Category Archives: Theology

Sacred Heart vs the Heresy of Jansenism


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“Why do Catholics today celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus? After all, we don’t have feast days dedicated to any other organs of Jesus’ body. There’s no “Solemnity of the Arm of Jesus,” for instance, to honor His baptisms and Healings. So why a feast day for His Heart?

Biblically, the heart is “our hidden center.” Scripture refers to the heart more than a thousand times, often, as the Catechism (CCC) notes, in the context of prayer (2562-63). The greatest commandment of the Law is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5; Mark 12:30). In speaking of the Sacred Heart, then, we’re referring to the person of Jesus, to his humanity, and to his love for the Father and for us, what the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) calls his “infinite divine-human love for the Father and for his brothers.” In a special way, the image of the Sacred Heart captures the moment in which that love was poured out for us on the cross, when a soldier pierced the side of Christ, and blood and water flowed out (John 19:34).

As the CDW notes, we find devotion to the Sacred Heart throughout the Middle Ages, but it goes from being a personal devotion to a liturgical feast in no small part in response to the heresy of Jansenism. In the words of Pope Pius XI, “the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was instituted at a time when men were oppressed by the sad and gloomy severity of Jansenism, which had made their hearts grow cold, and shut them out from the love of God and the hope of salvation.”

So what was the Jansenist heresy, and how was the Sacred Heart an answer to it?

Although the heresy of Jansenism is sometimes unfairly oversimplified, there were three particular features of the heresy that (inadvertently) produced disastrous effects. The first was a double predestination: that God destined some for heaven and others for hell, irrespective of merits. As Leszek Kołakowski traces in his book God Owes Us Nothing, Jansenist theology argued that God gives some people the graces necessary for salvation and withholds them from others (pp. 31-35). The result of this idea would be that some people are going to hell, and there’s literally nothing they can do about it. They aren’t saved—not because they refuse God’s overtures, but simply because God doesn’t want to save them.

The second feature regarded imperfect contrition, sometimes known as attrition. In simple terms: If I turn away from my sin out of fear of hell (rather than out of love of God), is that good enough to be forgiven? The Catechism (1453) now clarifies: by itself, “imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins”; however, imperfect contrition is sufficient to receive absolution through the sacrament of Penance, since imperfect contrition can be perfected through the sacramental graces flowing from the confessional. But the Jansenists taught the opposite: that even for a valid sacramental confession, a penitent needed perfect contrition. Worse, Jansenist priests “routinely withheld absolution, in the belief that few penitents demonstrated sufficient precision and adequate contrition.”

Third, because so few people could count on perfect contrition, Jansenists warned against receiving Communion frequently, in a misguided attempt to avoid the scandal of unworthy reception.

What was the combined effect of these three teachings? That ordinary Catholics doubted God’s love for them; doubted whether they were (or could be) forgiven, even after going to confession; and stayed away from the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion out of fear, thereby depriving themselves of sacramental graces. The resulting vision of God was thereby distorted. As Pius XI would later recount, “God was not to be loved as a father but rather to be feared as an implacable judge.”

This is an important insight, because it gets to the heart of the matter. It’s not just that Jansenism got the details of predestination or contrition or sacramental reception wrong. It’s that Jansenism got God wrong, in a fundamental way that many of us still get him wrong today.

Perhaps it is only fitting, then, that it was God himself who set things straight. While multiple seventeenth- and eighteenth-century popes vainly tried to quash Jansenism, Jesus intervened in an unexpected way: through a series of apparitions to a French nun named Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690). In the last and most famous of these apparitions, Jesus showed her His Heart and said:

“Behold the heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for me in this sacrament of love.”

Theologically, this is the corrective Jansenism needed. Jesus did not deny any of what Jansenism was getting right: that sin offends God, that so many of us seem indifferent to God, that we can slip into ingratitude toward God with startling ease. But rather than express this in terms of divine wrath, Jesus presents it as a tragedy of unrequited love. That is, sinners act this way not because God denies them the graces to do otherwise, but because they fail to appreciate the depth and breadth of God’s love for them. Jesus saw the same problem that the Jansenists saw, but he answered it with open arms and an open heart.

A great difficulty in believing in God’s love and mercy is simply accepting that God is so radically other. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the idea that the uncreated and unchanging God of the universe has a personal love for us. And so Jesus reminds us that He has a human heart, and with it, the full range of human emotions. Yet He is fully divine as well as fully human. Thus, our devotion is not just to the heart, but to the Sacred Heart. Jesus has at once the full experience of human emotions and the perfect vision of divine foreknowledge.

Pius XI illustrates the implications of this divine-human union in a beautiful reflection on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the one hand, he points out that it was chiefly “because of our sins also which were as yet in the future, but were foreseen” that the soul of Christ became “very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). In other words, what weighed upon Christ was not principally the looming shadow of the Cross, but the weight of our sins.

But there is a happy corollary to this idea: that when we read that “there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him,” this should also be taken as Christ foreseeing our acts of reparation to the Sacred Heart, that “His Heart, oppressed with weariness and anguish, might find consolation.” And so, the pope concludes, “even now, in a wondrous yet true manner, we can and ought to console that most Sacred Heart which is continually wounded by the sins of thankless men.”

This is a wonderful and mind-bending insight. The promise of the Sacred Heart is that our actions today are wrapped up (through God’s perfect foreknowledge) with Christ’s experience in Gethsemane, that we are either adding one more burden to Him through our sins, or giving Him one more consolation through our acts of love and reparation. And so (in yet another encyclical on the Sacred Heart!) Pius XI encouraged that “the Feast of the Sacred Heart be for the whole Church one of holy rivalry of reparation and supplication,” in which we hasten in large numbers “to the foot of the altar to adore the Redeemer of the world, under the veils of the sacrament,” pouring our hearts out to His. What better way can we celebrate the triumph of Jesus’ love over the cold justice of Jansenism and our false conceptions of God?”

Within Thy Sacred Heart, dear Lord,
My anxious thoughts shall rest.
I neither ask for life, nor death;
Thou knowest what is best.

Say only Thou hast pardoned me,
Say only I am Thine,
In all things else dispose of me:
Thy Holy Will is mine.

And may Thy Sacred Heart, dear Lord,
E’er be my counsel sure,
Led in Thy Heart’s obedience
To make my own heart pure.

And when Thou shalt come claim my soul
Then may we never part,
For there shall be my only joy:
Within Thy Sacred Heart.


-please click on the image for greater clarity

Love, O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!! (for generations, a traditional part of McCormick grace at evening meals),
Matthew

Jesus only moral teacher?


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Matt Nelson

“A major part of [Jordan} Peterson’s program has been introducing Jesus as the archetypal perfect man. In his provocative work At the Origins of Modern Atheism, the late Jesuit theologian Michael J. Buckley notes the abiding prestige of Jesus Christ as a moral authority during—and despite—the Enlightenment. Even secular thinkers turned to Jesus for guidance on how best to live. This comes as a surprise, since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were marked by an unprecedented rise in secularism in Europe.

“No one denied the moral genius of Jesus,” writes Buckley. “The Enlightenment agreed that Jesus was a Jewish ethical preacher still illuminating a world in which tradition and Church had distorted his beliefs and maxims.” There was one outlying group of “interpreters” of the New Testament who had gotten it right, however: the philosophers. The philosophers rejected his divinity, but many identified Christ nonetheless (in Thomas Paine’s words) as “a virtuous and amiable man.” Many, like Paine, compared him to Confucius in the East and the ancient Greeks in the West. To these, Jesus was a pre-eminent ethicist. But the Son of God he was not.

The secular great moral teacher narrative is alive and well today, too, thanks to figures like University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson. Peterson has captured the minds of many Christians. His project, taken in totality, is not perfectly harmonious with the Catholic worldview. (For a nuanced Catholic analysis of Peterson, see the work of Christopher Kaczor and Matthew Petrusek.) But in teaching the Bible from a strictly psychological point of view, Peterson has succeeded in making the Bible credible again to many a skeptic—at least as an ancient mythological text brimming with wisdom.

