Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Virginity of Mary During the Birth of Christ

What does it mean that Mary was a virgin “during” the birth of Jesus? Is this something we are required to believe?

That Mary remained a virgin during the birth of Jesus is an aspect of her perpetual virginity that you don’t hear a lot about nowadays. But, it is just as important as our belief that Mary was a virgin before the conception of Christ and that she remained a virgin forever after He was born.

When we say that Mary remained a virgin even during the birth of Christ, we mean that there was nothing about the birthing process that caused her pain or that violated her bodily, virginal integrity. Amazing things happen to a woman’s body during the birthing process. In a sense, she is forever changed, at a physical level, once this birth has taken place. Mary’s experience of this was different and miraculous. Her body didn’t undergo these changes typically caused by the birthing process. She did not even experience any pain!

Why does all this matter? Well, in the first place, it matters simply because it is true, and we want to affirm all that is true. But, beyond that, this type of radical virginity points to Mary as someone who made a complete and perfect offering of her entire self, even her body and her sexuality, to the Lord. This also highlights the fact that Mary’s son is no ordinary son. Both His conception in the womb of Mary and His coming into the world were of a miraculous nature because He is Himself a miracle: the Word of God made man.

Since this has been the consistent teaching of the Church, it is a teaching that we should believe. Here are a few examples where the Church has taught that Mary remained a virgin during the birth of Jesus:
  • "This is the virgin who conceived in her womb and as a virgin bore a son." (Pope Siricius, 390 AD)
  • “And as the Virgin acquired the modesty of virginity before conception, so also she experienced no loss of her integrity; for she conceived a virgin, gave birth a virgin, and after birth retained the uninterrupted modesty of an intact virgin." (Council of Toledo, 693 AD)
  • “Besides, what is admirable beyond the power of thoughts or words to express, He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity” (Catechism of the Council of Trent, “The Creed”)
  • "This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest… also at the birth of Our Lord, who did not diminish His mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it" (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, no. 57)

This is just a short summary, much more could be said. For more information, see the following articles:

Pax Christi,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The End of Time and the Omniscience of Christ

Dave Armstrong, a popular Catholic apologist, recently made a post on his blog about the omniscience of Jesus (the fact that he is all-knowing). Never caring too much for succinct titles, it is called: "Biblical Evidence for Jesus' Omniscience, by Cross-Referencing to Parallel Texts Describing the All-Knowing Attributes of God the Father". I highly suggest that you check it out.

Dave makes a very convincing case here, yet when I shared this article with a skeptic recently, he attempted to deny Christ's omniscience by citing Mt 24:26, where Jesus says, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." What should we make of this passage? Is there enough reason here to disregard everything else that is said about the omniscience of Jesus?


I ask the skeptic, if Mt 24:36 means that Jesus is not all-knowing, how then did Jesus know what was in the hearts of men (cf. Mt 9:4; Mk 2:8; Lk 5:22; 9:47; Jn 2:25) and what their thoughts were (cf. Mt 12:25; Lk 6:8; Jn 6:64)? How was Jesus able to tell the Samaritan woman everything she ever did (cf. Jn 4:17-19, 29)? "How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?" (Jn 7:15). How is it that, when Jesus was just a boy, he was able to amaze the teachers in the Temple with his understanding and his answers (cf. Lk 2:46-47)?

You can't just take one verse and disregard all the rest. You have to find a way to reconcile them all. Either Jesus "knows everything" (Jn 21:17) or He doesn't. Either He "searches mind and heart" (Rev 2:23) or He doesn't. Either "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are hidden in Him (Col 2:2-3) or they aren't. You can't have it both ways.

As I see it, the only way to reconcile Mt 24:36 (cf. Mk 13:32) with the rest of the biblical data regarding Jesus' omniscience is to say that this verse (and its parallel passage) are instances of hyperbole, in which Jesus is exaggerating for effect. And this makes perfect sense. Why?

Well, for one, Jesus habitually used hyperbolic language in His preaching. Semitic people are fond of speaking in this way, and Jesus was no different. See, for example:
Mt 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Mt 5:39-42 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

Mt 6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

Mt 8:22 But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.

Mt 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Mt 23:24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Mk 4:31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;

Lk 9:25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Lk 10:4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road.

Lk 14:26 If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Jn 3:26 And they came to John, and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him." [note: a study of the word "all" in the Bible would reveal dozens of hyperbolic statements]

Jn 12:19 The Pharisees then said to one another, "You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him."

