Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Is the Grace of Final Perseverance?

Final perseverance is that last grace which confirms us in the Lord at the moment of death. It is a free gift of God that preserves or maintains the state of grace in our souls so that we can die in that state. You are in a state of grace when your soul is in righteous standing before God. This gift preserves that state by enabling our will to cooperate with the various means of receiving grace, namely prayer and the sacraments.

The grace of final perseverance also implies that death comes when we are in that state of grace, and not in a state of mortal sin. By that I mean, when a person prays for the grace of final perseverance, he is also praying that death will come in a timely manner, when his soul is in righteous standing before God.

According to Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, final perseverance is basically God practicing his stewardship or loving care over our souls. It is, “an ever watchful superintendence of us on the part of our All-Merciful Lord, removing temptations which He sees will be fatal to us, comforting us at those times when we are in particular peril, whether from our negligence or other cause, and ordering the course of our life so that we may die at a time when He sees that we are in the state of grace."

Final perseverance can be seen as a single gift of grace, or as the body or collection of graces we have received throughout our whole lives, all coming together to affect our final end. As a single gift, we are reminded of the Good Thief crucified alongside Jesus, who, after living a life of sin, was compelled to convert in his final hour after witnessing the example of Jesus. The grace of final perseverance made that possible.

As a body of graces, we think of the life-long Catholic who sticks ever closer to the sacraments and is evermore devoted to prayer as his age advances and his health deteriorates. And then, when death is surely near, he calls upon the priest to make his last Confession, to receive Viaticum, and to be Anointed. In this case, the grace of final perseverance was actually working throughout his whole life, compelling him to perform the various pious practices that brought him now, in his final hour, to death in the state of grace.

What an extraordinary gift this would be to receive! Extraordinary … and necessary, since we cannot go to heaven without dying in a state of grace. What’s more, this gift only comes by way of God’s merciful response to our entreating Him for it in prayer. This is basically what we’re doing when we say in the Our Father, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (cf. CCC nos. 2849, 2854), and in the Hail Mary, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” We are praying for the gift of final perseverance.

Scripture mentions final perseverance in several places:

Ezek 18:24-28 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die. 25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Wis 4:10-15 There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners he was taken up. 11 He was caught up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul. 12 For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. 13 Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; 14 for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness. 15 Yet the peoples saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.

Mt 10:22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

Jn 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Rom 11:22-23 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.

Rom 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.

1 Cor 15:1-2 Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, 2 by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.

Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Phil 1:6 And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:21-23 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, 23 provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

1 Thes 5:23-24 May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

2 Tim 2:12 if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

1 Pet 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.

2 Pet 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall;

In my mind, any passage that refers to the importance of enduring to the end, continuing in his kindness, standing fast, etc. is also a passage about this grace. For more information, see the following articles:

Pax Christi,

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Unfortunate Prosperity Gospel

What is the “prosperity gospel” I keep hearing about? Is it true to what the Bible says?

The prosperity gospel is the teaching that what God wants more than anything is for you to be happy, and He establishes this happiness in your life by blessing you with monetary wealth, bodily health, peace of mind, and positive relationships. If you have faith in this plan for your life, then God will lavish His great gifts upon you. Furthermore, suffering does not come from God but only from Satan, who does not want us to live abundantly.

This is a false teaching, and it is fitting that with yesterday's Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we would look briefly at how this message squares with the sacrifices and the crosses that are really inherent to the Christian life.

In Scripture we see that worldly prosperity can be a dangerous thing because it causes the prosperous to rely on their own merits and self-sufficiency instead of depending on God. This is, for example, why God reduced Gideon’s army from 30,000 to 300 before He brought them into battle (Judg 7:2-7). When they won it was a miracle, and it was easier for them to see that it was God, not their own might, that gave them the victory.

Note that It was not Satan that reduced Gideon’s army, it was the Lord. He didn’t lavish Gideon with more troops than he could ever need, He actually took troops away, so that God may be glorified. That is how God works.

But that’s just one example. The proponent of the prosperity gospel really has no way to make sense of the entire life of Christ. For one, Jesus should have been the richest of the rich. After all, who has more faith in the plan of God than Jesus? But what do we see? “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). He was born in a feeding trough (cf. Lk 2:7) and upon His birth, His mother gave the poor person’s sacrifice in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:22-24; Lev 12:6-8).

What did He preach? Seize upon the prosperity that God has in store for you? No. He said, “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 19:24). “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt 19:21). “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Mt 6:19).

Furthermore, Jesus taught the apostles that they would suffer just like He did (cf. Jn 15:18-20). The Apostles didn’t live the prosperous life. They lived the life of sacrifice on behalf of Christ and the gospel. When Paul’s authority was challenged, he offered as his credentials the fact that he actually gave up prosperity for the sake of suffering. Go read 2 Cor 11:24-30. It’s one of the most powerful passages in all of Scripture.