A major part of Peterson’s program (deeply inspired by twentieth-century psychiatrist Carl Jung) has been introducing the New Testament Christ as the archetypal perfect man. Many recent converts to Christianity have credited Peterson as the major factor, and thus his objective analysis of the sacred texts has made him, unintentionally, an important pre-Christian thinker for our times.

Non-believing historian Tom Holland has offered a similar pre-Christian service to the culture. Holland, in his book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, defends Christian values with vigor and conviction while defending the contention that Jesus’ crucifixion was the pivotal event by which West came to realize that even the “lowest of the low”—even a convicted criminal, humiliated and crucified by the highest authorities—possesses nonetheless the utmost dignity. In his more recent collection, Revolutionary: Who Was Jesus? Why Does He Still Matter?, Holland zeroes in with interest (now as editor) on the founder of Christianity, compiling a variety of essays from atheist, agnostic, and religious authors.

But can Christ be no more than an archetype, or a great moral teacher—or even just the perfect man?

In the final analysis, no—Jesus was infinitely more than these. He was God—goodness itself, apart from which there is no gold standard by which to measure the great moral sage from the self-imposing dictator.

C.S. Lewis had some things to say about this, famously. Jesus, in plain and clear words and language, claimed to be God. He must be Lord, liar, or lunatic. And we do not usually call con artists or lunatics great moral sages, nor do we call them archetypes of the perfect man.

Thus, as Lewis claimed back in the mid-twentieth century:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”

Some have challenged that a fourth L should be added to Lewis’s trilemma. Could it all amount to a fanciful legend? This seems hardly a viable option. For as the pre-eminent New Testament historian N.T. Wright has written, “We have got almost as much good evidence for Jesus as for anyone in the ancient world.” Scholars like Wright, Brant Pitre, Craig Blomberg, Richard Burridge, and Richard Bauckham have shown that the Gospels are biographical and intended—with impressive reliability—to convey real facts of history according to eyewitness accounts.

That Peterson and other secular figures are advocating for Christ as a noble character is a good thing. It offers our post-Christian culture a pre-Christian service. But it is not enough. We need to be absolutely clear about this. They do not teach the gospel. For they deny (or at least do not affirm) Christ’s divinity. So, as Christians, we should be always ready to extract the good from the bad. Just as we do with ancient pre-Christian thought like that of Plato and Aristotle, we should labor to make the necessary distinctions and corrections in modern pre-Christian thought, and we should be abundantly clear with ourselves—and others—about both.

Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, often referenced as the C.S. Lewis of our times, gets right to the heart of it all. He writes:

“The only honest reason why anyone should ever believe Christianity, or anything else [is]: because it is true. It may also be helpful, comforting, challenging, relevant, responsible, creative, or dozens of other things; but none of those is the first reason why an honest person believes Christianity.”

Reframing this passage about belief in Christ demands no less: that we believe first because his claims about being co-equal with God are true. Jesus Christ is the everlasting God, and any spiritual system built upon a lesser Christ is barren. There are only two logical options: either take him at his word or dismiss him as a fraud. A lukewarm or falsely irenic Christology might as well be an atheistic Christology, and . . . well, in that case, it might as well just be a Christless atheism. For Christ—and there is no way around it—declared with unapologetic clarity and conviction that he was above even the Law (Matt. 5:17-48). He was clear about how he saw himself. These are not the claims of a great moral teacher. So it seems that the only real choices are God or nothing.

Love, Lord,
Matthew

Pansexuality



-by Trent Horn

“Pansexuality is the logical conclusion of a sexual philosophy that says we merely have bodies, not that we are bodies.

Most people have heard of terms like gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Pansexual is less familiar. However, it’s growing in popularity as a sexual identity label. I was asked to include the topic in a presentation I gave to a “sex and gender studies class” at a Catholic university, and one school district that prohibited parents from removing their students from sexual education classes included material on LGBT issues as well as topics like genderqueer and pansexuality.

So what is pansexuality? Teen Vogue magazine describes it this way: “Pansexuality means being attracted to all people regardless of gender identity or sex. The prefix pan is the Greek word for all. Pansexuality is a noun, and pansexual can be used as a noun or an adjective to describe a person who is pansexual.” In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, pop star Miley Cyrus described her pansexuality this way: “What I preach is: People fall in love with people, not gender, not looks, not whatever.”

Even though the Greek root pan means “all,” pansexuals are not sexually attracted to every single person they meet. Rather, a pansexual person is someone who claims to be capable of being sexually attracted to anyone, regardless of that person’s biological or gender identity.

This kind of attraction is similar to the B in the LGBT acronym, which stands for “bisexuality” and traditionally refers to being attracted to both men and women. So what’s the difference between being bisexual and pansexual?

For some people, not much. One article in Rolling Stone Magazine puts it this way:

The bisexual community doesn’t even agree on what it means to be bisexual. The term pansexual was birthed out of the confusion, and to create a definitive and more inclusive label. This has led to in-fighting between members of the community, who are upset that their bisexual identity is being replaced by another label.

One split among people who take on the “LGBT” identity over this word relates to the concept of the gender or sexual binary. Some see pansexual as preferable to bisexual because it leaves open the possibility that there are other genders besides “man” and “woman” for a person to be attracted to.

As much as we might direct our ridicule toward the label of and ideology behind pansexuality, we should remember to direct our compassion toward those who experience so many conflicting sexual desires. We all struggle with sinful desires that distort our understanding of reality and ourselves. The Church calls this concupiscence, and it refers to our natural inclination to evil thoughts and deeds that flows from the corruption to human nature caused by original sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church 405). But pansexuality looks like one of the last stops on a cultural journey toward complete sexual anarchy (with final stops at bizarre places like robot factories), and it needs to be treated as such.

So what specifically is wrong with pansexuality?

When Miley Cyrus says, “People fall in love with people, not gender, not looks, not whatever,” she confuses persons with personalities. Human beings are not “asexual souls” or ghosts who have no intrinsic connection to our bodies. In our romantic relationships, we don’t fall in love with minds or spirits; we fall in love with people, and a person is a unity of body and soul.

We are incomplete without our bodies, which is why St. Paul noted how unnatural it is to be separated from our bodies at death and how joyful it will be when our souls are reunited with our resurrected bodies at the end of the world (2 Cor. 5:1-5). Since our body is essential to our human identity, it is not possible for a “female soul” to be trapped in a male body, or vice versa (as transgender advocates claim). It also isn’t possible to have a healthy sexual attraction only to a person’s mind, since sexual desires are ordered toward bodily union.

Pansexuality is the logical conclusion of a sexual philosophy that says we merely have bodies, not that we are bodies. If people think the body is just some vehicle my “person” drives around from inside my brain, then it shouldn’t matter where I end up “parking.” And while exclusive same-sex attraction at least tries to ape the marital act (even though it can never achieve a true union), pansexuality thumbs its nose at the entire concept of the marital act. Instead, the only good in a relationship is the compatibility between personalities—and if they enjoy acts of mutual masturbation, then all the better for them.

That’s why, along with severing the natural link between sexual attraction and the human body, pansexuality threatens to undermine other goods like platonic friendship. Human beings find comfort in friendships that do not have a natural inclination to sexual desire. It’s why we usually seek friendships with people of the same sex and recognize that if you repeatedly have to say you and another person are “just friends,” then there’s probably a good chance you share a stronger bond than friendship.

But if people adopt pansexual ideology on a wide scale and come to believe that sexual desire naturally proceeds from any healthy psychological or social relationship between persons, then this will make all intimate friendships suspect and destroy a unique good that exists among human beings.

