Fasting for the Greater Good

Fasting For Syria

This week, Pope Francis has called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world.  This day of prayer and fasting will take place on Saturday, September 7.  This particular graphic is courtesy of Ignatius Press, and I have been happy to see this message spread beyond the normal Catholic circles.

One of my Christian friends, in fact, shared the photo with some sentiment that “this doesn’t have to be just a Catholic thing.”  She was right, in fact the transcript directly states that Pope Francis has called “each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will” to participate in whatever way that they can.

But what good will it do?

I got this question after explaining to a few friends that I was going to participate.  Prayer and fasting are two of the three ancient spiritual disciplines (the third being almsgiving) designed to elevate the spirit to God in prayer.

For me, fasting leads directly into prayer.  It usually beings as a superficial “wow, I’m hungry” followed by “remember why you’re doing this” and then leads to prayer for that cause.  This behaves similarly to abstaining from meat on Fridays, but fasting is usually a bit more demanding.  The rules for fasting and abstinence remain less rigorous than in previous decades, but I still tend to prefer the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday rules: no meat and two meals that must not add up to the same amount of food as one meal.

I believe that the world needs more prayer.  The more hopeless or extreme the situation, the more prayer is needed.  In this case, I echo the words of Pope Francis:

It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.

You can read the full text of Pope Francis’ Angelus address here.

Join me in fasting and praying for Syria and the rest of Pope Francis’ intentions on Saturday.  Spread the word, share this post, share this graphic, and get the word out!


The Narrow Door

narrowdoorToday’s Gospel reading was one I had heard many times, where Saint Luke recounts Christ’s answering of the question “will many be saved?”:

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.  Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.  When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.  Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.  Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)

Our presiding priest started his homily today by pointing out how discouraging or even frightening these words are, that many who try to enter the narrow door (or gate, in some translations) will fail.  He related the long journey of life as it’s own trial, and what do we find at the end?  A narrow door that is very difficult to pass through.  Pessimists might think that God is cruel, giving one last difficult task to undergo… but this isn’t the case if we take into account the second reading from Hebrews 12 (emphasis mine):

And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
or lose heart when you are punished by him;
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?  If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children.  Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness.  Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

He went on to explain that the trials that we face as we go through life are to discipline us how to best turn to God and release the baggage of sin, attachment to anger and distrust, and the myriad of other weights that prevent us from being able to slip through that narrow door.

I read this Gospel for one of our homebound parishioners, and her caretaker asked if I thought this meant all throughout life or just as we approach the end of the road.  It was a good question.  I answered that I think it means that we must always be striving for further discipline and self-awareness… I don’t know whether Christ was specifically intending this analogy to refer to the life’s daily trials or the major trials we face as we approach death, but the fact is we don’t know when our time will come.

The sobering point about Christ’s answer is this… He essentially answered the question “will many be saved?” with an analogy that points to an answer of “no, but many will try.”  My main take-away from these readings is simple: it’s very important to know when one has baggage, and know when and how to drop it.  Said differently, drawing from the second reading… discipline leads to peace and righteousness; peace and righteousness leads to Heaven.

In light of readings like this, I hope the lines to the confessionals are backed up out the door next weekend.


A pamphlet asks: “Is The Bible Final Authority?”

This 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 section on page 2 entitled “Is The Bible Final Authority”.

Stumbling right out of the blocks

This section begins with a flawed assertion: “Catholics say no; men in their Church are.”  This is simply not true.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly explains the appropriate orientation of the members of Christ’s faithful in Chapter 3, Article 9.  A few relevant sections have been excerpted here:

871 “The Christian faithful are those who, inasmuch as they have been incorporated in Christ through Baptism, have been constituted as the people of God; for this reason, since they have become sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal office in their own manner, they are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each one.”

872 “In virtue of their rebirth in Christ there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality with regard to dignity and the activity whereby all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ in accord with each one’s own condition and function.”

