Category Archives: Apologetics

Christian Unity

roll-away-the-stone

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10 (RSV).

tom_brown
-by Tom Brown, Editor-in-Chief, Called to Communion

“The text for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity comes from St. Peter’s letter to the persecuted churches of Asia. 1 Peter 2:9-10. We “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” St. Peter tells his persecuted addressees, and us. In unity, they constituted one race, one priesthood, one nation. This makes sense, for they – for we – answer to but one Father, one High Priest, and one King. As with our forefathers, today God means for us to be united under Christ the King, so “that [we] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

But we Christians are suffering from ‘family problems.’ As a result, our message to the world, declaring the Lord’s wonderful deeds in bringing us to light, is garbled by our disunity. And we suffer from broken bonds and a lack of trust, just as happens in a broken family. A healthy response to this pain is to seek reconciliation. This takes more than saying ‘sorry’ and ignoring disagreements. Within the family, we need to discuss honestly our feelings, perspectives, and understandings.

Have you ever needed to say something very important to a family member, and planned to have the discussion during a holiday reunion, road trip, or other time together? This can be hard to make happen, especially in situations where there is bitterness between family members. Sometimes we only get to have this conversation in a very forced, artificial way; and it’s not productive. Sometimes we find that the opportunity never presents itself at all; depending on the importance of the topic, it can leave us with profound anxiety and frustration. We feel powerless to get into the open whatever issue is weighing on our heart.

Would that we felt such sorrow over the separation of God’s children! With Him, all things are possible. Thanks to prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, He can provide an opportunity for that needed conversation between family members. His love can roll away the stone that keeps us entombed in isolation from loved ones.

Now, we cannot be like siblings who spend time together, but refuse to reconcile deep-seated causes of division. We cannot simply ignore our different ecclesiologies, theologies or philosophies. We must seize every precious opportunity for truth-seeking conversation with our separated brothers and sisters. We must implore the Holy Spirit to provide us with these opportunities, not just in terms of time and space, but in terms of open hearts earnestly seeking reconciliation.

These opportunities for reconciliation, and our need for them, become more plain through suffering. Praise God for allowing us to suffer, and for allowing the early Church to suffer greatly, so that unity could be so cherished for many centuries. I believe the Holy Spirit will answer our prayers in bringing about such occasions. He will answer prayers for the silencing of debate-filled noise that does not aim at the Truth or at reconciliation. Therefore, let us remember to pray during this week of prayer!

Prayer
“Lord Jesus, you have always loved us from the beginning, and you have shown the depth of your love in dying for us on the cross and thereby sharing our sufferings and wounds. At this moment, we lay all the obstacles that separate us from your love at the foot of your cross. Roll back the stones which imprison us. Awaken us to your resurrection morning. There may we meet the brothers and sisters from whom we are separated. Amen.”

This Lent let us fast from being disagreeable; put ourselves at the service of Christian love & unity.

Love,
Matthew

converts & persecution @home

16627957-Abstract-word-cloud-for-Religious-persecution-with-related-tags-and-terms-Stock-Photo

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-by Dr. Carrie Gress, PhD

“Whether members of the JPII generation or millennials who have discovered the faith, young people are coming in to the Church. Their homecoming, however, is not always welcomed by their parents or grandparents.

For many parents of converts, particularly those who grew up in the ’60s and bristle at authority (unless it is their own), their offsprings’ return to the Church can feel like a slap in the face. There is a palpable sense of betrayal: “Didn’t we raise you better than that? You aren’t even pro-choice anymore? And what’s with all these children?”

For many converts, open persecution isn’t something from the outside world but happens at a place they think of as home. Threats of being dropped from the will, cutting off communication and angry standoffs are not uncommon. One set of parents announced to their 24-year-old son who had just joined the Church, “We like the old John better.” And when the topic of religious life or the priesthood arises, parents without faith can be the toughest nuts to crack. One young woman who felt called to life in the cloister could simply not overcome the pressure her parents put upon her as an only child. Another mother, whose son entered the seminary, would rant angrily at his male Catholic friends who were not becoming priests. “Why aren’t they taking you instead of him? He is my only son!” Such outbursts can certainly put a strain upon even the most pious as they try to live out the fifth commandment: honor your mother and father.