What this means for all of us, regardless of our innate sexual desires, is that God will not abandon us to them. The Catechism’s advice for those with same-sex attractions also applies to those who struggle with disordered desires and temptations that spring even from natural attractions: “[they] are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (2359).”

Love, unity of body & soul, as God creates/intends. His will is perfect. His will be done, His kingdom come!!!
Matthew

Limbo


-by François-Joseph Navez, The Massacre of the Innocents (1824), please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Mathew A.C. Newsome

“Prior to April 2007, many Catholics had probably never heard of the International Theological Commission (ITC), a group of thirty theologians from around the world chosen by the Pope as a kind of advisory committee. But the most recent document by the ITC, published with papal approval on April 19, 2007, got a lot of attention—as well it should. Its subject is a tender one: “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized.” To Catholic parents who have lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or some other tragedy prior to baptism, such hope is a healing balm for a wounded heart.

Interest in this recent document is understandable, and most people have learned of it through the news media. While many articles written since the document’s publication summarize its contents accurately, many do not. A Google news search reveals headlines such as, “Pope Changes Church Teaching on Limbo,” and “The Church Abandons Limbo.” Such headlines can easily give the impression that 1) Limbo was a defined doctrine of the Church, and 2) the Pope has the authority to change—even to reverse—defined doctrine. A May 4 Washington Post article by Alan Cooperman included the statement “limbo is a ‘problematic’ concept that Catholics are free to reject.”

Beyond the headlines you encounter even larger problems. An April 21 Associated Press article by Nicole Winfield quotes Fr. Richard McBrien (professor of theology at Notre Dame and noted dissenter) as saying, “If there’s no limbo and we’re not going to revert to St. Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we’re left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace . . . Baptism does not exist to wipe away the ‘stain’ of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church.” On the other end of the spectrum, Kenneth Wolfe, columnist for The Remnant, was quoted in Cooperman’s article as saying, “The Vatican is suggesting that salvation is possible without baptism. That is heresy.”

These characterizations notwithstanding, the ITC makes no rulings (and does not have the authority to do so). “The Hope of Salvation” in fact reiterates and builds upon the Catholic tradition. It neither categorically rejects Limbo nor denies the necessity of baptism. Rather, it offers reasons to hope that God may provide a way of salvation to those little ones whose lives ended before baptism was possible.

Augustine: No Middle Ground

Debate regarding the fate of infants who die before baptism dates back to the late fourth century, and the famous conflict between Pelagius and St. Augustine. Pelagius asserted that man is capable of living a perfect moral life by virtue of his natural reason and will alone and is not wounded by original sin.

In opposition to Pelagius, St. Augustine successfully defended the reality of original sin using Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. The Apostolic practice of infant baptism was evidence of the Church’s belief that even these youngest ones stood in need of a Savior. Without original sin, baptism could only affect the forgiveness of our personal sins. Infant baptism makes no sense without original sin. In his teaching against the Pelagian heresy, Augustine affirmed the necessity of this ancient practice. If an infant died unbaptized, he died in a state of sin, and was therefore destined to eternal damnation. He denied the existence, “between damnation and the kingdom of heaven [of] some middle place of rest and happiness . . . For this is what the heresy of Pelagius promised them” (On the Soul and its Origin 1.9).

Augustine’s position is not quite as harsh as it seems. In Contra Julianum 5.11, he writes, “Who can doubt that non-baptized infants, having only original sin and no burden of personal sins, will suffer the lightest condemnation of all? I cannot define the amount and kind of their punishment, but I dare not say it were better for them never to have existed than to exist there” (qtd. in John Randolph Willis, The Teachings of the Church Fathers, 245).

Aquinas: Privation, not Punishment

Later theologians developed Augustine’s thoughts, defining damnation as essentially the deprivation of the Beatific Vision, which does not necessarily involve any positive punishment. Distinctions were made between the pain of sense, describing the torments suffered by condemned sinners, and the pain of loss, which is sorrow over being absent from God’s presence.

By the thirteenth century, the dominant view was that unbaptized infants would suffer only the pain of loss. In 1201 Pope Innocent III expressed this opinion in a letter to the archbishop of Arles. Actual sin, the Holy Father asserted, is punished by the eternal torment of hell; original sin, however, is punished by the loss of the vision of God.

This line of thinking was explored thoroughly by St. Thomas Aquinas. The Angelic Doctor consigned infants who died without baptism to the outermost borders of hell, which he called the “limbo of children.” They died without the grace of God, and would spend eternity without it, but they were not worthy of punishment. St. Thomas insisted that these little ones would know no pain or remorse. He explained this opinion in various ways. In his commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, he stated that no one regrets the lack of something which he is totally unequipped to have (II Sent. , d.33, q.2, a.2). Ten years later (in De Malo, q.5, a.3) he suggested that infants would not be distraught over their loss because they simply would have no knowledge of what they were missing.

Eventually limbo ceased to be spoken of as a “border region” of hell. Hell came to be understood as a place of punishment. Limbo was not. And since it has never been a defined dogma of the Church, various theologians have understood limbo in different ways. Most views, however, would include these common characteristics: Unbaptized infants die in a state of sin and enter neither heaven nor hell but limbo, which is a state of damnation not involving pain of sense or grief of exile; indeed, a measure of natural happiness is possible, with some suggesting that the denizens of limbo enjoy a perfect state of natural happiness.

Trust in the Mercy of God

Although limbo has long been the prevailing theory, some theologians have imagined ways in which God may provide for the salvation of unbaptized infants. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, called the fate of these souls “something much greater than the human mind can g.asp” and found solace in the fact that “the One who has done everything well, with wisdom, is able to bring good out of evil” (qtd. in HS 12).

Cardinal Cajetan, in the sixteenth century, remarked in his commentary on the Summa Theologica (III:68:11), “that children still within the womb of their mother are able to be saved . . . through the sacrament of baptism that is received, not in reality, but in the desire of the parents.” In our own times, Cardinal Ratzinger echoed Cajetan in a 1985 interview with Vittorio Messori. “One should not hesitate to give up the idea of ‘limbo’ if need be,” the future pontiff advised. “[A]nd it is worth noting that the very theologians who proposed ‘limbo’ also said that parents could spare the child limbo by desiring its baptism and through prayer” (The Ratzinger Report 147-8).

None of these positions has been officially proclaimed by the Magisterium. Catholics are free to have varying opinions on this matter. Our present Catechism makes no mention of limbo at all, but has this to say regarding infants who die without baptism:

“The Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allows us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. (CCC 1261)”

The Ordo Exsequiarum (Order of Christian Funerals) contains a special rite for children who die before baptism, during which the child’s soul is entrusted “to the abundant mercy of God, that our beloved child may find a home in his kingdom.” Option D of the opening prayer begins, “God of all consolation, searcher of mind and heart, the faith of these parents . . . is known to you. Comfort them with the knowledge that the child for whom they grieve is entrusted now to your loving care.” In the Prayer of Commendation B, the priest says, “We pray that you give [the child] happiness for ever.”

Lex orandi, lex credendi: As we pray, so we believe.

ITC: Reasons for Prayerful Hope

The default position of the Church then, as expressed in her liturgy, is that of hope. “Hope of Salvation” begins with a reference to 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you . . .” This, in essence, is the purpose of the ITC document.

It is worth noting at this point that “Hope of Salvation” is not a Magisterial document. It does not require the assent of the faithful, as would a proclamation from a pope or an ecumenical council. It simply expresses the opinion of a respected group of theologians. The fact that Benedict XVI has given it his approval and has decided to publish it publicly gives some weight to the conclusions drawn by the commission. But those conclusions are not dogmatic.

In an interview published by Inside the Vatican.com on April 27, Sr. Sara Butler, one of the authors of the document, said,

“The commission is trying to say what the Catechism . . . has already said: that we have a right to hope that God will find a way to offer the grace of Christ to infants who have no opportunity for making a personal choice with regard to their salvation. It’s trying to provide a theological rationale for what has already been proposed in several magisterial documents since the Council.”

