Thursday, November 12, 2015

Using GW on a JW

Last August, another parishioner and I began a weekly dialogue with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  (See my September blog)  Now twelve ninety-minute sessions later, we are still going strong.  Are we making any progress?  Well, they are still JWs and we are still Catholic! 

You might think even a mediocre Catholic apologist should be able to win this argument handily, and that is true, but the best team doesn’t always win the match.  In football terms, we are spending much of our time playing defense, while the other team is controlling the ball.   Scoring points without the ball is difficult.  Should we be more aggressive?  Probably, but discussion with Jehovah’s Witnesses is different from that of mainstream Protestants.  Their view is so foreign to us that we often find ourselves bewildered for a reply.  I often wonder what point they are trying to make, and why they find it relevant to their belief.  Even though they are willing to use a Catholic bible in our discussions, they can draw very questionable conclusions from various passages.  We haven’t even touched on the problems with their New World Translation yet.

Most non-Catholic Christian faiths, including the Witnesses, justify their existence by believing an apostasy occurred where the Church went off the rails, and they got it back on track.  This week, I asked them if they believe they have the same faith as the apostles.  They said they did.  I brought up the old story of George Washington’s axe, or my Grandfather’s axe, as it is sometimes told.  Do you still have George Washington’s axe if both the handle and the head have been replaced at different times throughout its history?  Similarly, do you still have the faith of the apostles if say Martin Luther removed the head, and the JW Bible translators put a new handle on the Scriptures?  I think not.

The question of George Washington’s axe is a somewhat simplified version of Theseus’s Paradox, proposed by Plutarch, a Greek writer in the late first century.  He asked whether a ship that eventually had every single plank replaced as they deteriorated over time was still the same ship.  If so, what if someone gathered all of the old planks and reassembled them as they were originally?  Now you have two ships.  Are they both the same ship?

In applying this thought to the Church, the answer is quite simple.  Once essential elements are removed or changed, you no longer have the same Church.  Once the papal head is eliminated, the canon of Scripture altered, and Traditional teaching ignored, the original identity is lost.  If someone tries to re-form the original without the original parts, the result is two churches, or even twenty-eight thousand churches over the centuries.  The only way to claim true possession of George Washington’s axe is to find the original handle and the original head.  The same principle applies for finding the true Church.     

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Cry for Help

Denzil was a troubled man.  Looking much older than his sixty years, obsessive worry made each day an obstacle.  He lived alone in a small apartment, no friends, no phone, no hope.  Severe anxiety made him tremble as someone overcome with fear.  A doctor prescribed medication to reduce his anxiety, but side effects made him feel worse.  He felt confused, panicky, and helpless.

In desperate moments, he would take to the streets, perhaps asking a local merchant or a familiar face for help.  To some, he was a nuisance, constantly seeking advice but refusing to take it.  He was occasionally seen collecting aluminum cans from trash bins or dumpsters, until that activity got him arrested behind a local drug store.  Fearful of missing court dates miles away with no form of transportation compounded his angst.

Our Saint Vincent DePaul members tried to help him numerous times.  We visited his apartment when he would let us in.  He would always be fretting over what to him was some insurmountable problem.  He missed an insurance payment, he lost some papers he needed, his medication wasn’t working, his doctor wouldn’t listen to him, nobody understands, all the time shivering incessantly as he spoke.  He would read us the side effects of his medication over and over again, insisting he experienced all of them.  We asked him for the names of any family members we could contact, but he would not tell us.

This past summer, his condition worsened.  Not knowing where to turn, we called Adult Protective Services to get help.  They sent two caseworkers out who met with us at his apartment.  They agreed he needed to get to a hospital, but he refused to go.  Police and paramedics were called, but they said they could not force him unless he was a danger to himself or others.  APS said they would get him an appointment with his doctor in a few days, but there was nothing more they could do.  We tried to calm his fears, brought him some food, and left him.

In the days that followed, members of our Saint Vincent DePaul group spent time with him, looking for ways to get the help he needed.  We made another appointment with his doctor and practically forced him into a car to get him there.  The doctor told us there was nothing more he could do for him.  At our insistence, the doctor called numerous institutions looking for place that would take him for a mental evaluation before finding one that would accept his basic insurance.  He was committed for ten days and released. 

