Category Archives: Apologetics

What is Moral Therapeutic Deism?

OPs_overcoming_heresy
-The Dominican Order Overcoming Heresy, 1750 (oil on canvas), by Mattia Bortoloni, 1750, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France

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-by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

“When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

(Sound familiar? Sounds nice, its just…its not Christianity! Certainly NOT Catholicism!))

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.”

As a matter of fact, the researchers, whose report is summarized in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, found that American teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs, and most are virtually unable to offer any serious theological understanding. As Smith reports, “To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both.”

As the researchers explained, “For most teens, nobody has to do anything in life, including anything to do with religion. ‘Whatever’ is just fine, if that’s what a person wants.”

The casual “whatever” that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes–adolescent and otherwise–is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism. Accordingly, “most religious teenager’s opinions and views–one can hardly call them worldviews–are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion.”

The kind of responses found among many teenagers indicates a vast emptiness at the heart of their understanding. When a teenager says, “I believe there is a God and stuff,” this hardly represents a profound theological commitment.

Amazingly, teenagers are not inarticulate in general. As the researchers found, “Many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were.” The obvious conclusion: “This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenager’s lives.”

One other aspect of this study deserves attention at this point. The researchers, who conducted thousands of hours of interviews with a carefully identified spectrum of teenagers, discovered that for many of these teens, the interview itself was the first time they had ever discussed a theological question with an adult. What does this say about our churches? What does this say about this generation of parents?

In the end, this study indicates that American teenagers are heavily influenced by the ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture. This bleeds over into a reflexive non-judgmentalism and a reluctance to suggest that anyone might actually be wrong in matters of faith and belief. Yet, these teenagers are unable to live with a full-blown relativism.

The researchers note that many responses fall along very moralistic lines–but they reserve their most non-judgmental attitudes for matters of theological conviction and belief. Some go so far as to suggest that there are no “right” answers in matters of doctrine and theological conviction.

The “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” that these researchers identify as the most fundamental faith posture and belief system of American teenagers appears, in a larger sense, to reflect the culture as a whole. Clearly, this generalized conception of a belief system is what appears to characterize the beliefs of vast millions of Americans, both young and old.

This is an important missiological observation–a point of analysis that goes far beyond sociology. As Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton explained, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.” In a very real sense, that appears to be true of the faith commitment, insofar as this can be described as a faith commitment, held by a large percentage of Americans. These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being “nice”–a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents.” As the researchers explained, “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”

In addition, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith “is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs–especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”

Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

Obviously, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith. This belief system has no denominational headquarters and no mailing address. Nevertheless, it has millions and millions of devotees across the United States and other advanced cultures, where subtle cultural shifts have produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense. Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called “lifestyle” issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding.

As sociologists, Smith and his team suggest that this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may now constitute something like a dominant civil religion that constitutes the belief system for the culture at large. Thus, this basic conception may be analogous to what other researchers have identified as “lived religion” as experienced by the mainstream culture.

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is “colonizing” Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.

Consider this remarkable assessment: “Other more accomplished scholars in these areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

They argue that this distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also “within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.”

How can you tell? “The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.”

Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily. These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.

This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point. We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith “once delivered to the saints” is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.

We now face the challenge of evangelizing a nation that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some deity, considers itself fervently religious, but has virtually no connection to historic Christianity. Christian Smith and his colleagues have performed an enormous service for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in identifying Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the dominant religion of this American age. Our responsibility is to prepare the church to respond to this new religion, understanding that it represents the greatest competitor to biblical Christianity. More urgently, this study should warn us all that our failure to teach this generation of teenagers the realities and convictions of biblical Christianity will mean that their children will know even less and will be even more readily seduced by this new form of paganism. This study offers irrefutable evidence of the challenge we now face. As the motto reminds us, “Knowledge is power.”

Love, rejecting MTD,
Matthew

Moral Therapeutic Deism Heresy: the Kingdom of God is within you

st dominic
-our blessed father Dominic, scourge & hammer of heretics.

It is said there are no new heresies. I tend to agree. They are just recycled and repackaged. This one smells like Gnosticism, that old canard.

“My Kingdom is not of this world.” -Jn 18:36

“…Heaven is not a place and cannot be found on a map; rather it is where God’s will is done…”
– Pope Benedict XVI

This heresy results as too loose a translation of Luke 17:20-21.  See why doing your homework and knowing a thing or two about Scripture, languages, ancient & modern, Scripture’s variety in translation, etc., all those gruesome details is important!!!

Carelessness in translation, let alone reading or interpretation changes the WHOLE meaning, often in error!!!  CAUTION:  picking up any old thing and reading it literally is dangerous, kind readers!!!   Maybe that is why the Church was cautious about the untrained having any old thing without training in hand?  Ya think?  Maybe that is why it was why the Church determined the canon of Scripture?  Ya think?  Instead of the other way around?  Ya think? It is dangerous.  

Consult orthodox experts, please, at least for the sake of intellectual integrity, if not orthodox faith, before walking off the theological or doctrinal cliff!! IFF…you want anyone to take you seriously.

Attorneys are trained to argue both sides. Wise advice for anyone holding opinions, imho.

Scot-McKnight
-by Dr. Scott McKnight, PhD

“In the end, the God Within heresy is a kindly apocalypse: it overwhelms with niceness, tolerance, and is a make-up-your-own religion that is safe as long as you and I leave one another alone to make up our own religion for ourselves. Ross Douthat, in Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, takes direct aim at the following: Elizabeth Gilbert, Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, Karen Armstrong, and some others like Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coehlho, James Redfield, Neale Donald Walsch, and Marianne Williamson. My read of American religion is that the God Within heresy is far more pervasive and far more threatening to Christianity than the prosperity gospel (…another heresy, no thank you Joel Osteen). These are the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, Douthat says.

How pervasive is this God Within theology/religion/spirituality? Where are you seeing it in the church? Why is it so appealing?

Douthat goes after Gilbert, famous for her book Eat, Pray, Love, a journey from a marriage, to divorce, to seeking God in the Far East at an ashram recommended by her (ex-)lover, and then finally finding love in Bali with a Brazilian man … she had arrived, and her secret is what Douthat calls the God Within. She found a voice within, a voice within her own self, it was God’s voice, it was God, it was herself. God and Self, more or less the same.

