Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fire and Brimstone

Ah there’s nothing like kicking off Advent (the liturgical season in which we remember the first coming of Christ and keep watch for his second coming) with a little fire and brimstone. Today’s readings reminded me of a couple of important things. First off, here’s a bit from the first reading:

“Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt” (Isaiah 64:4-6).

I like to say that the Good News (the Gospel) is so good because the bad news is so bad. An example of good news for my father was when he found out from the doctor that he was getting a life-saving quadruple heart bypass. Now if a doctor came to me and just told me to get a heart bypass I better well need one! And that’s exactly why sin – especially original sin – must be real. If it were not, there would be no need for Christianity. Having Christianity without sin would be like writing the Lord of the Rings without the Ring!

And it’s not that Christianity simply focuses on sin but rather that the evil of sin is what launches us into this great war for the eternal souls of our brothers and sisters, just as the Ring is what propelled the fellowship to attempt its destruction. Trying times can bring out the best in humanity – and when God’s involved, all the better!

But the point of the passage from Isaiah is that it points out the sinfulness of human beings. G.K. Chesterton once quipped that original sin can be seen by simply picking up the newspaper. Of course our society does whatever it can to deny sin, and thus deny our own responsibility for sin. But at the same time, we can easily look at the world and see people acting quite evil – even if we refuse to see it in ourselves. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We need a savior. Thus, to me, the question is never: why do bad things happen to good people?, but rather, why do good things happen to bad people?

But now to the good news found in the second reading:

“I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way… God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:4-5, 9).

As we have all heard a thousand times, God so loved the world that he sent his only son… But there is more. To have faith in the Son means to join the very body of that Son. We enter into Christ when we enter into the Church, which is his body. At baptism we die and are reborn, made anew, conformed to the New Adam while the old Adam in us is put to death. This is why St. Paul says that “the grace of God [was] bestowed on you IN Christ Jesus…”

God is faithful. Sure God could have justly destroyed all of humanity for sin – but he didn’t! Instead he worked out a recue plan. Covenant after covenant he swore with our ancestors and one by one the human race failed. But instead of whipping out humanity, God joined his nature with ours and took upon himself each and every curse of the covenants – rendering justice but giving mercy.

What’s most important is that faith does something. Check out the Gospel (Mark 13:33-37):

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

Yes, yes I think we all get the glaringly obvious message of being watchful for Christ’s return. But I think there’s more there. The home in the parable is like the Church, and we have entered into it and have each been given a special work to do on the Church’s behalf. The gatekeeper to me symbolizes St. Peter and his successors (the popes), who have been given the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16). They should be especially watchful! But more still, it’s easy for us to get caught up in whatever our job is or whatever we are doing. We have to remember that our work must be ordered to the coming of Christ.

Otherwise we work in vain.

Works are very good and have been spoken of time and time again in the Bible. But if our work is to “earn” salvation or to somehow try to make an earthly paradise, our works are meaningless. This world is good, but it is fallen. We must bring Christ to earth on a daily basis by making his name known, not simply by giving money or working at a homeless shelter.

So as you move along through Advent and do all that shopping and sacrificing while getting ready for family and fun, think to the future and make sure your works are building towards Jesus’ second coming (and of course, the final judgment)!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Holy Spirit: The Lord of Life and Prayer

In the age-old debate between the so-called “spontaneous” prayer versus the “rigid” and (dare I say) “repetitive” style of formal prayer, I have at times had mixed feelings. Mostly there is the traditionalist in me that says, “hold fast the traditions you have received” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) and I remember the fact that the Psalms were said as prayers everyday by many pious Christians and Jews and that Jesus himself gave us a formal prayer to say daily (we call it, the Lord’s Prayer!). And then there’s the non-conformist in me that says, “Be different, spice it up a bit!”

Lately, however, I’ve noticed that the best spontaneous prayers are rarely spontaneous in the way we think they are.

Like last night I was so sick that one would think the best I could muster would be a quick Lord’s Prayer, followed by an old-school Hail Mary, with a Glory Be and Prayer to St. Michael for good measure. Instead I blurted out a spontaneous prayer! But I really didn’t make it up. It seems, more or less, that it came to me. Perhaps you could say that spontaneous prayers are really spontaneous – just not from us.

Truly spontaneous prayers come not from us but from the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Catholics today take the Holy Spirit for granted. Unlike some Christians who go to church and only hear about Jesus or about the sovereignty of the Father, Catholic culture and liturgy is Trinitarian-centric. The problem is we don’t take enough time to dwell on the beauty inherent in our Faith. What makes things worse is that it takes the Holy Spirit to help us see the beauty! If we let Him in, however, the affect of the Holy Spirit on lives is always dramatic.

The change is almost like what fire does to the things it encounters.

