questions was just a marvel to behold.  The podcast should be up in a couple of days at the Catholic Answers radio archives, so check it out.

Catholic Answers Live, with Patrick Coffin and Archbishop Sample

Catholic Answers Live, with Patrick Coffin and Archbishop Sample

And thus, the conference adjourned for the night.  Thank Heavens the Sheraton offers free wi-fi in the lounge so I could use my laptop to hammer all this out… doing so on my phone like last night would have been pretty challenging.  More tomorrow!




Docility and Prudence: The Forgotten Virtues


We live in a sound-byte world, a quick culture that often doesn’t stop and think.  American culture is particularly bad about this, and often fails to dive any deeper than the news headlines or the context that they gained from the last person they spoke to.  This has been seen with practically anything Pope Francis says, or anything that doesn’t fit within the media’s agenda of normalizing sin.  Over the holidays, as I watched the media fury surround Phil Robertson for expressing his views on homosexuality I began to think about how our culture lacks the virtues of prudence and docility.

The word docility has roots in the Latin word docere which means “to teach”.  It’s where we get the word doctor (teacher) and doctrine (teachings).  Docility is the virtue of obedience and openness in those who are taught.  Saint Thomas Aquinas related this closely with the cardinal virtue of prudence: applying earned wisdom to real life situations.  Academically, the formula is essentially to be open to gaining new, sound, truthful knowledge and then applying it correctly in the real world.

But our society generally scuttles that whole discussion.  Instead of asking if something is right or wrong, we are told subjectively “what is right for you is fine.”  Instead of understanding the teachings of Christ in a full, real, and coherent way we are reduced to memes and cherry-picked gospel quotes to justify a myriad of sinful behavior.  Someone suggested to me once that we all cherry-pick what parts of religion to follow.  This may be true to a point… some teachings are easier for us to hear and respond to than others.  This should not be where we stop!  We should be striving to always grow in our faith and be docile and teachable wherever Truth (note the capital) is found.  It’s not subjective… what is true is true.  Similarly, if we then use that earned knowledge to act prudently we can become a living example for others instead of just an academic argument found in a comment-box.

When attempting to discuss the virtues of a teaching – or sometimes, simply stating them out loud – people respond with the glib old diatribe “have an open mind!”  It is very easy to hide behind the auspices of having an open mind.  Also, it is easy to take the hard-headed and prideful approach and think that you know everything.  (Most of these people use Facebook, I have discovered.)  I am reminded of a very good quote by G.K. Chesterton:

Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

For me, the key has been disposing of preconception and emotion and intellectually processing both sides of the argument.  This is extremely difficult to do when approaching “hot button” topics where emotions run wild… but some mileage can be had from simply explaining your viewpoint, your argument from truth, and listening to the objections.  From there, you can respond to those objections as long as the opposing party will respectfully engage.  The Thomastic philosophy is particularly good at this and can be used with a little practice.

The best we can hope for is to first learn truth for ourselves, apply it correctly to our lives, and then transmit it to others.  And to paraphrase a quote often attributed to St. Francis… if necessary, use words.


A Pamphlet Asks About Traditions…

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890This is part of a continuing series where I investigate the claims made by a pamphlet that was left for me asserting that Catholicism is not Christian.  You can read the pamphlet in it’s entirety here: (page 1 and page 2).  Today we’ll be discussing the short section on page 2 entitled “Traditions”.

What is Tradition based on?

This section opens with a statement that Catholic Tradition is founded on documented forged by their leaders.  As we previously discussed, the Catholic Church was founded by Christ and not Constantine which covers the ‘Donations of Constantine’ assertion.  The author also mentions the Isodorian Decretals, which were a set of 9th century documents attempting to justify the position of bishops by supporting them with false documents purportedly authored by early popes.  I have not studied these documents extensively myself, but I have found several sources that affirm that these documents are forgeries and that no serious theologian has asserted otherwise since the 19th century.

The important thing that I notice is that these documents were created in the 9th century, which essentially means that the Catholic Church had been practicing it’s faith for around 800 years.  Traditions in practice by this time were many generations old, and therefore could not have been founded on the back of this set of forged documents.

