Catholic Exchange: Genesis: Is Catholicism at Odds With Science?

There is a battle raging in our culture between science and faith. This battle is centuries old, as various philosophers and theologians have sought to divorce faith and reason. The Catholic Church has stood firmly in the middle of this battle, calling for a ceasefire. Faith and reason are meant to go together, not be torn asunder. One of the primary issues is based on erroneous interpretations of the Genesis creation account, which scientists rightly point out do not comport with reality.

The error in question is based on biblical literalism. This belief, which came about post-Reformation, is the idea that all of Scripture is to be taken literally (except John 6) and that includes the six-day creation account. This has never been the Catholic reading of Genesis precisely because the Church acknowledges that Scripture is a library of complementary, but different, genres; all of which are divinely inspired. Bishop Robert Barron elucidates:

Once of the most important principles of Catholic Biblical interpretation is that the reader of the Scriptural texts must be sensitive to the genre or literary type of the text which he is dealing. Just at it would be counter-intuitive to read Moby Dick as history or “The Waste Land” as social science, so it is silly to interpret, say “The Song of Songs” as journalism or the Gospel of Matthew as a spy novel. In the same way, it is deeply problematic to read the opening chapters of Genesis as scientific treatise.

Bishop Robert Barron, Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism

Scripture and science will never be at odds as long as both are properly ordered to truth. Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, who is the Archbishop of Vienna and well versed on the science-religion problem, remarked:

The Catholic position on [scientific creationism] is clear. St. Thomas [Aquinas] says that “one should not try to defend the Christian Faith with arguments that are so patently opposed to reason that the Faith is made to look ridiculous.” It is simply nonsense to say that the world is only 6,000 years old. To try to prove this scientifically is what St. Thomas calls provoking the irrisio infidelium, the scorn of the unbelievers. It is not right to use such false arguments and to expose the Faith to the scorn of unbelievers.

Christopher T. Baglow, Faith, Science, & Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge, 27.

If we are not meant to read the creation account in Genesis literally, then what was the intention of the inspired author?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Wisdom of Children and Hope in Suffering

My daughter is my greatest teacher. This seems strange in a world where children are reduced to a means to an end or even viewed primarily as accessories. In the West, children are something we have on our own terms. They do not exist for their own sake; they only exist if we will it. This is of course bunk. Any mother or father who has truly embraced parenthood knows that the entire meaning of our lives is to love and be loved in return. We love imperfectly, but it is why we are here.

Children teach us to love. They remind us of how selfish we are, which is the main reason so many in the West have abandoned parenthood. Parenthood comes with sacrifice and hard work. We don’t like having to look in the mirror, and children have a penchant for lifting up the mirror to our faces each day in order to reveal our failings. Parenthood is also the intermingling of joy and sorrow.

Our children take on our worst traits first, and then some of the good. It is one of the great struggles of parenthood. It is something that takes most of us by surprise and causes great disappointment within us. The last thing we want is for them to take on our bad traits. Our child will mutter some expression or respond in a manner that reveals our worst selves and how these little ones have absorbed exactly what we wish them to avoid. It should leave us stunned and humbled; pushing us to do better. Parenthood is to go on a journey. It is to walk along with a person who can reveal the good and the evil inside of our own hearts. The hope is in the end we will both have attained holiness, by God’s grace, and our perseverance.

Lately I have been contemplating the nature of suffering. I myself have entered a period of intense suffering. It has been a month since my fourth miscarriage. The original grief started with frenetic energy, an attempt to avoid the inevitable spiritual and emotional pain, and it has now lulled into the numbness that inevitably surfaces after a loss. I am also not one of those women who bounces back quickly physically. My body is a complete mess right now and all I can do is wait for it to reset. It took a year with my third miscarriage. Hormone deficiencies are exacerbated through miscarriage and the intensity of grief adds great emotional and spiritual weight.

My daughter has responded as well as a 5-year-old can be expected to respond in the face of my recent miscarriage. She only knows what it is to be an only child and she does not have the ability to comprehend the depths of grief at this point. I am thankful for this because no 5-year-old is mentally prepared for such gulfs. That does not mean she does not suffer. In fact, she suffers deeply through loneliness.

If ever there was a child who should not be an only child it is my daughter. Since a very early age, she has demonstrated a deep and open love towards other people. She is social, kind, and greets everyone she meets. She is an extrovert to the core, which she gets from her daddy. She accepts every child she comes across as a new friend and she is deeply hurt when that friendship is not reciprocated. She engages adults and children in conversation wherever we go and she is wholly unaware of her place as a child in society. She functions as a human person among other human persons.