The first part of “Hope of Salvation” gives a history of Catholic teaching on this subject, and examines the key principles involved, namely: God’s will to save all people; the universal sinfulness of human beings; and the necessity of faith for salvation, along with baptism and the Eucharist (HS 9). After thoroughly examining the issues, the ITC suggests three means by which unbaptized infants who die may be united to Christ (this is not intended to be exhaustive):

  1. “Broadly, we may discern in those infants who themselves suffer and die a saving conformity to Christ in his own death and a companionship with him” (HS 85).
  2. “Some of the infants who suffer and die do so as victims of violence. In their case we may readily refer to the example of the Holy Innocents and discern an analogy in the case of these infants to the baptism of blood which brings salvation . . . Moreover, they are in solidarity with the Christ, who said: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matt. 25:40)” (HS 86).
  3. “It is also possible that God simply acts to give the gift of salvation to unbaptized infants by analogy with the gift of salvation given sacramentally to baptized infants” (HS 87). “God’s power is not restricted to the sacraments” (HS 82).

These are simply some possible ways, proposed by the ITC, in which we may imagine God offering salvation to these little children. There are others. The commission mentions the possibility of baptism of desire (in votum), with the votum offered either by the infant’s parents or the Church. “The Church has never ruled out such a solution,” we are reminded (HS 94).

No Certainties

But while offering these possibilities to us, the commission is careful not to overstep the bounds of Revelation. “It must be clearly acknowledged that the Church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die . . . [T]he destiny of the generality of infants who die without baptism has not been revealed to us, and the Church teaches and judges only with regard to what has been revealed” (HS 79).

There are some things that have most assuredly been revealed, and these articles of faith must be considered. Original sin is one of them. When contemplating the fate of unbaptized infants who die, one “cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin. Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state” (HS 3).

“Hope of Salvation” in many places affirms the reality of original sin and the necessity of baptism. “Sacramental baptism is necessary because it is the ordinary means through which a person shares the beneficial affects of Jesus’ death and resurrection” (HS 10). The key phrase is “ordinary means.” In cases of urgency or necessity, God often provides extraordinary means to accomplish his will. Though water baptism is the ordinary means by which God transmits sanctifying grace, the Church teaches that there are other ways. The realities of baptism of blood and baptism of desire are affirmed by the Catechism (CCC 1258). Citing Gaudium et Spes, the Catechism also explains that “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved” (CCC 1260). It is in this same context that the Catechism offers us the “hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism” (CCC 1261).

None of this, however, can be understood to imply that baptism is not necessary, for the Catechism states, “The Church does not know of any means other than baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude . . . God has bound salvation to the sacrament of baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacrament” (CCC 1257).

The necessity of baptism is echoed by the ITC. “What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament” (HS 103). Sr. Butler, in the above-cited interview, puts it bluntly. “If somebody like Fr. Richard McBrien supposes that the ITC document rejects the doctrine of original sin, this is of course a mistake.” Elsewhere in the interview, she comments, “[W]e dare to hope that these infants will be saved by some extra-sacramental gift of Christ . . . We are very clear that the ordinary means of salvation is baptism, and that infants should be baptized; Catholic parents have a serious obligation.”

The conclusions of the ITC are nothing new. The Catechism tells us that it is reasonable to hope that God provides a way of salvation for infants who die without being baptized. It is a hope rooted in Christ, who instructed that we must be like children to enter the kingdom of God and said, “Let the children come to me” (Mark 10:14-15). “Hope of Salvation” simply provides possible theological reasons for this hope. The ITC readily admits that “these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge” (HS 102).

What we do know for certain is this: God has a plan. God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. God is love. We can rest assured that whatever plan God has established for infants who die without baptism, it is more just, more merciful, and more loving than whatever we may imagine, not less.

Hope for Our Simon

It was a Tuesday afternoon in May. I was home from work, watching our three small children while my wife, fifteen weeks pregnant, went for a scheduled doctor’s appointment, then to do some grocery shopping without the kids in tow. I assumed she would be gone for a while, so I was surprised to see her pull into the driveway earlier than expected. As I walked down the driveway to help her bring in the groceries, her gaze met mine. I knew from one look that something was wrong. Really wrong.

She started to cry, so I put my arms around her. That’s when she told me. “They can’t find a heartbeat.” The next several hours were a blur. Lots of tears. Phone calls to our parents. Talking to our kids. More tears. The trip to the hospital. One more ultrasound, just to be sure. The inducement of labor. Lots of prayers. And the final delivery of our small son, whom we named Simon. His umbilical cord had been wrapped multiple times around his neck, depriving his brain of oxygen. “It just sometimes happens,” the nursing staff told us.

We are blessed to have as our pastor a very orthodox and very compassionate priest. He came to the hospital and prayed with us. The doctor who delivered our other children, also a devout Catholic, prayed with us, as well. Of course the subject of baptism came up. There was simply nothing we could do. But I desperately wanted baptism for my son. What bothered me the most about his untimely death was that I never had the opportunity to bring him into the faith, to provide for his salvation.

I knew my catechism. I knew that the Church simply didn’t know what the fate of children like Simon would be. Perhaps because of this, I quickly grew tired of the assurances offered as attempts at consolation. “He’s in heaven now,” we were told by well meaning friends. Sentiments like that rang empty. How can you be so sure of that, I thought, when the Church herself has no such assurances? I cringed whenever I was told that “God needed another angel.” God needs nothing outside of himself. And wherever he is in eternity, my son is a human being, not an angel.

Simon’s funeral Mass was held on that Friday. It was a small service, attended by family and a few friends. Our priest gave a very comforting homily, and he ended by sharing with us that he had been praying his Liturgy of the Hours immediately before the funeral. The antiphon for the midmorning reading that day happened to be adapted from Luke 24:34: “The Lord is risen, alleluia. He has appeared to Simon, alleluia.”

Of course those words were not written in reference to our Simon. Nevertheless, my heart leapt in my chest when I heard them. For our priest expressed the prayer that Christ would somehow make himself present to our little son, in a way known only to him. This is the position of the International Theological Commission: that it is reasonable to “hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church” (HS 103).

Our pastor offered no empty assurances. No, he gave us something much greater than that. He gave us hope.

An Excerpt from “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized

“The idea of limbo, which the Church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation even though it has long been used in traditional theological teaching. Moreover, the notion that infants who die without baptism are deprived of the beatific vision, which has for so long been regarded as the common doctrine of the Church, gives rise to numerous pastoral problems, so much so that many pastors of souls have asked for a deeper reflection on the ways of salvation.

The necessary reconsideration of the theological issues cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin. Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state . . .

However, with regard to the salvation of those who die without baptism, the word of God says little or nothing. It is therefore necessary to interpret the reticence of Scripture on this issue in the light of texts concerning the universal plan of salvation and the ways of salvation. In short, the problem both for theology and for pastoral care is how to safeguard and reconcile two sets of biblical affirmations: those concerning God’s universal salvific will (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4) and those regarding the necessity of baptism as the way of being freed from sin and conformed to Christ (cf. Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:18-19).

. . . [W]hile knowing that the normal way to achieve salvation in Christ is by Baptism in re, the Church hopes that there may be other ways to achieve the same end. Because, by his Incarnation, the Son of God “in a certain way united himself” with every human being, and because Christ died for all and all are in fact “called to one and the same destiny, which is divine,” the Church believes that “the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.”

Love, & the glorious mystery of God’s love for each of us,
Matthew

Once saved, always saved?


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“Romans 5:1 is a favorite verse for those who hold to the doctrine commonly known as “once saved, always saved”: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This text is believed to indicate that the justification of the believer in Christ at the point of faith is a one-time completed action. For the once saved–always saved believer, all sins are forgiven immediately—past, present, and future. The believer then has, or at least, can have, absolute assurance of his justification regardless of what may happen in the future. Nothing can separate the true believer from Christ—not even the gravest of sins. Similarly, with regard to salvation, Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.”

