Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Featured Post: How to Defend the Catholic Faith

The prospect of defending the Catholic faith is daunting for most people. It's scary to put yourself out there, and if someone asks you a difficult question ... what are you going to say?

But, it's really not as hard as you might think. With the right approach, a few key resources, and a healthy dose of practice and prayer, you can become an effective Catholic apologist. Here's what you need to get started, and if you've already started, this will take you well on your way to confidently engaging in Catholic apologetics.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

My Beard Evangelized, and You Can Too!

Me, happily bearded and evangelizing
A few years ago, when I was still working in a parish, my beard did some evangelizing. Now, before I elaborate, I should share a couple of points about my beard. First, it’s long. It's not “ZZ Top” long, but it's getting there. It recently grew past my collar bone, a milestone in the beard-growing community. Secondly, it's red, even though the hair on my head is dark brown. I'm not a geneticist, I don't know how or why these things happen, but they do.

All of this means that I frequently get comments on it, which can lead to some interesting conversations. In one instance, my beard even helped me invite someone to become Catholic! My wife and I were at a restaurant for Valentine’s Day, and the waiter and I started talking. It went something like this:

Waiter: I have always wanted to grow a beard like that.
Me: Make it happen!
Waiter: I can't! I tried once and it grew all patchy and misshapen, made me look like a creeper.
Me: I'm sorry to hear that.
Waiter: Yours makes you look so ... (he's waving his hand in the air, trying to find the right word)
Me: ... professorial?
Waiter: Yes, exactly! Nice word! What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm the Director of Religious Education at my parish.

He nodded his head in approval and then took our order. I thought that was the end of the conversation, but when he brought us our ticket after the meal, he reignited the conversation:

Waiter: What church did you say you worked for?
Me: Blessed Mother Church.
Waiter: Is that a church around here?
Me: Yes, it's a Catholic church here in Owensboro.
Waiter: Oh, Catholic! I've always thought that if I ever joined a church it would be a Catholic one. Everything there just seems so much more ... serious.
Me: Well, I'm the man to talk to!

I shook his hand, told him more about what I did for a living, and gave him my contact information. It was all a very pleasant surprise, and I walked away thinking, "All of that started because he liked my beard. My beard just evangelized!" It made me glad to have something that can be a conversation starter, that gets people to open up and share a bit of themselves.

Catholics often have trouble extending the invitation to consider the Catholic faith because they don't know how to get past that initial barrier that people put up in a public setting. We wait and wait for the perfect time when inviting someone to Mass or to RCIA would fit naturally in the conversation, and that time never comes. What should we do, just blurt it out?

Here’s the key: “out” yourself as a Catholic and people will come to you! I work for the Church, so all I have to do is say what I do for a living and I have an opening. But there are simple strategies that anyone can use. For example:
  • Pray before meals, even at restaurants or bars.
  • Wear t-shirts with Catholic or pro-life messages.
  • Put a Catholic bumper sticker on your car.
  • Be the only person in your group who doesn’t gossip or use curse words.
  • If someone asks about your lunch plans, say, “I’m going to daily Mass, want to join me?”
  • If someone opens up about a struggle or difficulty, offer to pray for that person right then and there.

None of this is rocket science. Just live a joyful, honest life and be proud to be Catholic. You have something that people desperately need. When they see you for who you are, they will have questions. That’s your opening. Then you just have to provide some answers and extend the invitation.

If all else fails, grow a beard. A highly recommend it.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Friday, May 25, 2018

5 Ways to Keep Your Catholic Faith on Campus

You just graduated from high school. Congratulations! Now college is on the horizon, a time full of promise and possibility. You will learn a lot, meet interesting people, choose a career, and possibly even find the person you will marry.

You will also make important decisions about your faith life. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that 2/3 of Catholics who leave the Church do so before age 24. What will you do? It all depends on the plan you make now to nurture your faith during the grand adventure that awaits you.

Here are 5 ways to keep your faith on campus:
  1. Own your faith. Let’s be honest: when you go to Mass or Confession, it’s probably because your parents or your teachers are taking you there. You are Catholic because, well, that’s what they raised you to be. But, when you’re on your own it’s not up to them anymore. It can’t be. If you’re ever going to live a fully Catholic life, it has to be because that’s what you want. Otherwise it won’t stick. You have to make it yours.

  2. Find your why. One of the best ways to make it yours is to put it to the test. Ask the difficult questions: “Why do Catholics believe Jesus is God?” “What’s so bad about premarital sex, getting drunk, or skipping Mass?” “Should I even bother being Catholic anymore?”

