Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Real Gem These Days

Check out what has recently become one of my favorite websites:

The articles on this site, while not yet numerous, are extremely effective in articulating the Christian, conservative viewpoint and in refuting the common errors we face. I have yet to be disappointed, and I wish the Witherspoon Institute continued success.

Pax Christi,

The Poor and the Unborn: Part 3

More from my Facebook debate on Christians voting for Obama. Also see Part 1 and Part 2. Note that I had to keep my responses brief b/c Facebook comments don't allow for very many words.

Obama's campaign cites everything [about the "Born Alive" legislation] so you can check it out. This has been discussed a lot already and I think this link pretty much sums up the "pro-Obama" response. It is no secret that Obama is a pro-choice candidate that will protect Roe vs. Wade. He is not, however, pro-abortion or pro-infanticide.
Well, first of all, I tried to respond to your recent posts, but it would've been at least 20 comments long. There's just too much to cover. Instead, I would like to direct you to articles that refute the points you have made. I beg you to read them.

Now, regarding Obama's justification for voting against “Born Alive” legislation in Illinois, I offer the following:His arguments on this issue just don't hold up.

As for Obama being "pro-choice" instead of "pro-abortion," I think the distinction is ultimately pointless for one thing. I also think it gives Obama more credit then he deserves. The following articles explain why "pro-abortion" is an entirely justifiable label:There has never been a presidential candidate as staunchly pro-ABORTION as Barak Obama.

You said, "I see that you trust his words there. I don't. The reason I don't is b/c, when pro-choice politicians and organizations talk about 'women's health', 'family planning', and 'compassionate assistance' they really mean 'abortion.'" I don't see how you prescribe to know that. We will never know if every politician and organization that is pro-choice really does care about women's health, family planning, and compassionate assistance, but do you really believe they are all just trying to find ways to kill more babies and that they don't actually care about women at all?
I think Planned Parenthood certainly fits that bill. They're after one thing: the almighty dollar. The fact that abortion even falls under "women’s health" is misleading at best. Abortion does nothing positive for the health of the mother. Nothing. If these people really cared about women’s health they wouldn’t be "pro-choice." Here’s what their beloved "choice" is doing to women:Looks more like "women's victimization" to me.

About the number of deaths to malnutrition vs. abortion, both numbers are obviously estimates and there may be no statistically significant difference between the two, but I can concede the numbers are comparable. At any rate, here is an interesting journal article on the incidence of abortion worldwide that, I think, shows the concern that making abortion illegal does not seem to affect its practice much since abortion rates are roughly even between countries where abortion is legal and where it is illegal.
For one, there are too many extenuating variables involved from country to country to make the blanket statement that “Abortion rates are no lower overall in areas where abortion is generally restricted by law than in areas where abortion is legally permitted." Secondly, Michael J. New has done extensive research which shows that pro-life laws do actually work. See "Pro-Life Politicians Have Made a Difference, Pro-Life Laws Work". Thirdly, I reject the very logic behind your argument.

Abortion should be illegal because it’s wrong. Period. As far as I know, you believe it’s wrong, too. Well then, why not fight to make it illegal? Why must we force ourselves into this false dichotomy of either making it illegal or providing help for women in crisis situations? Why can’t we do both? That’s what any “pro-lifer” would advocate.

Yet, you somehow think a person can call themselves "pro-life" and still vote for a candidate who advocates unfettered access to abortion. The programs that you want to see … I want to see them too! But, we won’t see them under Obama. These programs will be seen as a threat to Roe vs. Wade and they will all be abolished. When his campaign was asked, "Does Sen. Obama support continuing federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers? Why or why not?" they responded: "No" (see here). That doesn't seem very "pro-choice" to me.

All I know to say is that abortion is deplorable and an issue of deep concern. Abortion rates are going down as programs are being developed, and that is a wonderful thing. Whether Roe vs. Wade is overturned or not, there will still need to be action taken to lower the number of abortions. Mccain and Obama have different plans for sex education and the economy. You said it is debatable if Obama's plans will work, but it is debatable whether Mccain's would as well. You mentioned FOCA, but I believe that will not pass if people like us write to our congressmen and senators--which is much more effective than just debating with friends, because unlike our friends, senators and congressmen must listen, if for no other reason than to be re-elected.
I think that’s naïve. For one, it is highly, HIGHLY probable that we will soon have a Democrat-controlled House AND Senate. If Obama is elected, that will mean a Democrat-controlled government through and through. When’s the last time the Democrats have been good on the abortion issue? If you don’t think they’ll pass FOCA you’re a few bricks short of a load (no offense). At any rate, why even risk it?

From now on Nick, I'm callin' you trouble. ; )
You call ME trouble? Obama is trouble par excellence. In case I have not been very effective at presenting my position, see Gerard V. Bradley's recent article "When Is It Acceptable for a Pro-Life Voter to Vote for a Pro-Choice Candidate?". He makes the case much better than I can.

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Resources on Catholic Voting

The following guides are abundantly helpful and will form your conscience regarding the principles we need to know in order to vote in accordance with our Catholic faith.Pax Christi,

Monday, October 20, 2008

Poll-Release Monday #59

Here is this week's new poll question (and just in the nick of time too!):

True or false? The ordination of women remains an option which the Church may choose in the future.
Note that the question is not "Do you think that women should be ordained?" but "Can the Church choose that option?" or, in other words, "Does the Church have the power to ordain women if the Church so chooses?" Vote in the poll in the sidebar.

As for the last poll, here are the results:
  • True or False?: Ordination imprints an indelible sacramental character
    • True: 24 (92%)
    • False: 2 (8%)
The correct answer is:
  • TRUE, cf. CCC no. 1582: As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ's office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1767; LG 21; 28; 29; PO 2).
The two of you who voted "False" have some learning to do! I suggest the following:Pax Christi,

Palin's True Compassion

You must read this post from the Creative Minority Report on a disabled woman's encounter with Sarah Palin at a rally in Virginia Beach. Palin's true compassion stands in stark contrast to the half-hearted empathy that Obama tries to show for the unborn every time he talks about abortion. It's a heart-warming read.

Pax Christi,

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Poor and the Unborn: Part 2

[Also see Part 1]

The issues that you listed as debatable are issues that, I agree, have leeway. However, they are none of the ones mentioned in my post. Where do you get your five issues? Obviously they are integral to your faith. They're integral to mine, but they are not my top five. I listed the issues that burden my heart, and they are just as biblical as yours.

