Monday, January 18, 2016

On Martin Luther King Day: Black Catholics in the Church

Since today is Martin Luther King Day, I thought it might be worthwhile to point out the diversity that exists among the saints of the Catholic Church. Most of the time I think when a person hears the words "Catholic saint" the image of a white European guy comes to mind. But, Africans and African-Americans have also made a significant contribution to the life of the Church. This statement seems so obvious to me that it feels trite to even point it out. But, in the US there is a stereotype that Catholicism is only "for white people", and I want to put that to rest.

According to the National Black Catholic Congress, "270 million Catholics of African descent represent almost 25% of the one billion Roman Catholics throughout the world in more than 59 countries" (source). Almost 3 million of these live in the United States (source).

There are also many African and African-American saints. Here are just a few:

You may be surprised to find that at least three popes were of African descent:

For a list of current and deceased African-American and Black bishops, go here. Wikipedia's List of African-American Firsts is a great tribute as well. For more on Blacks in the Catholic Church, see The National Black Catholic Congress and the USCCB Subcommittee on African American Affairs.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

In commemoration of today's Solemnity, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves: Why did Jesus consent to be baptized? I would like to offer three possible explanations.

First of all, he did it as an example for us.

Jesus’ entire life is an example for us of how to be human and how to follow God. His will was that people would repent of their sin and be baptized by John as a sign of their commitment to follow God. As a result, Jesus decided to be baptized, to show us how important it is to convert our hearts and make a public act of faith.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, gives us another reason. He says that Jesus’ baptism anticipates what He did for all mankind on the cross:
  • The act of descending into the waters of this Baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. In a world marked by sin, then, this Yes to the entire will of God also expresses solidarity with men, who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness. The significance of this event could not fully emerge until it was seen in light of the Cross and Resurrection. Descending into the water, the candidates for Baptism confess their sin and seek to be rid of their burden of guilt. What did Jesus do in the same situation? Luke, who throughout his Gospel is keenly attentive to Jesus' prayer, and portrays him again and again at prayer -- in conversation with the Father -- tells us that Jesus was praying while he received Baptism (cf. Lk 3:21). Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind's guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, "Take me and throw me into the sea" (Jon 1:12). The whole significance of Jesus' Baptism, the fact that he bears, "all righteousness," first comes to light on the Cross: The Baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out "This is my beloved Son" over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word baptism to refer to his death (cf. Mk 10:38; Lk 12:50). (p. 17-18)

By descending into the waters of the Jordan, Jesus takes the place of all sinners, who were being called by John to do what Jesus was doing. He does the same thing on the Cross, where He pays the price for all man’s sin.

His going under the water is symbolic of burial and the destruction of sin that will take place on the cross. We see this purpose for water in the flood of Noah’s day, which buried and destroyed all the sin in the world.

His rising out of the water is symbolic of His resurrection. The dove that rests above Him and the voice that cries out from the heavens point to the glory that will be His once His work is finished.

St. Thomas Aquinas gives us yet a third reason. He says that the baptism of the Lord points to our Christian sacrament of baptism. The baptism of St. John the Baptist was merely symbolic. It was a way to publicly profess one’s commitment to conversion and repentance. It did not actually forgive sin or make one a member of the family of God like our sacrament of baptism does. But, when Jesus received the baptism of John, He “consecrated it” so to speak, just as His presence at the wedding feast of Cana is seen as God’s blessing over matrimony.

In other words, when the baptism of John is imbued with the presence of Christ, it becomes what we celebrate today, and in the baptism of Jesus we see glimpses of our sacrament. The water signifies the cleansing that takes place. The descent of the dove signifies the reception of grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The divine voice -- which cries out, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” -- signifies our adoption as beloved sons (or daughters) of God.