She greatly desires a sibling. Yes, much of it has to do with the desire for a playmate, but she also wants a sibling to love, take care of, and lead. Mommy can only fill that void to a very limited extent. She reveals the ontological reality that all people are made for communion with God and with other people. We are social creatures by nature. She intuitively knows that she doesn’t belong alone. She knows that she is made to commune, to be in deep relationship with other people. She feels her status as an only child at a profound level. As her mother, I share in this Cross with her. The Crosses I face on my own are nothing compared the level of pain I endure in watching my daughter suffer. I would take all of her Crosses on if I could, but I know that is impossible and not even what is best for her.

It is a mother’s greatest desire to relieve their child’s suffering. One of the great battles I wage right now is in realizing that my daughter’s suffering comes from the fact that I cannot seem to have any more children. I cannot will my body to carry a pregnancy to term. I could not keep the four babies I have lost alive. My grief is exacerbated by my daughter’s loneliness. I can’t take her loneliness away. For reasons that are largely mysterious to me, God has willed only one child for us. No matter how much I yell at Him or my own body, I cannot change that fact.

My daughter is very good friends with our neighbors who have four children. She plays with them frequently, but she does not understand why she can’t play there whenever she is available. She doesn’t understand their need for family time. There are many times I have stood watching her, shoulders drooped, tears streaming down her face, and wails coming from her throat, because she is not welcome to participate in whatever is happening next door. She wants to commune and come to the party. She sees that community is a part of her deepest self and that Heaven is the realization of this reality as we enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

No my daughter does not understand this at a theological level. She understands it at the deepest level of experience and I see it every single day. I walk it with her as I watch her struggle with loneliness. I long to take her loneliness from her. She isn’t a play-by-herself kind of person. She doesn’t cut herself off from her neighbor. Instead, she invites others in and she wants others to invite her into relationship. She waits for others to play and then she embraces everyone she meets.

My only hope is to trust that God will use her loneliness for some good. I must trust that He gave her the heart that he did because of the mission He will give her later in life and so she can touch lives now in true charity. I have to find some comfort, no matter how difficult right now, that all of this intense grief and suffering will come to some glorious end in God’s infinite wisdom and plan. Right now, I can’t see it, and chances are, I will never understand why my body is the way it is or why my husband and I have lost four children. It is as Bishop Barron points out in his Catholicism series: I am staring at a pointillist painting from an inch away and all I can see are dots. All I see is my pain and my daughter’s suffering. I am unable to stand back to see the whole masterpiece until I stand before the Glory of God, and based on past writings of the saints, the answers probably won’t even matter. Pax Christi.

 

I Have No Desire to Be an “Expert”

Our society is filled with “experts”. There are experts in politics, medicine, theology, philosophy, science, sociology, psychology, business, and the list goes on and on. An expert is someone who seems to know everything that needs to be known about a particular discipline. This should immediately put us on guard. Anyone who thinks they know everything that needs to be known about a subject, clearly knows very little. Humilitas is the hallmark of the wise. This is how we have been given the Socratic method.

Socrates is told by his friend Chaerephon that the oracle at Delphi told him that Socrates is the wisest man in the world. Socrates’ first question is: How can this be? How could he be the wisest man in the world? He is even more perplexed because the oracle cannot lie. So he goes on the mission of engaging with other philosophers and “experts” to discover the truth of the oracle. He quickly learns that most philosophers or sages of wisdom held themselves up in high esteem. They do not see their own limitations in knowledge or practice of what they teach. Socrates acknowledges his own limitations, and so, the necessity of humility in attaining wisdom is born. In this humility, Socrates proves to be wisest, precisely because he does not consider himself to be so. He recognizes that truth and wisdom are never fully exhausted. We must first come to know our limitations and then we can proceed on the journey towards wisdom and truth.

The expert is the exact opposite of Socrates. The expert holds up their knowledge as superior and ultimate. We watch news programs and are inundated with experts. The primary goal of all of these experts is to tell us how to think. How often does a self-purported expert tell people to study the matter in question for themselves? True, I am not going to delve into quantum physics at this point in time, but the opportunity is open to me should I decide to learn at least the basics.

G.K. Chesterton lamented the dawn of the age of experts. He saw immediately that it creates a power struggle and make us intellectually lazy. The expert removes our own responsibility in learning. We no longer consider whether or not what is presented comports with reality, which is truth. We are all called to be philosophers, or seekers of truth (Fides et Ratio). In fact, we are all naturally philosophers, that is what Pope Saint John Paul II meant. Every single person asks the question “Why?” on a regular basis. Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the meaning of my life? Does life have a purpose? Is there an after life? And the list continues on.

