-by Fr. Samuel Keyes, raised Baptist in Mississippi, Fr. Samuel Keyes became an Anglican/Episcopalian after college. He served parishes in Massachusetts and Alabama, and then Saint James School in Maryland, before being received into the Catholic Church in 2019 and ordained in 2020–21.
Fr. Keyes is currently a professor of theology at JPCatholic and parochial administrator of St. Augustine of Canterbury, an ordinariate community in San Diego County. He is married to Gretchen with five kids.
“Whether or not you noticed the collect for today’s Mass, let me point it out:
May your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works.
It’s a clear, pithy prayer that in a single sentence summarizes God’s saving economy: grace goes before our actions, assists our actions, and follows our actions. One wonders if a serious meditation on this collect—which has been part of the Roman Rite for very many centuries—would have prevented some conflict in the Reformation era among those fretting over the supposed opposition of “grace” and “works.” Those of us raised in certain quarters perk up our ears at any mention of “works” as being good. Yet the collect places all such works well within the sphere of God’s gracious providence. In the Divine Worship missal for the Anglican Ordinariate, we pray at every Mass that we should do “in all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”
I point all this out, in part, because when I first glanced at the propers and readings for this Sunday, I was struck right away by the “good works” of the collect and the stories of grace and gratitude we hear in 2 Kings and Luke: the stories of Naaman (2 Kgs 5:14-17) and the ten lepers (Lk 17:11-19). It seemed interesting that the Church would simultaneously propose to us an implicit exhortation to good works and a reminder that in holy baptism—which is of course prefigured by Naaman’s ritual washing in the Jordan—we are washed clean and elevated to the life of grace by no merit of our own. But in the end, there is no real conflict between grace and good works, mainly because all good works are fundamentally graced: before, during, after. Part of God’s gift to us is the gift to do something with what we have been given and for this work to matter.
There are, at the same time, good and bad ways to respond to the gifts of grace. In both 2 Kings and Luke, the narrative gives special attention to the gratitude of the former lepers. The Samaritan leper in Luke, the one grateful man out of the ten, is a foreigner like Naaman the Syrian. So, a foreigner shows more gratitude than the people who claim this power as their birthright. Why is that?
There’s a very immediate connection we should make with the expansion of the covenant to the Gentiles through Christ. Naaman and the Samaritan are also both figures of Cornelius the centurion, who in Acts 10 receives—with awe and gratitude—the gifts of the Spirit in a way that is at first shocking and even confusing to the Jewish disciples. But we can also wonder if Jesus means to suggest here something of the default Jewish attitude towards divine grace. However final and permanent God’s promises were to the people of Israel, none of those promises translate grace into something owed. It seems almost as if the nine men in Luke think of their healing much in the way that so many modern Catholics think of the sacraments: obviously I deserve this; of course God is providing this for me; no need to make a big deal out of it.
Of course there is a real element of truth in that attitude: the sacraments are a given, in a certain sense. God has given them to us and he is not going to take them back. He is not going to send an angel from heaven and declare to the pope, “No more baptisms, we’re full up!” But their givenness, their enduring reality, does not mean that we should take them for granted any more than the people of Israel should have taken their ethnic heritage as a guarantee that they were full participants in God’s saving covenant.
That kind of entitlement really can become a “works righteousness,” wherein life becomes an accounting game I play with God. Let’s see: did first Friday devotions (check), said the rosary every day this week (check), asked for a number of Masses to be said (check) . . . so why hasn’t God given me what I want? Or, as someone asked me not that long ago, “Where did all those graces go?” And my response (internal, at least, because I’m not quite that mean) is: are we aiming for the beatific vision, or are we aiming to win some kind of cosmic video game?
There is the opposite approach, (maybe) less common among Catholics, but still a real danger, where we take for granted not the system of grace but the whole generic enterprise. This is antinomianism, the idea that what I do doesn’t matter in the least because God loves me, and He understands, and my heart is in the right place, etc.
I wonder if the principal remedy against these two opposing vices is the gratitude and thanksgiving that we see in the Samaritan and in Naaman. Because here’s the thing: on one level we might say that this healing is nothing extraordinary. It’s just what the Lord does; it’s in his nature, so to speak. But that is not the same thing as saying that I deserve it, or that I should act like it’s somehow par for the course.
It’s no coincidence that the central act of the Church for the last two millennia has been an act of thanksgiving, of Eucharist. We talk about this as the source and the summit, as the sacrament of sacraments, because it is the place where Christ Himself is present in His Church. But it is also where the Church does the thing that most characteristically makes her the Church: she gives thanks. She says, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.”
Our calling as Christians, however else we might imagine it, is first to be grateful, to give thanks. The Lord has put away our sins, he has called us to his service, he has given us the power to follow him in this world. Thanks be to God. Everything else follows that.”
-by Mark A. McNeil, a former Oneness Pentecostal, was received into the Catholic Church in 1999.
“Although the modern spectacle of Halloween has for most eclipsed the day’s original case for celebration, the Eve of All Saints (All Hallows Eve), I’d like to propose that families consider a devotion placed by the Church on the same day, honoring a relatively unknown Jesuit brother: St. Alphonsus Rodriguez (1532-1617). In his life, we see that it is possible to have a powerful impact for Christ even while we perform simple, humble daily tasks with great love. No matter their mission, saints are always uniquely attractive.
The first half of Alphonsus’s life was full of tragedy. His poor father, a wool trader, died when Alphonsus was young. Years later, Alphonsus married Mary Suarez, though she would live for only five more years. Only one of their three children outlived Mary. Tragedy struck again within two years of her death when Alphonsus’s mother and remaining son both died.
Who wouldn’t be consumed by bitterness and anger in the face of such miserable misfortune? For the young widower, however, Alphonsus’s losses birthed a desire to consecrate his life completely to God. After his wife’s death, he immersed himself in intense prayer and rigid bodily disciplines.
As a young boy, Alphonsus briefly studied under Jesuit teachers. After the deaths of his loved ones, he sought to enter the Society of Jesus but was rejected because of his age, ill health, and lack of education.
Undeterred, Alphonsus enrolled in Latin school and found himself surrounded by students half his age who ridiculed him mercilessly. Still, he persisted, and after graduating at the age of forty, Alphonsus again sought to become a Jesuit priest. Impressed with his persistence if not his intellectual abilities, the Jesuits accepted him as a brother of the order, assigning to be a porter in the newly founded Jesuit school of Majorca.
Such a lowly role might have discouraged many, especially after everything he had been through. But Alphonsus made the most of his opportunity to serve and pursued his task with great care and devotion. As the years passed, his evident holiness and humility inspired many to seek spiritual counsel from the relatively unschooled porter.
Although most stories of Alphonsus’s life understandably focus on his prayerfulness and continual consciousness of God’s presence, others reveal his deeply human struggles with scrupulosity and agitations of mind. Obsession with rules can lead to mental torment about past and present sins and shortcomings. In this struggle, Alphonsus followed St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, who almost lost his battle with scrupulosity.
Ignatius was so tormented by his many sins that he came close to taking his own life during his stay in Manresa, the same place where he would begin to develop the highly influential Spiritual Exercises. For both Ignatius and Alphonsus, the crucible of interior pain would give birth to a path to hope and love for countless others influenced by them.
Of the many who were profoundly influenced by St. Alphonsus, St. Peter Claver is perhaps the best known. Claver, after receiving counsel from Alphonsus, devoted his life to tireless missionary work among the victims of the slave trade. Both Alphonsus and Claver would later be recognized by their order as models of what became a common refrain for Jesuits, “a man for others,” a phrase intended as a stark contrast to the temptation to be men “for ourselves.”