For more on the sacrament of baptism, see my previous blog posts:

Happy Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, which concludes the Christmas season.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Sunday, January 03, 2016

For the Optional Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus

"Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
-- Phil 2:9-11

The month of January is traditionally dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. The Liturgical Calendar at Catholic Culture has some helpful information on today's feast day:
Today the Church celebrates the optional memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. According to the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite this feast is celebrated on January 2. In the liturgical revisions of Vatican II, the feast was removed, though a votive Mass to the Holy Name of Jesus had been retained for devotional use. With the release of the revised Roman Missal in March 2002, the feast was restored as an optional memorial in the Ordinary Form on January 3.

The Church reveals to us the wonders of the Incarnate Word by singing the glories of His name. The name of Jesus means Savior; it had been shown in a dream to Joseph together with its meaning and to Our Lady at the annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel.

Devotion to the Holy Name is deeply rooted in the Sacred Scriptures, especially in the Acts of the Apostles. It was promoted in a special manner by St. Bernard, St. Bernardine of Siena, St. John Capistrano and by the Franciscan Order. It was extended to the whole Church in 1727 during the pontificate of Innocent XIII. The month of January has traditionally been dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus.

According to the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus which is kept on the First Sunday in the year; but if this Sunday falls on January 1, 6, or 7, the feast is kept on January 2.

The New Advent Encyclopedia tells us:
  • The Name of Jesus invoked with confidence
    • brings help in bodily needs, according to the promise of Christ: "In my name They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover". (Mark 16:17-18) In the Name of Jesus the Apostles gave strength to the lame (Acts 3:6; 9:34) and life to the dead (Acts 9:40).
    • It gives consolation in spiritual trials. The Name of Jesus reminds the sinner of the prodigal son's father and of the Good Samaritan; it recalls to the just the suffering and death of the innocent Lamb of God.
    • It protects us against Satan and his wiles, for the Devil fears the Name of Jesus, who has conquered him on the Cross.
    • In the Name of Jesus we obtain every blessing and grace for time and eternity, for Christ has said: "If you ask the Father anything in my name he will give it you." (John 16:23) Therefore the Church concludes all her prayers by the words: "Through Our Lord Jesus Christ", etc.
    So the word of St. Paul is fulfilled: "That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth" (Phil., ii, 10).

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read:
  • 2666 But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in his incarnation: JESUS. The divine name may not be spoken by human lips, but by assuming our humanity The Word of God hands it over to us and we can invoke it: "Jesus," "YHWH saves" (cf. Ex 3:14; 33:19-23; Mt 1:21). The name "Jesus" contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray "Jesus" is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him (Rom 10:13; Acts 2:21; 3:15-16; Gal 2:20).

For more on the Holy Name, see the following articles:

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

For the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

An "epiphany" is a sudden manifestation or revelation of something. When we speak of the "Epiphany of the Lord" we mean the moments when the Son of God was revealed to mankind.

On this day, our thoughts are naturally drawn to the revelation of the Christ Child to the Three Wise Men. What a sight it must have been! Jesus was surely a child of indescribable beauty and splendor. Note that, by being born of Mary and of the line of David, he comes to the Jews. In his appearing to the Magi, he comes to the Gentiles. And thus, he is revealed to the whole world.

But, two other events in the life of Christ are commemorated on this day as well: the baptism of Jesus and the wedding at Cana. These events, just as much as the visitation of the Magi, are epiphanies of the Lord.

When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, a dove (symbol of the Holy Spirit) rested upon Him and a voice cried out from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Even before the baptism, John cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Set your eyes upon Him! Jesus is the anointed Son of God and Savior of the world.

The wedding at Cana is the context for another epiphany in that it is here where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. The gospel writer says of this miracle: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11). His glory was manifested on that day, a true epiphany.

Yet, is He not also revealed to us in the Mass? Does not the priest, after the consecration of the Eucharist, repeat the very same words as John the Baptist? “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world! Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!” I suggest to you that this moment too is an epiphany. Just as the divinity of the Lord was in a way veiled by his humanity, so too our Eucharistic Lord is veiled, hiding behind the species of bread and wine.

Yet, we know by faith that He is there, just as the Magi knew that this little child, born in a manger, was the long-awaited Messiah, just as John the Baptist knew as soon as he set eyes on Jesus that He was the Lamb of God who’s Precious Blood would wash away our sins -- and more important still -- just as Mary knew that she could ask anything of this Man and it would be done.