Finally, the God of the prosperity gospel would have removed the thorn in the flesh of Paul after he begged God three times to remove it. But how did God respond? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Nowhere is that more clearly displayed than on the Cross, where Christ is the most powerful at the very moment He is the weakest. The Cross is the very antithesis of the prosperity gospel, and if we desire to be with Christ, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him (cf. Lk 9:23).

For more on the prosperity gospel from a Catholic perspective, see the following articles:

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Religion As a Force for Good

How do I respond to someone who says that religion is the most divisive, destructive, and deadly force in the world?

The first thing I would do is establish the positive impact that religion has had on the growth of civilizations and the general wellbeing of mankind.

The sciences have been especially nurtured by religious people, especially Catholics. The scientific fields with important foundational contributions from Catholic scientists include: physics (Galileo), acoustics (Mersenne), mineralogy (Agricola), modern chemistry (Lavoisier), modern anatomy (Vesalius), stratigraphy (Steno), bacteriology (Kircher and Pasteur), genetics (Mendel), analytical geometry (Descartes), heliocentric cosmology (Copernicus), atomic theory (Boscovich) and the origins of the universe (LemaƮtre). 35 craters on the moon are named after various Jesuit scientists and mathematicians!

Catholics have also made significant, if not outright foundational contributions to economics, the university system, systematic health care, natural philosophy, architecture, and the arts (painting, sculpture, music).

I also mentioned the general wellbeing of mankind. Study after study has shown that religion plays a significant role in social stability. The Heritage Foundation has analyzed these studies and come to the following conclusions:
  • Churchgoers are more likely to be married, less likely to be divorced or single, and more likely to manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage.
  • The regular practice of religion has been shown to help poor persons move out of poverty; inoculate individuals against suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime and divorce; increase longevity, improve one’s chances of recovery from illness, and lessen the incidence of many killer diseases.
  • Religious people have less depression, more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness.
  • Religious belief and practice is a major source of recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital breakdown.
In light of all this, how can religion be the most divisive, destructive, and deadly force in the world when it does people and civilizations so much good?

Once you establish the goods of religion, it is also necessary to make a distinction between the religion and its adherents. When people commit atrocities in the name of religion, sometimes it’s because the religion itself calls for it, other times it’s because people are sinning against their religion. Let’s not condemn all religions when not all religions are the same in this regard. If the root of the atrocity is sin, the fault is in the sinner, not his religion.

For more information, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Do We Have Sacraments?

We have sacraments because God desires to transform us and bring about an encounter with His grace and life in a way that is considerate of how we learn, and communicate, and grow as human persons. I realize that’s somewhat of a mouthful, so let me unpack it a little.

If God so desired, He could forgive our sins or fortify us against temptation and the devil without giving us any indication of what He’s done. Likewise, Jesus could have forgiven the blind man — or even all blind people — by simply thinking it. But Jesus did not work that way. God does not work that way.


I posit that the reason God does not work that way is because we are sensual beings who live in a material world. We are not pure spirits who operate solely at the level of the intellect. We are spirit and body brought inextricably together. This means that we learn and perceive and communicate through our senses. We must see things, taste things, hear things, feel things, smell things in order to know them.

God, out of His great love for us, is willing to go to great lengths, even seemingly absurd lengths, to reach out to us, to convert us, to give us an experience of Himself. And so, He accommodates our sensuality. He made us to have this material aspect of ourselves and to live in this material world. He has shown by His example that He is not above moving within the things He has made in order to change us, to bring about that sacred encounter.

He did this most absurdly by becoming one of us. Who would have thought that one day our great and mighty God, so entirely perfect, and powerful, and “other-than”, would become one of us? Even today, the Moslems cannot even accept that He would be a Father to us, let alone that He would become one of us! But, God is willing to be absurd, to do the unimaginable thing, in order to save us. He did it through the Incarnation, and He does it today through the sacraments.

If God can bring about this sacred encounter by becoming one of us, then surely He can meet us in the waters of baptism, the words of absolution, the touch of the bishop, the bread and wine, the holy oil, incense, etc. And, through Jesus’ ministry of healing and reconciliation, we see that this is what God desires.

As I said, Jesus did not heal the blind man by simply thinking it. What did He do instead? He spit in the dirt, mixed it into mud, rubbed this mud on the man’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. He used the stuff of this world to change that man’s life forever. Through the sacraments, Jesus does the same for us.

Pax Christi,

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Truth of the Bible and the Gospel Message

Do you know what a Catholic evangelist is? It is someone who has committed himself to proclaiming the gospel, the message of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. A Catholic evangelist probably gave you this very pamphlet! In the course of sharing his message, he most likely referred to the Bible. This is to be expected, since the Bible is where Catholics find the content for any gospel proclamation.

