Thursday, February 3, 2011

Provinces, Bishops, and Cardinals, Oh My!

The map to the left depicts a part of Catholic life most Catholics are not too familiar.

This is sadly because Catholics do not often study maps!

So what does it all mean, you ask? Well if you're Catholic, you know the church you go to is part of your local parish and you may think that your parish priest is your shepherd, so to speak. In actuality, your shepherd is your bishop. What's more, he is the shepherd over all the Christians within his territory - and this territory is called a diocese. Every diocese has a central church where the chair of the bishop resides. In the Bible, the chair is considered an image of authority (for example, see Matthew 23:1-3) so the location of the bishop's chair is of importance. Since the Latin word cathedra means chair, the church containing the bishop's chair is called the cathedral.

Now looking at the map above, you'll notice that there are scores of dioceses in the United States. More importantly, you should also notice that some are placed into color-coded groups. These groups are called ecclesiastical provinces and they bear the name of the most important diocese within them. In fact, these dioceses are so important that they are each called an archdiocese and the bishop of the archdiocese is called an archbishop. The archbishop exercises a special unitive and leadership role within the province.

You may notice some black dots on the map above - and if you're looking even closer, you'll see that the color of the territory in which it is found is slightly discolored from the group of territories around it. This is because the discolored territory is the archdiocese of the province and the black dot locates for us the city in which the archbishop's cathedral may be located.

But there's more!

Present on the map are also seven red dots. These point out the cathedrals in the Archdioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles. What makes them so special is that their archbishops are also cardinals. Now a cardinal is a special title given typically to an archbishop of a predominantly Catholic area. In the United States, Catholics make up roughly 25% of the population - and if you don't know where they are mostly located, this map should help you! That said, the first thing you should notice is that the northeastern part of the U.S. is where you'll find a good deal of Catholics. But Chicago (remember the Irish and Italian mafia?) is also a heavily populated Catholic area. Demographics, however, are ever-changing and the steady flow of Catholic immigrants from Mexico is shifting the Catholic population further to the southwest. This shift made for a surprise back in 2007 when the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston was made a cardinal rather than the Archbishop of a midwestern/northeastern diocese (like Detroit, Milwaukee, or Baltimore). More expect this trend to continue and perhaps in the near future, Santa Fe and/or San Antonio could find themselves taking voting privileges from the northeast and bringing them to the southwest!

But why are cardinals so important? The answer is simple: they elect from themselves one who will become the Pope. If you recall, when Pope John Paul II passed the cardinals from all the countries of the world came to Rome and met in the Sistine Chapel where they elected Cardinal Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI). There are 120 cardinals eligible to vote in any given election - eligible because they are under the age of 80. If we count all the cardinals who are 80 or older, there are actually just over 200 cardinals. Here's one more interesting point: bishops are required to retire at age 75, but since a cardinal can still vote in papal elections for five more years, the archbishop who succeeds him is typically not made a cardinal for five years. On that note, I should point out that the red-colored dot representing New York is actually not currently led by a cardinal - but since Cardinal Egan (the retired Archbishop of New York) turns 80 on April 2, 2012, it is likely that Archbishop Dolan (the current Archbishop of New York and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) will be elevated by December, 2012.

This is of course simply the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the Catholic Church's hierarchy and territorial divisions - but hopefully you're ready to go read more maps!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution and the Pope’s Challenge

September 12, 2006. The date may seem rather ordinary, but the event that took place was momentous, for it was on that day that Pope Benedict XVI delivered his greatly maligned “Regensburg Address” which challenged the rationality of Islam and gave rise to an interfaith dialogue unseen in a millennia. In response to the Pope’s address, the greatest minds of the Islamic world gathered to write “A Common Word between Us and You,” a document, addressed firstly to Pope Benedict, which stressed the similarities between Islam and Christianity and was signed by 138 Muslim scholars.

The signatories of the document have since risen from 138 to more than 300 today.

Perhaps the most influential scholar of the 138 is Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, the president of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and mosque. Noted for his “moderate” views and French education, el-Tayeb
became Egypt’s top cleric – the grand imam – last year when Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak appointed him to replace the late Sayed Tantawi. Sadly many people feared that his popularity and leadership would be co-opted by the Egyptian government. Such appears to be the case. Last month el-Tayeb announced Al-Azhar University – along with many Islamic scholars – was cutting off dialogue with the Pope.

Why was this?

To find our answer, let’s go back a few months to October 31. On that Sunday as Catholics gathered for Mass in Baghdad’s Our Lady of Deliverance Catholic Church, armed men stormed the building. While Iraqi troops eventually ended the assault, the attackers left over 58 people dead (including two priests gunned down immediately – one at the altar and the other exiting the confessional) and over 100 wounded. This, however, was only the geographical center of violence since the dawn of November. To the southwest, in Nigeria, Islamic terrorists bombed churches throughout the capital on Christmas Eve, claiming the lives of 86 and wounding hundreds more. In Pakistan, the Islamic governor of Punjab
was assassinated by his own bodyguard because he was attempting to protect a Christian woman from the death penalty for her “blasphemy” against Islam.

Then came the New Year’s Eve bombing of Christians in Cairo.

A suicide bomber attacked St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church shortly after midnight as people were attending midnight Mass. Twenty-three were killed in the bombing and almost 100 more were wounded. The bombing came shortly after the head of the Egyptian Association for Culture and Dialogue – and new signer of the “Common Word” – publically asserted that Christians were hiding weapons in their churches. One commentator
recently stated that in the past Christians had defended themselves, but that today, “almost everywhere the Christian resistance is peaceful. Iraq is today the most glaring example of massacres carried out against innocent and unarmed victims, killed only because they are Christian.”

In the end, the pope decried the rise of “Christophobia” which tended towards violent acts against Christians or any who protected them. Egypt is the most glaring example of government officials and Islamic religious leaders making accusations against Egypt’s Christian minority while not offering the slightest protections during important Christian celebrations. Shockingly, after all the anti-Christian attacks throughout the Muslim world since October, Egypt’s Ambassador to the Vatican
told a Roman newspaper that Egypt does “not share the views that Christians are persecuted in our part of the world… They have all the protection as any other Egyptian citizen in Egypt.”

Furthermore, in response to Pope Benedict’s condemnation of the attacks on Christians (including non-Catholic Christians), Al-Azhar University and el-Tayeb have
broken off dialogue with the Vatican, citing “insulting remarks issued by the Vatican Pope toward Islam” and the supposed “unacceptable interference” of Pope Benedict XVI in Egyptian affairs. The Egyptian government has since recalled its Vatican ambassador.

The collapse of religious dialogue and official Egypt-Vatican relations was rather disturbing and unexpected – but now makes sense in light of the new Egyptian anti-government protests and end of the Mubarak regime. Now entering the third decade of “emergency rule,” President Mubarak’s days have been numbered for some time and the Egyptian people were concerned about a Mubarak family dynasty ruling Egypt for good. But then came the revolution in Tunisia and the
secession of Sudan’s Christian south where voter turnout stood at 97% and of those 99.57% voted to secede.

Enter Pope Benedict XVI. Recall that the “Common Word” document was addressed first and foremost to Pope Benedict. Since the middle ages, Islam has seen the pope as the representational male figure of the “West” and his word carries perhaps more weight for Muslims than for European or North American political leaders. This point is certainly clear when one contrasts Pope Benedict with the U.S.’s Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. In the Muslim world, a politically secular, empowered woman simply does not carry the same force as the religious head of Christendom. Thus we should note that Egypt’s government and religious leaders cut off communications with the pope as Egypt’s political unrest began to grow. The goal was to deny the “West’s” chief spokesman a platform in the ensuing political upheaval.

And little has been heard from the Vatican regarding Egypt since.

The push against the pope should also be seen in the context of the recent attacks on Christians in the Muslim world. An essential element of radical Islamist ideology is the eradication of the Christian and Jewish populations in the Middle East. Jihadists in the region see secular influences as diminishing their religious character and undermining their faith. Thus to truly re-Islamize the Islamic world, radical Islam will do its best to cleanse itself of Christians within their countries and destroying Israel as a Jewish nation. As Israel has become a heavily protected nation from within and without, Christians have become a “soft target” of Islamic aggression – particularly when Jihadists have noticed that Islamic governments and secular nations like the United States will do nothing to protect them.