For more on the Epiphany of the Lord, see the following articles, as well as a hymn that we sung today at Mass:

What Child Is This?
Set to John Stainer's arrangement of the traditional tune "Greensleeves". Sung by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, 1995.



Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Eucharist and the Thanksgiving Holiday

As the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaches and you are busily cooking food, preparing your home for family and friends, and outlining your plan of attack for the Black Friday craziness, I suggest another, more sublime occupation: receiving the Eucharist.

Now, you may be asking yourself, "What does the Eucharist have to do with Thanksgiving?" Well, the word "eucharist" come from the Greek word that means, "thanksgiving." In Jn 6:11, before Christ multiplied the loaves and the fishes (an act that prefigures the Eucharistic feast), He "gave thanks" (eucharisteo). At the Last Supper, when He instituted the Eucharist, He "gave thanks" (eucharisteo) before He turned the bread and wine into His own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity (cf. Mt 26:27; Mk 14:23; Lk 22:17,19).

We use this word to refer to the Body of Christ that we receive in Holy Communion because it is in every way a moment of thanksgiving: It is Jesus thanking the Father:
  • for those of us who the Father has given Him to be united to Him through reception of the Eucharist, and
  • for the opportunity to perform the miracle that brings Him glory.

It is with a spirit of thanksgiving for all that God has given us that we offer the bread and wine that will become the Eucharist. Of course, we can't help but also thank Him for coming to dwell within us in such a profound way. That our Lord and Savior would come to be in our presence, veiled by bread and wine, and abide in us in a substantial way is a gift unlike any other. And so, on Thanksgiving, when we are to call to mind all that we are thankful for, we should not forget that which is the very meaning of "thanksgiving."

The Catechism is clear on the connection between the Eucharist and the virtue of thanksgiving:
1350 The presentation of the offerings (the Offertory). Then, sometimes in procession, the bread and wine are brought to the altar; they will be offered by the priest in the name of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice in which they will become his body and blood. It is the very action of Christ at the Last Supper - "taking the bread and a cup." "The Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, when she offers what comes forth from his creation with thanksgiving" (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4,18,4; cf. Mal 1:11). The presentation of the offerings at the altar takes up the gesture of Melchizedek and commits the Creator's gifts into the hands of Christ who, in his sacrifice, brings to perfection all human attempts to offer sacrifices.

1358 We must therefore consider the Eucharist as:

- thanksgiving and praise to the Father;
- the sacrificial memorial of Christ and his Body;
- the presence of Christ by the power of his word and of his Spirit.

Thanksgiving and praise to the Father

1359 The Eucharist, the sacrament of our salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross, is also a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity.

1360 The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all "thanksgiving."

1361 The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of praise by which the Church sings the glory of God in the name of all creation. This sacrifice of praise is possible only through Christ: he unites the faithful to his person, to his praise, and to his intercession, so that the sacrifice of praise to the Father is offered through Christ and with him, to be accepted in him.

To summarize, again from the Catechism:
1407 The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church's life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church.

1408 The Eucharistic celebration always includes: the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord's body and blood. These elements constitute one single act of worship.

I realize that the secular holiday has Protestant roots (at least by the popular reckoning), but there's no reason why Catholics can't use this day to call to mind what they are the most thankful for: our Eucharistic Lord.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Is the Catholic Understanding of the Gospel?

Or, to put it another way: What is the message of the gospel? What is its content? What exactly are we supposed to be preaching to people?

This is a very important question! After all, how can we “preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15) or “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15) if we don’t know what it is? “It is the power of God for salvation” ... yet many of us are entirely ignorant of it! I think it’s time we change that.

The best way to answer this question is to consult Scripture and the documents of the Church, particularly the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Let's begin with the Bible. As Jimmy Akin points out in his very helpful article on this topic, there are 93 references to the “gospel” in the New Testament, but most of these assume that the reader already knows what the gospel is and so they aren’t very helpful for determining the content of the gospel.