For Gilbert, all religions offer the path to the divine — and all religious teachings are “transporting metaphors” leading to the infinite — you can cherry pick your own religion, make it all up, bricolage spirituality. Here’s her creed: “God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are” (214). We are to “honor the divinity that resides within” us (215).

What does this God Within stuff believe? Four points:
1. Organized religions offer only a glimpse of God.
2. God is everywhere and within everything; it is a form of pantheism ultimately.
3. All will eventually be reconciled with God — pantheistic universalism.
4. The good life, peace, etc, is available now.

They think they are truer to Christianity and Christ than most of Christianity. Here is where it becomes not only the God Within, but even more: the Me in the God Within. The person finds his or her own voice, or God, or the Soul.

It depersonalizes God — not the Father, Son and Spirit; not Yahweh; instead it is Being, Soul of the World, Highest Thought, Supreme Love (Ed. sounds more like eastern spirituality than Christianity, methinks). He gives Karen Armstrong a good sketch too: not about propositions but about encounter. The problem is that the theologians who are colonized into this new bricolaged religion of God Within, seen in #1 above, were all fiercely dogmatic — Gregory of Nyssa, Aquinas, et al. They knew their limits, but what they knew they really knew — and held out for. The faith exists because of the Flannery O’Connors, not the Paulo Coelhos.

He gets after a point that I have found so often among this crowd, and I see it at times in some in the spiritual formation movement: baptizing egomania and divinizing selfishness (his terms). That is, it becomes about Me and what God is doing in Me and my Soul and my Own Inner Self. It’s a kind of solipsism, he says. Religion for such people is the great Self-Enabler!

Critics or prophets were Philip Rieff and Les Kolakowski and Christian Smith and Melinda Denton. Moral therapeutic deism is where this stuff leads. God is out there for Me. So just be nice.”

Love, realizing the Kingdom of God is at hand! -Mk 1:15,
Matthew

Christian Joy!!!: wimps need not apply…

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I have on the wall in my office the reproduction of a help wanted sign from Boston in 1910. It says, “Help Wanted: Irish need not apply!”

I think the Church and Jesus, the same thing, according to St Joan of Arc, should have signs which say “Christian Joy!: wimps need not apply!”

If it were easy, where would the glory be?

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-by Randy Hain

“Here is something to ponder in the remaining days of Advent. I recently had coffee with a fellow Catholic who gloomily shared his ongoing struggles with overtly living out his faith in the real world and reluctance to discuss his faith with others. He made it clear that going to Mass on Sunday was all he could or should be doing. Unfortunately, this is a very common tale. The conversation became really interesting and a little uncomfortable when we discussed why people become apathetic about their faith, hesitate about converting or leave the Church altogether.

It became obvious to me after a few minutes that how my coffee companion presented his faith to the world and how others view the Catholic Church may be connected.

Why do some of our Catholic brothers and sisters lose their enthusiasm for the Faith? Why do some leave the Church? Why do those curious about the Church have reservations about converting? The unfortunate truth is that many (not all) of us make being Catholic look about as exciting as having a root canal. Each of the groups identified in these questions may be looking for inspiration from people who are truly joyful about Christ and the Church He founded. They want to see us have genuine passion for the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. They would love to see us have prayer lives worth emulating. Does the thought ever occur to us that our actions as well as our words are being observed by others and this places an important burden on our shoulders?

So, let’s ask ourselves: Are we “islands of joy” reflecting the light of Christ to others or have we lost our Catholic identity and become completely assimilated into the surrounding secular culture?

We might be tempted to say that we should not be responsible for helping the faith and spiritual welfare of others, but indeed we are partly responsible. We are here to help ourselves; our families and everyone we know get to Heaven. If we are living up to the world’s expectations and not showing others the light of Christ, the path to Heaven that leads through the Catholic Church will not be attractive to them. They will not see what is so special about being Catholic if those of us who are Catholic fail to live up to our responsibility. On the other hand, if we stay focused on serving Christ, living as faithful Catholics and pursue lives of personal holiness we will make the path to the Church look more appealing. They will want what we have and will seek us out to find the reason for our joy.

We have so much to be truly thankful for in our relationship with Christ and the truth and beauty of our Catholic faith. But, being truly joyful should lead to sharing that joy and the ability to express the truths of our faith in a way that shows the depth of our sincere belief and love to others. Consider this quote from writer Cormac Burke: “A Christian who is not convinced he has the Truth is not convinced he has Christ. Only convinced Christians have any chance of convincing others. Half-convinced Christians won’t even half-convince anybody. They won’t convince at all.”

St. Paul reinforces the call to be joyful, “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). The Apostle makes it sound simple, but why do we struggle to do something that appears to be so easy? We all deal with various forms of adversity. Some of us are unemployed, some are dealing with illness and others are struggling with relationship or financial problems. The current economic crisis, the global attacks on religious liberties and the relentless attacks on the Church by the secular media have made many of us apathetic, gloomy and frightened. These are real obstacles to joy and they must be acknowledged, but should remember to “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation” (Romans 12:12).

As tough as things may be, Catholics have work to do for Christ. Like the early Christians, we too are called to share the Good News. Do you recall that in the life of St. Paul he was shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, starved and stoned? He showed incredible courage and fortitude to share his joy and the message of Christ to the Gentiles despite his suffering. We should follow his example today.

For Catholics, joy in the midst of extreme adversity is our obligation and our duty. Remember that we are not alone. Our faith in Christ and our devotion in the Sacraments that bind us to Him will see us through the tough times and help us share a joy which will not evaporate in the face of tough challenges. Be encouraged by our Lord’s words, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

It is so easy to get lost in our problems and forget to be joyful. It happens to me and just about everyone else I know. But, remember that we are surrounded by people who are watching us. They may be seeking Him and looking for someone, anyone, to show them the way to Christ. They could learn from our good example, be inspired by our joy and be encouraged by our faith journeys if we will only remember that we are called to share the Good News. If we are gloomy, frustrated, inward-focused and critical of the Church we will never be able to help anyone and may put our own salvation at risk.

