Thursday, March 28, 2013

On Calling Priests "Father": Part 3

On Holy Thursday, when we commemorate the institution of the ministerial priesthood, it seemed fitting that I should pick up again my debate with Russell on calling priests "father" and respond to his latest comment. Also see Part 1 and Part 2. His words will be indented and italicized.

I had said that “King” is not a spiritual title, and you said:

“Regarding your second point, I think the title of ‘King’ -- at least as it applies to the Davidic kings -- is very much a spiritual title.”

But many other kings, even UNGODLY ones, in both the Old and the New Testament, were also called “King” as a title (for example, “King Nebuchadnezzar,” or “King Herod,” etc.). So, this is a very weak argument. If “King” is a SPIRITUAL title, why would the writers of Scripture give such an honor to those kings who were spiritually UNdeserving?
I should not have made my point so tentatively before. That is my fault. All I meant to affirm is that "King" is a spiritual title when it is applied to the Davidic Kings. That much is true, and it follows from this that we have a spiritual title being used quite extensively in Scripture. Also, you didn't address the fact that Jesus told a parable where servants refer to their owner as "Master" (cf. Mt 25:14-30).

I found some other passages too. In another parable, Jesus had the rich man refer to Abraham as "Father Abraham" (Lk 16:24, 30). Paul addressed the high priest and the council of elders by saying, "Hear me, brethren and fathers!" (Acts 7:22). Paul isn't just describing a position. He actually called them fathers, even though Jesus said, "call no man father."

And concerning whether one is “deserving” of a title or not, let’s address this common Catholic argument (surrounding Matthew 23) that it’s ok to have these formal spiritual titles “as long as the person is deserving.” Some of your own comments suggest that you believe this.

But Jesus didn’t say, “Whoever humbles himself gets to be called ‘Father.’” If Matthew 23 is about “deserving” a title, Jesus would have used some sort of “give honor to whom honor is due” expression in the context. But He doesn’t. But He does tell us, quite clearly, who is worthy of such a title – “… NO man…” (23:9). There is far more reason to believe that this context is about the FORBIDDING of titles than some human DESERVING them. So, the “as long as the person is deserving” argument is bogus.

By the way, how do you know that a priest you have never seen before is deserving of the title “Father”? There could always be some deep, dark, continual sin in his life that no one but God knows about. Yet, Catholics do not hesitate to call almost any priest by that spiritual title.
I never said that it was ok to have a formal title as long as the person is deserving. As you rightly conclude, that would not square with Catholic practice. Let me be clear on this. I think there are two lessons we should derive from Mt 23:

1. The Pharisees do not deserve the honor they receive.
-- Consequently, respect their authority but do not abide by their example.
2. God is the ultimate Father, Rabbi, and Master

That's as far as I think we should go with it. Protestants go too far when they say that this chapter is evidence that Jesus wanted to do away with spiritual titles.

You mentioned that Jesus, in anger, was saying that we have only ONE “Teacher,” ONE “Father,” and ONE “Master,” when we actually have many teachers / fathers / masters to teach and guide us. That may be true, but the point is that there is only One who is DESERVING of these titles, and that One is God / Jesus. Again, no hyperbole, no exaggeration. There is no connection or similarity between “straining a gnat / swallowing a camel” and “call no man Father,” as you implied. It seems that claiming hyperbole may be just an excuse to continue with an unbiblical (and anti-biblical) practice. This is an excellent example of voiding Christ’s command for the sake of your own traditions (Matthew 15:3, 6).
In a sense, I agree with you. No one is a Father like God is a Father. But, that doesn't mean we can't have a share in His work, or that we shouldn't call a thing what it is, or that we should fail to respect the noble office a person has been given. Jesus told the people to practice and observe whatever the scribes and Pharisees told them to do. Why? Because they sit on Moses seat. The honor is given because of the position that is held. Jesus does not want to do away with this honor, He wants the scribes and Pharisees to live up to it. Do you really think that Jesus went through such great lengths to catalogue their many sins so as to do away with titles? Or, could it be more likely that He did this so as to expose their failure to be the fathers, rabbis, and teachers that they should be?

When I mentioned that Jesus said to give no human a spiritual title, you implied that the context of Matthew 23 denies this. You said:

“’The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you’ (vs. 2-3). Jesus’ wants the people to continue to respect the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. Using titles such as ‘father’, ‘rabbi’, and ‘master’ is how you show this respect for someone in a position of authority. Yet, by your interpretation, Jesus told the people to respect their authority one minute, then disrespect it the next. That makes no sense.”

Nicholas, Matthew 23:2-3 is more about respect for the Law that they were obligated to preach, than for the Pharisees themselves. Respect for the role of “teacher” is fine, but you’re assuming that one way to do this is by giving them spiritual titles. But Jesus speaks directly against this very practice. It is not “disrespect” to avoid what the Ultimate Teacher says to avoid.
You're obviously begging the question here. This argument only holds if Jesus actually spoke against using spiritual titles. But, you haven't proven that yet.