Two weeks ago, four of our members spent two days trying to help him to no avail.  He told us he couldn’t make it through another night.  Yet, he refused our attempts to take him to the hospital.  We went back to check on him in the evening but he would not let us enter the apartment.  He said he had no more answers for us and closed the door.

Last Friday in the cold darkness of another sleepless night, Denzil stepped out of his apartment, shut the door, and cut himself.  An upstairs tenant on his way to work at 4 AM found him lifeless on the landing where we had spoken with him so many times. 

Stunned but not necessarily surprised, we were left to ponder what more we could have done.  What should we have done that we did not do?  In this land where health care is supposedly now available to everyone, why could we not get this man the care he so desperately needed?  Within hours, authorities were able to notify a relative.  His obituary listed a son, a daughter, a brother and three sisters, none of which we knew.

I was able to share this story with our Bishop at a meeting sponsored by Catholic Charities the following day.   My hope is that we might somehow better serve those with mental illnesses who may be living a life of torment, especially those who may pose a danger to themselves or others.  At the end of the meeting, the Bishop led us in a prayer for Denzil and all those who may find themselves in similar distress.  I would like to think the suffering Denzil endured on this earth is sufficiently redemptive for any sins for which he may be culpable.  May his soul rest in peace, and may God have mercy on us all.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

On the Witness Stand

I promise to share the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God!

The Watchtower society is active in our little town.  Jehovah’s Witnesses periodically come around to share their faith by reading a few Scripture verses and offering their literature.  I admire the effort.  Door-to-door evangelization is not easy when most people do not want to be bothered by religious zealots. 

A few weeks ago, I arrived home to find a strange car parked near my driveway.  Soon the front doorbell rang and a well-dressed man holding a bible asked if I had a few minutes for him to share some Scripture with me.  I smiled and said, “Certainly!”  One of the verses he read was 1 Corinthians 1:10 where Paul expresses concern over divisions that have arisen in the Church.

I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.  (1 Cor 1:10, RSVCE)  

His New World Translation altered the text somewhat, but the message was the same.    I thought it funny that he would choose that particular verse since we Catholics sometime use it to lament the many Protestant denominations that have separated themselves from the true Church, and I told him so.   Realizing I was Catholic, he mentioned the word Purgatory, saying it was nowhere to be found in the Bible.  I said it was implied and a conversation ensued.

After about thirty minutes of spirited, but friendly discussion, during which my open front door allowed numerous flies to enter the house, I asked if he would like to continue our talk sometime.  He said, “If you have the truth, I would like to hear it,” and we agreed to meet at my house the following Wednesday at 10:30 AM.  We exchanged contact information, and he went on his way. 

I am not so naïve to think he was really interested in learning about Catholicism.  Undoubtedly he still viewed me as a potential convert.  After all, a great percentage of Jehovah’s Witnesses are purportedly former Catholics.  Being firm in my Faith, I had no qualms about meeting with him again.

The following Wednesday, he brought another woman with him.  This time, I tried to make them comfortable by inviting them into my living room.  The gentleman (I’ll call him Rik) did most of the talking, asking me to read certain Scripture passages.  His selection had me a bit puzzled, as I could not figure out what point he was trying to make.  I was able to share a few Catholic viewpoints, but it was becoming obvious to me that I needed to develop a better understanding of Jehovah's Witness beliefs.

We agreed to meet a third time, allowing me a chance to do some research.  I found Trent Horn’s guest appearance on Catholic Answers Live (August 3,2015) where he discussed the faith of the Witnesses.  I listened to the podcast several times, and also ordered his booklet, Twenty Answers, that was advertised on the program.  Another invaluable resource is Jason Evert’s book, Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses, which I purchased and read cover to cover.  