For the Protestant, these texts seem plain. Ephesians 2 says the salvation of the believer is past—perfect tense, passive voice in Greek, to be more precise—which means a past completed action with present, ongoing results. In other words, it’s over. And if we examine again Romans 5:1, the verb justify is in a simple past tense (Greek Aorist tense). And this use is in a context where St. Paul had just told these Romans: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Rom. 4:3).

Righteousness is a synonym for justice or justification. How does it get any plainer than that? Abraham was justified once and for all when he believed. Not only is this proof of sola fide, says the Calvinist, but it is proof that justification is a completed transaction at the point the believer comes to Christ. The paradigm of the life of Abraham is believed to hold indisputable proof of the Reformed position.

Continue in the Grace of God

The Catholic Church actually agrees with this interpretation, at least on a couple of points. First, as baptized Catholics, we can agree that we have been justified and we have been saved. Thus, in one sense, our justification and salvation is in the past as a completed action. The initial grace of justification and salvation we receive in baptism is a done deal. And Catholics do not believe we were partially justified or partially saved at baptism. Catholics believe, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism… now saves you…” Ananias said to Saul of Tarsus, “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). That means the new Christian has been “washed… sanctified… [and] justified” as 1 Corinthians 6:11 remarks. That much is a done deal; thus, it is entirely proper to say we “have been justified” and we “have been saved.” However, this is not the end of the story. Scripture reveals that through this justification and salvation the new Christian experiences in baptism, he enters into a process of justification and salvation requiring his free cooperation with God’s grace. If we read the very next verses of our above-cited texts, we find the writer telling us there is more to the story.

Romans 5:1-2 states, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

This text indicates that after having received the grace of justification, we now have access to God’s grace by which we stand in Christ, and we can then rejoice in the hope of sharing God’s glory. That word hope indicates that what we are hoping for we do not yet possess.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Without a doubt, we must continue to work in Christ as Christians; it is also true that it is only by the grace of God we can continue to do so. But even more importantly, Scripture tells us this grace can be resisted. Second Corinthians 6:1 tells us that “Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.”

St. Paul urged believers in Antioch—and all of us by implication—”to continue in the grace of God.” Indeed, Paul warns Christians that they can “fall from grace” in Galatians 5:4. This leads us to our next and most crucial point.

Future and Contingent

The major part of the puzzle that our Protestant friends are missing is that there are many biblical texts revealing justification to have a future and contingent sense as well as those that show a past sense. In other words, justification and salvation also have a sense in which they are not complete in the lives of believers. Perhaps this is most plainly seen in Galatians 5:1-5:

“For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.”

The Greek word used in verse 5 and here translated as righteousness is dikaiosunes/δικαιοσύνη, which can be translated either as “righteousness” or as “justification.” In fact, Romans 4:3, which we quoted above, uses a verb form of this same word for justification. Now the fact that St. Paul tells us we “wait for the hope of [justification]” is very significant. As we said before, what is hoped for not yet possessed. It is still in the future. Romans 8:24 tells us “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” The context of Galatians is clear: Paul warns Galatian Christians that if they attempt to be justified—even though they are already justified in one sense, through baptism, according to Galatians 3:27—by the works of the law, they will fall from the grace of Christ. Why? Because they would be attempting to be justified apart from Christ and the gospel of Christ. That they could not do! For “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8, cf. Gal. 5:19-21). “The flesh” is a reference to the human person apart from grace.

This example of justification being obtained in the future is not an isolated case. Numerous biblical texts indicate both justification and salvation to be future and contingent realities:

  • Romans 2:13-16: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified … on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.”
  • Romans 6:16: “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness? (Greek dikaiosunen/δικαιοσύνη, “justification”)”
  • Matthew 10:22: “And you will be hated of all men for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
  • Romans 13:11: “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”
  • 1 Corinthians 5:5: “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Are Future Sins Forgiven?

The Calvinist interpretation of Romans 5:1 not only takes the verse out of context, but it leads to still other unbiblical teaching. As we mentioned above, at least from a Calvinist perspective, this understanding of Romans 5:1 leads to the untenable position that all future sins are forgiven at the point of saving faith. Where is that in the Bible? It’s not. First John 1:8-9 could not make any clearer the fact that our future sins will only be forgiven when we confess them: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I should note here that many Calvinists—and many of those who may not be full-fledged Calvinists, but hold to the “once saved always saved” part of classic Calvinist doctrine—respond to this text by claiming that the forgiveness of sins John is talking about has nothing to do with one’s justification before God. This text only considers whether or not one is in fellowship with God. And this “fellowship with God” is interpreted to mean only whether or not one will receive God’s blessings in this life.

This position presents a problem. The context of the passage does not allow for this interpretation. In fact, if you look at verses 5-7, John says:

“God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him, while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).”

This text makes clear that the “fellowship” spoken of is essential for us to 1) walk in the light as God is in the light, and 2) have our sins forgiven. If we are not in “fellowship,” according to verse 6, then we are in darkness. And if we are in darkness, we are not in God, “who is light and in him is no darkness” (5). Nothing in this text even hints at the possibility that you can be out of “fellowship” with God, but still go to heaven. That is, of course, unless you have that fellowship restored by the confession of your sins. This is precisely what verses 8 and 9 are all about.

The Example of Abraham

We can agree with our Calvinist friends that Romans 4:3 demonstrates Abraham to have been justified through the gift of faith he received from God. The Catholic Church acknowledges what the text clearly says: “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” referencing Genesis 15:6.

There is more to this text, however than many of our Protestant friends know. While the Catholic Church agrees that Abraham was justified by faith in Genesis 15:6 as Paul said, we also note that Abraham was justified at other times in his life as well, indicating justification to have another aspect to it. Again, there is a sense in which justification is a past action in the life of believers, but there is another sense in which justification is revealed to be a process as well.

Abraham was depicted as having saving faith in God long before Genesis 15:6. Abraham had already responded to God’s call in Genesis 12 with what is revealed to be saving faith, years before his encounter with the Lord in Genesis 15. In addition, Abraham is revealed to have been justified again in Genesis 22, years after Genesis 15, when he offered his son Isaac in sacrifice in obedience to the Lord.

  • Genesis 12:14: Now the Lord said to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you…” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him. Compare Hebrews 11:6,8: And without faith, it is impossible to please God… By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called… and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
  • Genesis 15:4,6: “This man [a slave] shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” And [Abram] believed the Lord: and he reckoned it to him as righteousness. Compare Romans 4:3: For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
  • Genesis 22:15-17: And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself, I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven… because you have obeyed my voice.” Compare James 2:21-22,24: Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?… faith was completed by works… You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

The Bible tells us Abraham had faith way back in Genesis 12. And according to Hebrews 11:6-8, this was not a natural faith analogous to the faith the demons have (see James 2:19), but rather a supernatural and saving faith given as a gift from God. If Abraham was not justified until Genesis 15:6, how could he already have saving faith in Genesis 12? In addition, if Abraham was justified once and for all in Genesis 15:6, why did he need to be justified again in Genesis 22 according to James 2:21? The reason is simple: According to these texts, justification is revealed in Scripture to be a process rather than a mere one-time event.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Jesus is NOT your best buddy!!!2


-by Eric Sammons

“”Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

If you have ever moved in Evangelical Protestant circles, you’ve probably been asked this question. A fundamental presupposition of Evangelical theology is that each person is called to a “personal relationship” with Jesus, and it is this relationship that brings us salvation.

Driving this “personal relationship” theology is usually evangelization. Most Christians seem to believe that making Jesus more directly accessible makes him more likely to be followed. If we can present Jesus as relatable, the thinking goes, it’s more likely someone will have a relationship with Him.