Jesus said: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:49-50). The baptism of which he speaks is his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven body and soul. But why does Jesus so earnestly desire to accomplish all this? So that we may have the power of the Holy Spirit.

I’ll let him explain it for himself: “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the [Holy Spirit] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you… I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming” (John 16:7, 12-13).

Some people emphasize the work of Jesus to the extreme that they forget about the Holy Spirit. If you are familiar with the Apostles Creed, you’ll realize that it, like everything Catholic, is very Trinitarian. It begins with the Father, expresses the beliefs about the Son, then speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit. These works include: the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Without the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, guiding us, and even driving us towards God’s will, we are sure to be lost.

Look at St. Peter.

This hotheaded guy got almost everything wrong. He sank in the water and even denied Jesus when pressed. About the only thing he had going for him was his unwavering faith in the words of Christ. When asked by Christ if he would reject the Eucharist, Peter’s words were: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). It wouldn’t be until Pentecost that Peter and the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and began the active ministry of the Church.

Like St. Peter, we need a Pentecost.

I read a story once about a family in the 1800s immigrating to the United States. They were poor. To survive they brought a bunch of crackers and such to eat during the trip. Upon nearing port the father noticed his son eating a delightful sandwich and thought the boy stole it. When asked, his son answered by saying, “The food came with the ticket!” Of course we can get by on spiritual “crackers or soup” but the there’s a real meal called the Holy Spirit that will fill us with such abundance that it will overflow to all those around us! And God wants us to have the Holy Spirit! As Jesus said: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13).

The key to this verse came a couple verses before: "And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). This key is a key of hope. It certainly is a first step. The question is, will you venture to begin the journey?

Will you ask for the Holy Spirit?

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Government and Real Freedom

Asking the government to correct our ills invariably allows it to hurt us in other ways. Government programs are like pills prescribed by a doctor which lead to dangerous side effects. These side effects themselves necessitate the consumption of other pills which themselves lead to more negative side effects. The best medication is not to need medication. People today are over-medicated and over-governed. The best government is not big-government but self-government.

What we need is freedom.

What is freedom? Freedom is simple. The creation of new government programs, regulations, taxes, amendments, and in many cases, laws, leads to an inefficient, slow moving, Godzilla-like behemoth. In Judeo-Christian thought, Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law. What does this mean? It means that a free man is not free to break the law but free to fulfill it in not desiring to break it. True government should govern not by making dozens of new laws but by helping its citizens not to need laws.

Freedom is sacrificial and self-giving. I remember there was a man who said that he would freely lay down his life and freely pick it up again. Furthermore, his free self-sacrifice led to the freedom of others. When the founding fathers built this nation, they created a government that existed to serve her citizens. The great Abraham Lincoln would say that the government was created for the people! Today’s “freedom” has made us more and more the slaves of the State! Just as the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, so was the government made for man not man for the government. The government needs to serve, not to be served.

Freedom is complimentarity. Why do people assume that because two things are different they must be unequal? Why can’t two things be different and equal? Can’t difference be a good thing? When I’m on a date and I compare myself to the woman I’m with I think: Different isn’t just good, it’s very good! Freedom does not lead to negative competition but to true integration. This is because of the fact that that freedom is self-giving. When one uses his freedom to look not to himself but to others, he finds himself by integrating his needs and desires with the needs and desires of his neighbors.

Freedom is real love. I mentioned in anther post that love is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. Freedom thus is a key component of true love. Freedom as real love serves as a foundation for freedom as sacrificial and complimentarity.

Freedom is self-limiting. There are things freedom cannot do. Does one who exercises his “freedom” to become a drug, sex, or alcohol addict really make himself free? Freedom is not: freedom to do X but is rather a freedom for X. Freedom is always positive. It is a positive means to a positive end. “Freedom” as our society has it (which is really license), can appear to be 1) a negative means to a positive end, or 2) a positive means to a negative end, or 3) a negative means to a negative end. Freedom always limits itself to the good because only the good leads one to his true self – and to happiness.

Freedom is unbounded. While at first glance this may seem to contradict the last point that freedom is self-limiting, it does not. By practicing true freedom in limiting one’s choices, that person becomes freer! The piano player who denies himself in playing the wrong notes and instead persists in limiting himself to the correct notes is truly enabled to become a better player and perhaps even an author of beautiful music. Correlatively, the government that limits itself enables its citizens to be freer and more themselves. More still, who really thinks millions of people should spend forty hours a week slaving at a desk in a government office building?

Freedom is communal: Those today who usually cry out for freedom usually do so because they want the “freedom” to do selfish acts. True freedom leads one to community not selfishness. Indeed, one might say that freedom is familial. The best place to learn freedom is in the family. The loss of the family would thus mean the destruction of freedom. To help the family, government needs to practice the principle of subsidiarity by which a government intrudes in the affairs of its citizens only when extreme cases necessitate its interference.