You consider abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual marriage to be the non-negotiable issues. Interestingly enough, with most of those we must extrapolate how Christ feels on them based on His character and Old Testament Scripture. I don't disagree with you on your interpretation, but it should be noted that He spoke directly about taking care of the hungry and the sick, which leads me to believe where His heart lay.
Can you give me the source for your statement [in the first post] that "More people died worldwide from hunger in one year than have died from abortion nationwide in twenty-five years." I’m interested to analyze those numbers. Also, don’t forget that abortion statistics of the Guttmacher Institute and the CDC don’t even consider the abortifacent effects of birth control medications. The numbers would skyrocket if we were somehow able to take that into account.

Regarding your reply to me, are you saying that world hunger is a more important issue than abortion? Also, I agree that both of our issues are biblical, but that does not mean they are equal in gravity.

It's unfair to use "probably" when referring to these candidates opinions. Facts are what we must rely on when making this decision. And the fact is, abortions performed in the US spiked in 1981 and have steadily decreased since (www.guttmacher.org). It's also inappropriate to call Obama "disingenuous" because you do not know him, nor his heart. With a few exceptions, I think it *is* fair to say that no one likes abortion.
You said that abortions have steadily decreased since 1981, but that's not true. According to the CDC, the annual number of legal induced abortions in the United States increased gradually from 1973 until it peaked in 1990, and it generally declined thereafter. But why even point out the decrease? Does that make it less wrong?

Regarding Obama's character, I don't have to personally know the man to know when he's being disingenuous. Just look at his words and compare them to his record. He sugarcoats it like you wouldn't believe, and anytime you bring it up you get accused of attacking his character. His campaign would rather you not even know what his stance on abortion is. The topic is nowhere to be found on the "Issues" page of his website, even though it's always been one of the most important issues to Americans. Weird, huh?

Honestly, Nick, you have to look at the fact that women have had abortions since they've discovered that sex makes them pregnant. Making it illegal doesn't make it go away, but keeping it the way it is and putting our focus on providing women with better options is what will make a difference. I can say that because it *has* made a difference.
So, since women have always aborted their babies and they probably always will, that means we should just keep it legal? We make things illegal b/c they are wrong, b/c they are detrimental to society and to its citizens. Abortion definitely falls in that category. People will always rape, and steal, and break the speed limit, but we still have laws against those things. We simply cannot allow this atrocity to take place any longer, and no amount of “better options” will end the genocide like a law against abortion will.

You’re against abortion but you’re still voting for Obama. Why? Because you think he’ll be able to provide “better options for women” than McCain will? Because you think he’ll be “better on the poor”? Both of those reasons are far from provable, and a case could easily be made that McCain will in fact be better on both. There is, however, one thing we know for certain: Obama will do more than just keep abortion legal. He will unleash abortion in all its fury upon this country. No laws that restrict it in any way, and tax-payer funded. That’s what the Freedom of Choice Act is all about, and he’s promised that as president he will pass this bill. If you are against abortion, how can you vote for someone who will just fight for its increase?

What Christians need to understand is that there is no issue in this election that is proportionate in gravity to abortion and thus no issue that would justify voting for Obama in light of his abortion record. He’s wrong on a few other non-negotiable issues as well, which just makes a vote for him even worse.

I never wrote one word about Obama's economic policy. I'm not suggesting we put the abortion issue aside, I'm suggesting we look at it from a different angle. It hurts my feelings that you would suggest that I care more about the economy than the life of even one human being, especially when I did not indicate such a perspective.
The reason I mentioned economic policy is b/c I thought it was his economic policies that were going to somehow decrease the poverty level in this country and the # of abortions, two things that you are against. I just happen to think that his policies will do neither. Also, you're right, the sanctity of human life does not end at abortion .... it BEGINS there. Human beings have a right to life before any other right. We must protect that right before we can protect the others. The others aren't even on the table without life.

The Poor and the Unborn: Part 1

I have been in more debates on abortion in the past two weeks than in my entire life. The following debate, like the last one, is also due to Facebook. I'm posting it on my blog with the hope that maybe my arguments will help other people, and also that I will receive suggestions and arguments from you all that will help me to be more effective in this debate in the future. Let me know what you think.

Since I am quoting my interlocutor's argument in full instead of responding to it in parts, I have decided to indent it instead of making it a block quote so that it will be easier to read.

Pax Christi,
- - - - - - - - - -

  • Okay. So here's the deal. Everyone is so heated about this election and many of my friends (not necessarily those I've tagged, mind you--you all are just the most likely to read this and care) seem to think that I've given up on my Christian faith because there's an Obama button on my profile and I'm voting for Yarmuth and Lunsford in November (for the record, I also voted for our current governor and for his running mate when Mongiardo challenged Bunning in '04). The consensus of everyone around me seems to be that there is no such thing as a politically liberal Christian, and that anyone who votes for a Democrat is a baby killer. Let me clarify a few things, I hope without coming across as a jerk.

    First, some statistics:

    • In 2006 alone, 35.5 million people lived in households considered to be food insecure (frac.org, taken from the USDA).
    • Of these 35.5 million, 22.9 million are adults (10.4 percent of all adults) and 12.6 million are children (17.2 percent of all children) (frac.org).
    • 4.0 percent (4.6 million) of U.S. households had very low food security at some time during 2006. Very low food security is defined by the USDA as "normal eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced at times during the year because they had insufficient money or other resources for food." (www.ers.usda.gov)
    • Mortality due to malnutrition accounted for 58% of the total mortality in 2006 globally (which is over 68 million people) according to Jean Ziegler, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food for 2000 to March 2008 via Wikipedia (cited as Jean Ziegler, L'Empire de la honte, Fayard, 2007).
    • It wasn't until 2002 that the Supreme Court ruled that executing mentally disabled killers is unconstitutional because it is "cruel and unusual" punishment (news.bbc.co.uk).
    • More US patients die from diseases that could be treated by timely intervention than in any other leading industrialized country (www.ft.com--The Financial Times).
    • These diseases include infections, treatable cancers, diabetes, and heart and vascular disease (ft.com)
    • Quoted directly from the Financial Times article: "With the rising cost of healthcare and numbers of those uninsured becoming increasingly important issues in the US presidential campaign, the authors say it is "difficult to disregard the observation" that the slow fall in the US preventable death rate "has coincided with an increase in the uninsured population"
    • And finally, from 1973 through 2005, more than 45 million legal abortions occurred (guttmacher.org).

    The point of this is not that abortion doesn't matter. Obviously it is deplorable that people are dying from this procedure. But does the sanctity of life end at birth? More people died worldwide from hunger in one year than have died from abortion nationwide in twenty-five years. People in our country are dying of starvation, they're dying of malnutrition, they're dying of disease they can't afford to treat because they can't afford insurance. Until 2002, we were allowing mentally handicapped people to be put to death for crimes they couldn't understand were wrong. And we're saying that all of those people don't matter when we say that we are required to be single-issue voters.