Six Practical Steps to Catholic Joy this Advent

Let me leave you with six simple actions which I try to follow in my desire to be joyful. This is by no means the definitive list and I would love to learn what others are doing, but here is what often works for me:

Surrender to Christ. Every day I recommit to putting Him first in all areas of my life.
Give up my burdens to Jesus in daily prayer. I can’t do it alone and I need His help!
Go to frequent Reconciliation. Unburdening my soul of sin brings me peace and joy.
Be thankful for my blessings. I can gripe about my problems or I can focus on all of the incredible blessings in my life and express my gratitude to the Lord in prayer.
Stay out of the “Catholic Cafeteria Line.” I fully accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and follow the Magisterium. I don’t follow the parts I like and reject those I do not like. I know that what I may not understand will be revealed to me over time if I have faith. (Ed. doing your homework wouldn’t hurt either!)
Start with the end in mind. Are my actions each day serving Him? I hope to hear Jesus say at the end of my life on earth, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” My goal is Heaven and I must live a life that leads me there.

I am not sure where you are on the “joy spectrum,” but please reflect on this post and take it to prayer. Ask yourself if you find it difficult or easy to share your joy. Reflect on the obstacles between you and the fuller, engaging and joyful Catholic life which awaits us all. Remember that Jesus is coming to us next week and our hearts and minds must be prepared. As for me, I personally subscribe to the thinking of Pope Francis in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow.”

Love, (…and as my mother always used to say to her six children through loving, gritted teeth!!! “You’re going to take those swimming lessons, and you’re going to LIKE IT!!“)
Matthew 🙂

The first beatitude & Protestantism

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-by Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, PhD

“The Beatitudes rank high on the list of all-time favorite Bible passages. But what is “beatitude,” anyway? In the bible, a “blessed” person is someone who has received gifts of the greatest value, gifts that lead to true fulfillment and lasting happiness.

If I were to ask you to name the first beatitude, you’d probably say “blessed be the poor in Spirit.” According to St. Matthew’s gospel you’d be right, but not according to Luke. At the very beginning of his gospel, Luke reveals that the very first beatitude is uttered by a woman filled with the Spirit, speaking of another woman overshadowed by the Spirit. Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who has believed.” (Luke 1: 45).

Is Marian devotion important in Christian life? This has been a bone of contention between Christians for nearly five hundred years.

Let’s look at the evidence in just the first chapter of Luke. First, the Angel Gabriel honors her with the greeting “Hail, full of grace” (Luke 1:29). Then Elizabeth prophesies “blessed are you among women.” Next the prophet John leaps for joy in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. Then, in her response to Elizabeth, Mary prophesies “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).

But it is Elizabeth’s final words to Mary that provide the key to understanding why Mary is to honored, namely, her faith.

One of the battle-cries of the Protestant Reformation was “Faith Alone!” One key conviction that united the many disparate strands of the Reformation was that it is impossible to earn God’s favor by our good works . . . that we rather we receive His love as a pure gift, a grace, through faith.

Now consider Mary. Did she crisscross the Mediterranean planting Churches like Paul? Did she give eloquent sermons like Stephen (Acts 7)? Did she govern the Church like Peter? No. Her claim to fame is that she simply said yes to God. She believed He could do as He said and would do as He said.

But true faith is not just intellectual conviction that God exists or that He can do thus and such. Faith involves entrusting oneself, abandoning oneself to God, willing to submit to His will. That’s why Paul talks about “the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26). Mary surrendered her plan for her life, and yielded to God’s plan. And she did this not once, but again and again, even when He left her behind to begin His public ministry. And when that ministry led to the horror of Calvary, Mary’s faith stood its ground at the foot of the cross.

So Catholics honor Mary for being the perfect example of the greatest Protestant virtue. Ironic isn’t it? And the deepest meaning of that disputed doctrine, the Immaculate Conception, is that it was the grace of God working mysteriously from the moment of her conception that made possible Mary’s exemplary life of faith. Even her faith is a gift of His grace. It’s all grace, according to Catholic doctrine.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”Mary, of course, knew this. That’s why she responded to Elizabeth’s praise with the humble, exuberant prayer known as the Magnificat: She is like the crystal-clear pool that reflects the sun’s rays back to the heavens. So no one needs to fear that honor given her will detract from the majesty of her divine Son. She deflects all the praise given her right back to God, the source of her greatness.

So the answer is that Marian devotion is necessary in Christian life. But what is true devotion to Mary according to the fathers of the Second Vatican Council? Not sentimental piety or gullible preoccupation with every rumored apparition, but rather, imitation of her virtues, particularly her faith (Lumen Gentium 67).”

Magnificat anima mea Dominum,
et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo,
quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae.
Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes,
quia fecit mihi magna,
qui potens est,
et sanctum nomen eius,
et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies
timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo,
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui;
deposuit potentes de sede
et exaltavit humiles;
esurientes implevit bonis
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum,
recordatus misericordiae,
sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham et semini eius in saecula
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,
et in Saecula saeculorum. Amen.  – Lk 1:45-56.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on His lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of His arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of His servant Israel
for He has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise He made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.  Amen. -Lk 1:45-56.

Love,
Matthew

The Protestant’s Dilemma

protestants_dilemma

It is not my natural inclination to rain on anyone else’s parade. Life is hard enough. Go have your parade, with blessing. However, it is an act of Christian charity to speak the Truth in Love. I realize I have a problem with the Truth. I like it too much. I love it. I adore it. I worship it. I like being in hot water. It keeps me clean!!! 🙂

devin_rose
-from “The Protestant’s Dilemma”, by Devin Rose

“My new book, The Protestant’s Dilemma, shows in a myriad of ways why Protestantism is implausible. We sifted through many arguments to boil the book down to the most essential. A few chapters didn’t make the cut but are still good enough to share. Here’s one of them.

If Protestantism is true,

There’s no way to know whether you’re assenting to divine revelation or to mere human opinion about divine revelation.