Freedom is personal. One problem with communist Russia was that it saw its citizens as only material things and not as true beings with immortal souls. When the State rules out the existence of the soul, it reduces man to a thing and takes away his freedom. The State thus sees itself as the only thing to continue after each of its citizens passes away. Thus if only the State survives death, only the State must be worshipped as man’s true God.

Freedom is what is. In other words, freedom is normal. Conversely, what we see today is really abnormal. The fact that we can look at how we are governed and see problems necessitates the existence of the ideal State by which we can judge what we see. Everyone knows nothing is perfect in this world – but they continue to look to this world for solutions. The free man looks to the next world and actively seeks to effect it in this. Some people argue that Christians are “otherworldly” or are “escapists” – only looking to their next life and careless about this life. To them I say, “Only roads that lead to important places are kept up, the roads (or bridges) to nowhere fall into disrepair. If this world leads to nowhere, as the atheist says, then there is no reason to protect it. Indeed, only the Christian can rightly love it.”

Freedom is very good but it is only good because it has many aspects of the God who created us (check out those bolded words again and see just how they reflect God!) and gave us true freedom – including the freedom to reject him forever. God is a lover who will not force himself upon us and take away our freedom by presenting himself in all his splendor. Instead he comes to us as a humble carpenter and in what appears to be a little piece of bread.

God gave you freedom – but will you use it to be truly free in him or use it to become a slave to this world?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Theology 101: Divine Economics

When I say “economics” I suppose a boring image of a classroom textbook might pop into you mind. Or maybe it’s the thought of the stock market continuing to plummet. Perhaps it’s the thought of Barack Obama taking your money and pouring it in one of two places: down the drain or into the hands of abortionists, embryonic stem cell researchers, gay rights activists, and socialists.

While the above may be true in their own rights, I tend to think of economics in its original, religious meaning.

The word economics actually comes from the Greek word oikonomia which means a household plan. Religiously speaking, it refers to the way God has chosen to relate to the human race and bring us to salvation. This is particularly apparent in the Old Testament through God’s covenant swearing with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Covenants, by the way, form a permanent family between the two parties entering the covenant. But notice the pattern, God first forms a covenant with a couple (Adam and Eve), then expands it to a family with Noah, then expands it still further with Abraham’s tribe. In the days of Moses, the covenant is grown to include a nation composed of twelve tribes and would reach its zenith with the advent of the Kingdom of Israel, which was composed of several nations.

It only makes economical sense that God would expand his household to the very ends of the Earth and include all peoples and nations!

This points us to the New Testament and to the Church. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells a parable about the wise man who built his household on a rock and just nine chapters later he proceeds to follow his own advice and build his household, the Church (1 Timothy 3:15), on the rock of St. Peter (Kepha, the Aramaic word for rock, is translated as Peter in English). What’s more, the covenant made between God and Jesus (the man who is also God) forms the Church. This Church expands the Kingdom of God to the ends of the world and thus is universal. From the first century on the Church was known precisely as the Catholic Church because the word catholic means universal, easily encapsulating the mission of Christ: to bring the saving power of the Gospel to all peoples of all times.

But again, think of the economics.

There’s a pattern to how God related to the peoples of the Old Testament and this pattern continues on into the covenant people of the New Testament. As already mentioned, the Church is the Kingdom of God and is the perfection of the Kingdom of Israel. Obviously Christ the King is the perfection of the Davidic King – but with him was perfected the two great actors of the Davidic Kingdom, the queen mother and the prime minister. Just check out Isaiah 22:20-25 and compare it to Mathew 16. The words Jesus uses in Matthew 16 are the very words used to describe the prime minister in the Davidic Kingdom. As Isaiah foretells, “He shall be a father [in a spiritual sense, and will be fixed] like a peg in a sure spot…” (Isaiah 22:21, 23). Today the pope is known as the Holy Father – and I can think of anyone more fixed or rock-solid than the pope!

More still, God choose to establish a role for the queen mother in the Old Testament. He does so again in the new through the Virgin Mary, who reigns as Queen Mother with her divine Son. The angel Gabriel addresses her with the regal words: “Hail, full of grace.” Revelation 12 would go on to describe Mary as the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars… She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod” (Revelation 12:1, 5). But God, in his divine economics, made Mary the mother of us all – for “her offspring [are] those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus” (Revelation 12:17). We who are Christians are the sons and daughters of Mary – for we who enter in the Church, the very body of Christ, enter into a filial relationship with God our Father and Mary our mother.

There’s one more really fundamental point about divine economics. The way God relates to mankind can tell us a little bit about who he is, just as watching what a man does can tell us about who he really is. Check out the Catechism (paragraph 236) on this:

The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). "Theology" refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and "economy" to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia
. God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.

