Friday, May 01, 2015

St. Joseph the Worker

May 1st is the optional memorial of St. Joseph the Worker. It is interesting that the "most chaste spouse" of Mary is distinguished from the many other "St. Joseph's" by his reputation as a worker. He is the symbol of the "hard-working man," the man who does his job well and with diligence because he hopes to serve the Lord and to support his family with it. Pope Pius XII created this feast day for the very purpose of emphasizing this noble purpose of work and to place all who labor under the patronage of St. Joseph.

For more on St. Joseph and this feast day, see the Catholic Culture Liturgical Calendar for May 1st, or see my previous post, In the Hands of St. Joseph, which is an extensive compilation of articles on this wonderful husband, father, and saint.

Also, check out the following video. It's a homily by Fr. Liam Cary, Pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Medord, OR:

St. Joseph: Devoted Father, Man of Pure Faith


St. Joseph the Worker and Mary's Most Chaste Spouse ... ora pro nobis.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Catholic Q&A: Part 38

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.

What is the difference between the 6th and 9th commandments?

In Old Testament times, it was easier to see the distinction between the two commandments. The sixth commandment ("Thou shall not commit adultery") condemned the specific act of having sex with a married person, whereas the ninth commandment ("Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's wife") condemned covetousness, the desire to have what someone else possessed. This is evident in the fact that a man's wife was listed with his house, servants, and animals as things that a person should not covet.

But, once Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount, where He explained that one commits adultery even by looking lustfully at a woman, then the line was blurred between the two commandments. In the Catechism, the article on the sixth commandment addresses human sexuality, chastity, spousal love, and sins against chastity and the dignity of marriage. The article on the ninth commandment addresses covetousness, concupiscence, purity of heart, and modesty.

Would the priest be in the wrong if he said a warning to the congregation about receiving the Eucharist unworthily and telling non catholics they cant receive before the distribution?

No, but I also think that, with the typical Sunday Mass, it is not necessary. But, at Masses where it is likely that there are a number of Protestants in attendance, such as a wedding Mass or a funeral Mass, I personally think such warnings should be made as a matter of course.

The men of the old testament had circumcision, was there anything the women had to do as a mark of the covenant?

Not that I'm aware of. My educated guess is that women were considered part of the covenant people as long as they were married to or the daughter of a circumcised male.

I know a person who's step son and his step sons wife are not practicing catholics. They did not have either of their children baptized so this guy was babysitting the kids one night and baptized them in the bathtub without the parents knowledge. Would this baptism stand?

No, it would not. A lay person is only permitted to baptize in the case of an emergency, such as when the child is near death or if the child was from a village or some remote area where there were no priests or deacons available. It would also be invalid because a baptism cannot be performed without a well-founded hope that the child will be raised in the Catholic faith. As you said, the parents aren't Catholic, so that hope is not present unless someone presents himself and says that he/she will bear that responsibility.

I listened to a Fulton Sheen cd a while back and i remember him saying that a husband or a wife can save their spouse through their own prayer and sacrifice. For some reason I'm having trouble finding that in the Bible. Can you help me out?

You are probably referring to 1 Cor 7:14-16:
"For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?"

Uzzah laid hands on the arc of the covenant and was struck down. Why?

Because the Ark of the Covenant was so holy that no one was allowed to touch it. That's why it was constructed with rings along the edge, so they could run a pole through the rings and carry it that way.

How was David a man of Gods own heart yet he committed adultery an murder. How can he retain that title?

David was a man after God's heart, that doesn't mean he was perfect. He sinned grievously, but he also admitted his sin to the Lord and did penance for it. In the accounts of the life of David and in the psalms that he wrote, we see that David was a great man of faith who loved God's law and never ceased to praise Him.

How can Ezekiel and Jesus both have the title of Son of Man?

"Son of man" is a phrase that simply means that someone is a human being. It is repeated so often in Ezekiel in order to show that, even though the prophet was God's spokesman, he was still an ordinary man. He is a human being just like his fellow men. It also shows the great disparity between him and God. God is the Almighty, Ezekiel is the creature, the son of man.

In reference to Jesus, the title reinforces the fact that while Jesus is fully divine, He is also fully human. Jesus probably also used this title for Himself in order to indicate that He was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel, who said, "I saw in the night visions,and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." (Dan 7:13-14)

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Resources for Ash Wednesday and Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. So as to enrich your mind and answer any questions you may have about this season, I have constructed the following Q&A, as well as a list of resources with which you can learn more.