We can think of these opposing possibilities as forces that we can yield to or resist. One pulls us toward satisfying our own appetites and desires, whereas the other draws us to offer ourselves as a gift to others. The theme is evident throughout Scripture and Church teaching.
The seven deadly sins, for instance, are all self-centered distortions of human freedom. Beginning with a disproportionate and unrealistic sense of our own importance, pride stealthily lays the foundation of other sins of self-absorption and excess. The opposite is seen most clearly in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, which draw a person out of himself and toward God in prayer and in service to those made in his image.
We can choose to stay closed in upon ourselves, with one inevitable effect being a need to control and use others. The irony and tragedy, however, is that our own humanity is undermined in the ugliness that follows from such egoism. The Church offers a starkly different path by pointing us to the supreme Man for others: Jesus Christ.
St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, like all the saints, models the supreme Man for others he faithfully followed. On a day that now serves as an occasion for endless parades of ugliness and pride, he presents a beautiful example of the holy and humble faith that gives shape to his life. Like all the saints, Alphonsus shows us that Christ-like love and service are the most attractive witness of the gospel.”
Some saints attack the world head-on, like St. Peter Claver, SJ, the friend and disciple of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ. Others like Alphonsus himself fight personal battles against failure, loss, temptation, disease. Crucibles of interior pain that give birth to paths of hope and love. We tend to admire more activist champions such as Peter Claver, who worked among slaves for forty years. But why should we think any the less of saints such as Alphonsus, who was more like us in his ordinariness and suffering? And who showed us how to be faithful in long lasting spiritual and personal struggles?
“Another exercise is very valuable for the imitation of Christ—for love of Him, taking the sweet for the bitter and the bitter for sweet. So, I put myself in spirit before our crucified Lord, looking at Him full of sorrow, shedding His blood and bearing great bodily hardships for me.
As love is paid for in love, I must imitate Him, sharing in spirit all His sufferings. I must consider how much I owe Him and what He has done for me. Putting these sufferings between God and my soul, I must say, “What does it matter, my God, that I should endure for your love these small hardships? For you, Lord, endured so many great hardships for me.” Amid the hardship and trial itself, I stimulate my heart with this exercise. Thus, I encourage myself to endure for love of the Lord Who is before me, until I make what is bitter sweet. In this way learning from Christ our Lord, I take and convert the sweet into bitter, renouncing myself and all earthly and carnal pleasures, delights and honors of this life, so that my whole heart is centered solely on God.” -St Alphonsus Rodriquez, SJ
In his old age, Alphonsus experienced no relief from his trials. The more he mortified himself, the more he seemed to be subject to spiritual dryness, vigorous temptations, and even diabolical assaults. In 1617 his body was ravaged with disease and he died at midnight, October 30.
“Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
-by Alexander Frank, a former US Army Ranger and a graduate of Yale Law Schoo, converted to the Catholic faith in 2019 from Kashmiri Shaivism, a sophisticated form of yoga and the origin of its modern form.
“Secular society adores yoga, and not a few Catholics are fond of it, too. Revenue for the yoga industry runs in the billions of dollars, according to Statista.com, and the number of participants is estimated to be in the tens of millions.
I myself dived into yoga, drawn to the idea of personal enhancement without ethical constraints. After years of studying yoga and its associated systems—mindfulness, Buddhism, magical shamanism—I had completed a teacher training retreat, spent three months in a Zen monastery, and studied under one of the best yoga spiritual directors in the United States. Over the course of my studies, and as my spiritual searching eventually led me to the Catholic Church, I learned that there is much more to yoga than Western pop culture implies.
In analyzing whether it is prudent for Catholics to practice yoga, the place to start is in determining what yoga is. The term yoga means “to yoke” in Sanskrit. This “yoking” connotes a spiritual unity, rooted in a kind of servitude. Now, Christ calls us to bear his yoke (Matt. 11:30), but what kind of yoke does yoga put on practitioners? Or in other words, what kind of servitude does yoga bind its practitioners to?
We can start by looking at the poses. Take some examples:
The three-part Warrior pose invokes the god Virabhadra, who was created by another god, Shiva, to murder Shiva’s father-in-law. The three poses imitate the sequence of the murder.
Matseyadrasana and Gorakshasana are named after Hindu gurus who founded the style that led to modern yoga. According to the foundation legend, they used their occult powers to commit theft, adultery, fraud, rape by deceit, corpse desecration, the murder of Matsyendra’s son, and cross-dressing.*
According to the founder of Rasa yoga, Sianna Sherman, Goddess pose “invokes” the dark goddess Kali, known for making clothes out of the body parts of slain enemies. Yoga devotees sacrifice children to her in India to this day.
What about the purpose of yoga? It goes beyond postures that honor problematic Hindu gods and gurus. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs says, “Yoga is essentially a spiritual discipline based on an extremely subtle science which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. . . . The practice of yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness.” So yoga is at its essence a spiritual discipline. That spiritual work is rooted in a belief that consciousness, or more simply awareness, is the vehicle to the divine. The ultimate goal is a dissolution of our individual identity and a realization of our “true Self,” to fuse our consciousness with a sort of hive mind.
Many other sources say similar things. Judith Lasater, perhaps the most prominent American yoga teacher, describes “the true essence of the practice” as enlightenment, to “experience reality not as our various parts, but as one unified being.” Anusha Wijeyakumar, another prominent yoga teacher and writer, says that “the ultimate goal of yoga . . . is samadhi—final union with god and divine consciousness. . . . Yoga is much more than asana [physical postures].”
One mantra, a Hindu prayer that accompanies the physical postures, is “I am what I say I am.” Considering how God identifies himself in Exodus 3:14, this looks very much like an attempt to make human beings into God. It is a radical philosophical claim that gives rise to a specific type of spirituality.
By contrast, St. John of the Cross describes how the soul in love with God will reflect God’s light to such an extent that it appears to be God, but it remains ontologically separate. Cardinal Ratzinger, examining forms of Christian meditation, wrote in 1989 that “all the aspirations which the prayer of other religions expresses are fulfilled in the reality of Christianity beyond all measure, without the personal self or the nature of a creature being dissolved or disappearing into the sea of the Absolute.” Union with the divine is a noble aspiration, but the Eastern paths diverge significantly from the Christian one.
Now, the most common argument in favor of yoga is to throw out the deeper “spiritual” side and zero in on the physical action of stretching. Catholic advocates for yoga insist that just doing “postures”—that honor morally questionable Hindu gods and have always been a Hindu spiritual practice—is good as long as we intend only to get exercise. But does this argument hold water?
To find out, let’s ask whether it is true that an act—say, striking a yoga pose—has no meaning beyond the intentions of the person committing that act. St. Thomas Aquinas argues that in fact, actions do have an objective meaning: “The goodness or malice which the external action has of itself . . . is not derived from the will, but rather from the reason” (ST I-II, q. 20, a. 1). Actions have their own nature: the quality of the external act is derived from rational inquiry rather than from the intent of the actor. Similarly, the Catechism teaches that, for an act to be good, it has to have a good moral object, which is intrinsic to its nature and independent of intent. “A good intention . . . does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered good or just” (1753).
