Category Archives: Apologetics

Does God exist?

“Traditionally, Catholic theology makes use of a fair amount of philosophy when thinking about what God is…biblical revelation is not irrational and…it does not do violence to natural human reason…biblical revelation not only respects natural human reason. It also invites us to make use of natural human reason in the service of the revealed (Ed. biblical) truth.

…we might immediately ask a series of good philosophical questions, based on our ordinary experience of reality. Do we see signs, for example, in the ordinary realities around us (including ourselves) that things as we know them really are dependent for their existence upon another? Does the order of the world, as far as we can make it out, tend to suggest at least the possibility of an origin in divine wisdom? Does the physical world seem self-explanatory or could there be good reasons to think that the existence of the material world implies the necessary existence of something transcending matter?…the claim that revelation is compatible with natural reason requires at least that there is some kind of possible rational harmony between what we think about the world philosophically based on ordinary experience of the world and what we find being taught in the revelation of the Catholic faith.

…the traditional Catholic insistence on the “proofs for the existence of God” are not first and foremost about trying to gain universal consensus regarding the philosophical question of the existence of God. They are not even first and foremost about trying to show that it is rational to believe that God exists (though this is true and sometimes the arguments help agnostic people see this). The central aim of them, instead, is to show that there is a way of human thinking about God that can reach up toward God even as (or after!) the revelation of God reaches down to human reason, so that the two cooperate “under grace” or in grace. The point is that grace does not destroy human nature but heals and elevates it to work within faith in a more integral way. Thinking about the one God philosophically is meant, in Catholic theology, to be a form of humble acceptance of biblical revelation…This Catholic approach eschews then two contrary extremes: a fideism that would seek to know God only by means of Christian revelation (with no contribution of natural human reasoning about God), and a rationalism that would seek to know God only or primarily by philosophical argument, to the exclusion of the mystery of the revelation of God.5 Faith and reason are meant to work together in this domain, not stand opposed.

The Illative Sense

…The traditional Catholic arguments for the existence of God are not geometrical proofs derived from self-evident axioms, but are something more elevated and deal with a subject matter that is more elusive. They function primarily as intellectual discernments about the nature of reality as we perceive it all the time. They begin from things around us so as to perceive the necessity of a transcendent origin, God the creator, Who remains hidden and hence not immediately subject to the constraints of our “clear and distinct ideas.” That is to say, thinking about God is realistic and philosophical, but it also seeks to acknowledge the numinous character of our existence and the ways that our limited, finite being points toward something transcendent, necessary, and eternal, which is the cause of our existence. Thinking about God in this sense is difficult for the human mind, not because theology is soft-headed, but simply because the subject matter is so elevated and not intrinsically capturable in the way mathematical or empirical topics are.

There are many ways of approaching the question of God philosophically, and the Catholic tradition has given rise (and continues to give rise) to a multitude of rational arguments, some of which are incompatible with one another (such that intense philosophical dispute occurs continually within the Catholic faith, a sign of its respect for the autonomous development of philosophical reason). There are arguments from the metaphysical structure of reality (the being of the world), arguments from beauty, from the very idea of God as perfect (Anselm’s famous ontological argument), from the order of the world, from the moral drama of human existence, from the desire of man for an infinite good, and others as well. Aquinas is often said to have given five demonstrations of the existence of God, but in fact he gives between fifteen and twenty arguments in various locations in his work.6 Many of these have their roots in previous thinkers, particularly Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, and a host of patristic authors.

It is important to note that more than one argument or philosophical way of thinking about God can be true simultaneously. There are various routes up the mountain, so to speak. This is because the world around us is complex and so the complexity of the world can “bespeak” or indicate God in different ways. It is one thing, for example, to note that the existence of interdependent physical realities requires a transcendent, non-physical cause. It is another thing to note that the human being is marked inwardly by a dramatic struggle between moral good and moral evil. These two truths can be indirect indications of the mystery of God distinctly, but also in a simultaneous and convergent fashion. Various truths we come to about the world converge to suggest a larger overarching truth.

This is the case not only for arguments for the existence of God, but also for our larger perspective on religious and cosmic questions more generally. Atheists, for example, often inhabit intellectual traditions of argument that attempt to explain a variety of truths from within a diverse but convergent set of unified theories: “The Bible is a purely human book.” “There are no good philosophical arguments for the existence of God.” “The problem of evil mitigates against claims to the contrary.” “All that exists is in some way purely material.” “Human origins are explicable by recourse to a materialist account of the theory of evolution.” “Whatever moral or aesthetic truths there are within human existence are best safeguarded by secular political systems.” These are all very different claims but they are held by many people as a set of convergent, interrelated ideas about reality, and the more one holds to a greater number of them, the more the others may seem plausible or reasonable. This is something like what John Henry Newman referred to as the “illative sense” of rational assent to the truth.7 We tend to see things in sets or groups of collected truths. Meanwhile, such complex deliberations touch upon the cords of our heart. We are affected by what we want to be true, or what we want not to be true, by our unconditional desire to find the truth or our fears of inconvenient truths. Otherwise said, the heart is both affected by and affects our thinking about major questions like atheism or the existence of God, because there are implications for other aspects of our life and our overall take on reality in a broad sweep of domains.

This is why thinking about the one God is often, for each of us, deeply interrelated to (even if logically distinguishable from) a whole host of other issues…

…Straightforward philosophical reflection about God, then, has its own integrity as a form of argument, or reasoning, but it is also embedded within a web of existential concerns and reflection on a wide array of issues pertaining to reality. The plausibility of believing one thing, especially a truth about God, is connected to the plausibility of believing a great deal of other things.”