I will be updating this post often as I find more articles to add. If anyone has any questions, just let me know.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q #1: What is Ash Wednesday?
A: From the Pocket Catholic Dictionary, we read:
  • ASH WEDNESDAY. The first day of Lent. Named from the custom of signing the foreheads of the faithful with blessed ashes. Its date depends on the date of Easter. In the early Church, public penitents were liturgically admitted to begin their penance on this day. And when this fell into disuse, from the eighth to the tenth centuries, the general penance of the whole community took place. This was symbolized by the imposition of ashes on the heads of the clergy and laity alike.

Q #2: Why put ashes on your forehead?
A: From the EWTN liturgical calendar, we read:
  • The liturgical use of ashes originated in the Old Testament times. Ashes symbolized mourning, mortality and penance. In the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Esther 4:1). Job repented in sackcloth and ashes (Job 42:6). Prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Daniel wrote, "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes" (Daniel 9:3). Jesus made reference to ashes, "If the miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they would have reformed in sackcloth and ashes long ago" (Matthew 11:21).

    In the Middle Ages, the priest would bless the dying person with holy water, saying, "Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return." The Church adapted the use of ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when we remember our mortality and mourn for our sins. In our present liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we use ashes made from the burned palm branches distributed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. The priest blesses the ashes and imposes them on the foreheads of the faithful, making the sign of the cross and saying, "Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return," or "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

    As we begin this holy season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we must remember the significance of the ashes we have received: We mourn and do penance for our sins. We again convert our hearts to the Lord, who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. We renew the promises made at our baptism, when we died to an old life and rose to a new life with Christ. Finally, mindful that the kingdom of this world passes away, we strive to live the kingdom of God now and look forward to its fulfillment in heaven.

Q #3: When we put a cross of ashes on our head, aren't we disobeying the words of Christ when he said, "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven"?
A: These words of Christ come from His advice on fasting, prayer, and almsgiving (the three duties of Lent) in Mt 6:1-18. His main point is that these forms of piety should not be done so as to receive glory from men. The purpose, instead, is to give glory to God and to grow closer to Him.

It is true that when we put ashes on our head, we will definitely "be seen by men." But, that is not why we do it. We do it because it is a reminder to us and to the world that we come from dust, and to dust we shall return (cf. Gen 3:19). We should always keep the fact of our mortality and our contingency at the forefront of our mind. We live holier lives when we inform all of our decisions by the simple truth that we all must die. The cross itself is a symbol of the death of Jesus Christ and of our own necessity to die to self so that we may rise with Him to new life. As the answer to Q #4 has already stated, we also put ashes on our forehead because ashes are a symbol of mourning and penance.

Basically, we do not do our deeds to be seen by men, like the scribes and Pharisees did (cf. Mt 23:1-7). Our boast is not in ourselves, but in the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 1:31).


Q #4: Why is there no holy water on Ash Wednesday (or throughout Lent)?
A: While many parishes are known to remove holy water during Lent, this is in fact not allowed. From the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith we have the following correspondance:
  • Prot. N. 569/00/L
    March 14, 2000

    Dear Father:

    This Congregation for Divine Worship has received your letter sent by fax in which you ask whether it is in accord with liturgical law to remove the Holy Water from the fonts for the duration of the season of Lent.

    This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:

    1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.
    2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the [sic] of her sacraments and sacramentals is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The "fast" and "abstinence" which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).

    Hoping that this resolves the question and with every good wish and kind regard, I am,

    Sincerely yours in Christ,
    [signed]
    Mons. Mario Marini
    Undersecretary


Question #5: What is Lent?
Answer: From the Pocket Catholic Dictionary, we read:
  • LENT. The season of prayer and penance before Easter. Its purpose is to better prepare the faithful for the feast of the Resurrection, and dispose them for a more fruitful reception of the graces that Christ merited by his passion and death.

    In the Latin Rite, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for forty days, besides Sundays, until Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday occurs on any day from February 4 to March 11, depending on the date of Easter.

    Originally the period of fasting in preparation for Easter did not, as a rule, exceed two or three days. But by the time of the Council of Nicaea (325) forty days were already customary. And ever since, this length of time has been associated with Christ's forty-day fast in the desert before beginning his public life.

    According to the prescription of Pope Paul VI, in revising the Church's laws of fast and abstinence, "The time of Lent preserves its penitential character. The days of penitence to be observed under obligation throughout the Church are all Fridays and Ash Wednesday, that is to say the first days of Great Lent, according to the diversity of rites. Their substantial observance binds gravely" (Paenitemini, III, norm II).