Is the “behavior” of yogic stretching “intrinsically disordered”? What is the “moral object” of these poses? Yogis themselves point to it, even if they are not very forthright. The postures aim to awaken kundalini, energies of the soul, associated with the Hindu gods. That energy starts dormant at the base of the spine, depicted as a “sleeping serpent goddess.” Yoga practice sends the snake up the spine to take possession of the soul so that the practitioner can realize his “authentic Self,” yoking himself to those gods. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of one of the most common types of yoga, says what happens with his posture sequence is that “you awaken kundalini. You become Jesus Christ. Or Buddha. My yoga formula works for everybody.”
One of the main gurus to bring yoga to the west, BKS Iyengar, writes that a true yoga asana “is that in which the thought of [the Hindu supreme god] flows effortlessly and incessantly through the mind of the [practitioner].” Judith Lasater says that “the intrinsic nature of yoga is that you cannot separate the asanas from other aspects of practice.” Alexandria Crow, a prominent yoga “expert,” says, “The poses are really a vehicle to teach [yoga’s] philosophy.” According to a staff writer for Yoga Journal, the most prominent yoga source in the U.S. in terms of internet traffic, the reason for this is an innovation by the father of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya, who “made the postures an integral part of meditation instead of just a step leading toward it.”
Significantly, subjective intent has a way of conforming itself to the moral object through repeated practice. Two scientific surveys show that, although most people start yoga for the health benefits, many stick with it to attain this spiritual actualization. Fr. Joseph-Marie Verlinde, who went deep into yoga before converting, told his then-guru that Westerners mostly practice yoga for relaxation. The guru “laughed furiously” and then said, “That does not prevent yoga from having its effect.”
In short, it should be uncontroversial to say that the system that gave rise to yoga, including the poses, honors Hindu gods and aims to spiritually yoke the practitioner to them. Meanwhile, Scripture tells us that “all the gods of the Gentiles are idols” (Ps. 96:5—older translations read “devils” instead of “idols”), and the Church takes a strong stance against idolatry (Exod. 20:1-4; CCC 2110). It is unlikely that many Catholics would rush to a gym to perform the “Ba’al lunge,” yet the “idols” or “devils” of Hindu spiritual practice get a shrug of the shoulders.
But are we really opening a door to demons just by setting our bodies in certain poses, like in the satirical Babylon Bee article where the plumber accidentally gets possessed? Well, Norman Sjoman was a scholar who practiced under and studied the father of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya. He concluded that “what makes something yoga is not what is done, but how it is done.” And many poses in yoga come from Western gymnastics and are similar to postures in normal fitness. Similarly, eating a circular piece of bread outside Christian practice does nothing spiritually, but receiving the Eucharist in a Catholic Mass invokes works of grace (or divine condemnation) beyond the intent of the practitioner. So doing these poses in the context of yoga, as part of the practice of yoga, regardless of subjective intent, turns them into a way to further yoga’s spirituality. They become a sacrament, in the loose sense of the term—a visible sign of deeper spiritual work.
So yes, strictly speaking, the poses done in isolation are almost certainly fine. But my personal experience in the yoga world does not recommend participating in it, nor does the immense spiritual baggage associated with it. It is almost impossible to avoid participating in the spiritual parts of yoga, which are problematic if we are to stay away from honoring murderous gods and opening ourselves up to yoga’s spiritual beliefs.
There are many ways to get physically fit that do not carry that baggage, most notably Pietra fitness, that give the same fitness benefits while drawing practitioners into a relationship of love rooted in truth with God. Why choose yoga instead, when the risk is so high and the benefit so comparatively low?
* For the gruesome details, see Christopher Wallis, Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition (Audible Audiobook Edition, 2016), ch. 100, 12:47:08; James Mallinson, The Khecarividya of Adinatha: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of an Early Text of Hathayoga, (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 186, note 129; and David White, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), pp. 236-237. (“Goraksha kills and skins the boy, scrubs his skin like a washerman to remove all its bodily impurities and hangs his skin on the roof to dry, like the hide of some skinned beast.”)”
“When it comes to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (Latin, “scripture alone”), Catholics have some popular rejoinders. One of the most popular is captured in the phrase, “Where’s that in the Bible?”
The idea here is this: for a Protestant, Scripture alone serves as the infallible source for Christian belief (the doctrine of sola scriptura). Anything not found within the confines of the written word should not be accepted as Christian doctrine. But this principle is self-defeating: since the belief of sola scriptura itself is not found within the confines of the written word, a Protestant must not accept it as a Christian doctrine. To do so would be to violate the principle of sola scriptura.
So the self-defeating nature of the argument makes it a slam dunk, right? Not quite.
A Protestant could counter and say, “Wait a minute! The Bible doesn’t have to explicitly say, ‘The Bible alone is our infallible source for Christian, and we shouldn’t accept as Christian doctrine things that aren’t in the Bible.’ It can be inferred from what’s present in the text.”
Take, for example, St. Paul’s instruction for us to hold fast to the traditions handed down by both word and written epistle (2 Thess. 2:15). Protestant apologists Geisler and MacKenzie concede that the apostolic traditions spoken of by Paul were binding for the first-century Christians because the apostles were the only ones who had apostolic authority. But since they’re all dead, so they argue, the only apostolic authority we have is the inspired record of their teaching. From this, Geisler and MacKenzie infer that the oral tradition-Scripture paradigm changed when the last apostle died, thereby leaving only the inspired apostolic writings (i.e., Scripture) for us to use as our infallible guide for Christian belief and practice.
Furthermore, some might say the Catholic idea that these traditions are always binding is an inference that’s not supported by the text. There’s nothing in the text itself, it might be argued, that says Christians were always to depend on those oral traditions. Without such evidence, it would seem more reasonable to think we’re left with only the inspired apostolic writings to be our infallible guide.
How might we meet this Protestant rejoinders?
Let’s take the first target given to us by Geisler and MacKenzie. It is problematic on two fronts.
First, it’s unclear what the implication is. Does the claim that there is no more apostolic authority imply that no more revelation can be given, whether in oral or written form? If that’s the case, then we agree as Catholics. Sacred Tradition for Catholics does not entail the belief that public revelation was given after the time of the apostles. The Catholic Church teaches, along with Protestants, that public revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle.
Now, if the implication is that there is no more apostolic authority to preserve what the apostles taught, then we have a problem, since the Bible and extra-biblical Christian sources make it clear that one way the Holy Spirit preserved the apostolic traditions was by leading the apostles to appoint men to succeed them in their apostolic ministry, and they charged such men to preserve what the apostles had taught. For example, before his death, Paul made arrangements for the Apostolic Tradition to be passed on in the post-Apostolic Age. He tells Timothy: “What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
We also have evidence from extra-biblical Christian sources that the apostles appointed men to succeed them for the sake of preserving what they taught. Clement of Rome’s first-century letter to the Corinthians (c. A.D. 70) is one example. He writes in chapter 44,
Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned [bishops—at chapter 42], and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.
Irenaeus of Lyons, a bishop of the late second century, affirms that the apostolic traditions were preserved in this line of succession from the apostles. Here’s what he writes in his classic work Against Heresies:
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about (III:3:1).
For Irenaeus, the truth of Apostolic Tradition is preserved in the succession of bishops from the apostles. This is what we find in Scripture.
For these reasons, we can reject Geisler’s and MacKenzie’s justification for the claim that the oral tradition-Scripture paradigm shifted once the apostles died off. The apostolic authority didn’t die with the apostles. It continued in the men they chose to succeed them, called bishops.
What about the second target given above: that there’s nothing in Paul’s affirmation of first-century Christians depending on oral traditions to say they would always be dependent on it?