But is there no hope? I offer three positive signs:

1. The Proto-Protest: As Egypt is now engulfed in protest, it is forgotten in the press that the first Egyptian protests began
early last month in defense of the Coptic Christians. Inspired by an Egyptian artist’s slogan “We either live together, or we die together,” thousands of Muslims were joined by President Mubarak’s two sons to form a human shield around Christian churches in Egypt. As one participant put it: “This is not about us and them… We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.” Other groups in Alexandria, Egypt cried out: “Long live the cross and the crescent!” Egyptians must further recognize the right and duty of other monotheists to worship God. Furthermore, as religious freedom is respected outside of the Muslim world, the same freedom should be respected within the Muslim world. Mosques in Europe and America are not being attacked by armed terrorists – and if they were, the police would be on full protective alert to guard the mosques and no one would blame worshippers for bringing weapons to defend themselves. But while the united protest between Muslims and Christians was a positive first step, now may be the time to establish Lebanon – a nation historically Christian – as a Christian nation in the same way that Israel is a Jewish nation. As such, it would present Israel with a much needed ally while providing protection to the Christians in the Mideast.

2. Yawm al-Sâbi: On January 24, the Egyptian magazine “Yawm al-Sâbi” published a document containing a twenty-two point list for renewing religious dialogue. Most importantly, the document focuses on matters particular to Islam which the religion needs to reexamine in order to make real progress in religious dialogue. Moreover, the document also points out that Islam can shape Egypt as a nation and keep Egypt from being swept up in a new caliphate (international Islamic state). The document also rejects the idea of forced conversion and even wishes to make allowances for a Christian to become the President of Egypt. While it has met mostly with criticism in the Muslim world, the document comes from Muslims and is another step forward in the post-Regensburg religious dialogue. You can read more about this document here.

3. Marriage, not money: On his foreign policy weblog,
Thomas P.M. Barnett noted the real reason why the men of Egypt are protesting: “Ask young Egyptian men, as I did repeatedly on a trip, what their biggest worry is, and they'll tell you it's the inability to find a job that earns enough to enable marriage.” In the post-Marxian era, money has become the focus of almost every issue. This may be in part due to the fact that Americans have become more and more money-centered (be it for commercial interest or trimming the federal deficit), but it is mostly due to the “class-conflict” approach of Marxist thought. There are certainly some Marxists involved in Egypt right now, but when we think of three words that begin with the letter 'm' in Egypt, we should be thinking: marriage, monotheism, and masculinity, not money.

The fact that Egyptian men are predominantly concerned with having a spouse is a very good thing and should be a clarion call for Christian men whose monetary ambitions often have absolutely nothing to do with finding a spouse and raising a family. We should also note here that when man’s needs are not met properly, the void will be filled somehow (for “nature abhors a vacuum”). As Muslim men cannot find true fraternity or a stable social/economic life for their brides, they have turned to the Muslim Brotherhood – a radical organization that, while seemingly meeting their needs, can bring men to theocracy at best and acts of sectarian violence at worst. In the absence of a pursuit of the ordered good, Egypt’s strong sense of masculinity, monotheism, and marriage risk being usurped by the forces of evil. Nevertheless, the fact that Egypt has such a strong sense of these matters is a step in the right direction – and a step Christian men in Europe and America must retake in order to be truly progressive.

While no one is really sure yet how matters will turn out in Egypt, there is a chance that the challenge of Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg will pave the way for a nation that is not only democratic, but also religiously renewed and purged of any Islamist national counterfeits. In the war on communism, two men are remembered most: Pope John Paul II in Poland and President Reagan of the United States. Perhaps the combined efforts of President George W. Bush’s challenge for Islamic democracy and Pope Benedict’s challenge for Islamic rationality will work together to overthrow radical fundamentalism in the Mideast and establish authentic, unique nations where God is worshipped by monotheists, be they Jews, Christians, or Muslims.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: The Difference God Makes

The Difference God Makes. How does one write a good book that adequately explains a title such as this? Indeed, certain titles sound almost impossible to live up to; like “Paradise Lost” or “The Well at the World’s End” – how can you write a book which lives up to such titles?

That being said, I can’t give a strong enough recommendation for this book. Does the book have some flaws? Sure, all books do. But Cardinal George has far more right than he has wrong and he has established himself in this book as a premier philosopher, historian, theologian, and anthropologist. In a society increasingly placing God on the sidelines as a non-player in world affairs, Cardinal George in effect stands up and declares: “God makes a difference. God really does have something to say about the world and about the human condition.”

In other words: God cannot be taken out of the public square.

In case you don’t know, Cardinal Francis George is the out-going President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop of Chicago. He is the first cardinal ever to be elected to the position. In a shocking election last month, he was succeeded by Archbishop Dolan of New York rather than by his Vice President, Bishop Kicanus of Tucson (often described as the most liberal bishop in the United States who was the presumptive in-coming president). Unlike Kicanus, Cardinal George has been considered a “conservative” by many while others have decidedly called his pastoral actions as moderate at best.

What else can you expect in Chicago?

But while we can argue over “church politics” all we want, The Difference God Makes proves Cardinal George’s intellectual genius and offers a clear vision of God’s importance in the past, in the present, and in the future.

So let’s get down to business.

Cardinal George begins and ends his book by stating that: “Jesus is the difference God makes.” At first, given our Bible-thumping, John 3:16-yelling, door-knocking neighbors who attempt to convert with the best of intentions, the proclamation of Cardinal George may seem simplistic at best and proselytizing at worst. How can such a claim stand up in a pluralistic society? What room is there for the public proclamation of the Gospel of Christ?

This is why Cardinal George also begins and ends his book with philosophy. In a narrative tour de force, George tells us the story of modernity and shows us the roots of the modern crisis in terms of the movement away from the Thomistic understanding of God as a being utterly unlike us to a late-medieval theology which describes God as like us, just infinitely higher than us. The two ideas may sound like hair-splitting, but the latter idea leads to a God who can be in competition with us because of his ontological likeness to us. In such a conception, God can be established as over against us like a tyrant; His will versus our will. Cardinal George then goes on to explain how this theology set the stage for the Protestant Reformation and how the Enlightenment built on this and built up the present-day philosophical outlook of modernity.

An adequate understanding of God makes a difference because it leads us back to a God who is not demanding, but freeing. This conception of God enables us to see how we participate in God’s being simply through the gift of existence. We can then truly see our lives and others as a pure gift of God’s love. Furthermore, it ends the false dichotomy which pits God against culture, showing that God really does in fact form the culture and give the culture life and love. And Christ takes this to a new level: through Him we have access to God’s own inner-life and are transformed as God’s adopted children. There’s nothing more gratuitous and freeing than that!

And there is so much more in the book than just this. Cardinal George offers key insights on interfaith dialogue, leadership in the Church, priestly celibacy, the role of the laity, the Church and globalization, liberal Catholicism, inculturation, and how God informs these matters in the present in order to create a truly hopefuly future.

However, I did note above that he gets some things wrong.

But perhaps it would be better to say that what is wrong about this book is really about what is missing rather than what is specifically wrong in the content. George spoke often of a “metaphysics of communio” (i.e. that we participate in God’s being through existence and that God is calling us into a deepening of that participation through His Son, Jesus Christ), but he fails to speak of those who reject the communio altogether. What about Satan, the fallen angel who exists now in rebellion against God? What about those who in our world have also utterly rejected God and are doing violence to others (e.g. the terrorist attacks throughout the Muslim world on Christians during Christmas and the Arizona massacre perpetrator). What do we do in the face of real evil?

In philosophy, evil can be considered as a deficiency in something. Evil is kind of like a cavity in a tooth: the pain is caused by something important in the tooth which ought to be there but isn’t. Most importantly, dentists do not treat the cavity by simply speaking about the absence in the tooth; rather, concrete action must be taken against the cavity and only then can healing come about. In a similar way, we must stand opposed to the evils in our world while recognizing that there are consequences of those evils now and in the hereafter. Thus if the book is missing anything, it is the concrete ways we must fight evil here and now.

Cardinal George’s book, however, wasn’t about evil (i.e. the absence of God) but rather about God Himself and the difference He makes in Himself and through Jesus Christ. In such a way George contemplates the ultimate Reality.

And I would say that is a topic big enough for one book.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My New Archbishop on Faith, Reason, and Catholic Education

While I'm still very new to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and I haven't yet met Archbishop Naumann, I was very pleased to read an article he wrote in our diocesan newspaper on faith, reason, and authentic Catholic colleges. I also knew it'd rock when I saw that he quoted Thomas Woods, another new Catholic to this archdiocese! Read on for more!

Catholic colleges: Where faith and reason seek truth

Recently, I celebrated the baccalaureate Mass at Benedictine College in Atchison and participated in the graduation ceremony at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan. In both cases, the celebration of the academic achievement of the graduates was done in an atmosphere where faith and reason were perceived as friends, not enemies.

Benedictine College has built two new dorms in the last five years and has doubled its enrollment in the past decade. This dramatic growth has corresponded to a decision by the leadership of Benedictine College to renew its commitment to its Catholic identity and mission.