Such relationships put young Catholics in the awkward position of trying to not only endure their parents’ displeasure but to also actively help bring their parents back to the Church. As I discuss in my book Nudging Conversions, helping parents return to the faith can be a difficult enterprise because the natural parent-child dynamic is upset. No one wants to feel like her family has turned into Freaky Friday, where the child becomes the mature adult and the parent returns to (or never left) a stunted adolescence.

To face this parental problem, prayer is the place to start. The healthier your own faith, the easier it will be to endure the derision and/or to pass the faith along. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit will also give you insights into what to say to your parents and what to pray for, given their own particular situation. Each person is unique and will have an equally unique journey to discovering God. There are certainly times when relationships can be toxic and boundaries need to be set, and again, this is where the Spirit’s counsel is crucial.

Patience is the second critical tool. The good news is you don’t have to convince your parents of the truth of Catholicism in one sitting. It is a process, like peeling an onion (and yes, sometimes there are accompanying tears). It is easy to become frustrated or irritated with your elders when they act like juveniles: when they are self-absorbed, won’t listen to reason or just want to hang out with their friends or watch a game instead of going to church with you. In fact, it can be really irritating and makes one think, It’s tough to raise good parents these days. Nagging, pestering and fire-hosing (too much info at once) are just not approaches that will work. But steadily loving your parents exactly where they are — warts and all — while planting seeds when possible, goes a long way.

Many adults today have a lot of baggage given the current state of our culture. This can both be good and bad. On the one hand, when people have tried just about everything, sometimes the only thing they haven’t tried is returning to the faith of their childhood, or the Church they never considered before. The hard part, of course, is that with this baggage there can also be a lot of impediments to full communion, particularly in areas related to marriage and divorce. God, however, does not simply smooth over the difficulties but gets to the root of the problem. While it can be painful for everyone involved, there is nothing like the freedom that comes with living in God’s will, freed from the chains of sin.

Sometimes, the very thing needed to transform a parent or grandparent can come from the most unlikely places. I recently heard about a child making her First Communion who, during the rehearsal, innocently asked her grandfather if he would be receiving the Eucharist too. That question changed the elderly man’s life. Why am I not receiving? went through his head over and over again until he realized it was just the culture and his own neglect that had led him away from the Church. He came back to his faith with zeal.

Converting parents isn’t impossible. And no matter their protests, there is simply no better way to honor your mother and father.”

mind=blown

Love, and totally blown away, completely humbled by the faith of those who convert to Catholicism and the price they readily, bravely pay,
Matthew

The Mystical Body of Christ – Why the Catholic Church?

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The “cause” for the canonization of Archbishop Sheen (1895-1979) was opened in 2002. The enthusiasm for the cause of a deceased holy person of heroic virtue is called its “cultus”, or cult, in the most positive sense of the word. The enthusiasm by those who hold a special devotion to the Virgin Mary is her “cult”. Get it?

I attended an informal informational meeting in Chicago a while ago on the status of the good archbishop’s cause. Very interesting, to say the least. His beloved memory now bears the title Venerable. The Vatican is very interested in his cause, as he would be the ONLY beati to have won an Emmy!!! Take THAT modern media!!! A SAINT amongst ye!!!

Only Catholics could create the current situation though, sadly. Catholics!!!!!!!! Grrrrrrr!!!!! 🙁 . The cause is currently in stasis. 🙁 Miracles are good to go, except the good archbishop was buried in New York, where he did much of his work and ministry. His home diocese, where any cause must begin, is in Peoria, IL.

Wait!!!! It gets better!!! Part of the official process of canonization is there must be a formal, very formal, examination of the remains of the candidate of heroic virtue in the home diocese, called the “elevation” of the remains, to a place of honor and respect, and the removal, get your Catholic dictionaries out!, of the “first class” relics, i.e. actual parts of the remains!

