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.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sign Language

At a rather sparsely attended Ascension Vigil Mass, our parish priest asked us to remain standing after the petitions. He then asked those over eighty years of age to sit down. Several parishioners sat. He proceeded to do the same for those over seventy and then sixty. After asking those over fifty to sit, only two people remained standing. This is the future of your parish, he said. The message to us is clear. Our Lord commands in today’s gospel to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) Obviously, our efforts to do so have been lacking.

The gospel message should be easy to proclaim in this age of mass media, and it is. But the message often falls on deaf ears. Today, we are so immersed in secular self-absorption that God’s message is drowned out. Most people do not want to hear it for it flies counter to their own personal inclinations. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed the number of Americans identifying themselves as Catholic declined from 23.9% to 20.8% between 2007 and 2014.

The point our pastor was making should not be taken lightly. Fact is, our pews are mostly empty, and certainly devoid of young people. We have failed to share and propagate our Catholic Faith in our once thriving community. As in many small towns, family-owned businesses have failed to compete with the big box stores, and very few remain. A few years ago, we could buy most anything within walking distance on Main Street. Now people must drive thirty miles to shop for basic needs. The most precious staple in the world, Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, is still readily available here, and yet, very few people take advantage. If we do not do something soon, He too may leave our town.

Desperate times require desperate measures. We Catholics too often keep the light of Christ under the bushel basket. We are afraid to boldly proclaim the truth of the Catholic Church for fear of offending our Protestant brothers and sisters. Sharing the faith can be done with charity and humility, and with confidence.

Last week, our pastor asked me to take down the “Happy Mother’s Day” sign from the parish marquee, and replace it with something of my own choosing. The letters for our sign are quite large and very limiting as to what will fit. I wanted to promote the Holy Eucharist, the one gift we have to offer that no one else in our community has. After trying several different wordings, I settled on, “JOHN 6: 51-58, HERE 4 U EVERY DAY”. The Bible passage comes from the Bread of Life Discourse.

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” (RSV-CE)

I am hoping our Protestant friends (who often glaze over that passage) will look it up and think about it, especially verse 53. In addition to the sign, we are planning to do some street corner evangelizing next month during our town festival. Please pray for a positive result.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Discrimination or Conscientious Objection?

Our Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, started a media stir when he recently signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The law was intended to limit government interference in the practice of one’s faith. The federal government under President Bill Clinton passed a similar law in 1993, and some nineteen other states also have such a law on the books. So why is Indiana taking such a firestorm of criticism from celebrities and on social media?

The timing is probably the main factor. When the federal law was passed twenty-two years ago, same-sex unions were not the hot button issue as they are now. Today, those of us who believe in natural marriage, the union of one man and one woman, are quickly labeled as bigots. Those who have no religious objection to same-sex unions see the law as discriminatory.

I have explained the reasons for standing firm for natural marriage in a previous post, so I won’t go into detail again. Suffice to say, God’s created natural design has provided complementary parts in a man and woman that come together to form a union. There is a natural reason why it takes a man and a woman to produce a child. Any attempt to subjugate that design is unnatural, that is, inconsistent with nature. The objection is to the observable incompatibility with the physical design, and becomes religious through acknowledgement of the Creator of that design.

The same-sex proponent says, what right do you have to impose your discriminatory religious beliefs on me or anyone else? I would answer this way. While morals are constant, mores change. What society views as morally acceptable today is not the same as it was a few years ago, and that is not a good thing. Our moral backbone has degenerated over the past few decades. This has taken a toll on the traditional family unit, the effects of which are evident in our society today, especially in the inner cities. We have lost respect for human life.

A couple of weeks ago, a Colorado District Attorney could not file murder charges against someone who cut the unborn baby from a woman seven months pregnant. Under Colorado law, a baby still in the mother’s womb is a fetus, and they could not confirm the baby’s viability by proving it took a breath after it was removed. The mother survived, but the baby did not. No murder charge? How have mores in our society become so perverted? We have allowed it to happen.

Secular media repeatedly produces entertainment promoting the progressive agenda attempting to portray it in the mainstream, and their efforts have been effective. Over time, behavior once considered abhorrent becomes normalized and acceptable. Marriage is no longer seen as a covenant made between a man and a woman. Now it can be any pairing that makes the couple happy. Seeing such arrangements appear normal on a daily basis affects our point of view. We can easily become numbed into indifference, and the structural foundation of our society gradually weakens.

For those of us trying to stay the course, we need to distance ourselves from the frenzy. We have a responsibility to avoid the scandal created by appearing to go along with the changing tide. Doing so is difficult because of the appearance of intolerance. We want to be intolerant of the sin, but not the sinner, and that makes us easily misunderstood and often misrepresented. The religious person cannot in good conscience appear to support something he views as sinful. To do so involves us in the sin of scandal, that is, conduct that may encourage a lapse of faith or religious obedience in another by making our involvement appear as approval.