The problem here is that the logic would equally apply to the written traditions, since Paul speaks of the oral and written traditions together as that which the Thessalonians need to maintain and stand firm in. If a Protestant thinks the lack of an explicit exhortation to always stand firm in the oral traditions favors the oral tradition-Scripture paradigm shift, then he must be willing to say Christians don’t always have to depend on the written traditions (Scripture), since Paul says nothing in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 about Christians always depending on them. Perpetual dependence on the written traditions has to be inferred. And if we can do that, then we can reasonably make the same kind of inference for the oral traditions.
There’s one last thing to say in response to the overall Protestant rejoinder: if some sola scriptura Protestants are open to doctrines being validly implied but not explicitly stated in Scripture, then they’ve got to be at least open to accepting all kinds of Catholic doctrines (e.g., Mary’s bodily assumption, Mary’s immaculate conception). Or at least, when they challenge doctrines like the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, they have to jettison arguments whose foundation is anything like “it’s not in the Bible.”
“Many years ago, a famous pop star said she left the Catholic faith at age 15 because she couldn’t imagine anybody condemned for an impure thought. Misunderstanding the basics of sin, conversion, and forgiveness, the woman was content mocking God and took pride in gravely sinful behavior. Her life became an open book of debauchery.
Many Catholics—laity, clergy, perhaps the majority of German bishops promoting a change in Church teaching on human sexuality—agree with the pop star. But God’s mercy complements His justice. More than that, each is inseparable from the other. “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (Ps. 85:10). Dismissing divine wrath as “poetic” sentimentalizes divine mercy.
We generally accept punishment on terms we understand. Parents discipline their children to correct misbehavior. Society arrests and imprisons criminals. War is a self-inflicted punishment for the solidarity of sin. Violations of natural law upset God’s natural order, and we suffer. “God forgives; men sometimes forgive; but nature never forgives.” This truism reasonably frames much of human suffering and the reasonableness of punishment.
Alternatively, we are often too lenient in administering justice. Many consider righteous punishment a reactionary embarrassment. Modern comforts anesthetize and distort the necessity of punishment, which gives way to sensitivity training, procedures, and workshops “to ensure this-or-that never happens again.” Therapy has its place, but it cannot substitute for the deterrent value of discipline administered justly.
The ancient Romans were methodical in their punishment. They commonly marched on offending vassals, killed the disobedient and rambunctious rulers, handed the keys to the next in line, and warned them not to make the same intransigent mistakes. The promise of a violent return visit multiplied the force of the military intervention, enhancing Roman power (see Force, Power, Strategy: Skillsets for a Second American Century by Richard Vigilante). This is not to say that every form of punishment devised by man is the correct one. But our inclination to punish—and to punish for the purpose of maintaining the natural human order—does not come from an evil place.
God’s wrath is also a force multiplier. It deters evil, restores justice, and enhances His power and majesty. “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal, and there is none that can deliver out of My hand” (Deut. 32:39). God gives life, and he destroys it. His punishment is terrible but purposeful. He destroyed the world (sparing Noah and his family) because of human wickedness. He extinguished entire armies that threatened the faith of His Chosen People. His agent—Elijah the prophet—slashed the throats of 450 apostate prophets.
Notwithstanding the language of the pandemic, suffering and death are not the ultimate horrors. The brutality of God’s violence, as a warning and a metaphor for eternal punishment, foreshadows the even greater horror of the wages of sin and disobedience to His will. Jesus warns, “I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:22). His words are chilling: “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus depicts a prosperous man oblivious to Lazarus and his plight. The rich man dies and languishes in hell. In response to his cry for help, Abraham says, “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:25-26). Just as there is the Mystical Body of Christ destined for heaven, there is an alternative immoral universe: hell, “the mystical body of evil.”
But Scripture does not reveal the eternal destiny of those killed by God—neither of those who deserved His wrath nor of the innocents swept up in temporal violence. The wrath of God in the Old Testament prepares the way for the mercy of Jesus the Redeemer, Who forgives the repentant and saves us from the eternal fires of hell. Jesus fulfills the prophecies of Isaiah: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22). But this is merely the beginning of His mercy.
Aside from cleansing the Temple of the moneychangers, Jesus rarely punishes in the Gospels. “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus rebukes James and John, the “sons of thunder,” for their eagerness to call down fire from the heavens to destroy their Samaritan enemies (see Luke 9:54-56). Jesus is Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant,” enduring the ignominy of the cross and overcoming sin, suffering, and death in His glorious resurrection. He redeems mankind, saves us from our sins, opens the doors to heaven, and bequeaths the sacraments to sustain us in His grace.
Divine wrath and violence express God’s perfect justice, but as long as we live on this earth, the fullness of the truth thereof will remain beyond our grasp, cloaked in mystery. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). We have no choice but to accept the limits of human reason and heed St. Paul: “God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
The last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse, prophesies the final chapter of God’s temporal divine wrath. Only divine mercy can explain God’s wrath. The inseparable mercy of Jesus provides the proper perspective for divine justice.
For our salvation, we dare not deny divine justice as too harsh—or, in so doing, downplay the urgent necessity of humbly seeking divine mercy.”
Love, and His mercy; Lord, be merciful to me, for I am a sinful man,
–“The Madonna of the Roses” (1903) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, oil on canvas, height: 132 cm (51.9 in),width: 89 cm (35 in), please click on the image for greater detail.
The Feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an optional memorial celebrated in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church on 12 September. It has been a universal Roman Rite feast since 1684, when Pope Innocent XI included it in the General Roman Calendar to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. It was removed from the Church calendar in the liturgical reform following Vatican II but restored by Pope John Paul II in 2002, along with the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.
In Hebrew, the name Mary is “Miryam”. In Aramaic, the language spoken in her own time, the form of the name was “Mariam”. Based on the root “merur”, the name signifies “bitterness”. This is reflected in the words of Naomi, who, after losing a husband and two sons lamented, ” “Do not call me Naomi (‘Sweet’). Call me Mara (‘Bitter’), for the Almighty has made my life very bitter.”(Ruth 1:20)
Meanings ascribed to Mary’s name by the early Christian writers and perpetuated by the Greek Fathers include: “Bitter Sea,” “Myrrh of the Sea”, “The Enlightened One,” “The Light Giver,” and especially “Star of the Sea.” Stella Maris was by far the favored interpretation. Jerome suggested the name meant “Lady”, based on the Aramaic “mar” meaning “Lord”. In the book, The Wondrous Childhood of the Most Holy Mother of God,St. John Eudes offers meditations on seventeen interpretations of the name “Mary,” taken from the writings of “the Holy Fathers and by some celebrated Doctors”. The name of Mary is venerated because it belongs to the Mother of God.
The feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3). Its object is to commemorate all the privileges bestowed upon Mary by God and all the graces received through her intercession and mediation.
The entry in the Roman Martyrology about the feast speaks of it in the following terms:
The Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day on which the inexpressible love of the Mother of God for her Holy Child is recalled, and the eyes of the faithful are directed to the figure of the Mother of the Redeemer, for them to invoke with devotion.
The feast day began in 1513 as a local celebration in Cuenca, Spain, celebrated on 15 September. In 1587 Pope Sixtus V moved the celebration to 17 September. Pope Gregory XV extended the celebration to the Archdiocese of Toledo in 1622. In 1666 the Discalced Carmelites received permission to recite the Divine Office of the Name of Mary four times a year. In 1671 the feast was extended to the whole Kingdom of Spain. From there, the feast spread to all of Spain and to the Kingdom of Naples.