Donnelly College was founded a little more than 60 years ago by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in cooperation with the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison. Many of the current Donnelly graduates are the first individuals in their families to earn a degree in higher education.

Benedictine College and Donnelly College have many differences. Yet, they are both institutions of higher education where faith and reason are recognized as two avenues that lead to the same destination — truth.

The Feb. 22 edition of Newsweek magazine included an article entitled: “Harvard’s Crisis of Faith: Can a Secular University Embrace Religion without Sacrificing its Soul?” The article began with this sentence: “It doesn’t take a degree from Harvard to see that in today’s world, a person needs to know something about religion.”

However, Lisa Miller, the author of the article, went on to observe: “But in practice, the Harvard faculty cannot cope with religion. It cannot agree on who should teach it, how it should be taught, and how much value to give it compared with economics, biology, literature, and all the other subjects considered vital to an undergraduate education.” Miller did not miss the irony of “Harvard’s distaste for engaging religion as an academic subject,” since it was founded in 1636 to educate and form Christian ministers.

While it is true that Harvard still boasts a graduate divinity school, it is separated by half a mile from the main campus. This geographic separation is, in many ways, symbolic of the absolute separation of faith and reason in most institutions of higher education which has led to an impoverishment of the American university.

This is not in any way to denigrate science or enlightened rational inquiry of any type. It is simply an acknowledgment that, isolated and on their own, they are not capable of providing understanding of the fullness of human experience. In my opinion, students at Benedictine and Donnelly Colleges are being offered a more well-rounded and complete education than that received at Harvard, where there is such reticence to address respectfully the importance of religion in the human experience.

Sadly, many today are ignorant of the origin and history of the university in Western civilization. Dr. Thomas E. Woods, who has four Ivy League degrees, including an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a doctorate from Columbia University, authored the book: “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.” In a chapter entitled “The Church and the University,” Woods observes:

“The university was an utterly new phenomenon in European history. Nothing like it had existed in ancient Greece or Rome. The institution that we recognize today, with its faculties, courses of study, examinations and degrees, as well as the distinction between undergraduate and graduate study, comes to us directly from the medieval world. The Church developed the university system, because, according to historian Lowrie Daly, it was ‘the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and the cultivation of knowledge.'”

The fact that colleges and universities trace their origin to the medieval Catholic Church surprises many 21st-century Americans who have been subjected to secular propaganda that constantly pits religious faith as an enemy of reason. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, many secularists deny the existence of universal truths. Unfortunately, it is this secular nihilism that dominates much contemporary art, literature, film and, unfortunately, higher education. By denying universal truths, accessible to all through reason, the requisite foundation for a commonly accepted moral code is also destroyed.

In contrast, Catholicism embraces that there is indeed objective truth. Faith and reason are complementary paths leading to a common end. Authentic higher education is a place where faith and reason intersect, where these two avenues to the truth are honored and explored.

During this time of year, many families celebrate the college graduation of a son or daughter. I hope you are pleased to know that your church was responsible for the development of the university in Western civilization.

Many high school graduates are preparing to enter college next year. In selecting a university, I encourage families not just to consider a school’s academic reputation, but whether it provides an atmosphere where the life of faith will also be nurtured.

Unfortunately, just choosing a college that was Catholic in its foundation does not guarantee an environment where a young person’s Catholic faith will be fed. Some Catholic colleges seem only to embrace their Catholic identity when they are soliciting contributions from their alumni.

At the same time, many state and secular universities have excellent Catholic campus ministries. However, even places with outstanding programs, like the St. Lawrence Center at the University of Kansas, only reach about one-third of the Catholic students on campus.

If you want to increase dramatically the chances of your son or daughter growing in their Catholic faith during their college years, encourage them to go to Benedictine College or a similar university where the Catholic culture is rich and vibrant. If this is not possible, help your son and daughter develop a plan for growing in their knowledge of the faith and their prayer life during these formative years of young adulthood.

To paraphrase the Gospel: What does it profit a person to gain a prestigious degree and lose one’s soul in the process?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reflections on the Rosary: The Annunciation

“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” Not only are these the first words which the archangel Gabriel uses to address the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:28), they are also the first words of the Rosary’s most controversial – and common – prayer, the “Hail Mary”. Sadly we often forget that the first half of the prayer comes entirely from scripture (Luke 1:28, 42) and the second half dates to a popular Christian devotion in Ephesus during the 3rd-4th century – that’s right, half of the most identifiably “Catholic prayer” comes down to us from lay Christians, not clergy!

Most important is that the first of the Rosary’s twenty mysteries begins just as the Bible begins: with one man and one woman, but in this case it is the New Adam and the New Eve. Unlike the first Adam and Eve, however, the New Adam will draw his flesh from the flesh of the New Eve. Furthermore, just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of Creation (Genesis 1:2), so too will the Holy Spirit come upon Mary. And just as God spoke words and things were created, so too will he speak through Gabriel and, with Mary’s consent, the eternal Word of God will become flesh in her womb. Where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus and Mary will triumph – and we cannot understand the relationship of Jesus and Mary without any kind of understanding of Adam and Eve.

Before examining the words of Gabriel as used in scripture and in Catholic devotion, it is important to note that Luke 1 is not the first time people have encountered the archangel Gabriel. Good Jews and Christians familiar with the Old Testament prophet Daniel will readily recall the prophecy given to Daniel by Gabriel in which the promised messiah will not come for another 490 years – and if you do the math it all works out to Christ coming around the first century! Mary certainly would have known this and the news for her would have been all the more joyous.

But even knowing that the promised messiah would enter the world through her, the words which Gabriel used to address her must have been all the more joyful (this is the first of five “Joyful Mysteries” after all). Gabriel says “Hail!” as if Mary was royalty – for indeed she was royalty. In Israel when the Kings of Judah reigned, the queen was not the wife of the king but rather she was the mother of the king. In announcing the good news of the king’s coming, Gabriel is also announcing the restoration of the kingdom in a new and radically perfected way.

The Kingdom of God is at hand and Mary shall be the new Queen Mother reigning with her Son, the King.

More still, Gabriel addresses Mary not as “Mary” but rather as “full of grace.” It is important to recall that many important people of the Bible undergo name changes which signify their status and relationship with God and the People of God. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and Simon to Peter. Before God, Mary is “full of grace” and after the Annunciation Mary has a new and unique relationship with God – and not just merely with God but with each Person of the Trinity. She is now the daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and spouse to the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Mary will often be referred to as “woman” – not because she is being disregarded but rather because she is the woman of Genesis 3:15, the promised woman from whom shall come the victor over sin and death and as we shall see, she will be the “woman clothed with the sun” (Revelation 12).

Mary’s response to all this was: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Perhaps if there is something overwhelmingly important to be drawn from all this is the complete humility exercised by all those present at the Annunciation. Here first is Gabriel, a mighty and powerful archangel of God, addressing Mary not merely as a queen among men but as his own Queen (indeed Mary is also known as the Queen of the Angels). Furthermore, Mary’s response isn’t to become proud and arrogant but rather to beautifully embrace the Lord’s will and act in faith. Perhaps most important is the fact that God should become man, allowing Himself to dwell as an infant in the womb and one day be murdered for us all, rising from the dead and presenting a redeemed humanity in Himself before His heavenly Father.

Now that’s good news to spread, live out, and – in the Rosary – pray!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reflections on the Rosary: Introduction

It has been said that riding to one’s own coronation would be a joyful thing even if the ride wasn’t too particularly pleasant, and that riding to one’s own execution would be a dreadful thing even if the ride was in a limousine. So which one of these situations are you and I in and what is our destination?

Quo vadis? Where are you going?

I think this is a question most of us fail to consider. We’re typically too caught up in our everyday lives to think about the long term – indeed the eternal long term. Ask anyone why they went to school and they’ll tell you it was to be educated. And when you ask them why they were educated, they’ll tell you it was to get a job. Keep pressing them and they’ll tell you all about getting married, raising a family, and retiring to some tropical island. But then what? What was it all for?

Quo vadis?

This may seem like an odd way to open a series of posts on the Rosary, but too often we can’t get past seeing a string of beads with a crucifix dangling from it – and if we do, the thought of praying fifty “Hail Mary’s” seems daunting at best and perhaps even idolatrous at worst. Most people miss out on the fact that the Rosary is a meditation on the mysteries contained in the Gospel. Through this prayer we walk the life of Christ and quite literally pray the Gospel. In the Joyful Mysteries, we dwell on the Annunciation and the early life of Christ, the Luminous Mysteries contemplate the public ministry of Christ, and in the Sorrowful Mysteries we prayerfully join Christ in his passion and death.