-White, OP, Rev. Thomas Joseph. The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Kindle Locations 1223-1247, 1251-1285, 1288-1291). Catholic University of America Press. Kindle Edition.”

Faith has implications.  Belief is consequential, in SO MANY ways!!!  But, so too, atheism.  Like it, or not.  Eternally??  🙂  Not choosing is a choice.  Jesus compels a choice.  Which do you choose?

Aut Deus, aut malus homo.

Love,
Matthew

5. See here the classic Catholic statement on faith and reason in the document of the First Vatican Council, Dei Filius, April 24, 1870, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, pars. 27–43.
6. On Aquinas’s varied arguments for the existence of God, see John Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought.
7. John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, chap. 9.

The Trinity illuminates everything

“The light of the Trinity illuminates everything…We can think about the Trinity in two basic ways. First, we can start with our concrete, personal, affective relationship to God Whom we encounter and know in the faith as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is an interpersonal knowledge of “I and Thou.” We might call this “intuitive second-person knowledge” of the mystery of God, as when we say to God: “You, Almighty Father, have revealed yourself to me in Christ.” “Oh Holy Spirit of Christ, enlighten and sanctify us!” Second, we can focus on our speculative understanding of God as we consider the mystery theologically. How do we analyze the mystery of Father, Son, and Spirit as the one God?

These two pathways of affective knowledge and intellectual theory are distinct but not separable. In fact, they are deeply interrelated to one another. Consider an analogy to human relationships. It is one thing to come to know another person well in friendship, and another thing to reflect philosophically on the nature of human friendship. The relational, affective knowledge is primary because it is the lived experience of friendship which is irreplaceable, but our own theoretical understanding of friendship not only allows us to analyze what friendship really is, but also can help us live out friendship more perfectly. Heart and intelligence go together. So likewise with the Trinity, supernatural faith alerts us to the real presence of the Father, manifest in the Son made man, and to the gift of the Holy Spirit present in the Church, Who dwells in our hearts by grace. This is a mystical reality that is primary, and is simply given to us to know by grace. We can become more and more aware of it over time through the deepening of our life of faith, interior prayer, and religious worship. However, knowing the Trinity personally, in the darkness of faith, we are also invited into the active consideration of the mystery, the intellectual reflection of theology.

The great works of reflection on the Trinity in the early Church—those of Irenaeus, Gregory of Nazianzus, Augustine, and others—are living meditations that spring from the inner life of faith, and from reflection on scripture and Church doctrine. They are profound intellectual works, but they are also grounded in a deeper mystical life and spiritual aspiration. Gregory and Augustine were trying to find union with God. The idea of study here is not a mere academic exercise. It allows us to grasp better Who it is that we know in the faith and What we worship, to understand how this highest mystery of the faith illumines all other knowledge and understanding of the created world.

For the Christian faith, knowledge cannot be separated from love and is always related to it integrally. As Aquinas says, “formed” faith is faith enlivened by charity, without which our faith (perhaps even very intellectually erudite and nuanced) is dead or lifeless.2 At the same time, we have to insist that theology looks at questions of truth that have an integrity of their own, that are not reducible to the piety and emotional life of believers. Love without a transparent sense of responsibility to the truth usually degrades into sentiment, delusion, or cultural nostalgia. If theology is prayerful and spiritual, it is also probing, analytic, and rigorous in its own right. Theology has to be subject to real challenges and engagements with its external critics as well as with its own deepest internal intellectual struggles and enigmas. Thinking about the Trinity, then, is a spiritual exercise, but it is also a speculative one, and it is above all a search to find the fullness of the truth about God, unabated light free from all error. This search for the unalloyed truth is also itself a very profound element within the spiritual life. After all, Christ Himself claims to be “the truth” Who alone “will make you free.”3 The search for the God of Christianity is a search for the fullness of the truth. Otherwise it has no real purpose.”

-White, OP, Rev. Thomas Joseph. The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Kindle Locations 1113-1133, 1136-1147). Catholic University of America Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

2. Aquinas, ST II-II, q. 4, aa. 3–4.
3. Jn 14:6, 8:32.

Making real love possible

“Prayer and asceticism, then, are part of the Catholic intellectual life. Disciplines of soul and disciplines of the mind go together. One of the most attractive things about the Catholic intellectual vocation is that it calls us to be people of a holistic integrity. Every facet of our life needs to come progressively into the light of Christ, not so that it may perish but so that we may live in a more truly human and divine way. When human beings are integrated morally, intellectually, and spiritually, their intellectual concerns and their moral pattern of life cohere…Their relationships of human love are deeply related to their aspiration to divine love.

…De-Christianization leads to re-paganization…Without the grace of Christ, the “integration(Ed. integrity) of the human person is made more difficult, and even on many levels impossible. (Ed. the word “holiness” is related to the word “wholeness”.  Sin & evil are associated with “disintegration”.  Rm 6:23)

The intellectual life of the human being needs to be coupled with an inner life: worship, prayer, the search for God’s mercy, and the pursuit of Christian virtue…The Church provides us with a storehouse of living wisdom, and it is in being connected to her life, and to fellow Christian thinkers, that we are likely to grow best intellectually.