    These are scary questions, but if Catholicism is true, it should stand up to such criticism, right? And at any rate, you need some answers. Without the “why” behind the “what” you believe and do as a Catholic, your faith will crumble at the first passionate atheist, Protestant, or secular apologist who comes along.

  3. Find others to be Catholic with. Faith is confirmed through learning, but it also needs to be lived with others. Christ made us to be a Mystical Body. “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). A group of good Catholic friends can hold you accountable, look out for you, and show you that it’s possible to have fun and enjoy life and still be true to what you believe.

    Look for a Newman Center or a local parish’s young adult ministry. Look for someone making the sign of the Cross before they eat. Look for dirty foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Good Catholics are always around, they're just in different degrees of hiding. They can be the support system you need in order to live your faith well.

  4. Serve others. I know you’re probably looking forward to that first Spring Break without any chaperones, but what if you went on a mission trip instead? That may sound boring or like too much work, but I can assure you: nothing will make your faith come alive like seeing how it transforms the lives of others. Someone you do not know is waiting on your spiritual or corporal work of mercy. Someone is waiting on you to share your faith with them. When you do, your smile will make them smile, and you will be so glad that you are Catholic.

  5. Stay close to the Gift-giver. As much as you are preparing for life after high school, keep in mind: your faith does not come from your own striving. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). He gave it, and He can sustain it as long as you remain close to Him.

    This means prayer and the sacraments. They are your lifeline, the air your soul needs in order to breathe. There is grace in communing with God in prayer, receiving Him in the Eucharist, and returning to Him in Confession.

With this grace you can be, not another statistic, but a happy Catholic full of life and grounded in your faith. I hope that's what you want! I desperately want it for you, and I think that if you are intentional about it, your faith can come alive on any campus.

For more advice on how to stay Catholic in college, see the following:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Friday, April 27, 2018

Is the Catholic Church Anti-Science?

Many people reject religion and even leave the Church today because they believe that religious faith is at odds with reasonable, scientific inquiry.

You may have heard it before:
  • “I’ll believe in God if you can give me empirical proof that God exists.”
  • “How can I take Catholicism seriously when it persecuted Galileo?”
  • “The Church has always been anti-science”

There’s a lot that could be said in response. What we need are some basic points we can use to “seize the moment” whenever objections like these arise. Here are three short points you can use to clarify the Church's relationship with science.

Point #1: Some of the greatest scientists ever were Catholics.

If being Catholic means being anti-science, then why have so many Catholics made significant advances in various scientific fields? Here are just three examples (there are dozens more):
  • Georges Lamaitre: first proposed the “Big Bang theory” of the origins of the universe; was a Catholic priest.
  • Gregor Mendel: considered the father of the scientific field of genetics; was an Augustinian monk.
  • Nicolaus Copernicus: first proposed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe; had a doctorate in Canon Law and was a canon of Frombork Cathedral.
These are intellectual giants in the history of scientific progress, and they were all committed Catholics.

Point #2: Catholic beliefs lead to scientific advancement.

We never answered our earlier question: If being Catholic means being anti-science, why then are Catholics numbered among the most important scientists of all time? The answer is because Catholic beliefs foster scientific inquiry.

If Catholics (and Christians, broadly speaking) did not believe there was a law and an order to the universe (given to it by a supreme Lawgiver), then there would be no point in scientific inquiry. The whole reason you “do science” in the first place is in order to discover and better understand the things of this world and the laws that govern them. Scientists approach their work with the presupposition that these laws exist – and that’s a very Christian way to look at things.

Even the persecution of Galileo was not the result of an anti-science bias. Church officials consulted leading astronomers and sincerely believed they had science on their side. And at any rate, it wasn’t Galileo’s science that got him in trouble, it was his insistence that certain Bible passages about the sun must be interpreted in a particular way. If Galileo had stuck with science and humbly presented his findings as a theory (there was, after all, no way to prove them at the time), then the Church would have had no issue with him, just as there was no issue with Copernicus before him.

Point #3: Truth is not limited to what can be empirically observed.

Many people reject religion and God because they insist that science is the only truth. But, truth is not bound by what science can reveal. As soon as someone says otherwise, they actually prove the point.

The statement “truth is bound by what science can reveal” is not something that can be put under a microscope. It’s not a scientific truth claim, it’s a philosophical one. Science can only answer the question, “Why?” up to a certain point. After that, philosophy and theology must take over.

Once people realize that they actually depend on certain non-scientific truth claims to construct their worldview, then they are usually more open to what philosophical and theological truths might tell them about the world and their place in it.