    I don't mean to question your convictions as voters. I just ask that folks don't claim that I don't care about human life because I'm voting for a Democrat, and put into question my salvation as well.
Do you believe in sin, in an act that is objectively, inherently wrong? Because, believe it or not, that's what is at stake in this election. I know it sounds radical, but please hear me out.

As Christians, I think that there are several issues that can be legitimately debated: economic policies, when and under what conditions we go to war, immigration, national defense, health care, even capital punishment. But, there are also certain issues that are objectively wrong, that are evil by their very nature.

In this election, there are at least five such objectively sinful issues on the table: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual marriage. Anyone who participates in these, either directly by supporting them or indirectly by supporting someone who does, is himself guilty of a serious sin. We can't encourage another man's sin and expect a free pass. So, in choosing a candidate we have to look at where they stand on these five issues.

If both candidates support some of these issues, then we have to choose the candidate that will cause the least harm. If they both support all five of these issues, THEN you can base your decision on the legitimately debatable issues. On the non-negotiable issues, it is clear that McCain is the only candidate that a Christian can vote for.

The following information is taken from Ontheissues.org:

  • Obama: received a 100% rating from NARAL and a 0% rating from the National Right to Life Committee, supports Roe v. Wade, voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP, voted NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion, and voted NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. One of his first acts as president will be to pass the Freedom of Choice Act, which will undo all pro-life legislation and allow unfettered access to abortion whenever, however, and wherever you want it. And it's going to be on YOUR tax dollar, whether you agree with abortion or not.
  • McCain: received a 0% rating from NARAL and a 75% rating from the NRLC. Supports repealing Roe v. Wade, voted YES on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP, voted YES on barring HHS grants to organizations that perform abortions, voted YES on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions, voted YES on criminal penalty for harming unborn fetus during other crime, voted YES on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life, voted YES on maintaining ban on military base abortions, voted YES on banning partial birth abortions.

  • Obama: said that someone who is terminally ill should be provided with the means with which to end their own life. He also said that, of all the decisions he's made as a senator, his biggest regret was voting for Congress to intervene in the euthanization of Terri Schiavo. That's his single BIGGEST regret!?!? Wow.
  • McCain: about the Terri Schiavo issue, he called it “a very difficult issue” adding that “In retrospect, we should have taken some more time, looked at it more carefully, and probably we acted too hastily.” I'm not really sure what that means, but at least it shows some more sensitivity on the issue then what Obama has shown. Beyond that, McCain hasn't indicated his position on euthanasia from what I can tell.

  • Obama: encouraged the passing of the Stem Cell Research Bill, and voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines.
  • McCain: supports federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, supports fetal tissue research but against over-intensity, voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines.

  • Obama: on cloning, he hasn't indicated his position from what I can tell, so that issue is unclear.
  • McCain: voted YES on banning human cloning.

  • Obama: voted “No” on a constitutional ban of homosexual marriage, received an 89% approval rating from the Human Rights Campaign (which indicates a strong pro-gay-rights stance), opposes CA Prop. 8 (which defines one-man-one-woman marriage), said that homosexuality is no more immoral than heterosexuality.
  • McCain: supports CA Prop. 8, voted NO on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage (in '06) but voted YES on prohibiting same-sex marriage (in '96), rated 33% by the HRC, indicating a mixed record on gay rights.

McCain is not perfect on any of these issues, but he's better than Obama on abortion and homosexual marriage, probably better on euthanasia, and we know for a fact that McCain is against human cloning. Obama is not better than McCain on ANY of these issues. For that reason, I will be voting for McCain.

Before I close, I would like to say more on the issue of abortion.

It's a basic moral principle that the most grievous sins are those that effect life most directly. ALL other rights -- to food, to clothing, to shelter, to speech, to religion, to bear arms, to an honest wage, etc -- are based on the fundamental right to life. Abortion is the issue that effects life most directly, more than ANY other issue. So, while it is not the only issue on the table in this election, it is the most important one.

In other words, you can't just put the little abortion issue aside and be like, "But Obama has such great economic policies!" The economy isn't as important as abortion, and there is simply no proof that abortions will go down under his presidency b/c of his economic policies. Obama wants a capital gains tax that will strain an already unstable stock market, and he wants to tax small businesses, which means either higher prices for the goods they produce or less jobs. These businesses have to make up that cost somehow, and neither solution is good for the woman who is considering an abortion.

Assuming the economy does improve under Obama, there is simply no way that this will offset the increase in abortions that will take place once he passes the Freedom of Choice Act, which he said will be one of his first actions as president.

Obama is disingenuous (to put it mildly) when he tries to act like a moderate and say, "Oh, no one likes abortion" and "We need to decrease the number of abortions." Freakin baloney. There's never been a greater champion of abortion to EVER run for President. He's practically in love with a woman's "right" to choose, which is itself a misnomer since no one has the right to kill another innocent human being.

I hope that clarifies my position, and I am thankful for the opportunity to share it. I love you, I really do, but I think you're wrong on this one.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

StoPP Now!

The following message is from Michael Hitchborn, of the American Life League. Usually I don't post these, but I felt like this one was pretty important (not that they aren't all important, it's just that .... well .... you know what I mean):
  • Dear Pro-Life Friends,

    This edition of the American Life League Report is a special report on how Planned Parenthood defrauded the government of California, looting over $5 million tax dollars. The is one of the most important reports we have issued to date because this evidence could lead to a national investigation. That's why, in addition to posting this ALL Report, I'm asking you to promote our call to your readers to go to our webpage www.stopp.org/fraud and fill out the online form to contact the Attorneys General in their own states, requesting an investigation into Planned Parenthood's possible fraud. We've exposed Planned Parenthood in California. If we can expose it's fraud in other states, we can push even harder to cut it's public funding for good.

    The report is posted on blip.tv and YouTube. You can find the blip version here, and you can find the YouTube version here.

    Thank you so much for your help, and as always, thanks for everything you do for the babies!
Listen to the man.

Pax Christi,

Exploring Catholicism: Part 3

[Also see Part 1 and Part 2]

As far as the first question about the scriptures I feel that you fairly represented the Catholic side and I can understand. The more and more I become convinced that the sacraments are more than symbols the more I feel this is less of an issue because I would then believe they are administers of grace, which I don’t’ believe would fit with the OSAS idea.
That is correct.

The other questions I had were for me to know how to approach this as I study and as I potentially look for people near my area to talk with.
In my studies I can see and begin to accept the idea of Apostolic Succession. I have seen how the early church viewed this pretty strongly as a testament to the validity of its congregations and that the formula was generally bishop, presbyter, deacon. That idea has begun to make me think that it is possible and probably true that the church is and should be very visible. I am just writing thoughts out so hopefully it makes sense because I have a ton floating around in my head ;)
That's perfectly fine!