This is just a sampling of what could be provided, but you get the idea. The important thing to remember is that it is an anachronism to expect Jesus to always speak as precisely as we expect people to speak today. In our modern, industrial age we don't seem to have time for flourishing, or exaggeration, or circumlocutions, or any of the other elaborate modes of speaking that Semitic peoples employ. We're concerned with being succinct and to the point and being efficient and getting things done. But the peoples of Jesus day had no such concern, and we have to keep that in mind when we interpret the sayings of Jesus.

Secondly, it makes sense that Jesus would use hyperbole here because he is absolutely resolute in His desire that the crowd remain ignorant regarding the day and hour of the coming. It is not the will of God that they know this information. His silence is such that it is as if He did not know it. Jesus is communicating, in an exaggerated way, His utter inability to tell them what they want to hear.

That said, the context of Mt 24:36 gives us every indication that Jesus DID in fact know the day and hour. After all, he knows EVERYTHING ELSE about what that day will be like, what horrors will come, what will portend the Tribulation and the Second Coming (see Mt 24 in full). It's nonsensical to think that He would know all this, and yet somehow not know the day when it will all take place.

Don't forget, this is the same Person who created all things (cf. Psa 33:6; Jn 1:1-3, 10; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:2; 3:3-4; 11:3) and who upholds the entire universe with his power (cf. Heb 1:3). The Father "has given all things into his hand" (Jn 3:35). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (cf. Mt 28:18). Jesus is the one who will be executing the Judgment on that day (cf. Jn 5:22, 26-27). I think He knows when the Second Coming will take place! He just can't tell us.

Pax Christi,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How to Create a Sacred Space

At first, this information was included in my outline on the Ecclesial Method of catechesis, but it made the outline too cumbersome. As a result, I decided instead to devote a separate post to this topic.

What Is a Sacred Space?
  • A sacred space is a prominent place in the room that draws the attention of the students, through various signs and symbols, to the mystery that is being proclaimed
  • It typically involves a small table on which is placed a crucifix, a bible, a candle (real or battery-powered), and any other sacramentals and visual cues that pertain to the catechesis for that day
  • Families can also have a sacred space in the home, to give family members a place to pray together or to facilitate celebration of the liturgical year. In this case, a shelf or a fireplace mantle can also serve as a lovely sacred space.

How Do I Create One?
  • The crucifix should be the largest object on the table, so as to emphasize the singular importance of what Christ did for us.
    • It is the crucifixion that makes every catechetical endeavor even possible.
    • Ultimately, catechesis is about a relationship with this Jesus who died for us
    • Everything we believe as Catholics is Christ-centered
  • The Bible is displayed in order to communicate the significance of God's Word.
    • It also tells them: this is the place where the Word is proclaimed.
    • The Bible can be placed in a book stand, so that it is presented to the students and they can see what type of book it is.
    • It can be closed, or turned to the first passage you will be citing in your teaching
    • Make sure the Bible you display is a nice, regal edition.
    • It is good to use this Bible throughout your teaching, unless placing and removing it from the stand is too awkward
  • The table cloth should be the color of the current liturgical season
    • This keeps the students oriented within the liturgical year
    • Green for Ordinary Time, Purple/Violet for Lent and Advent, White for Christmas and Easter and All Saints' Day, Red for Pentecost or the Feast Day of a martyr, Rose for Gaudete Sunday (third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (fourth Sunday of Lent), Black for All Souls' Day
    • Cloth should be of fine material, nice, and not wrinkled.
  • Include great works of art
    • Paintings, icons, and sculpture communicate what is beautiful about a teaching
    • Children in particular learn a lot more from beautiful illustrations then from your own words
    • Examples: Michelangelo's God Creates Adam for a catechesis on Creation, his Pieta for a catechesis on Mary as the Mother of God, Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper for a catechesis on the Eucharist or the Paschal Mystery or the Mass, a statue of St. Michael the Archangel for a catechesis on Sin and Temptation or the Fall of the Angels or the Communion of Saints
    • For more on the importance of injecting beauty into your teaching and your sacred space, see Beauty and Catechesis

Final Thoughts
  • Teach from your sacred space.
    • As you proceed to various points in your catechesis, utilize any objects from your space that would help to illustrate or communicate that point.
    • For works of art, you can even do a mini-catechesis on what is going on in a particular painting, and how it illustrates your teaching
  • At home, a sacred space isn't always feasible if you have little ones crawling and climbing around. In that case, create a portable one! Place your sacred space objects in a box and bring it out whenever it's time to pray together as a family
  • Children could also create their own sacred spaces in a corner or table in their rooms.
  • Be creative! What you can do with your sacred space is limited only by your imagination (and these guidelines, of course!).
  • God gave you your imagination, and He loves it when you use it to pray.