But there are also the Glorious Mysteries. In the Rosary we encounter Christ in a new way and we are given Mary as a model of Christian sanctity – and this is particularly true when praying the Glorious Mysteries. The Rosary is certainly a journey with Christ, but it is also a reaffirmation of what God does in the lives of the faithful. Mary certainly didn’t have it easy. She is told that a sword of pain will pierce her heart just as much as the heart of her Son would be pierced (see Luke 2:35). Mary’s “yes” brought God into the world, but she would one day watch as her divine Son would be tortured and murdered by his own people. But Catholics believe her faithfulness was not without future glory because we believe she was taken by God into heaven body and soul and that she now reigns as Queen Mother with her kingly Son. The Rosary thus reminds us of this glory and gives us a renewed hope of our future resurrection from the dead into glory with all the angels and saints.

In the coming posts, I’ll be taking a closer look at the Rosary and its many mysteries. In the meantime, I would strongly recommend praying it and dwelling on the mysteries as best as possible, recounting that these events actually happened in human history so as to bring about our new lives in Christ – and this will be particularly true for me in that I have been gifted with a Rosary from the Holy Land making the whole prayer that much more concrete!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thomistic Thursday: Thomas Aquinas the Saint

As an apt student of philosophy, I was highly tempted to make my blogging reboot a dedication to St. Thomas Aquinas. I realized, however, that a little Thomas goes a long way and that I should really place most of my emphasis on areas of more importance (e.g. my Psalm Saturday series). Nevertheless, I have decided that my favorite philosopher-saint will get his own day.

That day is, of course, today!

If you’re not familiar with his life, I highly recommend G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Thomas Aquinas. He drew the title “Dumb Ox” from the nickname Aquinas had in school – but while he may have been quiet and mild-mannered, Thomas possessed a keen intellect and desire for sanctity. Indeed, when he decided to become a Dominican monk his family locked him away for a time and his brothers tempted him with a prostitute. Driving her away by wielding a firebrand, he used it to sear a cross into the bedroom door and his family quickly realized he was serious about his faith!

During his life, Aquinas wrote volumes of theological works – including his masterpiece, the “Summa Theologica.” It is this very “Summary of Theology” which I would like to discuss through the following series of blogs posts. While Aquinas’ brilliance will be noted here, it is of the most importance to stress once more his desire for holiness. At the proceedings for his saintly canonization, a fellow monk testified that he heard the Lord speak to Thomas in their chapel. God said told Thomas that he had spoken great words of theology and asked him what he desired in return.

Aquinas’ reply: “Only you, Lord.”

Thomas Aquinas is known as the Angelic Doctor – and while this may be particularly true because of his ontology regarding angels, it may also be true because his saintly heart was so open to the grace of God that his intellect was made more free to dwell on theology, the “sacred science.” Ultimately the human person possesses an intellect to know with and a free will to love with. Aquinas’ life was a life of love for God – but this love always led to a hunger for more divine knowledge. Because of this, he found himself in a wonderful cycle: the more he knew God, the more he loved God; the more he loved God, the more he came to knowledge of God. In other words, Aquinas is a model image of what the human person should be like.

That’s why he’s a saint.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Psalm Saturday: Psalm 1

Daily prayer is a must for the Christian. In fact, we are really called to live a life of prayer. Our words and deeds ought to be blessings and moments of sanctity whereby we proclaim God and great gift of salvation he bestows upon us through the merits of his son, Jesus Christ. But when we take time specifically for prayer, the Psalms should be in everyone’s prayer arsenal. Every kind of prayer – and everything you might need to pray about – can be found in the Psalms. Like most Catholics, however, I haven’t spent nearly enough time in Psalms.

But I am now.

While I am spending more time dwelling on the Pslams, I decided it would be a good idea to reflect upon one on the weekend. Today I would like to offer a brief introduction and a look at Psalm 1. These posts, however, will not follow them all in order but I thought best to start at the beginning for this first reflection.

In case you didn’t know there are 150 Psalms, each of which is a prayer offered to God in praise, thanksgiving, adoration, contrition, or supplication. Outside of the Lord’s Prayer, there is no better school of prayer found in the Bible. They are an important element in each and every Catholic Mass and they can also be found in daily Catholic prayers like the Liturgy of the Hours. During the first centuries of Christianity, many monks would recite all 150 Psalms daily and this would become the basis for the pattern of the Rosary (which traditionally included 150 Hail Mary’s). If you’re looking for Psalms in your Bible, you’ll need to turn to the Old Testament as they date from ancient Israel. After centuries of Jewish-Christian strife, the Psalms today provide a wonderful connection between Christians and Jews.

Since Psalm 1 is rather short – only six verses – so let us turn to it in its entirety:

Happy those who do not follow
the counsel of the wicked,
Nor go the way of sinners,
nor sit in company with scoffers.
Rather, the law of the LORD is their joy;
God's law they study day and night.
They are like a tree
planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
whatever they do prospers.

But not the wicked!
They are like chaff driven by the wind.
Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment,
nor will sinners in the assembly of the just.
The LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.

The title for Psalm 1 is True Happiness in God’s Law, and for a practicing Jew the Law of Moses was of the greatest importance. In Gospels, however, Jesus is asked about the Law and he summed it up in two commandments: (1) love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself. If only we follow these two commandments, we shall fulfill what is found in the Law of Moses and find true happiness. The concepts of law and happiness, however, may easily remind us of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount during which he acts like a New Moses who goes up upon the mount and gives us a New Law. Indeed, the beginning of each of the eight beatitudes is often translated as: “Happy are they who…” It is here that we may find our beatitude – our blessing or objective happiness.

It should also be said that this new law of love is by nature active. Our lives in Christ must begin in faith but be expressed and shared with others through love so that we may be, as the Psalm says, “like a tree… that yields its fruit in season.” As Christians, we look forward to the Second Coming of Christ and the union of heaven and earth in the New Jerusalem. Indeed, the Book of Revelation speaks of the tree of life which is united to the river of life-giving water (see Revelation 22:1-2). While there are seasons of fruit in this life, in eternity the fruits of the tree of life are year round and bountiful!

Even in this life, however, St. Paul tells us it is important that our “faith works through love,” (Galatians 5:6), and in order for us to yield good fruit, we must be intimately bound to Christ who is the true vine (see John 15:4-5). When Jesus sent the Apostles out into the world to preach the Gospel, he reminded them that he would be with them – indeed we must remember that Christ is not only with us, he is working through us now precisely because we are members of his body! This is why Pope Leo the Great in the 5th century wrote:

"Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God's own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God."

Nevertheless, there are the wicked who “will not survive judgment.” Yes, Christians do believe in that placed called hell. But it should be noted that avoiding hell is an entirely simple process – I didn’t say it was easy, but it is simple. Whether or not you believe in Purgatory (as I do as a Catholic), we can both agree that following the two great commandments spoken on above will guide one past perdition and on to the gates of heaven. Love is the answer. It means placing God first and serving others. It means self-sacrifice.

Ultimately it means entering into the “assembly of the just” – the Communion of Saints.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

An Unexpected Change of Events

Well it has been a ridiculously long time since my last blog post and it would appear that now is just as good a time as any to resume once again. A month ago I would have figured I’d be pleasantly enjoying (well probably not pleasantly enjoying) my training with the U.S. Army, but as it goes I have found myself along a different and altogether unexpected path. After a week of doctor’s appointments, it appears the Army docs are placing me on hiatus. It’s very long and complicated story which I have had to repeat far too many times to go into much detail here, but all I can really do is relax, pray, and go with the flow.

And since I find myself at home once more, what could be better than write a blog post or two? Well, yeah, visiting family and friends – but I’m doing that, too. But I’ve also taken a good deal of time to reflect and pray and writing more here will be a good thing to get back to. In fact, I even have a set of themes planed to come throughout the week, so you’ll have to check back to find out what I have cooking. I will give a hint, however. While most things we want in life are really not what we need, a great deal of the things that we need are sadly not what we want. Often times it takes the formation of good habits to properly dispose ourselves to simply see and understand what we really need! So on that note, two-thirds of what I write will be on topics that I need to spend more time thinking and writing about, while the other third will regard those things that have been on my mind and I’d really like to talk about. I’m not sure if that’s much of a hint, however. But if you’re at all like me, then perhaps these things are needs for you as well.

And in that case, we’re in this boat together.

Perhaps I should, as this is my first post in since January, be sure I make sense out of my post’s title. You may think that “An Unexpected Change of Events” merely refers to my change of status with the U.S. Army – but it really helps me begin my new series of posts at the beginning: God. More specifically, it refers to His altogether peculiar relationship with all that He has created.

You see, last weekend Catholics throughout the world celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and it is of course more than fitting to speak first about God before going on to any other topic. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus commanded the Apostles to: “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). The heart of Jesus’ words here is the fact that the very nature of God is unitive, self-donating love – a love which enables God to be supremely one in essence but three in person. For a wonderful meditation on the Trinity, check out the Athanasian Creed!