You emphasized that Jesus is concerned with THEIR DISPOSITION. I certainly agree! And these personal, spiritual, exalting titles CONTRIBUTE GREATLY to this problem! If using these titles were discontinued, we wouldn’t have as many ego problems in many churches. Jesus knew what He was talking about. He said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) But I’m sure it’s hard to have the mind of a servant when people you don’t even know are feeding your ego with flattering titles like “Father” or “Reverend.” God knows the selfish tendencies of man and how quickly this can go to his head.
Having a spiritual title does not necessarily lead to ego problems. Surely you know that. In some cases, it probably does, but not in every case or even most cases. To call a priest "father" has catechetical value for people. It reminds them that God has called this man to be a father and has truly made him one through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He exercises this role in his ministry. The priest fathers many spiritual children in the Sacrament of Baptism. He creates them anew in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He protects them from sin and temptation with his blessing. He feeds them with the Eucharist. To make children, to create, to protect, to feed -- these are all fatherly duties. And so it is with good reason that we call priests "father."

The title is for the priest's benefit insofar as it reminds him of what his identity is and what God has called him to do and to be in His Church. Instead of getting rid of the title, perhaps it would be better to make sure that only the best men receive it. This is what the Church strives to do. But even when wretched men become priests, they still remain fathers through the exercise of their priestly ministry.

You said:

“I humbly submit that your bias against Catholicism is causing you to misinterpret this passage.”

Nicholas, thank you for being respectful (and I believe you have good intentions), but, with all due respect, I can say the same thing in reverse. I believe that your Catholic bias, i.e., your will to serve the Catholic Church at any cost, is misdirected and will not let you accept the simple interpretation of this passage in its context.
Everyone brings biases and preconceived notions to the text. This is unavoidable. The task then is to decide which preconceived set of beliefs is the proper one. How about the set of beliefs that Christians have always had? How about the set of beliefs of the people out of which the Scriptures came? That seems like the proper context to me. It is ancient Christian practice to at least call bishops "father." For thousands of years, if you were a Christian, that's simply what you did. It was only after the Protestant reformers abandoned the ministerial priesthood altogether that anyone had the notion that Jesus was somehow against this title. Your bias is the abberation, not mine ... unless you would have us believe that Jesus allowed all of Christendom to confuse and betray one of His explicit commands for over 1500 years.

If it was wrong of Christians to call a bishop, or the pope, or one of the ancient teachers of the faith "father," then the great leaders and theologians of the Church that fought so ardently and even gave their lives to eradicate heresy would have squashed that bug a long time ago. You have separated your self from the Church of the Apostles and from the Church that emerged from the apostolic period. That is why you misinterpret this text as you do.

And with that, things boil down, as they always do, to authority. But let us leave that debate for another day (at least as long as we are able). It is Holy Week and I am very busy!

Peace of Christ to you,
phatcatholic

PS: From here you may proceed to Part Four.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Collection of Biographies, News, and Analysis of Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis

Now that the whole world knows who is the new successor of St. Peter, there will be a rush to find out more about this man, where his priorities lie, the nature of his theological and political views, etc. As such, I have compiled the following links to biographies and analysis of Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis I.

I will update this post regularly as new material appears online. If you know of any that I should add to the list, please leave a comment.

UPDATE (3/17/2013): I have decided to organize these articles by when they were written so that the reader can see how the commentary on Pope Francis has developed over time. Also, please note that while this compilation is extensive, it is by no means exhaustive. I am sure that there are some great articles that I have missed. Thirdly, I will only be chronicling the first week of his papacy. It would be too much of a burden to keep this up after that. Finally, the inclusion of an article to this list does not necessarily indicate an endorsement on my part.

Before his election:

Wed., Mar. 13 (the day of his election):

Thurs., Mar. 14:

Fri., Mar. 15:

Sat., Mar. 16:

Sun., Mar. 17:

Mon., Mar. 18:

Tues., Mar. 19:

Wed., Mar. 20:

I will update each day with new links as I find the time. This is still a work in progress.

UPDATE (4/3/2013): If I happen to come across one, I'll add it, but I don't plan on actively seeking any more links to add to this collection. Of course, if you know of one that I should add, you are free to leave a comment and I will add it (unless I don't like it for some reason).

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Thursday, March 07, 2013

On Calling Priests "Father": Part 2

Russel responded to my previous post. As before, his words will be indented and italicized.
Hi Nicholas,

You asked if the followers of John the Baptist were wrong in calling him (i.e., John) “Rabbi / Teacher.” I would have to say yes they were, according to Jesus, but they probably did this in ignorance, since Jesus addressed this topic AFTER John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:1-12).

Concerning the title “King,” this is not a SPIRITUAL title, which is what Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23.

You said:

“Jesus’ issue was with people who seek certain positions because of the title that it affords them, or who do not live up to the title that they have received.”

That is partly true, but Jesus didn’t say, “Call only those with the RIGHT ATTITUDE “Father,” or only those who DESERVE it “Rabbi.” He said to give those spiritual titles to NO HUMAN (Matthew 23:8-10).

Russell ... thank you for your response. Your debate style is much like mine, calm and thorough. I appreciate that.

Regarding your first point, I think that if it was wrong of them to address John the way they did, then John himself would have objected to it. He is after all the model of humility. "His sandals I am not worthy to carry" (Mt 3:11) or "to stoop down and untie" (Mk 1:7). "He must increase, I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).

I guess you'll say that John was ignorant of Jesus' teaching as well. While I find it hard to believe that John would not have intuited the wrongness of these titles if indeed they were wrong, since neither of us can really know the mind of the baptist on this point, let us consider this particular argument a draw.

Regarding your second point, I think the title of "King" -- at least as it applies to the Davidic kings -- is very much a spiritual title. The Davidic king was God's anointed steward of His people, and the mediator of God's covenant relationship with them. The new Davidic king was the great hope of all of Israel. So, perhaps the references to Herod, Agrippa, and Aretas don't apply, but the ones to Saul, David, Solomon, and Adonijah do.