Pax Christi,

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Ecclesial Method in Catechesis

As far as I'm concerned, the Ecclesial Method is the way to do catechesis. If you pursue a Certification in Catechetics at FUS, this is the primary method you are instructed to use. That's how I learned it ... but you don't have to put yourself in thousands of dollars worth of debt to obtain the same knowledge. Anyone can use this method, once they know the principles.

Below is an outline of the method as it is presented by Msgr. Francis D. Kelley in his book The Mystery We Proclaim: Catechesis for the Third Millennium. I have also supplemented his various points with instruction from my professors on this method and my own thoughts, informed by my personal experience using this method. With this outline, you should get the gist of it, but I highly recommend reading his book to round out your understanding.

  • The ecclesial method is a way of conducting catechesis, a way of passing on the faith.
  • It was created by Msgr. Francis D. Kelley in 1992.
  • We find it in his book The Mystery We Proclaim: Catechesis for the Third Millennium.
  • The method is inspired by the principles and the pedagogy found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Directory for Catechesis, and Catechesi Tradendae.
  • The word “ecclesial” means “pertaining to the Church.”
  • It is called the “ecclesial” method because:
    • it utilizes the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church;
    • it is informed by the teaching and practice of the Fathers, popes, and great teachers of our faith;
    • it reflects the belief that catechesis is above all a service in and for the Church by which she transmits her living faith from generation to generation; and
    • it presupposes fidelity to the teaching of the Church.
  • The method proceeds through five steps: Preparation, Proclamation, Explanation, Application, Celebration


Set the Mood
  • The catechist must create the conditions necessary for students to receive the message.
    • This is not easy, considering our modern, hectic life and the barrage of various stimuli.
  • What we must create is a sort of “calculated disengagement.”
  • Help the believer to be open, docile, receptive to truth, to an encounter with Christ.
  • Foster exterior and interior silence.
  • It is desirable that the setting for catechetical sessions have the aura of “holy space.”
    • This suggests that something important, special, different takes place here.
    • Create an atmosphere where students can “be still and know that I am God.” (Psa 46:10) “The Lord will fight for you, you have only to be still.” (Exo 14:14)
Look Outside Yourself
  • Our culture tends to create self-absorbed people.
  • We are made to think almost obsessively about our own feelings and desires.
  • Call believers to acknowledge Rom 14:7-8:
    • “None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
  • Help them move from the subjectivity of their own thoughts, feelings, experiences to the objective truth of Christ, and Him crucified.
  • "There is something, or rather someone, greater than you who is calling you to die to yourself and so rise to new life with Him."
  • However you set about doing this, respect the freedom and dignity of your audience and avoid manipulation.
How to Prepare
  • Devote room to a sacred space.
  • Utilize classical music, Gregorian chant, and traditional Catholic hymns.
    • Music is very good at setting the mood for the session.
    • Examples: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent" for a catechesis on the Incarnation or the Eucharist, "Ave Maria" or "Salve Regina" for a catechesis on the Marian dogmas, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" for a catechesis on the Trinity.
    • Utilizing Gregorian chant and traditional Catholic hymns also helps to increase literacy of and appreciation for the great heritage of liturgical music that is every day being lost.
  • Great works of art can also be presented via PowerPoint presentation.
  • Conduct a Liturgy of the Word.
    • This helps to lay the Scriptural foundation for your catechesis.
    • It is appropriate that the first words they hear are from the Lord.
  • Observe silence from the moment the students enter.
  • Begin with the Sign of the Cross and/or a prayer
    • Now everything you do will be in the context of prayer.
    • Expose them to the various ways of praying as a Catholic.
  • There are also environmental factors to consider:
    • Is the room set at a comfortable temperature?
    • Is the seating comfortable … but not too comfortable?
    • Is the seating arrangement conducive to listening and sharing?
  • Welcome the students with warmth and enthusiasm.
    • be Christ in their midst.


