Thursday, December 14, 2017

Can we still have a Conscientious Objector?

The United States Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop versus the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  At issue is whether a baker can refuse services to a same-sex couple to avoid violating his religious beliefs.  Jack Phillips, owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, told a same-sex couple that he would not make the wedding cake they were requesting.  Lower courts had sided with the couple which caused Phillips to quit making wedding cakes altogether rather than violate his religious convictions. 

I caught a short audio recording of the oral arguments on the Internet that compelled me to search for the entire transcript.  The line of questioning by some of the justices was somewhat disturbing to me.  Somehow I would have expected them to be more insightful.  To illustrate, allow me to relate an ongoing debate that took place in our small town.

Several years ago, our town council passed an animal ordinance that pretty much eliminated harboring any domesticated animals except dogs and cats, and they had to be licensed and contained.  The ordinance passed at the recommendation of one particular board member without much public debate at the time.   This past year, a family whose daughters were in 4H, kept a few chickens in their backyard pen, barely visible to any of the neighbors.  One particular neighbor who happened to be instrumental in the passing of the original ordinance raised a fuss to have the chickens removed.  Most everyone else in town came to the defense of the girls and their chickens.  A petition with the signatures of more than 300 area residents urged the town council to revise the ordinance, which they eventually did after several months where the chicken debate dominated council meetings.

During the seemingly endless chicken discussions, the few who were opposed came up with some ridiculous scenarios on what could happen if someone in town were allowed to have a few chickens.  One heard of a person who died from some obscure disease supposedly passed by a chicken.  Another envisioned the horrible sanitary conditions that would exist if everyone on her street had chickens.  And what about all the clucking?  The point being that certain people who are stubbornly attached to a personal agenda will create unreasonable arguments to stonewall any opposition.

The questioning by some of the justices appeared to indicate they were looking for an excuse to rule according to their personal belief rather than what the law required.  Justice Sotomeyer brought up racial discrimination or discrimination against the disabled.  She mentioned “the gay couple who was left on the side of the highway on a rainy night, people who have been denied medical treatment or whose children have been denied medical treatment because the doctor didn't believe in same-sex parenthood, et cetera.”

Justice Kennedy was concerned about the dignity of same-sex couples, that the denial of services could be an “affront to the gay community.”  Justice Kagan paints this as a possible exemption from anti-discrimination laws, wondering if it would also apply to jewelers, makeup artists, or hairstylists.  Where do they draw the line?  There seemed a reluctance to acknowledge the reality that lines need to exist.

I have a question for the justices.  What about a baker being asked to create a cake celebrating an incestuous relationship, or a KKK party, or a Planned Parenthood Clinic’s 10,000th abortion?  Shouldn’t a baker have the right to say the message conflicts with my moral code of conduct and I cannot in good conscience provide this service?

The question of where to draw the line would be clearer if the court understood the religious implications of cooperating or being complicit in the actions of another.  Our personal conduct has an impact on the conduct of others.  We lead by our own example.  When our bad behavior leads another to bad behavior, we bear some responsibility for the other person’s bad behavior.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it the sin of scandal.  Morality deteriorates in our society when sordid behaviors become tolerated because normally respected people are seen doing them.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.
2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing.
2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.  Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to "social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible." This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values. 

In the case of a businessman who holds certain behaviors to be immoral, and who also may hold a position of influence in his faith community, he commits the sin of scandal when his apparent approval by cooperation causes others to compromise their own moral conscience based on his complicity.  Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, Jack Phillips cannot contribute to the celebration of an action he knows is immoral in violation of his own conscience.  The denial of service is not done out of hatred, but rather love and concern for the spiritual well-being of the faithful, and in this particular case, the two men involved. 

If we are to have true religious freedom protected under the law, the real question in this case would be deciding whether attempting to mate two males could reasonably be considered problematic from a religious viewpoint.  In my mind, the answer is obvious.  Of course it can, and it is.  Laws should never force someone to commit sinful behavior.  One who refuses military service on religious grounds is a conscientious objector.  What baker Jack Phillips is doing is essentially the same thing.  

Now, a federal judge has ruled that the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Transit Authority has the right to ban religious-themed Christmas advertisements.  The Transit Authority rejected an ad sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington promoting its annual “Find the Perfect Gift” program that displayed shepherds and sheep following a star.

So, this is where we find ourselves at the present time.  A baker cannot refuse to serve someone who asks him to do something that offends his religious beliefs, but a transit authority can refuse to serve an advertiser that expresses a religious theme.  Seems like we are on the verge of making any type of religious expression illegal, at least in the eyes of certain judges.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Men and Ms Behavior

Ailes, Weinstein, Bush41, Moore, Franken, and the list goes on.  An epidemic of sexual assault allegations continue to permeate the evening news.  Most of these incidents apparently took place years ago, but the accusations have recently boiled to the surface now that the victims feel more comfortable speaking in numbers.  I can only imagine many more celebrities are nervously reexamining their past actions, hoping no accusers comes forward.

What does all of this say about our society, I ask rhetorically?  Are all men just naturally crude?  Maybe most of us think these things, but do not act for fear of rejection or getting out faces slapped.  Is the definition of sexual assault somewhat fluid?  Does current publicity bring to mind past incidents that may have been ignored at one time, but now seem out of line?  With all of the “me too” proclamations on social media, will some women begin to wonder what is wrong with them if they have never been sexually assaulted?  These are just thoughts that cross my mind. 