Regarding your final point, you say that we are to give spiritual titles to "NO HUMAN". I really think you're missing the point. Read everything in Mt 23 that is before and after the passage in question. "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you" (vs. 2-3). Jesus' wants the people to continue to respect the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. Using titles such as "father", "rabbi", and "master" is how you show this respect for someone in a position of authority. Yet, by your interpretation, Jesus told the people to respect their authority one minute, then disrespect it the next. That makes no sense.

Continuing on, look at what Jesus says about them:
  • "they preach but do not practice" (vs. 3)
  • "they bind heavy burdens" (vs. 4)
  • "they do all their deeds to be seen by men" (vs. 5)
  • "they love the place of honor" and "the best seats" (vs. 6) "and salutations in the marketplaces" (vs. 7)

Look at this. Do you really think Jesus is concerned with titles, or is He concerned with the fact that the scribes and pharisees "LOVE" such titles and don't live up to them? Jesus is taking great pains to show how prideful and negligent the scribes and pharisees are. He continues:
  • "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (vs. 11-12)

See? Jesus is concerned with THEIR DISPOSITION. Continuing on, we see that the scribes and Pharisees:
  • "shut the kingdom of heaven against men" (vs. 13)
  • make proselytes a child of hell (cf. vs. 15)
  • make false distinctions between oaths (cf. vs. 16-22)
  • "have neglected the weightier matters of the law" (vs. 23)
  • "are full of extortion and rapacity" (vs. 25)
  • "are like whitewashed tombs" (vs. 27), "full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (vs. 28)
  • fill up the measure of God's wrath against their fathers for murdering the prophets (vs. 29-36)

Jesus issues 7 woes against them in this chapter for being the "hypocrites" and "blind guides" that they are. You have to understand vs. 8-10 in light of this context. Jesus' whole point is that the scribes and Pharisees exhibit a dastardly conduct that should not be imitated and they do not live up to the honor that they receive. God alone is the great and perfect Father, Rabbi, and Master. We can only fulfill these positions in a derivative sense.

Finally, think about it, Jesus is pissed off and fed up. He is angry, filled with righteous indignation. It makes perfect sense that He would use hyperbolic language. "You have ONE teacher" (vs. 8), "you have ONE father" (vs. 9), "you have ONE master" (vs. 10) ... yet obviously we have all had more teachers and fathers and masters than simply God. Thus, Jesus is NOT speaking literally, He is using exaggerated language. Verse 24 from this same chapter ("You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!") is obviously hyperbolic. Verses 8-10 are said in the same vein.

Like I said before, the Catholic interpretation is the only one that squares with the context of the passage and the greater body of Scripture. I humbly submit that your bias against Catholicism is causing you to misinterpret this passage. If you will simply put that aside, even just for a moment, I think you will see that what I am saying about this passage is true.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

PS: From here you may proceed to Part Three.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Debate with "Russell" on Calling Priests "Father"

Someone named "Russell" who is the author of the "Answering Catholic Claims" blog recently left a comment on my post about Mt 23:8-10 and calling priests "father". Here is his comment and my response. His words will be indented and italicized.
I agree with a lot of things you said, but I still don’t agree with your final conclusion.

Now, there is nothing wrong with calling a human “a” spiritual father / teacher / rabbi, etc., but to call them “Father,” “Teacher,” or “Rabbi” directly as a spiritual title is wrong (and this would include the use of the Protestant title “Reverend,” as well). These are forbidden as formal religious TITLES OF HONOR. If all Christians are “brothers” in Christ (Matthew 23:8), then there should be no elevated religious titles among Christians.

Matthew 23 is not against “biological,” “spiritual,” or “ancestral” fathers, since they are recognized as legitimate roles elsewhere in Scripture. And since Jesus does not condemn the role of pastor, you could refer to a man as “a pastor” or “the pastor,” but the term should not be used as a formal, personal, spiritual title. Although we all have different functions in the church, where some are certainly (and rightfully) leaders, Jesus clearly forbids the self-exalting titles that men often want to use.

By the way, there is no reason to believe that Jesus was using hyperbole here, in view of the context. For example, He wasn’t exaggerating when He said, “You are all brothers”, and He wasn’t exaggerating when he described the antics of the scribes and Pharisees.

Russell ... thank you for your comment. I see what you mean. The examples I provided describe a position, not a title that was being used. I wonder though: were the people wrong when they called John the Baptist "Rabbi" (Jn 3:36) and "Teacher" (Lk 3:12)? What about "King"? That title is used quite extensively in Scripture. See, for example:
  • "King Saul": 1 Sam 18:6
  • "King David": 2 Sam 3:31; 5:3; 6:12, 16; 7:18; 8:8, 10-11; 9:5; 13:21; 16:5-6; 17:17, 21; 19:11, 16; 20:21; 1 Ki 1:1, 13, 28, 31-32, 37-38, 43, 47
  • "King Solomon": 1 Ki 1:34, 39, 51, 53; 2:17, 19, 22-23, 25, 29, 45; 4:1, 27; 5:13; 6:2; 7:13-14, 40
  • "King Adonijah": 1 Ki 1:25
  • "King Herod": Mk 6:14
  • "King Agrippa": Acts 25:24, 26; 26:2, 19, 27
  • "King Aretas": 2 Cor 11:32

Jesus even told a parable where servants refer to their owner as "Master" (cf. Mt 25:14-30). What we see from all of this is that there is nothing wrong with using titles to refer to a person's position among the people. Jesus' issue was with people who seek certain positions because of the title that it affords them, or who do not live up to the title that they have received.