Protestants and Catholics both believe that God has revealed himself to man over the course of human history, culminating in his ultimate self-revelation in Jesus Christ. But whereas Catholics believe that Christ founded a visible Church—which subsists in the Catholic Church—and has protected its doctrines from error, Protestants reject the notion of ecclesial infallibility, maintaining that no person, church, or denomination has been preserved from error in its teachings. Which means that anyone could be wrong, and no person or institution can be trusted with speaking the truth of divine revelation without error.

Universal Fallibility

“No one is infallible.” If Protestantism has a universal belief, this is it. Luther pioneered this idea when he asserted that popes and Church councils had erred. If they had erred, it meant God had not guided them into all truth; instead, he allowed them to fall into error and, worse, to proclaim error as truth.

And so the most a Protestant can do is tentatively assent to doctrinal statements made by his church, pastor, or denomination, since those statements, being fallible, could be substantively changed at some time in the future. We see this all the time in Protestantism, most commonly when a Protestant leaves one church for another due to doctrinal disagreement, especially after his church changed its position on an issue he considered important.

Consider the question of same-sex “marriage.” Until quite recently, all Protestant denominations taught this was a contradiction in terms. But now many have modified or even completely reversed this doctrine. Those Protestants who accept this new teaching believe that the old one was wrong—an erroneous human opinion that became enshrined in their church’s statement of faith. They can do this confidently, knowing that none of their fellow church members can plausibly claim that it contradicts an irreformable dogma that was infallibly revealed by God.

Ultimately, then, a Protestant (who remains Protestant) studies the relevant sources—Scripture, history, the writings of authoritative figures in his tradition—and chooses the Protestant denomination that most aligns with his judgment. But then, they say, Catholics do the same thing: studying the sources and then choosing the Catholic Church based on their own judgment. So they see no difference in this regard.

Because Catholicism is true,

Christians can know divine revelation, as distinct from mere human opinion, because God protects it from authoritatively teaching anything that is false.

How is the Catholic’s judgment different from a Protestant’s, if at all? The difference lies in the conclusion, or finishing point, of the inquiry they make. Whereas the Protestant can ultimately submit only to his own judgment, which he knows to be fallible, the Catholic can confidently render total assent to the proclamations of the visible Church that Christ established and guides, submitting his judgments to its judgments as to Christ’s.

And so a Catholic can know divine revelation, as distinct from human opinion, by looking to the Church, which speaks with Christ’s voice and cannot lie. For a Protestant, only the Bible itself contains God’s infallibly inspired words, so he desires to assent to that. But since the Bible must be interpreted by someone, the closest he can come to assenting to biblical teaching is assenting to his own fallible interpretation of it. And assenting to yourself is no assent at all.

The Protestant’s Dilemma

If Protestantism is true, all are fallible. So the Protestant must rely on his own judgment above that of his church. And the orthodoxy of the church itself is judged against his interpretation of the Bible. Thus is becomes impossible to distinguish between what divine revelation actually is versus what a fallible human being thinks it is. This fact makes the Catholic Church, philosophically speaking, preferable to Protestantism, since God’s truth can be known—and known with certainty.”

Love,
Matthew

Into the Breach – the joie de guerre for Christ

rosary_soldier

http://www.intothebreach.net/into-the-breach/

Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Christ, the royal Master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle,
See his banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

At the sign of triumph
Satan’s host doth flee;
On, then, Christian soldiers,
On to victory.
Hell’s foundations quiver
At the shout of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices,
Loud your anthems raise.

Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

Like a mighty army
Moves the Church of God;
Brothers, we are treading
Where the Saints have trod.
We are not divided;
All one body we:
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity.

Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

Onward, then, ye people;
Join our happy throng.
Blend with ours your voices
In the triumph song:
Glory, laud, and honor
Unto Christ, the King.
This through countless ages
Men and angels sing.

Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

Text: Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834-1924
Music: Arthur S. Sullivan, 1842-1900

Love,
Matthew

The Early Church…

handed-down

Jim_Papandrea

Jim Papandrea, PhD, taught me my course in Church History for my catechectical certification in the Archdiocese of Chicago.  I also know him from Holy Family Parish, Inverness, IL.

Q. There are a number of books out on the writings and teachings of the Church Fathers. How is yours different?

A. This book doesn’t just talk about the Church Fathers and their teachings, it demonstrates how the Catholic Faith today is consistent with the faith and teachings of the Church Fathers. One of my goals for this book is to show that continuity, which was one of the things that drew me back to the Church. In my study of the early Church, I realized that what the Catholic Church teaches is pretty much what the early Christians believed, and what the early bishops and theologians taught. And that continuity between the faith of the early Christians and of the Catholic Church today is part of what led me to say, “I have to be part of this.”

Q. Why do you think most Protestants refuse to accept or even consider the writings of the Fathers and the practices of the early Church? 

A.  I think in general Protestants are gaining an appreciation for the Church Fathers, though it can often be very selective. But there is an assumption within the Protestant mentality—a modernist assumption—that people who lived more recently are necessarily smarter than people who lived a long time ago. That’s an oversimplification of it, but the point is that in many ways the Reformation plays into the Enlightenment idea that what is newer is somehow automatically better than what is older—that cutting ties to a tradition might be better than holding on to the tradition. Again, I’m over-simplifying here, but this allows Protestants today to treat important aspects of the early Church as quaint but outdated and to assume that we now know better. For example, when I teach my Protestant students that the Church has always believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, many of them are perfectly comfortable accepting this and yet continuing to hold a theology of the Eucharist that is strictly symbolic or memorialist, without feeling any need to consider that maybe the long history of belief in Real Presence says something about the truth of that doctrine.

Q. Which Church Father has the most to offer the modern-day reader when it comes to giving an overview of how the early Church practiced?