Gene Simmons, of KISS fame, created some controversy when he suggested that women invite trouble by the way they present themselves.  He is quoted as saying, “Women have a choice.  They can dress in potato sacks, (but) as soon as they pretty themselves up with lipstick, lift and separate them and point them in our general direction, they’re gonna get a response.”  Let me preface this by saying in no way do I excuse sexual assault in any way, but I think Simmons has a valid point.  When women present themselves in a provocative manner, men are going to react, maybe not in action, but certainly in thought. 

The latest accusation against Senator Al Franken comes from a woman whose bio includes modeling for Hooters and Fredericks of Hollywood.  She also appeared nude in Playboy magazine.  This future senator, with whom she was appearing in a USO show, forcibly kissed her eleven years ago.  Now he finds himself the target of a sexual assault allegation by a woman who sexually exploited her own body for attention.  What he did was certainly wrong, but she should not be surprised if a morally depraved man succumbs to her seductive prior behavior.

Women need to understand how men think.  Men with a strong sex drive are easily stimulated by visual images.  Most men exhibit enough self-control to maintain decorum, but morality in our society has deteriorated to the point where crude behavior is more commonplace.  We hear so much about it today because certain individuals in prominent positions have been allowed to get away with it for years.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2521):  Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance.  Modesty protects the intimate center of the person.  It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden.  It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness.  It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

More Political Incorrectness

Last month, I wrote about people intentionally looking for ways to be offended.  To illustrate my point, several news reports jumped out at me recently.   One involved the removal of a Dr. Seuss mural because some element of his stories might be considered racist.  Apparently one of his stories has an illustration of a Chinese character with slanted eyes and wearing a coolie hat.   Another report involved a racial stir on the Michigan State campus when someone found a lost shoestring that appeared to be in the shape of a noose.  In Detroit, a firefighter was fired for bringing a “racially insensitive” watermelon to a predominantly black firehouse.

Why are people suddenly so sensitive?  Our society has adopted a victim mentality.  Perhaps it starts with the first exposure to political correctness where no child is allowed to have hurt feelings.  Everyone gets a participation trophy.  In the real world, finishing second, third, even last once in awhile is okay.  True success has its rewards. Occasional disappointment is healthy.  We lose appreciation for what we have without sometimes experiencing loss. 

Today, people look for ways to feel oppressed.  The offender is often sent to sensitivity training.  Instead, many of those feeling oppressed need to be desensitized.  We should not let others control our feelings.  Even if someone intentionally casts disparagement your way, so what?  It doesn’t change who you are.  Responding only gives credence to their negativity.  Whether you are an ethnic minority or the President of the United States (or both), someone will disrespect you.  Don’t feel the need to acknowledge them with a response every time.  Is intentionally displaying racial intolerance ever acceptable?  No, but do accept the fact that some people will always be reprehensible.  Rise above them.  Loud protests appear to them as justification for their bigotry.  I believe true bigots are a few and far between, but you would never know it by the notoriety they get. 

We all fall into certain stereotypes.  Regardless of our ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, occupation, gender, age, size, birthplace, or social status, we will all occasionally find ourselves the object of a disparaging remark.  Some people are just contrary.  No matter what position one takes, others will find fault with it.  Not every person who makes a racist remark is actually a racist.  Some are simply idiots who seek attention by saying something outrageous.  I suspect most idiots who go around painting swastikas never passed a world history exam in their lives, and have no real concept of the hatred it symbolizes.  They only want attention by spewing their venom.  Eliciting a terse reaction is exactly what they want.  Treat them as any other criminal without giving voice to their sick agenda.

Think about why these discriminatory stereotypes exist in the first place.  When it comes to racial profiling, skin pigment has little to do with it.   Diminished respect for human life has permeated our society.  Do not underestimate the toll abortion has taken on the importance of the family unit.  Young African American males often grow up without a good paternal role model in the home.  Without it, they seek belonging elsewhere, often on the streets where violence is rampant.  

When police officers overreact in these neighborhoods, it is prompted by fear, not hatred.  Their fear is real and justifiable.  They have families and want to go home to them when shift is over.  They do not owe anyone a fair fight.  Unfortunately, innocent people sometimes get hurt.  Until we regain respect for human life, for family, for one another, and for God, our polarized society will continue to deteriorate. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Our Street Gang Mentality

Kids in the hood know not to look just anyone in the eye on the streets.  It could get you killed.  That is the world we live in today.  Attack anyone who may confront you whether intentional or not.  People seek out anything they can find offensive in some way to justify attacking the source regardless of original intent.  The offense need not be personal.  It could have affected ancestors living in different times under different circumstances.  What seems odd is the fact that it may take years or centuries before some group decides they are being offended. 

Athletic teams with ethnic mascots have come under fire.  The University of Illinois was pressured to eliminate their long revered American Indiana mascot.  The Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins have also been criticized for their names and logos.   Team nicknames are chosen to instill pride rather than ridicule even if logo caricatures may seem exaggerated or stereotypical.  I am not saying some might find them offensive, but are people so insecure that they must make it an issue?  How long before an animal rights group decides the Detroit is insulting Lions and Tigers?

Now we find ourselves removing confederate memorials.  Okay, but the Civil War has been over for quite some time.  Why now?  Removing memorials does not change history or remove hatred.  If we refuse to remember anyone who once held an unpopular belief, few memorials will remain.  Perhaps they should have never been erected in the first place, but they are now a part of history.