If a couple comes into my bakery for a loaf of bread, I have an obligation to serve them regardless of their sexual orientation. No sin is involved and I would have no problem selling them a loaf of bread. But if they ask me to use my talent to create a wedding cake with two little plastic men on top, I cannot do so without projecting some tacit approval contrary to my religious beliefs. My conscious would not allow me to cooperate in an event I view as invalid.

The exemption from complicity does not target only same-sex marriage. A heterosexual wedding where the impossibility of consummation exists could also raise a religious objection. A Catholic baker may not want to cater the wedding of one of his fellow Catholics were it to take place outside of the Church due to an impediment to the marriage, such as a prior divorce. A pharmacist living his faith could not distribute abortive birth control, such as the morning-after pill. The American Pharmacists Association delegates at their annual meeting held in San Diego this year said the practice of providing lethal-injection drugs is contrary to the role of pharmacists as health care providers, and urged their members not to do so. No one should be forced to go against his good-faith conscience.

Most difficult for the religious person is convincing others that our non-participation is rooted in love, not hate. We have a genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of those we believe to be in violation of God’s natural plan, and we have a concern for own spiritual health as well. We are to love everyone., but we do not have to condone everyone’s behavior. A few years ago, I did not attend my niece’s wedding because she was a Catholic choosing to marry outside the guidelines of Catholic Canon Law. I don’t hate my niece. I love her. We get along fine even though we have differing points of view.

The proprietor of a pizzeria in a nearby town was interviewed by a local television reporter concerning the newly passed Indiana law. She innocently indicated she would serve anyone who came into her shop for pizza, but would not cater a same-sex wedding reception. After the story aired, she was inundated with hate messages, and threats to burn down her business. The pizzeria was forced to close temporarily. The same people who seem to think you and I need to support everyone and every action are the same ones who often spew hatred toward anyone professing a different point of view. Who are the really intolerant ones here?

The band Wilco cancelled their Indianapolis concert date in protest of the Indiana Religious Freedom law. Think about this. They have a conscientious objection to playing in Indiana and have exercised their right not to do business here. Yet, they think I should give up my right not to do business where I have a conscientious objection.

I find a certain irony in observing the current agenda of the politically correct. We are not to do anything to violate our nature’s environment – no pipelines, no drilling, no coal, no pesticides, no genetically engineered vegetables, no artificial preservatives, and the list goes on. We must keep rain forests and wet lands in their natural state. Yet, those same folks think nothing of manipulating our reproductive nature with artificial birth control, in vitro-fertilization, abortion, genetically modified babies, and unnatural sexual relations.

The leftist outcry against the Indiana RFRA has been so intense that the Governor asked for changes to be made to insure it does not allow discrimination toward homosexuals. New language limits the extent of Religious Freedom to religious organizations and non-profits. Religious freedom for individuals could end up being more restricted than ever. I am glad the owners of the pizzeria have a stronger spine than our legislators. All should realize that man-made law has no power over a properly formed conscience.

I have been reading The American Catholic Almanac by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson, The April 10 entry is about the 1966 film, A Man for All Seasons, based on the life of Saint Thomas More, and his refusal to betray his conscience regarding the marriage of King Henry VIII. The almanac quotes the following exchange between Thomas More and the Duke of Norfolk:

Norfolk: Oh confound all this. I’m not a scholar, I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not but dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship?

More: And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

I would say this to the LBGT community of sympathizers. Good Christians do not hate you. In fact, we love you. Those portraying Christians as bigots are wrong. And if some fundamentalist Christians do hate you just because of your orientation, they are sinning. Here is the gist of the issue from my Catholic point of view. It is not that good Christians do not want to serve you because you are homosexual. There is no sin in having same-sex attraction. The problem arises when that attraction leads to unnatural behavior. That is the point where complicity on our part risks implicit approval of your actions, which can cause us to commit a sin of scandal.

God gave us free will. You can do what you want to do with your body. That is between you and God. But once the boundary is crossed, we cannot cooperate in behavior we view as unhealthy. You should not be able to force me to provide you with cigarettes because you choose to smoke. If I believe I could be causing harm to your lungs, I cannot cooperate in your habit with a clear conscience. Doing so could be sinful for me even though you are the one choosing to smoke. It is the same situation with a same-sex wedding. You can legally do what the law says, but you should have no right to force my involvement. My approval cannot be legislated. And why would you want services from someone reluctant to provide them? Just to prove a point?

Religious freedom restoration is not about discrimination. It is about protecting the right of every person to act in accord with his or her conscience. Calming the waters on this issue requires understanding on both sides. While religious approval of same-sex marriage cannot be legislated, neither can the feelings of those with same-sex attraction. A properly formed Christian conscience says they must be treated with love, respect, kindness and compassion.