Sacred Tradition is the practice of the faith that has been transmitted by word or practice and not by writing.  This is alluded to in John 20:30-31:

And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

And John 21:25:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

The Apostles traveled with Jesus, they lived with Jesus, and they witnessed these other signs.  It stands to reason that in being taught directly from Christ, the Apostles would themselves transmit these teachings and practices to others.  Christ Himself is the foundation upon which Sacred Tradition is built.  Further, there is plenty of valid evidence that illustrates that the early Church Fathers held to some of the same traditions and practices that we conform to today.  For more information on this, I highly suggest Jimmy Akin‘s book “The Fathers Know Best“.

Misunderstanding Mark

The pamphlet continues to quote Mark 7:7 as evidence that Tradition is bad:

But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

This is a simple matter of cherry-picking Scripture and why it is dangerous.  Christ was speaking with the Pharisees about their practice of hand-washing before meals, and his admonishment was directed at them for this practice.  The line to be drawn is clear: there is a marked difference between traditions that take man away from God’s Commandments (in fact, the rest of Christ’s discussion on this matter drives forward that point) and those that Sacred Tradition transmitted by Christ to his Apostles.

The author cites examples of things that the church has changed or removed: fish on Friday got removed (actually, it’s still there), Saint Christopher (he’s still there too), and the acceptance of mixed marriages (it is allowed, but still discouraged).  These are good examples of Church doctrines that can evolve.  It is the job of the Magesterium to instruct regarding such things, in order to ensure that these practices lead people further in their spiritual life.

I do think that the author of the pamphlet does make an accidental point, however.  The point of Sacred Tradition is that it further allows us to relate to Christ and worship him.  Tradition itself is there to support and underscore the teachings of Christ, not to change or override it.

Infallible Teachings

The author again makes an error in associating the infallible teachings of the Church with the practice of the doctrines listed above.  Any teaching declared infallible means that it has been revealed to us by God.  The examples given of transubstantiation, purgatory, Mary’s immaculate conception, and papal infallibility are not of the same pedigree as the dietary practices or veneration guidelines presented above.

Each of these examples can be traced back to what God has revealed to us, and in each case there is biblical and traditional evidence to support each of these teachings.  There is ample evidence to support that these practices have been present throughout the transmission of Catholicism, but simply were just not specifically defined until a later time.  I will cover each of these in some detail in coming weeks and months, in order to give each topic the appropriate focus that it deserves.


A Pamphlet Asks About The Inquisitions…

inquisitionThis is part of a continuing series where I investigate the claims made by a pamphlet that was left for me asserting that Catholicism is not Christian.  You can read the pamphlet in it’s entirety here: (page 1 and page 2).  Today we’ll be discussing the densely-packed and wide ranging section on page 2 entitled simply “Church”.

Stumbling out of the gate

This section begins with a few bruised assertions.  First, it claims that Constantine established the ‘Roman’ church in 325 AD.  This is a popular (and somewhat recent) attempt to tie the ‘creation’ of Catholicism to Constantine, but it’s just not true.  Constantine did convert and made it legal to practice Christianity with the Edict of Milan.  We’ll give the author of the pamphlet a free pass on the statements about Martin Luther, because there’s plenty more here to cover.

The following assertion that ‘True Christians trace their roots directly to Christ through the Waldenses and Ana-Baptists’ is a very confusing one.  I am no expert on either group, however some research on Wikipedia yields the fact that the Waldenses was a movement that began around 1170 in France and the Ana-Baptists were later into the 16th century.  I tried to find out more by following the quoted website, but it took me to a public library website from Illinois that did not seem to hold any relevance.

All founding aside, I simply assert that the most sure way to follow Christ is to belong to the Church that He founded.  The Catholic Church holds an unbroken line of papal succession directly back to Saint Peter, who was given his authority directly from Jesus Christ.  That places Jesus Christ as the founder of the Catholic Church, not Constantine for those of you keeping score.

This argument often spins off in one of two directions: people advocating for the authority of their own sect, and those that begin to attack the authenticity of papal succession.  Countless gallons of ink (both real and digital) have been spilled about each of these topics and I can’t do them justice here.   I often direct those that attack the line of papal succession to a very well-presented Wikipedia entry on the popes.  It is not a tome, you don’t need to spend hours understanding it, just scroll and follow the dates.