In other words, the more we understand God’s economy, the better we will understand, love, and serve God.

Terrorists are funding Minnesota men to fight a new Crusade!

Ah the Crusades, the Happy Days of Christendom. Okay not so much. But they did have some positive effects. For example, new ideas and technologies were brought to the West, trade increased, and European nation states began to grow rich and expand. What’s more, when the Islamic world turned out to be a brick wall, medieval craftsmen began to build ships that could sail around Africa and trade directly with peoples of the East. This would one day enable Christopher Columbus to accidentally discover the New World – and thus make it possible for you and me to exist!

But another interesting aspect of the Crusades involved precisely who went on them. There were really two kinds of crusaders: the saint and the criminal. The latter was the first to travel to the Holy Land while the former was sent to help bring some sanctity to the violence.

Confused? I’ll explain.

Many who responded to the call for Crusade were murders, thieves, thugs, and the like and the kings of Europe organized them into an army. Unfortunately many of them (and their kings) were overly interested in the riches to be gained from attacking Muslims – but some saw the Crusades as a chance to gain salvation (or at least a means to make reparation for theirs sins). Needless to say, their departure brought about a lowered crime rate in Europe!

The Crusades themselves, however, became a bloodbath in short order. Because of the brutal violence wrought by so many of the crusaders, the Church instituted the Jedi Knights of the Middle Ages. Okay they didn’t have lightsabers, but like the Jedi (as was revealed in the new Star Wars movies) the new order of monastic knights took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These knights never composed the bulk of the crusader armies, but they served to bring holiness to the battlefield – that is until an evil French emperor put many of them to death. I wonder if that makes the Emperor in Star Wars French…

Anyway, I’m sure you’re wondering what all that has to do with the title of my post. Well it appears that Somalian men are disappearing across the Twin Cities area and have left to fight a holy war in their native land. No one knows who is funding their travels and what’s more, the FBI will neither confirm nor deny that an investigation is underway. What is known is that some of the men were rather religious but many more were your everyday thug or gang member. It kinda sounds like what happened in Western Europe during the Crusades. Boy, if only bin Laden had some indulgences to offer… I just hope and pray we can trace the monies back to their terrorist source and stop would-be terrorists from helping al Qaeda to continue their advance into Africa.

But speaking of Somalia, I think I’m going to watch Black Hawk Down now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Did You See This?

Well it’s been a little bit since the election and, what can I say, I’ve been in denial. The one cool thing about election night was the CNN holograms used for interviewing different people! I guess they set up something like 35-40 high definition cameras to stream a life three dimensional image of the person being interviewed right into the newsroom with the reporter! This image was made to look exactly like the real person with proper colors and size.

All I can say is I can’t wait for this to be used for telecommunications in the homes. As I’m sure you’re well aware, the airline industries can’t stand the thought of this! It would so save me in flights to Washington State when I want to see my godson, Daniel, and the rest of his family. Or imagine if your college professor gave his lecture in your living room so you didn’t have to go to class! Or better yet, how cool would it be if you could project an entire football game at a local arena so that you could see your favorite team play for a quarter the cost?! Oh yeah, and who would really need 3D glasses at the movies ever again?

Here’s another picture; this one is of the “behind the scenes” area where the person is getting interviewed. And be sure to go to Youtube and check out some of the vids!

Oh yeah, they made some obvious references to Star Trek in the technology!

Theology 101: These Words Speak Volumes

While most Christians believe similar truths about Jesus Christ, few know the proper terms that are used to describe and define these beliefs. I’m going to touch on three important words: consubstantiality, transubstantiality, and the hypostatic union. All three are used in very specific ways within Catholicism but two are certainly used by Protestants while the third may be tacitly used by some as well. If you do not already know, these words help us to understand the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist (by which we follow the command of Christ to eat his flesh and drink his blood; see John 6:54-56).

Consubstantiality: God’s Relationship to Himself

The central dogma (which means mystery) of the Christian Faith is the mystery of the Trinity. God exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; three Persons fully possessing the one divine nature. In the fullness of time, God the Son was sent by the Father to reveal the inner life of God, free us of sin, and enable us to share in the eternal Trinitarian love by the power of the Holy Spirit. This may sound very mysterious and even incomprehensible. True on both counts. A mystery, however, is not something we can’t know anything about, it’s something we can’t know everything about.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read: “Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense: he is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to his Father: ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’” (CCC 240, Matthew 11:27).

Christians believe that the persons of the Trinity are consubstantial to each other. Consubstantial means that the three persons are distinct from each other but are composed of the same substance or are of the same being. In the Nicene Creed, we profess to belief that the Son is “one in being with the Father” – or as the Catechism teaches says: “…the Church confessed at the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (325) that the Son is "consubstantial" with the Father, that is, one only God with him. The second ecumenical council, held at Constantinople in 381, kept this expression in its formulation of the Nicene Creed and confessed ‘the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial [one in being] with the Father’” (CCC 242).