That interpretation is really the only way to reconcile Mt 23 with the biblical data. Otherwise, you would have to accuse Samuel (the author of 1 Sam 1-25), Nathan and Gad (the authors of 2 Sam; cf. 1 Chron 29:29-30), Jeremiah (the author of 1 Kings), Mark, Paul, and the disciples of John the Baptist with all doing something that displeases God.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

PS: From here you may proceed to Part Two.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A Comprehensive and Biblical Defense of the Marian Doctrines

Scripture says very little about Mary, the mother of Jesus, compared to the other great figures in the formative years of the Church, yet Catholics believe that she is the greatest woman who ever lived. Let's take a closer look at the Scriptural evidence and see if perhaps more is said about Mary than what first meets the eye.

FIRST DOCTRINE: Mary, Mother of God

There are five doctrines about Mary. The first one proclaims that Mary is the Mother of God. The logic here is simple: If Mary is the mother of Jesus and Jesus is God, then Mary is the Mother of God. In giving Mary this title, the Church follows in the example of Elizabeth, who exclaimed upon seeing Mary, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43).

Note that this doctrine says more about Jesus than it does about Mary. If Jesus is not God, then Mary is not the Mother of God. By affirming this doctrine, the Church affirms the divinity of Jesus. At the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, the Church officially referred to Mary as the theotokos (Gk. “God-bearer”), not to exalt Mary but to combat the heresies of the day that denied that Jesus was truly God.

SECOND DOCTRINE: Mary, Immaculately Conceived

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception declares that God preserved Mary from the stain of original sin at the moment she was conceived within the womb of her mother. It also declares that Mary remained sinless her entire life. The first indication of this comes from Luke’s gospel:
"And he came to her and said, 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!'" (Lk 1:28, RSV-CE)
To really grasp the full depth of meaning in this passage, we have to look at the original Greek language in which it was written. The Greek word translated as "full of grace" is kecharitomene. This is a difficult word to translate. For one, in the entire New Testament and the entire Greek Old Testament, it only appears once: right here in Luke 1:28. Clearly, something extremely unique is being described here.

Secondly, the construction of the word is peculiar. Without getting too bogged down by Greek grammar, looking closely at the voice and the verb tense of kecharitomene, one finds that this word literally means, "You who were and continue to be full of and completed in grace." Blass and DeBrunner's Greek Grammar of the New Testament states: "It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace."

How remarkable! Mary wasn't just given grace like we receive grace. She was filled with grace, completed in grace, perfected in grace, and this fullness of grace persisted, it continued up to and through the present. Sin and grace are opposed (cf. Rom 5:20-21), and grace saves us from sin (cf. Eph 2:5, 8). Where there is fullness of grace there is no room for sin.

Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant

Another indication of Mary’s sinlessness comes by way of the comparison between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was the vessel that contained the word of God on the stone tablets, the manna from heaven, and the rod of Aaron the great High Priest (cf. Heb 9:4).

These were the holiest of all Jewish relics and represented the very presence of God to the Jewish people. As such, the container or "ark" that held them had to be made of the purest, most perfect materials. The Ark itself was considered so holy that no one was allowed to even touch it, lest they die (cf. 2 Sam 6:7; 1 Chron 13:9-10).

We see in Scripture that there are many parallels between Mary and the Ark (compare Lk 1:35, 39, 41, 43, 56 with Exo 40:35 and 2 Sam 6:2, 9, 11, 16) but space permits us to only address one. We already know what the Ark was built to contain. What was Mary built to contain, but Jesus Christ? And Who is He but the new Word of God (cf. Jn 1:1), the Manna from Heaven (cf. Jn 6:51), and the great High Priest (cf. Heb 5:4-5)?

This means that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, and just as the contents of the previous Ark demanded a perfectly pure vessel, so did Christ, not as a matter of strict necessity (God could have received His human flesh from any woman) but because His holiness demanded it. By preserving Mary from sin, God prepared her to be the pure Ark of the New Covenant.

THIRD DOCTRINE: Mary, Perpetual Virgin

Catholics believe that Mary remained a virgin her entire life. This may seem odd at first, considering that there are many Scripture passages that refer to the “brothers” of Jesus (cf. Mt 12:46; 13:55-56; Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19; Jn 7:1-10; Acts 1:14; Gal 1:19). It is not necessary, however, to believe that these “brothers” were actually His siblings.

The Greek word for “brother” in these verses is adelphos. This word can mean “sibling,” but it is also used in Scripture to refer to those of the same nationality, any man or neighbor, persons with like interests, distant descendants of the same parents, persons united by a common calling, mankind, the disciples, and all believers.

Considering the broad meaning of the word, we can just as easily say that these “brothers” of Jesus were related to Him in some other way. Scripture tells us that at least four of them – James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas – were actually Jesus’ cousins, since their mother was Mary’s sister (cf. Mt 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mk 15:47; Jn 19:25).

Also, note that it was Jewish custom for the eldest son to care for his mother once his father died. When the eldest son died, this responsibility fell on the next son, and so on. Yet, Jesus gave His mother to the Apostle John, not to any of His "brothers" (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

It appears from these peculiar details that Jesus was in fact the only son of Joseph and Mary. And, since the Jews considered it a serious sin to prevent the marital act from bearing fruit (cf. Gen 1:22; 9:1; 38:8-10), we can rightly infer from the lack of other children that Mary remained a virgin.