When we abdicate our own natural inclination to search for truth and wisdom, we leave ourselves trapped in a type of adolescence where we wait for other people to tell us how to live, act, vote, or understand a certain discipline. As Catholics, we submit to Holy Mother Church, but that is because we have learned through faith and reason, that Christ established the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who gives her form (life),  and that the Church will guide us ultimately to truth. Our job is to swim into the depths and plunge deep into the truth of the Most Holy Trinity through the Church.

I do not write because I am an expert. Theological study has revealed to me just how little I know. If that is not how a person responds to graduate level work in the expansive mysteries of our faith, then they are doing it wrong and they missed Socrates’ lesson. In fact, every good theology program requires the reading of Plato’s, The Trial and Death of Socrates. Humility is a requirement of any good student of truth. That doesn’t mean we do not battle intellectual pride. That is a great temptation for any student, including the student who labors at home in the autodidact fashion, rather than through formal study at a university.

There is a very real and tempting danger in academia to desire the position of expert. I know that I have fallen into this trap at times. There is great power in knowledge, but it must be harnessed and ordered to the good, the true, and the beautiful. My desire for self-gratification is not a properly ordered understanding of the knowledge God has given me, nor the intellect He gave to me. I did not create this intellect. I did not create the truths I study. I did not create the universe. I merely share in a limited fashion what belongs to Him.

My purpose as a writer is to open up the world to my readers. We are sojourners. We are on a journey towards truth together. Teachers, writers, artists, etc. are not meant to be “experts” we are meant, first to be students ourselves, and second, to point the way in whatever limited way God allows us to do so. When I write, I want to point towards the ultimate Source. I want my readers to jump into the deep. I want you to open up great works of theology, literature, philosophy, Church documents, Church history, art, etc. Sure everyone’s intellect is different, but that does not mean we cannot learn something, even if we walk away somewhat baffled. We should all walk away feeling small and unworthy in the face of great mystery.

There is nothing more complex or humbling than studying the very limited theology we have on the Trinity. Upon reading treatises–what few there are–on the Trinity our brain should hurt, and yet, our souls should soar. Terms such as procession, filiation, circumincession, spiration, paternity, relations of opposition, and tota simul are enough to make a person’s head spin. They only scratch the surface of the great mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

When we read an article or a book, we should look to the author as a guide and fellow traveler. We do not hold them up in some supreme place and presently halt our own thinking and philosophizing. Instead, we should mull around what the author is saying and truly come to understand within ourselves what is being said. In the case of Church documents, there may be times we are quite literally wrestling with God, as Jacob did. We all wrestle with God and we all lose, but we become closer to our true selves as we allow God to deepen our understanding of Him, even in the struggles.

When you read my work, no matter where it is found, never think of me as an “expert”. I want you to go read the resources I provide. I want you to learn more than me. I want you to swim deep into the truth. There are so many great teachers in world history and I only play at it. I am formed by my teachers: Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Justin Martyr, Benedict XVI, John Paul II. These are only a few in a very long and ever expanding list. Take my 1500 words and allow them to point you towards your destination: truth. That’s it. I want you to pick up the books I have read. The documents I study. That’s where I want you to go. The last thing I want is for you to think my 1500 words are good enough or the end of the story.

We live in a culture of instant gratification. We think 1500 words is good enough. It’s only good enough if we do not desire truth. It is only good enough if we want to remain trapped in mediocrity or to never try to understand why we are here.  If you read one of my articles and do not desire to plunge into the depths, then I am failing you as a writer. God bless you on the journey….

Catholic Exchange: Why Study the Works of Saint Augustine?

Saint Augustine, whose feast day is celebrated by the universal Church on August 28th , is “the greatest Father of the Latin Church”, according to many Popes, but in this instance Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He was a man who underwent a radical conversion, and whose intellect and skill as a pastor and theologian, left a profound impact on Christianity as a whole and Western civilization. In Saint Augustine, the undercurrents of Western Culture, its philosophical and theological influences, and the past and present meet in his works. His additions to Catholic thought in both philosophy and theology continue to shape the minds of members of the Church and non-Catholics alike. His Confessions are still considered one of the greatest works of literature in Western civilization. He is read in the classrooms of both secular and Catholic universities. Pope Paul VI said of him, “It may be said that all the thought-currents of the past meet in his works and form the source which provides the whole doctrinal tradition of succeeding ages.”