But while Christians believe in the Trinity based on the teachings of Christ, it must be said that God has not merely revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because he wants us to do divine mathematics, but rather because he has called us into a relationship with himself and he has planned this from before the creation of the universe. Even in the event of sin (the choosing of self-love over God’s love), God set in motion a rescue plan for humanity in Christ. Redemption in Christ, however, is not an end in itself, however, but rather the beginning of a new life of sanctity upon a battlefield – for we are war, though “…not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). We are at war with the enemies of love.

But love is the key to victory and Jesus manifested this at Calvary.

The passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, however, was truly an unexpected change of events – but it is continuing to this day through the application of grace to the faithful. Called into natural life at conception, God calls us into the supernatural life of grace through faith and baptism into a body of believers, the Church (see Mark 16:16 and Ephesians 1:22-23). Redeemed and re-ordered we must now participate in spiritual warfare and “fight the good fight,” as St. Paul would say.

Quite unexpected. Quite peculiar. But that’s what makes God, God.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More Anglicans Returning to the Catholic Church

Here's the text of an article written by Tim Drake concerning Rome's outreach to Anglicans troubled by the Anglican Communion's departure from historic Christian moral and sacramental theology:

As 2010 gets under way, many in the Church are anxious to see how last year’s apostolic constitution inviting disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church will play out.

While the expectation is that more significant numbers of Anglicans in Britain, Africa and India will accept the offer outlined in Anglicanorum Coetibus, observers say that the decree will impact traditional Anglicans in the United States, as well.

The Traditional Anglican Communion includes approximately 400,000 Anglicans worldwide. The American province, known as the Anglican Church in America, includes approximately 5,200 communicants in four dioceses. Over the next few months, all of the provinces will be holding synods to put forward the question of how they will be responding to the apostolic constitution.

“The expectation is that our general synod will accept the Holy Father’s offer,” said Christian Campbell, senior warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Orlando, Fla., and a member of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Church in America’s Diocese of the Eastern United States. “It is not so much a question of whether or not we desire to avail ourselves of the offer — inasmuch as it is a direct and generous response to our appeal to the Holy See. The question now is how the apostolic constitution is to be implemented. We have practical concerns, and we are presently working with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to resolve any outstanding questions.”

Campbell said that the first Traditional Anglican Communion provinces will be entering the Catholic Church within the next six months.

One example of a parish that stands ready to enter en masse is suburban Philadelphia’s Church of the Good Shepherd, an “Anglo-Catholic” parish.

“We’ve been praying for this daily for two years,” said Bishop David Moyer of the Traditional Anglican Communion. Moyer was one of 38 bishops in the communion who signed a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and petitioned Pope Benedict XVI in October 2007 for a way for disaffected Anglicans to be united with Rome.

“The majority of our members will be on board with this,” said Father Aaron Bayles, assistant pastor at Good Shepherd. The parish has approximately 400 members who could come into the Catholic Church.

Yet, many Anglicans will not be embracing the offer.

“The Episcopal Church will be only mildly impacted,” said Father Douglas Grandon, a former Anglican pastor who was ordained a Catholic priest in May 2008 and serves as associate pastor at Sacred Heart in Moline, Ill. “Most of those clergy and bishops have already left who had any Catholic sense. In the U.S., the primary ones who will consider this would be the Anglo-Catholics.”

Some Episcopal pastors and parishes upset with the direction of the national Episcopal Church (it has elected two bishops who are openly homosexual and has given the nod to blessing same-sex unions) have placed themselves under the leadership of more conservative bishops in the U.S., Africa or the Americas. For example, approximately 20 Episcopal parishes in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Canada have left the Episcopal Church to join the Southern Cone of the Americas, an Anglican province in South America.

For those seeking to accept the Vatican’s offer, examples do exist of communities that have already done something similar. Since the implementation of the Pastoral Provision in 1980 — which allowed for the Catholic ordination of married Episcopal priests and authorized the establishment of personal Catholic parishes that retained certain Anglican liturgical elements — several Anglican-use communities have been created in the United States.

San Antonio’s Our Lady of the Atonement became the first to enter the Church in 1983. At the time, it consisted of 18 people. Today, the Church has more than 500 families. Three Anglican-use communities exist in Texas. In addition, since the Pastoral Provision was made available, more than 100 Anglican priests have gone through the process to become Catholic priests.

The Pastoral Provision, however, differs from the apostolic constitution.

“The story of the Pastoral Provision is that of a hard-fought battle by a few courageous pioneers,” said Campbell. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t implemented in such a way as to bring a large number of people into the Church. It was perceived as being primarily a mechanism for the reconciliation of individual Episcopal priests. By comparison, the apostolic constitution is not about reconciling individuals, but groups of Anglicans in a corporate fashion.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How Safe is America?

The botched Christmas terror attack making headlines in the news for failed security, intelligence, and counter-terror agencies is merely the recent-most act of war on America that began on November 5 with the Ft. Hood shootings. It was there that the psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan stormed the fort, screaming “Allah Akhbar!” and killed thirteen people while wounding thirty more (including a family friend of mine). While the current Administration has busied itself with labeling the attack a “tragedy” committed by a man who merely needs to be committed, the truth of Hasan’s terrorist motivations are becoming clearer and clearer. Former Democratic VP nominee Joe Lieberman went on record saying the Ft Hood attack was “the most destructive terrorist attack on America since September 11, 2001.” Ultimately the terrorism at Ft. Hood has led to our current situation in Yemen, which former GOP presidential nominee John McCain calls the new front in the War on Terror.

The connection between Ft. Hood and the second, albeit failed, terror attack on Christmas is the man Anwar al-Awlaki. Known as “the bin Laden of the internet,” al-Awlaki is a known al-Qaeda recruiter who recruited radical Muslims in the United States and is now helping to build a formidable al-Qaeda network in, you guessed it, Yemen. Furthermore, al-Awlaki preached to three of the 9/11 terrorists from a mosque in northern Virginia and was the personal spiritual advisor to Hasan, the terrorist shooter at Ft. Hood. But while the Obama Administration continued to pass off the Ft. Hood shootings as non-terror related, it began applying pressure on the Yemeni government while launching airstrikes on al-Qaeda camps in Yemen. Why would Obama do such a thing?

One word: Healthcare.

That’s right, Obama’s efforts to “fix” the economy have brought the unemployment rate above 10% while his efforts to “reform” healthcare has backfired at almost every turn. As the Ft. Hood terror attack took place, Obama was deeply entrenched in war on healthcare, not on terror. During his first year in office, the only new tactic the Administration has offered to fight terror is to close Guantanamo Bay, the prison where we are holding “enemy combatants” (i.e. the prisoners of war captured during the War on Terror thus far). As we shall see, the decisions to close Guantanamo Bay marked a shift away from fighting terror that has only helped terrorists while lead us to continued problems in Yemen.

What’s important to note is that the Ft. Hood terrorist continued to stay in contact with the al-Qaeda recruiter al-Awlaki since 9/11 and up until the attack in November. At the beginning of October, however, al-Awlaki announced the attacks coming the following two months when he said, “The simple answer is: America cannot and will not win, the tables have turned and there is no rolling back of the worldwide jihad movement and when this new front of jihad starts in Yemen it might become the single most important front of jihad in the world.” Shortly after announcing this to the world, Hasan began his final preparations for the attack on Ft. Hood while Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the attempted Christmas suicide bomber, called his father to let him know they would never speak again.

The fact is, America had plenty of warning regarding these attacks. Unfortunately our government is being run by those who seek to give more protection to terrorists than to its own citizens. Indeed, the strategy of closing Guantanamo Bay has been to treat the prisoners of war as if they were American citizens. This is exactly what has happened with the attempted suicide bomber, Abdulmutallab, who was speaking to authorities until the government sent in a lawyer to keep him from speaking to us. Now there are undoubtedly more attacks being planed against America by our enemies, but the government will not allow the military to conduct standard interrogations against captured soldiers at war with us. What’s worse, many of the prisoners kept at Guantanamo Bay are from Yemen and are scheduled to sent back to Yemen –then to be released back to al-Qaeda by the Yemeni government! Thus what we see is case after case of this Administration weakening America’s protection against foreign threats.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Religious Triumphalism

According to the most trusted source of information on the internet – you know, Wikipedia – triumphalism is defined as “the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others.” So does this make triumphalism a good thing or a bad thing? Well, Merriam-Webster offers another definition: “smug or boastful pride in the success or dominance of one's nation or ideology over others.” This latter definition of triumphalism as “smug or boastful pride” certainly clarifies the matter – it’s definitely not a good thing if one is accused of triumphalism!