Now, the evangelist had the boldness to proclaim this message because he held the firm conviction that what the Bible reveals in its Old and New Testaments is true. But, perhaps you are not so sure. You may have heard arguments from non-Christians that attempt to discredit the truth of the Bible, or read things in it that you did not understand. You can’t very well accept the gospel message with much confidence if the source for this message is potentially filled with errors!

It is necessary then, before anyone can seriously consider the gospel, to answer this fundamental question: Is the Bible true? Catholics believe that the Bible is true for three reasons: it is reliable, it is historical, and it is inspired. As such, it is a trustworthy source for the gospel message we proclaim.

The Bible Is Reliable

When we say that the Bible is reliable, we mean that it is highly attested. The original works (or “autographs”) by the biblical authors are no longer with us, but the wealth of manuscript evidence and other source material is such that we have an extraordinarily clear picture of what the authors originally penned.

The manuscript evidence is indeed truly remarkable. A “manuscript” is a handwritten copy of a text, either in whole or in part. Biblical scholars count around 12,000 Old Testament manuscripts. For the New Testament, there are 5,800 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages. Add to this the approximately one million quotations of Scripture in the works of the Church Fathers (150 – 1300 AD) and you have something that is quite simply unparalleled. There is no other ancient document that has such corroboration.

Not only do we have an extraordinary number of manuscripts, but they are in agreement on the vast majority of their content. By comparing the various manuscripts and versions of the Bible, scholars have concluded that, of the approximately 138,000 words in the New Testament, only about 1,400 remain in doubt. The text of the New Testament is thus about 99% established, and the remaining 1% includes words and phrases that are incidental to Christian faith or practice.

Also adding to the reliability of the Bible, or at least to the New Testament, is the fact that the originals as well as many of our manuscripts can be dated within close proximity to the events they describe. The latest works of the Bible, the three letters of John, were written in 100 AD, only around 70 years after the death of Christ. The earliest work of the New Testament, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, was written in 50 AD! This means that when the New Testament was written, there would have been people alive at the time who were contemporaries of Christ and who could discredit any historical inaccuracies. This made it all the more necessary that the authors get it right the first time.

Like I said, we have many early manuscripts, and source material as well. For example, P52, the “John Rylands Fragment” of Jn 18:31-33, 37-38 dates to 125 AD, only 35 years after the Gospel of John was written! P46, the “Chester Beaty Papyrus” includes the bulk of Paul’s letters and dates to around 200 AD. In all, we have 90 or so manuscripts from the first four centuries after the death of Jesus. Many of the works from the Church Fathers of even the first and second centuries contain quotations from Scripture as well.

When you have a large number of manuscripts and other source material in textual agreement on the vast majority of what they contain, then you have a rather solid witness to the autographs. Note that just because the Bible is highly attested, that does not necessarily mean that it is true. But, when we sit down to establish the truth of the Bible, its reliability ensures that we are analyzing the actual works of the Bible, and not distorted or incomplete versions of them.

The Bible Is Historical

When we say that the Bible is historical, we mean that it provides an accurate account of real events. While the Old Testament provides valuable historical information, when the question of the historicity of the Bible is raised, it is most often in reference to the Gospels. The Gospels are the books by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that give us an account of the lives of Jesus and the apostles. Since the gospel message is very much about what Jesus came to do for us, this message really lives or dies based on the historicity of the Gospels.

While some scholars insist that the Gospel writers sat down to devise fictional stories with theological meaning, or to defend their faith by investing ordinary events with supernatural import, many of the New Testament writers themselves tell us that their intentions were different. For example:
"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Pet 1:16).

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (Lk 1:1-4)

“This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:24-25)
We see from this that the New Testament writers intended to record real events as they actually occurred, not cleverly-devised myths. We should always keep the intentions of the authors in mind whenever we consider the historical reliability of what they have written.

Furthermore, scholars have established various criteria for discerning whether or not a person, place, or event in Scripture is grounded in history. Of course, there is always debate on such things, but the following list is representative of scholarship in this area:
  1. Historical congruence – Does the event coincide with known facts about history at that time?
  2. Independent and early attestation – Do multiple sources close to the event corroborate it?
  3. Embarrassment – If an event would be embarrassing to the author, it is unlikely to be fictional.
  4. Dissimilarity – If an event challenges popular belief or practice, it is also unlikely to be fictional.
  5. Semitisms – Does the event coincide with popular ways of speaking in Jesus day?
  6. Coherence – Is the event consistent with already-established facts about Jesus?
When we utilize these criteria, we find that a great deal of what the Gospels report about the lives of Jesus and the apostles truly transpired as the authors indicated.

For example, take the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, with which He prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crowed. These words have historical congruence, the “cockcrow” referring to what ancient Romans called the bugle call for the third watch. His words have independent and early attestation, appearing as they do in all four Gospels (cf. Mt 26:33-35; Mk 14:29-31; Lk 22:33-34; Jn 13:36-38). They would certainly be an embarrassment, especially to Mark, who was a disciple of Peter. It is very unlikely that the Gospel writers would just make up the fact that the apostle who held the place of primacy among them actually denied that he even knew Jesus, let alone was a follower of His. Finally, the episode has coherence, since it was typical of Jesus to prophesy in this way.

The field of biblical archaeology has provided a wealth of discoveries that substantiate events and peoples from the Bible, even the Old Testament. For example, the Hittites were thought to be a figment of the biblical imagination, unknown outside of the Hebrew Bible, until 1906, when archaeologists digging east of Ankara, Turkey, discovered the ruins of Hattusas, the ancient capital of the Hittites. The Philistines were also historically verified, by an inscription on the Temple of Rameses III at Thebes, which is dated around 1150 BC. Dozens of biblical cities have been excavated, at least in part. Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land, the burial of King Uzziah, King Hezekiah’s water tunnel, and even the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity have all been confirmed by archaeological discoveries. There are other examples that are too numerous to mention.

What this means is that, via a wealth of both internal and external evidence, we have good reason to believe that, whenever the biblical authors intended to provide a historical account of peoples, places, and events, their intentions were largely realized.

The Bible Is Inspired

When we say that the Bible is inspired, we mean that it is revealed by God, it has God as its author. Specifically, in the act of biblical inspiration, God worked with the human author in such a way that He ensured that the human author wrote what God wanted to be written, while at the same time respecting the human author’s own intellect, will, and writing style.

This means that the human author was not merely a stenographer, mindlessly putting to paper whatever was dictated by God. Instead, the divine author and the human author were, in a sense, co-workers in the act of writing a book of the Bible. Since God inspired the works of the Bible, and God is perfect Truth, it follows that the Bible is true.

Catholics believe that the bible is inspired based on the authority of the Church whose faith it records. Why should you take the Church’s word for it? Well, if we approach the Bible not yet as an inspired work, but as a historical and reliable account of what Jesus and the apostles said and did, then we see from this that Jesus founded the Catholic Church and endowed it with a very special authority to teach in His name.

For example, Jesus promised the Apostles, who represent the Church, that the Spirit would be with them forever (Jn 14:16), teaching them everything (Jn 14:26) and guiding them into all the truth (Jn 16:13). It is through this Church that the wisdom of God in all of its richness is made known (Eph 3:10). This Church, which Jesus founded on Peter (Mt 16:16-18), is the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). It is by listening to the apostles, who represent the Church, that we know the spirit of truth from the spirit of error (1 Jn 4:6).

We know this church was the Catholic Church, and no other, because only the Catholic Church shares unity of faith with the very earliest Christians, the very fruit of the great missionary work of the apostles themselves. Documents from the first, second, third, and fourth centuries after Jesus died give us a picture of a Church doing very Catholic things: celebrating the Mass, seeking the intercession of the saints, acknowledging the authority of the pope and the bishops, professing the sinlessness of Mary, etc.

The works of the New Testament are in fact written expressions of the faith of this Christian community. It just make sense that this community, this Church, would know better than anyone else which works are authentically from her and which are not, which ones are inspired and which are not. And this Church has declared that, not only is the Bible reliable and historical, it is also inspired. And so, what began as a matter of the historical record ends as an item of faith.


Of course, there are other reasons that we could marshal in support of the truth of Scripture, but its reliability, its historicity, and its inspiration are sufficient to prove that it is true. If Scripture is true, then the gospel message is true. If the message is true, then only one question remains: Will you accept the truth that Jesus Christ is God and He died on the Cross and rose from the dead to save you from your sins?

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Catholic Q&A: Part 37

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Rom 16:1 says that there were female deacons in the Church. Why don’t we have those anymore?

First, here is the passage you are referring to:
Rom 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cen′chre-ae,
Now, according to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, the Greek word for “deaconess”, diakonos, can refer to an ordained minister of the Church (cf. Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8) or to a “servant” or “assistant” more generally (Rom 13:4; 15:8). It is in this latter sense that we should understand Rom 16:1. This is because deaconesses were never considered to be among the ordained clergy. In fact, the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD confirmed that deaconesses were lay women.

Since the women who fulfilled this service were never ordained, they were not deacons as such, but simply assistants to the priest. Since catechumens in the early Church were often baptized naked and by full immersion, these assistants were necessary in order to maintain chastity between the priest and the female catechumen.

How would you respond to someone that says, "Religion is only a crutch for the weak?"

Atheists are hypocritical when they say things like this. Everyone has their own worldview or filter with which they process life events, or pain, or suffering in the world. It's not a crutch, it's how you get on with life. Atheists have their own ways of making sense out of their lives, it’s just that their ways are different than our ways. This argument is not so much about having a crutch as it is about having the particular crutch that Christians have.

This canard also implies that Christianity is believed simply for the comfort it provides, not because there are actually some reasonable arguments that sustain the Christian position. Of course, that is not true. Some of the most reasonable and scientific minds this world has ever known, and even the “fathers” of many scientific fields (Georges Lemaitre, Gregor Mendel, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, etc) were Catholic.

Why is the fourth Sunday of Lent called “Laetare Sunday”?

Laetare is Latin for “Rejoice!” It comes from the entrance antiphon for that day: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.” The fourth Sunday of Lent marks the half-way point of Lent, which means that Easter is almost here. As a result, the priest may wear rose-colored vestments on this day (as he does on Gaudete Sunday during Advent), the organ may be played in Mass, and flowers may be used to adorn the altar.

Pax Christi,

Saturday, February 22, 2014

For the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle

It may seem odd to celebrate an inanimate object, but there is in fact a very good reason for today's feast day. The phrase ex cathedra, which we use in reference to the pope's infallible prerogative, means "from the chair." So, the chair of St. Peter represents the authority given to him and to his successors by Jesus Christ. It is also a symbol of unity and orthodoxy, since it is in communion with the pope that Christians are united in faith and practice.

Of course, the pope can always explain things much better than I can. Benedict XVI devoted his General Audience catechesis of February 22, 2006 to explaining the celebration. It is worth reading in full [translation by Whispers]:
  • Dear Brothers and Sisters!

    The Latin liturgy celebrates today the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. It comes from a very ancient tradition, chronicled at Rome from the end of the 4th century, which renders thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the Apostle Peter and to his successors. The "cathedra," literally, is the fixed seat of the Bishop, found in the mother church in a diocese, which for this reason is called "cathedral," and is the symbol of the authority of the Bishop and, in particular, of his "magisterium," the evangelical teaching which he, as a successor of the Apostles, is called to maintain and pass on to the Christian community. When the Bishop takes possession of the particular Church entrusted to him, he, wearing the mitre and carrying the pastoral staff, is seated in the cathedra. From that seat he will guide, as teacher and pastor, the path of the faithful in faith, in hope and in love.

    What was, then, the "cathedra" of St. Peter? He, chosen by Christ as the "rock" on which the Church was built, began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The first "see" of the Church was the Cenacle, and it's likely that in that room, where also Mary, the mother of Jesus, prayed together with the disciples, a special place was reserved for Simon Peter. Successively, the see of Peter became Antioch, a city situated on the Oronte River, in Syria, today in Turkey, in that time the third metropolis of the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. From that city, evangalized by Barnabas and Paul, where "for the first time the disciples were called Christians" (Acts 11:26), where the name Christian was born for us, Peter was the first bishop, so that the Roman Martyrology, before the reform of the calendar, also provided for a specific celebration of the Chair of Peter at Antioch. From there, Providence brought Peter to Rome. Therefore we have the road from Jerusalem, the newborn Church, to Antioch, the first center of the Church recounted by the Pagans and still united with the Church which proceeded from the Jews. Then Peter came to Rome, center of the Empire, symbol of the "Orbis" -- the "Urbs" [city] which expresses the "Orbis" [world] of the earth -- where he concluded with his martyrdom his course in the service of the Gospel. For this, the see of Rome, which received the greatest honor, is also accorded the honors entrusted by Christ to Peter to be at the service of all the particular Churches for the building up and the unity of the entire People of God.

    The see of Rome, after this movement of St. Peter, became recognized as that of the successor of Peter, and the "cathedra" of its bishop represented that of the Apostle charged by Christ to feed his flock. This is attested to by the most ancient Fathers of the Church, for example St. Iraneus, bishop of Lyon, but living in Asia Minor, who in his treatise Against heresies described the Church of Rome as "the greatest and most ancient, known of all;... founded and built at Rome by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul"; and then: "With this Church, for its outstanding superiority, must be accorded to it the Church universal, the faithful in every place" (III, 3, 2-3). Tertullian, a little later, for his part, affirms: "How blessed is this Church of Rome! For it the apostles poured out, with their blood, the whole of doctrine." The chair of the Bishop of Rome represents, therefore, not only its service to the Roman community, but its mission of watching over the entire People of God.

    To celebrate the "Cathedra" of Peter, as we do today, means, then, to attribute to it a strong spiritual significance and to recognize it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the good and eternal Shepherd, who wishes to gather the entire Church and guide it along the way of salvation. Among the many testimonies of the Fathers, I'd like to report that of St. Jerome, who wrote in a letter of his to the Bishop of Rome, particularly interesting because it makes an explicit reference to the "chair" of Peter, presented it as the sure grounding of truth and of peace. As Jerome wrote: "I decided to consult the chair of Peter, where is found that faith which the mouth of an Apostle exalted; I come then to ask nourishment for my soul, where once was received the garment of Christ. I don't follow a primate other than Christ; for this reason, I place myself in communion with your blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that on this rock is built the Church" (Letters I, 15, 1-2).

    Dear Brothers and Sisters, in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica, as you know, can be found the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, Bernini's eldest work, realized in the form of a great bronze throne, held up by statues of four Doctors of the Church, two of the west, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, two of the east, St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius. I invite you to stand in front of this suggested work, which today is probably decorated admirably by many candles, and pray in a particular way for the ministry which God has entrusted to me. Raising our gaze to the alabaster window which opens over the Chair, invoking the Holy Spirit, may he always sustain with his light and strength my daily service to all the Church. [Applause] For this, and for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart.

For more on the Chair of St. Peter and papal authority, see the following links:For articles that I have written about Peter and the Papacy, see the Church Authority and the Papacy entry from the Topical Index.

St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles....pray for us.

Pax Christi,

Monday, February 17, 2014

Catholic Q&A: Part 36

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Why did Aaron give in so easily to the Israelites to make them a golden calf?

I don’t really know. Aaron's job was to be Moses' representative or spokesman. He was supposed to be utterly subservient to him. We see that as long as he did that, he was fine. But, as soon as Aaron exerted his own will, he got into trouble, as evidenced not only by the golden calf incident but also by the scolding he received from the Lord when he spoke against Moses' decision to marry a Cushite woman (Num 12). Aaron had a specific role to play in God's plan for the people during their slavery in Egypt and their Exodus. For whatever reason, he was never really good at acting outside of that role.

Why didn’t Ananias and Sapphira get a chance to repent before they died?

First some background information: Ananias and Sapphira were the ones who made the apostles think that they were donating all the proceeds of the land that they sold when they were really keeping some of it for themselves (cf. Acts 5:1-11).

Now, why weren’t they given a chance to repent? Because they just weren’t. People don't always get a chance to repent before they die. Death does not always come when we expect it. This is why it is so important to remain in a state of grace. That said, only God knows the heart. He knows how sorry we are for the sins we have committed, even if we do not have the chance to express that sorrow with some act of repentance. Perhaps Ananias and Sapphira were able to cry out to God, in the silence of their hearts, before they died. We will never know.

Is it lawful for someone to take the host from the Eucharistic minister, dip it in the chalice, and eat it?

No, it is not. Dipping the host into the chalice is called intinction. While this is a lawful way to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, the communicant is not allowed to do this himself. Instead, the Eucharistic minister dips the host into the chalice and then places it on the communicant's tongue. For more on this, see the document from the US bishops: Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, nos. 49-50.

Rom 16:22 says that Tertius wrote the Letter to the Romans. I thought Paul wrote it. Can you explain?

Paul is certainly the author of the Letter to the Romans. He began by declaring his authorship of it. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ … To all God’s beloved in Rome” (Rom 1:1, 7). This means that Tertius was his secretary. In other words, Paul dictated the letter to Tertius, and Tertius wrote it down.

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Catholic Q&A: Part 35

This post continues my series of short answers to common (and not so common) questions about Catholicism. For the previous parts in the series, see the "Catholic Q-A Series" blog label.

Is it true that blasphemy is an unforgiveable sin?

No. The only unforgivable sin is the rejection of the Holy Spirit, or perhaps despair. That’s because these sins compel a person to avoid seeking the forgiveness of God. But, if you actually confess your sin to God (in prayer or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation) with a contrite heart and a firm intention to amend your life, He will forgive it no matter what it is.

Is it sinful to have evil thoughts, even if you don’t carry them out?

It's not sinful to be tempted to do something bad or to have the sudden impulse to do something bad. We are tempted all the time to do things that we shouldn’t do. It is also common for a thought or a feeling to rush into your head that you know is uncharitable. We have to banish such thoughts and carry on. The sin is in carrying it out, like you said. It is also sinful to dwell on the sinful act or to relish in it in your mind, or to foster evil thoughts so that they grow and take root in your soul

In the Old Testament, especially Leviticus and Deuteronomy, it says that it is forbidden to eat certain foods. Do these laws apply to Christians?

Jesus said, "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man" (Mt 15:17-18). The parallel passage in Mark adds this explanation: "Thus he declared all foods clean" (Mk 7:18-19). In Acts, we read of a vision that Peter received where an angel showed him that just as food previously considered unclean is now considered clean, so should the Gentiles, who were previously considered unclean, now be considered as worthy of God (cf. Acts 10:9-16, 28). Finally, Paul wrote to the Romans, "Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats" (Rom 14:20).

It appears from all this that the laws against clean and unclean animals no longer apply to Christians. The only time we would refrain from eating or drinking something would be if it caused scandal to our neighbor.

Does the Bible forbid marriages between Christians and non-Christians?

No. Instead it actually presupposes that mixed marriages will take place and encourages such couples to stay married because the believer may end up saving the non-believer by his or her own witness to the faith (cf. 1 Cor 7:12-16). Of course, the ideal situation is one where the spouses are of the same faith.

Pax Christi,

Monday, January 27, 2014

Drink Your Wine with a Merry Heart: What the Bible Says about Alcoholic Beverages

I haven't engaged in a debate in a while, so this has been fun. I am currently discussing with a Protestant friend of mine what the Bible says about drinking wine. He is of the opinion that it is forbidden. I believe, as the Catholic Church teaches, that drinking wine with temperance is permissible.

Now, other people chimed in on this (it happened on Facebook, after all), but I'm only interested in presenting my exchange with him. That said, I will be providing his words to other people that also happened to bear upon the points I raised. I think this is the best way to present his side as faithfully as possible without belaboring this post with so many different voices. His words are indented and italicized.
This is a fantastic article. I'm not judging anyone who drinks...but if you're a believer and you drink, at least read this article. It's one of the most balanced I've read on the subject because it's not coming from a spirit of judgement. The last line says it best..."the question really isn’t CAN A CHRISTIAN DRINK? Rather, it is: SHOULD A CHRISTIAN DRINK?"
[. . .]
There was a time in my life when I drank. I'm not condemning anyone certainly. But the bible says to flee even the 'appearance' of evil. So that's a pretty high standard.
[. . .]
the Greek text bears out that the wine that was drunk in those days was non-alcoholic essentially. Never mind the fact that Jesus, Who is the Word of God made flesh (John 1) would never do something that violated that word...that would be sin and Jesus lived a sinless life.
[. . .]
Not to mention the fact that there are probably 50+ scriptures that instruct us that [the different types of wine found in the Bible] are harmful and we should abstain. I've studied this out out of curiosity (English, Greek and Hebrew) and to me it's pretty clear.
[. . .]
I would rather err on the side of caution for my sake and the sake of others. But again, I'm not going to judge you if you decided differently. In the end, it' s a decision that's between you and God...but it's something that most definitely can affect someone's decision to accept Christ or not.

If I could add my own 2 cents, Jesus and the Apostles all took wine to drink at the Last Supper (cf. Mt 26:27,29). The Son of man came “eating and drinking” (Lk 7:33-34). As for the OT evidence, the prophet Nehemiah commands the people to drink wine (cf. Neh 8:10). The sacrifices that God required often included wine as a drink offering (cf. Exo 29:40; Lev 23:13; Num 15:5,10; 28:7,14). The Psalmist says that God gives man plants so that he may make from them "wine to gladden the heart of man" (Psa 104: 14-15). In Proverbs we receive this counsel: “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress” (Prov 31:9). Wine is even used as a symbol of new life and of the fulfillment of God’s promises to mankind (cf. Isa 25:6; Amos 9:14; Zech 10:7).

You seem to believe that because the same Greek word (oinos) is used that every instance is the same drink. I think this is a mistaken exegetical view. Greek and English (as you all know) often do not align perfectly...hence the various translations of the Bible into English. For example we say love to mean everything from, "I love cheeseburgers" to "I love my wife". Those are obviously different meanings for the same word. In Greek, we see agape, phileo, and eros, all meaning love in its different forms. A good modern day look at this is how in the south some call every soft drink Coke. While Pepsi, Mt. Dew, etc are options, some use the word Coke as a euphemism for every type of soft drink. If we can go from one word (love) in English, to 3 words in Greek, doesn't it stand to reason that the process could work the other way as well? Isn't it possible that the Greek word (oinos) could be applied more broadly while in modern English we might parse words for different levels of fermentation (from plain grape juice to 100 year old wine)? I think that's a logical way to approach this. We have to see that Jesus would never violate God's word (and I've listed several places where the scriptures are clear about abstaining from alcoholic, highly fermented wine). Also, often times, especially in the OT, we see wine associated with the wine presses. Wine is not wine in the alcoholic sense when it is straight out of the presses. It's simply juice.

So, would you say that it was customary to drink grape juice during the Passover Meal and not fermented wine? That seems very highly unlikely to me. Also, look at Lk 7:33-34 again:
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, 'He has a demon.' 34 The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'
It seems to me from this that the drink in question is the type that intoxicates a person, that has the potential to make him a drunkard.