In recent decades, “personal relationship” theology has crept subtly into Catholic circles. It can be found especially in Catholic youth ministries as well as apostolates directed toward college students. In Catholic circles, this “personal relationship” theology is augmented with the understanding that a relationship with Jesus comes primarily through the reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and penance.

What’s often not made explicit—and perhaps often not even realized by those who promote it—is that “personal relationship” theology portrays Jesus primarily as a friend. After all, one doesn’t usually have a personal relationship with a king or a ruler, or even with a teacher. We most commonly have personal relationships with equals.

But this image of Jesus as a friend is not based in Scripture nor does it follow time-tested methods of evangelization. In the Bible, Jesus is called “friend” once: in Matthew 11:19, Christ notes that people say he’s a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

In John 15:14, Christ tells the apostles, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” and says they are no longer servants but “friends.” And in Luke 12:4, he refers to the disciples as “my friends.” However, other than these few references, nowhere else is Jesus presented as a friend.

Note that the Gospels do not shy away from giving Jesus titles and names. In Matthew’s Gospel alone he is referred to as “carpenter’s son,” “King of the Jews,” “Lord of the Sabbath,” “Physician,” “Son of David,” and “Son of God,” among a host of other designations. Most of His titles are prophetic or kingly, and “friend” is notably absent.

St. Paul does not present Jesus as a “friend” either. Then how does Paul portray Jesus? The answer provides a model for our own evangelization efforts today.

Let’s look at three Pauline passages: Colossians 1:12-20, Philippians 2:6-11, and Ephesians 1:3-10. All three are canticles and are the only three Pauline canticles included in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours (during evening prayer).

Colossians 1:12-20 (Wednesday, Evening Prayer)

Let us give thanks to the Father,
Who has qualified us to share
in the inheritance of the saints in light.
He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness
and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the first-born of all creation;
for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities
—all things were created through Him.
All things were created for Him.
He is before all else, and in Him everything has its being.
He is the head of the body, the church;
He is the beginning,
the first-born from the dead,
that in everything He might be pre-eminent.
For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
making peace by the blood of His cross.

In this canticle, Christ is given several titles, including “firstborn of all creation,” “the beginning,” and “head of the body, the Church.” Each of these titles presents an exalted view of Christ as someone who is above creation and, in fact, in charge of creation. But it’s the title in verse 15 that is key: Christ is “the image [icon] of the invisible God.” In other words, when we see Christ, we see the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God himself. In theological terms, this is “high Christology,” meaning it views Christ above humanity and above all creation. Paul follows this up in verse 19 when he writes, “In him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” The Greek word for “fullness” [pleroma/πλήρωμα] signifies a completeness or perfection. In Christ we have the one, true God made flesh.

Philippians 2:6-11 (Sunday, Evening Prayer I)

Though He was in the form of God,
Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form
He humbled himself and became obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted Him
and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

In this famous and beloved canticle, we begin with Christ “in the form of God,” that is, equal to God, as we saw in the passage from Colossians. But then there is movement: Christ is equal to God but he gives up that equality (“he emptied himself”), becoming man and even suffering the disgraceful death of the cross. Through this death, however, Christ is exalted and declared “Lord.” At His name “every knee should bow” both in heaven and on Earth. Again, we have a “high Christology.” Paul doesn’t see Christ as an equal, or someone who is simply a friend. He sees—and preaches—a Christ who is above all things. We don’t simply have a “personal relationship” with Him—we bend our knees to worship Him.

Ephesians 1:3-10 (Monday, Evening Prayer)

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,
that we should be holy
and blameless before Him.
He destined us in love
to be His sons through Jesus Christ,
according to the purpose of His will,
to the praise of His glorious grace
which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In Him we have redemption through His blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of His grace
which He lavished upon us.
For He has made known to us
in all wisdom and insight
the mystery of His will,
according to His purpose
which He set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in Him,
things in heaven and things on earth.

In this final Pauline canticle for examination, we see Paul’s vision of the work Christ has accomplished in the world. He has brought redemption and the forgiveness of our trespasses (v. 7). But most importantly, in Christ, all things in heaven and earth are united to him in the fullness of time (v. 10). Christ is presented as a cosmic figure who brings about the reconciliation of the fallen universe. Everything became disordered through the actions of Adam and Eve, but now everything is reordered to Christ as head.

The type of language Paul uses for Christ is, unfortunately, foreign to our ears. We’ve grown up thinking of Christ in the words of the Doobie Brothers song, “Jesus is just alright with me.” We live in a casual age that, at least on the surface, prizes egalitarianism. We don’t have kings or rulers; we’re all to be considered equals. So we’ve lowered Jesus to our level to make him more palatable and acceptable to those around us. Paul saw Christ as the Image of the almighty God who became man, died for us, and in doing so restored and saved the whole universe. We, on the other hand, picture Jesus—and present him—as a good buddy we can count on in times of trouble.

Has this new presentation of Jesus been effective as a means of evangelization? It seems that it has not, as our era has seen a precipitous drop in the number of practicing Catholics. A Jesus equal to us is simply not worthy to be worshipped or followed.

People today are looking for more than a good buddy. They want someone to look up to and to follow. As a culture, we’ve insisted on cutting down our heroes and leaders, but this has left a void in our hearts, because we were made to serve a king. If we begin to preach Christ as King and Lord of the universe, many may decide to follow Him. Not simply as their friend, but as their God.”

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Love,
Matthew

Jn 20:20, 25


-“The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”, Caravaggio, 1601–1602, oil on canvas, 107 cm × 146 cm (42 in × 57 in), Sanssouci, Potsdam, Germany, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Fr. Joseph Gill

“It may just be a guy thing, but young boys love to tell stories of their scars. It’s always humorous when I’m at the middle school and I just ask, “Hey, where’d you get that scar on your forehead?” and then the kid launches into an excited description of that time he was having a rock fight with his friend, and then he proceeds to show me three other scars and tell me their stories too.

Scars have stories. Even Shakespeare recognized this when he writes in his play Henry V about the warriors that fought with King Henry at the Battle of Crispin’s Day. He writes: “He that lives through this day and comes home safe, will stand when Crispin’s Day is named and will strip his sleeve and show his scars and say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s Day!’” For these men who fought with the king, their wounds would be their badge of honor, a testament to their courage. And Shakespeare goes on to say that any man who, out of cowardice, stayed home on Crispin’s Day would “hold their manhoods cheap” when in the presence of those brave warriors who bear the scars of the battle.

Jesus, then, to show His courage, His victory, shows His disciples His scars. Have you ever thought how odd that is? I mean, if you’re going to resurrect into a perfect Body, why not get rid of those scars in the hands and feet? Why not look perfect?

Very simple – the scars are a visible reminder of what He endured for them. When they see the scars, they see the price of repentance – but also the Victory of Christ.

As an ancient homily from the second century says, “We had left a garden; Christ returned to a garden to be betrayed and a garden to be buried. See on His face the spittle He received in order to restore to us the life He once breathed into us. See there the marks of the blows He received in order to refashion our warped nature in His image. On His back see the marks of the scourging He endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon our back. See His hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for we once wickedly stretched out our hands to a tree” in the Garden of Eden.

And consider the words of St. Theodore the Studite: “The Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in His hands, feet, and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature.”

His wounds undo our wounds. His scars wipe away our scars. All of us have wounds and scars – we can’t get through life unscathed. Sometimes those scars are caused by other people: maybe we’ve been abused, treated poorly, bullied, hated, rejected. Maybe people we love have died. Maybe we’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, illness, fear. Maybe the scars came because we made bad choices: the guilt of our sin, the addictions we’ve developed, the broken relationships that we just can’t heal. All of us have wounds; all of us have scars. It would be impossible for any human being not to suffer or be wounded.