FOURTH DOCTRINE: Mary, Assumed Into Heaven

Typically, when a human being dies, his body is buried or cremated and his soul receives its eternal reward. It is only once Jesus comes again that this soul will receive its body back and experience heaven or hell as a completed human being.

But, in the case of Mary, the Church teaches that, having completed the course of her earthly life, she was assumed (or raised) body and soul into heavenly glory. In other words, Mary didn’t have to wait for the Resurrection of the Body. She has her body, now, in heaven.

The concept of persons being assumed, body and soul, into their eternal reward is not foreign to Scripture. Enoch (cf. Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5) and Elijah (cf. 2 Ki 2:11-12) experienced this. Paul said that a third man may have as well (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-4). The "two witnesses" in the last days (Rev 11:1-12) also were taken up bodily to heaven. Thus, there is precedent for what we believe happened to Mary.

Our first indication that Mary was assumed into heaven comes from the Revelation of John the Apostle. John looked up, expecting to see the Ark, and what did he see? A woman clothed with the sun (cf. Rev 11:19-12:1). We have already seen how Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. That this woman is Mary is further confirmed later in chapter 12, where we see the woman giving birth to a son who will rule the nations with a rod of iron (vs. 5). This son is obviously Jesus, therefore the woman is Mary, whom John has seen, body and soul, in heaven. “Arise, O LORD, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might” (Ps 132:8).

Beyond this, the assumption of Mary follows from who Christ is. During the reign of David and his descendants, the queen of the kingdom was actually the mother of the king, not his wife (cf. 1 Ki 2:19; 15:13; 2 Ki 10:13; Ps 45:9; Jer 13:18; 29:2). As soon as the king was crowned, the queen was likewise crowned, and she was seated on a throne right beside him (cf. 1 Ki 2:19).

Now, who is Jesus? He is the new king of David (cf. Mk 11:10; Lk 1:32). It makes perfect sense that from the moment He ascended into heaven and took up His throne, Jesus would assume Mary into heaven and install her as His queen mother. In the Davidic kingdom, there is no king without a queen.

FIFTH DOCTRINE: Mary, Mediatrix of God's Grace

The final Marian doctrine of the Church declares that Mary is the “Mediatrix” of God's grace. By this we mean that Mary cooperated in an extraordinary way in the saving mission of Christ, who alone is the unique mediator between God and man.

It may seem peculiar at first to think of a human being working with God to bring us grace, but Scripture says that all Christians are called to contribute to this vital work. It bears repeating: Jesus alone is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. Yet, it is also true that He wishes to involve us in His work.

For example, St. Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:22). He considered himself a steward of God’s grace that was given to him for others (Eph 3:2; cf. Rom 11:13-14; 1 Cor 7:16; 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 2:10; Jas 5:20; 1 Pet 3:1; 4:10; Jude 1:22-23). We are "God’s fellow workers" (1 Cor 3:9), “working together with Him” (2 Cor 6:1).

Now, Mary played her part just as Paul did, but her cooperation was and is uniquely exemplary. Why? Consider her amazing life. Mary’s “yes” to God was the occasion for the Son to enter human history and take on our human nature. She gave Him the flesh that He nailed to the Cross for our salvation. And, since she was sinless, she was able to stand at the foot of the Cross and unite her will and her suffering perfectly with the will and the suffering of her Son. No other human being can claim to do what Mary did.

This was undoubtedly rewarded with a tremendous outpouring of grace for the benefit of the Church. How do we know this? Because we see from Scripture that whenever someone suffers for the sake of the Church, the Church is rewarded with an application of the grace of the Cross.

St. Paul said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and … for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). Paul is showing us that the Church benefits whenever we unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ on the Cross. This is what he did (cf. 2 Cor 1:6; 4:8-15; Phil 2:17; 3:10; Col 1:24), this is what he encouraged others to do, and this is what Mary did.

Since Mary was sinless, she was able to do it perfectly, and so we honor her role in salvation history with the title “Mediatrix.”

Conclusion

These five doctrines, and the Scripture passages that support them, point to Mary as uniquely blessed by the fruit of her womb. If God had not chosen her to be His mother, then none of her other unique qualities would have existed. He made her the most extraordinary woman who has ever lived, and it is with good reason that “all generations will call her blessed” (Lk 1:48).

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Comprehensive and Biblical Defense of the Last Things

Many people are struck with fear when they consider the end of life and the life thereafter. Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell – these are indeed sobering topics. And, while a certain element of trepidation in the face of the “last things” is natural and good, as Christians we also face these moments with courage and hope because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Of course, if one does not know Jesus or what His Word teaches about the last things, then it can be difficult to see how anyone could face these things with confidence or security. Let us see what Scripture says so as to come to terms with God’s plan for the end of our earthly lives and life after death.

To Live Is Christ and to Die Is Gain

When God created Adam and Eve, he actually created them for life, not death (cf. Wis 2:21-24). Everything in the Garden was theirs to enjoy, except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warned them, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:16-17). They did not heed the warning, and as a result they and all their descendants suffer death. God’s curse to Adam after his disobedience is plain: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).

Death is the separation of the soul from the body and the end of one’s life on earth. It is the effect of original sin (cf. Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22) and fundamental to the human experience (cf. Eccl 9:5; 2 Sam 14:14; Job 14:5; Psa 90:10). When that day comes, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl 12:7).

To our great fortune, God became man and conquered death (cf. Rom 5:17; 2 Tim 1:10; Heb 2:14-15). To those who love God and their neighbor Jesus offers eternal life (cf. Mt 19:17-21; 25:45-46; Lk 10:25-28; Jn 6:40; 8:51; etc.). Now, this does not mean that Christians no longer die. We remain mortal beings. But, in Christ, death does not have the final say. “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8; cf. 1 Thes 4:14).

It is only when Jesus comes again at the end of time that death will be definitively defeated. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). When that day comes, “death shall be no more” (Rev 21:4). “Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’” (1 Cor 15:54-55).

The Day of Judgment

According to the “Glossary” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, judgment is “the eternal retribution received by each soul at the moment of death, in accordance with that person’s faith and works.” Judgment is when Christ Himself decides whether one’s soul is fit for heaven or hell.

This definition applies specifically to the Particular Judgment, the judgment that every soul receives immediately upon its death. There is also a Last Judgment that will coincide with the second coming of Christ.

Scripture is clear that the judge of all things is Jesus. “He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; cf. Acts 17:30-31; Rom 2:16; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:1). When Scripture speaks of judgment, it is almost always in reference to either the punishments and rewards we receive in this life according to our fidelity to God, or to the Last Judgment at the end of time. But, there are indications of the Particular Judgment as well. The clearest passage is from the Letter to the Hebrews:
“And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Heb 9:27-28)
Since no eternal reward can be received without a judgment, the Particular Judgment is also implied in the passages that speak of receiving one’s eternal reward immediately upon death (cf. Lk 16:22; 23:43; Acts 1:25; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23).

As for the Last Judgment, one may wonder why such a judgment is even necessary. Isn’t the Particular Judgment sufficient? Why do we have to be judged twice? There are at least three reasons for the Last Judgment.

First, it is the Last Judgment that will put a definitive end to all evil. All that is good will be separated from all that is evil and then evil will be no more (cf. Isa 11:6-9; Mt 13:49; Gal 1:4; 2 Tim 4:18; Rev 21:3-4). Secondly, this Judgment will serve to vindicate the justice and mercy of God. The works of every person will be made known to all (cf. Mt 10:26; Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 3:13; 4:5). In this way, we will see why some merited heaven and others hell. We will finally come to understand why and how God’s plan unfolded in the life of every human being and of all creation.

Finally, since the Judgment occurs after the Resurrection of the Body – when the human body of every person will come back to life – it serves the purpose of allowing us to experience heaven or hell as complete human persons. The righteous will receive glorified bodies of perfect strength and immortality, and the unrighteous will receive bodies that will add physical pain to their spiritual torments (cf. Jn 5:29).

Let Heaven Rejoice and Earth Be Glad

As we have already seen in our discussion of death, if we die with and in Christ then we will live with Him forever. This eternal life with God is what we refer to as “heaven.” Scripture does not tell us a great deal about heaven. After all, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). But, there are a few things that we can know about it.

Once Adam and Eve committed the original sin, heaven was closed to man, as symbolized by their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the angel that was placed to guard the way to the Tree of Life (cf. Gen 3:23-24). As a result, all souls went to Hades (or “Sheol” in Hebrew) where they experienced comfort or torment depending on how they lived (cf. Job 21:13; Psa 9:17; 89:48; Isa 38:10; Ezek 31:16; Lk 16:22-23). When Jesus died, He descended into this “prison” (1 Pet 3:19) with “bars” (Job 17:16), preached the gospel to the righteous souls (cf. 1 Pet 3:19; 4:6) and led them out of Hades into heaven. “Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives’” (Eph 4:8).

This new abode of the righteous, where no unclean thing shall enter (cf. Rev 21:27; Heb 12:14), is now the promise and the hope of every Christian. “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor 5:2).

Why? For one, there are “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:20). Heaven is a place of great rewards (cf. Mk 9:41; Lk 6:23; 1 Cor 3:12-15; Gal 6:9; 1 Pet 1:4) where we will reign with God in authority (cf. Dan 7:27; Lk 19:17-19; 22:30; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26-28; 3:21; 22:5) and rest from this world’s many labors (cf. Heb 4:11; Rev 14:13). Heaven is a wedding feast where the saints will eat and drink with the Lord forever (cf. Mt 8:11; 25:1-13; Lk 22:30; Rev 19:7-9).

As amazing as all of this is, the greatest joy of heaven will come from being with God and worshipping before His unmediated presence (cf. Psa 16:11). The angels already behold the face of the Father in heaven (cf. Mt 18:10). When we enter heaven, we too will be given eyes to see God in all of His great power and glory. “When he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2; cf. Psa 17:15; Mt 5:8; 1 Cor 13:12). Job’s heart fainted within him at the thought of such a vision! (cf. Job 19:25-27)

When we behold this vision, worshipping the Lord will be irresistible. Scripture reveals heaven as a place of perpetual worship of our Trinitarian God (cf. Rev 4:9-11; 5:8, 12-14; 7:11-12). “Day and night they never cease to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev 4:8).

The Unquenchable Fire

Of course, if a person does not die in righteous standing before God, his soul cannot experience eternal friendship and blessedness with God. Scripture is clear that those who die with mortal sin on their soul will go to hell (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Rev 21:8). Hell is also the abode of Satan and his demons, who were cast out of heaven after their revolt against God (cf. Job 4:18; Lk 10:18; 2 Pet 2:4; Rev 12:7-9).