…Our own conversion to an integrity of life, especially an intellectual life of faith, is one that speaks to our contemporaries, who so often are bereft of orientation and who are on some level seeking a deeper meaning that only Christ can give them. To be a living member of the Church in our own times, then, is a witness to the world around us. For this, the pursuit of theological wisdom is essential. Without genuine knowledge, no real love is possible. We cannot love what we do not know. And so, likewise loving God in the truth depends upon understanding God truly. The study of theology can detract from Christian love if it leads to the loss of faith, or becomes a formal academic exercise devoid of existential conviction. But as Aquinas notes, the study of theology can also be genuinely “meritorious”: it can stem from charity, and can also intensify love, as we draw closer to what we know. 45 In fact, when we begin to love others, we seek to get to know them better, and even “study them in love” in a certain way. This is true not only in our natural experience, but also in the domain of supernatural life. Intellectual engagement with the Christian faith is essential to our personal relationship with Christ.”

-White, OP, Rev. Thomas Joseph. The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Kindle Locations 966-972, 974-977, 981-992). Catholic University of America Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

45. Aquinas, ST II-II, q. 2, a. 10.

Why are Catholic Bibles bigger?

“If the Council of Trent didn’t add the deuterocanon to the Bible, as its deliberations show, why do Protestant bibles exclude these books?

Before 1599, nearly all Protestant bibles included the deuterocanonical books; between the years 1526 to 1631, Protestant bibles with the deuterocanon were the rule and not the exception. It was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that the tide began to turn toward smaller bibles for Protestants.

By 1831, the books of the deuterocanon, along with their cross-references, were almost entirely expunged from Protestant translations. This eradication has been so complete that few Protestants today are aware that such editions of Scripture ever existed. This process of eradicating the deuterocanon began with Martin Luther.

MARTIN LUTHER (1483–1546)

Luther is the father of the Protestant Reformation. He grew up in a Catholic family and became a priest and monk of the Augustinian order. It is during this time that he became embroiled in a controversy over the issue of indulgences, which led to the publication of his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. The publication of the theses is generally seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther was very much a child of his age. He too was caught up in the enthusiasm for studying the ancient languages, exposing him to the exaggerated importance of Jerome. This background led to his German translation of Sacred Scripture, which we will speak about later.

Catholic apologists sometimes claim that Martin Luther removed the deuterocanonical books from Scripture. This is not entirely true. Luther’s German Translation of the scriptures included the deuterocanon. In fact, the completion of Luther’s German Bible was delayed because an illness prevented him from finishing the section containing those books! And since Luther’s Bible (with its “Apocrypha” section that contained the deuterocanon) became a paradigm for subsequent Protestant translations, most of these bibles also included them as well. It is, therefore, incorrect to say that Luther removed the deuterocanon. He did, however, introduce certain innovations into his translation that led eventually to smaller Protestant bibles; innovations that were the culmination of a process of development within Luther’s theology.

LUTHER’S GERMAN TRANSLATION

Luther’s German translation of the Bible introduced more than one radical innovation. With rare exceptions, Christian bibles before Luther had not only included the deuterocanon, but intermixed these books with the rest of the books of the Old Testament.

Even John Wycliffe, considered by Protestants to be a role model of Bible translators, followed this practice. Luther’s Bible broke with this traditional practice. Instead, he reordered the books of the Old Testament chronologically, removing the deuterocanonical books from their former place in the story of salvation and giving them the appearance of being extraneous to the word of God.

Luther’s second novelty was the gathering of the deuterocanonical books into an appendix at the end of the Old Testament and marking them Apocrypha.

The title page of this new appendix is prefaced by this explanatory remark: Apocrypha—that is, books which are not held equal to the holy scriptures and yet are profitable and good to read.

We must not read too much into this title Apocrypha; as we have seen, the meaning of the term had become quite fluid and confused by Luther’s time. Some writers used it to mean “spurious writings of merely human origin”; others had no difficulty using it for books they themselves considered canonical Scripture!

What did Luther mean by it?

Luther certainly did not believe, nor could he believe, that the deuterocanon was equal to the protocanon; but the fact that he saw these books still, in some sense, as part of the Old Testament is evidenced by the colophon he places after his “Apocrypha” in the appendix: “The end of the books of the Old Testament.”

Although segregated and devalued, the deuterocanon still remained part of Luther’s Old Testament corpus.

Luther’s prefaces to the various books of his Bible reflects his “canon in a canon” vision assessing each book differently. Indeed, Luther’s criticisms were not restricted to the Old Testament deuterocanon, but included the New Testament deuterocanon as well.

Luther’s actions speak to the fact that his innovation really was an innovation. Consider these points: if the deuterocanon never was really considered Scripture, why bother to qualify it as not being equal to Scripture? Why not just remove these books altogether? The answer is that such a move would have proved too radical, since Christian bibles had always included the deuterocanon. Instead, Luther reformatted the Bible. The resulting edition was still unlike any Bible ever seen before, and it paved the way for more radical steps to be taken in the future.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Who cares?

“Intellectually serious Catholics need to come to terms with (basic theological questions)…(As Catholics, we need to speak about the faith in a) coherent and serene way, but also as people who are intellectually happy. Theology is never reducible to the utilitarian function of apologetics. Theology is about happiness. Happiness is as much in the intellect as in the heart, and it stems from understanding the truth about ultimate things, and being headed in the right direction, being oriented existentially. We derive our moral stability in large part from having a perspective on the world that is realistic and profound. Happiness for Aristotle is unimpeded activity. The highest, most vivifying thing we can do is contemplate the truth. So understanding God deeply and rightly in light of revelation gives the intellect unimpeded activity and liveliness about what is most ultimate. It also gives us the stability of seeing things in perspective, and a peace that cannot be diminished even in the midst of the trials and travails of life. What grim stoicism and utilitarian efficacy cannot deliver, the work of theology can: the serenity of rest in God Himself.