Augustine was born in Tagaste in the Roman Province of Numidia in Africa on November 13, 354. His father, Patricius, was a pagan and his mother, whom we know as St. Monica, was a devout Christian. There is little doubt that the fervent prayer, fasting, and devotion of St. Monica had a great influence on St. Augustine’s eventual conversion to Christianity. As is often the case on the journey to truth, Augustine’s life was impacted through the works of a non-Christian, in this instance, the pagan Cicero. When Augustine went to study in Carthage, he read Cicero’s, Hortensius. In hisConfessions, Augustine explains his response to Cicero, “The book changed my feelings…every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardor in my heart.”

After reading Cicero, Augustine began to read Scripture because he came to believe that Jesus Christ was the only answer. He knew that while the wisdom of Cicero was a starting place, it was incomplete and erroneous in many areas. Augustine’s first introduction to Scripture did not go well. He found it unsatisfying and the Latin style of the translation of Sacred Scripture was lacking in many regards. He was deeply disappointed in his first reading and study of Scripture.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Abandoning Ideology: The True Breadth and Depth of Catholicism

My reversion back to Catholicism took place back in 2009 after a few years of wandering, confusion, and self-worship. I was living in Washington, DC for an internship at The Heritage Foundation. I had decided to try my hand at conservative politics. I didn’t know it then, but God was beginning a radical change within me that would transform the way I see the world, including politics. I had left behind an unhealthy relationship (for both of us) in which I had cohabited with a man for a couple of years. I was broken and battling the Catholicism which had always been a part of my identity, even if I had wanted it on my own terms. Instead, God reached me in that brokenness through the beauty of the Liturgy and He showed me the vibrancy, beauty, paradox, and joy of Christianity.

While I was in DC, my roommate suggested that I try to go to Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. It was just 10 minutes down on the red line from our Capitol Hill apartment. I was unsure. I had been attending various Protestant Bible studies and groups and my search was proving frustrating. The first Mass I attended at the Basilica, I did not even make it through and I left early. I thought I was done being a Catholic. At the time I didn’t want to fully admit to my need for the healing salve offered by Christ through His Church, but the Holy Spirit would not be deterred. Thanks be to God! For reasons I don’t remember, I ended up attending the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica that year and it forever changed my life.

My experience of Catholicism in my childhood and early Twenties can only be likened to what Bishop Barron has written about in many of his books: beige. The Liturgy, while the Blessed Sacrament was present, was not transcendent and transformative. I didn’t know about the presence of the angels and Communion of Saints in the Liturgy until I was in my mid-Twenties. That understanding also changed my view of the Mass forever. The year in which I attended the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica solidified this understanding as I could sense with the eyes of faith that the Mass was truly Heaven on earth. From the reverence of the priests, to the sacred music, to the lofty ceilings, mosaics, and stained glass, I knew with every fiber of my being that Jesus is Lord. Shortly afterwards I realized that politics was not for me and I left DC for good after 4.5 years of living there off-and-on.

Soon after I met my husband, I was finally Confirmed, and entered into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. We were married in a very traditional parish and two weeks later moved to our current Diocese, one which is similar to the one in which I grew up. As time went on, I started to see how even though we are of a more traditional bent, the fights between espoused “conservatives” and “liberals” is destructive. Both sides have something wrong and both can be blinded by ideology. This became even clearer to me when I began my graduate theological studies and the first thing my professor told us is there is no “conservative” or “liberal” within the Church. Those are terms borrowed from political philosophy and they form divisions. True, there are nuances and differences in theological thought, but they are not understood through the lens of political ideology.

So why are these terms unhelpful and even divisive within the Church?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Things to Remember in Reading Commentary on Amoris Laetitia

Once again, as happens with every document Pope Francis writes and promulgates, there is a mad rush to make commentary on Amoris Laetitia. I won’t comment on my thoughts on prudence and taking time to prayerfully read a document first before unleashing fury all over the Internet. I myself have not had time to read the document, but I have read the last two, and the responses in social media have all been the same. Some people panic, others misread, misuse, and turn them into ideological weapons, some provide insightful thoughts, and many don’t even realize the Pope wrote a document in the first place.

AL is the wrap up document of the contentious Synod on the Family. As happens with Synods, the Pope writes an Apostolic Exhortation or other papal document as a type of summation and wrapping up of what was gleaned from a particular Synod. This is not encyclical, motu proprio, or bull. There are no juridicial changes, doctrinal changes, or amendments to Canon Law within its pages. So from that knowledge alone people should put their pitchforks down and take a step back on all “sides”.

There is an obsession with this Pope that I have not observed in my short 35 years on this earth. It betrays a complete lack of understanding by the media and a lot of Catholics as to the role of the Supreme Pontiff. Hanging on his every word seems to be creating a disordered obsession with him in which people are turning to sinful anger or sinful license. I will address this issue at a later date. My only point now is there is a major need for balance. Here are a few suggestions in reading commentary on AL.