873 The very differences which the Lord has willed to put between the members of his body serve its unity and mission. For “in the Church there is diversity of ministry but unity of mission. To the apostles and their successors Christ has entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power. But the laity are made to share in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ; they have therefore, in the Church and in the world, their own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God.”  Finally, “from both groups [hierarchy and laity] there exist Christian faithful who are consecrated to God in their own special manner and serve the salvific mission of the Church through the profession of the evangelical counsels.” …

874 Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal[.]

The wording and phrasing here paints the full picture, culminating in section 874’s statement: “Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church.”  We are incorporated in Christ through Baptism and become sharers in his office and ministry.  These are not words of an organization that puts itself before Christ, clearly we are sharer’s in Christ’s office and ministry because he made it so.  It is in his name and by his power that the Church performs its important work.

Augustine, Sola Scriptura, and a Bible verse

The pamphlet continues with a quotation from Saint Augustine, intended to illustrate that Augustine deferred to the authority of the Catholic Church regarding the validity of the Gospel account.  Why shouldn’t he?  The Catholic Church is the organization responsible for discerning the work of the Holy Spirit and compiling the canon of Scripture in the first place.  Said simply, the Church (under the power of the Holy Spirit) is where the Bible came from!

The paragraph continues to explain a bit about sola scriptura, which holds that the Bible is the final authority and quotes a verse from Acts regarding eagerly searching the Scriptures.  Study of the Scriptures is a laudable practice (something that average Catholics fall short at, frankly).  I’m certainly not going to spend any ink arguing with the sentiment in Acts.

What I will argue with is the notion that the Bible is the final authority.  The Lord commands in the Great Commission:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  — Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)

Notice that the Lord didn’t say “go forth and write a book” or “go forth and transmit only the written aspects of my teachings”.  Instead, He commanded “everything I have commanded you.”  This begs the question how this activity was transmitted before the early 3rd century?  The answer: it was transmitted verbally by the apostles and the members of the early Church. They transmitted the Old Testament in the same way as it was before, incorporating written accounts of the epistles and Gospel accounts if they were available (accounts of the epistles already existing in written form can be found in the works of Justin Martyr in the early 2nd century).

Beyond this, the Gospel account has juicy little moments of intentional omission.  One of my favorite examples of this is John 20:30:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

Were these details unimportant?  Doubtful.  Instead, I like to believe that these details were omitted from the written account because they were witnessed in person and could be transmitted directly.  Don’t misunderstand: the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God and is worthy of our ardent and prayerful study – like I said before, your average Catholic needs to do a better job at this!  In asserting that it is the final authority you ignore the full value of the directly transmitted Truth of Christ’s ministry.

Strange citations and conclusions

Immediately following this, the author of the pamphlet makes an assertion that the Roman Catholic Church murdered many Christians for having a Bible.  This seems strange, since they compiled the canon in the first place.  Can you imagine how that conversation went?  “Here, have this book that we compiled under the power of the Holy Spirit.  Got it?  Great.  Now DIE.”  With no citation or historical reference here, I have to chalk this up to nonsense and leave this one undefended.

The argument is then made that the “The two religions are diametrically opposed.  Either God’s Word is the final authority, or man is; you can’t have two masters.”  We don’t have two religions at war here, we’re all Christians (no matter how much the author of the pamphlet disagrees.)  I can agree with the latter sentiment… God’s Word is the final authority, and you don’t have any men trying to deny that in the Catholic Church as far as I can see.

The difference: Catholics accept the full transmission of God’s Word, not only the written part.  The Holy Spirit will indeed teach us everything.

I am currently reading a book that takes an in-depth look at 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura by Dave Armstrong.  It explores what sola scriptura is (as defined by premiere Protestant apologists) and explores 100 arguments against the practice from Scripture itself.  It has been a compelling read so far, check it out!


No Meat Fridays

No Meat FridayToday is the first week where my family is returning to the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays.  When I touched on this topic a few weeks ago, I pointed out a timely article by Matt Fradd where he explains his reasons for continuing to perform this practice post-Lent.  Here, I would like to take the baton from him and explain what led our family to return to this practice.