A Match Made in Heaven

Ultimately, religion and science cannot be at war because they both come from the same God. As the Catechism tells us, “The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are” (no. 159).

Thanks be to God!

For more information about the relationship between faith and science, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Thursday, March 29, 2018

How to Respond to the Transgender Movement

One day, Charles Dickens sat in a coffee shop. Actually, it was a “coffee room,” as indicated on the glass door of the establishment. Dickens had read that sign and frequented rooms like it many times. But, on this day, he happened to read the sign from inside the establishment. It read: “mooreeffoc.” This new word startled him. Suddenly, the sign was new and so was the room. Dickens realized that every-day things can take on a strange new meaning when viewed from a different angle.

Today, the transgender movement challenges us with another radically different way to view the world. This movement takes the ordinary categories of male and female and asserts that gender is assigned, it is not fixed, and a person can determine, regardless of what the body reveals, that he/she actually belongs to the opposite gender.

What should we believe? How can we seize this moment to share our faith in a loving way?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it plainly: “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (no. 2333). “Man may not despise his bodily life. Rather, he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day” (no. 364). “Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law” (no. 2297).

“This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” (Jn 6:60). This topic certainly challenges us all. Let’s distill it down to the Good News. All of the Church’s teachings have some “Good News” component to them. Find that and you find the key to understanding the doctrine and explaining it to others.

Here is the Good News the Church proclaims to people who struggle with their gender identity:
  • You are loved. You are not a mistake. You are a child of God and deeply precious to Him. We want to love you like God loves you. We aren’t always very good at it, but we are trying.
  • Your body and mind are God’s gifts to you. Sometimes the body and the mind can cause us great suffering, as when a 90-pound woman looks in a mirror and sees a fat person, or when a healthy young man develops bone cancer. In your case, you feel trapped in the wrong body. All of this is extremely difficult. But we believe it’s possible for all people to value who they are exactly as God made them. We have to believe this is possible, or we’d be left with a lot of hopelessness in this world.
  • Your body reveals who you are. When someone punches me, I don’t say, “Why did you hit my body?” Instead, I say, “Why did you hit me?” We all respond this way because we intuitively know that human beings are body and soul intertwined. Our bodies are a self-revelation of who we are. That is why we must care for them and build them up.
  • We want to see you flourish. Gender theory is harmful to you. It says you are a mistake. It says the best medical practice is to halt your body in its normal, healthy functioning, or to completely replace your power for reproduction. It advocates medical treatments with no solid proof of positive outcomes, and with many negative ones. It is harmful to you, and we don’t like that very much.

Ultimately, we must love and encourage without alienating or stigmatizing. We must acknowledge the suffering of others while also advocating for a “still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31) of understanding the human person.

We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But, it requires reading the world from the proper point-of-view.

For more resources on how to respond to the transgender movement and it's particular gender ideology, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, February 26, 2018

Three Easy Ways to Defend the Resurrection of Jesus

Although we are still focused on the season of Lent, Easter will be here soon. You know what that means: it’s “open season” on the Resurrection. The History Channel will reveal a “secret Gospel” that contradicts Jesus’ rising from the dead. Atheists on Facebook will start posting memes about “Zombie Jesus.” News networks will trot out their “Bible expert” who will explain that the Resurrection “probably didn’t happen” the way the Bible describes. It doesn't help that Easter Sunday this year falls on April Fool's Day.

Of course, not everyone who questions the Resurrection is trying to stir up higher ratings or more Facebook followers. Most people genuinely want to know, “Why do you believe Jesus rose from the dead?”

Let’s get ready to respond. Here are three simple points you can use to defend the Resurrection.
  1. The Gospels Describe What Actually Happened

    As Catholics, we believe the Gospel accounts are true because the Bible is inspired. But, for non-Christians we need other reasons.

    Try this: imagine you’re a historian researching an event that happened long ago. What would you do? One approach would be to read the written accounts of those who witnessed the event.

    That’s what the Gospels are: the eyewitness accounts of the earliest followers of Jesus. The authors themselves tell us they intended to faithfully record what they saw, or what they received from those who saw it (cf. Lk 1:1-4; Jn 21:24-25). As an unbiased researcher, we would have to give them some credence.

  2. There’s No Better Explanation

    The Gospels tells us that when Jesus’ followers came to the tomb, they found the stone rolled away, the burial garments piled in the corner, and the tomb empty (cf. Mt 28:1-8; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-12; Jn 20:1-10). They knew that Jesus had risen.