The idea of leaving our intellect behind to become spiritual is very strange and inhuman. However, it is a view that is very widespread, sometimes in conservative Christian circles, but more often in liberal Protestant and Catholic spheres. The vulgar commonplace form is the saying “I’m spiritual but not religious(SBNR).” The idea is that dogma constricts, and that religious practices blind us to the fact that God is larger than our conceptions and rituals. Spiritual people transcend the limits of dogma, creed, and regulation to live on a higher plane of spiritual awareness or a unity with God and others that is beyond all concepts. In fact, that is a very anti-intellectual viewpoint, marked by a latent despair of finding the truth about God.

But what about the counter-charge? Don’t religious intellectuals simply seek to trap God within the constraint of their manmade systems? It is true that our conceptual knowledge is partial and that the mystery of God is not reducible to our partial knowledge of God’s mystery. But we only aim rightly at God in and through our real knowledge of God, and this does entail language, concepts, thinking, and acting in ways that integrate us into the life of the Church. In other words, to live spiritually for God we need to make right use of dogma and theology. The early twentieth-century Catholic Modernist movement claimed that profound religious experience always transcends dogmas and relativizes them. This idea is based, however, on a superficial notion of mystery. Religious experience does not take place merely in our conceptions of the truth (as if holding to Church dogmas were somehow a sufficiently spiritual act), but it also does not take place by transcending conceptions either (as if giving up dogmas of faith were a super-spiritual act of mental asceticism). The goal, in fact, is to pass through the dogmas to the mystery that they signify, and to find God in and through the true teachings of scripture and tradition. Dogma is the guardian of mystery. It alerts us to its presence, and orients us toward God in constructive ways.”

-White, OP, Rev. Thomas Joseph. The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Kindle Locations 936-958). Catholic University of America Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

Skepticism

Credo ut intelligam is an axiom of St Anselm, Doctor of the Church, (1033-1109 AD). Understanding the Gospel with assent does NOT precede faith, and never will. Whatever progress we make in understanding the Gospel, incrementally, in our lives, incredibly slowly, is preceded by faith. Faith is required.  Pray for it.  Pray for me.

The reason many people find Christianity bizarre is they try and understand it the same way they understand everything else new, ever, in their lives.  They research it, analytically.   Anselm posits, it will NEVER make sense to anyone that way.  Christian faith is a product of supernatural grace and supernatural faith.  Not natural faith, “I believe in the law of gravity.”  Not mortal grace, whatever that is.  But, a gift, a mystery.  Recall the Catholic use of the word “mystery” is inverse to the English use of it.  Catholic mystery is infinitely knowable. “I believe, so that I may understand.” Help my unbelief, Lord.

“…skepticism…stems from the fear of making a mistake, and is based on its own form of spiritual paralysis and even despair…Reasonable openness to God, then, is a source of spiritual youth in any person or culture…Refusal of the mystery of God makes us the unique masters of ourselves, but also imprisons us within the ascetical constraints of our own banal finitude…Posing questions about God opens the human being up to new vulnerabilities, and therefore also to new forms of happiness that the artificial limitations of skepticism cannot foresee.

Augustine noted that deep-seated skepticism is a luxury item that the true intellectual cannot afford. He points out that belief—faith in what others tell us for our instruction—is fundamental for the intellectual life.17…Concretely, human faith in authentic teachers is nearly always the basis for true growth in understanding…Augustine then draws up a key set of distinctions. On one side, there is extreme skepticism, by which a person remains in a conventional posture, and risks nothing but also can gain nothing. On the other side, there is credulousness, a foolish form of faith by which we mistakenly entrust ourselves to a poor teacher, or even to a true teacher, but fail to understand the material for ourselves, remaining infantilized or rudimentary in our insight. Faith that “merely believes what it ought to believe” is “dead.”18

Between the two extremes is the middle way of “faith seeking understanding,” one that is both human and Christian. We should accept instruction but also examine it critically and studiously, seeking to find the truth in what is said, to test it…Likewise there is a discipline of the mind in becoming a Christian, learning the truth as revealed by God, and developing an intellectual understanding of God’s mystery.

…human beings tend to live “above” the merely empirical dimension of life…So too with the transcendent God, we can learn from Him personally only through faith.19

To receive this instruction requires supernatural faith, which is itself a grace. This grace, as Aquinas notes, is received into the intellect, allowing us to judge that a given teaching comes from God and is about God.20…supernatural faith is like natural trust in a teacher, but it provides something more: direct access to the mystery of God Who reveals Himself to us and teaches us. To seek to know God entails risk, undoubtedly, but it also entails an irreplaceable possibility: that we could truly come to know God personally, find friendship with God, and live with Him by grace. If this possibility is real, and not a mere myth or human conjecture, then it is the greatest of possibilities, and one that we should not dismiss through fear, resignation or complicity with the conventions of our age. As Anselm writes:

“Indeed, for a rational nature to be rational is nothing other than for it to be able to discriminate what is just from what is not just, what is true from what is not true, what is good from what is not good. . . . The rational creature was made for this end: viz., to love above all other goods the Supreme Being, inasmuch as it is the Supreme Good. . . . Clearly, then, the rational creature ought to devote his entire ability and his entire will to . . . understanding and loving the Supreme Good—to which he knows that he owes his existence.”21