As I write this, Hurricane Irma is devastating much of the southeast with damaging winds and flooding.  During such disasters, much is made of people of all races banding together in a show of brotherhood.  In times of crisis, we tend to forget all that divides us.  Could it be that all of our gang-like confrontations come about because we have life too easy?  We wonder sometimes why God allows such tragedies to occur.  Do we need natural disasters to keep us aware of our frail humanity and our dependence on one another regardless of our ethnic circumstances?  Is it possible that as life becomes more laid-back, that tensions among us arise?  What in our nature impels us to seek an enemy whether real or imagined?  We have all heard the old saying, an idle mind is the devils workshop.  How true it seems to be. 

On Sunday, September 17, we hear this reading from Sirach:

Sir 27:30—28:7

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Wanting what I need

My first encounter with a gentleman in RCIA class today was interesting.  I told him at the beginning that despite his lack of understanding the Catholic Church, that I would learn as much from him as he would learn from me.  I wanted to encourage him to challenge me, ask me questions, and not to be afraid of insulting me.  I told him that I would not know the answer to every question he asked, but I would find the answer, and thereby have a learning experience myself. 

He expressed the notion that belonging to a specific church was not a necessity for him.  He was there primarily because his wife, a fallen away Catholic, was coming back to the faith and wanted their marriage blessed.  It seemed as though he wanted to be married in a church, not necessarily THE Church. 

We talked some about the apostolic roots of the Catholic Church, but to him, all Christian churches were pretty much the same.  It was just a matter of which style of worship suited the individual person.   In an attempt to get our point across, I showed a DVD called, “Why do I need the Church?” from the Symbolon series, by Doctor Edward Sri.  The segment focuses on why the Church is of Divine origin, necessary to safeguard the message of Jesus Christ while provide a source of grace through the sacraments.

In the discussion that followed, the man said all he heard repeatedly was, “you need, you need, you need.”  He said the Church should be something you WANT, not just something you NEED.   I replied by saying, "I want a cheeseburger.  I don’t necessarily need a cheeseburger, but I do need nourishment.  I can want something not realizing that it may be something I also need."  If we are continually motivated by wants, we may not be aware of our needs.  I don’t know whether he really accepted my explanation, but I hope it made him think.

After the session was over, I continued to ponder our conversation.  If we continuously get what we want, we can lose sight of what we need.  If I get a cheeseburger whenever I want a cheeseburger, and a pizza whenever I want a pizza, I don’t ever think of what I actually need to sustain my life.  The only way to consciously be aware of the necessity of nourishment is when we are hungry.  Isn’t this precisely why we as Catholics are encouraged to fast and abstain at times from what we want?  This hunger makes us aware of our fragility and dependence, and to be honest, I had not thought much about fasting lately. 

I don’t know whether our discussion got through to the gentleman in our RCIA session, but it brought some clarity to my understanding why we need to occasionally deny our wants.  If we never find ourselves wanting, we will lose awareness of our needs.  When we unwittingly ignore our needs, whether they be physical or spiritual, death will eventually follow.  If we are aware of our needs, the wanting will follow.  

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I Surrender

If the Catholic Church is the true Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself, why is our faith such a hard sell when it comes to converting our separated brethren?  This fact has always frustrated me, but actually, I can understand. 

Last Sunday, I stumbled upon two videos.  The first was a Facebook posting by a Protestant friend showing a man being baptized in a local non-denominational church.   The baptismal pool was beautifully constructed, large enough to accommodate at least a half dozen people.  In the pool were the candidate, two witnesses, and the preacher who was shouting praises to Our Lord.  All were nicely dressed, shirts and ties.  After proclaiming the Trinitarian formula, the gentleman was submerged while supported by the two witnesses behind him.  Watching this man in tears coming to Christ was extremely moving, an emotional experience for all present.

Later that evening, I happened to see an old youtube video of singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson telling how he came to write one of his most famous songs called Why Me Lord.  He spoke of a profound religious experience he had at evangelist Jimmy Snow’s church where he uncharacteristically answered an altar call and turned his life over to Christ.  His testimony and the beautiful song born of the experience was very touching.

We often hear these emotional stories where individuals publicly come forward to answer Christ’s calling, something that may seem foreign to us Catholics in our liturgical worship.  It should be no surprise that those so moved by these impassioned encounters would be inclined to this type of relationship with the Lord.  Lacking understanding of our liturgy, the Mass might seem unemotional and incomprehensible to them.  Whereas Kris Kristofferson’s conversion came unexpectedly on the spur of the moment, Catholic conversion typically takes place after much introspect and study.  

Even though we Catholics share a much more intimate encounter with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, our emotional reaction may pale when compared to the tearful joy one feels in witnessing a spontaneous acceptance of Christ.   As human beings, we have a tendency toward seeking comfort even if it means compromising on truth.  To go beyond simply have that friend in Jesus, a person must have the curiosity and desire to delve deeper into that relationship, even if it means sacrificing that comfortable feeling of presumed salvation. 

Catholic apologist Tim Staples made that leap.  He answered an altar call as a young man and felt all of those intense emotional feelings in accepting Jesus as his savior.  Yet, through the prodding of his Catholic friend, he came to realize that accepting Jesus is more than a one-time act of the will.  Following Jesus fully means listening to the Church He established.  I can understand why many of our non-Catholic Christian friends seem to have a closer relationship with Jesus than we do.  Emotion and comfort are strong motivators.  At some point, we all need to reach beyond our comfort zones.  Accepting Jesus as our personal Savior is easy.  Completely surrendering to His will is the hard part. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

95 Theses + 500 Years = Countless Denominations

On October 31, 1517, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther allegedly nailed his 95 theses on the door of All Saints church in Wittenburg, Germany, thus beginning what is known as the Protestant Reformation.  With the 500th anniversary approaching, many of our Protestant brothers and sisters will be marking this event in a celebratory manner.  As Catholics, we need to prepare ourselves to understand Luther’s revolt and what happened in the aftermath.