  1. The Church has always been divided by factions, sin, division, heresies, and calls to conform to the world. The Mystical Body is given life by the Holy Spirit, but it is lived through sinful men and women, including those who have fallen into relativism (no this is not pointed towards Pope Francis, so don’t read into it in that manner).
  2. Most of the great theologians of the Church have in fact not been Popes. Think St. Paul, St. John, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Athanasius, etc. The last few decades the Church has had a springtime of Popes who excel in philosophy and theology. This isn’t the norm throughout the ages. The Church is filled with individuals with different gifts. That means not every bishop or cardinal is a great theologian. You cannot compare the intellects of Francis and Benedict XVI, for instance. They differ in approach, understanding, and gifts from God. Do not read Francis’ documents in the same manner as B16’s. Francis is not a systematic writer, like his two predecessors. Yes, this poses challenges during this age of social media.
  3. Ignore secular media coverage. The secular world reporting on Catholic affairs is like asking a person who only speaks English to translate Chinese without ever having studied the language.
  4. There are ideologically driven Catholic writers all over the place. Keep that in mind when reading commentary. There will be those who say divorced and re-married can all take Holy Communion now (this is false) or those who say this Pope is the worst in our history the world is coming to an end (also false). Be leery of those sowing seeds of division. Division is a sign of sin and ideology.  Caution is fine, division and sinful anger are not.
  5. Prayerfully read the document for yourself. If there is something that seems unclear or confusing, pull out your Catechism or read other Church documents, Familiaris Consortio for instance, to help clarify things for you. St. John Paul II really is a go to source for understanding marriage and family life in a theological and philosophical manner. Yes, his phenomenological approach can be difficult, but many orthodox sources have made Theology of the Body more accessible for the Church.
  6. Yes, modernism is a heresy within the Church today. It will take decades, if not centuries, to root it out. Study Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and Arianism if you want to better understand the longevity and virulence of certain heresies. It is clear that individuals within the hierarchy and the laity have fallen prey to the Siren calls of modernism and relativism. What I mean by modernism is the idea that the Church must conform to the world, mainly Western culture. The constant battle for the Church is to avoid turning a small truth into the whole truth. For instance, human sexuality and marriage are gifts and we are sinful human beings, but this is not the entirety of our faith. The Faith rests in the glorified Christ in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is the life of the Trinity that is our end, every other aspect of the Faith must be seen in light of the Triune communion.
  7. The Church survives and continues on while we sinful creatures do our best to destroy her with our sins, including institutional sin. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ and the mission of holiness. Do not allow commentary rob you of joy and peace.
  8. Take a break from social media if you feel sinful anger coming on. There is no sense falling into sin by reading comboxes and commentary that is not meant to lead others to truth and the Faith. What we think is righteous anger very often is, or becomes sinful the more we allow it to consume us. The Passions are difficult to control, so walk away.
  9. Yes, ambiguity in language is frustrating. There has been ambiguity in this papacy. It’s okay to acknowledge the frustration, but it’s not acceptable to turn to sinful anger. Pray for Pope Francis, the Church, and the world. Pray that the light of the Holy Spirit may bring souls into the Church and true conversions.
  10. Keep living the mission. Our mission, sealed in our baptism is to live the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices of Christ in order to bring the world into conformation with the Blessed Trinity. That is theological speak for living holy lives, loving and serving one another, and fixing our eyes on Heaven. You and I have very little control over what happens in Rome or how things are received by the world in media. All we can do is live the mission God has given us. Each us has a unique mission for the Kingdom. For most of us it is to live our Faith within our sphere of influence, wherever that may be. For some it is a pulpit or social media platform that reaches millions, for most of us, it is simply to lead our children to God and our neighbors. Let’s all keep things in perspective and live our mission.
  11. Be prudent in discussing these matters with others. Don’t advise others in a manner that could lead them to sin or you to sin. Most of us are not experts and even with a graduate level education in progress in Theology, I realize daily just how little I know or understand about it all. Prudence is the least sought after virtue, and yet, the  most important. I struggle with it too. A LOT!
  12. Look for the good, beautiful, and true in the document and incorporate it into your life. Any ambiguity can be answered in light of Tradition, so breathe. Yes, it is disconcerting to see the Faith disfigured and distorted by those who turn AL into ideology, all we can do is share the truth, pray, and fast.

May Our Lord bless you and give you the peace that surpasses all understanding throughout this Easter season. Pax Christi.