Anyway, these thoughts are important to me because I come from a tradition in which a church is usually formed by a pastor and then maybe an elder team and there is not really anyone higher up than that, nor any community of churches to report to. If you have any comments about this please feel free too if it will help in further understanding.
I'm following you so far.

This is where for me it begins to get difficult. I am about to open up probably the two big ones you always here so anyway here goes:
The pope. I am not sure I am convinced there is supposed to be a pope but moreso that even if there was supposed to be one he should look like he does today. Maybe you can help me to understand where the idea of a pope comes from and his role today.
Well, essentially his role is the same today as it was when it was first explained to Peter by Jesus himself: to be a rock for the Church (cf. Mt 16:18), to be the steward of God's house (with all the authority that entails, cf. Mt 16:19; Isa 22:15-22), to strengthen his fellow bishops and priests (cf. Lk 22:31-32), and to feed and tend the flock of Christ (cf. Jn 21:15-19).

How he fulfills this role will change overtime, but we shouldn't expect anything less. The Church Herself grows, and matures, and adapts Herself to new situations and challenges as the culture itself grows and changes. If the Church looked exactly like it did when it was first formed, it wouldn't be able to meet the challenges of today. The papacy is the same way. We must allow a certain organic development of the papacy throughout the centuries, as the Church comes to a greater understanding of Herself and the best way to perform Her mission in the world. As long as we maintain continuity with the past and never lose sight of the essential roles and responsibilities of the Church and of the pope, then this development is acceptable, and even necessary.

The second and more troubling to me is Mariology. I feel like it is a lot of speculation. How can we know that she ascended? Or that she was unstained with original sin for that matter? Or how can we know she is Mediatrix and I guess what exactly does that mean?
These are very good questions, and I'll take them one at a time.

  1. How can we know that she ascended?

  2. Well, to state it more precisely, she was assumed. To say that she "ascended" I think implies that she rose body and soul into heaven by her own power. But, only Jesus Christ could do such a thing. So, instead we say that she was "assumed," which means that God raised her up into heaven. The distinction is important b/c it shows that, just as with all of the Marian privileges, it was b/c of the grace and power of God that she was able to participate in the resurrection of the body. At the end of time, we will all participate in this resurrection; Mary was just able to do so before the rest of us.

    The basis for the Assumption of Mary comes primarily from the teaching of the Church, but there is implicit witness in Scripture as well.

    First note that the concept of the Assumption is not foreign to Scripture. Like I said before, we will all experience the resurrection of the body when Jesus comes again (cf. Jn 5:28-29; 6:39-40; 11:24-25). Likewise, Mary was not the only one to experience this before the Second Coming. Enoch (cf. Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5) and Elijah (cf. 2 Ki 2:11-12; 1 Mac 2:58; Sir 48:4,9) were assumed into heaven. Paul suggests that a third man may have been as well (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-3) and Matthew speaks of "many bodies of the saints" who were raised from the tomb after Jesus' resurrection (cf. Mt 27:52-53). So, the principle is scripturally sound. We have left only to answer the question, "Did this happen to Mary?"

    As far as explicit references go, this can be neither confirmed nor denied. I find nothing in Scripture, explicit or otherwise, that condemns the teaching. What I do find, however, are several verses that seem to point to it, at least implicitly [from the RSV, unless otherwise noted]:

    Psalm 45:9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

    Psa 132:8 Arise, O LORD, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might.

    Isa 60:13 The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious.

    So 3:6 What is that coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of the merchant?

    So 8:5 Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?

    Rev 11:19-12:1Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. 1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars

    Rev 12:13-14 and when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had borne the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent nto the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.

    Often times, in Scripture, we can find meanings intended by God but not necessarily intended by the human author. For example, when Isaiah said, "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son," he meant to refer to the birth of King Hezekiah. But, St. Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, saw behind these words the intention of God to prophecy the coming of the Messiah. In a similar way, there's no reason to believe that behind the literal meaning of the passages listed above, we do not find the mind of the Lord regarding His mother.

  3. How can we know that she was unstained from original sin?

  4. This is called the Immaculate Conception, and the biblical witness to it is more substantial. First, I think it is helpful to note the parallel between the ark of the Old Covenant and Mary:

    • Lk 1:28,31,42,45,48 (DRB) and Psa 93:5: The house of the Lord is forever holy, and Mary was a holy and blessed house of the Lord.
    • Lk 1:35 and Exo 40:35: God overshadowed Mary just as He overshadowed the tabernacle that contained the Word.
    • Lk 1:39 and 2 Sam 6:2: Both Mary and the ark arise and go to Judah.
    • Lk 1:41 and 2 Sam 6:16: David leaps with joy at the presence of the ark, just as John leaps at the presence of Mary.
    • Lk 1:43 and 2 Sam 6:9: What David says at the coming of the ark is almost exactly what Elizabeth says upon the coming of Mary.
    • Lk 1:56 and 2 Sam 6:11: Both Mary and the ark reside for 3 months in their new locations.
    • Heb 9:4 and Jn 1:1; 6:51; Heb 5:4-5: Just as the ark of the Old Covenant contained the word of God on the stone tablets, the manna from heaven, and the rod of Aaron the great High Priest, so did Mary contain Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God, the Manna from Heaven, and the great High Priest.

    All of this points to Mary as the ark of the New Covenant, and if the ark of the old required construction of the finest and purest materials and was so holy that no one could even touch it, what else can we believe about Mary but that God constructed her to be holy and undefiled, a fitting tabernacle of our Lord Jesus Christ?

    There are also two salutations to Mary that are indicative of her immaculate nature. The first is the Angel Gabriel's words to Mary:

    Lk 1:28 (DRB) And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

    Some versions translate this as "hail, thou that art highly favored," but this is an inaccurate translation. The Greek term here is kecharitomene, a perfect present participle of the verb charitoo, which denotes "grace". A perfect participle indicates an action completed in the past with existing results, and a present participle denotes continuous or repeated action. For more on this, go here or here.

    So kecharitomene means "you who were and continue to be full of and completed in grace." Now grace is God's gift of spiritual life and communion with Himself. Sin and grace are opposed (cf. Rom 5:20-21), and grace saves us from sin (cf. Eph 2:5,8). So Mary's fullness of grace indicates a complete absence of sin.

    What is also interesting about the angel's words is that he literally calls Mary "full of grace" as if that were her name. He did not say, "Hail, you who are full of grace." He addressed her as "full of grace" just as you would address me as "Nick." This is important because in the Bible, a person's name is often indicative of his chief characteristic. Simon was called "Peter" because he was to be the "Rock" of the Church. Abram was called "Abraham" because he was to be the father of many nations. So, by addressing Mary as "full of grace," the angel is acknowledging Mary as one who is particularly grace-filled.