So many of the JW beliefs are foreign to mainline Christianity.  While apologetic discussions with our Protestant brothers and sisters can be trying, we at least share a certain commonality in our Trinitarian understanding of Christ’s divinity.  Not so with the Jehovahs.  They believe Jesus Christ is actually Michael the Archangel,.  They believe only 144,000 can be in heaven, the rest of us will live in a paradise here on earth.  They also try to use Scripture as evidence for their beliefs.  Now, one would think it should be easy for a good Catholic to refute these claims, and it is, but doing so is complicated when arguing against a skewed interpretation taken from an already skewed New World Translation.

As in most apologetic discussions, the question boils down to authority.  Unlike some of our Protestant brothers and sisters, the Jehovahs at least agree on the necessity of an authority.  Theirs is the Watchtower Society, founded around 1872 by Charles Taze Russel, while ours is the Magisterial authority of the Pope in union with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, founded around 33 AD by Jesus Christ.  Here is where much discussion time must be spent.

To date, we have met five times, with session six scheduled for next week.  The past three weeks have been with Rik and another JW gentleman on one side of the dining room table, and Donna, a knowledgeable Catholic partner I recruited to assist me, on my side.  We typically have coffee and donuts while talking about our differing beliefs.  Coincidentally, Donna knew Rik’s family some fifty years ago when they lived next door to each another.  This has helped make the conversation more personable.  We are all becoming friends and the talks are always respectful, enjoyable, and stimulating.  We all claim to want the truth, wherever it takes us.

Now for my confession.   The first day, when I came home to see their car by my driveway, my initial reaction was to avoid them.  I drove past my house and turned down the next street.  After doing so, I felt guilty of missing an opportunity to evangelize.  I hurried around the block and pulled into my driveway so they would see me coming home.  It was only a few minutes later when the doorbell rang.  That initial contact has blossomed into an ongoing relationship. Where will this all lead?  Stay tuned!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Christus Nobiscum; State!

From time to time, our pastor asks me to change the message on the sign in front of our church.  We have the type where individual black letters are backlit on a frosted plexiglass panel.  The letters are quite large and we have only two lines, so messages must be short.  Father usually expresses a spiritual thought that does not fit our limited space, so I have become adept at truncating the message, which sometimes makes for an awkward compression, but I do the best I can.

When we have an event happening at the parish, the message will be informational rather than spiritual.  Such was the case a few weeks ago when our Saint Vincent DePaul group sponsored a fundraiser.  The sign simply said, “PORK CHOP DINNER, SUNDAY 11A – 1P.”  Our pastor was gone on retreat the following week, so I was given the task of changing the sign before the next Sunday to avoid any confusion.  With his input unavailable, the new message would be of my own choosing.  This would take some serious thought!

Considering the turmoil going on in the world with Christian persecution, abortion, and the general decay of moral standards, I wanted to say something foreboding, yet hopeful.   The inspiration came from a booklet I often ponder during weekly adoration.  The Holy Eucharist Our All was written by Father Lukas Etlin. O.S.B.  (Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois,  61105).   Father Etlin’s booklet opens with the following two paragraphs:

During the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian, A.D. 527, the city of Antioch was repeatedly shaken by violent earthquakes.  People found no other means of safety than that of inscribing on the doors the words which were revealed to a faithful servant of God:  Christus nobiscum; state! – “Christ is with us; stand firm.  All the houses whose doors bore this inscription are said to have been preserved from the ruin which threatened them, while the others were shattered and crushed.

It is similar with those souls who love and serve God.  In the midst of a Godless world there is but one means of preservation from eternal ruin, ones means of perseverance in the great tribulation of life – faithful adherence to the Most Blessed Sacrament, to the God-man concealed beneath the form of bread and wine.  The words, “Jesus Christ is with me; stand firm,” should be engraven in the heart of every Christian. Protected by this shield, the servants of God will remain firm in the Faith, even though all about them totter and fall.

Friday, July 24, 2015

When Opportunity Knocks

Wednesday evenings usually find me attending the 6 PM Mass at our local parish, but last week my wife and I were out of town.  Got a phone call the next day from a friend who said she was conversing on the church steps after Mass when approached by a small group of evangelical Protestants who inquired about her spiritual status, and offered to pray for her.  I relish such casual meetings as opportunities to offer some Catholic evangelization to someone already engaged in the Christian mission, so I was disappointed that I was not there.