First, some background

The simple reason we are to abstain from meat on Fridays is in remembrance of the Lord’s Passion and death.  This still enshrined in Canon Law (see the details here), however it points to the conference of bishops to fully determine the specific rules to follow.  When we dig deeper, we find a nice summary of both the rationale of the practice and what is prescribed for American Catholics.  I encourage you to read the entire section entitled “Christ Died For Our Salvation on Friday”, but I will excerpt some details here:

23. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

24. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat.We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law. Our expectation is based on the following considerations:

  1. We shall thus freely and out of love for Christ Crucified show our solidarity with the generations of believers to whom this practice frequently became,especially in times of persecution and of great poverty,no mean evidence of fidelity to Christ and His Church.
  2. We shall thus also remind ourselves that as Christians, although immersed in the world and sharing its life, we must preserve a saving and necessary difference from the spirit of the world. Our deliberate,personal abstinence from meat, more especially because no longer required by law, will be an outward sign of inward spiritual values that we cherish.

So in summary: they have abolished the binding practice of abstaining from meat (i.e. you don’t have to and it’s not sinful if you do), but they clearly have the hope or intention of individual Catholics continuing the practice or replacing it with some other visible outward sign of our values.

Why We’re Doing It

Like I mentioned in my last article, this all came about because of a few inklings I had of continuing this practice.  Matt Fradd’s article came along right around the same time to really drive the point home, and it started a conversation between my wife and I where I discovered that was considering the exact same thing.  A lot of tumblers clicked into place and we decided that we would re-enact this practice in our house after Pentecost when the celebratory season of Easter is over.

I had the opportunity to speak to my priest about this, where he also explained that individual Catholics have been called to replace the abstinence from meat with something else if they choose not to practice it.  He explained that he would go and visit the poor and the homebound each week, sacrificing his time instead.

I already volunteer a lot of my time in a variety of activities, and my priest’s comment made me consider whether I could just earmark one of those activities as my sacrificed time to satisfy the abstinence/penance requirement.  After reflecting on this idea, I came to realize that I don’t do any of those things sacrificially… I actually enjoy serving our parish community in those ways so to me it wasn’t internally consistent to “count” those things.  Furthermore, I enjoy the Lenten practice of doing something that causes me to take pause and reflect on why I’m doing it.  I enjoy praying the rosary because it takes me through the mysteries of Christ’s life and this practice is a way to reflect on the Sorrowful Mysteries one day each week.

Lastly, I like the sentiments expressed by Section 24.b above.  Abstaining from meat is an outward sign of my internal spiritual values.  Every Lent I get to respond to the questions about why we abstain from meat, why can you still eat fish, and so on… this continues that visible practice in such a way that it gets noticed by people.  It gives me a chance to evangelize with my actions and it has regularly started a discussion about my Catholic faith.  Sacrificing a cheeseburger is a small price to pay if it eventually leads someone closer to Christ.

I’m going to heat up my cheese quesadilla now!


How long must a priest fast before the Eucharist?

My brother-in-law outlined a very interesting scenario and asked my opinion on it.

It seems one of their parish priests had celebrated the 7:30 am Mass, went to the Catholic school breakfast nearby, and came back to celebrate the 9:30 am Mass.  The question:

Did the priest break the fasting requirement before receiving the Eucharist?

First, some background

The norms for fasting before the Eucharist are there for several reasons.  Most lay Catholics are familiar with the rule to fast for an hour before receiving the Eucharist, in order to remind us of the fundamental difference between spiritual food and normal food.  Also, it provides a period of reflection, appreciation, and concentration regarding the Blessed Sacrament.

This rule has changed over time and for different jurisdictions.  Some men in my That Man Is You! group informed me that the norm required fasting from midnight to Mass time, then that time frame was shortened to 3 hours before Mass, and now it is an hour before Mass.  There were many reasons for this practice to change over time, including availability of reliable travel and later Mass times as contributing factors.

So what’s the answer?