    Elizabeth's words to Mary are also important: "Blessed are you among women" (Lk 1:42). Note that neither the Hebrew or the Aramaic languages (which Elizabeth would have spoken) have superlatives. So, the tallest person would be "tall among men." The smartest person would be "smart among men." This shows that when Elizabeth said that Mary was "blessed among women" she was declaring her the holiest one of all.

    So, the salutations of the Angel Gabriel and of Elizabeth work to further point to Mary's Immaculate Conception.

  5. Or how can we know she is Mediatrix and I guess what exactly does that mean?

  6. I could try to put this in my own words, but honestly, I'm pretty tired right now. At any rate, I don't think I could explain it any better than Dave Armstrong does. See A Biblical and Theological Primer on Mary, Mediatrix.

I hope that answers all of your questions. No excuses for waiting so long to respond. Just an apology: Sorry bro.

Pax Christi,

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain and the Pro-Life Movement

In response to my last post about Obama and how his supporters try to justify abortion, I received the following comment from "Joey-O." He's a reluctant McCain supporter, and he raises some questions about McCain's pro-life credentials. I would like to respond to his comment.

Wow. Abortion is truly horrific. It's sad to read about someone who is ignorant or mislead on such an important thing.
That's for sure.

I had a thought while reading your blog. You seem so certain that McCain would be more pro-life than Obama. I myself do believe that McCain is more pro-life than Obama. However, I'm far from certain on the issue.
Well, just look at their records. OnTheIssues.org is very helpful in this regard. Here's what they have recorded on both candidates:

Barak Obama:
  • Supports Roe v. Wade. (Jul 1998)
  • Voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP. (Mar 2008)
  • Voted NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion. (Mar 2008)
  • Voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines. (Apr 2007)
  • Voted NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. (Jul 2006)
  • Voted YES on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives. (Mar 2005)
  • Sponsored bill providing contraceptives for low-income women. (May 2006)
  • Rated 0% by the NRLC, indicating a pro-choice stance. (Dec 2006)
  • Ensure access to and funding for contraception. (Feb 2007)

John McCain:
  • Supports repealing Roe v. Wade. (May 2007)
  • Voted YES on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP. (Mar 2008)
  • Voted YES on barring HHS grants to organizations that perform abortions. (Oct 2007)
  • Voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines. (Apr 2007)
  • Voted YES on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. (Jul 2006)
  • Voted NO on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives. (Mar 2005)
  • Voted YES on criminal penalty for harming unborn fetus during other crime. (Mar 2004)
  • Voted YES on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life. (Mar 2003)
  • Voted YES on maintaining ban on Military Base Abortions. (Jun 2000)
  • Voted YES on banning partial birth abortions. (Oct 1999)
  • Voted YES on banning human cloning. (Feb 1998)
  • Rated 0% by NARAL, indicating a pro-life voting record. (Dec 2003)
  • Expand embryonic stem cell research. (Jun 2004)
  • Rated 75% by the NRLC, indicating a mixed record on abortion. (Dec 2006)
  • Prohibit transporting minors across state lines for abortion. (Jan 2008)

Now, I can see why someone would be concerned about how consistently pro-life McCain is, but there is simply no question that he is more pro-life than Obama.

I know McCain claims to be pro-life, but I am rather suspicious of this, along with his other recent series of conversions. They have conveniently come just in time for him to run for president. And, McCain's previous statements and voting record, while somewhat mixed, are decidedly pro-choice.
Granted, I haven't been following McCain his entire career or anything, but he doesn't seem like the type that is prone to "conversions." The impression I get is that he is a man of principles. I don't think there is anything to substantiate your implication that he just tailors his views to whoever he is courting. His votes on life issues go as far back as '98 or '99 (in other words, before he began running for president), and while you may view his record as "decidedly pro-choice," I think his record tells a different story. If we use the previous list as our guide, he may not be perfectly pro-life (his "YES" for embryonic stem cell research is a glaring example) but at least he has taken steps in the right direction and he has supported laws that would restrict abortion. That's more than we can say for Obama.

Yes, Obama in his short time in the Senate has managed to consistently vote for every pro-choice/pro-abortion bill that has come up, and yes Palin has some excellent anti-abortion credentials. It's clear to me that on abortion McCain is more pro-life, but only because he doesn't seem to care. It seems like, when it comes to the issue of abortion, McCain just takes the most politically convenient position.
I'd like to know what has given you this impression of him. He's known among his fellow senators as the very man who does not always take the most politically convenient position. When he says, "Country First," I don't think that's a lot of hot air. I think that's truly how he operates.

So, McCain will probably sign an anti-abortion bill if it came across his desk. But, would he sponsor one? Would he appoint a judge that's pro-life? I honestly don't know. I doubt he'd sponsor an anti-abortion bill. And, I doubt a judge's stance on abortion would weigh heavily on his decision making. Obama's like a loaded gun; he's going to be pro-abortion. McCain is like Russian Roulette; he's got a chance at either being deadly to the unborn or having no effect whatsoever.
Look, I realize that he's not the perfect pro-life candidate. He has supported embryonic stem cell research, and while he's against abortion in most cases, he does seem to think it's ok in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the life of the mother. But, he has supported laws that greatly curtail abortion, and I think he would support similar laws in the future. There's no reason to believe that he wouldn't, especially since Palin has his ear and I think that he very much respects her opinion.

As for judges, he voted "YES" on confirming Samual Alito and John Roberts for the Supreme Court, both of whom were supported by the pro-life groups in America. On Jan. 30, '08 he said, "The judges I would appoint are along the lines of Justices Roberts and Alito," so I think we can expect that any future appointees will be sensitive to the pro-life cause. All of this leads me to believe that he is far from someone who is "deadly to the unborn." In the very least, it is likely that he will not cause more harm then has already been caused by Roe vs. Wade and similar legislation. The "Russian Roulette" analogy is a gross exaggeration.

Given this less than black and white situation between McCain and Obama, should we limit our pro-life consider to abortion issues? Normally, I would. It's the clearest and gravest moral issue facing our nation, but when no candidate is decidedly pro-life, how do we vote?
You need to read the Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics, from Catholic Answers (see the 16-pg. booklet or the bulletin insert). It is very instructive in situations like this.

There are several issues that effect life, so of course we shouldn't restrict ourselves to abortion. But, abortion is the most serious issue for it effects life the most directly. As a Catholic, you can debate about economic policies, national defense, and border control. There are positives and negatives from both sides on these issues. But, we also have certain non-negotiables, issues that are objectively or intrinsically evil, issues that we cannot support either directly or indirectly. These are abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, and homosexual "marriage." When both candidates endorse positions contrary to non-negotiable principles, you must choose the candidate who is likely to do the least harm. There's no question who that candidate is.