A.  That’s a tough question, because all the Fathers offer a different perspective. It would be a little like asking which of the four Gospels has the most to offer when it comes to giving an overview of Jesus’ life. We need all four, because they give us four different perspectives. We also have to remember that, like many of the New Testament documents, the writings of the Fathers were meant to address specific situations, and so we don’t get anything like a systematic theology until the Middle Ages. Personally, I gravitate toward the Western Fathers. For doctrine, Tertullian and Novatian are extremely important, but they were rigorists, and Novatian was eventually a schismatic. So they’re a mixed bag. I like Ambrose and Leo. Many scholars would probably say Augustine, but he had his issues, too, and the Church rejected a significant portion of his teachings (e.g., election). On the other hand, most of the major controversies were in the East, and we can’t understand the results of those doctrinal debates without the likes of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, not to mention the Cappadocians. If I were to suggest some of the writings of the Church Fathers to a modern-day reader who wants a good introduction to the primary sources, I would say begin with some of the earliest ones and their most important or most accessible documents. That would be Justin Martyr (I Apology) and Irenaeus of Lyons (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching). Other interesting early documents would include the letters of Ignatius of Antioch and the Diary of Perpetua.

Q. Although the doctrine of purgatory isn’t taught explicitly in Scripture, it is referred to implicitly. Give some other examples of current Catholic practices that are found throughout the writings of the Fathers but seem to be absent from Scripture. 

A. Most of the Marian doctrines probably fall into this category: the Immaculate Conception, the perpetual virginity, and the Assumption. But in the book I show how they are doctrines that logically result from our beliefs about Christ and that these ideas were already present in the faith of the early Church. The Hail Mary, like purgatory, is one of those things that Protestants might argue is not in Scripture, and yet it is based on Scripture and reflects Catholic understanding of Scripture.

Q. From an apologetic standpoint, are the teachings of the Fathers a good way to break down someone’s adherence to the notion of sola scriptura

A. It worked with me. To be fair, the Reformers had a healthier view of Scripture and Tradition than people today who hold to a strict version of sola scriptura. But what you find when you study the history of the Church is that sola scripture leads to heresy, since heresy is the result of trying to interpret Scripture out of context, without the checks and balances of Tradition (i.e., interpretive precedent). At the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, the Arians were the sola scriptura party. If the Church had held to sola scriptura, it would call into question the doctrine of the Trinity—the very doctrine that defines Christianity. Now, to be clear, the doctrine of the Trinity does come from Scripture, but the word Trinity does not, and our understanding of the Trinity is the result of the interpretation of Scripture. To put it another way, if we held to a strict understanding of sola scriptura, we would not have the Nicene Creed, which is another defining element of Christianity. And yet the Creed is actually a summary of what we learn from Scripture. So to reject the authority of Tradition is to ignore the ways in which our ancestors in the Faith interpreted Scripture and to try to reinvent the wheel and do interpretation in a vacuum, cut off from those who went before us. These are the things you realize when you read the Fathers.

Q. It seems that rejection of authority has always been an issue, from the fall of Adam and Eve to the Arian heresy to the Protestant Reformation and beyond. Taking that rejection into another sphere, would you say that rejection of authority (in this case of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution) has led to a similar outcome in the current moral climate in America?

A. Yes, I think so. But it’s also a rejection of tradition. That same humanist/enlightenment mentality that says what is newer is automatically better, and that people who live now are necessarily more enlightened than those who lived in the ancient world, has led to a kind of relativism that makes the individual his or her own highest authority. None of what came before me—whether it’s authoritative writings (Scripture, the Constitution) or authoritative Tradition—carries as much weight as what I think, because I should have the last word on what is right and wrong, at least for me. If I disagree with the authority or the Tradition, then the authority or Tradition must be wrong and should be changed. That’s the mentality we’re dealing with.

Q.  What Did the Church Fathers Say About Purgatory?

A.  From a time even before the earliest surviving quotes from the Church Fathers on this subject, we know that the belief in purgatory existed among the grassroots of the faithful. A second-century document known as The Acts of Paul, which contains the story of the “The Acts of Paul and Thecla,” mentions the practice of prayer for the dead in such a way as to imply a belief in purgatory—and it does this as though its readers should not be surprised by it. Although this document is not authoritative for the Church, it does show that as early as the second century, a writer could take it for granted that Christians believed that it was beneficial to pray for the souls of the dead, which also tells us that they believed in purgatory. Another famous document, the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, is actually the diary of an early third-century martyr, Perpetua, executed for her faith as public entertainment in an arena in North Africa in the year 203. In this story, as well, it is assumed that those who have died can benefit from the intercession of the living.

Let’s look at what some of the Church Fathers had to say about Purgatory…

St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (c. 250)

Cyprian was the bishop of Carthage, in North Africa, during one of the worst and most devastating persecutions the early Church faced at the hands of the Roman Empire. In a letter, he explains the difference between those who are forgiven for their sins by the Church and those who die as martyrs:

“It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory: it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord.”

Cyprian asserts that those who die as martyrs have no need of the purification of purgatory, for they “have purged all sins by suffering,” and “at once receive the wages of faith and courage,” which is, “to be at once crowned by the Lord.” On the other hand, those who do not die as martyrs suffer a different kind of torture, that is, they suffer grief for their sins. They are “tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire…” This is clearly a reference to purgatory.

Lactantius, lay teacher of North Africa (c. 300)

Similarly, Lactantius wrote that it was possible for a person to reach a point of sanctification in this life which would exempt him from purgatory, but that this was not likely, since for most of us our sins outweigh our goodness.

“But when he shall have judged the righteous, he will also try them with fire. Then they whose sins shall exceed either in weight or in number, shall be scorched by the fire and burnt.”

It would be a mistake to read this as physical fire. Lactantius seems to have understood the fire as “real,” in a way, but he described it as a kind of spiritual fire that would purify souls.

St. Gregory, bishop of Nyssa (c. 380)

Bishop Gregory preached a sermon on the dead, in which he combined his understanding of 1 Corinthians 3:15 with 2 Peter 1:4, which says we “may become partakers of the divine nature.” But, Gregory wrote, no one is “able to partake of divinity until he has been purged.

It should be clear from our brief study that anti-Catholic legends claiming that the concept of purgatory was invented in the early Middle Ages are untrue. There are many other early Church Fathers that could be quoted here, including Hilary of Poitiers, John Chrysostom, and Gregory the Great, but it will suffice to conclude with Augustine.”

Love,
Matthew

The Great Apostasy that wasn’t…

the-apostasy

The theory goes like this: Just a few centuries after Christ’s death, around the time the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, the true Faith suffered a catastrophic falling-away. The simple truths of the gospel became so obscured by worldliness and pagan idolatry—kicking off the Dark Ages of Catholicism—that Christianity required a complete reboot.