Trust, History, and the Synod on the Family

The Synod on the Family is is in full swing, so I thought I would again share this article that I wrote at Catholic Exchange about Church history and trust. I assure you this is not the worst period in the Church’s history. It is not exhaustive because no article ever is, but it gives a good outline of how the Church operates and what she has overcome. In everything we trust in the Holy Spirit. Here it is:

Next month the second part of the Synod on the Family will commence in Rome. Articles, theories, and concerns have been flying around social media for over a year now. Discussion on the Synod is a good thing and should be encouraged. What I have seen in many circles however, is a sense of foreboding that betrays a fear of a change in doctrine that runs completely counter to what we understand the Catholic Church to be. That foreboding is met with glee in many circles who are touting the Church will get with the times and completely revamp 2000 years of moral law in order to please the Zeitgeist of our own age. Both are wrong and neither understands how the Church operates.

First, let’s remember that the Church is not a human institution at her ontological level. Yes, on the outside she looks like an institutional structure, complete with a hierarchy, and extensive array of offices with the Pope at the head. The ultimate reality, however, is that she is the Mystical Body of Christ. Her head is Christ and the Pope is subordinate to Him. Christ Himself promised that the power of Hell would not prevail against her:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. l will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:15-19

This passage from the Gospel of Matthew is often used to explain the Papacy and our understanding of Apostolic Succession. What it also tells us is that what has been revealed to Saint Peter, the Apostles, and the Church is not from earthly realities, but from the Blessed Trinity. The Church’s understanding is that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Deposit of Faith, that which is teaching on faith and morals, from error even in the presence of sinful men and sinful women. This has repeatedly played out throughout the Church’s history.

What exactly is the hierarchy doing through the Synod on the Family? She is doing what she always does, she is engaging in open dialogue in order to better understand the heresies of the day and to better express the truth in the face of those falsehood so that the Church may evangelize the world. What many people forget is that the Church has always encouraged open and honest dialogue. Just because dialogue occurs, does not mean that the Church is accepting everything that is said in councils or synods. In fact, a great many heresies have been proposed at such gatherings throughout the Church’s history. Let’s consider a few examples.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Theological Errors in Elizabeth Scalia’s Mo Rocca Article at Aleteia

Earlier today I read Elizabeth Scalia’s latest article over at Aleteia that discusses Mo Rocca’s presence as a reader at the papal Mass in New York City last week. As I read the article I realized rather quickly that I disagree with Scalia’s assessment because it is theologically wrong in its understanding of what mortal sin and obstinacy do in the soul and in relation to the Church community. Mo Rocca has publicly announced that he is homosexual and lives that lifestyle. At this point, he is still publicly living that lifestyle in disobedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Let me first begin by highlighting what I agree with Scalia on in her recent article. It is true that everyone is welcome at Mass. Whether a person is in a state of grace or is not, all are encouraged to celebrate the Liturgy. Not all people are invited to receive Holy Eucharist, which she rightly mentions. In fact, it is said that Mo Rocca refrained from reception of Holy Communion at the Mass for which he was a lector. That is a wonderful witness to our obligation and love for Christ in the Eucharist. I applaud his honesty and respect for the Blessed Sacrament. But how do his lifestyle choices impact his relationship with the Mystical Body and therefore how he is to live within the worshiping community? This is the heart of the issue and where Scalia’s article misses the theological implications of our choices.

St. Thomas Aquinas was very practical about the notion of grace in the soul, either we are in a state of grace, or we are not. If we are in a state of mortal sin, the soul is dead. There is no grace in the soul. We are cut off from Christ and have turned from Him. Not only is there no grace it also means that we have cut ourselves off from the Mystical Body, the Church.  In order to return to full communion with the Mystical Body, we must make a public act of repentance to the hierarchical Church through the Confessional. Yes, Confession is a public act in the eyes of the Church because it is an individual coming before the hierarchical Church seeking reparation and the healing of division that their sins have caused. This can be seen in CCC 1462. While Confession is the direct confessing of sins to Christ through a priest it is also to repair the damage our mortal sins have caused to the Mystical Body. Christ restores grace in the individual through the Sacrament and heals their division from Himself and the Church. Everything we do within the Mystical Body has a public component to it, even if only at a mystical level. What are the implications of this in light of Scalia’s article?

First, I want to clarify that theologically there is no such thing as “public dissent”. That is a term our culture uses to try to soften such terms as heterodoxy or heresy. From a theological point of view I cannot be in public dissent and still be a member of the Church on my own terms. When we ignore Church teaching in a willful manner and in a particularly public manner, we severely damage our relationship with the Mystical Body, in the case of grave sin, we cut ourselves off from the Body and Christ. Our sins have far reaching consequences that are outside of our own sphere. They radiate throughout the Mystical Body in a profound way.