Unfortunately, further discussion is often required for those that want to advocate for their own special brand of authority.  To have an enriching discussion about this, I must first understand their argument and there’s not much I can do in this venue regarding that topic.

The Inquisitions

Next, the author attributes the murder of millions of these ‘true Christians’ to the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisitions.  The Church has a long history of addressing heresy in all of it’s forms, and in many cases this would be practiced in the form of a local inquisitional court.  There is a very well-written article at Catholic.com that provides a primer regarding the Inquisition, and a much deeper historical dive over at the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Here are a few relevant segments from the Catholic.com article:

What “crimes” were tried in courts of inquisition? 
Sixteenth-century Protestant reformers propagandized that inquisition courts were historically aimed at simple, Bible-believing Christians. For the most part, however, those prosecuted in the courts of the inquisition were not people with any organized theology of religious dissent. For the most part, they were the ignorant, the troublemakers, the braggarts and, all-too-often, the drunkards belching out foolishness when under the influence.

Much like any court today, the inquisition courts often functioned as a form of social control, aimed at those who publicly lived in a way contrary to accepted norms. In most countries, those on trial rarely were advocates of a contradictory or heretical theological system of beliefs. Fornication, adultery, refusal to attend the Sacraments, and disregard of common devotional practices were the common practices investigated by the inquisition courts. In fact, in many inquisition courts a major focus was on clergy living dissolute lifestyles, rather than laity.

Did medieval inquisition courts employ torture? 
Common to judicial practice going back to Roman times, torture was used at times to obtain proof of accusations. But, again, the goal was not conviction of heretics but the salvation of their souls. Very often, the general laity simply wanted the heretic destroyed, while secular authorities wanted to punish. The courts of the inquisition hoped to bring the heretic back into the fold, and guidelines were strict against using torture as punishment. Numerous works of popular art notwithstanding, no priest or religious was allowed to take an active role in torture.

Although no such action can be justified today, it is important to note that the courts of the medieval inquisition were actually modifying and limiting a practice common to secular judicial proceedings of the time. The use of torture in inquisition courts was much less extensive, and far less violent, than the norms of secular courts.

One additional interesting fact: the oft-cited papal bull by Pope Innocent III that called for a ‘crusade’ also stressed confession, education, and many other methods aimed at bringing heretical people back to the fold.  To be clear: the actions taken (deterioration to violence, harsh punishment handed down by secular courts based on the inquisition trials) are lamentable, but they are an undeniable part of history.  I believe it is very important to get beyond the caricature and actually examine what happened, and the aforementioned tracts and articles provide a solid place to start that helps to illuminate those dark times.

Topped off with vitriol

As if this densely packed two paragraphs can’t get any better, the author tops off this section with a healthy dose of venom.  The pamphlet states “The RCC says all their homosexual priests are ‘representatives of Christ'” and then continues to make further claims that priests are diseased perverts that molest children and spread AIDS.

This particular argument offends me greatly, because it misses one of the most important things about the Catholic Church: it is comprised of human sinners.  Pointing out the public failings of priests as some sort of special example that invalidates the cause of the Church is a flawed premise.  Painting stereotypes using broad brushes would not be acceptable for any other race, sexual orientation, religion, or affinity group… so why is it acceptable to do this to the Catholic priesthood?  This practice slanders the vast majority of priests who are dedicated, chaste, holy men.

First, not all priests are homosexual.  Secondly, the Church teaches that all priests (including those with same-sex attraction) act in the person of Christ when administering the Church’s sacramental rites.  Further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church section 1584 teaches:

Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and effects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting.  St. Augustine states this forcefully:

As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ’s gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth. . . . The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled.

It is Christ that is acting to administer the sacraments.  Despite the graces received by the sacrament of Holy Orders, priests must also suffer temptation and sometimes fall to sin.  They are not perfect like Christ, they are the vessels through which Christ operates.  Do we expect them to keep a higher standard than the rest of the world?  Absolutely, but I don’t expect them to be perfect and in some cases they may fall into grave sin like any of the rest of us.  Pope Francis even went so far as to call himself a sinner in a recent interview, much to the shocked gasps of the secular world.