The Heart of the Teaching
  • This is the announcing of God’s Word.
  • This is really what “catechesis” is all about
    • deriving as it does from the Greek word that means “to echo down, resound.”
  • Primacy must be given to the announcement of God’s Word as it is found in Scripture and Tradition, enunciated by the Magisterium.
  • The Letter to the Hebrews (4:12) tells us: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
  • It is through the proclamation that we allow this word to fulfill its task.
  • To do this effectively, the catechist must have a strong grasp of the teaching of the Church and the meaning of Scripture.
  • Spiritual formation is also an ongoing, absolute requisite for effective proclamation.
  • We have to make sure that our own opinions or personal agendas don’t distort the content of our catechesis.
  • In Catechesi Tradendae (no. 30), Pope John Paul II tells us:
    • “[T]he disciple of Christ has the right to receive ‘the Word of faith’ not in mutilated, falsified, or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor. Unfaithfulness on some point to the integrity of the message means a dangerous weakening of catechesis.”
How to Proclaim
  • Proclamation must be short, concise, and easy to remember.
  • This is the heart of the teaching, what it all boils down to.
  • If they only go away with one thing, let it be the proclamation.
  • It must be so well understood and internalized by the catechist that it comes from the heart, with confidence and joy – not simply read out loud.
  • Constantly reinforce it throughout the catechesis.
  • It must be age and group appropriate.
  • Make it visually present (on the board, on handouts, etc.).
  • Express it positively, as Good News, as something worthy to be proclaimed.
  • Some examples:
    • For a catechesis on marriage: "It takes three to get married."
    • For a catechesis on salvation: "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed!" (Jn 8:36)
    • For a catechesis on the priesthood: "The priest is not his own."
    • For a catechesis on the Blessed Mother: "Mary: Blessed by the fruit of her womb."


Giving Them the Meat
  • This is the longest of the five steps.
  • This is when we help our audience come to a deeper understanding of the topic.
  • This is where the creativity and dynamism of the catechist really comes into play.
    • How can I adapt the Church’s teaching to my audience so that they are better able to receive it while at the same time being faithful to that doctrine?
  • Utilize the various ways in which people learn (by hearing, seeing, or doing).
  • Tap into cultural points of reference.
  • Actively engage your audience, using:
    • Audio/visual aids
    • Role-playing
    • Story-telling
    • Show them that the Christian faith is fully reasonable and intelligible
    • Utilize apologetics, address their questions and doubts.
      • This is in obedience to Peter, who tells us in his first letter (3:15) to “always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
    • Don’t be afraid to use theological or distinctly Catholic words.
      • Define them and refer back to them, so that your students can set them to memory.
How to Explain
  • Have a Q&A box where students can submit questions anonymously.
  • Provide a glossary of the important words you used in that day’s teaching.
  • Tell a story from the Bible or from your own life.
  • Show a clip from a movie (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, etc).
  • Explain the different items in the sacred space and how they apply to the teaching.
  • Read a poem, or an excerpt from a work of literature, or a great Catholic quotation.
  • Draw the meaning out of a great work of art.
  • Refer to relevant passages from Scripture.
  • Quote the early Church Fathers.
  • Quote passages from Church documents, particularly those from Vatican II and the Catechism.


Compel to Witness
  • Religious knowledge has the power to transform the individual and society.
  • John Paul II says in Catechesi Tradendae (no. 22): “Firm and well-thought-out convictions lead to courageous and upright action.”
  • The goal of catechesis is not the memorization of facts – although that is important – but the conversion of hearts and minds to Jesus Christ.
  • How is this conversion lived out in one’s day-to-day living?
  • After Peter preached, the people asked him, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
  • In this step, we are helping our audience to answer that question.
  • Show how the day’s topic applies to one’s daily life.
  • Help your audience to see how the teaching is lived out.
  • Empower them to be a witness to their faith, as the apostles were:
    • “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
  • Pope Paul VI gives us a memorable passage on this idea of witness:
    • “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 41)
    • Evangelii Nuntiandi is Latin for “proclaiming the Gospel.” This is his apostolic exhortation on evangelization in the modern world.
Compel to Serve
  • The image of Christ washing the feet of the apostles sets the tone for Christian living:
    • “If I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn 13:14-15)
  • “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34), “What you do for the least of these my brethren you do for me” (Mt 25:40) – this is what Christ is calling us to.
  • Service, of course, can take on a variety of forms, depending on who you are serving and why you are serving them.
How to Apply
  • Propose hypothetical situations in which they might have to defend the teaching, or explain it to someone.
  • Give them time for journaling, with questions for reflection.
  • Break them up into small groups for discussion.
  • Challenge them to perform certain good habits, prayers, or daily exercises.
  • Go on a field trip or engage the class in a community service project that acts as an extension of what they have learned.