This past weekend, our little town enjoyed our annual Mint Festival, culminating in a Sunday afternoon parade.  One of the parade floats was sponsored by the local Lutheran church.  Upon it was a mockup of the church doors in Wittenburg  commemorating Luther’s protest.  On each side of the float were four placards.  They read as follows:

95 Theses Equals 3 Facts
   Faith Alone – Not By Works
   Grace Alone – God’s Grace
   Scripture Alone – Only the Bible

The parade passed in front of our Catholic Church and I could not help but think that some sort of response was needed.  As Catholics, we have a responsibility to share our faith charitably and to educate our own.  Here was a Lutheran church boldly displaying as fact, at least two statements that are inherently problematic.  Our challenge is to present Catholic truth in a non-confrontational manner, out of love for our fellow Christians.  (1 Pet 3:15)

I am not going to address the second statement about Grace Alone because without added context, I do not see any disagreement.  All goodness comes through God’s Grace.  Let me begin with the third Protestant belief displayed on the float. 

Sola Scriptura, the belief that the Bible alone is the sole rule of faith, is what remained after Luther rejected the Oral Tradition and Teaching Authority of the Catholic Church.  Most Protestants believe the Bible is all they need to live a Christian life because all truth is contained within.  To some extent, that is true.  The problem comes when that belief leads to the rejection of any inerrant magisterial authority external to the Scriptures alone, especially since the establishment of that authority by Jesus Christ is prescribed in those very Scriptures.

Perhaps the most ironic problem with Sola Scriptura is that we would not have a Bible without the teaching authority of the Church.  Bishops of the Catholic Church had to decide which of the many disputed early Christian writings were indeed God-breathed, and therefore could be read at Mass.  Prior to the Council of Carthage in 397 AD, the Epistles of James, Jude, Barnabas, Clement, Second Peter, Second and Third John, Hebrews, and many others were disputed.  Some early Christians accepted them as Scripture, and some did not. 

Without a Divinely-instituted inerrant Authority to determine the canon of Scripture, we could not know with certainty that the Bible contains only the inerrant Word of God.  The Bible is simply a collection of early Christian writings that Bishops of the Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determined to be inspired by God, and therefore, became the New Testament.  To accept the Bible as the sole rule of faith while rejecting the infallible teaching authority of the Church that determined its table of contents is untenable.  Now some Protestants may claim the Church had the authority in early Christian history but eventually went off the rails. This too is impossible if one believes what Scripture says.  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide His Church, and said the gates of Hades would never prevail over it. (John 14:26, Mark 13:11, 1 Tim 3:15, Matt 16:18)

Once the Divinely established authoritative Church is denied, understanding of Scripture is left to personal interpretation.  Theological disagreements abound, and become fissures in Christianity.  The resulting divisions are thousands upon thousands of Protestant Christian denominations, many with differing beliefs and no ultimate authority to unify. 

Let us move on to the first proclamation on the Lutheran parade float.  Scriptural quotations referring to the necessity of faith apart from works are addressing a particular controversy for early converts to Christianity.  Did the Gentiles need to follow the works of the Mosaic Law, and specifically, must the males be circumcised?  When Paul declares that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law in Romans 3:28, he is saying that Old Testament Mosaic laws can not bring salvation, whereas under the New Covenant, salvation comes from faith working through love. (Gal 5:6)

The Bible contains many references to the importance of what we ourselves must do to be saved.  When the rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to be saved, Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. (Matt 19:16-17)  The importance of doing corporal works of mercy is explicitly evident.  Those who do not will go off to eternal punishment. (Matt 25:31-46)  The most explicit refutation of the faith alone argument is in James 2:24 where he says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  Here, James is referring to corporal works. (James 2:14-26) To be clear, Catholics do not believe we have to work our way to heaven.  Our faith is manifested in good works as we follow in the footsteps of Christ.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Baha'I One, Get One Free

Yes, I spend too much time on Facebook.  Maybe I should be ashamed, but I have good intentions.  To be in a position to evangelize, one must be in touch with others.  When I do Facebook likes or shares, most are pertinent to sharing my Catholic faith.  My Facebook friends would have little doubt as to which church I attend.  Obviously, promoting the Catholic position publicly will be to the consternation of many others in the secular world.    So, how should I respond when a friend posts something anti-Catholic likely intended for me?  Should I respond at all?

Many people on Facebook are compelled to respond angrily to anyone who expresses a view counter to their own.  Internet interactions can degenerate quickly into vicious exchanges, especially when the combatants do not know one another.  In Catholic apologetics, an angry retort is never appropriate. 

Responding to every little Catholic dig on the Internet would be impossible and counterproductive.  Some people are simply trying to elicit a responder to become a target for their abuse.  They have zero interest in engaging in an intelligent conversation.  No reasonable apologist wants to play that game. 

Knowing when a seemingly anti-Catholic post requires a direct response requires some discretion on the part of the apologist.  If the posting contains a false claim by someone who is seriously misinformed but reasonable, then a charitable correction is appropriate and necessary.  Some anti-Catholic claims are so ridiculous that only an idiot would believe them, and trying to have an intelligent discussion with an idiot is futile. 

Still others need to be answered, but knowing how to do so in a positive productive manner is not always clear.  One can either reply to the post directly, or address the topic in a separate post that avoids confrontation with the original poster.