In 1683, the Polish king, John Sobieski, arrived at Vienna with his army. Before the Battle of Vienna, Sobieski placed his troops under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the following year, to celebrate the victory, Pope Innocent XI added the feast to the General Roman Calendar, assigning to it the Sunday within the octave of the Nativity of Mary.
The reform of Pope Pius X in 1911 restored to prominence the celebration of Sundays in their own right, after they had been often replaced by celebrations of the saints. The celebration of the Holy Name of Mary was therefore moved to 12 September. Later in the same century, the feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 in the reform of the Calendar by Pope Paul VI, as something of a duplication of the 8 September feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it did not cease to be a recognized feast of the Roman Rite, being mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on 12 September. In 2002 Pope John Paul II restored the celebration to the General Roman Calendar.
Máire is the Irish language form of the LatinMaria, which was in turn a Latin form of the Greek names Μαριαμ, or Mariam, and Μαρια, or Maria, found in the New Testament. Both New Testament names were forms of the Hebrew name מִרְיָם or Miryam English language name Mary. It was and still is a popular name in Ireland, and is sometimes spelt in its Anglicised forms Maura and Moira. Historically, Maol Muire (devotee of Mary) was the reverential form used by the Irish, just as Giolla Phádraig (servant of Pádraig) was the reverential usage for what subsequently became Pádraig. Following the Norman Invasion of Ireland, Máire gradually replaced Maol Muire as a given name, as Pádraig gradually replaced Giolla Phádraig. Its overwhelming popularity was due to the Irish devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but in recent times Irish religious devotion has waned and far fewer girls are being named Máire or Mary. Due to a very strong devotion of Irish Catholics to the Virgin Mary, a special exception is made for her name. In Irish, she is known as Muire and no one else may take that name similar to the way the name “Jesus” is not used in most languages.
“The name Mary means “bitter sea,” and St. Bonaventure saw that meaning as a reference to her role in spiritual warfare. The Blessed Virgin was named Mary, a name in Hebrew that has a very interesting meaning.
The Hebrew form of Mary is miryam. and some biblical scholars have seen in it the Hebrew words mar (bitter) and yam (sea). This first meaning can refer to Mary’s bitter suffering at the cross and her many tears of sorrow.
However, St. Bonaventure believed it was referring to Mary’s role in spiritual warfare, as he explains in his Mirror of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This most holy, sweet, and worthy name was eminently fitting to so holy, sweet, and worthy a virgin. For Mary means a bitter sea, star of the sea, the illuminated or illuminatrix. Mary is interpreted ‘lady.’ Mary is a bitter sea to the demons; to men she is the star of the sea; to the angels she is illuminatrix, and to all creatures she is lady.
He then goes on to expand on this point, diving deeper into the meaning of Mary’s name.
Mary is interpreted: “a bitter sea”; this is excellently suited to her power against the demons. Note in what way Mary is a sea, and in what way she is bitter, and how she is at once a sea and bitter. Mary is a sea by the abundant overflow of her graces; and Mary is a bitter sea by submerging the devil. Mary is indeed a sea by the superabounding Passion of her Son; Mary is a bitter sea by her power over the devil, in which he is, as it were, submerged and drowned.
This reflection by St. Bonaventure, recalling Mary’s power over demons, has been ratified by many exorcists.
Famed exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth confirmed this reality in his dialogues with the devil, when the devil said to him, “I am more afraid when you say the Madonna’s name, because I am more humiliated by being beaten by a simple creature, than by Him.”
While Mary’s name can be interpreted a number of ways, it is interesting to see how one saint saw it in light of spiritual warfare.”
Love, Most Holy Mother of God, protect us from all the traps and deceits of the evil one, pray for us,
I have been let go from substitute teaching at DeForest HS because I asked to not work on the infamous “Day of Silence”. Not that I would have done anything. I just wanted to avoid the situation altogether. I quietly let the school secretary, who does the scheduling, know I was a member of a Catholic religious order, Lay Dominicans, and simply please to not schedule me that day. I am sure that did not stay a secret, and shortly thereafter….
Also, one day substitute teaching at Monona-Grove HS, my duty was to administer a test. I administered the test but at least one of the questions caused me concern. Believing highly and absolutely in American ideals, I would NEVER interject my personal beliefs into a public classroom. I am a fine, happy product of public education. My public education NEVER presented me with a challenge with regards to my Catholic faith, even studying to be an applied scientist (engineer). Never. So, I would never interject let alone mention my personal beliefs unless that was somehow part of the curriculum and then only most cautiously, reticently. But, I felt this question on the test the students were taking was concerning enough I did feel parents should at least be aware of the question. I foolishly assumed, as a parent, nothing that went on in a classroom was secret from parents????!!!! Boy! Was I wrong! I allowed the students the choice of either taking the test home to share with their parents or not, never mentioning the reason I was allowing that option. Some did. Some didn’t. Boy, did the excrement hit the fan. I was summarily fired. Notice a pattern??? I don’t think it was me. I mentioned this to a neighbor and he stated his wife was a teacher and he knew all about the nonsense (nice word) (corruption?) infecting government schools. In fact, the local newspaper wrote an article about me…
“A conversation between a Connecticut public school administrator and an undercover representative of Project Veritas pretending to be a journalist (Ed. Mr. Boland was pretending to be an assistant principal in a public school)—in which the assistant principal of Cos Cob School asserted that he preferred not to hire Catholics—has attracted national news attention for its alarming example of anti-Catholic prejudice. When asked what he does when he discovers an applicant to be a Catholic, assistant principal Jeremy Boland declared, “You don’t hire them.” He explained that “hardcore Catholics” are “brainwashed” and “just stuck real rigid.” (Boland was subsequently placed on administrative leave).
In one sense, it’s not terribly surprising that public school administrators like Boland would be opposed to Catholics in the workplace. Many public schools have become laboratories for radical gender, sexual, and racial ideologies that have little to do with the kind of curriculum students will actually need to succeed in the world. Catholic teachers who believe that gender is static, prepubescent children should not be learning about sex, and children of all races should be treated equally are not going to be good fits in many “modern” classrooms.
Therein lies the sad irony: public schools administrators view Catholics as an obstacle to learning, but Catholics might very well be their best hope for maintaining a patina of intellectual coherence and respectability for their academic institutions. That is because, as even a brief consideration of the Catholic faith easily proves, the Catholic Church teaches the principles and values that are essential to the survival of American education.
Let’s start with the simple fact that the Church teaches that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and that it is knowable. “Truth is rightness, perceptible by the mind alone,” explains St. Anselm. Now, you may disagree with what the Church includes under the banner of absolute truth—such as God or the Incarnation—but her belief in absolute truth is mighty helpful when learning spelling or your times tables. Claims that math or proper grammar is somehow racist are antithetical to the Catholic tradition, which recognizes that without absolutes in such subjects as mathematics and grammar, our ability to understand any reality collapses.
The Church’s embrace of absolute truth also extends to ethics—there are right and wrong behaviors, and we should encourage the former and discourage the latter. “The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience,” teaches the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1780). Again, you might disagree with certain elements of Catholic moral teaching (perhaps on sexuality), but proper moral formation goes quite a long way to curbing disciplinary problems in the classroom. The Church teaches respect for authority, love of neighbor, and justice, all necessary to the proper running of a school.