Based on the situation as it was presented to me, the priest did run a risk of running “up to the minute” in violating this rule.  This led me to dig a little deeper and I found my answer.  The Code of Canon Law states:

Can. 919 §1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.

§2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day can take something before the second or third celebration even if there is less than one hour between them.

§3. The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour.

As you can see here, there is an exemption for priests that celebrate consecutive Masses right there in Canon Law, sandwiched between the 1-hour rule that we are all bound by, and the exemption for elderly and infirmed.

So I learned something about Canon Law today, and now you did too.


Living Lent

We’re just a few short hours from the beginning of the Lenten Season, which runs from Ash Wednesday (tomorrow) until Holy Thursday.  It is a season of prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial in preparation for the great celebration of Easter.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are fasting days, which restrict the eating of meat and snacking between meals.  All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence from eating meat but fish and shellfish are permitted.

Isn’t fish meat?

Yes.  But it’s permitted because of the words used in Canon Law.  The word “meat” in English is written in Canon Law using the Latin word carne which means meat from mammals or fowl.  The observances for fasting have changed over time, but here are the current portions of Canon Law:

Can. 1249 All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.

Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Can. 1253 The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

Note Canon 1253, which mentions the substitution of other forms of penance or works of charity and piety… it has been encouraged by the Church to go beyond the letter of Canon Law and deepen your faith in a more significant way during Lent, and over the past few years I have been doing a little more.

What’s in store for this year?

Here’s what I have planned for this Lenten Season:

  • Give up soda, including my beloved Diet Coke.  Thankfully, my wife Tasha is doing the same thing so it will be easier but I am NOT looking forward to the withdrawal headaches that I always get.
  • Read Summa Theologica by Saint Thomas Aquinas.  I have only barely started and this is going to be a challenge.  Saint Thomas was a very deep thinker and it’s going to be a battle for every one of those 550 pages.
  • Follow the Discerning the Will of God  Lenten Journey by Steve Bollman (from That Man Is You!) to the best of my ability.  It involves the following each day: morning and evening prayer, an activity or observance, Scripture reading and a rosary.
  • If I get through all that I will continue reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth series.

If you’re doing something special for Lent this year, let’s hear about it in the comments.  I enjoy hearing what others find important to sacrifice or observe during this important season.


Don’t Panic: Pope Benedict XVI Announces His Resignation


If you have access to any sort of news outlet today, you must have heard the news: Pope Benedict XVI has announced his papal resignation effective February 28.  This is certainly shocking news, given the fact that the last pontiff to exercise this authority was Pope Gregory XII who resigned 598 years ago to put an end to the Western Schism.  As the day progressed more news came out: the Holy Father grappled with this question for quite some time, he isn’t going to participate in conclave to elect his successor, and he is going to move to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo for awhile and then possibly to a cloistered monastery for prayer and reflection.

Saint Corbinian’s Bear

Pope Benedict XVI's coat of armsOne particularly interesting piece of commentary from The Catholic World Report notes Pope Benedict’s affinity for the symbol of Saint Corbinian’s Bear.  I always find it interesting to explore the inspiration for the great thinkers of the Church, so I was interested to find out more.  Saint Corbinian was an 8th-century bishop who carries a legend wherein his horse is killed by a bear.  The saint rebukes the bear and enlists him to carry his burden back to Rome.  Pope Benedict has used the symbol of the bear on his heraldry starting when he was Archbishop of Munich.  His autobiography quotes:

The bear with the pack, which replaced the horse or, more probably, St. Corbinian’s mule, becoming, against his will, his pack animal, was that not, and is it not an image of what I should be and of what I am?

At the end of the legend, the saint lets the bear go free… seems like an appropriate symbol today.  I strongly recommend reading the rest of the commentary that I linked above, it is quite thought provoking.

As the day progressed, most of my coworkers stopped by to ask if I had heard the news and ask questions.  Here are a few:

Can the Pope even do that?

Yes, he sure can.  The Code of Canon Law 332 §2 states:

If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.

So all he has to do is freely resign through an official manifest.  There is no process of acceptance, what he says goes.