You guessed it!!!! There is a kerfuffle!!! It seems New York, typical, after many, many promises to release the remains and remove them to Peoria, has reneged. Internal Church politics stands in the way of sainthood!!! There is no current Church process around this!!!! So, we’re and the good archbishop’s cause is stuck!!! Do you see why the typical expression in the Vatican is “Come and see me on Wednesday, and I’ll get back to you in 300 years!!!!! Catholics!!!! My greatest frustrations in the life of faith are Catholics!!!!! I pray for that same Spirit who comforted the Lord with His Keystone Cops Apostles!!!! 🙁 Who knows WHAT generation of our children may yet enjoy this great celebration. 🙁

http://www.archbishopsheencause.org/

CaseyChalk
-by Casey Chalk, a “revert” to the Catholic Church, who was raised Catholic, left the Church with his parents for Evangelicalism & Presbyterianism, spent time in Thailand, and has now returned to the Church of his birth.

“A good friend and elder at my former Presbyterian (PCA) church once invited me over for beers and conversation several months after my decision to become a Catholic. In that exchange, he expressed what he termed as his predominant concern with my entrance into the Catholic Church: that the decision embraced a form of sacerdotalism, effectively putting certain individuals – be they priests, bishops, cardinals, or the pope – or even the institutional church, between the individual and God. This mediated reality, my friend believed, was in some sense an affront to Biblical Christianity, presumably because it obscured or obstructed the primary mediatory role of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, one of the most iconic American Catholic figures of the 20th century, would respectfully disagree.

Fulton Sheen died on this day 36 years ago: December 9th, 1979, before I was even born. Yet his influence is felt far beyond the end of his earthly life and reaches far beyond the millions of American radio listeners and television viewers he reached. Even the Redemptorist parish I attend in Bangkok, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, bears Sheen’s mark. The architectural design of the parish, built to model the traditional Thai Buddhist wat, was an idea suggested by Sheen himself during a visit to Thailand.

Sheen’s writings and teachings likewise continue to influence Christians and non-Christians the world over, largely because Sheen so accurately recognized philosophical and religious trends that increasingly were dominating our culture. Take for example the individualist tendencies of our current age, asserting that no institution or denomination is needed between man and God. Many people, even those with robust prayer lives or strong convictions in historical doctrines regarding Christ or Holy Scripture, hold such a “low church” position. Indeed, some form the limits of their Christian experience around the reading of the Bible or other spiritual literature, listening to podcasts or sermons in the privacy of their homes or cars, and maybe the occasional Bible study or prayer group.1 To this popular, commonly Protestant trend, Sheen’s The Mystical Body of Christ offers a surprisingly Scriptural critique. Indeed, Sheen’s presentation of the Church as Christ intended and directs it stands in contrast even to those Protestants – be they Reformed, Evangelical, or Mainline – who affirm some conception of the visible Church, since, Sheen argues, even these efforts lack a fully Biblical account of the Church as Christ’s very own mystical body.

Biblical Foundations for the Mystical Body of Christ

Sheen begins by citing Fr. Emil Mersch – who observed that the New Testament’s use of “kingdom,” “mystery,” and “life” all appeal to different aspects of the same reality: the mystical body of Christ2. Sheen argues that the Mystical Body is not an abstraction, but “something visible and invisible, something tangible and intangible, something human and something Divine; it refers to a reality which is the subject of attribution, of properties and rights, to an organism with a supernatural soul, to a prolonged Incarnation, to the extension of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to our own days, to the contemporary Christ: the Church.3 We share a bond with Jesus quite different than what we might share with any other religious teacher or philosopher: a life of which we are partakers, in His earthly life, His glorified life, and His mystical life.4 The third of these, the mystical life, He continues to live through us by means of His Holy Spirit, which was given quite publicly to the visible Church at Pentecost.5

In this reality, Christ is the Head, His people are His body: “Christ is our contemporary.”6 With exacting exegetical detail of the Biblical texts, Sheen demonstrates that one cannot separate Christ from His mystical body, and that the “spiritual, not religious” Christian ideal is untenable. Christ identified Himself too intimately with His followers to believe otherwise: Sheen notes that our Lord taught that He and His body would be one, referring to such Gospel passages as the vine and the branches (John 15:5), or “He that heareth you, heareth me” (Luke 10:16).7