Finally, the Church teaches that our actions have temporal and eternal consequences. “Any good or evil, done to the member of a society, redounds on the whole society,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, II-I, Q. 21, a. 3). “A good or evil action deserves praise or blame,” he adds. Once more, you may not believe in the transcendent component to Catholic morality, but it’s mighty helpful to have Catholic educators (and students) who believe that their deeds are judged according to their effect on others and their conformity to eternal truth. Conscientious Catholics will no doubt still err, but that they are conscientious means they seek moral improvement, both for their own souls and for the good of their neighbor.
I’m only scratching the surface with these cursory comments regarding Catholics in the public square. Indeed, we have quite literally millions of examples of Catholics whose public practice of their faith has resulted in temporal benefits to all Americans, regardless of their religious affiliation. Just ask anyone who has been served by a Catholic doctor or nurse, helped by a Catholic charitable worker, or protected by a Catholic police officer or fireman. Indeed, many of the institutions we take for granted—such as hospitals and universities—have their origins in Catholicism. The Church is even responsible for science as we practice it today.
Mr. Boland and the rest of his anti-Catholic cohort in public education wouldn’t even have a school without the Catholic Church. He thinks Catholics are bad for business . . . but the business exists (and is in many respects preserved) because of Catholics. There are millions of Catholic students and thousands of Catholic teachers in public schools, and I have little doubt that many of them serve as the gum and toothpicks that keep many of our nation’s school systems together. Even those Catholics who aren’t the devout, regular Mass-attending, rosary-praying type have been inculturated into a tradition that prizes truth, service, and charity.
Public schools are in trouble. “Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. There aren’t enough teachers, substitutes or bus drivers,” the Washington Post observed earlier this year. I don’t think the solution will be to keep Catholics out. But keeping anti-Catholic ideologues like Boland out might help. Or at least mandate that disciplinary action and mediation include attendance at a nearby RCIA. Classes are starting soon, I hear.”
Stupidity or foolishness is a product of sin (Proverbs 24:9). In fact, the Bible associates foolishness with transgression ((Psalms 107:17; Proverbs 13:15; 17:18, 19 ), and with sins such as:
atheism – Psalm 13:1
blasphemy – Psalm 74:18
contention – Proverbs 18:6
hypocrisy – Luke 11:39–40
materialism – Luke 12:16–21
mischievousness – Proverbs 10:23
slander – Proverbs 10:18
wastefulness – Proverbs 21:20.
So, yes, the Bible says that sin makes you foolish. It explicitly says, “Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities” (Psalm 107:17). Even the common sin of “Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:7) Further, in Psalm 74:18 we see that enemies of God (sinners who mock and revile His name) are called “foolish people.” See also Psalm 74:22–23.
When Aaron and Miriam incurred God’s wrath for murmuring against Moses, Aaron pleaded with Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed.” (Numbers 12:11) Sin obviously makes one to be foolish. Moses describes the Israelites who sinned during their wilderness journey thus:
They are corrupt and not His children; to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation. Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? (Deuteronomy 32:5–6)
The sinful behavior of King Saul made him to do foolish things. When he partially obeyed God’s command regarding the destruction of the Amalekites, Samuel said pointedly to him, “You have done a foolish thing” (1 Samuel 13:13). Moreover, Saul himself admitted after chasing the innocent David down to the Desert of Ziph with his three thousand select Israelite troops, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.” (1 Samuel 26:21, emphasis added)
Many examples abound in Scripture which prove clearly that sin can make you stupid. Remember David’s first son Amnon. When he wanted to rape his half sister Tamar, she cried out to restrain him but he didn’t listen: “What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” (2 Samuel 13:13)
Even their father David confessed after he had arrogantly counted the fighting men in Israel, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (2 Samuel 24:10, emphasis added). Ever since David committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband (2 Samuel 11–12), sin started to make him and his children to do foolish things.
“The traditional thought is that sin not only makes us weak, but stupid. Sin blunts conscience progressively over time—that is, diminishes our grasp of moral reality, impairing our ability to reason to proper moral conclusions. Consequently, sin can (and often does) lead to greater sin, along with the failure to realize not just that we are sinning, but also how awful our sinning has become.
So many of us sinners (myself included) have consciously lived through this experience. We do, at first, feel the pangs of conscience when rejecting the right course of action. We fail to choose what we know is the right thing to do; we make, as Boethius called it, a moral miscalculation, because we engage in voluntary ignorance. Should I drive even though I’ve been drinking? gives way to the need to get home quickly.
At first, we feel bad about it. We know, intuitively, that we are violating the objective moral rule. But if we keep at it, our conscience dulls. The evil becomes more comfortable, opening us up to exploring and enacting further, and often far graver, sins. We become gutsy.
This is true not just of individuals, but of society. Just as an individual, through sinning, becomes prone to further sinning and increasingly incapable of acknowledging that he is sinning—in many cases even defending his evil action as good—society can suffer the same effect. Society’s moral conscience dulls as well, leading to increasingly horrific evils and the collective rationalization of such evils as good. Do we need examples from history on this? Slavery, abortion, genocide . . . the list continues.
Here’s a more recent one. People are surprised not just that children are being hypersexualized (groomed—a perfectly appropriate word), but also that society itself doesn’t outright reject this practice. In fact, society often supports it or is indifferent to it. But why should this surprise us? Our culture, after all, has been so morally impaired for so long, especially concerning sexual ethics—so why should we expect everyone to suddenly awaken to the abject horrors foisted upon children, from putting them onto stripper poles to mutilating their genitals and injecting them with puberty-blocking hormones? I suggest that, like the individual sinner, our collective moral conscience is gravely impaired, so it should be expected that such moral atrocities occur, unencumbered by any societal roadblocks.
Thus, when one sees some abject moral evil, he finds it accompanied by obnoxious comments like, “Shame some people just aren’t capable of having an open mind.”
As if having an open mind were always inherently a good thing! (“Don’t have such an open mind your brains fall out!” -G.K. Chesterton) On the contrary, having a closed mind is often undoubtedly the best approach—including when it comes to having sexual relations with young girls as a 47-year-old man, or drinking Clorox, or mass murder, or whatever other insane notion there is to propose. The slogan of keeping an open mind in this context is just the result of somebody whose conscience is thoroughly corrupted, who cannot see the evil for what it so obviously is. You might as well say it’s a shame that someone isn’t so open-minded as to think two plus two might actually equal five. What should really be said is that it’s shame some people are not more closed-minded.
A sinful excess of open-mindedness is the predictable consequence of a life lived in sin, especially sexual sin, individually and collectively. And it’s hard to fight this problem with reason, as there is little to no reasoning to be employed against people defending abject depravity. We must have some common ground for an argument to be fruitful, but if someone’s moral faculty is so impaired that he no longer shares the same ethical framework as you, how can you make any moral progress?
As Ed Feser writes, “repeatedly taking sexual pleasure in activity that is directly contrary to nature’s ends dulls the intellect’s perception of nature, to the point that the very idea that some things are contrary to the natural order loses its hold upon the mind. The intellect thereby loses its grip on moral reality.”
Here Dr. Feser is drawing from the deposit of St. Thomas’s wisdom, where Thomas discusses the Daughters of Lust, or how someone, through repeated sexual sin especially, can suffer “blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, rashness, self-love, hatred of God.” Aquinas tells us that the more unrestrainedly bent our lower powers (or concupiscible appetites) are upon their object, the more easily distorted our higher powers—namely, reason and will—become. In other words, an unhealthy obsession with sex makes it hard to think straight. I mean, duh. Reason has almost completely checked out, except to make excuses for vile behavior.