And if you really want to be technical/historical, the term consubstantiality is basically the Latin rendering of the Greek word homoousios which means “same substance” (homo = same, ousios = essence/substance/being).

The impact of this Trinitarian-consubstantial belief is enormous! It means that each Person of the Trinity truly is God. Some early heretics tried to assert that Jesus was just a human adopted by God or that he was made of a substance like God (homo-i-ousios), but the Church affirmed in 325 what she taught from the beginning – that each Person of the Trinity is God, distinct but united by the one divine nature. Paragraph 253 of the Catechism is worth quoting as a whole: “The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the ‘consubstantial Trinity.’ The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: ‘The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God.’ In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215): ‘Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.’”

Hypostatic Union: Jesus Christ’s Relationship to God and Man

As I mentioned above, the mystery of the Trinity was easily misunderstood by heretics. Even more so would the Incarnation (the second great dogma of Christianity). The Incarnation, in case you’re wondering, is the belief that God the Son joined his divine self to our human nature. Why? St. Athanasius, the fourth century Church father, said it best: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men could become the sons of God.” God shared in our nature so that we could share in his.

Some people, however, thought Jesus was God but not really a human. Others believed Jesus was two different people – one person being God and the other being human. Still others thought that Jesus was God and man but upon ascending to heaven ridded himself of our humanity as an actor would remove a costume.

The key to understanding the Incarnation is the hypostatic union. This term was created to help articulate the beliefs of Christians since the first century. What it means is that Jesus Christ is both truly God and truly man. Furthermore, Jesus is one person, not two. “Hypostatic” means that in Jesus there is a permanent union of the divine nature with human nature. This means that from then through all eternity God joined himself to mankind and experienced all we experience, save sin. From this moment on, the human race was never the same. By the mercy of God, the dignity of the human race was elevated far higher than the nature of angels all the way to the infinity of God’s glory!

Transubstantiality: God’s Relationship to Man

Pope St. Leo the Great (from the 5th century) would follow up on this by saying: “Christian, recognize your dignity”! Leo, however, was not simply talking about mankind in general but specifically of the humans who are Christians. Why are they so special? Because they have been joined to Christ and reborn as the children of God. Biblically speaking, the Church is the body of Christ and Christ himself is the head over the body. Grace (a sharing in the very nature of God) is like the lifeblood of the body and the Holy Spirit is her soul, giving life to the body.

To take Leo in his fullness he said: “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.”

The first Christians believed the Church was both a physical and spiritual reality because her members were composed of beings that are made of both body (physical) and soul (spiritual). For 1500 years this was the universal belief of Christians. From 1520 to today, however, Protestantism has split itself up into 30,000 denominations and around 3,000 theologically contradictory schools of thought. It should not surprise one to know that they define the Church as the spiritual union of all believers.

Catholicism differs from Protestantism in that it holds the early Christian view of the Church as physical and spiritual very resolutely. For instance, Catholicism has a visible hierarchy of deacon, priest, and bishop (as did the first century Church). What makes Catholicism so very tangible, however, are the Sacraments – particularly the Eucharist.

Catholics believe the Eucharist is the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. More still, Catholics see the partaking of the Eucharist as the main source of our holiness and unity with God while living this life. You are what you eat after all – and since every Christian believes he is part of the body of Christ, it should make sense to eat the body of Christ, right? Or in the words of Jesus himself: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:54-56).

It was at this point in the Gospel in which Jesus lost many of his first disciples (John 6:66) – they just couldn’t believe Jesus’ words! After being asked by Jesus if they too wanted to leave, Peter, speaking for the Apostles, simply stated that Jesus’ words are the words of life and that there is no other place they could think to go. [Side note: Jesus usually explained his parables if people misunderstood his spiritual meaning, but in this case he was willing to let even the Apostles leave him over belief in the Eucharist!]

That the Eucharist is Christ himself has been believed since the first century, by the way. For example, St. Ignatius of Antioch (bishop from 60-107 AD and student of St. John the Apostle) said that: “The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of our savior Jesus Christ.” And while I’m at it, he also said that: “Where Jesus Christ is there is the Catholic Church.”

The big question is: how can this be? How can Jesus really give us his flesh to eat and blood to drink? This is where transubstantiality comes in. As stated earlier, Catholics believe that the Eucharist truly is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The Catholic, however, will notice that when he eats the Eucharist it does not in any way taste like flesh and blood! This is because there was a change in substance of the bread and wine!

What does that mean?