Having had such experiences in the past, I came to realize the importance of being prepared for these opportunities.  Unfortunately, I am one of those whose brain locks up under the slightest pressure.  Then, I spend the rest of the day thinking of all the things I should have said when I had the chance.   While no two encounters ever follow the same script, some forethought can help us make the most of these opportunities when they arise.

First of all, relax.  These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we have much in common.  Smile and listen to what they have to say, but don’t let them walk away without engaging in some friendly conversation.   Tell them you admire their courage in openly spreading the gospel message.  And then, ask them some questions to keep them engaged.  Here are just a few possibilities.  Some are ice-breakers and some are food for thought.

What kind of reception do you get from most people you encounter in your mission?
What church do you attend?
Who is your pastor?
Is your church affiliated with a governing body or just non-denominational?
How long has it been around?
Who started it?
Were you always in this church or why did you join it?
Do you believe in the Bible as the only rule of faith?  
Have you read a lot of church history?
Who determined which of the early Christian writings would be put in the Bible?
How do you know they were correct?
Have you read the early Christian writers of the first few centuries, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Cyril of Jerusalem, to name a few?
If not, search Church Fathers online, very interesting.
If yes, then I am curious, why are you not Catholic?

Such conversation can help in several ways.  If they haven’t considered some of the questions before, it might pique their curiosity.  If they have given these things some prior thought, it may lead the conversation down a certain path to fruition.  And, if nothing else, it may introduce them to a friendly Catholic who they would enjoy meeting again.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Reality Czech

Rachel Dolezal has been in the news recently.  She is the NAACP head in Spokane Washington who was outed by her family for being Caucasian rather than African-American as she proclaimed.  The story was of particular interest to me because my mother’s maiden name is Dolezal and our ancestors share the same Czechoslovakian heritage.  I suppose there is a good chance Rachel and I are related.  As one of my Dolezal cousins quipped, “Every family has a black sheep somewhere.”

Her story comes on the heels of Bruce Jenner appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair as a woman.  His attempt to change genders made all the papers and newscasts.  Political correctness meant that all reports should now refer to Jenner with feminine pronouns, and they did.  The mainstream media however did not seem ready to refer to Rachel Dolezal as black.  What is the difference I wondered?

Both of them made similar statements.  Jenner thought of himself as a woman.  Dolezal thought of herself as African-American.  If Jenner could be accepted as something he really isn’t, why can’t Dolezal be similarly accepted as black?  Maybe Jenner had his body surgically altered.  What if Dolezal did the same, a black skin graft perhaps? 

I sensed that progressive liberals were not sure how to react to the Dolezal revelation initially.   Seeing a parallel to the Jenner story, articles began to appear supporting Dolezal’s right to be any race she wanted to be.  An article appearing on CNN by CamilleGear Rich, professor of law and sociology at USC Gould School of Law, says Dolezal “forces us to consider whether our biology or our action is more important to identity, and should we act in ways that honor our chosen identity in meaningful ways.”  Continuing, she says, “We should not have to be slaves to the biological definition of identity, and we should not use race or gender identities as weapons to punish one another.”

Secular relativism continues to overtake our society.  Facts no longer matter.  Reality seems to be whatever anyone wants it to be.  If I feel like a woman, I am a woman.  If I feel like I'm black, I'm black.  If I feel like a Martian, I'm a Martian.  The fact is, chromosomes determine the sex of a person.  Feelings or surgery cannot change the chromosomes.  Feelings cannot change our ethnicity or cosmic origin.   

Are we doing a disservice to people with these mental challenges if we acquiesce to their delusional feelings?  Assuming Bruce Jenner was born with X and Y chromosomes, are we compounding his confusion by calling him Caitlyn and referring to him as "she"?  Would not the humane action be to help him get back to reality through proper treatment?  Having an African-American preside over a chapter of the NAACP is probably desirable, but Rachel, you are not African-American.  You do not have a black father.  Why do you not accept who you really are?

When we were young, our parents told us we could grow up to be anything we wanted to be.  I don't think this is what they had in mind.