What is the way out of this mess? God’s grace, surely. But also setting better examples and living the Christian ethic fully—especially the Christian sexual ethic—to attract those non-religious folks who are still, thankfully, repulsed by the increasing deceptive darkness that just is the logical extension of the Sexual Revolution—from the constant promotion of pornography and masturbatory practices to contraception and seeing others as mere instruments of self-pleasure to redefining marriage to feign the illusion that two people of the same sex can actually be married, and so on.
There are still many people who are seriously repulsed by what is being foisted upon children. Where will they be able to find shelter and help? Let it be the Church. By wanting to escape the darkness and make sense of this growing perversity and its origins, they may be brought fully to the light of Christ.”
Thomas Aquinas‘s use of the terms libero, libertas, and liberum arbitrium in the Summa theologiae gives us a wealth of information about free will and freedom. Human beings have free will and are masters of themselves through their free will. Free will can be impeded by obstacles or ignorance but naturally moves toward God. According to Servais Pinckaers, our freedom can be that of indifference (the morality of obligation) or that of excellence (the morality of happiness). The difference is that of free will moving reason versus reason moving free will. The freedom of indifference is the power to choose between good and evil. The will is inclined toward neither and freely chooses between them. The freedom for excellence is the power to be the best human being we can be. Here the rules, or what makes for a good human being, are the grounding for freedom. One who observes these rules has the freedom to become excellent. According to Aquinas, intellect and will have command over free will. This then is true freedom, and on this Aquinas and Pinckaers agree. We do not have freedom of indifference, we have freedom for excellence. Anything else makes us slaves.
-by Dr Kenneth J. Howell, a former Presbyterian converted to Catholicism. Dr. Howell holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in the History of Christianity and Science from the University of Lancaster (U.K.). A Presbyterian minister for eighteen years and a theological professor for seven years in a Protestant seminary, Dr. Howell was confirmed and received into the Catholic Church in 1996. He and his wife, Sharon, have three children. They live in Champaign, Illinois.
“To many outside—and some within—the Catholic Church, it seems an oppressive institution. With its long list of dos and don’ts, the moral positions of the Church are seen as stifling. Against the background of an increasingly libertine American culture, Catholicism seems to be a throwback to the oppression of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The Church may no longer resort to threats of torture, but its moral strictures are torture enough for a populace used to freedom and liberty.
This perception of the Church contrasts sharply with the perceptions of practicing Catholics who have found freedom and liberation in the moral certitudes of the Church. When the moral positions of the Church are combined with its spiritual emphases, the faithful have often seen the Church as a haven for true happiness. The reason for these different evaluations of the Church has to do with two different views of freedom.
Why do those outside the Church see it as an oppressive institution stuck in the past, unable to change with the times? One reason is surely that outsiders believe in the freedom of indifference, whereas the Church espouses a freedom for excellence. Freedom of indifference is the notion that every person should have the unencumbered liberty to do whatever he wants unless it hurts someone else or infringes on someone else’s freedom.
In its current popular form, the freedom of indifference found classic expression in the views of nineteenth-century philosopher John Stuart Mill. Mill’s On Liberty (1859) enunciated a view that was free of metaphysical or natural grounding. The individual stands front and center in Mill’s philosophy. Governmental power cannot be used to compel people to certain beliefs, nor can prevailing public opinion be allowed to squelch individual views. The only legitimate restriction on an individual’s liberty is when he becomes a threat to others. So society may rightly limit a person’s freedom if that freedom poses harm to others. Barring that danger, Mill insisted that “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
Mill’s sovereignty of the individual extended even to the possibility of self-destruction. Even if the individual wishes to harm himself, society has no justification for intervention. Society should be indifferent in the face of the individual’s choices. This latter case illustrates how far Mill and his intellectual heirs are from any sense of natural rights or metaphysical grounding. Whether self-harm (e.g., by drug use) or even suicide is morally justified is not a concern of anyone but the individual.
Mill’s views, which surely were not his alone, have filtered down to the common culture of the Western world. The advocacy of abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and sexual orientation are all instances of Mill’s individualism. But there are smaller ways in which freedom of indifference is expressed in current culture. Since there is an inherent relativism and subjectivism in this view, it manifests itself aesthetically in the bromide that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No such thing as inherent beauty exists.
Such relativist aesthetics has found its way into academia. Humanists gladly affirm that there is no good or bad literature, painting, or music. All is personal preference. In the moral sphere, no sexual arrangement is wrong if done by mutual consent. Even things once considered natural are now relegated to the category “social construction.”
Gender, once thought to be rooted in the natural makeup of the male and female sexes, has now been reclassified as a social construction, not a natural reality. Benighted psychiatrists once treated gender identity disorders as a therapeutic problem. Now the answer is surgical: “sex change” operations.
On what grounds is it argued that such operations are justified? The freedom of indifference. As long as such procedures leave others unharmed, no one has the right to tell someone what gender he is, regardless of his sex.
It doesn’t take much intelligence or hard thinking to live by freedom of indifference because of the radical individualism that underlies it. The only relevant factor is the choices and preferences of the individual.
In a statement that baffles the intellect, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in with its 1992 majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey by declaring, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Gone was any responsibility of the individual to examine reality, weigh arguments, and decide between competing moral frameworks. All that matters is the preferences of the individual.
Those who believe in the freedom of indifference will naturally see Catholic morality as an imposition tantamount to slavery. For those who believe that the individual is the agent and criterion of all moral judgments, public morality can at best be only a kind of social contract. And that contract ought to be minimal, reserving as much space for individual preferences as possible. In this view, Catholicism’s rich, detailed articulation of moral choices is a groundless imposition of the morality of a few upon a populace.
The Church agrees with the advocates of the freedom of indifference that individuals have to be free to make their own choices. However, utilitarians in the spirit of Mill tend to confuse the agents of moral decision-making with the question of criteria. The decades-old slogan that abortion is a woman’s choice confuses the agent with the criterion. No one doubts that it is a woman’s choice to have or not to have an abortion. That fact, however, says nothing about whether her decision is right or wrong.
Individuals must be free to make moral decisions, but this does not tell us what decisions will foster human freedom. Mill’s idea of freedom may protect an individual from society’s imposition, but it does not protect that person from the slavery of self-abuse. The reason is partly in the failure of utilitarianism to offer any account of virtue or how an individual develops in it over a lifetime. Utilitarianism and most modern forms of morality focus on moral decisions, not on human development in moral rectitude.
The ancients in general, and the Church in particular, saw that true human freedom is found not in moral indifferentism, but in a freedom for excellence. This is an interior freedom, an ability to govern oneself so as not to have to be governed from the outside. It is freedom in the form of self-mastery. The great difference between these two ideas of freedom can be pithily stated in an Augustinian fashion: “I sought happiness in freedom only to find freedom in happiness” (Quaesivi beatitudinem in libertate et non inveni libertatem nisi in beatitudine).
If we seek to be happy or blessed by the pursuit of freedom based on individual determination of right and wrong, then we only have to determine what will give pleasure. Of course, this theory fails to specify what happiness is or how it can be achieved other than self-determined pleasure. It requires little or no moral determination.
By contrast, freedom for excellence seeks to know the true nature of happiness (beatitudo) and to distinguish it from passing pleasure or self-destructive choices. The individual can study and reflect upon human experience to learn from those who have found true happiness. Upon finding it, that person can experience liberation from the need to seek happiness in destructive ways.