The real opposition, then, is not between faith and reason, but between a skeptical reason that is reductive, and a magnanimous, studious reason that engages in faith. Expansive desire for the truth breaks away from conventions, and awakens human beings to our true nobility, against temptations to self-diminishment. The Christian vocation of “faith seeking understanding” is both dynamic and restful. It gives us something greater than ourselves to ponder, and takes us out of ourselves toward God as our teacher. But it also allows us to know ourselves as rational beings, able truly to ask and even answer the deeper religious questions. Faith therefore creates a learning community. The Church is a place where human beings have the conviction to patiently seek the truth together, in a shared life of charity, one that is both cosmopolitan and personal, both reasonable and religious, both philosophical and theological. This communion in the truth is made possible, however, only because people have first accepted to be apprenticed to revelation through a common effort of learning the truth from Another (i.e., God), Who is the author of Truth, and from one another.”

-White, OP, Rev. Thomas Joseph (2017-09-13T23:58:59). The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Kindle Location 656, 665-667, 679-673, 676-681, 685, 688, 693-694, 696-697, 702-719). Catholic University of America Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

17. Augustine, On the Profit of Believing, pars. 10–13, 22–27.
18. Thus Anselm, Monologion, par. 78, echoing Augustine; trans. J. Hopkins in A New, Interpretive Translation of St. Anselm’s Monologion and Proslogion (Minneapolis, Minn.: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1986).
19. Augustine, Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen, par. 2.
20. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 1, a. 1; q. 2, a. 1 [hereafter “ST”]. All translations of ST are taken from Summa Theologica, trans. English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1947).
21. Anselm, Monologion, par. 68.

The Saints on Purgatory

“[Judas Maccabeus] took up a collection . . . to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.”
– 2 Maccabees 12:43-44

“When loved ones die, many people experience, in addition to grief and loneliness, a concern over the state of those loved ones, particularly if those departed souls weren’t the saintliest people in their lifetime or if they died sudden, unprovided deaths. What has become of these souls? Those who are left behind wonder.

The Church has always taught the existence of Purgatory, a place or state of existence after death, where, if necessary, we’re cleansed of any remaining effects of our sins and made ready to enter into Heaven. Moreover, as Scripture attests, our prayers and sacrifices can be of immense spiritual help to the persons undergoing this purification process; we can pray for specific persons, such as deceased loved ones, or for the souls in Purgatory in general.

Because God loves us and wants us to be with Him in Heaven, there must be some opportunity for us to finish being healed, or purged of our sins, after death, should this be necessary.

This cleansing process is what we call Purgatory. The saints believed without reservation in this reality. They themselves, because of their immense love of God, were ready to enter Heaven immediately after death, but they were mindful of those who were not as fortunate; after all, this is one of the signs of true love: caring for those in need, whether that need be physical or spiritual.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal, who reigned as queen of that country at the beginning of the fourteenth century, had a much-loved daughter named Constance. The young princess died very suddenly after being married, causing Elizabeth and her husband, King Denis, much grief. Soon after this, a hermit came to the queen with a shocking story: while he was praying, Constance had appeared to him, beseeching him to take a message to her mother. She was suffering terribly in Purgatory and would remain there a very long time unless Mass was offered for her each day for a year.

The king responded, “I believe that it is wise to do that which has been pointed out to you in so extraordinary a manner. After all, to have Masses celebrated for our dear deceased relatives is nothing more than a paternal and Christian duty.” Elizabeth accepted this advice, and arranged for the Masses to be said by a holy priest. One year later her daughter appeared to her, clothed in a brilliant white robe, and said, “Today, dear mother, I am delivered from the pains of Purgatory and am about to enter Heaven.” St. Elizabeth gave thanks to God and expressed her gratitude by distributing alms to the poor.

A number of saints (plus other mystics and visionaries) have allegedly seen Purgatory (and also Heaven and Hell). St. Frances of Rome was granted such a vision; she said that it consists of three levels. The lowest level is like a vast burning sea, where the persons undergo various sufferings related to the sins they committed on earth. The middle level is less rigorous, but still unpleasant. The highest level of Purgatory is populated by those who are closest to being released. These persons suffer mainly the pain of loss: that of yearning for God and of not yet truly possessing Him.

There’s consolation in all three levels, but especially in the highest. The souls in Purgatory know that, sooner or later, they’ll be with God in Heaven and that all their present sufferings are valuable and redemptive. Other saints and visionaries confirm this description, adding that our prayers and sacrifices — because they’re freely given — are immensely helpful to those in Purgatory, for God greatly values each one of our freely offered sacrifices, no matter how small. Some mystics have supposedly learned that when we pray for specific persons who are in Purgatory, they see us at that instant and are strengthened by the knowledge that we’re remembering them.

Many of the saints are said to have had experiences that confirmed the Church’s teaching on Purgatory. For instance, St. Louis Bertrand, a seventeenth-century priest, offered Masses, prayers, and sacrifices for his deceased father until finally he was granted a vision of his entry into Heaven. This happened only after eight years of prayer on his part. In the twelfth century, the famous Irish bishop St. Malachy learned that his sister was destined to suffer a long time in Purgatory, for she had lived a very sinful life before repenting; his prayers eased her sufferings, but did not significantly lessen her time there. In the fifteenth century, the sister of St. Vincent Ferrer appeared to him as she was about to enter Heaven and revealed that had it not been for the many Masses he offered on her behalf, her time in Purgatory would have been much longer.

