Trusting the Church ‘in Crisis’

You are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. (Luke 24:48-49)

Last week we began talking about how we can understand ourselves in such a way as to help us give the world the New Evangelization. We began to meditate on the question, “In order to ‘have’ the Gospel, who do you have to trust?” And the first part of the answer is: We trust the great we, the great us, that is the Catholic Church, united and governed by the Pope.

–Great, Father. We, the Church. But how can I trust the Church as an institution when, according to MSNBC, it has so many deep-seated problems? “Crisis-plagued?”

Amanpour RomeThis is the honest question of an honest person seeking to find the path of righteousness and truth. We—the big we which we are talking about—we are nothing at all if we are not first and foremost an association of honest people humbly seeking the path of uprightness and truth.

Right? So we have to deal with this particular honest question: How do we trust the institutional Church after the sex-abuse crisis? Even if “the sex-abuse crisis” has been 85% manufactured by the media and only 15% real. That 15% still makes this question an honest one. How do I trust the Church after living through this?

Continue reading “Trusting the Church ‘in Crisis’”

New-Evangelization Recipe, Part I: In Us We Trust

Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. The Holy Spirit will remind you of all that I told you. (John 14:27,26)

Who would have thought, on the sixth Sunday of Easter last year, that this Sunday we would celebrate the day with a new Italo-Argentine Jesuit Pope?

For that matter: Exactly one year ago, who would have thought that the Supreme Court would vindicate the federal health-care mandate? Or that the Ravens would be Super Bowl champs? Who would have thought that Mariah Carey would sit as a judge on American Idol?

American Idol judgesLife can bring some surprises our way. We can wind up confused, even disconcerted. With all this unpredictability, the question arises in our minds: Who, or what, can we really trust in this world?

We live in the age of the New Evangelization. The world groans under the burden of sin. Every soul faces inevitable death. We human beings do not get born with an instruction manual for life in our little hands—and even if we did, we probably wouldn’t be able to understand the garbled English in it anyway.

In other words: Our brothers and sisters here on this earth need to hear from us the meaning of, the purpose of, the right way to live life. Our brothers and sisters need the Gospel of Christ. And we can’t count on them getting it from anyone other than us.

So let’s ask ourselves this question; let’s ask ourselves, so that we can understand this–and thereby prepare ourselves to share the Good News with others: In order to “have” the Gospel; in order to grasp the way, the truth, and the life which Jesus Christ gives, who do we have to trust? Who do we have to trust in order to be Christians?

Continue reading “New-Evangelization Recipe, Part I: In Us We Trust”

Places in Heaven, Spaces and Punctuation Marks

In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself. (John 14:2-3)

Very consoling passage. But also very interesting.

The oldest manuscripts of Sacred Scripture which we possess do not have any punctuation. They don’t even have any spaces between the words.

So sometimes the punctuation we read in our English-language Bibles involves some interpretation on the part of the person who added the punctuation marks.

mark gospel manuscript fragmentDid the Lord ask a rhetorical question? “Would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”

Or did He actually make a statement: “If there were no places prepared, I would have told you as much.” Next sentence: “I go to prepare a place for you.”

Depends on which English translation of the Bible you read.

Now, the moral of the story is not that we don’t have places prepared in heaven. On other occasions, the Lord referred to ‘places prepared by my Father.’ And He Himself, the incarnate Son, makes these places ready by: 1) ascending bodily to heaven Himself, 2) praying for us there, 3) pouring out the Holy Spirit so that we can be united with Him by faith as we make our way on earth, and 4) uniting us with Him fully in the end.

So there’s no question about the places, the preparation of them, or the preparation of us for them. The point of fussing about the punctuation of this verse is simply to highlight the fact that it is impossible to receive the Word of God written in Scripture without the help of other people.

All of us are a long way off from being able to understand big sheets of paper covered with Greek letters, with no punctuation or spaces between the words. And even if we knew Koine Greek well enough to read these pages, we would quickly see that a lot of passages can be rendered into English with significantly different meanings—without one way or the other being more “correct.”

This is not to say that the New Testament offers us no clear, unambiguous teaching. To the contrary, the cumulative message of the Scriptures is crystal clear: “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.”

But actually to get this message, each of us individually relies on the help of a lot of other people. The most accurate collective name for all these other people, taken together, is: The Church.