The difference between these two ideas of freedom can be seen most vividly with individuals in extremis. Under the influence of the freedom of indifference, it is almost impossible to believe that an individual might find happiness in a Nazi concentration camp or a Soviet prison. However, an individual who lives under the influence of the freedom for excellence can achieve a sense of interior freedom even while being severely restricted in movement and subject to inhumane conditions. Such possibilities are not pious platitudes. They are documented in the twentieth century.
Victor Frankel was a Jewish psychiatrist who was imprisoned in the concentration camp at Auschwitz and later at Dachau in World War II. He was, like his fellow prisoners, subjected to the most inhumane conditions imaginable. After the war, Frankel wrote a memoir that stunned the world. In Man’s Search for Meaning (1959), Frankel details how he found a sense of freedom in love. He noticed a difference between prisoners who possessed a rich interior life and those who did not: “Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution) but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom” (p. 36).
Perhaps Frankel’s greatest discovery was that these “inner riches and spiritual freedom” were linked to love. In a passage where Frankel recounts his thoughts of his wife, he writes,
A thought transfixed me: For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which a man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love (37).
Victor Frankel discovered that his happiness did not lie in freedom from restraint, but that his freedom resided in his inner happiness.
Walter Ciszek, the American Jesuit imprisoned in Siberia under the Russian Soviet regime, had a similar experience. There is no better way to understand his progress toward freedom than in his own words:
Across that threshold I had been afraid to cross, things suddenly seemed so very simple. There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God’s will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it. God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. Nothing could separate me from Him, because He was in all things. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring. The past, with all its failures, was not forgotten; it remained to remind me of the weakness of human nature and the folly of putting any faith in self. But it no longer depressed me. I looked no longer to self to guide me, relied on it no longer in any way, so it could not again fail me. By renouncing all control of my life and future destiny, I was relieved as a consequence of all responsibility. I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul (He Leadeth Me, 79-80).
Ciszek offers a theological dimension missing in Frankel’s account, but both testify to the superior idea of interior freedom where no human cruelty can reach. On Mill’s account of freedom, there simply could be no possibility of happiness because Frankel and Ciszek lacked social freedom. Yet, by their accounts, these two men, one a Jew, the other a Catholic, found freedom in the inner contentment of seeing the beauty resident in their inhuman conditions.
Happiness is not found in liberty—that is, in the freedom to do as pleasure dictates—but liberty is found in happiness. Or, as the ancient Romans and early Christians called it, blessedness (beatitudo).
“We all know about the Protestant Reformation. But did you know that there were Protestants who came before the Protestants?
The proto-Protestants were heretics in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries whose teachings and actions laid the groundwork for Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other sixteenth-century Reformers. They advocated the later bedrock Protestant principle of sola scriptura, or the belief that the only authoritative source of God’s divine revelation is Sacred Scripture. These proto-Protestants also called for the reform of Church abuses and advanced various heretical opinions in an effort to undermine the Church. The two main proto-Protestants were John Wycliffe (1324-1384) and Jan Hus (1369-1415).
John Wycliffe was born in Yorkshire, England and studied at Oxford, where he was recognized as a brilliant student. He became a professor of philosophy and theology at his alma mater. Wycliffe was a pure academic—an intellectual man who did not motivate or lead. He provided the ideas and let others perform the actions.
At Oxford, Wycliffe advocated several heretical teachings in lectures and books. In terms of fundamental Catholic doctrines, he attacked the eucharistic doctrine of transubstantiation. In his book On the Eucharist, he denied the occurrence of transubstantiation and advocated that, instead, the bread and wine remain present after the prayer of consecration. He opined that the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not a real flesh-and-blood presence, but is symbolic. Wycliffe also condemned the veneration of the saints, indulgences, and prayers for the dead.
Heresy is extremely difficult to eradicate, and despite the condemnation of the Church, it can persist and reappear in later centuries. In addition to the above, Wycliffe proved the resiliency of heresy by advocating Donatism, originally a fourth-century heresy that advocated that the validity of a sacrament relies on the worthiness of the minister. According to the Donatists—and to Wycliffe—bishops or priests in a state of mortal sin cannot effect the sacraments.
Wycliffe’s original contributions to heresy mostly involved erroneous teachings concerning the Church. He defined the Church as an “invisible transcendent society” that is neither hierarchically structured nor united to the bishop of Rome, but rather is present in all the people of Christ. Moreover, he attacked the papacy and referred to the pope as “the man of sin” and “Lucifer’s member.” Wycliffe believed that the state holds supremacy over the Church and advocated for the confiscation of Church property. He also taught that the Bible is the only authoritative source of God’s divine revelation (sola scriptura). Finally, he denied the existence of free will, opining that man is completely subject to the will of God. The Church did not ignore Wycliffe’s heretical teachings; the archbishop of Canterbury censured him in 1377.
Wycliffe gained popularity because he attacked ecclesiastical abuses and exploited latent nationalist anger at the papacy in the midst of its sojourn in Avignon. Groups of Wycliffe followers, known as the poor priests and later as Lollards, traveled throughout England preaching his heresy. Two of his followers undertook a new translation of Scripture into English, which the Church condemned—not because it was in the vernacular (multiple English editions of the Bible existed well before Wycliffe; see Where We Got the Bible by Henry Graham, chapter 11, “Vernacular Scriptures Before Wycliff”), but because the translation was rife with error.
Wycliffe’s sovereign, King Richard II of England, married Princess Anne of Bohemia in 1382. As a result of the union, cultural and educational exchanges occurred between the two nations. Bohemian students came to Oxford to study, where they encountered the teachings of John Wycliffe. They brought these heretical teachings to Prague, where the priest, teacher, and popular preacher Jan Hus embraced and expounded upon them. Like Wycliffe, Hus began preaching against corruption in the Church and ecclesial abuses.
There were significant problems in the Church in Bohemia at the time. Clerical immorality was rampant, and there was widespread resentment against the Church, which owned nearly fifty percent of all land in the kingdom. These issues along with the presence of a heavy anti-German nationalist sentiment (the kingdom was part of the German-based Holy Roman Empire) produced a rich environment for reformers and heretics.
Jan Hus studied philosophy and theology at the University of Prague, where he was appointed a professor in 1398. He rose through the university administration and became rector in 1402. He was a popular and commanding preacher. Adopting most of Wycliffe’s teachings, Hus challenged Catholic doctrine on papal authority, advocated sola scriptura, and denied Sacred Tradition as an element of the Deposit of Faith. He also condemned the veneration of the saints and the granting of indulgences. Like Wycliffe, he viewed the hierarchy of the Church as ministers of Satan and denied the universal jurisdiction and primacy of the pope. Hus believed that the Church was built on the personal faith of St. Peter and that Jesus did not institute the Petrine Office.
The University of Prague condemned Wycliffe’s teachings in 1403, but Hus continued to propagate them. The archbishop of Prague excommunicated him in 1410. Violence erupted in the city, and crowds burned copies of papal bulls. Hus was forced to flee the city in 1412 and stayed in the castle of a friend, where he wrote his heretical work Treatise on the Church.
Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther would bemoan the religious indifference wrought by the movement he began:
Who among us could have foreseen how much misery, corruption, scandal, blasphemy, ingratitude, and wickedness would have resulted from it? Only see how the nobles, the burghers, and the peasants are trampling religion underfoot! I have had no greater or severer subject of assault than my preaching, when the thought arose in me: thou art the sole author of this movement.
But as we can see, Luther was not the sole author of Protestantism, nor did the errors and distortions of the Protestant Reformation start with him or his contemporaries. They had the proto-Protestants to pave the way. There really is nothing new under the sun.”
Love & truth,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom