Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fasting in a McWorld

Given that we live in a McDonald’s culture, fasting may seem at odds with the quick and indulgent gratification complex that characterizes the moral landscape of our society. This is exactly why fasting is probably more relevant now than at any other moment in time. The privilege of being Catholic has provided us with a season set aside for specifically this purpose. I write about this now, even though we are not in the season of Lent, in order to bring attention to an oft ignored aspect of our faith that can and should be practiced at times even outside of Lent. If we are going to overcome the self-indulgent McWorld in which we live, we must be imitators of Christ our Light even in His example of fasting.

While fasting and abstaining during Lent and other personally chosen times of the year are a given for most Catholics, these same Catholics have little to no idea as to why we fast, which nearly defeats the purpose. For many, it is simply a cultural practice devoid of any spiritual motivation.

Olivier Clement writes in The Roots of Christian Mysticism of the nature and purpose of fasting and other forms of ascesis:

"[Its purpose] is to transform the vital energy that has gone astray and been ‘blocked’ in idolatrous ‘passions’. Praxis gives birth to the virtues, which love will then synthesize."

To move from the blessings of this life, which are fundamentally good, to a radical demand to go beyond them, we must first have become aware of a higher perfection, and have received a pledge of God’s ‘sweetness’ (even if later he has to withdraw it and ask us to go through the desert places).

Diadochus, a fifth century bishop of Photike, writes in much the same language:

"But voluntarily to abstain from what is agreeable and abundant is a sign of great discernment and higher knowledge. We do not readily despise the delights of this life if we do not taste with complete satisfaction the sweetness of God.”

The motivation for fasting must be a recognition of the higher things of God, those things that sustain our humanity in ways that mere food does not. The hunger felt during fasting is a physical expression of the desire to be filled with God’s Word, for to be filled with the blessings of the material world is to leave no room for the greater blessings of the spiritual. Christ assures us that our human nature demands much more than the nature of animals when He teaches, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” This line of thought is in harmony with Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in which we learn that the body serves to express the soul. If in our souls we desire detachment from the things of the world in order to attach ourselves to God, then we must express this through the body. Fasting serves as such an expression. On the other hand, to fast without true spiritual motivation is to express a spiritual desire that does not exist. It serves as a lie, and is, therefore, an unacceptable sacrifice.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Rupture between Sexuality and Procreation

“The libido of the individual becomes the only possible point of reference of sex. No longer having an objective reason to justify it, sex seeks the subjective reason in the gratification of the desire, in the most ‘satisfying’ answer for the individual, to the instincts no longer subject to rational restraints. Everyone is free to give to his personal libido the content considered suitable for himself” (Ratzinger, 85).

These words of Pope Benedict from his book The Ratzinger Report constitute his analysis of the implications of the modern mentality on human sexuality, which is at the core of the debate over homosexuality today – a mentality in which the objective reason for the sexual act is no longer rooted in the absolute for which it was created, that is, unity and procreation. Rather it is reduced to an act that is perceived and touted as one that is the least absolute in all of nature, thus losing a sense of intelligibility about the act. And if this act, which in reality represents man as an image of God in nearly its fullest sense, is without intelligibility, then man loses intelligibility.

The defense of homosexuality represents an implicit denial of the intelligibility of man in that it makes the false assumption that there is nothing in the nature of man that should convince him that certain acts betray his nature. Stemming from an exaggerated personalist philosophy, the rupture between sexuality and procreation naturally leads to a rejection of objectivity in the sexual act and devolution into pure subjectivism where sexual gratification becomes the greatest good. Without intelligibility, there can be no guiding principle to act according to man’s nature, thus making it perfectly acceptable to use the body in any way one desires. If this is truly the case, then there is no basis for laws against pedophilia, rape, incest, etc. If there is no natural law guiding that which is most fundamental to the existence of man, that is, the sexual union between a husband and wife, then one would be hard-pressed to make a case for the existence of natural law at all with regard to man. This leads to a rejection of the entire concept of natural law, and thus, the nature of man. In other words, man has neither nature nor intelligibility. If man has no nature, then man is not man. If man has no nature, then man is nothing, for all existing things have a nature. If man has no intelligibility, then he is created by an unintelligible god, which is no god at all. Therefore, the defense of homosexuality is not only the implicit denial of man’s intelligibility, but also the denial of an existing man and an existing God.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Purification of Culture through Faith

A couple of years ago, Hugo Chavez was outraged by a comment made by Pope Benedict in which he stated that Christianity was an agent of purification for the Central and South American cultures that it converted. The fact that Chavez would see this as an insult rather than a completely rational observation is disturbing. I wonder what part of human sacrifice Chavez sees as worthy of retention. Was Pope Benedict stating his utter distaste for the heritage of the Central and South American people, or was he simply acknowledging the awesome power of Christianity to bring already existing cultures out of the ghetto of potentiality and into the actuality for which they were meant – an actuality characterized by adherence to natural law and the one, true God?

This incident provides an opportunity to ask important questions: What role does and should Christianity play in the development of those cultures in which it finds itself? Does Christianity seek to impose itself at the detriment of already existing cultures or does it seek to build up that culture while leading it away from those traditional practices that do not benefit the nature of man as an image of God?

The role of Christianity within already existing cultures has historically proven itself to operate in such a way as to preserve those positive aspects and traditions of that culture, even to the point of assimilating them into their expression of Catholicism. What else would explain for the great success in the Church’s missionary work and the continued adherence to the faith of these converted peoples? A clear example of this would be the many traditions that exist within Latino Catholicism distinct from the traditions of European and American Catholicism. These traditions that characterize the culture of Latino Catholicism were obviously not forced upon them by a foreign influence. If so, they would be clearly seen in that foreign culture with which it came into contact.

To claim that the missionary activity of the Church is an infringement on the individuality of another culture is to profoundly underestimate that culture. In fact, such a stance reveals a sense of superiority on the part of the one holding that stance over the culture it is claiming to protect. To hold this position is to show little to no confidence in a culture’s ability to determine its own future. If an event of interculturality, as opposed to inculturation, takes place, then the culture that is approached by Christianity and, thus, opens itself to the transformative influence of Truth, will without doubt lose nothing of its own that is objectively positive. Rather, those elements of truth that already existed within it will naturally be brought to a greater degree of perfection while shedding off those elements that were both contrary to Truth and even destructive to the culture in which they were spawned. It would be foolish to assume that every tradition and element of cultural identity is absolutely necessary and even positive for that culture, so when that culture encounters challenges to its established ways that allow it to respond with openness and even change within itself, then such a move must be seen as a legitimate expression of that culture. It is not the loss of culture but rather its evolution. When a culture opens itself to ideas outside of itself and recognizes the need to adopt as its own those positive elements it sees in others, we not only see the upward movement of that culture, but also the reaching of the goal of that culture which is ultimately the goal of all cultures – the attainment of Truth. Truth cannot destroy. By its very nature, Truth is creative and life-giving. It is safe to assume, then, that the failure of that culture to open itself to a positive transformation in an encounter with Christianity would be to deny itself the opportunity of self-actualization and the rebirth of itself in newness of life. Pope Benedict makes this very point in his book Truth and Tolerance:

“That may lead to a profound reshaping of that culture’s previous form, yet this does not necessarily involve any kind of violation or alienation. In a positive case, it may be explained by the potentially universal nature of all cultures, which is concretized in the acceptance of what is other and the change of what is its own. A process of this kind can in fact lead to a breaking open of the silent alienation of man from the truth and from himself that exists within that culture.”

This concept of the purification of culture through faith is not exclusive to those third-world countries that tend to be the more obvious examples. It is, indeed, as absolutely necessary to our own ‘civilized’ and ‘stable’ cultures here in the New World and Europe as it is in those parts of the world that are still being evangelized. We have yet to reach a cultural point at which we can say with surety that we have attained Truth. In fact, it seems that the very opposite can be said: “We have lost the Truth that we once had.” Therefore, a new evangelization is necessary. A new purification through faith must be established. Only then will this culture in which we live experience the rebirth that it so badly needs. Without rebirth, it will drown in the stagnant waters that it has drawn for itself.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Word of God Conference

I'll be in New Orleans for the weekend attending the Word of God Conference. Among the speakers will be Dr. Peter Kreeft, so I'm particularly looking forward to this. To top it off, we'll be staying at the Center for Jesus the Lord, a retreat center that was once a Carmelite monastery:

I'll be impressed if anyone can identify the setting of the picture at the top of this post.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Education and Play: Seeking the Proper Order (Part II)

In Part I of this topic, I wrote of the transcendent nature of play as that which is an expression of our nature as images of God. Developing this idea a bit further, speaking of the proper place of play within academia should be taken up.

Part I ended with the conclusion that play exists as a sort of signpost, and it is merely that. It reminds us of our ultimate end at which point we will exist in a state of timelessness, order, and perfect unity and justice. It also reveals our own sort of impatience. We want that higher existence now, not later. We even train our bodies to become better athletes and musicians in order to perfect performance with the hope that greater performance results in greater play. Greater play means greater anticipation and clarity of that world that we are seeking to imitate even if done so unknowingly. Play is our creative expression as images of God and is, thus, a gift from God that should reveal to us our true nature. But it is still just a signpost. It cannot and should not be the final destination.

As heaven is that final destination about which I write, then it is incumbent upon us to put every tool and gift God has given us to reaching that destination. This is not to say that we can somehow earn our salvation, rather it is an acknowledgement that God has placed us upon this earth to reach greater heights of holiness and love before He calls us to judgment. The most obvious gifts God has given us to reach greater knowledge of love of Him are our intellects and wills. Without them, we can neither know Him nor love Him, and this knowledge and love is expressed through the body. This reveals to us the role of education as that which forms the intellect to accept not only the truths of God’s creation which we call the sciences, but also that which the sciences were created to reveal – the wisdom and beauty of God Himself. Because the intellect informs the will, a well-formed intellect should lead to well-informed decisions, and thus a greater display of proper character. This is where play, especially the form seen in sports, is insufficient.

Is it, then, wrongheaded to believe that sports should play no role within academic institutions? I believe that it is. Because of the unifying effect of sports, it plays a role that cannot be filled by education alone, but it must be acknowledged that the role of sports within academia is only that of unification and, therefore, representation of the entire student body. Sports and other forms of play within schools are at the service of the greater good of education and the entire student body, not the other way around. They are meant to enhance education by fostering unity. Sports must be seen as the handmaiden of the gentle master that is education. This is the proper order that exists between play and education, and to stray from this is to inject within this system a principle of chaos. One begins to see the tail wagging the dog. Sports begins to demand service from education and sets itself up as an entity independent of the greater student body, seeking recognition beyond its calling. Rather than being a force for unity, it establishes itself as a source of divisiveness and even belligerence towards that which it must serve. This naturally becomes the mindset of those engaged in such play, and a culture which sees sports as the greatest good to the detriment of education is now at work. But the divisiveness doesn’t end there. If this is what the athletic world then begins to offer, then it must necessarily turn on itself, eating its own children. If its children are fed the same bitter food, then the children become divisive amongst each other, separating themselves from the good of team unity, seeking personal aggrandizement and grossly high pay for something that by its nature should neither demand nor deserve such things. This should also raise questions about the forms of play on which a school focuses. As mentioned before, there are forms of play such as music that seem to better reflect our human natures and that to which God has called us. Is it, therefore, intellectually consistent to uplift the lower forms of play while degrading the higher forms?

It is for the benefit of both academics and sports that the proper order be sought and eagerly embraced. To do otherwise would be to destroy both.

Education and Play: Seeking the Proper Order (Part I)

Peter Kreeft has written of those ways in which Heaven haunts earth. Such things as the effect of timelessness experienced when engrossed in a beautiful piece of music are things that reveal to us the other-worldly nature of many of our worldly experiences. They serve as reminders that we are not purely natural but also supernatural, that is, not only corporeal but also spiritual.

Another interesting phenomenon of human experience is that of play. In fact, it is such an important element in the human experience, Pope Benedict saw fit to mention it in relation to liturgy in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. He makes the point that play is much like liturgy in that it is characterized by its own set of laws and time independent of the laws and time of the world in which play is done. It becomes an independent world within a world.

It is safe to say that this sort of organized play is a particularly and peculiarly human activity. But why is this so? What is it about being human that drives us toward forsaking the world in which we are bound for a game-world even if only for a few hours? As Christians, we believe that we are images of God, a God who creates out of nothing, is bound by nothing, and has brought order to chaos. Is it any wonder that the image reflects that of which it is an image? Let us entertain the example of our beloved football game. Time begins and stops, implying an existence not bound by time’s onward march. A set of rules peculiar to that game is enforced. To stray from those rules is to invite punishment; it contains within itself its own sense of justice. It mimics a battle against good and evil in its physical aggression between opposing teams which has proven to be something of which the human mind and imagination never seem to tire. There is also the coach, the one who establishes and demands order and unity among those whom he directs. It is a sort of universe within a universe with all the necessary elements present. Not only does it become this sort of universe to those engaged in the actual play, but also to those entering into it as spectators. In the opening paragraph, I mentioned the medium of music and the role that it plays in lifting us out of time and space. What may be less obvious is that it functions in much the same way as a typical game of football. The fundamental elements that constitute them as play are nearly identical in both. In music, specifically orchestral or choral performances, there is the presence of a unifying principle, that of the musical piece itself. Within the piece, time begins, accelerates, decelerates, and stops. There are certain rules set down within the piece in order to play it effectively such as dynamics and key. To stray from this is to produce bad music, noise instead of beauty; thus there are consequences for not following the rules. The dynamics produce the effect of tension and release, elements present in a life that is not stagnant, that is, a full life. There is also the conductor upon whom are all the eyes of the musicians looking to him for guidance and following his every movement. He is the one who ultimately determines the movements of all the musicians, but they must exercise free will to follow him. One would be hard pressed to find a clearer example of the spiritual life.

Even more profound about musical play is its presence in all cultures of the world. Music has proven itself to not only be present within all cultures, but to even be a defining expression of that culture, and music also serves as a reflection of a culture’s height. A culture that embraces high standards of education typically embraces high standards of musicianship. There is an irrefutable connection between education and music within cultures. Conversely, cultures that embrace low forms of music tend to be lacking on the educational side of things. In this, we can see that some forms of play even inform and nourish our ideas about education, something that is not readily apparent as an effect of sports. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be true in that a greater emphasis on sports leads to a general de-emphasis on education. The conclusion that can be drawn is that in some way, music reflects and nourishes the entire human intellectual person in ways that sports cannot. The reason for this is the greater connection between music and human nature than between sports and human nature. As human nature includes intellect, will, and body, there are some things that appeal to all three to greater degrees than others. Music uplifts all three due to its inherent requirements of a trained intellect, a focused will, and a body trained to perform. While sports certainly requires fitness of the body, strong intellects have not proven to be key elements within athletics.

In my next post on this subject I will look at the proper relationship between the academic institution and the sports that it sponsors.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Order through Prayer

The following is a short essay I wrote while I was still teaching. It's also been previously posted on another blog a couple of years ago.

In teaching my students about what it means to be an image of God, a much clearer view of human nature has emerged within my own spiritual vision.

What is natural to man? Is indulgence in worldly affairs natural? Is revelry in sexual adventure that which completes man? Are we naturally bound to the desire for the accumulation of material goods? To know what is natural to man, one must first know man’s nature.

To say that something is natural, one is claiming that that which is deemed natural is in accordance with the nature of the thing being observed. Is it natural for a fish to swim? Of course it is. By observing the nature of the fish, the conclusion is easily reached that swimming is natural to the fish, for that is in accordance with its nature. A fish that doesn’t swim quickly dies. A bird that doesn’t fly falls to its death. A man that doesn’t pray is crushed under the weight of the world, for he is not made for the world in both his and its present state.

What, then, is man’s nature? The answer is both simple and profound -- man is an image of God. The image must tell us something of that which it reflects, and if the image is a reflection of the eternal, then to reflect eternity for all eternity is what is natural to it. This is confirmed by St. Gregory of Nyssa in his Catechetical Orations in which he writes:

"If humanity is called to life in order to share in the divine nature, it must have been suitably constituted for the purpose…That is why humanity was given life, intelligence, wisdom, and all the qualities worthy of the godhead, so that each one of them should cause it to desire the godhead, so that each one of them should cause it to desire what is akin to it. And since eternity is inherent in the godhead, it was absolutely imperative that our nature should not lack it but should have in itself the principle of immortality. By virtue of this inborn faculty it could always be drawn towards what is superior to it and retain the desire for eternity."

God is all good, and order is good. Therefore, God is Order itself. We see a reflection of the face of God in the order of His creation. The Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement in his book The Roots of Christian Mysticism writes:

"Each being manifests the creative word which gives it its identity and attracts it. Each being manifests a dynamic idea, something willed by God. Ultimately each thing is a created name of him who cannot be named."

There is order in creation, for its Creator is Order itself, and Order begets order. Man is an image of God; therefore, he is made in the image of Order. Order is part of man’s nature as an image of God; therefore, disorder is unnatural to man.

In God, all of His attributes are one. Because he is eternal and infinite, He cannot be made of parts, nor does He possess parts. He is one is His essence. This has infinite implications, a few being that His order is His love, His love is His justice, His justice is His love, His love is His order, etc. God is all these good things, and man being an image of God finds in them his natural habitat. It is natural for man to have order both in the world and in his mind, will, and body. It is natural for man to love, to seek justice, etc. It is unnatural for man to do anything else. In saying that it is unnatural to man, although man seems tends towards these, I mean to say that it goes against his nature as an image of God. Yet more often than not, we do that which is unnatural to us and claim that it is simply human nature. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! To do anything but love, seek justice, obey God, etc. is to introduce disorder into our minds, wills, and bodies. Disorder in the human soul is manifested in many and various ways, all of which are hideous to the ordered soul.

Who is the man that embraces disorder? He is the one that is confused, addicted, angry, materialistic, yet all the while convincing himself that he has found happiness and contentment. Of course, the conclusions of a disordered mind will almost always be disordered.

How must a disordered system be overcome? By introducing order into the system. When it comes to the human soul made in the image and likeness of Order, Order must be brought into the disordered soul. By an opening up of the soul to the influence of Order through the indwelling of Order can the human soul begin to banish from it the darkness of disorder. This opening up of the soul is called prayer, which is as natural to man as barking is to a dog, as flying is to a bird, as swimming is to a fish. Yet we are like dogs that do not know how to bark and fish that cannot swim. We are dominated by the world which was created to be dominated by us. How absolutely unnatural!

Prayer is our best bet for happiness as happiness can only be found in order. In fact, order is happiness. The purpose of prayer is to turn outside of ourselves, to empty the image in order to be filled with the reality. It is our nature to empty ourselves to both God and neighbor, that in emptying ourselves we may be filled. Fulfillment in emptiness! Yet another of those wonderful Christian paradoxes.

How can we know that our calling is to turn and open to others? If we were created to turn in on ourselves, then our eyes would be facing the opposite direction. We would be created to look inward. But according to nature that is not so. We look outward. It is in looking outward that we can empty ourselves just as the greatest Man, the God-man, did: “Who though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped; Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave…”

Through prayer, we look outward to the Source of all order and happiness. Through prayer, we empty ourselves of our worldly accretions, placing ourselves under the direct influence of a Perfect Order. As Order begins to reign in our souls, so, too, does love, truth, joy, peace, and all other attributes of God.

We pray in order that the unnatural might be overcome by the natural, that darkness might become light, and that disorder be crushed under the liberating weight of Order.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Eucharistic Miracle

The Gospel reading today (John 6:1-14), when read through a Eucharistic lens, sheds light on the covenantal and unifying aspect of the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and loaves. It seems appropriate to immediately see shades of the Eucharist here because of the wider context. Just 11 verses later John records Jesus’ discourse of the bread of life, an apologetic goldmine for the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.

The reason I mentioned that the covenantal aspect can be seen is because of a connection that I believe can be made between this Gospel reading and Jeremiah 31. Verses 31 and 34 of the latter reads: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” It’s important to note the distinction between ‘Israel’ and ‘Judah’, for ‘Israel’ is used in reference to the 10 Northern tribes that fell into idolatry and were then displaced by the Assyrians. They simply ceased to exist as a distinguishable, ethnically Israelite community. It seemed impossible that unity between these tribes and the faithful tribe of Judah would ever be a possibility, yet Jeremiah the prophet pronounces such a reunification of all 12 tribes through a new covenant. Through nothing short of a miracle, God would gather in the twelve tribes through this new covenant, and this covenant would be one by which their sins are forgiven and God’s law is placed within them. Compare this to what we read in Matthew 26: 27-28: “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The Eucharistic sacrifice is, therefore, the new covenant the world had been waiting for! The Eucharist is the means by which the 10 northern tribes, displaced and paganized for centuries, would be brought back into the true worship of God, worship by which the Law Itself in its very fulfillment (Jesus Christ) is placed within them.

With this in mind, the Eucharistic paradigm of the multiplication of the loaves comes into view. Consider a couple elements that may help to illustrate this:
-The manner in which Jesus prepared for this miracle: “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated.” (Jn 6:11) This sequence of events is mirrored during the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist.
-The details of the gathering of the fragments: “He told His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves…” (Jn 6:12-13) This very event itself serves as a prophecy for the miracle that would occur through the new and everlasting covenant of the Eucharist. Through it, the twelve tribes would be gathered into His covenant through the effort of the Apostles and, of course, His grace.

Interestingly, it was the area of the Northern kingdom, the area in which the 10 northern tribes dwelt, that were among the first to accept the Gospel, and therefore, be gathered back in to the true worship of God through the Eucharistic covenant. Nevertheless, this “gathering in” is yet to be complete as we await the full inclusion of the tribe of Judah, our Jewish brethren, who as St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans would experience a mass conversion in the end times.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Authority, Obedience, and Selfishness

The title of this piece reminds me of the “which one doesn’t fit?” question often found on IQ tests and the like. Clearly, the answer to the above would be ‘selfishness’, but why doesn’t it fit? If we recognize that selfishness is insoluble with authority and obedience, why do the terms ‘authority’ and ‘obedience’ cause such discomfort in people? I would propose that a population conditioned by an environment and culture absolutely obsessed with individualism claiming that this individualism is what makes us ‘great’ has not a chance of escaping the pitfalls that are bound to occur – pitfalls characterized by the eventual rejection of obedience as a virtue and selfishness as a vice. When this occurs, recognition of authority as a good becomes a virtue held by a small minority, those who are diagnosed as sheltered, parochial, and even simplistic by the multitude of self-made pop psychologists who have it all figured out. They just can’t seem to figure out why their own marriages are broken, their children are self-mutilating misfits, and the list could go on.

Evidence of this as the prevailing mindset of many today (although none would ever admit to it), is most clearly seen in the elementary and high school classroom, a veritable observatory of the many and varied errors the modern family has imposed upon itself with the children serving as guinea pigs for the new human cultural experiment performed by mad scientists that go by the title of ‘mother’ and ‘father’. In this experiment, a dual hypothesis is being tested: children will be better suited to reach the goal with less guidance, and they will be able to assimilate into the real world in a productive way without being conditioned to recognize the need for authority and more importantly the need to accept another’s authority.

There is an insidious movement of parents away from the role of teacher, guide, and disciplinarian and towards the role of friend. This establishes a relationship in which authority has no place, and the results of this new experiment are quite telling. Since ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ have decided to be simply peers to their children, there has been a corresponding rise in apathy towards those things that create a stable society – education, self-discipline, faith, and marriage. This should raise a question in our minds: Why would lack of authority on the part of parents within the home lead to such a result?

To answer such a question, we must first understand the nature of authority and, therefore, its purpose. Etymologically, ‘authority’ comes from the Latin auctor and auctoritas, meaning ‘model, teacher, and progenitor’ and ‘security, full power, and decree’, respectively. The purpose of authority is to provide a standard by which we learn and model our lives. It is meant to securely and with power guide those in submission to it into a life of goodness. Clearly authority can be abused in the most horrid of ways; nevertheless, this fact does not take away from its necessity for cultural stability. More specifically, authority in the home plays an even greater role. The role of the father, and consequently his authority, is meant to provide an image of the paternity of God to his children, thus forming the child’s notion of God and the submission due to Him by virtue of His authority. St. Paul assures us of this notion in Ephesians 3:14,15 where he writes, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.”

The natural consequence of such a lack of authoritative parenting, most clearly seen when they choose to be their children’s peers, is a corresponding lack of acknowledgement of God as Father. This rejection may not occur in an explicit fashion but can certainly be discerned in the wayward decisions of those who adopt such a way of life. How could a child conditioned to reject the notion of valid authority somehow innately accept the authority of God? Faith, therefore, becomes no longer part of the equation, nor is the concept of self-sacrifice, for if mom and dad have taken on the role of ‘friend’, then at what point will little Suzy or little Johnny ever experience the need to submit their will and desire to the greater good? This sets up children for nothing but failure, but not only children as individuals, but also the society of which these children will ultimately take control. With no appreciation for self-sacrifice and an overdose of selfishness, lasting and fruitful marriages become near-impossibilities, and as we are experiencing now, the breakdown of marriage translates into breakdown of the culture.

Another symptom of such rampant selfishness is the unveiling of its high-maintenance handmaiden that goes by the name of Materialism, which should be no surprise to the thinking individual. The materialist philosophy is a natural outgrowth of such an environment in that the one who rejects sacrifice for the greater good accepts only consumption for the benefit of self.

At the risk of sounding sheltered or parochial, I would gladly forgo the pleasure of being my child’s friend if it meant saving them from adopting the status of a selfish, materialistic, and faithless divorcee.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Things are looking up

Things are looking up with the installation of Archbishop Di Noia:

Concise and beautiful.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Baptism Now Saves You (Part IV)

Protestant Objection #4:

Infant Baptism is unbiblical. It makes no sense to baptize a baby since they can’t make the choice to accept Jesus Christ, nor can a baby repent and repentance is necessary for baptism.

Catholic Answer:

An important point to make regarding Colossians 2:15 (cited in Part III of this series) is that Paul makes the beautiful connection between circumcision and baptism. He makes this connection by teaching that baptism is actually a circumcision not made by human hands. Baptism, like circumcision, was a putting off of the flesh of the body, the destruction of the old self. In the world of typology, circumcision is a type of baptism. Baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision. That is why in baptism there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The problem with circumcision was that it was very exclusive being only for eight day old Jewish males. But now, through baptism, there is no exclusion. If baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision, then logically baptism must do all the things that circumcision did and much more. For example, circumcision brought a male, Jewish baby into the covenant God made with Abraham, making this baby a descendent of Abraham. Baptism brings us into the new covenant with God wrought in Christ’s blood through the piercing of His flesh that ours may not need to be pierced as it was through circumcision. Entering into this new covenant makes us part of God’s immediate family as we are made descendents of Abraham and sons in Christ. If baptism, being the fulfillment of circumcision does all the things circumcision did and more, then why would babies be able to be incorporated as descendents of Abraham through circumcision, but not through baptism? This would mean that the type is actually greater than the fulfillment. Under the Old Covenant, Jewish parents were able to make the decision for their babies to bring them into God’s covenant with his people. Why would the fulfillment of circumcision, that is, baptism, accomplish anything less? Thus the Catholic belief in baptizing babies.

Besides, there is not a single verse in the Bible in which the baptizing of babies is prohibited, something one would think would be a requirement for those that hold to the Scripture Alone heresy. The only reason Peter often requires repentance of sin before baptism is because he’s speaking to adults who have sinned. To say that a baby cannot be baptized because he cannot repent implies that one must first sin in order to be baptized. This makes sin a requirement for baptism. If this was the case, Peter would have to say to babies, “Sin, repent, and be baptized!” For some reason, that just doesn’t sound quite right. To deny babies baptism is to deny them the chance to be made alive in Christ. It is to deny them the chance to drink of the Spirit. It denies them the chance to become heirs of the promise.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Baptism Now Saves You (Part III)

Protestant Objection #3

Not only does Baptism not save, it accomplishes nothing in the soul of the one baptized. It is purely a symbolic action. It is only the external expression of a spiritual reality that has already been accomplished.

Catholic Answer #1:

Again, the point must be emphasized that it is simply inexplicable why Jesus, Peter, and Paul would waste time, breath, ink, paper, etc. on such an unnecessary trapping. Moreover, wasting time on materially symbolic rituals is one of the greatest objections that most Protestants have with Catholicism.

As a Catholic, if I was approached by a Protestant inquiring about whether or not I’ve been reborn, my answer would be, “Yes. I’ve been reborn through the waters of Baptism.” To which he would respond, “That’s unbiblical.” The Catholic position on Baptism is that through Baptism we are reborn, made new creatures in Christ, clothed with Christ, and our sins are washed away, literally. In short, we are saved. How can this be reconciled with Scripture one might ask. Not only can it be reconciled with Scripture, it is explicitly taught in Scripture:

John 1:32-34: “(32)And John bore witness, ‘I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. (33) I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (34)And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’”

Matthew 3:16-17: “(16)And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; (17)and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”

How does one read these verses and continue to hold to the belief that Baptism does nothing? In fact, if, as Protestants say, we must be obedient to the example of Christ, then why would Christ’s example not give the same return to us? To put it another way, the example of Christ indicates that upon Baptism the Holy Spirit comes upon us, Heaven is opened to us(we are saved), and the Father acknowledges us as His sons(and daughters, to be p.c.). Jesus was not baptized to save His own soul, for it did not need saving, but the waters of Baptism must be sanctified in order for it to take effect. His baptism accomplished this and showed us what Baptism does for us.

Answer #2

John 2: 6-10: “(6) Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. (7)Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. (8) He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.’ So they took it. (9) When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom (10)and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.’”

The fact that these jars were used for the Jewish rites of purification is an extremely valuable point that must not be overlooked. In the Greek Septuagint, that is, the Greek version of the Old Testament, these waters used for purification were called ‘baptismoi’, from which we get the English word ‘baptism’ (cf. Numbers 19: 9, 13, 18-19). These waters were used to purify oneself, to wash oneself clean of all impurity. Why would the Christians borrow the word ‘baptism’ from the Jewish purification waters if they didn’t already believe that baptism truly did purify one from sin? There must necessarily be a connection between the Jewish waters of purification and the waters of baptism. Otherwise, it would be inexplicable why the Christians would adopt the word ‘baptism’ for that ritual.

Let’s look at the rest of the passage. John makes the point that there were six stone jars. If the number six was insignificant, then John would have left out that needless detail. So it must be admitted that because of its inspiration by the Holy Spirit, it must be significant. The significance is this: the number six is often used to symbolize imperfection. Wine, when taken symbolically, was used to denote perfection (cf. Joel 3:18). When Jesus changes water into wine that is being held by the six stone jars, He is teaching us that He has changed the imperfect waters of the Jewish purification rites into the perfect waters of Baptism, waters that wash not only the exterior, but also the interior. This is in accordance with what St. Peter tells us in Acts 22:16: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Notice the connection between washing in the waters of baptism and the washing away of sin. God gave us the imperfect waters in the beginning, that is, in the Old Testament (the waters of the ritual purification). He gave us the perfect waters later, under the New Covenant (the waters of Baptism). Consider what the steward of the feast said to the bridegroom (keep in mind that Jesus is the true bridegroom): “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” One can also see that Jesus pours the perfect and saving waters of Baptism into His imperfect servants.

Notice from the above Scripture citations, both John 1 and John 2 deal explicitly with Baptism, but it doesn’t stop there. John 3 takes it even further.

John 3: 3-6: “(3)Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ (4) Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ (5) Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Here we see no explicit use of the word ‘baptism’, but the context indicates a clear reference to it. John 1, John 2, and John 3:22 all make explicit references to Baptism and John 3:3-6 is stuck right in the middle of all of this. It would be unreasonable to interpret Jesus’ words any other way. When He says that the way one is “born anew” or “born again” is through water and Spirit, this is clearly a reference to Baptism. Through Baptism, we are born again, that is, we are made new creatures in Christ.

Paul makes explicit his understanding on the effects of Baptism:

Romans 6:3,4: “(3)Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (4)We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (emphasis mine).”

The plain face of the text indicates that baptism indeed does something for us. We are united to Christ in His death through baptism so that we might rise to newness of life with Him. If baptism unites us to Christ, then logically it must be asserted that baptism is responsible for incorporating us into the Body of Christ. It was Christ’s Body that died and Christ’s Body that was raised. How can we be immersed (for that is what baptism means) in His death and raised with Him if we are NOT a part of His mystical Body? Obviously, being immersed in His death and raised with Him must necessarily refer to our being united to His Body, and as St. Paul teaches, it is baptism that is responsible for this.

Romans 6: 6-8: “(6)We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. (7)For he who has died is freed from sin. (8)But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”

This passage is in reference to baptism as it immediately follows the passage quoted above, that is, verses 3 and 4 of the same chapter. Verse 3 of chapter 6 teaches that we are baptized (immersed) into His death. What is the nature of this immersion into His death? Paul explains in verse 6 that our old self is crucified with Him. Through this immersion into His death we are freed from slavery to sin, for our sin is crucified with Him. Thus the Catholic teaching that original sin and all personal sins are washed away through baptism.

To build a little more on the concept of being incorporated into the Body of Christ through baptism, it is necessary to quote from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “(12)For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (13) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

Paul begins by describing the nature of the relationship between the members of the Body of Christ. Though we are many, we are one is His Body. But how did this unity come about? How is it that all of us have come to unity in His Body? Paul’s answer: “We were all baptized into one body.” This unity that is brought about by baptism lays to rest all artificial separation of men, and being baptized into His Body allows us to drink of the Spirit! Beautiful!

In speaking to the Galatians, Paul teaches that in Baptism, the Christian assumes the identity of Christ, we belong to Him, and we become heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:27-29: “(27)For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

The same idea is present here as in 1 Corinthians 12. The difference here is that Paul reveals a little more about the effects of baptism. He teaches that we have put on Christ. Another translation states that we are “clothed with Christ”. But what does it mean to be clothed with Christ? We must first look at the significance of the symbolism of being clothed. What do clothes do for us? They cover us. They protect us. They even identify us, particularly when one wears a uniform. If I see a man wearing a police uniform, I rightly identify him as a policeman. Our clothes are to some degree an external expression of our identity. For Paul to say that through baptism we are clothed with Christ is profound. This means that through baptism we take on the very identity of Christ Himself. Because part of Christ’s identity is that of being God’s Son, then we, too, become sons of God through Baptism. We become part of God’s immediate family. Because Jesus is a descendent of Abraham, then we, too, become Abraham’s offspring. And all of this is due to baptism!

Paul brings us even deeper into the meaning and effects of baptism in his letter to the Colossians.

Colossians 2: 11-15: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; (12) and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (13) And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, (14)having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (15) He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.”

Here again we see Paul teaching that by baptism, we are buried with Him that we might be raised with Him. He then teaches that we who were dead in our trespasses have been made alive with Him and our trespasses have been forgiven. The phrase “dead in trespasses” seems an awful lot like the phrase “enslaved to sin” used in Roman 6:6. In Romans 6, Paul teaches us that by baptism we are freed from sin, so longer enslaved. In the same way, to be made alive again, no longer dead in trespasses, must necessarily be brought about the same way, for Paul is talking about the same thing in both cases. Referring again to Romans 6:6, Paul teaches that through baptism, our old self was crucified, that is, nailed to the cross, in order that our sinful bodies might be destroyed. Paul makes a similar allusion in Colossians 2:14 when he teaches that our trespasses and our obligation to the law due to those trespasses have been nailed to the cross. In other words, our old self was crucified. Again, the similarity in language indicates that Paul is speaking about the same thing in both cases – baptism. Therefore, through baptism we are made alive in Christ, our trespasses are forgiven, and our old selves are nailed to the cross.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Baptism Now Saves You (Part II)

Protestant Objection #2:

"We get baptized because Jesus got baptized. We do not believe that it effects anything in the soul with regard to salvation. It’s a matter of obedience to the example that Jesus set for us, and that’s all it is."

Catholic Answer:

Why would Jesus set an example of doing something if that something did absolutely nothing for us? For something that actually does nothing for our souls, Jesus, Paul, and Peter sure made a big deal about it.

And doing something just because Jesus did it and for no other reason is fallacious reasoning at the core. There are many things Jesus did that Protestants don’t feel the need to do, so why feel the need to be baptized just because Jesus was baptized? Jesus preached in Jerusalem, but I don’t see very many Protestant pastors convincing their congregations that they, too, must preach in Jerusalem as a matter of obedience to the example that Jesus set for us. Jesus was circumcised, but I don’t see many Protestant women getting in line. He turned water into wine at Cana, but most Baptists would have no such thing at their weddings. Besides, if people really wanted to follow the example that Jesus set for us in regard to Baptism, then anyone who desired Baptism would be required to wait until they’re 30 years old, which is generally the accepted age of Jesus when He was baptized. Those older than 30 are out of luck. Anyone older or younger than 30 would simply be disobedient to the example of Jesus if they even attempted an immersion into the saving waters.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Baptism Now Saves You (Part I)

My next few posts will constitute an apologetic for the sacrament of Baptism and what the Catholic Church teaches in regard to it. I will deal with four Protestant objections, objections that were given to me while discussing this with a Protestant friend of mine. I'm fully aware that the answers I provide are far from exhaustive, but I thought it best to keep it simple here.

Protestant Objection #1:

"Baptism is not necessary for salvation, because baptism does not save a person. Faith in Jesus Christ saves, and that is all that’s needed."

Catholic Answer #1:

1 Peter 3:20-21: “…when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. (21) Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.”

If Peter, being an apostle, knew that Baptism did NOT save a person, why would he write such a thing?! If baptism does NOT save a person, then Peter was either mistaken or he was being extremely irresponsible in his writing. An appeal to the context of this verse doesn’t make the classic Protestant belief any more tenable. The context is about salvation and the fact that Christ died for us. In no way would the context change the interpretation of verse 21 that baptism truly does save us.

By saying that baptism saves a person is NOT to say that Baptism alone saves a person. There must necessarily be an interior desire for salvation. Then and only then(at least for the adult believer; Catholic belief about infant baptism will be taken up later) can Baptism save. We can’t force a person into the waters of Baptism and expect that the effects of Baptism would take hold of the person. The person must, in a sense, take hold of the effects of Baptism by his belief and desire for salvation. This has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church since the beginning. Granted there are those who get focused on the external act to an extreme, the extreme being that they mistakenly come to the belief that merely the act itself brings about salvation, as though God is simply a machine that can be manipulated. Say the magic words and out comes salvation!

Answer #2:

Acts 8:36-39: “And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip.”

This passage is very telling with regard to the question about the necessity of baptism. After accepting the gospel as preached by Philip the deacon, the eunuch becomes emphatic about being baptized when he sees water. This begs the question: why would the eunuch have felt the need to be baptized if Philip had not already told him about the necessity of it? If baptism was not necessary for salvation, then why would the eunuch make a fuss of it? And why was Philip caught up by the Spirit and taken away from the eunuch immediately after the eunuch’s baptism? It seems as though the Spirit was waiting until after the eunuch was baptized because that marked the point at which the eunuch obtained salvation. He no longer needed Philip, for at the moment he was baptized, salvation was gained. If he was saved when he accepted Jesus due to Philip’s preaching and not due to baptism, then why didn’t the Spirit take Philip at that point? Why did he wait until after the eunuch was baptized? These are all, of course, both speculative and rhetorical questions.

Monday, July 6, 2009

More Caravaggio

I included a work of Caravaggio's in one of my earlier posts, and now I find myself being drawn more and more to his work. Here are a few for those not familiar with him:

This is probably an easy challenge, but can any readers identify the events being portrayed in these works of art?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day...for whom?

Many have now forgotten that July 4th, the day that we celebrate as the one on which we gained freedom from tyranny and the right to self-determination, is intimately connected also with the loss of states’ rights to self-determination. It is the date of the Battle of Gettysburg, the battle that turned the tide against the Southern effort at freedom and self-determination. I’ve included a number of quotes below to help put things into perspective for those who have uncritically swallowed whole everything written in our high-school history books. These quotes come from the following website: http://www.geocities.com/mark_willey/civlwar.html

"My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not to either save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some of the slaves and leaving others alone I would also do that." - Lincoln to Horace Greeley of the NY Tribune August 22, 1862.

Secretary of State William Steward said about the Emancipation Proclamation: "We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free."

Secession to protect slavery made no sense at all, even though some Southerners said so, because slavery was secured by the Constitution, by the Supreme Court and even by Abe Lincoln's public promises that he had neither plans nor desire to interfere with it. The war was actually a tariff war - Lincoln trying to hang on to millions of dollars per year in tariffs on Southern goods. In his first inaugural Lincoln promised a military invasion of any state that failed to collect tariffs for the federal government - that he would in his own words, "hold, occupy and possess" said tariffs by "using force against or among the people."

After the 1828 tariff law, the South almost seceded. In 1840, the South paid 84% of the tariffs, rising to 87% in 1860. They paid 83% of the $13 million federal fishing bounties paid to New England fishermen, and also paid $35 million to Northern shipping interests which had a monopoly on shipping from Southern ports. The South, in effect, was paying tribute to the North. The Republican platform of 1860 called for higher tariffs; that was implemented by the new Congress in the Morill tariff of March 1861, signed by President Buchanan before Lincoln took the oath of office. It imposed the highest tariffs in US history, with over a 50% duty on iron products and 25% on clothing; rates averaged 47%. Note the close proximity of this tariff to the start of the war on April 12. Cause and effect.

As the North American Review (Boston, October 1862) put it: "Slavery is not the cause of the rebellion ....Slavery is the pretext on which the leaders of the rebellion rely, 'to fire the Southern Heart' and through which the greatest degree of unanimity can be produced....Mr. Calhoun, after finding that the South could not be brought into sufficient unanimity by a clamor about the tariff, selected slavery as the better subject for agitation". (Source for this section - When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Succession, by Charles Adams)
Note on the Gettysburg Address by H.L. Mencken

"The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history...the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination – that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves." --THE SMART SET, May 1920

The United States is a voluntary association created by the states and states have and had every right to secede. Lincoln was wrong. He did not have the authority, either Constitutional or moral, to make war on the South. The Declaration of Independence itself provides for secession - "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government..."

"If tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then we do not see why it would not justify the secession of 5 millions of Southrons from the federal union in 1861." -- NY Tribune 12/17/1860

To determine the moral right in this matter, ask yourself this simple question: "Would any colony have agreed to join the Union if it had known it would have to fight to get out?" Not a single one would have.

"Opposing secession changes the nature of government from a voluntary one, in which the people are sovereigns, to a despotism where one part of the people are slaves." -- NY Journal of Commerce 1/12/1861

Jefferson Davis in his inaugural address stated that, "the American idea [is] that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established." Similarly President James Buchanan in his annual message to Congress in 1860 said, "The fact is that our Union rests upon public opinion and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens...If it can not live in the affections of its people, it must die."

Horace Greeley wrote "We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets" (11/9/1860).

George Mason University Professor Walter Williams argues that Lincoln's defeat of the South meant the abrogation of the Tenth Amendment - that the concentration of imperial power in Washington was an inevitable result of the war. His analogy is that if you tell a wife she cannot divorce under any circumstances, then her husband can treat her any way he wants. The federal government can treat states any way they want and they want to reduce them to subjugated vassal extensions. As we shall see below, the war was death to the Constitution of the United States in many ways.

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton argued at the Constitutional Convention, "To coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised...What picture does this idea present to our view? A complying state at war with a non-complying state: Congress marching the troops of one state into the bosom of another? Here is a nation at war with itself. Can a reasonable man be well disposed toward a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself -a government that can only exist by the sword?"

For more, please visit the following site that provides many parallels between the Founding Father’s reasons for declaring independence from England and the difficult situation of the South: http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo6.html

Friday, July 3, 2009

Interesting article about Cardinal Newman

Below is the link to an interesting article regarding Cardinal Newman and his contribution to the Church. I know a few readers here that will appreciate this.


Flesh and Blood: A New Covenant (Part II)

The answer to these questions is found in John 6. In verse 51, Jesus Himself connects the reception of His life with the reception of the manna in Exodus. This “bread from heaven”, as it was called, was received unto the life of their bodies. The bread that He offers to them is His “flesh for the life of the world”. Keeping in mind what was read in Leviticus, it should come as no surprise that Jesus uses words (“flesh” and “life”) evocative of this Old Testament passage. When taken in context with Leviticus, one may legitimately wonder, then, if the reception of this abundant life that He promises is somehow connected to the shedding of blood and its consumption. Again, Jesus offers an affirmative answer to this. In verse 53-55, He says, “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; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” The key difference between what Jesus says here and what the Father commanded in Leviticus is that the former approves of the consumption of blood while the latter forbids it. We see a seemingly apparent contradiction. Can it be resolved? The inquiring mind wants to know.

A more careful reading of Leviticus teaches us not only a culinary lesson in sanitation but also a spiritual one. We learn that when it comes to the soul, not just any life will do. We are humans, not animals; therefore, the life of the animal is unworthy of us. The prohibition against the consumption of blood specified the blood of animals when in Lev 17:13, He specifically refers to “beasts and birds”. Jesus is no beast. Furthermore, we learn to avoid devaluation of our dignity at all times while availing ourselves of the elevation of our nature by the spiritual and corporeal infusion of His life-giving blood into ours.

Only HIS life will do. Jesus wants to give His life to us. His life is in His blood. Because He is the eternal God, His life is eternal life. The consumption of blood means the infusion of the life it carries within it. Need I say more?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Name that Artist

I'm just curious if any of the readers can name the artist responsible for the "Sacrifice of Isaac" work in the post below. He's done many other great, Catholic works of art.

Flesh and Blood: A New Covenant (Part I)

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood,” (Leviticus 17:11). This verse is sandwiched between a prohibition of blood consumption with very heavy consequences for those that would defy it. “If any man of the house of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.” Thankfully this prohibition was lifted under the new covenant, but what was its meaning anyway? Was this purely a matter of sanitation, or does it, like many other examples in the Old Testament, have typological value?

To answer the above, it should be read in a fuller context:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life…For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off,” (Leviticus 17:11-14).

The image of Calvary is inescapable. The image of the Eucharistic liturgy is equally inescapable for those of us who have entered into it. While reading it, one might make the mistake that the Father is actually talking about the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ own bloodletting for the atonement of sin. Fortunately this is no mistake. Our Father is one who keeps His Word, so to speak. He did not lie when He taught us that the life of the flesh is in the blood. Such a reality is true throughout the ages, even into ours. This fact makes Eucharistic communion all the more weighty.

Consider what Jesus said to us about His desire for our lives: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” (John 10:10). Notice the connection between His giving of abundant life and the laying down of His own life. Life in abundance for us is dependent upon the sacrifice of His body, His flesh and blood. We know how He gave it, but how do we receive it in its fullness? I say ‘fullness’ here because there are those that would completely spiritualize the gifts of God as though God did not become incarnate, did not eat, did not suffer bodily torment. If he is willing to undergo corporeal and material sacrifice, why would anyone immediately assume that His promise of abundant life is completely relegated to the purely spiritual? It simply doesn’t follow, yet the question remains: If we assume that there is a corporeal dimension to His sharing of life, what form does it take, and how do we receive it?

My next post will attempt to answer the questions above.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Christian Credo in a World of Faciendum

The question of the place of belief within a culture dominated by the notion of self-validation via its ability to produce, progress, and make that which is ‘makable’ is one that may be more relevant today than at any other time. It is an issue taken up by Pope Benedict in his book Introduction to Christianity written before his elevation to the throne of St. Peter.

When the defining criteria for culture devolves from the credo and the essens (belief and knowledge of being) to the faciendum (faith only in the future of what can be made), the reduction of the human person to the status of object seems to be a natural consequence, and its effect on the place of belief in such a world is equally detrimental. The reduction of the human person and the alienation of belief are not unrelated events. Rather they represent a symbiotic relationship, although the ‘bios’ of ‘symbiotic’ does seem to be a mischaracterization of the dynamic of such a relationship when one considers that ‘life’ is almost never the priority of that system.

The revolution that has taken place is the dethronement of ultimate causes and, thus, the rejection of the absolute of intrinsic value and dignity. This has been replaced by the exalting of the scientific mindset in which the greatest possible good is to make and to continue to make with the goal of constant progress – better bodies, better sex, more money, etc. In short, narcissism, perversion, and greed become preferable to the transcendent and metaphysical reality of the nature of things. When these become the new virtues of a society, the old virtues are cast off as relics of the past unable to answer the more pressing needs of humanity which can only be answered by the things we see, touch, and make. That which is measurable can be used for greater and ever more evolved factums. That which is immeasurable can be used for nothing and must therefore be discarded as unnecessary. It is seen as a hindrance to the never-ending roll of the progress-ball. Belief, therefore, becomes a laughing matter if not something to be vehemently scoffed at.

When credo begins to demand that the world of faciendum acknowledge its claims regarding the intrinsic value of man, it is seen not as a voice of reason, but as a clown unable to remove its makeup even in the ‘real world’, unable to make itself relevant in a culture that is ‘all grown up’. What is necessary is a reevaluation of the method by which our credo is presented. Tough questions must be asked and honestly answered. Why is that which is most relevant, that is, the intrinsic dignity of man based on his being an image of God, still seen as irrelevant? Confronting the culture on its own terms, I believe, is the only way to present a credible apologetic for belief. It must be the goal of Christianity to clearly demonstrate the transforming effects of belief through clear and rational argument, effects that would certainly not go unnoticed in a world obsessed with constant progress. In this regard, Christianity and the modern world are in constant competition, as both see the need for constant progress towards perfection.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A coup in Honduras

Having watched the news regarding what's going down in Honduras, I thought I understood what was actually happening. Luckily I had the opportunity to read another side of the story on Emily Byer's blog. Please take the time to visit her blog and read this:


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pope to celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Square with Patriarch of Constantinople in attendance

Pope to celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Square with Patriarch of Constantinople in attendance

Shared via AddThis

This will occur tomorrow and can be viewed on EWTN at 10:30am. Let us offer up this feast day for the unity of East and West.

Lead Kindly Light

This hymn sets to music what I believe to be a good representation of my post below entitled "Do not fear, only believe." I've included the lyrics:

"Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead Thou me on:
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.

So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on;
I love to choose and see my path; but no, lead Thou me on.
I loved the garish day and spite of fears, pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till the night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile which I have loved long since, and lost awile."

"Do not fear, only believe."

Today’s Gospel reading (Mark 5:35-43) is very much in keeping with last week’s reading (Mark 4:35-41). Christ is not only revealed to us as the One to whom all things show obedience but also as the One in Whom we have no reason to fear.

Jairus was tempted to fear through the temptation of those who said to him, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” The temptation is this: “Although He is here, there is nothing He can do to deliver you from your suffering.” It is a temptation that leads us to the loss of hope. Fortunately for us, Christ operates from a very different paradigm. This is revealed in his words to Jairus which are meant to counter the words of temptation: “But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’” In other words, Jesus is not concerned with the latest thoughts on our present difficulties from the many commentators, talking-heads, and pessimistic family members and friends. His concern is that we do not fall into fear, for fear causes a lack of hope, and a lack of hope leads to a lack of perseverance. Had Jairus given in to the voices of despair surrounding him, he would have failed to lead Christ to his child.

An interesting point in the Gospel was made about Jesus’ treatment of those whose fear led them to doubt His power. In 5:37, Jesus allows only certain followers to continue with Him: “And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.” One can assume that since the others were left behind, that is, those who spoke only of fear and finality, they were in no condition to bring healing to anyone. Peter, James, and John, on the other hand, followed Him unquestioningly and in silence making them worthy witnesses to the power of Christ. Mark 5:40 reveals to us His reaction to those would mock His power: “And they laughed at Him. But he put them all outside…” I may be looking too deeply into this, but I wonder if there’s a connection between the “other side” to which Jesus invited his followers spoken of in last week’s gospel and the “outside” to which those who mock Him are relegated. The point, I believe, is that as long as we operate through fear, our eyes will always be ones that do not see, our ears ones that do not hear. Fear keeps us bound to the “outside”; faith and hope carry us to the “other side”. What this entails, though, is the trust in Him that allows us to abandon ourselves to His will, whatever it might be with the knowledge that whatever He does is done perfectly. There can be no other way better than His for He is Perfection Itself.

We must be willing to learn lessons in abandonment to Divine Providence if we ever wish to experience His power and glory without fear.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Music of Talking Beasts

I can't think of anything that could more perfectly illustrate what my previous 2 posts are about.

The Morality of Talking Beasts (Part II)

In Genesis, God revealed to us that we are made in His image. Through our own reasoning ability, we can come to know that God is Love Itself, Truth Itself, Beauty Itself, Logos Itself, and if we are images of Him, then we are logically images of Love, Truth, Beauty, and Logos. Since God is utterly simple by virtue of His eternal nature, then Love, Truth, Beauty, and Logos are one and the same in Him. There can be no distinction. The implication here is that Logos is Love. Logos is Truth. Logos is Beauty. The Word Itself cannot be anything but these, therefore our ability to commune through the spoken word, a gift from the Word Itself, must be a reflection of It. Our word must be an imago Dei just as we ourselves are imago Verbi. Herein lies the moral obligation that speech carries within itself. If it does not reflect love, truth, and beauty, it is not worthy of being spoken. In a sense, it does not deserve to even be given the title of ‘words’.

To take this further, we can understand the spoken word to be the extension of the intellect to another through symbols, and if the intellect is a faculty of the soul, one can even make the case that the spoken word is the extension of the soul to another. Again we are left with the fact that the human soul is an image of the divine God, so to extend the soul is to extend an experience of the divine. If such an extension is characterized by lies, manipulation, selfishness, and the elevation of ugliness through gossip, vulgarity and insults, then the spoken word turns out to be a misrepresentation of the Divine. To misrepresent the Divine is to commit blasphemy, hence the sinful nature of these things.

The inherent power of the spoken word comes from the fact that it finds its source in God Who is Power Itself. Because of this power, it must be guarded. Unfortunately, its obvious power has led many to abuse it for selfish gain. This can be seen as far back as the sophistic rhetoric that Socrates fought against. It can be seen as close as our television set. Simply watch any interview with nearly any politician and one will receive a crash course in the abuse of language. What’s most disturbing is when a society voluntarily elevates a man to the pinnacle of worldly power because he has the ability to abuse the spoken word in the most subtly vile way that he can. When a society reaches such a low point, all truth and all beauty become expendable vagaries in a land of sophistic relativism. It is the point at which the rupture of word and morality reach executive status. We are not the ones we’ve been waiting for. The rupture that we’ve elected for is not the change we can believe in. It is our destruction, for when we use the gifts within our human nature that makes us most like God for things for which they were never meant, then our own human nature loses something of its beauty. And if its beauty is so connected to its dignity, then that nature devolves and resembles something less than what it is. Anything less than the human nature God intended holds a closer resemblance to the Dumb Beasts that God created for our use.