This place or state of existence is given many names. It is called “a burning place” (Isa 30:33), “the devouring fire” with “everlasting burnings” (Isa 33:14), “the unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43; cf. Mt 3:12; Mk 9:48), “the furnace of fire” (Mt 13:42, 50), “the eternal fire” (Mt 18:8; 25:41; cf. Jude 1:7), “the hell of fire” (Mt 18:9), and the lake of fire and brimstone (cf. Rev 19:20; 20:10, 15; 21:8).

It is also called “the outer darkness” (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30) and “the nether gloom” (cf. 2 Pet 2:4, 17; Jude 1:6, 13). It is a “bottomless pit” (Rev 9:1-2; 11:7) of “eternal punishment” (Mt 25:46), destruction (cf. Mt 7:13; 10:28; 2 Thes 1:9; Jude 1:10), torment and anguish (cf. Lk 16:23-25, 28) where the worm does not die (cf. Mk 9:48) and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 25:30). Since hell cannot be a place of both fire (which produces light) and darkness (the absence of light) these descriptions are probably metaphorical. But they do communicate unquestionably that hell is a place of tremendous pain.

Of course, the greatest pain will come not from the fire or the darkness or the gnashing of teeth but from the reality that the soul is eternally devoid of the Lord. In hell God’s presence is lost forever. As Paul writes, “They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thes 1:9). How hopeless is life without God!

Conclusion

With this quick survey of the last things in Scripture, an important theme comes to the fore: The “day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31; cf. Ezek 13:5; Isa 2:12; Lk 17:30; 1 Thes 5:2; Philem 1:6) is harrowing or hopeful depending on the state of one’s relationship with Him when He comes. Sinners will prefer death by an avalanche of mountains and rocks over the wrath of God (cf. Rev 6:15-17), whereas the saints will be granted access to the Tree of Life once closed to man (cf. Rev 22:14) and to “the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17). “Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt 24:44).

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Comprehensive and Biblical Defense of Praying to the Saints


I have written about and defended the practice of praying to the saints many times in the past. What I am attempting to do here is take all of that information, all of those many arguments and Scripture passages, and bring them together into one comprehensive defense of the practice of praying to the saints. This is the one-stop shop, so to speak.

While being comprehensive, I have also attempted to restrict myself to around 2,000 words so that this post does not become to unwieldy. Of course, I have also tried to soak this tract in as much Scripture as possible. I hope you find this helpful.

Introduction

To non-Catholic Christians, there aren’t very many religious practices as peculiar as praying to the saints. “Shouldn’t we only be praying to God?” “What could a dead person possibly do for us?” Even though, from the earliest days of the Church, Christians have been praying to the virtuous men and women who have gone before us, it is still important for us to consider why this is a worthwhile practice and to see if it can be validated by the Bible. After all, it doesn’t matter how many people pray to the saints or how long they’ve been doing it if God Himself does not approve!

Well then, let’s break open the Word and see if it confirms or denies the practice of praying to the saints.

The Saints: Alive in Christ

At the core of the practice of praying to the saints is the belief that the saints are alive in Christ and full members of the community of believers, the Mystical Body of Christ. As St. Paul proclaims:
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
When you live a life of grace and virtue, if you “put to death the deeds of the body” then you will live (Rom 8:13). Yes, every person’s time on this earth must come to an end, but if you die in righteousness than you will live forever with God in heaven. The fact that the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob – prophets who died a long, long time ago – can still be declared by Jesus to be the God of the living (cf. Mt 22:32) is proof enough that the saints are very much alive. At any rate, how could Samuel appear to Saul (cf. 1 Sam 28:7-20), or Jeremiah appear to the Jews preparing for battle (cf. 2 Macc 15:12-16), or Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration to talk with Jesus (cf. Mt 17:1-3) if the souls of the just do not live on after death? In Christ, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54).

Not only does their union with Christ ensure their eternal life, it also maintains their membership in the Body of Christ. God’s “plan for the fullness of time” – which has already been realized in the lives of the saints – is “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10). In Christ, we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). By holding fast to the Head the whole Body is joined and nourished and knit together (cf. Eph 2:20-21; 4:15-16; Col 2:18-19).

Members of the Body Intercede for One Another

To “intercede” for someone is to take that person’s need or petition to God. When you ask a friend to pray for you, you are asking for your friend’s intercession. Christians ask people to pray for them all the time, and they do it because they believe that prayer is powerful. The more people who are praying for you, the better!

This sort of intercession is a common practice in Scripture. For example, Moses often prayed on behalf of the people, that God would refrain from inflicting His just anger upon them (cf. Exo 32:11-14, 30-34; 34:9; Num 14:17-20; 21:7-9). Paul constantly implored the various churches to pray for him, his ministry, and those who were with him proclaiming the gospel (cf. Rom 15:30; Eph 6:19; Col 4:3-4; 1 Thes 5:25; 2 Thes 3:1; Heb 13:18). The instances are even more numerous of Paul and the other Apostles and members of the Body of Christ praying for each other (cf. Acts 8:15; 9:40; 28:8; 2 Cor 9:14; 13:9; Phil 1:9, 19; Col 1:3, 9; 2 Thes 1:11; Pmn 1:22; 3 Jn 1:2).

This essential bond of love and unity that compels us to seek the prayer of others and to pray for one another really typifies what membership in the Body of Christ is all about. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1; cf. Mt 5:44; Eph 6:18; Jas 5:16). Since, as we have seen, the saints in heaven are alive and members of the Body, they must also be seen as participating in this worthwhile act of intercession.