A story is told about St. Teresa of Avila in this regard. A priest she knew had just died, and God revealed to her that he would remain in Purgatory until a Mass was said for him in the chapel of a new Carmelite house that was to be built. Teresa hurried to the site and had the workmen begin raising the walls of the chapel immediately, but as this would still take too long, she obtained permission from the bishop for a temporary chapel to be erected. Once this was done, Mass was celebrated there, and while receiving communion, Teresa saw a vision of the priest thanking her most graciously before entering God’s kingdom.

Showing concern for the dead and the dying is a great sign of love. Bl. Raymond of Capua, the biographer of St. Catherine of Siena, wrote that she attended her father, Jacomo, during his final hours. Learning in a revelation that this holy man nonetheless would require some purification in Purgatory, Catherine begged God to let her suffer pains of expiation on his behalf so that he might enter Heaven immediately. God agreed; Jacomo, who had been suffering greatly, thereupon experienced a happy and peaceful death, while Catherine was seized with violent pains that remained with her for the rest of her life. Raymond witnessed her suffering, but he also took note of her incredible forbearance and patience, along with her great joy on her father’s behalf.

An incident from the life of the Italian priest Padre Pio indicates that souls in Purgatory may request our prayers. One day in the 1920s, he was praying in the choir loft when he heard a strange sound coming from the side altars of the chapel. Then there was a crash as a candelabra fell from the main altar. Padre Pio saw a figure he assumed to be a young friar. But the figure told him, “I am doing my Purgatory here. I was a student in this friary, so now I have to make amends for the errors I committed while I was here, for my lack of diligence in doing my duty in this church.” The figure said that he had been in Purgatory for sixty years, and after requesting Padre Pio’s prayers, he vanished. Many other souls in purgatory are said to have asked for his assistance, including four deceased friars sitting around the fireplace in a state of great suffering; Padre Pio spent the night in prayer, securing their release.

Other saints are said to have had similar experiences, including St. Odilo, the eleventh-century abbot who began the practice of offering Mass for all the souls in Purgatory on what is now known as All Souls Day, the day after the feast of All Saints.

Our prayers for those who suffer there can be spiritually valuable to them. Because the saints believed in both sin and redemption, mercy and justice, they also acknowledged the existence of Purgatory and did everything possible to relieve those undergoing purification there. As the saints were far more conversant with the ways of Divine Providence than any of us could honestly claim to be, we would do very well to follow their example.”

Love,
Matthew

The Catholic Advantage

I am not a fan of Bill Donohue or his one-sided polemics, even in supposed defense of the Church. I think he is a paid mouthpiece, devoid of intellectual integrity and honesty. However, he has written an interesting book.


-by Fr. Leonard Klein, 6/4/15, formerly a Lutheran pastor for 30 yrs, Fr. Klein entered the Church & began studying for the Catholic priesthood in 2003. He is a priest of the Diocese of Wilmington, DE.

“A few few years ago Michael Novak spoke to the Thomas More Society of my diocese about his 2008 book, No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers. I was there as chaplain to those Catholic attorneys. A few atheists were there as well, assuming a role different than mine. They gave Novak a rather hard time; he handled them well.

I could not help noticing the difference between the athiests and the lawyers. The atheists were odd ducks. the attorneys were quite the opposite: well groomed, successful, joyful, sociable, deeply connected to faith, family, and community, generous with their time and money. The attorneys seemed healthy and happy. I don’t think the atheists noticed the contrast, since no evidence could convince them that they were not already the smartest people in the room.

Reading Bill Donohue’s The Catholic Advantage: Why Health, Happiness, and Heaven Await the Faithful, I ended up thinking again of the Catholic lawyers and the contrast I perceived between them and the avowed atheists in the room. The difference to me was palatable. Donohue explains those differences.

Unhealthy people don’t just lack community; they are poorly equipped for community. Our culture is increasingly unhealthy. Rootless people avoid the Church and our culture is increasingly rootless. Hedonists avoid the Church and our culture is increasingly hedonistic. The absence of bonds and boundaries, of health, happiness and hope of heaven, conspires against belief.

The argument of Donohue’s book is simple and familiar: Christian faith and practice correlate positively with human happiness. The outline is similarly straightforward. The book is divided into three main parts: health, happiness, and heaven—the core positive outcomes of being Catholic. Committed believers are much more apt to flourish, and the hope of heaven broadens the human prospect to infinity.

President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Donohue is well known for his assertive—some might say pugnacious—defense of the Catholic faith and of the Church. He does what he does because he is a committed and believing Catholic, and in his book he presses the case for faith.

A sociologist, Donohue’s training drives his argument. It relies heavily on data from many sources. The evidence will not be new to those of us who pay attention to the role of religion in society, but the book assembles a great deal of useful information. It’s an apologetic goldmine.

Donohue knows that the data will not bring about conversion, but it is encouraging and enormously helpful for those of us called to preach and teach, to say nothing of ordinary Christians who want insight into the life-giving nature of our faith. We need information to buttress and defend the truth, and Donohue provides it. He makes particularly good use of studies revealing the superlative happiness of priests and nuns in their vocations.

He is also theologically and spiritually sophisticated. While there is a lot of useful data, Jesus is not lost in the insights and the numbers. This is a book of faith, not just a book about faith.

But what accounts for the rage of the secularists? As Donohue documents, they are imprisoned by their own culture, custom, and ideology. But why are institutions which would seem to offer the best cure enduring hostility and shrinkage?