However, 15 of these passages say that the gospel is of something in a manner that indicates the content of it (instead of indicating the source of the gospel or the effects of the gospel). The gospel is a message that concerns Jesus Christ (cf. Mk 1:1; Rom 1:9; 15:19; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; 4:4; 9:13; 10:14; Gal 1:7; Phil 1:27; 1 Thes 3:2; 2 Thes 1:8) and His Kingdom (cf. Mt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). The context of these passages will typically flesh this out even more, especially the opening passages to Paul's letter to the Romans and the 15th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians:
Rom 1:1-4 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

1 Cor 15:1-4 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. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures

We see in Scripture that the notion of “salvation” is also closely linked with the gospel. Forms of the words “save” and “salvation” appear 129 times in the New Testament and hundreds of times in the Old Testament. Also, if we consider the immediate context of the “gospel” passages, these save/salvation words appear much more frequently than other terms that refer to Jesus’ work, such as “justification”, "sanctification", or “redemption”.

In other words, the way the New Testament speaks of the gospel, Christ is its central content and salvation is what he came to bring. A document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, brings all of this data together in what I think is one of the best articulations of the content of the gospel:

Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also He sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This He did that, by preaching the gospel to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15), they might proclaim that the Son of God, by His death and resurrection, had freed us from the power of Satan (cf. Acts 26:18) and from death, and brought us into the kingdom of His Father. His purpose also was that they might accomplish the work of salvation which they had proclaimed, by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves. (no. 6)

I would say, "saved us" instead of "freed us" here, in order to emphasize the notion of salvation as central to the gospel message. Otherwise, this is an excellent proclamation of the gospel. It identifies who Jesus is ("the Son of God"); it includes what He's done for us ("freed us from the power of Satan and from death") and how He did it ("by His death and resurrection"); and it even mentions the Kingdom ("and brought us into the kingdom of His Father").

If you look up the words “gospel” and “Good News” in the Catechism, then you find affirmation of what we have discovered thus far. For example:
333 Again, it is the angels who "evangelize" by proclaiming the Good News of Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection (cf. Lk 2:8-14; Mk 16:5-7).

389 The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the "reverse side" of the Good News that Jesus is the Savior of all men, that all need salvation and that salvation is offered to all through Him

422 "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal 4:4-5). This is "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mk 1:1): God has visited his people. He has fulfilled the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants. He acted far beyond all expectation - he has sent his own "beloved Son" (Mk 1:11; cf. Lk 1:5,68).

571 The Paschal mystery of Christ's cross and Resurrection stands at the center of the Good News that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world. God's saving plan was accomplished "once for all" (Heb 9:26) by the redemptive death of his Son Jesus Christ.

638 "We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this day he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus" (Acts 13:32-33). The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross:
"Christ is risen from the dead!
Dying, he conquered death;
To the dead, he has given life." (Byzantine Liturgy, Troparion of Easter)

763 It was the Son's task to accomplish the Father's plan of salvation in the fullness of time. Its accomplishment was the reason for his being sent (cf. Lumen Gentium 3, Ad Gentes 3). "The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures" (LG 5).

1391 "On the feasts of the Lord, when the faithful receive the Body of the Son, they proclaim to one another the Good News that the first fruits of life have been given, as when the angel said to Mary Magdalene, 'Christ is risen!' Now too are life and resurrection conferred on whoever receives Christ" (Fanqith, Syriac Office of Antioch, Vol. I, Commun., 237a-b).

1846 The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God's mercy to sinners (cf. Lk 15). The angel announced to Joseph: "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21).

2763 All the Scriptures - the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms - are fulfilled in Christ (cf. Lk 24:44). The Gospel is this "Good News." Its first proclamation is summarized by St. Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5-7); the prayer to our Father is at the center of this proclamation.

Also, from the Glossary in the back of the Catechism:
GOSPEL: The “good news” of God’s mercy and love revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is this Gospel or good news that the Apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the entire world (571, 1964). The Gospel is handed on in the apostolic tradition of the Church as the source of all–saving truth and moral discipline (75). The four Gospels are the books written by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which have for their central object Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son: his life, teachings, Passion and glorification, and his Church’s beginnings under the Spirit’s guidance (124, 514).