    If anyone challenges this, just ask them, “Do you have a better explanation?” There are many theories, but they’re all ridiculous. For example:
    • “The apostles stole the body”: It’s not possible to roll away the heavy stone, remove the burial garments, and run away with the body without waking the guards.
    • “Jesus was still alive when they buried him”: In other words, perhaps Jesus regained consciousness, rolled away the stone, and walked out. Really? The Romans were experts at execution. The soldier who broke the legs of the crucified (to hasten their death) did not break Jesus’ legs because Jesus was already dead (cf. Jn 19:31-33). At any rate, Jesus was too bruised and beaten to roll away the stone or walk around town without the soldiers stopping him.
    • “The tomb wasn’t empty”: Perhaps the whole thing was made up. Doubtful. For one, Jesus’ enemies didn’t even doubt that the tomb was empty (cf. Mt 28:11-15). And if any of the contemporaries of the Apostles doubted, they could just go to the tomb and see for themselves. It would have been impossible to lie about it.

  3. Many People Saw the Resurrected Jesus

    If Jesus did not die and then rise to new life, why did so many people see Him during those 40 days after His Resurrection? First, the women saw Jesus (cf. Mk 16:1, 7). Then Peter, then the twelve, then more than 500 at once, then James, and finally, Paul himself (cf. 1 Cor 15:5-8). This couldn’t have been visions of a spirit. They “took hold of his feet” (Mt 28:9). They handled his hands (cf. Lk 24:39). He ate fish (cf. Lk 24:42-43). Thomas put his hand right into Jesus’ side! (cf. Jn 20:27). Jesus was very physically present to them. Plus, 500 people don’t hallucinate all at once, and hallucinations don’t last 40 days.

The truth is: Jesus has risen! This is what Easter is all about, and when Easter comes, we will have good reason to celebrate.

For an easy-to-read book in defense of the Resurrection, see The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas, or Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? by Carl E. Olson.

Also see the following articles:

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Friday, November 03, 2017

Theology on Tap on the Five Marian Doctrines

Tomorrow night I will be at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Leitchfield, KY, speaking for the local Theology on Tap group about the five Marian doctrines. I spoke there a couple of years ago and they have invited me back, which means I must be doing something right!

For the scripture passages I will be citing during the talk, as well as other biblical arguments I probably won't have time to use, see:
The talk is in their new Parish Hall, from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM CST. Please join us!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bowling Green Theology on Tap

Tonight I will be at "The Duck Shack" in Bowling Green, KY, speaking for the local Theology on Tap group about the saints. Specifically, I will be addressing what a proper relationship with the saints looks like and what the biblical proof is for that relationship. We gather for snacks and refreshments at 6:30pm CST, and the talk begins at 7:30pm.

For the scripture passages I will be citing during the talk (and many more passages I probably won't have time to use), see: A Comprehensive and Biblical Defense of Praying to the Saints.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

For the Memorial of St. John Bosco, priest


As a catechist, I have a special place in my heart for St. John Bosco. He is one of the premier models of what we are called to be as teachers of the Faith. Bosco had a very Christ-like ability to draw all people to himself (even the rowdiest street kids) so as to change their lives and convert their hearts to Christ. The boys under his care loved him so much that they couldn't stand the thought of doing anything to disappoint him, and they knew that all he wanted for them was that they live good and holy lives.

What we learn from Bosco's approach and methodology is that the person of the catechist is just as important as orthodox teaching. You can have all of your facts straight, but if the children don't see that the Truth is something that enlivens you and informs every decision that you make -- if they don't see that you are committed to the very salvation of their souls -- then they won't give your words any more than a passing thought. Street kids know when they're getting fed a line. They know who the phonies are, the teachers who just clock in for their 9 to 5 and could give 2 cents about them. In St. John Bosco they saw someone different, someone who truly loved and cared for them.

If I could only have half the passion, zeal, and charisma that St. John Bosco had ...

St. John Bosco, "Apostle of Youth" ... pray for us.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

RESOURCES:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

For the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor

In thanksgiving for the inspiring life and work of St. Francis de Sales on this his feast day, I offer the following resources:
Works by St. Francis de Sales:
In closing, and for old-time's sake (this used to be a regular feature on my blog), here is today's selection from "Daily with De Sales":
  • During the course of the day, recall as often as possible that you are in God's presence. Consider what God does and what you are doing. You will see His eyes turned toward you and constantly fixed on you with incomparable love. Then you will say to Him, "O God, why do I not look always at You, just as You always look at me? Why do You think so often of me, O Lord, and why do I think so seldom of You?" Where are we, O my soul? God is our true place, and where are we? (INT. Part II, Ch. 12; O. III, p. 92)

St. Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church ... pray for us.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic
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