We need to look at another facet of our culture. People who are deprived of belief, boundaries, and bonds will be angry at the happiness of others—and uncomprehending. If faith is struggling in contemporary American culture, part of the reason is almost surely that the culture is collapsing on so many fronts.

How it is that faith has become the enemy for so many, when it has the benefits Donohue defines? It is, I would argue, not just that faith is harder in this day. It is that those trapped in the sin-sickness of the era cannot imagine a way out. The culture creates lost sheep. The evidence Donohue cites shows it, but it also shows that it is good to be on the side of the One who seeks them out and to have beliefs, boundaries and bonds to offer. That would be the Catholic advantage.

We have long known the truth of Donohue’s thesis that belief, boundaries, and bonds make for health, happiness, and heaven. We also know that belief cannot be created by will or, in the line he cites from St. John Paul II, imposed rather than proposed. We would not expect that many atheists or secularists will be converted by reading this book. Evangelization happens in other ways.

Of course, Donohue is still Donohue, delightfully combative. But the book is useful and entirely accessible, and I commend it all the more in these days when Christians in general and Catholics in particular are feeling beleaguered by the storm of secularism.”

Love,
Matthew

Mindfulness?

I am taking, somewhat by choice, an eight week course in mindfulness.  I like to be intellectually honest.  Having only attended the first session with at least one all-in-one, heroin, crystal meth, and crack addict, I can reassure, gentle reader, mindfulness poses absolutely no challenge whatsoever to Catholicism.

If it serves as a safe, neutral beginning to encountering that terrifying place known as silence and our conscience, where God reigns supreme, omnipotent, as He does everywhere else, but most noticeably for the individual there, then it is a good. As Ven Matt Talbot says, “I cannot escape the eye of God, the voice of conscience…”. As St Paul says, 1 Cor 3:2, and Heb 11:1.


-by Patti Maguire Armstrong

Should a Catholic Practice Mindfulness?

Eastern meditation techniques are a growing fad to relax and alleviate stress and anxiety. Some of it has even slipped into corners of the Church presented as something that can co-exist with Catholic spirituality. But according to an exorcist and an author on A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness, such meditations are contrary to the Catholic faith and neither healthy nor even harmless.

Father Patrick (not his real name) is a parish priest who has also been a diocesan exorcist for 7 years after he apprenticed for 6 years under an experienced exorcist. According to Fr. Patrick, Eastern meditation is a pathway of diversion away from a relationship with the true God, Father Son, and Holy Spirit. “Most people don’t know that the ultimate goal is to be without the need of God,” he noted.

“Instead of directing people to God, the focus becomes ‘self’ which gets in the way of uniting with God,” Father Patrick said. “As a Catholic matures in his faith, one is expected to progress beyond the more self-centered reasons for prayer that may have motivated him at the beginning of his spiritual life. One must eventually learn how to come to prayer for God’s sake, and not just his own.”

Can Eastern Meditation be Mixed with Catholic Spirituality?

Attempting to join the two disciplines—Eastern with Christian—does not work, Father Patrick explained, because their focus is different. “To focus on self alone, as Eastern meditation does, is not trusting in God,” he said. “Instead of dialoguing with your own feelings and emotions, you should always look at what God is showing you and asking: What does God want me to do?”

Meditation that turns inward rather than towards God ends up in emptiness, according to Father Patrick. “It might give you a little bit of comfort for a short while, but it’s definitely not a pathway to God,” he said. Even if it is neutral, Father Patrick explained that it is actually taking you away from God, because it is not taking you closer. “If there is no dialogue with God, then God is not a part of it and you are not honing a relationship with him,” Father Patrick said. “Honing a relationship with self, that is pretty empty without real answers—

Eastern Meditation – Mindfulness – and Trust in Divine Providence

Sometimes Eastern meditations purport to trust in divine providence. However, the way to truly trust in the divine providence of God is to include Him as part of the equation, Father Patrick said. “When we pray, we gain a sense of what will fulfill us from God,” he said. “God created us, he knows what is best for us. That is standard theology. We should be asking God: What do you have to say; what do you want me to do or to understand?”

Authentic Catholic Spirituality vs Eastern and New Age Practices

In true Catholic spirituality, Father Patrick said that God speaks to us in the depths of our heart, the deepest layer. He explained that the three layers of the heart are first, the outside layer, which is simply living the physical life; the second layer where our psychological and emotional experiences and understanding take place; and the third and deepest layer. “This is where we interact with God and we ask him for the answers to ultimately important questions,” Father Patrick said.

“There is an error when pagan practices and religions are attributed to Jesus,” he said. “For example, when people say that ‘Jesus is another Reiki master,’ they are saying that Jesus practiced Reiki so Jesus is no longer God to them.” For New Age practitioners, Father Patrick said that everyone can be God except for Jesus. “When you say that you don’t need Jesus, that always opens up doors to other spiritual forces militating against God and causes problems,” he said.

A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness

In an interview, Susan Brinkmann author of the new book, A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness, elaborated on the points made by Father Patrick. She explained that Eastern meditation fails to get at the core problem because it does not bring our woundedness to God.

Her book looks specifically at Mindfulness, which is rooted in Buddhism from 500 BC and “is a state of active, open attention on the present by which one observes their thoughts and feelings as if from a distance, without judging them to be good or bad.” Although promoted as a non-spiritual practice used as a means of vanquishing stress and anxiety, for the most part, it is practiced through one of several forms of meditation such as Breathing Space Meditation, Body Scan Meditation, and Expanding Awareness Meditation. Connecting with God is not the goal of any of these types of meditations.