Now that you know what the gospel message is, go out and proclaim it by your words and your life! Memorize it so that it comes from the heart as a conviction, as a truth at the very core of your life. We should be able to proclaim to anyone, and at a moment's notice, the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.

For more information, see the following articles:

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Catholic Q&A: Part 39

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.

My pastor said that during the Easter season we should say the Regina Coeli prayer instead of the usual Angelus. When did that become the required practice?

I wasn't able to discover when it was decided that the Regina Coeli would replace the Angelus during the Easter Season, but I can say that this has been the practice for a long time. The Catholic Encyclopedia from 1910 mentions it, so the practice is at least that old, and I would say probably much older, since both prayers are from the 12th century.

I think the reason for the change makes sense once you consider the words of each prayer. The Angelus is all about the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Regina Coeli, however, is very much about the resurrection of Jesus, which is what we celebrate during the Easter Season. Here is the Regina Coeli:
V. Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
R. For he whom you did merit to bear, alleluia,
V. Has risen as he said, alleluia.
R. Pray for us to God, alleluia,
V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia,
R. For the Lord is truely risen, alleluia.

Let us pray. O God who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, grant, we beseech you, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, his mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

It is also filled with alleluia's, which is the great Easter word of praise. So, the change is very good and fitting.

I am in a debate with someone who thinks that Catholics contradict themselves by saying that Jesus is the foundation of the Church while also believing in the authority of the pope. How should I respond?

This does seem like a contradiction at first. But, Scripture provides the answer.

If there can only be one foundation to the Church, or if the Church is only built on the work of one person, then St. Paul must be entirely confused. After all, in 1 Cor 3:11 he says that the foundation is Christ, but in Eph 2:20 he says that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone). In Rev 21:14, we see that the "New Jerusalem", which is an image of the Church, has twelve foundations, each one representing a different apostle.

So, which one is it? Is the Church built on Christ or is it built on the apostles and prophets? It’s both. The foundation of the Church was first laid back in the Old Testament, with the covenants that God established with man and in the words of the prophets, who spoke of a great gathering of all mankind around the Messiah (cf. Gen 12:2-3; Exo 19:6; Ezek 20:41; Dan 7:14; etc.). When Jesus came, He chose 12 apostles and they worked together to further lay the foundation of the Church and to build upon it.

This is what the pope, as the successor of St. Peter, continues to do today. He works with Jesus -- or, to put it another way, Jesus works through the ministry of the pope -- to ensure the continued stability of the Church. Jesus Himself said that He would build His Church on Peter (cf. Mt 16:18), so it is quite logical that we would consider his successor to be a foundational figure.

He also says that Catholics aren’t Christians because the bible only refers to “Christians”, not to individual denominations.

Well, there is a sense in which he is right. Scripture does not envision the denominationalism that currently exists within Christendom. Christ did not build His Church with the hope that it would one day splinter and divide into thousands of different denominations. He built His Church to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

So, the only way to find His Church among the thousands of competing ecclesial communions is to ask oneself: Which of these has unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity as marks of its very nature? Only one does.

Another way to answer this question is to go back before the splintering began, look at the belief and practice of that Christian community, and see if any church exists today that has maintained continuity of belief and practice with that community. Only one has. It is a historical fact that, before groups began breaking off, to be Christian was to be Catholic.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Quick Explanation of Mary as Mediatrix of All Grace

In this month of Mary and the rosary, I thought it would be fitting to provide a short explanation of the fifth Marian doctrine, which proclaims that Mary is the Mediatrix of All Grace. This is a profound mystery, and difficult to explain simply, but after much thought -- and much practice presenting this teaching in RCIA every year -- I have come upon what I hope is the best way to go about it.