I suppose it’s easy for anyone, the fallen human creatures that we are, to adopt triumphalism. Whether it’s about a political ideology, the attitude of “my country, right or wrong,” or even an over-attachment to a sports team, a “smug or boastful” attitude of “superiority” can lead one to over-competence, arrogance, and closed-mindedness. As it pertains to the religious world, the first thing that comes to my mind is the Islamic jihadist who kills innocents in the name of Allah and Islam. This is the kind of religious triumphalism that must be avoided.

But just this kind? Am I implying that there is a “good” religious triumphalism?

Well by definition, no because our working definition of triumphalism seems to deny any positive aspect. But then I think about political and religious activism in general and wonder if those who support one party, one nation, one denomination, or one religion are acting immorally. Certainly those who believe in Christianity as the true religion and seek the conversion of others is by definition acting according to triumphalism, right? This is certainly what the atheists argue. And what about those who love America and are willing to fight and die to protect her – are we to attack them for their attitude of triumphalism? Or better yet, were the anti-slavery activists in the 1850’s acting from triumphalism in their attitude of moral superiority over the slavery activists? Well I certainly don’t think we want to accuse Christians or Americans or Emancipationists of triumphalism per se, so perhaps we need a better definition or understanding of triumphalism.

Let’s go back to our most-trusted website once more which offers the follow negative aspects of triumphalism:

· Impaired ability to judge the value or morality of the group's actions;
· Cessation of creativity and innovation within the group;
· Blindness to other groups’ strengths and innovations;
· A tendency to over-reach against the group’s competitors, based on an inflated sense of the likelihood of triumph in conflict.

I think these four dangers of triumphalism help us better understand those who believe strongly about a certain position insofar as having a position is not intrinsically a form of triumphalism, but holding a certain attitude or basing actions off that attitude in regards to that position can be triumphalism. For example, a pro-lifer who supports bombing abortion clinics because he blindly supports anything that ends abortions has fallen into the first danger listed above. Perhaps a better example would be a Republican or Democrat who refuses to listen to anyone across the aisle because the others hold “inferior” positions in “every case.” Triumphalism can then cause a failure to find or make compromises with those we tend to disagree with. Furthermore, because it refuses to listen to those of differing views, triumphalism creates a kind of pride that makes division permanent.

Now, as a Christian who knows that the Faith has broken into literally thousands of denominations, division is the very last thing I want to see last.

Granted I’ve been told by some friends that I’ve smelled of triumphalism regarding my Catholicism and all I can offer is my apologies. If I’ve come across that way, I would want to blame it on all my studies (maybe I’ve read too many ‘Catholic’ books?) or on my personality (maybe I like to tease people a bit too much and be a little too sarcastic?). Again, what can I do but apologize? I think that my time in Alabama might also have something to do with it. Down there, many people favor some form of religious or political triumphalism and perhaps it takes a little triumphalism of your own in order to put up a decent defense of your beliefs. I’ve noticed here in Minnesota that things are different – well about religion anyway (I’ve met a lot of people here who have fallen for political triumphalism).

But isn’t one’s faith supposed to be something very important?

I think we all agree that it is, but one should never be triumphalistic about beliefs. As it comes to Christianity, triumphalism is directly opposed to authentic ecumenism (dialogue between the divided members of the Christian Faith). As it concerns me, I can’t express how blessed I’ve been to know and experience faith with both Protestant and Orthodox Christians. In general I would have to say that my Protestant brothers and sisters have helped me desire to recommit myself to the Word of God (see John 1:1) through personal prayer and study while my Orthodox brothers and sister have helped me desire to recommit myself to the Word of God (again, see John: 1:1) through liturgical celebration and communal acts of faith, hope, and love. I really do, with deep humility, thank each and every one of you for being a continued witness to Christ in my life!

That being said, I am still a Catholic.

Let this be very clear: I don’t hold any contempt for non-Catholics or think of them as inferior. I hope we can all agree that there are legitimate differences between Catholics and non-Catholics and a frank discussion of the issues is more important than refusing to listen to others because of their beliefs. Furthermore, I believe that faith and reason are not opposed – thus ecumenical dialogue based on objective truth is possible and indeed necessary. All Christians desire to be evangelists in some way and we must remember the words of Jesus: “I pray not only for them [the Apostles], but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me (John 17:20-21, emphasis mine). Jesus here connects Christian unity with the successful preaching of the Gospel. If we are not one, we cannot complete the mission Christ has sent us to perform!

Yet there are those Catholics who do hold a personal triumphalism as it pertains to their Catholic beliefs. According to Catholic Answers (a Catholic apologetics group), “Triumphalism confuses the Church as the beginning (or seed) of the kingdom of God on earth, with the fullness of the kingdom in the age to come. Consequently, triumphalist Catholics downplay or ignore real mistakes of Catholic leaders in history, lest the Church on earth be seen as anything less than the spotless, heavenly Bride of Christ. ‘Pope Alexander VI had four children,’ the anti-Catholic accuser asserts (to take an example from Frank Sheed). The triumphalist replies, ‘No, only three were ever proved,’ or, ‘So what? Henry VIII had six wives’ - as if non-Catholic foibles absolve Catholic sins… Triumphalism is an unwillingness to acknowledge adequately that the Church, though holy, is also always in need of purification in her members (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 827). It is a subtle form of bravado masquerading as faith and zeal, a vice made out to be a virtue.’

In closing, perhaps I should address what is considered “Catholic Triumphalism” – this being applied to Catholicism directly, not Catholics specifically. Fr. John Harden defined it in this way: “A term of reproach leveled at the Catholic Church for the claim that she has the fullness of divine revelation and the right to pass judgment on the personal and social obligations of humankind." But I have to ask the Catholic and non-Catholic what they think of the following passage:

“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.”

The above passage is really the core of Christianity, a personal relationship with the Father, in the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit which also unites the entire human race in faith, hope, and love. This is the core of Christianity – and it is also the core of the Catholic Church.

In fact, it’s the opening paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

10 Episcopal Nuns in Archdiocese of Baltimore to Join Catholic Church

Nice little story about Anglican nuns (and an Anglican priest) and their return to Rome.

BALTIMORE, Md. (Catholic Review) - After seven years of prayer and discernment, a community of Episcopal nuns and their chaplain will be received into the Roman Catholic Church during a Sept. 3 Mass celebrated by Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien.

The archbishop will welcome 10 sisters from the Society of All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor when he administers the sacrament of confirmation and the sisters renew their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the chapel of their Catonsville convent.

Episcopal Father Warren Tanghe will also be received into the church and is discerning the possibility of becoming a Catholic priest.

Mother Christina Christie, superior of the religious community, said the sisters are “very excited” about joining the Catholic Church and have been closely studying the church’s teachings for years. Two Episcopal nuns who have decided not to become Catholic will continue to live and minister alongside their soon-to-be Catholic sisters. Members of the community range in age from 59 to 94.

“For us, this is a journey of confirmation,” Mother Christina said. “We felt God was leading us in this direction for a long time.”

Wearing full habits with black veils and white wimples that cover their heads, the sisters have been a visible beacon of hope in Catonsville for decades.

The American branch of a society founded in England, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor came to Baltimore in 1872 and have been at their current location since 1917.

In addition to devoting their lives to a rigorous daily prayer regimen, the sisters offer religious retreats, visit people in hospice care and maintain a Scriptorium where they design religious cards to inspire others in the faith.

Throughout their history, the sisters worked with the poor of Baltimore as part of their charism of hospitality. Some of that work has included reaching out to children with special needs and ministering to AIDS patients. Together with Mount Calvary Church, an Episcopal parish in Baltimore, the sisters co-founded a hospice called the Joseph Richey House in 1987.

Orthodoxy and unity were key reasons the sisters were attracted to the Catholic faith. Many of them were troubled by the Episcopal Church’s approval of women’s ordination, the ordination of a gay bishop and what they regarded as lax stances on moral issues.

“We kept thinking we could help by being a witness for orthodoxy,” said Sister Mary Joan Walker, the community’s archivist.

Mother Christina said that effort “was not as helpful as we had hoped it would be.”

“People who did not know us looked at us as if we were in agreement with what had been going on (in the Episcopal Church),” she said. “By staying put and not doing anything, we were sending a message which was not correct.”

Before deciding to enter the Catholic Church, the sisters had explored Episcopal splinter groups and other Christian denominations. Mother Christina noted that the sisters had independently contemplated joining the Catholic Church without the others knowing. When they found out that most of them were considering the same move, they took it as a sign from God and reached out to Archbishop O’Brien.

“This is very much the work of the Holy Spirit,” Mother Christina said.

The sisters acknowledged it hasn’t been easy leaving the Episcopal Church, for which they expressed great affection. Some of their friends have been hurt by their pending departure, they said.