This pamphlet repeats the ‘homosexual priests’ trope often, but why focus there?  If we’re going scandal hunting, why don’t we mention any of the numerous other scandals in the Church’s history?  How about the Church’s relationship with the Borgia family, who was associated with several popes and suspected of a long list of  crimes such as murder, simony, bribery, and theft?  Surely there is equally verdant ground for this argument beyond the pelvic issues that go on to reinforce my point: no one is free from sin, no matter their ecclesiastical role or station.  To focus on an individual type of sin in an effort to discredit the Church or her priesthood is a crass and invalid argument.

We’ll be revisiting this pamphlet more often in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for more.


Evangelizing with Jagermeister or “What’s a Patron Saint?”

Saint Hubert SymbolI went to lunch with some coworkers today.  We went to an establishment that served alcohol, and we got into a discussion about the frozen margarita machines and the Jagermeister chiller that they had behind the bar.  The conversation lingered on that liquor, and I got to throw out one of my favorite little trivia facts:

The logo used on Jagermeister is actually a reference to Saint Hubert, the patron saint of hunters.  Tradition holds that Saint Hubert was converted after pursuing a magnificent stag.  The stag turned and Hubert beheld a cross between the stag’s antlers, where he heard a mystical voice that led him to the Church.

I explained this briefly, and one of the guys I was with asked “What’s a patron saint?”

I told him that sometimes saints are venerated based on things they did in their life, including hobbies.  The thought is that these saints can intercede in a special way for those that share that same experience.

A Wikipedia article provides a much more articulate explanation:

Professions sometimes get a patron saint owing to that individual being involved somewhat with it. Lacking such a saint, an occupation would have a patron whose acts or miracles in some way recall the profession. For example, when the hitherto unknown profession of photography appeared in the 19th century, Saint Veronica was made its patron, owing to how her veil miraculously received the imprint of Christ’s face after she wiped the blood and sweat off.

There’s nothing like a little lunchtime evangelization!  Sadly, it didn’t end in the consumption of Jagermeister.


The New Saint Thomas Institute Opens!

New Saint Thomas Institute


Last Monday, one of my favorite apologists/writers/bloggers Dr. Taylor Marshall launched the New Saint Thomas Institute.  I am pleased to be one of the first 500 charter members!

Great!  What the heck is it?

It’s an online institute aimed at bringing theology and philosophy education forward in a fun and engaging way.  If anyone is familiar with Dr. Marshall’s writing and teaching style, they will understand that it is going to be a fun way to dive deeper into the Catholic faith by studying the greats.  As one might imagine from the name, there will be a strong focus on Thomastic scholarship which will be very interesting and rewarding.

What do you get out of it?

One of the other compelling aspects of the Institute is that they are offering a continuing education program for credit, offering a one-year certificate of mastery and an eventual two year Master’s Degree program.  For those of us with busy lifestyles, a job, and a kid being able to study in this way for credit is a real benefit.

I have had an affinity to Saint Thomas Aquinas for awhile, and I even attempted to read the Summa on my own this year.  It was very challenging, so I suspected that I needed some additional background.  (This is actually what led me to find Dr. Marshall in the first place.)  This Institute will provide some of the foundation necessary to appreciate Saint Thomas’ work fully, and I’m very excited about that.  You can read about 7 reasons to join the New Saint Thomas Institute over at Dr. Marshall’s blog.

Also, there is a community aspect.  Dr. Marshall aims for a collegiate-style feel and I have already seen some of that in action.  The member forum is taking on the feel of a college orientation mixer, and I have already been contacted by someone local to me that also belongs to the Institute so we can discuss the video presentations and study together.  My brother-in-law also signed up from Illinois, so plenty of bonding experiences abound.

There’s even a clever mascot, Tommy the Muskox. (Saint Thomas had the nickname “the dumb ox” because he was quiet and large.)

Curious?  Good!

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, I encourage you to check out three preview videos provided by Dr. Marshall.  Then you should really head over and sign up.  You won’t be sorry, it’s great being a Fighting Muskoxen!

If you’re a current member of the New Saint Thomas Institute, feel free to chime in with why you have joined up and what excites you about the program.