Love (Not Optional) Binds the Body

fish fry

Don’t worry. If you attend Mass and listen carefully to the readings, you might fear that you stumbled into somebody’s wedding. But remain calm. It’s a normal Sunday Mass. Just so happens that we read I Corinthians 13 once every three years in the Lectionary.

And it’s a good thing, too. Because we need to try to understand St. Paul’s world-famous “Hymn to Love” as best we can.

Who remembers the subject matter of chapter twelve of First Corinthians? The unity of the Church can be compared to the unity of…

Right! The parts of the human body.

Continue reading “Love (Not Optional) Binds the Body”

Reason for Confederation

No human organization has ever endured with the sole purpose of everybody sitting around and looking at each other. We homo sapiens get together, stick together, and succeed together when we have a clear goal to work towards.

The goals that we seek together can be good or bad. Some people form bonds with each other by exchanging gossip at others’ expense.

To “form a good community,” we need a good goal. Actually, we need the best goal. We need the one goal that makes life genuinely worth living.

At the deepest core of our human selves, we seek God. We could go so far as to say: human being = God-seeker.

And our search for God brings us together in a uniquely intimate way. The bond that unites people who seek God together endures like no other bond, overcomes obstacles like no other bond.

Where do we find God? In Christ. Christ shows us the Father. In Christ, our seeking souls can find rest.

Nothing could ever bring people together like this: to seek God together and find Him together. This bond endures for all eternity. It is the communion of Christ’s Church, bound together in love by the Holy Spirit.

Co-operating and Co-operating (Part II)

God gave us minds and the power to make good choices. He put us on the earth, in the rough-and-tumble of this time in history, in all the particular circumstances of our particular lives. He put us here for one reason: so that we can grow into the saints He made us to be. We grow by learning and by making choices—learning the truth and choosing good over evil.

We human beings have a wonderful power: we have the power to act. Not “act” as in Charleton Heston, Eddie Murphy, Colin Firth, and Meryl Streep. I mean “act” as in: to do something, like shaking someone’s hand or making a pizza.

We do have an audience: God. He sees it all, and He knows all. He pulls for us always to do what is right. He sends us countless helps to avoid doing evil. He longs to reward us in the end for serving Him faithfully. But He respects our freedom enough that He will let us destroy ourselves forever by sin—if we so choose.

So we do not act alone: God sees, helps, loves. Also, we generally do not act alone as individual human beings, either. We participate in undertakings that involve groups large and small. Undertakings like: choosing friends in school, or working for a company, or supporting a candidate for public office, or investing our money.

This means that we bear ultimate responsibility not just for what we do individually, but also for what we choose to co-operate with.

Continue reading “Co-operating and Co-operating (Part II)”

Background to a Little Epiphany

If you have been following my musings over the “Religious Freedom Crisis,” then you know my sorrows:

I of course wholeheartedly believe the moral teaching of the Church. But I don’t really see how asserting our First-Amendment rights advances our cause.

For instance, when I read “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” I thought…

This document includes a paragraph making the distinction between conscientiously objecting to a just law and refusing to obey an unjust law. One may conscientiously refuse to serve when drafted, but the draft is not unjust.

Okay. But isn’t a law requiring abortions unjust? Unjust to the unborn? None of the unborn are Catholics, but they all have the right not to be killed. Isn’t a law requiring proof of U.S. citizenship before receiving medical care–isn’t the law unjust to the medical patient, regardless of his or her religion?

ERGO: Religious freedom for Catholics is not the central issue. The central issue is justice for defenseless human beings.

Then I read some moral-theological proposals about how to conceive of the problem.

I recognized myself as a hopeless “act-based” moralist. Hopeless because I can’t really see what we will be judged on in the end, other than our acts and omissions. Will we be judged on the “symbolic power” of the t.v. shows we watch? Only insofar as we chose or did not choose to watch them.

So I am hopelessly act-based in my moral analysis. And I am irredeemably individualistic about it. I can’t quite figure how I could be judged for something I unknowingly co-operate with in a remote manner, especially if the law binds me to do so. And how could I fail to be judged for intending to co-operate with something evil, even if I simultaneously engaged in symbolic gestures supporting the good people I know?

But then something dawned on me.

The Church must be considered a proper moral agent, in Her fulfillment of Her mission. The Church does good and avoids evil. Those who guide Her make decisions regarding what She does. Because of this, when She is mis-guided and errs culpably, She bears a corporate responsibility.