Also central to this argument is Sheen’s analysis that St. Paul’s language of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians must be properly understood not as a post-facto Pauline analogy, but as a reality that preceded the Apostles in the very life of Christ.8 Indeed, it was Christ Himself who said he would assume another body in John 20:17.9 The Church would be this body, not physically or morally, but mystically and intimately united to the risen and ascended Christ. Sheen helpfully articulates:

‘He said that whatever happened to Him as Head would happen to His Body; if He was persecuted His Body would be persecuted; if He was hated His Body would be hated; if the world did not receive Him it would not receive His Body, for the servant is not above the master…. The relation would be so close between the members of that Body and Himself, that anyone [who performed a work of mercy for one His members] would be doing the service unto Him. It would seem that He had exhausted all analogies to mark the unity between Him and His new body; but the night before He died, He said that He and His flock were not to be one merely as shepherd and sheep, they were to be one as He and the Father are one.10’

The Mystical Body of Christ is His Church

Building upon this identification of Christ with His Church, St. Paul and St. John extend these analogies of mystical union to include a building (1 Corinthians 3) and marriage (Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11, Revelation 19, 21).11 The Church effectively extends Christ “beyond the space of Palestine and the space of thirty-three years to prolong His influence unto all times and to all men.” “Without the Church,” Sheen asserts, “Christ would be incomplete,” for the Church continues the Incarnation.12 The “actions of the Mystical body are the actions of Christ.”13 Through Christ, the ultimate prophet, priest and king, the Church would extend “His posthumous Self, His prolonged Personality… Very simply they were to do the same three things as He had done in His earthly life: they were to teach, to govern, and to sanctify.”14 These include the Church’s mission to baptize, to perform the Eucharist, and to forgive sins (Matthew 28, Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11, John 20).15 Sheen’s analysis strikes at the heart of much contemporary Christian spirituality and Protestant religiosity:

‘How far removed is this doctrine of the Church from the false conception of those who would accuse the Church of standing between Christ and us? How often we hear it said: “I do not want an organization between Christ and me,” or “True religion consists in union with Jesus of Nazareth without priest, or prelate, or sacrament.” Anyone who understands the Scriptures will see that the Church does not stand between Christ and me. The Church is Christ16’

The Church, if she is truly Christ’s mystical body, cannot then be some voluntary organization, as if the Apostles heard Christ’s message and on the “basis of their common faith” agreed to form a religious society. No, Sheen declares, the Church began “the very moment” the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.17 Anyone then who claims the visible, institutional Church and its sacramental system is an “obstacle” to a relationship with Christ has misunderstood “the meaning and beauty of the Incarnation of our Lord.”18 Through the Church, Bethlehem is revived in every baptism, “the Cenacle in every Mass, the instruction of the doctors of the Temple in every definition, the pardon of Peter in every absolution, and the Crucifixion in every persecution.”19 Rather than an obstacle to relationship with Christ, the Church is the very means by which that relationship is fostered.

The Catholic Church as Christ’s Mystical Body, Preserved by the Holy Spirit

Christ is of course the head of this mystical body – per St. Paul’s teaching in Colossians 1:18. Yet if Christ is the head, one might reasonably ask, which conflicting group or sect within Christianity is the “one Body of Christ”?20 According to Sheen, the “obvious way” for Christ to identify His post-ascension body would be “through a visible head or a primate.”21 This is appropriate, he contends, because the “democratic form of government” visible in many forms of Protestantism is problematically individualistic:

‘…each individual [is] his own supreme authority, allowing him either to interpret the Scriptures privately or else interpret his own religious experiences without any dictation from without. Religion on this theory is a purely individual affair: each one casts his own vote as to what he will believe, rejects all creeds, beliefs, and dogmas which run counter to his moods and prejudices, determines for himself the kind of a God he will adore, the kind of an altar before which he will kneel – in a word, he worships at the shrines his own hands have made.22’