Second, when we have cut ourselves off from the Mystical Body through grave sin, we no longer have a right to the fruits of that union. We no longer have a right to receive Holy Eucharist because we have in some way denied our Baptismal promises. This also means that we do not have a right to serve *publicly* in the Liturgy or as a head of formal ministry in the Church. If we have chosen not to live the life of a Catholic of our own free will, then we do not have a right to lead in any capacity within the Mystical Body. We gave up that right when we chose our sin over Christ. That is, rather than go to Confession and seek to amend our lives, we persist in that sin willfully.

It is important for us to remember in a culture such as ours, that we are not entitled to anything. What has been given to us through the Holy Eucharist and the Church is a gift from God. That gift comes with a price. It comes with the call to remain in a state of grace. In those moments that we fall into sin, we must get back up and crawl back to the Confessional. This is a life-long battle that all of us will wage until the end. The difference comes down to obstinacy and weakness. One has no desire to live the Truth while the other falls in a moment of weakness, seeks forgiveness in Confession, and returns to full communion with the Church. They desire to overcome that sin and remain within the Mystical Body. The latter has ceased the battle and chosen to remain in their sin. Until the moment of repentance comes, then they should not serve publicly in the Church. Why should someone who willfully chooses to live outside of the faith serve it in a public capacity? The answer is quite simply that they shouldn’t. This smacks of an entitlement mentality that flies in the face of the free gift given to us by Christ.

Does this bar them from other charitable works? Absolutely not. As long as the individual is not spreading error and is just serving others, then charity is to be commended. We have an obligation to love and serve our neighbor. The issue really comes down to the fact that the Liturgy is a public assent to the truths of the faith. It is an expression of the Mystical Body that is reserved for those in full communion with Rome, at least in a public capacity. If we have cut ourselves off from grace, then we must return to the hierarchical Church, typically a priest, to return to that public community.

I understand that Scalia wants to highlight that all are welcome to come to Mass. That is absolutely true, but she falls short when she does not understand the distinction between the public nature of the Church and the individual. It does happen that people in the parish community have reconciled themselves with God and the Church without the knowledge of others. We don’t know the movements of another person’s heart. The problem with celebrities or politicians is that they publicly espouse a life that is counter to the Mystical Body. So they have to cease and desist in their public refusals to submit to Holy Mother Church. The same should be true at the parish level for those who publicly flaunt Church teaching. As brothers and sisters in Christ we need to be charitable and understand that people do have conversions all of the time.

While I applaud Scalia’s desire to portray the Catholic Church as the welcoming community that it truly is for the world, I found the theology of the piece to be lacking. In our desire to share the Gospel we cannot oversimplify our position to a point where it no longer looks like what the Church teaches. I am afraid that she has taken a position that is not theologically sound and that demonstrates confusion as to the nature of the Mystical Body. It is illogical for a person who willfully refuses to live the Christian life to serve in a public position within the worshiping community.

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Redemptionis Sacramentum

[44.] Apart from the duly instituted ministries of acolyte and lector,[111] the most important of these ministries are those of acolyte[112] and lector[113] by temporary deputation. In addition to these are the other functions that are described in the Roman Missal,[114] as well as the functions of preparing the hosts, washing the liturgical linens, and the like. All, “whether ordained ministers or lay faithful, in exercising their own office or ministry should do exclusively and fully that which pertains to them”.[115] In the liturgical celebration itself as well as in its preparation, they should do what is necessary so that the Church’s Liturgy will be carried out worthily and appropriately.
[45.] To be avoided is the danger of obscuring the complementary relationship between the action of clerics and that of laypersons, in such a way that the ministry of laypersons undergoes what might be called a certain “clericalization”, while the sacred ministers inappropriately assume those things that are proper to the life and activity of the lay faithful.[116]
[46.] The lay Christian faithful called to give assistance at liturgical celebrations should be well instructed and must be those whose Christian life, morals and fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium recommend them. It is fitting that such a one should have received a liturgical formation in accordance with his or her age, condition, state of life, and religious culture.[117] No one should be selected whose designation could cause consternation for the faithful.[118]

Catholic Exchange: The Maternal Love of Our Lady and the Church

The Church celebrates two Marian feast days in August: Assumption and The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is an inextricable link between the Church and Our Heavenly Mother, Mary. In fact, much of what has been said about the Church can also be applied to Our Lady. One of the closest connections between Our Lady and the Church is in the sanctifying maternity of both.

Mary carried Christ for the salvation of the world, just as the Church carries Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Mary has always been an example to the Church that is only superseded by Christ Himself. Lumen Gentium 53 states:

The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer. Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. She is “the mother of the members of Christ . . . having cooperated by charity that faithful might be born in the Church, who are members of that Head.” Wherefore she is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity. The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

What does the World See in Us?