But wounds can either be healed or kill us. Wounds that are brought to Christ, the Divine Doctor, can be healed. Wounds that we hide, that we don’t treat, will fester and cause misery and unhappiness – and eventually the spiritual death of hatred.

We bring our wounds to Christ through prayer and Confession. Pray about it – “Lord, what are You teaching me through my suffering? How can You use it to make me more like You? What are You calling me to let go of? How can I trust You more?” This is bringing our wounds to Christ. Then, if the wound involves our own sin, we can bring it to the Lord in Confession. Sin is the biggest wound because it wounds our relationship with God – thus, Jesus’ first gift here in today’s Gospel is that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” comes through our faith in Him.

Life is tough, and sometimes we suffer. We suffer because of other people’s choices, we suffer because of our own bad choices and our sins, and sometimes we just suffer because we’re human. But when we get wounded, we can bring those wounds to Christ. He can forgive our sins. He can heal our wounds and make them, like His, signs of victory and triumph.”

Love,
Matthew

Modesty is more than a hemline

-by Christina M. Sorrentino

“Modesty is more than just a hemline, it is an interior disposition that influences not only our dress, but our thoughts an actions.”
-Leah Darrow

As a Catholic millennial woman I would like to offer a take on modesty, not to cast judgment on other women or to spark a religious debate, but to speak to my sisters in Christ about our feminine beauty; that which enhances our human dignity as designed by our Creator.

Modesty is that which in our way of dress, speech, and actions does not bring negative attention to ourselves, and this has been the practice of modesty throughout the world. There are different standards of modesty, which depends on the culture that we find ourselves in within a society, and the culture has also changed over time along with the standards of modesty. But we are called as daughters of the King to dress and behave in such a way that His glory shines through us, so that we can be a witness of Christ in the world. We do not want to bring lustful attention to ourselves, which does not give us the respect that we deserve as a human person.

However, we should not look down upon other women who may not demonstrate modesty according to our definition of modesty. Behind every woman there is a story, and we cannot judge the modesty within her heart.  We all know the old saying, “Do not judge a book by it’s cover.” This kind of judgment is not an act of love, but one of spiritual pride. Modesty in dress means nothing if we have an immodest heart; that which looks down upon our fellow sisters in Christ.

“For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
-1 Corinthians 6:20

It is often difficult to find an outfit that displays our feminine beauty and brings reverence to the Lord. A shopping experience to find modest clothing can become filled with frustration and can take hours still leaving us empty-handed. I have found online shopping to be more successful, and have discovered fashionable clothing that is not too expensive, and is more of a simple style of dress; not elaborate and gaudy calling for all eyes to be on me. I choose to dress in a way that does not turn myself into an “idol,” that which can shift away focus from the things of Heaven. Our eyes should always gaze towards the Son. Let us  dress in such a way that makes the statement, “I am a beloved daughter of God.””

True beauty accompanies temperance. According to St. Thomas, a person’s beauty consists in their actions “being well proportioned in respect of the spiritual clarity of reason” (ST II-II q. 145, a. 2). Spiritual beauty, also known as honestas or honorableness, is a specifically human way of being beautiful. It gives a person’s conduct claritas or radiance, which manifests to others the meaning of being human.

Spiritual beauty is most attributed to temperance because temperance triumphs over the ugliest of the vices, intemperance (ST II-II q. 145, a. 4). An intemperate person rejects the rule of right reason to immerse themselves in pleasures of food, drink, and sex, the pleasures he shares with brute animals. The intemperate person thus refuses to excel in a specifically human way. Forsaking the light of reason, they dissipates away their integrity as a rational animal and allows their thoughts and actions to be marred by dissonance and gloomy dissatisfaction.

By moderating the pleasures they share with the lower animals, the temperate human reorients themselves toward a distinctly human excellence. They regains their inward integration and harmony, and they serenely radiates these qualities through their actions, their words, and their countenance. Their beauty is “more spiritual, more austere, more virile” (Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, 203) than merely sensual appeal. They seem to shine with “the glow of the true and the good” (Pieper, 203), alerting others to the dignity and delightfulness of being human. Their claritas makes them resemble the divine Son, Who, as the eternal Word, “is the light and splendor of the intellect” (ST I q. 39, a. 8) radiant with temperance’s “more abundant comeliness” (ST II-II q. 145, a. 4, ad 3).

Amen, sister.  Amen.
Your brother in Christ,
Matthew

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” -Col 3:12, 14

Hope to Die: Christian corpses (conquered the Roman Empire)

(n.b. Catholics are NOT to seek martyrdom!! Marcionite heretics did this. Catholics are to embrace martyrdom if inescapable or requires apostasy to avoid.)

“Christianity was first preached in a world where the Greco-Roman understanding of death and the afterlife shaped much of the Western world. Across the Roman Empire, most people professed their faith in the various pagan gods, including Pluto (or Hades), who they believed ruled the Underworld. At the Underworld’s entrance, the ferryman Charon moved spirits across the River Styx from the land of the living to the land of the dead. Once they made it to the other side, all the dead faced judgment, with the good going to Elysium, the bad being thrown into the pit of Tartarus, and the mediocre rest (the majority of humanity) aimlessly drifting about in the City of Pluto (or what the Greeks called the Asphodel Meadows). Some Romans also believed those who’d been judged worthy could choose to be reincarnated.

This vision of the afterlife offered some consolation to those who actually believed it, but not enough. Most Romans, like most of humanity, still feared what awaited them in the dark room of death. And that fear manifested itself in how they treated their dead.

The pagan Romans thought that if dead bodies weren’t treated a certain way and certain conditions weren’t met, the person’s soul would be denied admittance to the Underworld. Rather than receiving its eternal reward, the soul would instead endure an almost purgatory-like existence, waiting perpetually on the wrong side of the River Styx. The Romans also believed that if they failed to provide their departed loved ones with a proper burial, those waiting ghosts would return to haunt them.

For the rich, preventing this two-headed fate was a simple matter. They paid for elaborate funerals and lengthy funeral processions, which included professional mourners and friends wearing masks designed to look like the ancestors of the deceased. They also made sure to place a coin on or in the dead person’s mouth so that the soul could pay Charon to ferry them across the River Styx.

After the funeral procession concluded, a eulogy was often given. Next, the body was placed on a pyre and burned. The remaining ashes and bones were then placed in an urn, which was interred in some kind of sepulcher—usually highly decorated, with monuments to the deceased and even lifelike pictures of them. Those sepulchers were located outside the city gates, as the Romans liked to keep their dead far from them, at a “safe” distance. They did visit the sepulcher on various days throughout the year, though, believing that by making periodic offerings to their dearly departed, what remained of the person—their “shade”—would temporarily remember who they once were and earn a brief reprieve from aimlessly wandering about the Underworld.

For the poor, funerals were less impressive, with the funerary societies they frequently joined (for a small fee) providing shorter processions (just a musician or two), no eulogy, and interment of the ashes in a humbler resting site—often catacombs carved into clay and rock outside the city.

The poorest of the poor didn’t even have that. Those with no family or friends to fear a haunting and no money to join a funerary society were simply thrown into large pits or dumped into sewers.

In the late third and fourth centuries, many of these practices among the pagan Romans began to change, with inhumation (burial) gradually replacing cremation. Although some Romans had buried their dead in previous centuries, inhumation was considered a foreign (more specifically, Jewish) practice. The growing presence of Christians in their midst, however, along with other social shifts, changed that.