Obama's health-care plan would seem to bring better preventative medicine to the poor and under-privileged, probably saving many lives. His tax plans could potentially put more money in the hands of the poor, enabling them to feed themselves and again, saving more lives. His foreign policy decisions might lead to greater peace in the world.
"Seem to bring" .... "probably saving" .... "could potentially" .... "might lead." Let's concentrate on what we know for sure:

How could anyone vote for him in hopes of somehow decreasing abortions when we know that the first thing he'll do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which will undo every single bit of pro-life legislation at the federal and state level? When there is a guarantee that he will strike down anything that he sees as even remotely threatening a woman's "right to choose"? There is simply no proof that Obama's economic or health care policies will do anything to decrease the number of abortions in this nation. Yet we know for a fact that FOCA will do serious harm (for more on this, see the "FOCA Fact Sheet" from the Pro-Life Secretariat of the USCCB). There is a much greater likelihood that an Obama presidency will significantly undo the pro-life cause then that his economic policies will somehow decrease the number of abortions. I'm not willing to go there.

I realize this is all speculative, and as I said, I do evaluate McCain to be overall more pro-life than Obama. BUT, I felt it prudent to challenge your apparent certainty on the issue.
Well, hopefully, I have further clarified my position. For more on Catholic voting, see the following resources:Pax Christi,

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Barak Obama, Abortion and Ensoulment

Facebook is an interesting way to learn about people. When someone joins a group called "I Secretly Want To Punch Slow Walking People In The Back Of The Head," well by-golly, that says something about a person. Well, one thing I'm noticing is that a lot of the people I grew up with, went to Catholic schools for 12 years with, went to Church every Sunday with have either abandoned their faith or currently hold positions that are contrary to that faith.

Case in point: one high-school classmate of mine recently posted an event on Facebook called, "Goodbye Bush! - Hello Obama!" Since I have yet to find a single compelling reason why any Catholic in their right mind should vote for Obama, I felt compelled to leave the following comment:

"Sorry, can't make it. I'm too busy voting pro-life...."

I know, I know, probably not the most constructive way to begin a dialogue on the merits of Obama's voting record, but what can I say, recent events have got me in a "mood."

At any rate, my classmate provided a quite lengthy response, and I would like to counter that here.

You know there ARE other issues at stake...
Yes, but none as important.

Fortunately, we live in a country where we are allowed to have differing opinions. BTW, if the fetus you're voting to protect is gay, would you still fight for its rights?
Are you still Catholic? As Catholics, we are not allowed to have differing opinions on this issue. Abortion is wrong. Period. And since it is the issue that most directly effects human life, it is more important then war, or feeding the poor, or any other issue. And, to answer your question, assuming that homosexuality is in fact a genetic disorder, I would most certainly protect that baby's right to life. Every single human being has a right to life in virtue of being made in the image and likeness of God. Every single one, not just the ones who were fortunate enough to make it out of the womb. You have experienced that life growing within you. I'm surprised that you would be so willing to vote for someone who advocates the destruction of that life.

I always let Catholicism tell me when life began. Unquestioningly. Then I looked at science and reason. What is it that makes the "zef" --zygote, embryo, fetus-- a person and thus worthy of equal right to life with the woman whose body it occupies?

Is it the possesion of a soul? If so, when does ensoulment occur?

The Catholic Church teaches that ensoulment and therefore personhood, begins at the moment of conception when the sperm penetrates the ovum. At a glance that sounds logical, unique DNA, two separate entities fusing into one. That view however, presents certain problems:
I'm not sure if the debate on personhood is even necessary here. Even if we speak simply of human "beings," not human "persons," it is clear that abortion is wrong. Forget about when ensoulment occurs for a moment. The fact remains that upon conception, human DNA is formed that marks this particular thing as a human being. And human beings should not kill other innocent human beings. The mere probability that this human being is in fact a person is enough to make abortion a grave evil. We should never dare to risk murder.

If we are going to bestow personhood on a cluster of cells with no recognizable human features and no awareness or consciousness at all, we would need to look at the following situations:
Even your arguments about ensoulment do not refute the Church's teaching. For one, you seem to imply here that if consciousness or awareness are not present, then personhood is not present. But, this is faulty logic. If you take it to it's logical conclusion then you must make the absurd assertion that someone who falls into a coma or is otherwise unconscious but still alive someone ceases to be a person as well.

Just b/c that “clump of cells” can’t think or feel yet, that does not mean it isn’t a human person. This is b/c, while consciousness and awareness do not yet exist in actuality, they DO exist in potency. These powers simply await the maturation of the physical body in order to be actualized, or to bear fruit in the person.

TWINNING: For some time after fertilization, the embryo can split in two resulting in identical twins. If we think of the embryo as an individual - whom we will call Jane - endowed with a soul from the moment the sperm penetrated the egg, what happens to the individual when the embryo splits in two, is Jane one of the two, or does she disappear and replaced by Susan and Mary? If Jane disappears, does she go to heaven or limbo? If Jane is one of the two, which one is she? Does she retain the soul she received upon fertilization, or does she and her identical twin receive brand new souls?
I am no expert on embryology, but there are several scholarly articles that I feel adequately address this issue. They include the following:I hope that helps.

IN VITRO: In cases when eggs are fertilized under the microscope in a laboratory, the embryo would receive its soul the moment the scientist injects the sperm into the egg, that would mean that he/she is compelling God to dispatch a soul at that particular moment! (If the scientist is capable of controlling fertilization and thus ensoulment that would imply that God's powers are not unique, since humans can do what he can do) What we should ask is, where in the embryo does the soul reside and why isn't the infusion of the soul observable when the egg is fertilized in the lab under the microscope? With a two celled organism and a powerful electron microscope that should not be too difficult! Or are we to assume that in vitro babies are soul-less?
It simply does not follow from my position of immediate ensoulment that the scientist somehow becomes equal unto God in his creative power. Yes, mankind has found a way to artificially fertilize an egg, resulting in a human zygote. But, only God creates the soul. It is a gift from Him and Him alone. When he gives a soul to such a zygote, it’s b/c it was HIS will to do so. No one can “force” God to do anything.

You also implied that the soul of a human zygote must not be there if we can’t see it under a microscope. I’m sorry, but that’s just silly. Souls are, by their very definition, immaterial. So, it’s not like you’ll be able to find your soul locked away somewhere in one of the chambers of your heart. The human soul, also called the “spiritual” soul, is the invisible, rational, immortal animating principle of man. It cannot be “seen” or “held” anymore than the “I” that is you can be seen or held.