Saint-Peters-Basilica-interior

Summer is a good time to focus on other projects, so I have been writing articles, but not blogging much. Here is my first blog in a while:

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what the world sees when they see a Christian or the Church? Based on the Internet alone, which is where so many people interact with one another, both believers and non-believers, what do you see? As a Catholic, I see fights about the Liturgy, Church teaching, sexuality, marriage, the Magisterium, and I could go on and on. Most of these fights are not grounded in authentic teaching and Tradition. Most of them, including in myself, come down to pride or a lack of obedience. Liturgical battles stem from our inability to separate ourselves from the Mass. We can’t even for one hour conceive of a place where we are not the focus. The Mass is about my self-expression, is the creed I hear. No. The Mass is the sacrifice that Christ gave us on the Cross, which is now given through His glorified Body. He gives us this sacrifice which is our oblation (only because He gives it to us) to offer to the Father until the end of time. It is also the spiritual food that is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ that he offers us through no merit of our own, but by virtue of the grace He gives us. Do you see my point? Everything is from Him. Everything.

We fight about Church teaching on the Interwebs because technology, while good, gives us a sense of power and that we have a right to share our brand of the Church with people. We are so convinced of our own brand and that it is the correct one that we are even willing to ignore Magisterial documents and teaching to our own detriment. But, the worst part is, that we drag others down with us because of our self-righteous belief that we have it right.

The first semester of grad school, my professor harped on precision of language. Why? Because those who are formally trained (I am not talking about arm-chair theologians with no training who are all over the Internet) have the ability to lead mass amounts of people astray if they do not write and speak in utter precision. Most members of the Laity do not have an advanced understanding of the Faith. That is fine. Not everyone is called to advanced study. God gives each of us different gifts, but for those of us who have this call we have a duty and an obligation to teach only as the Magisterium teaches and to defer to our Bishops and the hierarchy on all matters of faith and morals and those things that require religious assent. This gift is to be guarded and we are to be responsible stewards lest we lead others astray.

For those who are not formal theologians, humility. We must be willing to know our own limitations. I would never presume to argue with someone with a PhD. I would want to learn from them, but unless it is blatant heresy such as denying the divinity of Christ, theological arguments have so many nuances that I would easily get lost, even as a graduate student. So, if you are a catechist, don’t presume to know as much as you think you know. Even with semesters of formal schooling in Theology under my belt, the only thing I know for sure is just how little I actually know. So if you are going to spread it on the Internet, use Church documents and theologians as sources, not your own opinion and be honest about your own background and limitations.

We are leading people astray and it matters greatly. It is very easy for human beings to set themselves up into camps. Within the Mystical Body, this is destructive and flies in the face of the communion that we entered into at our Baptism. I am not in the Francis camp and you are in the Benedict camp. Pope Francis is our Pope. He is the visible sign of unity to the world and the head of the Church. It’s time to get over it and move on. If you think he is really that bad, read some Church history.

Christianity is in decline in the West at a startling rate. The culture is ready to push us to the fringes while screaming “bigots” at all of us. Now is the time to come together and focus on holiness and bringing the world to Christ. There are over 33,000 denominations of Christianity. What does that tell the world? It tells them that we are irrelevant and that we can pick and choose what to believe. It is time for Catholics to rise and be a point of stability and unity for the world even when the Church shrinks. People are watching our example. All of us have the yearning in our hearts to be loved and to find meaning. That meaning is in Christ and the Catholic Church. We cannot show that to people if all we do is fight and bicker.

The Church teaches as Christ has commanded her, so regardless of our personal ideology, it is what Christ says that matters. How can we lift up this broken, suffering, and fallen world if all we do is scream at one another? We don’t seem very hopeful if all we can do is rant and rave at, and about one another. So knock it off! There are souls at stake and as members of the laity, we have an obligation to bring the world to Christ. That is our mission. Read Chrisitifideles Laici if you don’t believe me. Our lives, whether it be at our work or in our families, is how we bring the world to Christ. In our holiness and sacrifices for others, we bring others to Christ. Not in screaming at people from our keyboard.

All of us have the same mission: holiness. How can we better grow in holiness? We must live lives of virtue, prayer, and frequent reception of the Sacraments. If we have questions about Church teaching then consult a priest or theologian. Read the Catechism, but don’t become a know-it-all in the process. Remember the Catechism is the extremely abbreviated form of the Church’s teaching. The biggest thing we all need to do is focus on humility. Remember who gave us grace and remember how little we know in the face of the Beatific Vision. Pax.