“Some feel we are abandoning the fight to maintain orthodoxy,” said Sister Emily Ann Lindsey. “We’re not. We’re doing it in another realm right now.”

The sisters have spent much of the past year studying the documents of the Second Vatican Council. They said there were few theological stumbling blocks to entering the church, although some had initial difficulty with the concept of papal infallibility.

In addition to worshipping in the Latin rite, the sisters have received permission from the archbishop to attend Mass celebrated in the Anglican-use rite – a liturgy that adapts many of the prayers from the Episcopal tradition. Mother Christina said 10 archdiocesan priests, including Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden, have stepped forward to learn how to celebrate the Anglican-use Mass.

The sisters expressed deep affection for Pope Benedict XVI. The pope exercises an authority that Episcopal leaders do not, they said. The unity that Christ called for can be found in the Catholic Church under the leadership of the pope, they said.

“Unity is right in the midst of all this,” said Sister Catherine Grace Bowen. “That is the main thrust.”

The sisters noted with a laugh that their love for the pope is evident in the name they chose for their recently adopted cat, “Benedict XVII” – a feline friend they lovingly call “His Furyness.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

Does the Letter to the Hebrews Deny the Sacrifice of the Mass?

A good friend of mine recently brought to my attention several passages from the Letter to the Hebrews concerning the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and how it superseded the many eternally useless sacrifices of the Jewish people in the Old Covenant. Drawing the very biblical conclusion that “[Jesus did not] offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice” (Hebrews 9:25-26), my friend in warm, Christian charity sought to point out the possibility of grave error in Catholic teaching in regards to the daily offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Indeed, Catholics hold that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, Second Vatican Council) and since the Eucharist can only be confected by a validly ordained priest or bishop through the Sacrifice of the Mass, it would seem that these central beliefs could be misleading, if not simply false.

True, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks often of Jesus’ single, perfect, unrepeatable sacrifice in atonement for our sins, but this in no way means that the Sacrifice of the Mass is somehow an additional sacrifice which attempts to do something Christ failed to do in His singe, perfect, unrepeatable sacrifice on the cross. To draw a parallel between the Mass and the empty sacrifices of the Jewish people is to misunderstand the Mass altogether. Hebrews also tells us that Jesus entered into heaven where He even now stands before His Father on our behalf (“For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf,” Hebrews 9:24). The Book of Revelation adds to this by further describing Jesus in heaven as “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Thus John was pointing out the eternal aspect of His sacrifice. Even now Jesus is before God “standing as if slain” (Revelation 5:6) and the eternity of His sacrifice is thus applicable for future believers as well as those dating back to the foundations of the world. Because Jesus is both God and Man, His sacrifice occurred “once and for all” in time and space but it is timeless and ongoing in regards to eternity. Indeed, if the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice were only applicable “once for all” then no one outside of His lifetime could benefit from it.

But what does that have to do with the Sacrifice of the Mass? Sure, the grace Jesus merited by His death on the cross is accessible to us because of His eternal presentation of His sacrifice to the Father, but doesn’t His being in the timeless, purely spiritual realm of Heaven clearly differentiate itself from a very physical, repeated sacrifice by Catholics on Earth? No on many counts.

Obviously we can all agree that new blood sacrifices on our part are simply meaningless in regards to making atonement for the eternal consequences of sin and, as the Bible clearly teaches, it is by Jesus’ sacrifice that we may have hope of salvation. Catholics believe this as much as Protestants. So what then is the connection between the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrifice of Christ on the cross – for there must be some connection if Catholics have such strong beliefs about both! The Catechism of the Catholic Church said it clearly in paragraph 1367: “The sacrifice of Christ [on the cross] and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice.” In His wisdom, God decided to allow us to participate in Jesus’ “once for all” sacrifice by making it accessible in the Mass. The Mass in no way competes with or replaces the one sacrifice of Jesus but rather makes it present for us today on the Catholic altars throughout the world. Jesus promised to be with us always – and He keeps His promise in a particular way through the Eucharist. The Eucharist is given to us to help us become holy. Remember, you are what you eat and to become the holy, body of Christ we Catholics partake of the body of Christ!

Of course, both the Eucharist and the Mass are mysteries of the Faith and can in no way be fully explained in human words – but the sacrificial character of the Eucharist is a Biblical and historical FACT. Paul, for example, in his First Letter to the Corinthians implicitly acknowledges this in the following passage:

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. Look at Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? So what am I saying? That meat sacrificed to idols is anything? Or that an idol is anything? No, I mean that what they sacrifice, (they sacrifice) to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:16-21).

Paul is thus comparing the sacrifices of the pagans and the Jews to the Christian sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharistic sacrifice, for to speak both of the “table of the Lord” and the “table of demons” and also of the “cup of the Lord” and the “cup of demons” is to speak of both using sacrificial language. What’s more, Paul is pointing out that Christian unity is fostered by the Eucharist! No wonder Jesus said as much at the Last Supper (where he instituted the Eucharist) when he spoke of the need for Christians to remain one – and to make that happen, He gave us the Eucharist!

The Letter to the Hebrews also refers to an Old Testament allusion to the Eucharistic sacrifice in that the letter describes Jesus as the “high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” But who was Melchizedek and what was his priestly sacrifice? Melchizedek blessed Abraham, the father of the great monotheistic religions, and offered God a sacrifice of bread and wine! Thus Melchizedek prefigured both the blessing Jesus would bring all humanity through His sacrifice of Himself in one sacrifice of the cross and the Mass.

But the concept of the Eucharist and the Mass as a Christian sacrifice is also a historical fact. Check out the following quotes from Christians in the 1st-2nd centuries:

"Assemble on the Lord’s day [Sunday], and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ [Mal. 1:11, 14]" (Didache, 70 AD).

"Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices.” (St. Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians, 96 AD).

"Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God" (St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Philadelphians, 107 AD).

"He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand: ‘You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty’ [Mal. 1:10–11]. By these words he makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles" (St. Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies, 189 AD).

We must also remember that the incarnation is a permanent act on God’s part. To assume heaven is a purely spiritual realm denies the reality of the incarnation, for Jesus still has His human body now and will have it forever. In a real way, Heaven and Earth are in contact at “God’s end” through the bodily presence of Jesus (and Mary, as Catholics believe) in Heaven. Furthermore, Catholics would argue that the reverse is true of Earth by Jesus’ bodily presence in the Eucharist throughout the tabernacles of the world. In a special way, at Mass Heaven and Earth touch as Jesus becomes present with us on the altar and then enters into our bodies through Holy Communion. If that’s not having “a personal relationship with Jesus” then I don’t know what is. Indeed, when looked at from this perspective it is quite easy to understand why Catholics believe the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian faith” just as Vatican II taught!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What is the Catholic Religion?

Now, how believable is that? Honestly, is it even remotely likely this logical listener will jump on the bandwagon? I'm guessing no, unless he was told from birth that it is all true and has no doubt that everything is true. Doesn't it sound a bit like a fairy tale? I mean, zero, physical evidence is provided for all of these claims. What reason would you have to believe that?”

The above statement was posed regarding the legitimacy of the Catholic religion. Of course, one must wonder what these questions and conclusions are based on; how does one define the thing being critiqued? The writer offers the following description:

Now suppose you meet someone who says that indeed, there is an invisible man who lives in the sky, created you, the Earth, and everything. In order then for you to live morally, you must have a Church to guide you and tell you things. You are incapable of doing it on your own, as you are from a fallen race of beings. There is this book too, which has been passed down from the Stone Ages from this invisible man himself, and you must read it, follow it, and worship this invisible man. Oh, and this invisible man left no trace of his existence, because he is not observable in any way.

Also, this invisible man created another invisible being, called Satan, who he is at war with for eternity. When you die, you go to an eternal heaven to live with this invisible man in the sky. This is because you have an eternal, unchanging soul - a soul you had from before you were born - that leaves your unworthy body to go to this Heaven.

However, if you disobey this invisible man with the freedom that he gave you, he will send you to a Hell where you will burn forever in pain for all eternity, away from your creator. This will be the most painful, worst suffering imaginable. This is what your heavenly father does to his children who don't follow him. You burn. But he loves you...

It is a very interesting and thought provoking description; however it is not a description of the Catholic religion. While most textbooks lump together Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as “Peoples of the Book” I would argue in a simple form that we might describe the Catholic religion in two ways: 1) as a people of the Word, and 2) as an incarnational people.