Regarding the passages I provided from the OT, how does grape juice "gladden the heart of man" (Psa 104:14-15; Zech 10:7)? It is "strong drink" not grape juice that Prov 31:9 instructs us to give. The Mosaic Law allowed the people to purchase strong drink and even consume it "before the LORD your God and rejoice" (Deut 14:23-26). This seems strange if it was actually forbidden.

We must also remember that the whole reason why wine (as in, the fermented beverage) is a symbol of eschatological hope is because the merriment and festivity it provides is a foretaste (pun intended) of the joy that the Messiah will bring. Grape juice cannot carry the weight of this symbolic value.

One of the passages I provided in this regard was Isa 25:6 "On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined." According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, the "lees" is:
Solid matter that settles out of wine during the fermentation process. In ancient Palestine, wine was allowed to remain on the lees to increase its strength and flavor. Such wine "on the lees" was much preferred to the newly fermented product. At Isaiah 25:6, a banquet of wine on the well-refined lees symbolizes God's people enjoying the best God can offer.
Consequently, this is also why the absence of this kind of wine is used as a symbol of God's judgment (cf. Isa 24:7-9; Joel 1:5-13), because it will mean for sinners the end of merriment and festivity.

I also mentioned that wine was used as a drink offering. Num 28:7 specifically says that the drink offering should be "of strong drink" to the Lord.

I think you make valid points. I can't say it changes my mind though. I still feel the preponderance of scriptural evidence points to the abstaining from (or at the very least a strong, strong caution against) alcohol. When you consider just the common sense side of how many rapes, murders, DUI's, etc. have alcohol use/abuse as an underlying cause, you can see the case against it, even if you set the scriptures aside. Also, I think it can be a deterrent to people accepting the Gospel if they see a believer drinking (this is especially in the south where we're taught from a social standpoint that alcohol should be avoided). I believe there should be a difference between the world and the church. If we act like the world, there is no separation to warrant someone looking for a better way. We're to be in the world, but not of the world. In other words, we can't act like everyone else and expect someone to be drawn to Jesus. Just my two cents.

I understand what you're saying. But, I also think there is a way to drink that allows one to still be firmly in the world but not of the world. Between the two extremes of drinking too much and none at all is the third way, what I would call the real Catholic way to drink: with temperance. For a non-believer, this third way is much more appealing b/c it reveals that, in accepting Christ, one does not have to forsake everything that brings him joy. Like you said, the Christian is still IN the world, he is just not OF the world, and the good Catholic takes this seriously. He does not drink as the world drinks, which is to excess. By drinking with temperance he still shows that he is a man set apart, and I can tell you from my own experience drinking in this way that people genuinely respect it when I say, "No thank you, I think I've had quite enough." This third way of drinking is one of discipline, but it is also one of thanking God for His many gifts.

For more on the "third way", see this article written by Sean P. Dailey, "The Lost Art of Catholic Drinking".

That said, I am curious as to what the rebuttal would be to the various passages I provided, and quite perplexed that they are not sufficient enough to change your mind. The provision from the Mosaic Law in particular seems quite unavoidable (cf. Deut 14:23-26). Oh, and if I could add another:
"Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already approved what you do." (Eccl 9:7)
This whole Catholic-quoting-Scripture thing is quite bothersome, isn't it!

- - - - - - - - - -

It's been four days since my last comment, which on Facebook is, like, forever, so I imagine this is the end of it. But, if he does respond then I will update this post. For more on what the bible says about drinking wine, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service

The week of Jan 26 – Feb 1 is Catholic Schools Week. The theme for this year is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service.” There is a passage from one of Paul’s letters that gives us some insight into these three qualities of our Catholic school communities:
1 Cor 12:4-13 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
In this reading, we discover that all three are special gifts that God gives to the Church, the “body” that is made up of many members (vs. 12). Furthermore, these gifts of faith, knowledge, and service are given to each of us not just for our own benefit, but so that we may use them to build each other up and strengthen the Church. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (vs. 7).

Catholic Schools Week reminds us that, when we are good stewards of the gifts that God has given us, then our schools become a place where this work of building up the Church can occur. What can you do to help the people you encounter each day to have faith in God, to grow in their knowledge of Him, and to live a life of service to God and neighbor? We must each ask ourselves this question as we celebrate Catholic Schools Week. The Holy Spirit will provide the answer.

Also notice that these varieties of gifts, and service, and working come from the Spirit (vs. 4), the Lord (vs. 5), and God the Father (vs. 6). Although our God is one God, there exists within Him a diversity of personhood. Since the Church comes from this one and diverse God, it likewise possesses unity (in being one body) and diversity (in the multitude of gifts that the members receive).

Pax Christi,

Saturday, January 04, 2014

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