According to Brinkmann, Mindfulness has no place in Christian prayer or spiritual practice, either as a prelude, component, or adjunct. If there is a problem causing stress and anxiety, researchers have found that many people are using mindfulness as a way to escape rather than confront their problems “True Catholic spirituality and meditation is a way to root out the attachments that block our relationship with God and interfere with a healthy spiritual life with him,” Brinkmann said.

Christians that are not adequately instructed in the fundamentals of the spiritual life, according to her, are often drawn into the self-gratifying Eastern or New Age practices and either cease praying altogether or try to incorporate incompatible Eastern techniques into their practice of prayer. Even though we are taught that we can adopt what is good from other religions, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger clearly states in “Some Aspects of Christian Meditation” that this is not permissible if it obscures the purpose of Christian prayer – which is to dialogue with God. Because the aim of Eastern meditation techniques is to achieve a “higher” or “altered” state of consciousness, such as in the Mindfulness practice known as Expanding Awareness Meditation technique described in her book, these practices are not compatible with the goals of Christian prayer.

In addition, when we put aside all thoughts, including those that are distressing, Brinkmann explained that we enter into an altered state of consciousness detached from our problems and even ourselves to experience a temporary bliss. “The Pontifical document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, warns that these states create an atmosphere of psychic weakness and vulnerability,” she said.

We do not need Mindfulness, Brinkmann stated. “We already have our own kind of ‘mindfulness’ known as the Sacrament of the Present Moment, which calls upon us to live in the here and now, in the Presence of God,” she said. “When we live in the Present Moment, we are in the Presence of God who can do something about the causes of stress and has the power to deal with it.”

As a staff writer with Women of Grace, Brinkmann said many people were asking about Mindfulness on their New Age Q & A blog. Once she began seeing reports from scientists discrediting the studies that claim benefits, and raising the alarm on potential harm from mindfulness, she decided to write a book about it. “Catholics should open their eyes to the glory of the Catholic mystical tradition,” Brinkmann said. “When it comes to controlling the mind, and directing our focus, Jesus Christ is the only sure guide.”

Love, always, but especially in the here and now,
Matthew

2 different OTs?

“One evening I had the sad duty of attending my neighbor’s funeral.

My neighbors were not religious, but apparently a local “mega-church” offered to conduct the eulogy for them. The assistant pastor from the church stood up and after a few short remarks about the deceased began to give a lengthy sermon. The first ten minutes was dedicated to how he knew that my neighbor believed in Jesus and was in heaven, so there was no need to pray for her or offer Masses or anything like that.

The next thirty minutes or so (it’s difficult to tell since it seemed like eternity) was dedicated to explaining why it doesn’t matter which church one attends—Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran—they are all the same! None of them are more correct than any other. “We all believe in the same fundamental biblical truths about Jesus,” he said, “such as the need to put our faith in Jesus…” and so on.

Speaking at a funeral must not be an easy thing to do, so I walked up to the assistant pastor to thank him. After dispensing with niceties and explaining that I am a Catholic, I said to him: “Pastor, I just want to share with you a biblical verse that has always given me comfort in times like these, the book of Wisdom, chapter 3 says, ‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.’”

The pastor gave me an odd look. “Book of Wisdom?” he said. “That’s not in the Bible!” To which I responded, “Well, I guess there are important differences between us.”

The assistant pastor seemed to be oblivious to the fact that Catholic and Orthodox bibles contain seven books in their Old Testament that Protestant bibles omit.

Catholics call these books the deuterocanon. Protestants, however, had rejected these books as inspired texts and call the Apocrypha.

Despite the assistant pastor’s best efforts to be non-denominational and dispel the importance of religious dogmas, he and his church actually held a very dogmatic view on which books belonged to the Bible. Going by the generic name of “Christian” didn’t release him from dogmatically committing himself to a particular doctrine on which books the Bible comprises. This position is undeniably important. Which collection or canon one adopts, whether Catholic or Protestant, will determine whether the first ten minutes of his sermon was “biblical” or a flight of fancy.

The question of which books belong to the Bible (especially the Old Testament, since Catholics and Protestant share the same New Testament books) is more fundamental of a question than anything in anyone’s theology, because theology is to be based upon divine revelation. What makes up God’s revelation, therefore, has a direct impact on one’s theology.

This is especially true for Protestants who believe in sola scriptura, which says that the Bible is the only source of Christian doctrine. It is, for nearly all Protestants, the norm that sets all norms and the standard that sets all standards: the highest court of appeal for judging all doctrine. But as we have painfully learned over the last few decades, those who are allowed to sit on the Supreme Court will affect how the court rules. This assistant pastor’s “Supreme Court” (i.e., the Bible) informed him that we should not pray for the dead, but Catholic and Orthodox bibles affirm that we should.

Each position is “biblical” given its respective Bible, but which Bible has the correct books? Which books are inspired by the Holy Spirit and which ones are mere human apocrypha? This question needs to be settled first.

How did Protestants and Catholics end up with two different Old Testaments?

Protestants claim that the Catholic Church added the seven books of the “Apocrypha” to the canon of Scripture in order to refute Protestantism. This is generally said to have occurred at the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent (April 8, 1546).

Catholics make the opposite claim; they claim that these same books were always considered inspired Scripture, but they were rejected by Protestantism because their teaching contradicts certain areas of Protestant theology.

Which is correct? Did the Catholic Church add books to the Old Testament or did Protestantism remove these books from the canon of Scripture?”

Love,
Matthew