Ending on a High Note
  • This step is all about ending with prayerful gratitude and praise to God.
  • Is everything that God has done for us and revealed to us wonderful, or is it not?
  • If it is, then we should rightly end every teaching by helping our audience to see the Good News in what they have learned, and to rejoice in it.
  • This need not be especially exuberant.
  • Gratitude can also be expressed via prayer, or quiet reflection and contemplation.
  • The aim is for the learner to leave the catechetical setting in a place of peace and joy and preparedness for life’s challenges.
How to Celebrate
  • Many of the techniques used in the Preparation step can also be used in the Celebration step.
  • Celebrate a Liturgy of the Word, or pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
  • Listen to a piece of music, or – God forbid! – sing a hymn together as a group!
  • Incorporate movement or gestures:
    • Stand for the Gospel reading.
    • Move into the Church to pray.
    • Pray the Stations of the Cross around the room or church.
    • End with the Sign of the Cross.
    • Younger children enjoy songs with sign language.
  • End with a "witness," where you or someone from the parish can come and tell his story about how the teaching for the day changed his life or strengthened his relationship with Christ.

This method takes a little bit of work and prep time for the catechist. It requires creativity, thoughtfulness, and fidelity ... but it is not difficult. If it means reaching souls better and converting hearts and minds to Jesus Christ, then we should be all about that work. If this method is too much for you to take on all at once, then you may spend a semester or even a whole year just focusing on one of the five steps. "This year, I'm going to make sure I have an excellent Preparation step." Once you feel comfortable with one step, move on to the next one.

Once you have gained experience using the Ecclesial Method, you will find that you are able to move from step to step with great ease. Then, each year is just about improving. "What might I add to my sacred space for this teaching?" "This movie would be great for my Explanation step!" "How can I improve this Proclamation?" Keep your eyes open to anything you can use to supplement your teaching and make it better.

And, of course, as you grow in holiness, your heart will become more open and docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He will give you the wisdom and the courage to seize every catechetical moment.

For more on the Ecclesial Method, see the following articles:

Pax Christi ... and good luck!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Catholic Q&A: Part 18

This post continues my series of short answers to common questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

What does the “IHS” stand for that one sometimes sees on the altar, or the priestly vestments, or the Eucharist?

The letters “IHS” are iota, eta, and sigma, the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. This symbol was used in the early Church, during times of persecution, as a code-word for the Holy Name.

Various other interpretations arose out of the Middle Ages. For example, some said “IHS” stood for the Latin phrase Iesus Hominum Salvator, which means, “Jesus, Savior of Humanity,” or Iesus Hierosolyma Salvator, which means, “Jesus, Savior of Jerusalem,” or In Hoc Signo (Vinces), which means, “In this sign (you will conquer),” from the vision that Constantine saw before the battle at the Mulvian Bridge. Some have suggested the Greek phrase Iesus Hemeteros Soter, which means, “Jesus our Savior.” There are even some wacky anti-Catholics who think the “IHS” stands for the Egyptian Gods Isis, Horus, and Seb! But, all of these interpretations are incorrect.

Who wrote the Nicene Creed that we say at Mass?

The Nicene Creed, minus the statement about the Holy Spirit, was composed by the 318 bishops who attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It was meant to be a profession of faith against Arianism and the other heresies that were floating about regarding the two natures of Christ. Later on, at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, the statement about the Holy Spirit was added, giving the Creed the form in which we have it today.

What is the role of a deacon in the Catholic Church?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers this question for us, in article no. 1570:
Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint ("character") which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the "deacon" or servant of all. Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.
Deacons can also celebrate baptisms and perform the various pastoral works of the parish (for example, visiting the sick, bringing the Eucharist to the homebound, caring for the poor, pastoral counseling, etc.).

Pax Christi,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Did St. Thomas Aquinas Deny the Immaculate Conception?