(Obviously, she never errs in teaching faith and morals as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. But She can act immorally as, for instance, as the Archdiocese of Boston, or as Father So-and-so, or as St. Such-and-such School.)

The Catholic Church in the U.s. exists as a moral agent. She acts in all Her official “Catholic” institutions. And everyone who calls him or herself Catholic co-operates with Her.

Thinking along these lines, an irredeemable act-based, hopelessly individualistic moralist can assert, with a clear mind, that we cannot co-operate with evil, even if the civil law stipulates that we must.

Still not sure about First-Amendment litigation. But at least now I can conceive of who exactly the plaintiff would be.

The We of Catholic Conscience

You are witnesses to these things.

By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit.

I appointed you to go and fear fruit that will remain.

Between now and Ascension Day, we hear the Lord Jesus say all these things to us. You are my chosen witnesses.

We are. We. The sons and daughters of the Church. We. You and I, dear brothers and sisters, are a we. A family.

We are united not by natural birth, but by divine choice. Not by flukish circumstances, or by personal preferences, or by common interests in sports, playing cards, politics, or music. No, we are united by the free gift of God’s grace.

We did not choose Christ. Christ chose us, and made us us, made us a family of faith.

He made a universal communion that spans every human frontier. To be Catholic is to be a brother or sister to other people of every race. We have the right, we have the duty, we have the solemn and holy privilege to call the black, the yellow, the white, the red—to call everyone brother and sister.

God made us a universal human family with the living—and with the dead. Who are my best friends? My best friends are the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Therese, St. Ignatius, and St. John Vianney. I don’t need a bleeding special cellphone plan to holler at my peeps all day, every day. All I have to do is pray.

Continue reading “The We of Catholic Conscience”

Mandate and Religious Freedom Compendium

The day has arrived when your humble servant will do my duty. Namely, I will begin a four-part series of homilies aimed at preparing us to pray and fast through the “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21 to July 4.

First, though, if I may:

Dr. David Schindler has published an essay about human nature, freedom, and rights.

He distinguishes the ideal of a modern ‘liberal’ regime from the regime envisioned in the Church’s articulation of Her doctrine of religious freedom.

Dr. Schindler exposes the paradox at the heart of the liberal ideal of a religion-neutral state. If the law/the courts/the goverment say that freedom means anything other than openness to God and truth, then the content of what freedom is will always be supplied by the strong–at the expense of the weak.

The independent man who determines for himself what life means will inevitably do so at the expense of a weaker person. The only man who never infringes on the genuine “rights” of others is the one who acknowledges that he depends on God for his freedom, and he must use his freedom to seek goodness and truth.

In other words, if man is not for God, then he is for himself–at the expense of someone else, sooner or later.

I bring this up because: Obviously, Dr. Shindler has been reading my posts on the HHS-Mandate controversy and decided to supply the philosophical argumentation for why I make so much daggone sense.

Seriously, though…

We present a collection of the ramblings on this subject from the past few months, years:

Warming up for action: Answering the atheist…

1. What is Life?

2. Who’s the Mysterymonger?

To set the stage: Theology ≠ Esoterica

Kathleen Sibelius, Bishops Dolan and Lori, and me:

1. B.S. Alarms on Both Sides

2. I Will Give You Bacon, but Not a Contraceptive (2b. Let us Reason)

3. Define ‘Health’ for Me [See ‘What is Life?’ above for an answer.]

4. Abstinence More Healthy than Sex

5. Chastity, Conscience, and the Real Problem is that Too Many Doctors Suck

6. Should we have Faith in the First Amendment?

7. The real problem: When Goverment Oversteps Gamaliel’s Limit

8. Aha! The Church is a moral agent!

9. No Slogans (Pope St. Gregory VII)

10. Which is our Best Hand?

11. The Businessman’s Co-operation with Evil

12. Cathleen Kaveny’s Good Distinctions (January 2013)

13. Kaveny Again; Running Like Ray Rice

Four Sermons on “We cannot co-operate with evil, even if the civil law stipulates that we must.”