This idea of a “Great Apostasy” is one of the cornerstones of American Protestantism, along with Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even Islam. Countless millions today profess a faith built on the assumption that the early Church quickly became broken beyond repair, requiring some new prophet or reformer to restore the “pure” teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

This theory is popular… but it’s also fiction. Here are excerpts from an interview with author Rod Bennett.

Q: What is the Great Apostasy?

A. It’s one of the cornerstones of American religion, actually—the notion that the original Church founded by Jesus and his apostles went bust somewhere along the line and had to be restored by some latter-day prophet or reformer. Most of our Christian denominations here in the Unites States teach the idea in one form or another, though, significantly, they usually disagree completely on which “Second Founder” ought to be followed.
Usually they date the collapse to the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in A.D. 313 and his subsequent adoption of Christianity for the whole Roman Empire. In doing this, he transformed the Christian Church (or so the story goes) from a simple body of pure, New Testament believers into the state religion of the Roman Empire. This made Church membership socially advantageous for the first time, which brought in a vast flood of half-converted pagans who were admitted with minimal fuss by a mere external act of baptism. And this, in turn, subverted the original Faith so seriously that a Dark Age of idolatry and superstition was the result, a “great falling away” so serious that it required, in the end, a complete “reboot” from heaven.

Q: Where did the notion of the Great Apostasy find its beginnings?

A. Well, if you think about it, any group that has a short historical pedigree—founded, as most of our denominations have been, within the last few centuries of Christianity’s very long timeline—will be driven to the idea eventually. If you find that your church was founded in the twentieth century (or the nineteenth or the sixteenth) and teaches things no one was teaching in the fourteenth, the tenth, or the fifth century, then you’re going to have to account for that fact somehow. And the most common solution has been to offer a “conspiracy theory” of some kind: this idea that the early Church actually did teach Jehovah’s Witness or Seventh-day Adventism or Unitarianism or what have you, but the “powers that be” hushed the original version up—burned their books, forced them underground, and so forth. The whole “Da Vinci Code” phenomenon from a few years back was based on the same idea.

Q: Are there differences in the ways that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and Protestants view the Great Apostasy?

A. Many Protestant groups would try to differentiate their view by holding that the original Church didn’t actually become apostate but was simply obscured for a thousand years or so, leaving a “remnant” of true believers hiding somewhere in secret, waiting to reemerge. They often tell their members (without any evidence to back up the assertion) that the true Christians had been there, alright, thinking and worshipping just as we do here at our church today, only the authorities of the day doctored up the records so that no trace of their existence has been left behind. Or, occasionally, fundamentalist groups will send inquirers to shabby, disreputable sects like the Montanists and the Albigenses as examples of God’s true remnant. These, oddly, always turn out to be weird Gnostic sects whose real doctrine (as far as we can reconstruct it) was as divergent from their own as any other brand of “dark ages” Christianity.

Another set of voices, on the other hand, more moderate in tone, sometimes takes the opposite tack, directing us to examples of genuine Christianity lingering within the mainstream of Dark Ages religion. Ambrose, Augustine, Thomas à Kempis, even Francis of Assisi are sometimes cited as “crypto-Evangelicals”—genuine Spirit-filled Christians struggling to survive amidst the general wreck of the Church, and secretly on the outs somehow with the authorities of their day.

Q: What is wrong with the popular notions that most people believe about the “Dark Ages”?

A. Mostly, they’re just historical nonsense. If the term is used strictly—which it almost never is—to refer to the chaotic period following the collapse of Roman rule in Western Europe (the Eastern Empire continued to thrive for another thousand years), then the phrase Dark Ages can have some limited meaning. But most of the time it’s just a ghost story spun almost purely out of the imaginations of anti-Catholic (and often just plain old anti-Christian) historians of the so-called “Enlightenment” of the eighteenth century.

Q. Early on in your book you refer to the “Ghetto Church”—can you explain what you mean?

A. Central to most “Great Apostasy” theories is the notion that the underground Church prior to Constantine—during the late 200s and early 300s A.D., that is—retained the innocence and purity of Bible times but lost these qualities when the Christian faith was legalized. But in reality, the Church was not underground at all during that period. The catacombs had been left far behind by then; Christians of the mid to late third century had no need to hide their faith, and they did not hide it. The Church owned property during this period and built churches on it. And though still on the books, all of the laws against Christianity were routinely winked at during those years, and the Church was a well-known, well-recognized segment of Roman society. For these reasons, I’ve compared the Roman Christian population of the third century to the Jews in Europe prior to World War II: living in their own enclaves, close to their places of worship; talking, dressing, thinking, believing differently than their neighbors . . . and disliked precisely because of their ubiquity—and their growing influence. This is what I mean by “the Ghetto Church.”

This Church, incidentally, wasn’t, alas, very pure or innocent, either. The records show that it had nearly as much doctrinal impurity as it did after Christianity was legalized—and much greater moral laxity.

Q. As revered as Constantine is in Church history, he did, in fact, seem to behave like so many politicians in the modern day, constantly changing his stance. Do you have any sense as to where his heart really was in regard to the Church? Was there a true faith there, or did he just see the Church as a means to an end?

A. Well, there’s lots of evidence that Constantine considered himself a Christian, at any rate. He immediately outlawed many of the worst atrocities of the arena—death by lions, for instance—and Eusebius tells us that he did so much testifying in his own palace that the members of his court found it wearisome. But there’s also no question that he believed the change would be beneficial to his Empire. Here’s an analogy that I used in the book: “Imagine, for instance, a man who falls genuinely in love with a goodhearted, beautiful, and very rich woman. Exactly what role will her wealth play—in his own mind and in the suspicions of others—as he decides whether or not to take her as his wife? Does he himself even know? Or will he not always be accused of mercenary motives, not only by unsympathetic outsiders but even, at times, by his own uncertain conscience? Constantine’s situation was very much like this. Yes, he found the Christian Church to be uniquely useful toward achieving his goals, as the leaven of Christianity will always be useful to the health of a society. Does that prove that this was his only—or even his primary—reason for getting involved with her? How could we ever know, if even the Emperor himself might not have been entirely sure?”