    Besides fast and abstinence on specified days, the whole Lenten season is to be penitential, with stress on prayer, reception of the sacraments, almsgiving, and the practice of charity. (Etym. Anglo-Saxon lengten, lencten, spring, Lent.)

Q #6: Where did we get the word "Lent"?
A: From the Online Etymology Dictionary, we read:
  • Lent: short for Lenten, from Old English lencten "spring," the season, from West Germanic *langa-tinaz (cf. Old Saxon lentin, Middle Dutch lenten, Old High German lengizin manoth), from *lanngaz (root of Old English lang "long") + *tina-, a root meaning "day" (cf. Gothic sin-teins "daily"), cognate with Old Church Slavonic dini, Lithuanian diena, Classical Latin dies "day." The compound probably refers to the increasing daylight. Church sense of "period between Ash Wednesday and Easter" is peculiar to English.

Q#7: Why is Lent 40 days?
A: Lent is 40 weekdays because in Scripture we see that a time of 40 typically precludes a new birth or renewal of some kind. Noah was in the ark 40 days before life could begin again on earth. Moses was on Mt. Sinai 40 days before he brought the people the 10 Commandments. The Israelites wondered in the desert 40 years before entering the Promised Land. And, of course, Jesus fasted in the desert 40 days before beginning His ministry. So, following in their footsteps, we spend 40 days in preparation for the resurrection and the life that Easter brings.

Q#8:
Why do Catholics "give something up" for Lent? Is this something I'm required to do?

Beyond fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence on every Friday during Lent, Catholics will often choose something to give up, or refrain from doing. While not strictly required, this is a good way to embrace the penitential character of the season.

Some people take this opportunity to overcome bad habits, like biting your nails, or smoking, or cursing. Others will give up something they enjoy (like ice cream, or television, or Facebook) in order to have a small sacrifice to offer to the Lord. Whatever you do during Lent to unite yourself to the “Suffering Servant” is a good and laudable thing. One should also keep in mind that Lent is just as much about taking on positive actions (like prayer, alms giving, works of mercy, etc.) then it is about the negative actions of avoiding things.

Q #9: What does it mean to "fast"?
A: From the Online Etymology Dictionary, we read:
  • fast (v.): Old English fæstan "to fast" (as a religious duty), from Proto-Germanic *fastejan (cf. Old Frisian festia, Old High German fasten, Old Norse fasta), from the same root as fast (adj.). The original meaning was "hold firmly," and the sense evolution is via "firm control of oneself," to "holding to observance" (cf. Gothic fastan "to keep, observe," also "to fast"). Presumably the whole group is a Germanic translation of Medieval Latin observare "to fast."
From Colin B. Donovan, STL, we read:
  • Fasting. The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance.

Q #10: What does it mean to "abstain"?
A: From Colin B. Donovan, STL, we read:
  • The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Moral theologians have traditionally considered this also to forbid soups or gravies made from them. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal derived products such as margarine and gelatin which do not have any meat taste.

    On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. bishops conference obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. Since this was not stated as binding under pain of sin, not to do so on a single occasion would not in itself be sinful. However, since penance is a divine command, the general refusal to do penance is certainly gravely sinful. For most people the easiest way to consistently fulfill this command is the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year which are not liturgical solemnities. When solemnities, such as the Annunciation, Assumption, All Saints etc. fall on a Friday, we neither abstain or fast.

    During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere, and it is sinful not to observe this discipline without a serious reason (physical labor, pregnancy, sickness etc.).

For more on fasting and abstinence, see Life in the "Fast" Lane.


RESOURCES

Ash Wednesday:

Lent:

Stations of the Cross (a popular devotion during Lent):

My Blog Posts

Some of these posts were not originally written for the season of Lent, but they still pertain to the spirit and themes of the season and what we struggle with as we prepare for the Resurrection of the Lord.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

For the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor

[The following list is far from comprehensive]

About Him and His Works:
Works by St. Thomas Aquinas
For more works by St. Thomas Aquinas, see Thomas Aquinas' Works in English and Bibliography

I leave you with Fr. Barron's words on this towering figure of Catholic philosophy and theology:



St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor and the Church's greatest theologian ... pray for us.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

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,
phatcatholic

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,
phatcatholic

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 (Lemaître). 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,
phatcatholic

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.

Why?

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,
phatcatholic

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.

Conclusion

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,
phatcatholic
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