Rather than this subjective, individualist model, Christ gave us what Sheen calls the “monarchical” model, citing Matthew 16, where He rejects both what “men say” about who He is, and even what the Apostles together say about who He is (the “aristocratic model”), but ultimately affirming St. Peter’s declaration that He is the son of the living God.23 Peter had divine assistance, the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16), and the commission to feed Christ’s lambs (John 21). This is not to say that St. Peter is “a Head apart from Christ.” Rather, he is “one authority with Him,” the “visible representation, the concrete symbol, the vicar of the Sender among the Sent.”24

Sheen further argues that it was the Holy Spirit who conceived the Church in the incarnation, guided St. Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divinity, and who remains its very soul, and speaks first not through inspired writings, but a “voice,” carried by the Apostles and their successors.25 This is to contrast the Catholic conception of Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture, and magisterial teaching, as cooperating spheres of authority, against the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Indeed, it was the Holy Spirit, acting as the soul of the Church, who inspired the writings of Holy Scripture and guided their collection and inclusion into a canon. The Bible stands not on its own but “within the life of the Church.” It is the Church that “makes its meaning clear.”26 And if the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, “there can be no contradiction, no variety of opinions, no divided loyalties, no half-truths, no schisms, no heresy where God is.”27

Moreover, the Holy Spirit vivifies the Church to maintain its four marks so that neither sin nor scandal within the ranks can nullify her intrinsic holiness.28 Sheen observes, “the world has yet to point out a single age in which the Church has not produced her heroes whom she calls saints.”29 The last mark, the Church’s apostolic character, is best understood within the Catholic paradigm as requiring a discernible “origin or source.” Sheen elaborates: “it would be too late for her to begin sixteen hundred years after the life or our Lord; it would be too late for her to begin even twenty years after the life of Christ. She must be in intimate contact with Him from the beginning.” He cites several pieces of evidence of this from Scripture and history. These include the choosing of Matthias (a witness to the resurrection) to replace Judas in Acts 2 and the centrality of the appeal to Apostolic origin by the immediate successors of the Apostles: “Everywhere in the early Church the test was: ‘What is the source of your authority and truth?’ It if did not come from Christ and the apostles, it was false.”30 What a remarkable testament it is that the Catholic Church, longer than any nation, empire, or heretical movement has withstood the test of time: “Who today venerates Eutyches? Where are his disciples? Who today knows of Novatian?”31 Because it is the Holy Spirit alive within the Church, she cannot be killed.32

Further Implications of the Mystical Body of Christ

Having presented His biblical argument for the Mystical body of Christ — and that it be identified with the Catholic Church — Sheen devotes the remainder of his book to exploring many other realities that flow from this initial truth: the infallibility and unique authority of the Church, the role of the priesthood and individual Christians in this mystical body, the communion of the saints, the value of reparation, and the expansion of the body throughout the entire world. 33 Of particular interest to Protestants investigating Catholicism, Sheen devotes a chapter to the role of Mary, the mother of God, as mother also of His mystical body. The bishop explains that this is a natural logical progress: “if the fullness of Christ embraces not only His historical Life in Galilee but also His Mystical Life in the Church, then should not Mary be not only the Mother of the physical Christ, but also the Mother of the fullness of Christ or the Mother of the Church?”34 Also of potential interest to Protestants are chapters on how the sacrifice of the cross is translated to the sacrifice of the Mass, Sheen arguing that the sacrifice of the Cross is “complete and perfect in it itself,” yet “not complete as regards us; the merits of that great redemptive act have to flow unto us.”35 The Eucharist then serves to project Christ’s sacrifice into the present: “the Mass is the one thing in the world which makes it possible for us who live in the [present age] to share in the sacrifice of Calvary…. The Mass is Calvary realized, made present, contemporized, lifted out of the limit of space and time living in the members of the Mystical Body….36