Love,
Matthew

Too many Christians, not enough lions…

StJosephRCInt1

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/18/a-country-without-churches/

dominicbouckop

-by Br Dominic Bouck, OP

“The Catholic parish of St. Joseph’s — now run by the Dominican Order — worships in the oldest Catholic church building in Manhattan. Built in 1833, it served the community of Greenwich Village before there was Central Park, the Empire State building or even the subway. Far from being a museum or mere relic of the past, the parish today ministers to college students and professionals — those who have been in New York their whole lives, and those visiting just for the weekend. Each Mass is filled with women and men of different backgrounds and nationalities.

Dorothy Day prayed here. There is a soup kitchen that serves hundreds each week. A parish elementary school is right next door.

St. Joseph’s is also neighbor to the famous Stonewall Inn and has served the spiritual needs of its visitors as well. But in the face of the latest same-sex marriage ruling, the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage has frustrated activists who want religious organizations to either bring their teachings into accord with the newest cause or to be limited from full civic participation, and thus punish long-serving institutions that will not submit to their demands.

After the Obergefell decision, Time magazine writer Mark Oppenheimer was quick to declare that the state should “abolish, or greatly diminish” property tax exemptions for churches that “dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality.”

Punishing “dissent” seems a strange new role for the American government. In the mid-twentieth century, the Catholic church was a leading advocate against anti-miscegenation laws. The church was able to take a stand contrary to the state on marriage and not be penalized for it, a position now almost unquestionably supported by Americans. And despite the confidence of those like Oppenheimer, the dissenters aren’t even a minority in the more recent marriage controversy. Most Americans favor religious liberty, and a plurality oppose Obergefell.

Allowing conscientious objection is an acknowledgment that the state does not have all the answers. The state has an obligation to make laws, but the state has no obligation to be correct. The independent voices that critique the state make the state better, and should not be silenced. Lose churches, lose the independent voices that prevent the state from having an absolute say in complicated moral matters.

In addition to the alternative moral voice that the church provides, the Catholic church is one of the leading charitable institutions in the country. But this matters little to a militant ideological movement that, intending to prevent discrimination, has prevented churches from doing certain charitable activities and seeks to “ostracize” them even more. The first wave has been the shutting down of decades-old Catholic adoption services around the country, including in the Archdiocese of Washington. The next wave, hinted at by Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, will be universities and educational institutions — including the many Catholic schools for the underprivileged. And after that will be the places of worship themselves.

Oppenheimer identifies the real problem with dissolving tax exemptions, too, though in a dismissive and historically illiterate manner. Churches in important locations will be penalized for the simple reason of where they were built. “If it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it.” Parishes like St. Dominic’s in Washington or St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village could be added to this list. But they were built for everyone, rich and poor, and their work should not be penalized because property values have skyrocketed as decades have gone by. Removing the tax-exempt status of churches simply adds an additional tax to regular churchgoers, and most of the congregations at these historical places of worship couldn’t sustain the property taxes for more than a few months. If they can’t foot the bill, local places of worship will simply have to close, and with them the community services they provide.

Losing a local church would be damaging to its worshippers and the community at large, but even still, the resilience of the faithful can overcome the limitations of property loss and a lack of governmental support. That said, it is in the state’s best interest to protect those voices that at the moment respectfully oppose its laws. By prohibiting faith-based conscientious objection, institutions will be limited in their ability to speak independently without fear of punishment, and some of the largest charities in America will be shuttered. Churches have defended and served the American people both spiritually and materially for hundreds of years. Now it’s time to defend the church.”

Love,
Matthew

Worship, not entertainment – Ite, MISSA (MASS) est! GO!!!!! And do My will!!!!

catholic_worship

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.”
Justin Martyr, I Apol. 67 (A.D. 150-155)

(By the way, there’s a little joke in there. The Hebrew tattoo deliberately incorrectly spells God’s name. Instead of God’s name (יהוה ), it says, ויהי , translated, “And it came to pass” or “And it was so.” Of course the joke here is that people who get Hebrew tattoos really do not know how to read Hebrew at all.)

Worship, by definition, I believe, is not about us, whether we like it, or whether it entertains us. Now, what could it be about? Think. Think. Think. Nope! Nothing. De gustibus non est disputandum. Why do we go to Mass? To get to Heaven. Not to be entertained. Not that simply attending Mass will merit us anything, but as an aid and a command the Lord has given us to perform in worship of Him. It is NOT something anyone owes us, but something, very rather, we owe HIM, in justice, in gratitude, for our very lives, and all the joys therein. We owe Him.

It is NOT optional, in fact, missing Mass for less than a really good reason, ie. illness, is a sin, a mortal sin, which kills the life of grace within; if, you want to get to Heaven. Like it or not. Plain & simple truth, whether you like it or not.

Don’t want to go to Heaven? Don’t go to Mass. We ARE in radical agreement. But, don’t expect any help in the form of grace in life, though. And, just one day, just one day, actually there are many, you just might need that grace to make it through the day, another day, ONLY through grace.

From my reading, Jesus will not say to us in our particular judgment, yeah, that’s in the deal, too, “No Mass? No problem!” That’s just how I, imho, read the scriptures. Others may agree.

That, imho, again, is NOT to say we always shouldn’t offer our best:  our best preaching, our best music, our best reading, our best singing, our best worship of Him.  There is nothing wrong with joyful worship.  There is nothing wrong with reverential worship.  We can always improve.  It is the very definition of fallen human beings.

And, finally, if we are to “Love one another” as He has loved us, where better to begin in charity than in the Mass, attending despite less than inspiring preaching, rote ritual, or less than angelic music, or despite, yet another collection, or perpetual fund-raising activity, festival, parish-wide garage sale, or other trivial, distracting announcement, that seem to be an ever present obstacle to profound surrender in worship to the Divine. To, in all of this, mis-worship, cry out in our heart of hearts, just like the worshiping tax collector, Lk 18:13, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

jim_blackburn

-by Jim Blackburn

“In an all-too-common tragedy these days, a poorly catechized Catholic attends a worship service at a megachurch, mistakenly believing the worship service simply to be a modern, non-Catholic version of the Mass. The Catholic feels emotionally drawn to the megachurch worship service and decides Mass, in comparison, is boring. A typical view might be, “Wow, I’m being fed here like I’m not being fed at Mass.”