In short, yes, but let’s not make more out of this than is really warranted. It is true that in his Summa Theologiae (Third Part, Question 27), Thomas denied that Mary was sanctified from original sin at the moment of her conception. He was wrestling with an apparent conflict: How can Jesus be said to be the Savior of all mankind, including Mary, if Mary had no sin to be saved from? The only way he knew how to resolve this issue was to say that Mary was sanctified not at the moment of her conception, but some time between when she was conceived in the womb of her mother and when she was born.

A Franciscan, John Duns Scotus, was the one who finally resolved this question. He pointed out that there is more than one way to save mankind from sin. In every case but one, God saves a person from sin by pulling him out of the pit of sin once he has fallen in. But, in the singular case of Mary, God saved her in a different way, by preventing her from falling into the pit of sin in the first place. God is still her savior, just in a different and, according to Scotus, more excellent way. Thomas could not have known of this solution, seeing that he died four years after Scotus was born.

But, that is okay. Thomas is the Church’s greatest scholar, but he is still only human. We must also remember that Thomas was only struggling with when Mary was sanctified, not if she was. He still held that Mary was freed from the stain of original sin and that she remained sinless her entire life. Some people take Thomas' denial of sanctification at the moment of conception to mean that he thought Mary was a sinner like the rest of us. But, this is a gross distortion of what Thomas believed.

Ultimately, Thomas was simply doing what all theologians do with matters of the faith that have not been defined by the Church: He was wrestling with the implications of a belief, plumbing the depths of it, ironing out its finer details, seeing how the doctrine in question fits within the larger deposit of the faith. This type of theological work is how dogma develops, and it is a very natural and expected process, as the Holy Spirit leads the Church towards the full knowledge of the truth.

Instead of being scandalized by Thomas’ words in the Summa, we should really be thankful for them. He contributed to the necessary work that brought the Church to a fuller understanding of Mary’s sinlessness. St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor” … pray for us!

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Catholic Church Is NOT the "Whore of Babylon"

Persuaded recently by a Facebook group in which I am involved, I have done some research on the identity of the "Whore of Babylon" from the Book of Revelation. It is a popular theory among anti-Catholic Protestants to identify the Whore with the Catholic Church. What follows is evidence of much more plausible conclusions. I hope this collection will be of help to you in making up your own mind regarding the identity of this mysterious woman.

Whether the Whore be Jerusalem or Rome, She is clearly not the Catholic Church.

Pax Christi,

The "Whore" Is Pagan Rome:

The "Whore" Is Jerusalem:

The "Whore" Is Jerusalem and the "Beast" Is Rome:

The "Whore" Is Both Rome and Jerusalem, or Satan, or Any Force Against True Religion:

The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible provides some help in making sense of all of this data. After surveying the case that is made for identifying the Whore with Rome and Jerusalem, the authors conclude:
  • What is curious about the above is the strength of both interpretations. Some details seem to fit a description of Rome, while others are more clearly applicable to Jerusalem. This being the case, one might argue that these opposing views are not mutually exclusive but that both are legitimate in different ways.

    In our judgment, a stronger case can be made for Jerusalem as the city whose demise is apocalyptically presented in Revelation. But this does not mean that other readings of the book are thereby ruled out. Jerusalem was the first city to fit the description in Revelation, but it is by no means the only city. What was true of apostate Jerusalem -- that it became a center of godlessness, violence, and corruption to the point of defying God and shedding the blood of his servants -- holds true of countless cities down through the ages. History is clear that Rome stood next in line to carry on the legacy of Jerusalem by its ruthless persecution of Christianity, so Revelation's warnings of divine judgment apply to it as well. Indeed, Rome's blood guilt is very much part of the message of the book, even in its literal sense (e.g. 13:7). So even if John intended us to think first and foremost of Jerusalem, God's judgment serves as a warning to any and every city thereafter that would choose to turn against the Lord and his disciples.

    Thus, when one surveys the history of interpretation, it is not surprising to learn that Rome and, indeed, many other earthly powers, political as well as religious, have been identified as the Babylon of Revelation. We must not restrict the meaning of apocalyptic events to exclude later historical applications. Revelation's theological message is a timeless message, and its pastoral application is one of perennial relevance. It was as meaningful in the first century as in every century since, even to the end of time. ("The First, Second, and Third Letters of St. John and the Revelation to St. John", pg. 59 [line breaks are mine])
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