The Mystical Body of Christ is a helpful – nay, essential – concept for how Christians should understand their role individually and corporately to Christ their Lord and Savior. This is the way Christ wanted it: for His Church to be the extension of His earthly ministry projected through time and space to our present era. To respond to the legitimate concern of my Presbyterian elder friend: Christianity at its core is sacerdotal — the Incarnation, the beginning of the Church on earth, exemplifies God’s extension of grace to Christians through matter. Christ then, fully God and fully man, is Himself a sacerdotal figure, mediating between man and God in His very flesh. It is entirely fitting then that Christ would appoint members of His own mystical body to do exactly what He had done: bear God’s authority and mediate between members of His body and the eternal God. In Sheen’s analysis, this does not detract from Christ’s mediatory role; it preserves and perfects it.37

Venerable Fulton Sheen, one of America’s great defenders and explicators of the Catholic faith, pray for us!

  1. Sheen’s own critique of Protestantism is quite prescient. In his 1935 introduction to the book, he notes that Protestant churches “no longer claim to be Divine or to be Deposits of Revelation.” He asserts that Protestantism has been reduced to “the individualistic type of religion in which each man’s subjective religious experience determines the God he will worship and the altar he will serve,” or a “purely social form of religion.” See Fulton J. Sheen, The Mystical Body of Christ (Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2015), p. 2.
  2. The reader should take note that in addition to the extensive Biblical exegesis Sheen offers in the main body of his work, the footnotes of the text supply a wealth of additional Biblical references and analysis that should not be overlooked.
  3. Sheen, p. 5.
  4. Sheen, p. 7.
  5. Sheen, p. 15.
  6. Sheen, p. 18.
  7. Sheen, p. 20.
  8. Sheen, p. 56.
  9. Sheen, p. 37.
  10. Sheen, p. 27.
  11. Sheen, p. 29.
  12. Sheen, p. 41.
  13. Sheen, pp. 42-43.
  14. Sheen, p. 45.
  15. Sheen, p. 32.
  16. Sheen, p. 33.
  17. Sheen, p. 48.
  18. Sheen, p. 49.
  19. Sheen, p. 50.
  20. Sheen, p. 51.
  21. Sheen elsewhere explains that baptism is the mechanism for incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ. See Sheen, p. 298.
  22. Sheen, p. 57.
  23. Sheen, p. 58.
  24. Sheen, p. 59.
  25. Sheen, pp. 61-63.
  26. Sheen, p. 66.
  27. Sheen, p. 304. Sheen extensively highlights the evidence for the historicity of the primacy of St. Peter and Rome in his footnotes for Chapter Three. See Sheen, pp. 305-308.
  28. Sheen, p. 75.
  29. Sheen, p. 79.
  30. Sheen, p. 81.
  31. Sheen devotes an entire chapter to explaining how scandals in the Church can be reconciled with her role as Christ’s mystical body. In rhetorical flourish typical of the bishop, Sheen exhorts the Church’s detractors to “reveal the worst, for it will only help to make clear her true nature.” See Sheen, p. 99.
  32. Sheen, p. 85.
  33. Sheen, pp. 86-88.
  34. Sheen, p. 91.
  35. Sheen, p. 96.
  36. Sheen argues that “the Infallibility of the Church is nothing more than the Infallibility of Christ,” and asks rhetorically whether the Holy Spirit died after Pentecost or the early councils of the Church. See Sheen, p. 117, 121. On the unique authority of the Church, Sheen observes, “a book could not preserve [Christ’s] authority, for the book needs interpretation, and who would interpret it?” See Sheen, p. 134.
  37. Sheen, p. 225.
  38. Sheen, p. 242.
  39. Sheen, p. 247, 249.
  40. It is in this book that one of Sheen’s most famous aphorisms can be found: They do “not really hate the Church; they hate only that which they mistakenly believe to be the Church.” See Sheen, p. 140.

Prayer for the Canonization of Venerable Fulton Sheen

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.

If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Imprimatur:
+Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria

Love,
Matthew

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

R_Albert_Mohler
-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…

joy-3

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?

randy_hain
-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

14167-blessed_is_she_luke145_ibelieve

marcellino-d'ambrosio
-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