1) People of the Word: Though Protestants might describe themselves as a People of the Book, Catholics understand that the Word of God is not simply a book but a Person. It is to this Person, this Word, that the entire religion hinges and the entire human race depends. Unfortunately this Person was not mentioned once in the above description of the Catholic religion. To understand the Word, we must understand a dogma. “Dogma,” however, is a term that somehow inspires thoughts of boredom and closed-mindedness. Thus before I proceed, I’ll let Chesterton speak of dogmas as the first principle of Catholicism and really its most intellectually interesting part:

“If [one] would condescend to ask what the dogmas are, he would find out that it is precisely the dogmas that are living, that are inspiring, that are intellectually interesting. Zeal and charity… are admirable as flowers and fruit; but if you are really interested in the living principle you must be interested in the root or the seed. In other words, you must be intelligently interested in the statement with which the whole thing started; even if it is only to deny it. Even if the critic cannot come to agree with the Catholic, he can come to see that it is certain ideas about the Cosmos that make him a Catholic… He will never get anywhere near it by sentimentalizing against Catholic sentiment or pontificating against Catholic pontiffs. [One] must get hold of the ideas as ideas; and he will find that the most interesting of all the ideas are those which the newspapers dismiss as dogmas.”

Now the dogma alluded to earlier which must be understood is the dogma of the Trinity. I admit I can nowhere come close to explaining, much less defending, this dogma here but I will make a one-paragraph attempt. Now if one allows for the existence of a personal transcendent deity we could put forth the argument that this deity, as a subject, has an understanding or conception of himself – but this self-thought or self-idea would not be limited by time or space and would thus contain all that God is. This Thought (“logos” in Greek translates as “thought,” “idea,” and “word”) is distinct from the Thinker yet “one-in-being” with the Thinker. What’s more, we understand the Logos, or “Word/Thought,” as more importantly a Son. Now instead of the Son having a self-Thought of his own, he turns back to the Father (the Thinker) and from their union proceeds the outpouring love which we call God the Holy Spirit. The three united by one Nature yet distinct in Person.

2) Incarnational People: None of the above could be discovered using the scientific method, but that is not to say that God left us with zero evidence. Catholics believe that God the Father sent us His Son, the self-Thought and mind of God, to capture our hearts and elevate us to a shared participation in the Trinitarian family which is God. This sending happened in a real place at a real time. It can be verified by history and witnessed to in the lives of Catholic saints and martyrs. Look at the lives of the Apostles who were all, save one, brutally tortured to death for proclaiming that Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead, is God the Son. Why would they each allow themselves to be tortured to death for a lie? I mean, maybe a couple might if they were crazy, but not all of them. What’s more, there are many who say Jesus was a wise teacher but not God. These people miss out on the fact that Jesus claimed to be God! Now if my neighbor approached me and said he was God, I’d think twice before considering him a “wise” man. He’s either one of three things: a liar, a lunatic, or Lord God.

But one may still be wondering what the concept of an “incarnational people” really means. First of all it means that we consent to another dogma: the dogma of the Incarnation. The Incarnation means that God the Son joined to his divine nature to a human nature and that from his conception and on into the vastness of eternity, God the Son is perfectly God and perfectly human. Forever. In effect, the Incarnation meant that God humanized his divinity and divinized our humanity (with neither the humanity nor divinity overwhelming the other). And not simply that, he allowed himself to be tortured and murdered by humanity in the process, and then used this most evil of acts (deicide) to produce man’s greatest good: our redemption. That is love. True, we “are from a fallen race of beings” as the writer indicates, but this primordial Fall became the seed of God’s rescue plan. St. Athanasius pointed out the entire crux of Christianity when he said: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men could become the sons of God.” In other words, God shared in our human nature so that we could share in his divine nature (the theological term “grace,” by the way, refers to a created sharing in God’s nature).

Thus it’s not about going to hell for not following the rules or needing some Church in order to be moral, as the above writer thought, but rather about sharing in divine life and being supernaturally adopted into the divine family. Or as C.S. Lewis wrote in the essay God or Rabbit?: “The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without [Jesus], don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that ‘a decent life’ is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods [in a loose, not formal sense], intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear—the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.”

Secondly, the term “incarnational people” refers to the way in which Catholics (a) believe, (b) act, and (c) worship. According to (a), there is no such thing as an “unworthy body” for God the Son had and still has a human body in heaven. This in turn leads to (b) in that we recognize the worth of our bodies in parallel with the fact that God has joined a human body to himself for all eternity. Finally (3), matter is of great importance to the Catholic because God has forever united himself to matter through a human body. It is the Protestant who misses this point and distrusts matter. They deny any real power behind water baptism (by which we enter into the divine family) because “God can’t work through matter” – yet they agree that Jesus is God come in the flesh (and if human flesh isn’t material then what is it?) and thus redeems us through matter!

Furthermore, the Incarnation recognized that we are both matter and spirit and that we must interact with God in both matter and spirit. To this end, Jesus instituted a Church that has a physical and spiritual dimension. He gave this Church “sacraments” which are physical signs that point to, and actualize, spiritual realities. In short, the Catholic Church, instituted by God, treats man as he is: material and spiritual. This dual nature of man becomes a problem for the materialist (who believes everything is only matter) and the Buddhist (who believes everything is only spirit). Both the materialist and the Buddhist, however, make their metaphysical claims but then fail to act accordingly. The materialist gives answers in purely material terms and then throws out his material principles as soon he enters the real world – for if all that exists is matter and matter is competitive then there is no reason to be moral; yet the materialist acts as if there was a real right and wrong. The same is true of the Buddhist who claims not to believe in a material world at all yet looks both ways before crossing the road. Here we have two philosophies at both ends of a spectrum but neither position “works” in the real world. Everyone has a philosophy that cannot be proven by the scientific method (but neither can the scientific method be proven by the scientific method), thus we should judge a philosophy not solely by whether we can prove it’s ‘truthiness’ (as Stephen Colbert would say) but rather by how its views stand up in the lives of real people. The Catholic religion, like other religions and philosophies, gives answers to questions. Though these answers cannot be verified by the scientific method, the glove-like answers of the Catholic religion fit our human, hand-shaped nature perfectly. This is why for two-thousand years the Catholic religion has been providing the world with joy-filled saints who have done more for the world and the human race than all the materialists and Buddhists in human history.

It would seem to me that the Protestant fundamentalist and the materialist atheist suffer from one similar problem. While the Protestant fundamentalist looks to the Bible alone for truth and treats it as if it can interpret itself, the materialist atheist looks to matter alone for truth and treats it as if it can interpret itself. The Protestant somehow thinks the Bible just fell out of the sky as if it were always there and the materialist is by his position forced to believe that matter either popped into existence (“fell out of the sky” so to speak) or was simply always there. The Catholic religion alone provides a place for which the origins of both can be legitimately explained in relation to human nature and sanity. As C.S. Lewis said: "I felt in my bones that this universe does not explain itself." I would argue that the same is true of the Bible.

Furthermore, neither the Protestant fundamentalist nor the materialist atheist has any reason to believe in founding their authoritative truths on the Bible or on matter. For the materialist, I ask him to prove to me that matter is even “there” to begin with. There have been philosophers and philosophies (from the Berkeley to Buddhism) that claim that matter does not exist, and the materialist must then somehow prove, without using something the materialist might call matter, that matter is real. As to the Protestant fundamentalist, G.K. Chesterton muses about the historically proven connection of the Bible to the Catholic religion when he speaks of the Reformation: “To an impartial pagan or skeptical observer, it must always seem the strangest story in the world; that men [i.e. Protestants] rushing in to wreck a temple, overturning the altar and driving out the priest, found there certain sacred volumes inscribed "Psalms" or "Gospels"; and (instead of throwing them on the fire with the rest) began to use them as infallible oracles rebuking all the other arrangements. If the sacred high altar was all wrong, why were the secondary sacred documents necessarily all right? If the priest had faked his Sacraments, why could he not have faked his Scriptures?”

What is my reason for believing in the Bible? Well in short (and perhaps much too short), once I accept the existence of God, the Trinity, and the divinity of Christ, I can simply look at first-second century Christian history and see that a mission was given to men who appointed bishops as their successors. Once given the Holy Spirit, these men (though sinful and fallible by their own measure) were somehow promised by Jesus (God incarnate) infallibility when united and in speaking in matters of faith and morals. These men and their successors compiled the Bible and (most importantly) determined which books belonged in the Bible and which did not. Thus the grounding chain of infallibility goes: Jesus Christ-Church-Bible. In other words, I believe in the Bible because I believe in the Catholic Church and I believe in the Catholic Church because I believe in Jesus Christ. This logical chain of authority, while having to be accepted by faith, is what has kept and is what continues to keep me ever untied to the Catholic religion.

When he was asked what keeps him Catholic, St. Augustine in 397 AD gave the following reasons: "The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15-17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called 'Catholic,' when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house."

Of course, there are many, many more reasons why I am a Catholic, but I leave it to G.K. Chesterton who summed it up nicely when he said: “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”