Two consecutive postings recently appeared on my Facebook feed.  Both came from individuals I have known for over fifty years.  One is a former Catholic who now actively professes the Baha’I faith.  The other is a rather liberal friend whose religious persuasion, if any, is unknown to me.  I know both to be loving, gentle souls, intelligent, generous, and very likeable. 

The latter shared an Internet meme that portrayed supermarket clerks of various religions refusing to sell certain items due to the their beliefs.  The Catholic clerk refused to sell condoms.  The Muslim clerk would not sell ham.  The JW would not sell a birthday card.   You get the idea.  Finally, an American clerk who believes in equality offers to sell anything because “he’s not a small-minded bigoted a**hole who hides his bigotry behind religion.”  So, now I know what my friend thinks of me as a Catholic.  The premise is absurd, and I tend to ignore these things on the Internet. 

A Catholic should never put himself in a position where cooperation in evil is necessary, but we must also distinguish between material and formal cooperation.  Even within those classifications, there are varying degrees of culpability.  One must never violate one’s own conscience.  Being a good Catholic means forming the conscience properly and acting accordingly.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a good place to start.  Certain jobs can be unacceptable for a Catholic to perform and must be avoided.  Working as a cashier in a supermarket is not likely one of them.  When one does find himself in a position where refusing service is necessary, it is done out of love and concern for the other person’s soul, quite the opposite of bigotry.

Understanding my other friend who left the Catholic Church to become a Baha’I is difficult.  We are not close in belief or proximity.  He lives several thousand miles from me.  Baha’is believe that Jesus was just a good moral teacher, not God made man.  Of course, that belief is untenable.  As C.S. Lewis noted, Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.  There are no other possibilities. 

My friend lists his mission statement in life to know God, to be fully alive, to take joy in his work, and to encourage others to do the same.   These are noble undertakings and I highly respect him for that, but knowing God is foremost in making the other goals attainable.  A Catholic understands the best way to know God is through His revelation, especially by His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ who established a Church, the Catholic Church, to shepherd us under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  If a person does not know who Jesus truly is, how can he truly know God?  Instead, my former Catholic friend relies on the writings of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’I faith, and other new age philosophers. 

I have chosen not to directly respond in most of these situations.  Rather, I will often express my catholicity in a joyous respectful manner when posting on social media, making clear the importance of the Catholic Faith in my life.  Our second reading on this Sixth Sunday of Easter begins with the verse every good apologist knows, 1 Peter 3:15.  “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.  Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”  Should the opportunity arise to have a dialog with these individuals, I will be ready.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Lord, Make Me Uncomfortable

I often lament the fact that attendance at our parish is sparse.  If the Catholic Church is the true Church established by Jesus Christ, and the only place in town where He is truly available, why aren’t we packed to the rafters, not only on Sunday, but every day of the week?  Surely we must blame ourselves for not sharing our faith properly with our separated brothers and sisters.  But even those who know the truth tend to stay where they are comfortable.  

Many religious people have the idea that the Catholic Church is just one choice of many.  Therefore, it really does not matter to which Christian denomination one belongs.  This is especially true of Evangelical Protestants who can choose their religious community to suit their taste, often a preferred preacher or music they like.  They seek comfort over truth.  Being comfortable or satisfied where we are in our spiritual life is not a good thing.  We need to be curious and inquisitive, always striving to dig deeper in our relationship with Our Lord.

A recent article by Ken Litchfield caught my eye on the website.  He makes a point that I have tried to respectfully make to my Protestant friends who believe in a Bible-only tradition that denies the authority of the Catholic Church.  I point to the fact that without an infallible Catholic Church, the Protestant could not trust the canon of Scripture.  The Church determined what writings were inspired by God and could be included in the table of contents.  Ken Litchfield makes the scriptural connection to the Catholic Church even more blunt when he says, “The Bible is the collection of books that the Catholic Church decided could be read at Mass.”  Think about that, my Protestant friends.  Your faith is based on a book the Catholic Church compiled for reading at Mass.  You don’t have a Mass and deny its relevance using the same book. 

If you are content where you are in your faith experience, you have a problem.  A comfortable status quo does not foster spiritual growth.  We must all continue to seek a deeper understanding of God’s plan for us.  Nowhere is His plan more accessible than the Holy Catholic Church.  As John Henry Newman stated, “To be deep into history is to cease to be a Protestant. “

Friday, March 24, 2017

Protestant Bifocals

You will need to use your imagination here, as I am going to do, trying to defend a talk I did not witness.  A recent Facebook posting caught my eye because it came from a former member of our parish who is now a Protestant minister.  It consisted of five photos of a whiteboard presentation by a Methodist bishop on the “progression” of Christianity over the centuries.  I am not going to mention either name because their identity is not relevant to my comments.  I use this only as an example of a typical view of Protestant Christianity.

To justify being a Protestant, one usually takes one of two positions.  Either the Catholic Church as we know it was an invention during the reign of Constantine, or Jesus did begin the Catholic Church, but it went off the rails at some point in history and was reformed in the 1500s.  Keep this in mind when looking at the Methodist presenter’s timeline.  Be also aware of several listings I would call “set ups.”  These are points that would not normally be included in the history of the Church unless you were setting up the reader for a contrasting viewpoint to come.  