For the Christians, like the Romans, how they treated the dead was bound up with what they believed about life after death. But unlike their pagan counterparts, the Christians didn’t fear death. They welcomed it. Writing in the early fourth century, St. Athanasius remarked: “Everyone is by nature afraid of death and of bodily dissolution; the marvel of marvels, is that he who is enfolded in the faith of the cross despises this natural fear and for the sake of the cross is no longer cowardly in the face of it.”1

When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He didn’t switch a bright overhead light on in heaven, completely destroying the darkness that shrouded what awaits us after death. He gave us more of a night-light, making some things clear while leaving other things a mystery. But to Athanasius and other early Christians, that didn’t matter. The nightlight was sufficient because Jesus was there. Much like the presence of a mother or father can completely chase away a child’s fears of the dark, Jesus’s presence chased away the early Christians’ fear of death. They knew He would be there to greet them, and that was enough. Athanasius explains:

‘Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed and become incorruptible through the resurrection … Even children hasten to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength.2

To those Christian men, women, and children who “hasten[ed] to die,” death wasn’t the ultimate evil or the great unknown. It was the doorway to spending eternity with their beloved: Jesus Christ. We see this conviction in the firsthand accounts of martyrs, such as Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, who faced death in Carthage’s arena in AD 203.

Both women were young wives and mothers: Felicity was pregnant at the time of their arrest, and Perpetua was still nursing her infant son. As the day of their death approached, the women didn’t want to run from it. Rather, Felicity prayed she would deliver her child soon so that she could face martyrdom with her fellow prisoners (even the Romans thought it beyond the pale to kill a pregnant women), and Perpetua gave thanks when her son finally weaned.

Felicity’s prayers were answered, and on the day of the scheduled execution, she accompanied Perpetua and their fellow Christians into the arena, “joyous and of brilliant countenances.” Perpetua sang psalms as she walked, and when the crowds demanded that the Christians be scourged before they faced the beasts, the women “rejoiced that they should have incurred any one of their Lord’s passions.” Finally, the women, like Jesus, freely gave their lives; they were not taken from them. We’re told: “when the swordsman’s hand wandered still (for he was a novice), [Perpetua] set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain … had she not herself so willed it.”3

In the centuries that followed, holy men and women faced death with the same eagerness that Perpetua, Felicity, and other earlier martyrs, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, did. They wanted nothing more than to be in heaven with Christ. As Ignatius, on his way to martyrdom in AD 108, explained:

‘No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He Who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He Who rose for our sakes is my one desire.4

One thousand years later, that same desire to be with Christ led St. Bernard of Clairvaux to describe the death of a just man not as “terrifying,” but as “consoling”:

‘His death is good, because it ends his miseries; it is better still, because he begins a new life; it is excellent, because it places him in sweet security. From this bed of mourning, whereon he leaves a precious load of virtues, he goes to take possession of the true land of the living, Jesus acknowledges him as His brother and as His friend, for he has died to the world before closing his eyes from its dazzling light. Such is the death of the saints, a death very precious in the sight of God.5

From the thirteenth century—when St. Rose of Viterbo advised, “Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening but sweet and precious”—to the nineteenth century, when St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote: “It is not Death that will come to fetch me, it is the good God”—saint after saint encouraged Christians to welcome death. And many listened.

In Phillipe Ariès’s landmark survey of depictions of death in the literature of Western Civilization, he classifies pre-modern deaths as “tame deaths,” noting how the protagonists almost universally faced death with calm, peace, and ease. It was death, he explains, that brought people back to their senses, focused their attention, and was welcomed, almost as an old friend.6

Christians weren’t going to imitate the pagans and, as Tertullian put it, “burn up their dead with harshest inhumanity.”8 As Tertullian explained elsewhere, those who followed Christ were to “avert a cruel custom with regard to the body since, being human, it does not deserve what is inflicted upon criminals.”9 And so, from the very first, Christians buried their dead as Christ had been buried, and they did so with no fear of being made “unclean” or “polluted” by contact with the dead body. For the Christians, the dead body wasn’t “unclean” (as the Jews saw it), nor did those who handled it fear being haunted by some remnant of the person’s soul (as the pagans did). Writing in the fourth and fifth centuries, St. Augustine discussed the reverence Christians believed was due to the dead body, noting: The bodies of the dead, and especially of the just and faithful are not to be despised or cast aside. The soul has used them as organs and vessels of all good work in a holy manner. … Bodies are not ornament or for aid, as something that is applied externally, but pertain to the very nature of the man.10

Importantly, Christians understood the injunction to care for and bury the dead as universal; it applied to all bodies—the bodies of the poor, the stranger, the diseased, even the pagan. Accounts about early Christian communities are filled with stories of them seeking out the forgotten poor and burying them with the same care they showed to family members. Tertullian also tells us that in his native Carthage and other cities, the Church’s common resources were used to pay for the burying of the dead. There was no throwing the bodies of the poor into a pit or the sewers among the Christians.

Their pagan neighbors took note of that. In his essay “To Bury or Burn?,” the Protestant ethicist David W. Jones tells us:

‘The last of the non-Christian emperors, Julian the Apostate (AD 332–363), identified “care of the dead” as one of the factors that contributed to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world. The church historian Philip Schaff, too, identified Christians’ display of “decency to the human body” in showing care for the dead as one of the main reasons for the church’s rapid conquest of the ancient world.11

In time, burying the dead would become known as one of the seven corporal works of mercy, considered as much an act of charity as feeding the hungry or tending to the sick. Religious associations, such as the Archconfraternity of the Beheaded John the Baptist in Florence and the Archconfraternity of St. Mary of the Oration and Death in Rome, also were formed to offer Christian funerals and burials to those who would otherwise have none.

No bodies, though, not rich nor poor, received as much attention as those of the martyrs.”

Love & Resurrection,
Matthew

1 Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 58.
2 Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 57.
3 Tertullian, The Passion of the Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicity, 6. 
4 Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, 6.
Bernard of Clairvaux, quoted in Charles Kenny, Half Hours with the Saints and Servants of God (London: Burns and Oats, 1882), 450.
See Phillipe Ariès, Western Attitudes Toward Death, trans. Patricia Ranum (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), 1–25.
8 Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 1.
9 Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 51.
10 Augustine, On the Care of the Dead, 5.
11 Jones, “To Bury or Burn?,” 337.

Hope to Die: Powers That Come Forth

“In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we’re told that “sacraments are ‘powers that come forth’ from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving” (CCC 1116). These sacraments are the means by which God “resurrects us” in this life. Baptism restores divine life to our souls. The Eucharist nourishes that life. Confession replenishes it. Confirmation, Marriage, and Holy Orders strengthen it. And the Anointing of the Sick stirs up the divine life within us to heal our bodies and prepare our souls for eternal life. Today, as the Catechism says, the graces of all these sacraments come to us from the Body of Christ on earth, the Church. But before there was the Body of Christ, there was the body of Christ. Prior to the institution of the sacraments, Jesus is the sacrament. So, in the Gospels, it’s His actual physical body from which “powers … come forth.” In His lifetime, those powers did to people’s bodies what the sacraments have done to people’s souls ever since.

Jesus’s body does to our bodies what the sacraments do to our souls. Jesus’s body heals bodies. Jesus’s body teaches bodies. Jesus’s body feeds bodies. Jesus’s body raises bodies from the dead. Throughout His public ministry, powers go forth from His body, restoring people to the fullness of natural life. But the restoration of natural life isn’t enough. Jesus came for so much more than that. And the healings He works on earth both foreshadow the “more” and prove that more is possible. That is, they foreshadow the resurrection to come and prove that Jesus means what He says when He promises that all will rise again with Him on the last day.

“The Paschal Mystery has two aspects: by His death, Christ liberates us from sin; by His Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace … Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace.” (cf. Eph 2:4–5; 1 Pet 1:3) (CCC 654)

“For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in a single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so it is with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence, the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be.”
Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 35.

The resurrected Christ is not a ghost or a spirit, but He also isn’t a body like He once was. He has been resurrected to a new life, in a new kind of body, and that is the kind of resurrection, that is the kind of body that is promised to us, one that is “sown in dishonor … raised in glory … sown in weakness … raised in power … sown a physical body … raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:43–44).

Love & Resurrection,
Matthew