First of all, there is no doubt that this is a doctrine of the Church. As Pope Pius XI exhorted us in his encyclical on the Sacred Heart, "Let [the faithful] pray to Him, interposing likewise the powerful patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, for themselves and for their families, for their country, for the Church" (Caritate Christi Compulsi, no. 31). But, what does this title mean? When we say that Mary is the “Mediatrix of All Grace”, we mean that Mary cooperated and continues to cooperate 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. Jesus alone is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. Yet, He also wishes to give us some participation in it.

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). 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. Essentially, there are three stages or events in her life in which we see her exercise this role.

First, in her fiat: 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. In a very real way, she brought salvation to the world.

Secondly, at the foot of the Cross: Since she was sinless, she was able to stand with Jesus and unite her will and her suffering perfectly with the will and the suffering of her Son. This was undoubtedly rewarded with a tremendous outpouring of grace for 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.

Finally, in heaven: Once Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, she was crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth. She sits at the right hand of the King, as mothers always did in the Davidic Kingdom (cf. 1 Ki 2:19; Psa 45:9), and she intercedes on our behalf. Since “the prayers of the righteous are very powerful in their effects” (Jas 5:16), we can be sure that if anyone turns to Christ or does any good thing, it is because she intensely desired it and prayed for it.

If you would like to learn more about the fifth Marian doctrine, check out Dr. Mark Miravalle’s book Meet Your Mother. It is an excellent read.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Sunday, October 04, 2015

For Respect Life Sunday: The Catholic Church and the Death Penalty

What does the Catholic Church teach about capital punishment and the death penalty?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers this question just as well as I could. See the following paragraphs from its treatment on the Fifth Commandment ("Thou shalt not kill"):
2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party (cf. Lk 23:40-43).

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent" (John Paul II, Evangelium vitae, no. 56).

What this means is that the death penalty is not always wrong. If the only way to protect communities is to take the life of the aggressor, then states have a right to do so.

The debate then centers around the question of when the death penalty is ever actually necessary. More and more it seems that we seek the death penalty out of revenge rather than from a real desire to protect society. The fact that many on death row are innocent also makes the death penalty a tragic and potentially unjust reality. But, it is also true that from time to time a criminal emerges who would remain a threat to the common good even from behind bars.

Since Catholics are allowed to disagree on the appropriate application of the death penalty, we should not demonize each other as we engage in this debate. Instead, we must follow our consciences and Church teaching.

Since today is "Respect Life Sunday", our thoughts and activism is naturally focused on the unborn, and rightly so. But, we might also say a prayer or offer up the Mass today for those who are on death row, for those who have incurred the death penalty, and for those judges and politicians who decide how it is implemented. We desire, as with any moral issue, that the dignity of the human person be always respected.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

Friday, August 28, 2015

Reclaiming Augustine

Protestant apologists, especially of the Reformed/Calvinistic variety, love to claim Augustine as an early Church Father who professed their unique beliefs on grace, predestination, authority, and many other topics. I personally think such an exercise is an ahistorical grasping at straws and a false reading of a very Catholic man.

Since today is St. Augustine's feast day, it is as good a day as any to reclaim Augustine and plant his theology firmly within the mind of the Church. Dave Armstrong has a post on his blog that goes a long way towards achieving that end. On all of the following doctrines, Dave has provided quotes from the works of Augustine that show the Catholicity of his thinking:
  • Apostolic succession
  • Baptism
  • "Catholic" Church
  • Church authority
  • Contraception
  • Deuterocanonical books
  • Eternal security
  • Eucharistic adoration
  • Real Presence in the Eucharist
  • Faith Alone
  • Irresistible grace
  • Mary: Mother of God, perpetual virgin, sinless
  • Sacrifice of the Mass
  • Merit
  • Mortal and venial sin
  • The papacy and the Roman See
  • Penance
  • Primacy and preeminence of Peter
  • Prayers for the dead
  • Purgatory
  • Relics
  • Invocation/intercession/veneration of the saints
  • Scripture alone
  • Sacred Tradition

It really is an amazingly helpful post! He has several other articles on the thought of St. Augustine as well:
For my part, I have a small post that answers the question, "Did Augustine Invent Original Sin?" What do you think?

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic
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