This is a little philosophical and a little Platonic/Aristotelian but everything that exists has some spiritual substance which gives it its form/existence/life. For example, the substance of a human being is his soul. When I look at a person, I see their body – but who they are is really their soul. In other words, we could say that the body the form of the person and the soul the substance of the person.

Here’s the key to understanding why the Eucharist doesn’t taste like flesh and blood: the bread and wine are not transformed into (made to look or appear like) the body and blood of Christ, but are rather are transubstantiated into (made truly to be) the body and blood of Christ. The appearance of bread and wine remain but the spiritual reality which is the body, blood, soul, and divinity are made truly present.

Okay, all this is a pretty fancy way of trying to explain what has been believed by faith for 2,000 years. The point of it all is that through the Eucharist saints have been made! I recently spoke with a non-denominational Christian who is a big fan of IHOP (International House of Prayer) in Kansas City. What she said makes IHOP so cool is that it is one of a few places in the U.S. where people come to pray 24 hours a day. I told her I can think of thirty or so places in the Twin City area alone that have prayer chapels with people there 24/7. She was very surprised.

What makes Catholic chapels so popular and numerous is that that they are Adoration Chapels in which the very flesh, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ are exposed in the monstrance and are adored by the faithful. Why do people crawl out of bed at three in morning to pray? Because they are in the very physical presence of God!

It’s a fact, the Eucharist makes saints – and transubstantiality helps us understand how Eucharist can come into being.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger

I’m a slight fan of the Colbert Report. Colbert, himself a Catholic (though one I’m certain to disagree with) and a Sunday school teacher at his parish, gave us his fun segment: Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger. And though he seems to hold some flawed views, I still can’t help but use his segment to bring me to my very own: Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger: Catholic Edition!

First off, my Tip of the Hat to some recent, cool converts to Catholicism. They just makes me want to say to non-Catholics (as Colbert would say): I Am Catholic (And So Can You!)!

Robert H. Bork: You may not remember him, but he was up for being a Supreme Court Justice but was rejected for being pro-life. Today he is a very active author of pro-life and pro-common sense legal philosophy. Get his books – especially Slouching Towards Gomorrah! Bork was originally a Protestant. And while I’m at it, here’s a Tip of the Hat to the only decent justices we have on the Supreme Court today (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and I guess Kennedy). They all happen to be Catholic!

Francis Beckwith: Okay, so this is more a reversion than a conversion to Catholicism. Beckwith was raised a Catholic but left. After rising through the ranks of evangelicalism to become the president of the Evangelical Theological Society, he realized the truths of his Catholic Faith while still holding dear his evangelical spirit and returned to the Catholic Church. He recently published a book called: Return to Rome – Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic.

Dr. J. Budziszewski: An evangelical Christian and author of many profound books on the philosophy of law. He is a professor at the University of Texas. His books include The Revenge of Conscience and (the book I’m reading now) Written on the Heart – The Case for Natural Law. If you like politics, religion, and philosophy, this guy is for you! Furthermore, when he was still an evangelical he co-wrote a book about contraception and an attempt among Protestants to live without them.

Fr. Louis Boyer: A little older, he was a French Lutheran who converted to Catholicism in the early 20th century. He went on to become a priest, writing many superb books (read them! Get Liturgical Piety and The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism – classics!) on theology. He even went on to become a major player at the Second Vatican Council (rest assured, he was one of the good guys).

General William Rosecrans: Okay, not so recent. After converting because “it was the only logical thing to do,” Rosecrans would win key victories for the North during the Civil War. Had he accepted Lincoln’s invitation to be his running mate in the 1864 election, he would have been America’s first Catholic president after Lincoln’s assassination – and I’m sure the anti-Catholics would still be raving about some papal plot to take over America! In any case, his conversion brought about the conversion of his brother who became a priest and then the Archbishop of Columbus, Ohio!

G.K. Chesterton: When asked why he converted to Catholicism, he said plainly: “To get my sins forgiven.” Truly there is nothing like going to Confession and walking away having been told by Christ, your sins are forgiven. Apart from Confession there is simply a hop in one’s heart that their sins are forgiven. Confession gives us certainty. He does point out the odd fact that very rarely do Catholics themselves help others to convert! “There is many a convert who has reached a stage at which no word from any Protestant or pagan could any longer hold him back. Only the word from a Catholic can keep him from Catholicism.” Catholics tend to be horrible evangelizers – they are bad at speaking the truths of their Faith. In other words, they’re just lucky Catholicism can speak for itself!

Honorable Mentions: Dr. Scott Hahn, Steve Ray, Sir Alec Guiness (that’s right, Obi Wan is Catholic), Dorothy Day, Malcolm Muggeridge, Dr. Peter Kreeft (my favorite author), Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, Edith Stein, J.R.R. Tolkien (the Lord of the Rings is Catholic!), and of course, John Wayne!