What happens next?

From the sound if it, Conclave will begin on February 28.  If it follows normal procedures after a pope’s death, voting begins 13-15 days after Conclave begins.  This being a rather rare situation they may begin Conclave much quicker since no official mourning period is required, but it’s anyone’s guess at this point.  I’m sure we’ll know more as the 28th approaches and we get more details about what is planned.  The Conclave process will apply in this situation, and there’s no direct cause for alarm… this isn’t uncharted territory, it’s just rather antique territory.

What’s the Pope going to be called once he steps down?

That one is a little tricky, since it has been so long since this has happened.  Surely he will return to being known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  I have heard some news agencies report that some Vatican officials are beginning to use the title Bishop Emeritus of Rome but again… I’m sure this will become more clear as the end of the month approaches.  I strongly suspect that mainstream media will continue to call him Pope Benedict in some regard, mostly because it’s easier.

What’s going to happen to the Pope’s recently minted Twitter account?

This one actually made me laugh, despite it being a sobering reflection of the times we live in.  I haven’t heard one way or another whether Pope Benedict will continue to maintain his Twitter account after his reign as Supreme Pontiff ends, or if it will be turned over to his successor.  I do hope that the next pope embraces new media with the same zeal as Pope Benedict, because it was really interesting to get insights into the thoughts of the pope 140 characters at a time.

What do I think?

This was the most popular question, as if I was going to come up with some sort of poetic or crushing insight.  The truth is, I am sad.  I think that Pope Benedict is an enlightened teacher and a truly spectacular scholar.  He was a champion for the old guard of orthodoxy and traditionalism, both of which ate sorely lacking in today’s society.  His background and story are extremely interesting, as is his reluctance to progress through the priestly ranks.  In the end he heeded the admonishment of his predecessor Pope John Paul II: “Be not afraid!” and took the visible and demanding role that he is leaving behind at the end of the month.  I find that very inspirational, that he would sacrifice so much to be the Vicar of Christ on Earth.

I am also concerned for his health.  I suspect that any reason that would cause the Pope to resign just before Lent and during the Year of Faith that he himself instituted must be a grave one.  I noticed that he seemed more frail in the last few years when viewed on TV, but I chalked it up to his advanced age and the demands of the job.  In the end, I hope that he receives some peace and is allowed to quietly return to a life of peaceful prayer, and that he continues to release books to help the rest of us along in our faith journey.

At the same time, I am excited for the future.  This is only the second Conclave that I have been alive for and it is always a mysterious spectacle.  I am hopeful for another pontiff in the same mould of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict: big personalities with a great love of Christ and a great capacity for explaining the Truth that is within them.

Vivat Papa!


A pamphlet asks questions regarding ecumenism

Last week, I began discussion about a pamphlet that was left in my car containing false assertions about Catholicism (read it here: page 1 and page 2).  Today I’d like to discuss the portion of the pamphlet on page 2 regarding ecumenism.

First, a definition

For those unfamiliar with the term: ecumenism (rooted in the word ecumenical) is a movement aimed at achieving unity among Christian Churches (and other non-Christian religions) by establishing interdenominational discussions to cooperate on matters of mutual concern.

What is Catholicism, anyway?

The actual term Catholicism has its roots in the Greek word katholikos, which means literally “universal”.  Without digging into extreme detail, it stands to basic reason that the Universal Church would have a mission to explore how it is, in fact, universal with other word religions and movements.  However, it is my understanding that this is not the main intent of ecumenism.  The main intent would be to explore ways for reconciliation and re-unification with the various Christian sects that have broken away from the Catholic Church over the ages.

And the false premises begin…

Turning back to the pamphlet, I must admit a certain difficulty parsing out the actual arguments from amid the poisonous attacks presented in this first section on Ecumenism.  The first paragraph begins by stating that the Catholic “net” includes Charismatic, homosexual, Voodoo, and Buddhist sects.  This is an easy place to begin: charismatic refers to a certain type of worship.  I have never been (or know of) a charismatic Catholic Church.  Homosexuality is a type of sin, not a religious sect.  Voodoo and Buddhist refer to other religions, neither of them Catholic.