1. We, the Catholic Church of Christ

2. Co-operating and co-operating

3. Divine Law of Unconditional Love

4. Where Civil Laws Come From

Fortnight for Freedom Homilies

1. Hamlet and the Martyrs of Mexico

2. Fasting

3. Elijah’s God

4. St. Thomas More’s First Choice

5. Inconvenient and Uneasy in the Canticle of Zechariah

6. King Josiah and Prophetess Huldah (II Kings 22)

7. The Apostolic See

8. Believing Like the Martyrs

9. Backyard-barbecue, Catholic American

Theme Song: A Catholic Boy Can Survive

Fortnight for Freedom Homilies, 2013

Basic Marriage

The Looming Flashpoints

The Marriage-Law Titanic

Welcome Here

Hard Penance


Which of the two will land me in jail?

Cant’ be Happy about Hobby Lobby

Catholic Unity (Nine Points)

We find ourselves in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This past Wednesday, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, said to us,

During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel.

What do we Catholics believe about the unity of the Church?

1. We believe that Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Son of God—the Way, the Truth, and the Life, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven—we believe that He rules as the sole Head and King of the Church and of the universe.

2. We believe that every man, woman, or child who has been baptized in water and in the name of the Blessed Trinity is a Christian, a member of the Church.

We generally give to the clergy the office of baptizing people. But, when you get down to it, everyone possesses the competence to baptize.

Water + the words = Holy Baptism = a Christian.

3. We Catholics believe that the written Word of God bears witness to the truth in such a way that the Bible must be our constant study and rule of life. God Himself speaks to us when we read or listen to the Bible. At the same time, we must study the sacred books for what they are, namely the work of human beings written in particular circumstances at particular times.

When it comes to how people interpret the Bible, we Catholics don’t call our brother- and sister-Christians ‘liberals’ or ‘fundamentalists,’ because neither of these terms really does anything to help people understand each other.

4. We Catholics believe that Christ gave everything essential in our religion to His Apostles, and they, in turn, gave everything to the first generation of Christians. Ever since then, the entire sacred patrimony has been handed down from one generation to the next.

Considering what the Lord gave us, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church shines gloriously, perfect in every respect. At the same time, considered as a human institution, the Church is nothing other than a hospital for sinners, constantly in need of reform and renewal.

5. We believe that, given the way human societies work, the Lord Jesus knew that His chosen band would need a leader, so He chose St. Peter for this office. The office has been filled ever since. The current occupant is Benedict XVI. The Pope governs Christ’s Church on earth.

6. We Catholics believe that we have a duty to stand up for truth and justice, for the right to life, for fairness in everything. We believe that we owe it to ourselves to help the poor. In all these enterprises we gladly co-operate with everyone who seeks to fulfill the same Christian duties, be they Catholic or not.

7. We believe that our Lord made marriage a sacrament and an unbreakable bond. We believe that the marriage of two baptized Christians is a sacrament. We know that some of our separated brethren don’t even teach that marriage is a sacrament, but nonetheless our faith binds us to regard any marriage of two baptized Christians as a sacrament. We believe that the Church, and the Church alone, has the authority to declare null any particular marriage vows, taken by any Christian man and woman.

8. We Catholics love the saints in heaven. We love our Lady, and we constantly beg her help. We worship only the Triune God.

We worship all the Persons of the Trinity. We worship everything that is personally united with the eternal Son. We worship, therefore, His Sacred Heart and the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

9. Christ instituted the Mass at the Last Supper. He made His Apostles the first priests of the New Covenant. Ever since then, the sacred priesthood has been handed down by the laying on of hands.

We believe that only a duly ordained priest can celebrate Christ’s Holy Eucharist. We believe that Catholic and Orthodox priests are duly ordained. We believe that the Protestant clergy are not. That said, we believe that whenever two or three Christians gather together, the Lord is there in the midst of them.

We do not take communion at non-Catholic services, and we do not invite non-Catholics to take Holy Communion at Mass. That said, we rejoice whenever we pray with anybody and whenever anybody prays with us. We have nothing but respect for every man’s Christian faith. False pretenses of unity do not serve the cause of Christ. But, of course, neither do pride or disrespect.

…Please God we get there, will we find a big coffee hour in heaven, with Protestants holding heavenly Styrofoam cups right next to us? Maybe. Only God knows the answer to such questions. I, for one, would like to ask Him if we could have a Tina Turner concert in heaven. But I know better than to expect an answer at this point.

We Catholics concern ourselves with our getting to heaven. The Lord has given us the means of getting there; He has given us every reason to hope for it.

One of the means we have of getting to heaven is: Loving Protestant and Orthodox Christians as our brothers and sisters.