Catholic Answers National Apologetics Conference: Day 2

I am relieved to finally be back at my laptop after a long day of traveling, so here is a recap of the second day of the Catholic Answers National Apologetics Conference.  Before I begin, let me just say that I will not be able to do this conference justice in a short (or even a long) article.  I will do my best to provide a general recap of each talk with a few of my own thoughts.

The Speakers

The day started with Tim Staples’ talk entitled “Black and White in a Gray America”.  Tim was a great speaker to lead off the day with… his enthusiastic speaking style was energizing.  The speech examined the condition of American culture as it relates to moral issues, and laid out a compelling argument for why apologetics is so important.  It provided a good framework for the other presentations of the day, and provided some lucid insights on common moral objections brought forth from our secular society.  Going in, I already understood the many reasons that apologetics is important but this talk provided the proverbial “shot in the arm” that makes me want to dig deeper and learn more.

After a short break, it was time for Trent Horn’s presentation “Science: Necessary but Not Sufficient”.  This was a very broad topic, and Trent provided an articulate, well-defined effort to carefully define some of the terms commonly used by atheists and agnostics to parse out their true points of contention.  He also went on to examine the common arguments for atheism and presented some useful ways we can navigate these seemingly tough questions.  Horn has recently released his new book and DVD entitled Answering Atheism, which provides a much deeper treatment of these topics.  I know these are definitely going on my to-watch/read list.

The highlight of the day was Jimmy Akin‘s talk “The Greatest Scandal of All” which dealt with the important topic of evil and suffering.  Akin explained that the problem of evil in our world is the greatest scandal of all, because of the voracity that it causes doubt in an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God.  He defined evil as both moral evil, and physical evil (such as suffering).  Jimmy went on to provide six examples of things not to say to someone that is dealing with evil (moral or physical) and then three ways that you can actually comfort and support someone in the same condition.  This talk truly resonated with me, so much that I immediately thought of several people that would benefit from hearing his words even while the presentation was still going on.

After lunch, our speaker was Matt Fradd who discussed gender and sexual roles in his talk “Sex-less America”.  Matt presented several cases of an escalating cultural phenomenon of embracing a denial of one’s gender (in some cases even rejecting it).  He cited medical research that explained the physiological differences between the two sexes and outlined some ways to enter a discussion on this topic using a physiological approach and a pastoral approach.  Thankfully, Matt was kind enough to take notes for us and post it up on his own blog for everyone to enjoy.  I haven’t really encountered this sort of discussion yet in my own attempts at evangelization or apologetics, but it certainly was one to file away.

The final speaker of the afternoon was Catholic Answers founder and president Karl Keating.  His speech entitled “Closing Time for Western Civ?” was delivered in a beautiful, traditional oratory way.  Karl took us through around 1600 years worth of history starting with a beautiful imagining of the completion of St. Augustine’s “City of God” and took us to the present time, noting the variety of cultural shifts that took place along the way.  He outlined the need to restore a culture based on truly Christian values, but noted the difficultly presented by the way that cultures can be replaced.  This outlined the true need for well formed consciences and strong apologetics, so that the culture that inevitably replaces ours is better than the one it left behind.  The content was information-packed and very interesting, but I was more enthralled by Mr. Keating’s construction and delivery of the talk itself.  It is definitely one that I must digest further to fully appreciate.

After the scheduled speeches, there was a Q&A panel with the apologists.  Conferees were told to submit questions on 3×5 cards throughout the course of the day, and the panel took turns answering those that fit best into their specialities.  This was a very fun and informative portion of the event, so much so that I wish they would repeat this sort of forum on their radio broadcasts.

The Fellowship

One other major benefit to the conference was the fellowship with other conference-goers.  This event brought together many people cut from the same cloth, and for me it was very much like a retreat in that regard.  You didn’t have to worry about speaking aloud your Catholic faith because you were among people that understand the same as you.  During the reception on Friday night, I got into several great discussions with absolute strangers and I even met a couple that happened to be from a parish right up the road from where I live here in Colorado.  At lunch on Saturday, I met a wonderful couple and we talked about apologetics, youth education, and our own experiences while we sat on a bench on the waterfront.  Just before dinner on Saturday night, I met some wonderful men from St. Paul Street Evangelization (one of which I know has found the blog) and was excited to hear about their ministry and experiences.  I think I met more truly faithful Catholics in one day than I have met in the previous year combined.  I pray that some of these connections continue into friendships.