The Saints: Committed to Us and Our Needs

What we find in Scripture is that the saints in heaven do in fact play their part. Far from being disinterested in human affairs now that they have achieved perfect unity with God, the saints show themselves to be keenly involved in and aware of what happens to the Body of Christ on earth.

Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10). Something about beholding the “Beatific Vision” (the vision of God in all His glory) makes the angels aware of the mistreatment of God’s children. Jesus also told us that there is joy among the angels in heaven over even one sinner who repents (cf. Lk 15:7, 10). We are “a spectacle” to them (1 Cor 4:9). The virtuous men and women who have gone before us make up “a great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us as we run with perseverance the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1).

The Saints: First Responders

Not only are the saints aware of us and our needs, the love that fills their hearts also compels them to do something about it! In the Book of Job, we see an angel asking the Lord to deliver man from death and return him to his youthful vigor (cf. 33:23-26). The Lord Himself told Jeremiah about how Moses and Samuel (who were long since dead) pleaded with Him on behalf of the people (cf. Jer 15:1). Zechariah spoke of an angel who lamented to the Lord that He had yet to show mercy to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (cf. Zech 1:12). The martyrs in heaven cry out to God to judge and seek vengeance upon those who take the lives of God’s faithful people (cf. Rev 6:9-11). In heaven, the angels and saints offer our prayers to God like incense (cf. Rev 5:8; 8:3-4).

What all of this proves is that it is in fact possible for a person to communicate his needs to the saints, and for the saints to intercede for us, to take those needs to God. When you tell a fellow Christian about a need that you have and you ask them to take that need to God, this is essentially no different than what Catholics do when we pray to the saints. The saints too are our fellow Christians, and as you can see, they care greatly about our needs.

Cry Out to the Heavens

You might still be wondering: If all of this is true – if you really can pray to the saints – how come we don’t see anyone doing this in the Bible? The example of David is illustrative here.

In the Book of Psalms, we read that David cried out in prayer, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word!” (103:20). And again: "Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will!" (103:21). And again: “Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!” (148:2). David was a man after God's own heart, yet he wasn't afraid to cry out to the hosts of heaven. If David can implore the angels and saints, than so can you.

The Prayers of the Righteous Are Powerful

James tells us in his letter, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (5:16). Or, to put it another way, “the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Pet 3:12). No one is more righteous than a saint in heaven! We must also consider that the saints come from almost every walk of life you can imagine. They took up every occupation, spoke every language, lived out every vocation, and hailed from every nation. They know what it’s like to be us and to have the needs that are unique to our situation in life.

And so, because they are perfectly righteous and they understand the difficulties of this world for every man, the saints can pray perfect prayers on our behalf. Who wouldn't want that! Once all the evidence is considered, the question at hand seems to be not so much “Should you pray to the saints?” but instead, “How could you not?”

Could This Be Idol Worship?

Even still you may have some lingering doubts. It can be difficult to get used to praying to anyone other than God. It might even feel like idolatry to do such a thing. But, keep in mind: a Catholic's intentions when he prays to God are different from his intentions when he prays to the saints.

Praying to the saints is not idolatry for the simple fact that Catholics do not worship the saints, nor do we intend our prayers to them to be an act of worship. When we pray to God, it is an act of worship because to pray to God is to acknowledge that He is the Creator of all things, we are his humble creatures, and we depend on Him for all things.

However, when we pray to the saints, it is simply to invoke their intercession. We want to communicate our needs to the saints because, as we've already seen, we know that they understand the unique fears and anxieties that we face and we know that they can make a perfect entreaty to the Lord for us. No faithful Catholic would ever turn the saints into gods, or try to derive secret or hidden knowledge from them, or really enter into any type of false worship of the saints. Catholics consider themselves bound by Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching of the Church to worship God and Him alone.

Isn’t Jesus the One Mediator?

You may be also wondering how praying to the saints would square with Paul's reminder that Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tim 2:5-6). The key here is to understand what Paul means by "mediator."

First, here is the passage in question:
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.
Now, a mediator is someone who works between two estranged parties to bring them to agreement. Paul basically tells us in vs. 6 that this is what he has in mind when he refers to Jesus as the one who “gave himself as a ransom for all.” God and mankind are the two estranged parties, and Jesus brought them together again by “paying the ransom,” by dying for us.

The saints don’t compete with this one mediator because in no way do they attempt to do what He did. The saints don’t pay the price for all man’s sin. Jesus Christ is the one who “tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14), not the saints.

Praying to the Saints Gives Glory to God

This discussion of what Jesus has done for us brings us to a final point: Ultimately, praying to the saints is all about Jesus. He is the one who granted them victory over death. He is the Head that unites all the members of the Body together. He is the one who hears the prayers of the saints – both those on earth and in heaven – and answers them faithfully. He is the reason why we have any hope of being where the saints are: alive with God forever.

And so, we Catholics say: Give glory to God! Pray to the saints!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Monday, February 11, 2013

In the Wake of the Pope's Resignation, Some Tools to Help You Defend the Papacy

Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he will be resigning from the ministry of the Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter (see the Declaratio). On Feb. 28, the See of Rome, the See of Peter, will be vacant and a conclave will have to be convoked to elect the next Pope of the Catholic Church.

The media firestorm has already begun. Liberals are already hoping that the next pope will finally allow contraception and women priests. Protestants are wondering why the Church needs a pope at all. The papal office is under fire and needs to be defended. I'm up to the task ... are you?

If you are in need of some resources, here are the blog posts I have written over the years in defense of the authority of the Pope:

If anyone has any questions, just let me know.

VIVA IL PAPA!

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic
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