I'm not saying I'm pro-abortion. But I do believe that the Catholic Church has it wrong on when life begins, and the science backs it up. And infallibility is not an acceptable response. (flat world, anyone?)
Your "science" does nothing to disprove my position. You misunderstand infallibility too. Infallibility is a charism of the Holy Spirit that protects the Church from authoritatively proclaiming anything that is false regarding faith and morals .... not astrology.

Also what I AM saying is that I think there are other issues that one should consider when casting their vote in November.
I agree that there are other issues we should consider. I’m not a one-issue voter. But, I do understand basic moral principles. Those actions which most directly effect human life are the most grievous, and there is no issue that effects human life more directly than abortion. As a consequence, you should look at a politician’s stance on abortion before you look at anything else. Do you know what Obama’s stance is? According to his speech to Planned Parenthood, his first action as President will be to pass the Freedom of Choice Act, which will undo all pro-life initiatives that have ever been put in place since Roe vs. Wade. If you are truly against abortion like you say you are, then this should be alarming.

As Catholics we have certain teachings that are simply non-negotiable. These include abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, and homosexual “marriage.” It is a serious sin both to embrace these practices and to endorse people who embrace them. Barack Obama is the single most liberal candidate to every run for the presidency of the United States. On abortion, he received a 100% rating from NARAL and a 0% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. On euthanasia, he said that someone who is terminally ill should be provided with the means with which to end their own life. He also said that his biggest regret as a senator was voting for Congress to intervene in the euthanization of Terri Schiavo. His position on cloning is unclear. Finally, on homosexual “marriage,” he voted “No” on a constitutional ban of such unions and he received an 89% approval rating from the Human Rights Campaign, indicating a strong pro-gay rights stance.

As a Catholic, there is simply no way that you can support this man. I hope that now you understand my position.

Pax Christi,

Monday, October 06, 2008

Can We Pray TO the Souls in Purgatory?

One of the parishioners was kind enough to send me a question about Purgatory. Here is her question and my response:
I know that it is good to pray for the souls in Purgatory, but can we pray to them?
Well, here's the short and long of it. Short answer: From what I can tell, the Church has not definitively settled this question. There is definitely nothing that explicitly forbids it. As such, it remains a topic that is up for debate, and it is for each individual Catholic to decide whether or not he will pray to the souls in Purgatory. You don’t have to believe that we can pray to them, but you can if you want to. Long answer: The difficulty in making an authoritative pronouncement centers around the simple fact that we don’t know a lot about the afterlife. We know that there is Heaven and Hell and that the souls destined for Heaven may first undergo a final purification. But, what this is like, we do not know. We don’t even know for sure how the saints in Heaven hear our prayers, we just know that they do. Barring some revelation of the Holy Spirit, any statement regarding the ability of the souls in Purgatory to hear our prayers is going to be a speculative one. Now, this is just my educated opinion, but if I were to take a stand on this issue I would say that praying to the souls in Purgatory is a logical consequence of what we believe about the communion of saints. In Christ, the Church Militant (on Earth), the Church Suffering (in Purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (in Heaven) all make up one Mystical Body of Christ. The Catechism says, “In the communion of saints a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things” (no. 1475). In other words, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). Knowing this, it just makes sense to me that if the souls in Purgatory can benefit from our prayers, then we should be able to benefit from theirs. The Communion of Saints doesn’t seem to be a one-way street. Furthermore, the Church has always allowed Catholics to pray to their deceased loved ones as a private devotion. But, the odds are great that any soul destined for heaven is undergoing some type of final purification first. Thus, the possibility exists that when you pray to your deceased grandmother, for example, you are actually praying to a soul in Purgatory. The Church, in allowing this private devotion, surely must have recognized the potential that existed in this scenario for a prayer to be directed to such a soul. So, in this perhaps we have implicit approval. Again, keep in mind that these are simply my own theological musings, and I do not present them as the definitive teaching of the Church. But, perhaps these thoughts will help you as you decide whether or not you will pray to the souls in Purgatory. Pax Christi, phatcatholic

Poll-Release Monday #58

Wow, this has been a long time coming. Sorry about that :( At any rate, here is this week's new poll question:

True or False?: Ordination imprints an indelible sacramental character
If this one isn't easy, then you haven't been reading your Catechism! As for the last poll, I guess one good way to get a lot of votes is to wait forever before you update it :D Here are the results:
  • True or False?: The priest receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders.
    • True: 59 (53%)
    • False: 53 (47%)
You had to think carefully about this one. The answer is:
  • False, cf. CCC 1557: The Second Vatican Council "teaches . . . that the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by episcopal consecration, that fullness namely which, both in the liturgical tradition of the Church and the language of the Fathers of the Church, is called the high priesthood, the acme (summa) of the sacred ministry" (LG 21 § 2).
In other words, it is the bishop who receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, not the priest. This may have been confusing b/c in a lot of people's minds, "priest" and "bishop" are lumped together under the one label "priest." But, regarding the Orders that they have received, there is a difference between a priest who is a bishop and a priest who is not one. I hope that makes sense.

Thanks everyone for voting. I'll try to update this more regularly.

Pax Christi,

Friday, October 03, 2008

Seeing Is Believing: The Blessed Mother in Faith and Art

Along with the paper on beauty and catechesis that I provided earlier (see my previous post), I also made a booklet, the purpose of which was to basically take the principles outlined in the paper and put them into practice. I chose to do that by selecting pieces of artwork that depict our Marian doctrines and then to analyze each painting, drawing out its meaning and catechetical implications.

Depending on your printer, this booklet may or may not come out right. The best thing to do would probably be to click "Help" in Microsoft Word and search for "Print a folded booklet." Then simply follow the directions that are provided. Also, you need the last blank page (p. 16) in order for it to fold in order, so make sure you don't delete it.

That said, click here to download the booklet. Let me know what you think.

Pax Christi,

Beauty and Catechesis

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. – Psalm 27:4

There’s a reason why the human heart longs for goodness, truth, and beauty. God himself is these things by his very nature, and he created in us a longing for them so that, in our search for goodness, truth, and beauty, we may find Him, come to know Him, and learn to love Him. Of course, the devil is also supremely interested in these three marks of God, but only insofar as his malicious ends are achieved whenever he can lure us away from them with his enticing caricatures. Beauty is a particularly maligned mark of God’s essence, and every day various ignoble mediums attempt to sell us their disfigured version of beauty. But, all is not lost. After all, the very firmament proclaims his handiwork, as the Psalmist tells us (cf. Psa 19:1). It requires only that men who have seen the beauty and abandoned the lie turn the averted eyes of the masses back to the true succor of their inner-most yearnings.

As catechists, are we not called to be those virtuous men? Is it not our task to convert hearts and minds to Jesus Christ, the very one who is beauty? Ample experience reveals that you can talk all you want, but if you do not show your audience what is beautiful about God and his Church, then what He has revealed to us will never be received with a true and lasting faith. Instead, the teachings of the Bible and the truths of Catholicism will be regarded simply as so many facts and bits of information to be retained. Jesus Christ will become but a distant figure who makes ridiculous demands upon us. His yolk will be difficult and his burden quite heavy.