The Mass

The conference hit a crescendo with the Holy Mass given by Bishop James Conley with a homily by Father Vincent Serpa, the chaplain from Catholic Answers.  There was beautiful singing courtesy of members of Catholic Answers staff, and it was truly awesome to hear a room with 400 Catholics singing Salve Regina together.  I have always enjoyed Bishop Conley’s reverence of the Holy Eucharist.  Father Serpa’s homily was insightful and drew forth from the gospel contemporary examples of serving the poor and the poor in spirit, primarily from Mother Teresa’s life.  The whole Mass was truly gorgeous.

The Dinner and Conclusion

After Mass, I struck up the aforementioned lively conversation with some fellow conference-goers that continued right into dinner.  The discussion was so enthralling I was almost annoyed when the presentation began again, but I was quickly quieted by Bishop Conley’s keynote address entitled “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Role of Beauty in the Restoration of the Catholic Church”.

I’m not even sure I can adequately describe the breadth of this address.  Bishop Conley took us through his conversion experience, his education in the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas, and how this exposed to him the importance of beauty in life.  Further, he explained how this cultivated for him the ability to appreciate beautiful things ranging from calligraphy to architecture to fine music and that this resulted in many conversions to the Catholic Faith.  He said that the focus must return to this beauty in our culture and our practice of the faith, and that this can rebuild the world.  I sincerely hope this address is made available in some form so it can be heard by others, because the world desperately needs it.

I can say that this short conference was certainly worth the time and money.  I can also say with certainty that the full effect has not yet sunk in, and this experience has given me much to think about.  As always, I thank God for Catholic Answers and the fine work they do, for the friendships gained, and for the beauty that is our Catholic Faith.

I believe that Catholic Answers is going to make some of the conference speeches available in the future.  I strongly recommend you check them out, and plan to attend this conference next year.


Catholic Answers National Apologetics Conference: Day 1

20130927-214143.jpgToday I made the trek to the first annual Catholic Answers National Apologetics Conference!

The events kicked off at 3 pm with the “live” broadcast of the Catholic Answers radio program. I say “live” because a technical problem prevented the broadcast of the first hour, but the second hour did go out live. The guest was Bishop James Conley, former auxiliary bishop of Denver and the current bishop of Lincoln, NE.

The two hours flew by with some great questions, including one from yours truly. For the record, I was nervous asking a question knowing that millions of people worldwide would hear it. I asked about the importance of consistency in messaging when evangelizing, given the broad spectrum of focus in the Catholic Church. I won’t spoil the answer by poorly paraphrasing it here, but it was very insightful.

After that it was time for a buffet reception, where I got to meet many of my apologetics heroes: Patrick Coffin, Jimmy Akin, Tim Staples and Matt Fradd just to name a few. I also met a bunch of fellow conventioneers, including one couple from a parish not far from my home. Small world!

The first day ended with the opening address by Christopher Check entitled “Put Not Your Trust in Princes” where he outlined the problems facing the Church and society today. He then offered some energizing ways we can cultivate change from within our own family outward to society.

If this sets the tone for the rest of the conference, tomorrow is going to be amazing. More soon!


A Pope, A Vision, A Prayer

Pope Leo XIII

Pope Leo XIII

We started That Man Is You! two weeks ago at my parish.  This session started out with the program’s founder, Steve Bollman, telling a compelling story regarding the authoring of the famous prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel.  This piqued my interest, as I have held a special affinity toward Saint Michael and I had never heard the origin of this prayer before.

A Pope, A Vision, A Prayer

The story centers around Pope Leo XIII, who was said to have witnessed a prophetic vision of a conversation between the Lord and Satan regarding the future of the Church.  There are several retellings of this story (more on this later) but I found a synopsis on Wikipedia that approximates Steve Bollman’s retelling, so I will use it here:

Pope Leo XIII was climbing the steps to the altar when he suddenly stopped, stared fixedly at something in the air and with a terrible look on his face, collapsed to the floor (some accounts say he fell shrieking). The Pope was carried off by those around him to another room where he came around. As one rendition of the story tells it:

“When asked what had happened, he explained that, as he was about to leave the foot of the altar, he suddenly heard voices – two voices, one kind and gentle, the other guttural and harsh. They seemed to come from near the tabernacle. As he listened, he heard the following conversation:

The guttural voice, the voice of Satan in his pride, boasted to Our Lord: “I can destroy your Church.”
The gentle voice of Our Lord: “You can? Then go ahead and do so.”
Satan: “To do so, I need more time and more power.”
Our Lord: “How much time? How much power?”
Satan: “75 to 100 years, and a greater power over those who will give themselves over to my service.”
Our Lord: “You have the time, you will have the power. Do with them what you will.”