The false argument continues atop two quotations, one by Cardinal Cooke and one by Pope John Paul II.  I strongly suspected that the quotation by Cardinal Cooke was taken out of context, but my attempts to find a transcription of the entire speech or homily that it was taken from came up empty (although I did find this quotation referenced in the same way several other places).  The quotation from Pope John Paul II was in reference to dignitaries from Islam, in the context of a broad faith dialogue.  In fact, Jews, Catholics, and Muslims do all pray to the God of Abraham.  The Catholic Church contains the fullness of Revelation accomplished through Christ.  The Catholic Church in no way denies Christ, invalidates Christ’s claims, or makes Him a liar as the author of this pamphlet alleges.

The one true claim made here is that the Catholic Church accepts anything holy and true in other religions.  What this means is not that we part-and-parcel accept all other world religions and their premises, but instead acknowledges the fact that there is objective Truth (note the capital T), and because God is the sole author and creator of Truth we must accept it even when it is found in other world religions.  Why is this important?  Because it is what Christ told us to do:

In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all.  Extinguish not the spirit. Despise not prophecies. But prove all things; hold fast that which is good. From all appearance of evil refrain yourselves.
1 Thessalonians 5:18-22

Shun counterfeit Christians?  Really?

This section of the pamphlet closes with a positively strange argument that asserts that “counterfeit Christians” should not be associated with and aren’t worth even eating with.  They absolutely mangle the context of 1 Corinthians 5 in order to accomplish this feat of logic.  Saint Paul was admonishing the people of Corinth for tacitly accepting sexually immoral practices among members of the Church there, it really takes some leaps to associate this to a sectarian dispute and that those falling into that category should be treated in the same way.  One additional note: verse 12 contains a statement relevant to our previous discussion regarding dialogue with non-Christian religions:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
– 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

So leave it to God to work out the ultimate fate of those that adhere only partially to His Truth.

If we carry the line of argument presented in the first section of this pamphlet to it’s logical conclusion, we would just allow our misguided “counterfeit” brethren to languish in their ignorance without correction.  Instead of speaking with them, treating them with respect, and bringing them closer to the Lord we would just shun them immediately.  Imagine if all of the Old Testament prophets or the Apostles had taken this approach!  It’s not exactly following the command of Our Lord to go forth and make disciples of all nations… nowhere in there does it say “all nations, so long as they agree with you immediately.”

For an excellent representation of the Catholic stance on ecumenism, I refer you to this talk from the Cardinal’s Symposium in 2003 regarding the ecumenical efforts during Pope John Paul II’s pontificate.  Further, you can read an entire address on this topic from Pope Benedict XVI, where he outlines the intent of these interfaith dialogues and also he outlines the dangers that one can encounter.  I understand that these references might not satisfy anyone that does not accept papal authority regarding such matters, but I feel that between Christ’s teaching and the words of his Vicars on Earth it is directionally correct advice.


Saint Thomas Aquinas…

Saint Thomas Aquinas painting by BotticelliToday is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274), one of the greatest philosophers of the Church.  He is one of the 35 Doctors of the Church (he is often referred to as the Angelic Doctor), whose writing greatly influenced Western thought and provided us deep and rich analysis of Scripture and application of Catholic Tradition.  Strongly influenced by Aristotle, Aquinas performed his work much as a scientist would – citing both sides of an argument and then exploring each to form a conclusion. The continuation of this exercise has formed the philosophical school known as Thomism, which continues to thrive to this day.

Why Saint Thomas Aquinas still matters

At Mass today, our priest declared: “Today is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Blessed Angelic Doctor of the Church.  He is the source of many headaches for seminarians or laypeople that chose to study his theology.”  This is very true, based on the small amount of reading that I have done in Saint Thomas’s “Summa Theologica“.  His writing is inherently rational and logical, but it is challenging.  He presents very complex theological concepts in very clear terms and explores them so fully that I often find myself pondering a single page or two for a very long time.