Of course, having only the whiteboard notes to peruse, I do not know what was said about each, so this will require some speculation.  I am going to list some of his notes from each of the five eras along with my own comments.  After each, I will add some glaring omissions.  The first board listed the following:

New Testament Church
- various locations
- secret gathering
- certain times of worship
- breaking bread
- singing
- praying
- offering
- temple
- spirit led
- spirit speaks to everyone
- repeat history of faith
- risk persecution
- shared good news of Jesus to everyone
- chastisement
- order
- dissention – indecision
- faith overcame doubts
- gifts from the Holy Spirit
- standing
- preaching

My Comments:  From the Catholic view of history, we would agree with much of this assessment.  Surely the early Christians met in various locations, in secret gatherings because of persecution, at certain times on the Lord’s Day.  We know the Church was led by the Holy Spirit, preached the good news, and celebrated the Holy Eucharist.  Yes, there was dissention (sic).  We read about it in Scripture, and also know from Scripture how it was settled.  Two little subtleties warrant attention here.  The words, “to everyone.”  He says, “the spirit speaks to everyone,” and they “shared good news of Jesus to everyone.”  These statements are preparing us for a perceived future change that will support the need for reform.  If the Holy Spirit is indeed speaking to everyone at this time, where did the dissension and indecision come from?  This seems like an attempt to say an authoritative hierarchy was not needed. 

Glaring omissions:  The whiteboard list makes no mention of the Church being founded by Jesus Christ on Peter, who was given the keys to the Kingdom with the authority to bind and loose.  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide his Church and said the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  If someone wants to know what the early New Testament Church worship was like, no better source exists than the writings of the early Church Fathers.  This vast treasure of documents provides tremendous insight into the mind and practices of the first Christians.  Ignatius of Antioch The used the term "Catholic Church" is his Letter to the Smyrnaeans that he wrote in about 107 AD to Christians in Smyrna.   The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a first century document that contains a description of liturgical norms in use at that time.  A Catholic today would recognize chapters describing the Mass. 

Early Christian Centuries 133 - 604

- 4th Century Official Religion
- People stood in worship
- Local customs important
- Baptismal practices – Infants
- Ordination of Women deacons
- Milk & honey in communion
- Weekly communion
- More structured
- Liturgical Calendar – A/C – L/E
- Prayer professionalized
- Music – unison / choirs?
- Ceremonialism
- Small à Large
- Pulpits
- Formal Leadership
- Sunday Sabbath

My Comments:  To be clear, Constantine made it legal to be a Christian.  He did not start the Catholic Church as some believe.  People probably stood in worship.  We still do at times.  Local customs important?  Perhaps, but that does not mean everyone did their own thing in worship.  Liturgical norms were prescribed.  Again, read the Didache.  Infants were baptized.  Scripture speaks of entire households being baptized.  There were women deacons, but they were not “ordained.”  Their roles were not the same as the ordained male deacons we know today. 

Milk and honey were apparently brought up with the bread and wine as part of the oblation around the second century as part of the Rite of Initiation when infants received Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist together.  The practice is described in Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition, written around 215 AD.

As far as being structured, having weekly communion, a liturgical calendar (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter), music, and formal leadership, all of those things continued to develop as the Church grew from her infancy.  We still have them today.  I am not sure what the presenter meant by professionalized prayer and ceremonialism unless he is referring to centralized structured prayer which enables us to pray in unison, and the ceremonies of the liturgies which are an essential part of the universal Church.  The “Sunday Sabbath” was already in practice at this time.  Again, refer to the first century Didache that describes meeting on the “Lord’s Day.”

Glaring Omissions:  No mention of any Church Councils.  The Canon of the Bible was determined by the Catholic Church during this period.  Without an infallible authoritative Catholic Church, Bible-only believing Protestants would not have an inerrant Bible to base their faith upon.

Middle Ages  600-1500

- Sitting – pews – audience
- Priestly run – not spirit led
- Worshipers as observers
- Latin & mumbling
- Altar against the wall
- Ecclesiastical Leadership Structure
- Communion in 1 kind à prescribed
- Relics
- Curtain separation
- Resurgance of Jewish-like worship
- Marriage in church
- Baptism necessary for salvation
- Priestly interv for salvation
- Prayer prescribed
- Caste system for clergy
- Feast days
- Canonization of saints

My Comments:  Now we see where this is going!  This Protestant must show the Catholic Church going off the rails to justify the so-called reformation.  The common ploy is to depict the Church now excluding the people, hiding the truth, and being controlled by the clergy for their own benefit.  He tries to portray Catholics as mere spectators sitting in pews, while a self-serving priest with his back to them mumbled something in a language they did not understand.  This may seem the case to someone who denies the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic and therefore does not understand or appreciate what happens on the altar.

Unlike most Protestant denominations where the preacher is the focus of attention at worship, both the priest along with the congregation generally faced east (ad orientem) toward the altar where the focus was on Jesus who would become present during the liturgy under the appearances of bread and wine as He does today. The Church, being universal, adopted a universal language. There were no printing presses during the middle ages. The Scriptures had to be copied by hand. If you could read in the Middle ages, you knew Latin. It was closest thing to a universal language at the time. The Church today still issues official pronouncements in Latin first, to be then translated into the vernacular throughout the world. Latin was a way of maintaining unity of thought throughout the Christian world.
To say the Church is now “Priestly run – not spirit led” is a particularly telling statement for a Protestant to make.  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth.”  (John 16:13)  When he gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom and the authority to bind and loose on earth, He also said the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.  (Matt 16:17-18)  The Protestant must hold that Jesus’ declaration was wrong.  What is really different here?  Is it the Church’s leadership, or the protester’s dissatisfaction with the Church’s leadership?  Jesus’ mandate assures us that the Church will never fall away from the truth even if some individual Catholics do.   The Church is still led by the Holy Spirit, but the Protestant disagrees with the leadership so they protest.

The Eucharist is the resurrected Body of Christ. His body and blood were separated at death, but reunited at the resurrection. The Church teaches that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ exist under the appearances of both Bread and Wine. As a matter of practicality and to avoid profaning the sacrament by spillage, the congregation generally received only under the form of bread.

The Church has preserved certain relics, not because they hold some mystical power, but rather in knowing their occasional association with God’s miracles. 2 Kings 13:20-21 tells of a man brought back for the dead after contact with the bones of Elisha. See also Matthew 9:20-22 where a woman is cured of a hemorrhage after touching a tassel on the cloak of Jesus. In Acts 19:11-12, cloths that touched the hands of Paul cured disease and removed evil spirits.

The presenter mentions curtain separation. Again among the common Protestant contentions is that the Catholic Church tried to hide the truth from the people, keeping them separated in some way for some selfish gain. This may or may not be what this presenter was surmising. The history of the curtain dates back to the Old Covenant as referenced in Hebrews, chapter 9. A curtain separated the Holy of Holies where only the high priest could enter once a year. The Holy of Holies held the Arc of the Covenant, and among its contents was the manna, the Bread come down from heaven.

The manna prefigures the Living Bread from heaven, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus present under the appearance of Bread in the New Covenant. The curtain, or veil, formed a barrier to prevent sinful man from inadvertently entering into God’s sacred presence. When Jesus died, the temple veil in Jerusalem was torn from top to bottom. The Eucharistic Bread under the New Covenant is reserved in tabernacles in every Catholic Church. Even today, those tabernacles often have a divided curtain inside the door that may also visually emphasize the holiness of Christ’s Real Presence.

Briefly addressing the remaining notes the presenter lists as Middle Age developments, Jewish-like worship should not be a major surprise. The first Mass took place during the Passover meal. We are, in a sense, fulfilled Jews. Marriage, or Matrimony, is one of the seven sacraments and would naturally take place in the Church. Is Baptism necessary for salvation? Read 1 Peter 3:21. Regarding Priestly inter(vention?) for salvation, the priest is the one who confects the Eucharist that Jesus tells us we must eat in order to have life within us. Jesus gave us a prescribed prayer, the Lord’s prayer. Not wishing to speculate on what the presenter was addressing in his caste system for clergy or feast day remarks, I will refrain from comment.

Glaring Omissions: I am surprised the presenter made no mention of indulgences, the often misunderstood remission of temporal punishment dispensed under certain conditions by the Church as a minister of redemption. While the practice may have been abused at times during the Middle Ages, prayers and almsgiving are bona fide forms of recompense due for sins committed, and it was prudent for the Church to assign weight to the value of the offering. The reformers would later cite misuse of indulgences to justify their revolt.

Reformation Period 1500-1600

- No curtain
- Printing Press
- King James
- Common Prayer
- Congregational Participation
- Bap. & Euch – Sacraments
- Frequent Eucharist
- Persecution
- AniBaptists – Adult Baptism
- 4-Part Music singing
- Cultural Heritage no role in R.C.
- Preaching central
- Bibles vernacular

My Comments: As noted above, the purpose of the curtain was not to hide anything from the people.  What reposed behind the curtain was too awesome for sinful eyes to behold, and the curtain was a reminder of this fact.  Today, Catholic Churches often have a small curtain or veil over or inside of the tabernacle where the Consecrated hosts are reserved.  Since its purpose was never to obstruct as some would like you to believe, whether the curtain is present or not is irrelevant.

Prior to the invention of the printing press, Bibles had to be copied by hand, a long and tedious process.  The Church was not trying to keep the Bible out of the hands of the people.  They were simply difficult to come by.  The Gutenberg Bible, the first Bible printed on the printing press, was the Catholic Bible.

King James was the successor to Henry VIII, who broke away from the Catholic Church when the pope refused his request for a divorce.  As head of the so-called Church of England, King James had no authority to issue a Bible more than any other head of state.  It would be somewhat like Donald Trump commissioning a bible today.  Jesus gave His Catholic Church the sole authority to bind and loose, and that includes determining the canon of Scripture.

The Book of Common Prayer was issued by the Church of England to revise the various rites by removing doctrines rejected by Protestant reformers.  Tenets of the Christian faith from the beginning, including the belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, praying for the dead, and the seven sacraments, were changed or eliminated. 

I suspect the presenter mentions Congregational participation as the reformers counter to his previous contentions that the congregation was a mere audience of spectators at Mass.   The problem with congregational participation in the reformers’ church is that it eventually allowed the congregations to choose their own doctrine.  Uniformity was lost, and Protestantism became fractured beyond repair.  Seven Sacraments became two, Baptism and Eucharist.  And Eucharist was no longer valid because Martin Luther was not a bishop and could not validly ordain priests.  Therefore, the line of Holy Orders was broken.  The Catholic Church has maintained Holy Orders, and we have Eucharist everyday. 

I don’t know what the presenter said about persecution.  Christians have been persecuted throughout history and continue to be today. 

The “Anibaptists” (sic) believed that faith had to come before baptism.  Therefore, it would be wrong to baptize infants since they could not profess their faith.  While some of the higher order Protestant denominations still baptize infants, most of the others do not.  Scripture says that baptism replaces circumcision, and circumcision usually happened when the boy was eight days old.  The Church had baptized infants and children throughout history, so this was another Protestant change.  To them, baptism was not efficacious.  Rather it was a symbolic manifestation of a person’s faith.

The reason for listing 4-part music singing here is unclear.  Sacred music has always been preeminent in the Catholic Church, from Chant to the great composers like Mozart and Bach who wrote beautiful music for the Mass.   Also puzzling is his statement that cultural heritage had no role in the Roman Catholic Church.  Many parishes arose along ethnic lines as Catholic immigrants came to this country.  Neighborhood parishes often are named after the patron saint of the country of those who settled there. 

Once the reformation split took place and Bible-only Protestantism fractured Christianity, preaching became central.  The loss of focus on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist made the preacher the central focus of worship.  Lacking the Magisterium, doctrinal disputes caused multiple divisions.  With no centralized authority, people could choose their place of worship based on whether they liked the preacher and his or her interpretation of the scripture.  More bibles were produced in the vernacular because the invention of the printing press made it possible.

Glaring omission:  The presenter makes no mention of the seven books removed from the Bible by Luther and his attempt to discredit or remove certain New Testament epistles.  (James, Hebrews, etc)  He also fails to mention how the rejection of papal authority caused doctrinal chaos within Protestantism.

Modern Times 1700-present

- Enlightenment
- Female Clergy
- Lay Participation
- Individual Experience
- Shared Resources
- Revivals & Tent Meetings
- Baptism Debate
- Altar Calls
- Expansive hymns
- Common Lectionary
- Music
- RC little recog of cultural dif
- Eucharistic understanding
- Liturgical Calendar

My Comments:  The Age of Enlightenment was a period when reason became the primary source of authority.  With it came increased questioning of religious authority.   Adopting this philosophy became a license to oppose what the Catholic Church had taught through the centuries.  Religious norms were up for grabs once Christianity began to divide.  Where the Catholic Church was the Bride of Christ, and the male priesthood acted in Persona Christe, Female clergy became commonplace in Protestant offshoots.  The lines between male and female roles began to blur. 

Lay participation now allows many Protestant congregations to choose their own ministers.  The Individual experience is manifested in relativism.  If someone does not like what is being taught in his congregation, he can find a different one to suit his taste, or simply start his own.  He has no Divinely issued authority on earth for guidance or correction.

I cannot comment on the presenter’s listing of Shared Resources other than it implies that resources were not being shared prior to this time, which is not true.  Resources are shared more easily in modern times.  Revivals and Tent meetings became popular because the preacher was now the center of attention.  Showmanship attracted audiences as much or more than the actual message being delivered. 

The Baptism Debate was one of many debates that would arise once the Church was no longer obeyed as the pillar and foundation of truth.   Luther’s notion of justification by faith alone apart from works led to the belief that all one had to do is declare Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  This often happened at an Altar Call, a nineteenth century development that coaxed people into making a public commitment to Christ.

I will avoid the topic of music here.  There have been many beautiful hymns written in the past few centuries by both Protestant and Catholics.  The Common Lectionary used by the Catholic Church and several Protestant denominations is on a three year cycle where much of the Bible is covered.  The same readings will be read in every Catholic Church in the world on any given Sunday.  Additionally, the Catholic Church has daily Mass readings that cycle on a two year schedule. 

The presenter noting that the Church has little recognition of cultural differences is a bit puzzling.  As noted before, many parishes still have ethnic roots.  Music in the liturgy can vary culturally.  Various saints are venerated in areas according to local custom.  Liturgical uniformity, however, is necessary for the universal Church.  Christ established one Church, one faith, one baptism for all, and that Church is guided by the Holy Spirit to foster Christian unity.

Eucharistic understanding certainly changed in the Protestant community after the reformation.  They view the bread and wine as symbolic of the Body and Blood of Christ, rather than the transubstantiated actual Body and Blood of Christ.  And in fact, they are correct in their own congregations, because they no longer have a valid Eucharist.  Martin Luther had no authority to ordain anyone, so the apostolic succession necessary for the laying of hands was broken.  Holy Orders remains valid in the Catholic Church and in some eastern churches where apostolic succession has continued. 

His final notation cites the Liturgical Calendar that Catholics and many other Christian denominations observe.  In the Catholic Church, we observe the Advent season, Christmas, Lent, and Easter.  Outside of those seasons we refer to as Ordinary Time. 

Glaring Omissions:  The so-called reformation began the splintering of Christianity.  Once the Magisterial authority and the Oral Tradition of the Church was denied, Protestants were left to define their own interpretation of Scripture.  With no one in authority to settle disagreements, doctrinal splits became rampant.  Today there are thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations, many of them not affiliated with any particular leadership other than the preacher who started it.  All of them may believe in the Bible alone as their guide, but their interpretations of the Bible do not always agree.  With the loss of focus on the Holy Eucharist, worship can devolve into a Christian pep session where the preacher and performance are the attractions.  Doctine is fluid.  Most Protestant denominations now allow artificial birth control, pretty much unheard of prior to 1930.  Some promote same-sex marriage.  Even abortion is permitted in some.  Twisting interpretation to fit certain desires can justify most anything with no divinely authorized body to provide guidance. 

More interesting than the evolution of Christianity over the centuries is what has remained constant in the Catholic Church.  We have maintained apostolic succession and Holy Orders.  We have an all-male priesthood, with the priest acting in the person of the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, with the Church as His bride.  The Holy Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, is still available to us as the center of our Faith in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  We have kept the canon of Scripture intact throughout Christian history.  We have the seven sacraments instituted by Christ, including Reconciliation where we are absolved of our sins.  We stand strong in respecting the sanctity of marriage and the right to life.

God is does not change, so what makes more sense?   Should we look for truth where it seems illusive, or should we look where it has remained firm and constant?  The defense rests.