Could it be any other way? Tell a classroom full of hormonal teenagers that they can’t have premarital sex and what kind of response will you get? More often then not, you will hear heated cries of indignation. “How dare you tell me that I can’t have sex! What if the two people love each other? What if they want to have sex with each other? What harm is there in that? It feels good! It doesn’t hurt anyone!” If you simply tell them what they can’t do, this is as far as you will get with them. They will do nothing but rebel. But, tell them of the beauty of the marital embrace, speak of the union of husband and wife as an icon of the Trinity, reveal how our very bodies were made to communicate the love that is the very life of God, and I dare say your audience will be more than slightly intrigued. Sexual intercourse as an icon of the Trinity?!?! They might not believe you right away, but at least they will be drawn to what you have to say – and that is certainly a step in the right direction.

But why? Why all the sudden are they ready to hear you out, when before they were rending their garments? It’s because they have seen, in the small bits of the theology of the body you shared with them, the beauty of the sex act properly understood. Christopher West, who has devoted his entire adult life to exposing the world to the beauty of this theology, often says that he who eats from the dumpster is the first to notice the feast. The stark contrast between the banquet table of heaven and the garbage with which he has thus far fed himself reveals the beauty of the banquet almost immediately. It also reveals the garbage for what it truly is: garbage, a fraud, a poor substitute for what he was searching for all along.

Of course, it also helps to know what beauty is in the first place. After all, some people need convincing. The word “beautiful” is usually reserved for supermodels and movie stars. An old, diminutive nun like Mother Teresa won’t be gracing the cover of Vogue anytime soon. But, when beauty is understood in all of its objective reality, a veritable paradigm shift can take place in a person’s mind. He can learn to see beauty where he never saw it before, and he can find God in the discovery. Therefore, let us be transformed by the renewal of our minds (cf. Rom 12:2) and investigate a bit of what our Catholic tradition teaches us about beauty.

First, it is important to note that beauty, while an objective reality, is not entirely devoid of a subjective component. The objectivity of beauty is revealed once beauty is associated with the two other traits of God previously mentioned: truth and goodness. As David Fagerberg points out, since we would not say something is good simply because we want it, and we would not say something is true because we believe it, neither should we say that something is beautiful just because we like it. “In the opinion of the pure objectivist, subjective emotional experiences have their importance in explaining why we call things beautiful, but emotional experiences do not constitute the essence of beauty, and they are not what make reality beautiful.”

Like the great philosophers and theologians who came before him, St. Thomas Aquinas distinguished three “constituents,” or qualities that constitute beauty. These are proportion, integrity, and claritas. Proportion, as he defined it, is “the suitability of matter for receiving a form, the fitness between a thing’s essence and its existence…” When a thing has harmony, rhythm, peace, or is properly ordered, it has proportion. The second quality, integrity, refers to the amount of completeness that is found in a thing. A thing has perfect integrity if it is “the complete realization of whatever it is supposed to be: nothing is missing that should be present.” In other words, an altar with three legs does not have the same degree of integrity as an altar with four. The final quality, claritas, refers both to “a brilliant color, warm hue, or right complexion” and “the communicability of the essence of a thing.” So, for example, a church building would lack claritas if, when the eye first beheld it, the thought that came to mind was “spaceship” instead of “church.” A man would lack claritas if he was dressed up as a female. The American flag would lack claritas if it was purple, black, and yellow instead of red, white, and blue.

Thomas Aquinas worked from a great tradition in his treatment of these constituent elements of beauty. However, he also added a new dimension to the objectivist understanding. With Thomas, new attention was paid to the perceiver and to his experience of beauty. For this reason, some are prone to consider him among the first subjectivists on this issue. In a sense he was, but not in the radically relativistic way in which most people understand beauty today.

Thomas would probably agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but not in a way that would make beauty a matter of opinion, or subject to each individual’s personal feelings. Now, it is true that beauty pleases when it is seen. This is because there is an objective quality in beauty that solicits agreement with our consciousness. But, that does not mean that beauty is necessarily in the object. It is not in my visio, or perception of the object either. Instead, “beauty issues in the encounter between my visio and that object. The reason the thing pleases upon being seen is because my vision encounters the ‘splendor of being’ in that object.”

Fagerberg proposes three lessons we could learn at this point. First, if Thomas were asked the question, “Is something beautiful because it gives pleasure, or does it give pleasure because it is beautiful?” he would simply say, “Yes.” A model of the “both-and” philosophy of Catholic thought, Thomas acknowledged, as we have just seen, both the objective and the subjective components of beauty. Secondly, something is beautiful when it is what it is supposed to be, when it “shines forth (splendor) the thing’s essence.” Finally, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but only when the eye is not clouded by the deleterious effects of sin. As Fagerberg points out, “seeing beauty is an ascetical accomplishment.” It requires discipline and holiness.

This is where the catechist comes in. It is his responsibility not only to inject beauty into his catechesis, but also to help train and focus the collective “eye” of his audience so that they can come to see all that is good and true and beautiful about what God has made and what he has revealed to us through his Son and the Church. The catechist can do this in several ways.

For example, some of the most exemplary and prized of all paintings have as their subject a Christian theme. For every Catholic doctrine there is a great work of art. No mention of the creation story should be made without Michelangelo’s "God Creates Adam" somewhere in plain view. Similarly, is it even possible to discuss the Paschal Mystery without a painting of the crucifixion (perhaps the work of Diego Velázquez, El Greco, or Salvador Dali), or Leonardo Da Vinci’s "The Last Supper"? If it is, it shouldn’t be.

Of course, art isn’t the only source of beauty. The great Christian hymns of our Catholic tradition are quite beautiful, and they can help your audience transition from knowledge of a particular doctrine to praise of God for it. Accompany a presentation of the Eucharist with "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent" or Thomas’s own "Pange Lingua". Conclude a session on Mary with the "Ave Maria" or the "Salve Regina." Just about any example of Gregorian chant is well-suited to display the beauty of our Catholic faith and to arouse in the listener the appropriate feelings of adoration and thanksgiving. Poetry is particularly suited towards this end as well.

However you plan to accentuate the beauty of your catechesis, the first goal is always an increase in holiness for your audience. Prayer, reflection, truth, love, repentance, fasting, the sacraments – these are the instruments that expel the filthy fog of sin and allow the light of God’s revelation to penetrate the human heart. Only then can man truly see the beauty that God has in store for him, and only then can the catechist offer a relationship with He who fulfills all of our deepest longings: Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the most beautiful person who ever lived.
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