Wag of the Finger! This goes out to all those U.S. Catholic politicians who need to be excommunicated!

I’m just going to list some off: Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy (they say there are many “Kennedy Catholics” but very few “Catholic Kennedys”), and Tom Daschle. Daschle in particular irks me as he will be the head of the health department which is supposed to protect life, not purge it from existence! These “pro-choice” Catholics must be dealt with!

The coverts make we weep for joy – these Catholics just make me weep.

Where I’ve Lived

Okay my wonderful students out there who have heard me talk about the many places I’ve lived. Here is the definitive edition of my familial travels:

  1. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (October 14, 1983)
  2. Lived around the Twin Cities
  3. Moved to Faribault (and accidentally killed my rabbit there; as you know, great story)
  4. Went back to the Twin Cities
  5. Moved back to Faribault (went to CCS where my teacher did NOT like me… if she could only see me now)
  6. Went from Faribault to Wisconsin (and lived right by the Dominican nuns who ran Bethlehem Academy)
  7. Hopped across the Mississippi River (which was originally named the River of the Immaculate Conception by the French) to the Dubuque, Iowa area (lived ten minutes from the Field of Dreams!)
  8. After eastern Iowa, I went across the state to West Bend (and played lots and lots of hide-and-go-seek in the Grotto of the Redemption – was it sacrilegious to hide in Jesus’ casket-tomb?)
  9. Next up, Kansas. (Let’s see, the high school was a little preppy-ish – its name was Shawnee Heights but was known as Scrawny Whites!)
  10. Alabama came next. (while I was there I accidentally caused 9/11, saw someone get run over by a semi, and nearly got myself killed on a couple occasions)
  11. And now, back to Minnesota. Home sweet home.

Is True Love Possible?

Marriages today are failing dramatically. In the last 40-50 years, the divorce rate has climbed to 50%! In fact, most marriages today are lucky to last ten years! What’s worse is that divorce means we turn our backs to the ones we have vowed never to leave – even in sickness, poverty, and, yes, even childrearing! Marriage should be a foretaste of heaven – unfortunately for many, it’s a foretaste of hell.

What’s happened in this short time period to do so much damage?

G.K. Chesterton, in 1920, warned us of the looming threat when he saw that divorce itself was becoming socially acceptable. He said: “The obvious effect of frivolous divorce will be frivolous marriage. If people can be separated for no reason they will find it all the easier to be united for no reason.” Most divorces today signify our slavery to sin. Remember physical slavery in early American history? One key argument against it was that it broke up the African American family. Divorce, too, breaks up the family – but unlike physical slavery, we walk into this new slavery by abusing our own freedom. We freely choose to be enslaved.

But what sin could blind us so incredibly that we would divorce the one person we are called to love above all else? For many, it’s lust. Sex itself can produce a chemical high in someone that is similar to heroine. The Kinsey Institute, which is by no means a right-wing organization, released a study that showed that some 30% of homosexual males in the San Francisco area had had around 500 different sexual partners. I honestly don’t know how anyone can believe there’s not something psychologically disordered about someone (homosexual or heterosexual) who has sexual relations with 500 different people!

But what dawned in the late 1950s and early 1960s was the chemical contraceptive – the pill. Originally scientists worked on a version for both men and women but the male research was halted when one man’s testicle (one, not both) shrank by something like 2-3%. Okay, I guess I can see how those male scientists wanted to stop at that point! So at least we must assume nothing bad happened to the women, right? Actually, three died. The scientists just decided to change the dose.

In other words, the scientists think women are stupid.

That being said, the chemical contraceptive would have its negative effects on the health of both men and women. Johnson and Johnson just paid $68 million in settlements with women who have suffered significantly from the new contraceptive patch. Some common side effects of the chemical contraceptive include: irritability, depression, nausea, and a reduced sex drive. Oh yeah, and the anti-depressants taken to reduce side effects produces an even lower sex drive. Moreover, women who take chemical contraceptives have a sex drive that’s about seven times lower than a woman who isn’t contracepting - and new studies are showing that women who stop using chemical contraceptives will still have a sex-drive that’s four times lower than normal for the rest of their lives. Why a man would want a woman to feel like this is beyond me!

Chemical contraceptives have an even greater hormonal side effect. Back in the 1960’s, a scientist who studied the similarities between animal behavior and human behavior performed an experiment in which the females in a small ape community were given chemical contraceptives. Now apes, like humans, give off pheromones to attract a mate when they are fertile. Chemical contraceptives, however, render a woman chemically infertile – meaning that she will not give off those mate-attracting pheromones. Eventually, when all the female apes were contracepting, the males stopped having sex with them and started having sex with each other. This led the scientist to predict a rise in homosexuality among human males – and boy did that come true over the last 40 years! So the next time I hear a woman say that: “All the good men are married or gay,” I’ll tell them and their friends to get off the pill! (Of course, there are also plenty of psychological reasons why people develop a homosexual orientation.)