The American Heritage Dictionary defines megachurch as “a large, independent, usually nondenominational worship group, especially one formed as an offshoot of a Protestant church. Also called seeker church.”

“Large” is right. Among the better known megachurches are Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston (attendance 43,500), Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago (attendance 23,000), and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church (attendance 20,000) in my backyard in Orange County, California.

Many megachurches are known for their concert-style worship services, consisting of passionate preaching accompanied by emotionally driven music.

I often hear stories about local Catholics in my diocese who venture into one of Saddleback’s worship services—only to be “sold” on this new style of worship, and never again to return to the Catholic Mass.

“Something for Everyone”

From a superficial perspective it’s easy to see why ill-informed Catholics can be drawn in so easily. A quick visit to Saddleback’s Web site (saddleback.com) reveals a veritable menu of Sunday worship services to satisfy the taste of just about any self-indulgent seeker. For example, consider these six offerings, as described on the site:

  • Worship Center Times: You’ll engage in an array of contemporary worship music and enjoy live teaching that is video cast to our other venues.
  • Fuel Times: FUEL is our newest venue for young adults ages 20s to 30s (but everyone is welcome). Join us in Refinery main auditorium for live teaching, worship, food, and relationship building. All of this and more, packed into a shorter service.
  • Overdrive Times: This service is filled with guitar-driven, rock-infused worship sure to amplify your experience. You’ll feel like you’re worshiping in a musical concert setting! The message will follow, video cast live from the Worship Center.
  • Praise Times: This venue is filled with inspiring gospel music that will move your heart and encourage your spirit. The gospel choir will get you up off your feet in whole-hearted praise to God. Worship is followed by the video cast message.
  • Terrace Cafe Times: Grab a cup of coffee and relax in this outdoor worship environment. Located on the top of the Plaza Building, the Terrace Cafe is a perfect place to bring your friends for fellowship and a casual worship experience.
  • Traditions Times: Enjoy a warm, small church community and a traditional approach to worship through hymns and choruses.

Now, each of these forms of worship can be perfectly fine. The problem arises with the gross misconception that such worship is in any significant way comparable to the Catholic Mass. The truth is there really is no comparison at all.

The First Lord’s Supper

The evening before he was crucified, Jesus and the apostles shared a meal. At the Last Supper Jesus very plainly explained to the apostles how he wanted them to worship:  He took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying,

“This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Lk 22:19-20)

These words must have been quite enlightening to the apostles, as they finally understood what Jesus meant when he said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54).

The apostles also understood in Jesus’ words both the authority and the commandment to “do” perpetually in worship what Jesus had just instituted: the Eucharist.

The Day of Obligation

The apostles went on to teach others this sacred, God-instituted form of worship. This is evident is Paul’s words to the Church at Corinth:

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”” (1 Cor 11:23-26)

Paul was not at the Last Supper, so he undoubtedly received this from the Lord through the other apostles. And in this passage we read that he has already delivered it himself to the Church at Corinth.

Scripture reveals that the Eucharist was celebrated on Sundays: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread . . .” (Acts 20:7). That the celebration took place on Sunday makes sense because Jesus was resurrected on that day (Mk 16:9).

Down through history, the Church Fathers attest that the Eucharist has been the constant and most sacred form of authentic Christian worship. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Catholic Church continues this form of worship and obliges Catholics to participate.

The authority to oblige Catholics in such a way was endowed to the Church by Jesus Himself. He said first to Peter and later to all of the apostles, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19, 18:18).

The Church has always recognized in these words the authority to enact disciplinary laws which the faithful must follow. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter . . . (CCC 553)

Today the obligation to attend the Mass is found in the Code of Canon Law: “Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation . . . On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass” (CIC 1246 §1–1247).

Symbol or Reality?

Not long ago, Rick Warren announced, “We’re adding the Lord’s Supper . . . to 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm Sunday evening services every week!”

Some people have wondered whether “the Lord’s Supper” at Saddleback Church is the authentic Eucharist. The answer is no. The power and authority to consecrate the Eucharist has never been available to just anyone; it has always been necessary to be appointed by one of the apostles or their successors. Luke provides evidence of this: “[T]hey [Paul and Barnabas, in this case] had appointed elders for them in every church . . .” (Acts 14:23). As does Paul: “This is why I left you [Titus] in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you . . .” (Ti 1:5).

The term “elders” in these passages is translated from the Greek word presbyterous, from which we derive the English word priest. It is clear in the passages just cited that priests were necessarily appointed in every Church. In part, this was for the valid consecration of the Eucharist.

Since megachurches like Saddleback Church do not have priests ordained by successors of the apostles (i.e., Catholic bishops), they do not have the power or the authority necessary to consecrate the Eucharist changing its substance into the body and blood of Jesus.

Also, I’m not aware of any megachurches that recognize the life-giving presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, for Catholics the “source and summit” of the faith. In describing its Lord’s Supper, Saddleback Church’s Web site states: “The elements of bread and wine or juice are symbols of Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Communion is not a means of salvation.”

Mass Is Not Optional

There is no comparison between a modern megachurch worship service— however entertaining it might be—and the Eucharist instituted by Jesus. A person should never mistake such megachurch worship as any sort of alternative to the Mass. And, if he’s a Catholic, he must never neglect his obligation to participate in the Mass.

If a Catholic wishes to indulge in megachurch worship, and he can do so without endangering his own faith or scandalizing others, he is not explicitly forbidden from doing so. Even so, he cannot licitly participate in a megachurch communion service. This is forbidden by the Code of Canon Law: “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone . . . ” (844 §1).  (Aka, “inter-communion”.)

The bottom line is this: Jesus didn’t instruct the apostles to perpetuate megachurch-style worship services, nor did He indicate that such worship would be life-giving. But He did institute the Eucharist, commanded the apostles to perpetuate it, and promised life to those who participate in it. Don’t we owe it to Him to worship as He commanded?”

Love,
Matthew