This is why I feel that Saint Thomas Aquinas is still important: he presents a framework of exploration and argumentation that can still be used today.  It proves that the scientific method can be applied to theological research and discourse.  In fact, I once heard a modern Thomist explain that one of the main principles is that any argument can be presented for analysis, so long as both sides are willing to maintain civility during the discussion.  I believe this is constructive given the secular focus on scientific research as a tool… the more it appears in theological discussion, the more relevant Aquinas’s work becomes.  To me, it appears as a grand example that science and religion need not be enemies, and that religious people can explain their beliefs using rational thought.

My prayer today is that I am granted a small amount of the grace that Saint Thomas Aquinas had, so I might better understand the nature of God and the teachings of the Catholic Church.  I think that continuing deeper into Summa Theologica will be one of my Lenten projects this year!



A pamphlet asks: “Is Catholic Christian?”

Before I begin, let me recount for you a story.  Last summer, I went to Mass.  It was a hot day, so I decided to leave my car window cracked.  Like most other Sundays, I was on the way to take the Eucharist to the homebound of my community.  My car often collects debris throughout the course of the work week, so it wasn’t too unusual to see a piece of paper sitting in the seat of my car… but it was on the driver’s side.  “Strange,” I thought, “was I sitting on some paper the whole way to Church?  Wait… is that Pope John Paul II?”

Sure enough, there he was humbly revering a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary along with a nice picture of Christ bowing his head in prayer.  But then I noticed the title: “Is Catholic Christian?” and at the bottom “Be born again and have a loving relation with Jesus.”  Weird, and not just because of the strange grammar at the bottom… what does it mean to have a loving relation with Jesus?

I looked around the parking lot and noticed these pamphlets were all over, mostly under windshield wipers.  A few short minutes later I had read the entire dense, verbose, and vitriolic pamphlet and I was pretty mad.  First, the contents of the pamphlet (produced by a place called SALT Ministries) present what appears to be a hastily slapped together set of wide-ranging but fairly standard objections.  The mode of writing is very condescending, angry, and demeaning.  I can’t imagine a scenario where leaving this in the hands of a Catholic would lead to some sort of conversion… knowing that they left this for Catholics, wouldn’t they attempt an approach that wasn’t basically calling us boastful, prideful, unrepentant and wrong?  Lastly, the sheer cowardice of leaving such a offensive piece of literature on cars in the parking lot of a Catholic Church while Mass is going on is beyond offensive.  SALT Ministries, you should be ashamed of yourselves to basely attack our religion and not even have the decency to do it to our faces.

But here’s the good news: I’m going to take the high road and answer these objections.  While I don’t speak for the Catholic Church in any capacity, I have heard the objections (aside from the “facts” presented that are pure nonsense or take swipes at other Christian denominations that I know nothing about) and can answer them.  I will do this thing with charity and good will and will not be drawn into a debate, flame-war or any other form of internet warfare.  I will even include a copy of the pamphlet in it’s entirety (page 1 and page 2) along with my arguments, just as they request.  I wouldn’t want to be accused of perverting their claims in any way, after all.

I am doing this for one reason: I am afraid that others might see this pamphlet and think that these claims are true.  They are not.

In answer to the first question raised by this pamphlet: “Is Catholic Christian?”  The answer is simple.  Yes, of course Catholics are Christians… our Church was founded by Christ Himself and we have an apostolic line of succession directly back to Saint Peter and the rest of Christ’s Apostles.  To claim that Catholics are not Christians is ridiculous to the point that it is nearly impossible to argue all the avenues that this question presents, so I will leave the articles to come in the following weeks and months to flesh out this answer more.

Please note: the pamphlet does not include any sort of website or URL, simply a PO Box to send donations for more pamphlets.  Since I’m clearly not going to donate to them, I have not contacted this PO Box.  I have found a website that matches the mailing address, but I will not link it here because I am not certain it is them and I don’t want to give them any traffic or business.