“Treat them [the Dumb Beasts] gently and cherish them, but do not go back to their ways lest you cease to be Talking Beasts.” I wonder, have we allowed ourselves to be ruled by Dumb Beasts? Is it any wonder that the Democratic party’s logo (I cringe to use that word in this context) is a donkey, the proverbial beast of burden?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Morality of Talking Beasts (Part I)

In C. S. Lewis’ book The Magician’s Nephew, chapter ten of the story brings the role of speech into bold relief when Aslan commands the “Talking Beasts” with these words: “Treat them [the Dumb Beasts] gently and cherish them, but do not go back to their ways lest you cease to be Talking Beasts.” Aslan later teaches again with the words, “For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.”

It is no coincidence that in Genesis, God speaks all things into existence. Lewis, through Aslan, describes it more as singing, and for good reason, for singing holds within it a beauty that surpasses the simple utterance of terms. This beauty is such because it contains a harmony and pattern that elevates the mind and heart. This is what God planned for us when He sang the song of His creation. He intended the expression of the truth of His own beauty and goodness to be held within His creation brought into existence by His Word. The logos (word), therefore, is intimately and maybe even metaphysically bound to truth, beauty, and goodness.

God chose the Greek ‘logos’ to be the word, so to speak, by which He revealed the foundational principle by which and through which all things exist and continue to exist (cf. John 1:1-5). This was no accident, for ‘logos’ includes within itself the understanding of reasoning, that is, the faculty of logic. This naturally carries with it the implication of intelligibility and truth. That through which all things came to be and continue to be is Reason Itself, pure and utterly simple Intelligibility. This says a great deal not only about our universe but also about us who were made in the image of this creative Reason, this pure Word.

If word is the means by which God created all things, if it is a title He claims for Himself in John 1:1 as His very being, then our ability to engage in logical dialogue (sharing of logos) must carry within itself a great deal of weight. This weight is rooted in the fact that any ability to speak must necessarily be derived from the Logos that existed before all other things. If the Logos Itself created us, then His nature dictates to us that there is perfect rationale and intelligibility as to why He imbued us with this gift. The very fact that He is Logos means that our ability to speak is not a purely random chance event that arose out of eons of evolution. It has a purpose; it has a logos of it own.

In Part II of this topic, I will discuss the moral imlications of being made in the image and likeness of Logos.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Silence of God...The God of Silence

It would seem that speaking about the silence of God would be counter-intuitive and maybe even counter-productive, but being that our human natures tend most easily towards counter-productivity, I’ll give it my best shot.

The God who spoke all things into existence and the God who continues to speak to us through Divine Revelation is the very same God who subsists in absolute silence. Silence is simplicity and God is absolute simplicity due to His eternal and completely independent subsistence. Could this be why God is most clearly heard in the silence of prayer? Is it any wonder that we expend our greatest efforts at escaping silence as much as possible? To be baptized into silence is to make ourselves vulnerable to Truth, for it is in silence that we come to know God. As the very creator of our human nature, He revealed to us the invaluable role silence plays when He tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The stillness of silence aids our intellects in knowledge of Him. Greater knowledge of Him should naturally lead to a corresponding change in the will. This is the essence of conversion, and this is why prayer cannot be neglected. Is it that our human nature abhors silence because of its purgative effects? It seems as though there is something in our nature that tips us off to the fact that if we welcome the silence, we must also be willing to welcome change, thus, we see the corresponding effects of the fear of silence upon a culture in fear of change. We value access to hundreds of channels on the television. In this way, we are assured that we never have to turn off the television due to previously seen programs. If we do happen to pull ourselves away from the television and get into our cars, we have the radio to break the silence. Not only do we get to listen to poor excuses for music in our cars, we also get to listen to the trash being spewed out of other people’s cars.

I mentioned the connection of prayer and silence in the above paragraph as silence is the best environment for prayer. The reason for this is that the ultimate goal of prayer must be conversion and enlightenment (not in the Eastern sense). St. John Cassian, who lived from the mid-300’s to the early 400’s, recognized this in speaking about the effect upon the human soul by God as light both perceivable and communicable through silence in prayer:

The suddenness of the light stupefies it and robs it of speech. All its senses remain withdrawn in its inmost depths or completely suspended. And it is by inarticulate groans that it tells God of its desire.

The necessity of silence for communication with God is also according to our natures as images of Him Who is Silence, for if in His eternal simplicity He is silent, then by what better means can we who are images of Him reach out to Him? It is as though the silence is more expressive of ourselves to God than all the words we manage to mount up in oral prayer. St. Paul reassures us of the efficacy of our prayer even in the silence when he writes: “For we do not know how to prayer as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (Rom 8:26).”

It is an unfortunate situation that our present cultural state is one characterized by a pathological obsession with noise which should serve as symptomatic enough to make a valid diagnosis: fear of silence is a fear of God, though not in the virtuous sense. It is ultimately a fear of Truth which explains the naïve and childish acceptance of the self-contradictory philosophy of relativism that thrives today. If we can just convince ourselves that Truth is determined by our perception of it, then we no longer have to listen to anyone or anything else. Without the need or appreciation for listening, there need not be silence. And if we hate the silence, then how can we love God?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Peace! Be Still!

Today’s gospel taken from Mark 4:35-41 reveals things that are typically difficult for us to accept when we’re in the middle of our “storms”. There are a few elements from this passage that I would like to point out before discussing the inherent difficulties just mentioned:

1) Jesus’ invitation to go “to the other side”.
2) His seeming passivity during this process.
3) The storm itself.
4) His rebuke to those who questioned his love for them.

Jesus invites his disciples to journey to the other side, and the disciples accepted this invitation by “leaving the crowd”. On the purely literal level, there’s not much to see here, but the spiritual sense of scripture, I believe, reveals much. The ideal spiritual life of a Catholic is the constant acceptance of His invitation to both submit to and experience the “other side”, but I do not believe this phrase is only referring to what we understand as heaven, but also to the life of faith here on earth. It is a life in which we live as though we see that which cannot be seen, we believe that which we cannot fully know, we eat that which consumes us. Peter Kreeft says that Heaven haunts earth. Jesus invites us to be haunted in this way, but we must first submit. As the Gospel tells us, accepting His invitation requires leaving the crowd. The crowd represents all that is familiar and “safe” to us. It is those things that keep us mired in the here and now, those things that keep our eyes diverted from the hereafter. It keeps us from “seeing” that which cannot be seen. His invitation is a challenge to reject popular culture in order to be immersed in a whole new world. This is echoed by St. Paul’s epistle today in which he wrote, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

While the invitation may be compelling enough for us to accept, what many of us fail to predict is what we might perceive as His passivity, but His passivity should be seen as an act in itself. We read, “They took him with them, just as he was, in the boat.” Acceptance of His invitation is to be understood as an acceptance of Him. If we embark to the other side through faith, we cannot take with us anything else but the real Christ, for as he said in the Old Testament, “There is no other.” The implication of this is that the only ones that must change during the journey are us. We must take Him just as He is, just as He always will be. We cannot turn Him into the teddy-bear Jesus that turns a blind eye to our sins, nor can we turn Him into the distant God that remains aloof while sending people to hell simply because He enjoys it. There is no historical Jesus vs. scriptural Jesus. There is only He Who Is. His “passivity” is, therefore, an act that forces us to act. Are we man enough to take Him as He is? To do so is to allow ourselves to be swept up into the powerful storm that He is.

What of the storm? It is the means by which His power is made evident. From the spiritual vantage point, we know the storm to be the process by which we are made perfect. It forces us to call out to him, humbling ourselves before His power and dominion over all things. But we can call out in two very different ways. We can call out as a son to a father, or we can call out as His disciples did, as one stranger to another. There are some spiritual directors that will say foolish things regarding call out to Him in times of distress, and I used to believe them. What I’m referring to here is the advice, “It’s okay to get angry at God. It’s okay to demand an answer. He’s a big boy. He understands.” Scripture tells us something very different. We learn that to call out as a stranger unsure of His love for us, we invite upon ourselves a rebuke. In fact, the rebuke is a bit of a rhetorical question: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” To call out in such a way is to reveal our lack of belief. His words to the storm may very well have been spoken to us as well. “Peace! Be still!”

Let us be willing to be paid the intolerable compliment of following Him to the other side.