A powerful story, no doubt… and fascinating.  I wanted to find out more.

Some Confusing Research

After I got home from work that night, I began doing some digging and found some peculiar results.  It seems the Saint Michael prayer is the source of some controversy in Traditionalist circles, who claim that the “original” version of the prayer was shortened without explanation in 1934.  This interested me even further, and I wanted to read the text of the original version of this prayer in it’s entirety… ideally from a Vatican-approved source.  (It is, after all, good practice to verify one’s source when investigating something.)

I found out that Pope Leo instituted his Leonine prayers to be added after every Low Mass in 1884.  Citations indicate that the Saint Michael prayer was first added in 1886 [note: I have not located a copy of Acta Sanctae Sedis or Irish Ecclesiastical Review 7 in English that is referenced, therefore this is unverified until such a time as an antique book dealer contacts me].  Many websites cited a source from the Raccolta, an official collection of indulgenced prayers that was published and revised often up until 1957.  It seems that a longer prayer to Saint Michael started to appear in the 1888 edition of this book, and continued until the aforementioned shorter version usurped it in 1934.  You can see a copy of this longer prayer, and a citation to a motu proprio letter from September 23, 1888 in this digital copy of the 1910 edition of the Raccolta.  I can’t find even a single copy of the text of the referenced motu proprio letter… but there is a significant chance that I just don’t know where to find such a thing.  The fact that it is referenced by the 1910 Raccolta will do for my curiosity level.

Regardless… these dates don’t seem to make sense.  The Traditionalist claim that the “original” Saint Michael prayer is the same one I linked above from the Raccolta.  So what prayer were people saying between 1886 and 1888?

I found my answer in two excellent articles by Rev. Anthony Cekada (article 1 and article 2) that confirmed my hunch.  We’re actually looking at two prayers here, the original shorter one that we all know and love (in the original Latin via Irish Ecclesiastical Review 7) and the longer version from 1888.

Saint Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel

Back to that vision

In his second article, Father Cekada goes on to outline the different accounts of Pope Leo’s vision.  Some were undated, some accounts referred to 1880, 1884, and 1888.  Some have Pope Leo collapsing at the foot of the altar, some after a conference with the bishops, one account has him attending the Mass and not celebrating the Mass.  These accounts are deftly captured in the article I linked before, if you’re interested in reading them please take a few minutes to see them there.  It seems the accounts vary and the story has grown over the years as it was passed around.

Does this cast doubt on the exciting tale of Pope Leo’s vision?  Perhaps, but this is the precise reason why you don’t have the Church ruling too often on the value of private revelations.  The fact that Pope Leo XIII did not recount this story on his own does nothing to confirm or deny the fact that this actually happened.  One theory I particularly enjoy is that the vision did happen, and the longer Saint Michael prayer is a result of that sobering experience.

Why none of this matters

All stories, accounts, conspiracies, and citations aside… none of this matters much to me.  Why?  Because these prayers (both the short and the long) are still profound, beautiful, and act as strong tools in one’s spiritual arsenal.  The shorter prayer can be easily memorized, and even the first two lines are a perfectly fine exhortation against evil and plea for protection: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!

The longer prayer isn’t exactly a candidate for memorization (at least, not if you’re me!) but I am certain it is useful if you are struggling with a particularly thorny spiritual battle and needed the grace of such an intense, forceful, and evocative prayer.

As with any prayer, the most important thing is that you pray and that Saint Michael’s intercession brings you closer to Christ.  Saint Michael acts as a mirror for the ultimate defense and the ultimate spiritual power that is our faith in Christ Jesus.

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

The text of the longer prayer to Saint Michael can be found here.