What’s more is that the chemical contraceptive can lead women to choosing losers to date and marry. It, too, goes back to the hormonal effects of chemical contraceptives. Women are capable of telling if a man is an “evolutionary-fit” man (i.e. a winner) by his smell. A study was done in which such men were given shirts to wear for a day while another set of shirts were given to a set of losers. Women who did not contracept smelled both shirts and were asked which ones were worn by men they’d like to date. They choose the winners. And the conracepting women? You guessed it, they choose the losers. Why? Because chemical contraceptives make a woman’s body think it’s pregnant and chemicals are released from the brain keeping women away from “evolutionary-fit” males in order to keep them with their husbands during pregnancy. But since contracepting women are typically looking for companionship, their hormones help them find the wrong man!

On the flip side, fertile women give off pheromones to attract men – and studies prove that men can be more attracted to a fertile woman than to a supermodel! One particular study placed clothing worn by fertile women in a room with men that looked at images of “plain” women. Then men looked at images of supermodels but without the pheromone-rich clothing in the room. In the end, the men preferred the average fertile woman over the supermodels! Now that we have a significant portion of today’s women contracepting (and thus giving off little to no male-attracting pheromones) we see them having to starve themselves and wear almost no clothes in order to attract a man that she doesn’t really want anyway!

Most people don’t know this, but contraception’s history in the 20th century grew out of a desire for selective breeding. Margaret Sanger, the founder of abortion’s Planned Parenthood, pressed contraceptives as the tool have more “children for the fit, less for the unfit.” She fought to make contraceptives prevalent around Jews, Catholics, African Americans, and eastern Europeans – those who she viewed were “unfit” to reproduce. It shouldn’t surprise us that she and her companions were great supporters of Nazi Germany. As she watched contraception grow in Germany, she congratulated them for “weeding out the worst grains of Germanic stock in a scientific and truly humanitarian way.”

Sick. But that’s where contraceptives today come from.

Okay, so far I’ve talked a lot about contraceptives and how they can really debilitate one in finding a spouse and “true love” along with it. There is, however, another problem (though some do not view it to be a problem) that rises from contraception: promiscuous sex. When contraceptives were originally promoted, they were thought to help people avoid pregnancy and maybe even keep people from having sex. The fact is, unwed pregnancies have risen from 6% of all pregnancies in 1960 to around 33% today while another 25% end in abortion. What’s more, today something like 70% of all high school seniors have had some sort of sexual experience. Why is all this? Because contraceptives have taken the responsibility out of sex and have enabled young people to explore it when they really shouldn’t be.

But what most people don’t know is that the brain releases a chemical into the body during sex that acts like human crazy glue. This release makes one chemically bound to the other person. The problem is, the more people one sleeps with, the less effective this chemical is. So for all those people out there who hope for a happy marriage, sleeping with many people only hurts their physiological chances of finding true love.

Sex outside of marriage also leads to out of wedlock pregnancies. Many of these lead to another great evil: abortion. The fact is, few happily married women get abortions. 81% of abortions are from: never-married women (63% of total), divorced women (11% of total), separated women (6% of total), and widowed women (1%). And when one factors in the 10% of abortions coming from married women who committed adultery, it turns out that less than 10% of abortions are coming from happily married women! Some unmarried women, however, decide to have their baby but have a 68% chance of raising him in poverty. On the other hand, only 12% of children raised by once-married parents are raised in poverty.

Abortion is not about “freedom” for the woman, it’s about continuing a cycle of taking advantage of a woman for her body and leaving her in poverty later. It is depraved. Communism may have been depraved in thinking that the cure for pickpockets was to empty our pockets – but our abortionist-American society is even more depraved in that it seeks to cure poverty by emptying the poor mother’s womb.

Okay, so is true love possible? Yes

The key to finding true love, however, is chastity – which is self-mastery, self-control, and self-sacrifice. It’s a matter of letting our bodies do their thing instead of pumping them with hormones or in using someone’s body for our own selfish gratification. It’s about treating other people as people – as ends in themselves and not as means to an ends.

Ultimately, true love is about our relationship with God. Notice we talk about “being faithful” both when we talk about our relationship to our spouse and when we talk about our relationship with God. The Bible itself is bookended with marriages. The first is the union of Adam and Eve while the last is the union of Jesus (the new Adam) to his Bride, the Church (the new Eve) – you and me.

True love is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. When a couple makes their wedding vows, they are asked: Do you come freely? Do you give of yourself fully (total gift of self)? Will you be faithful? Will you be open to new life (i.e. will you be fruitful?)?

In the end, I have to ask: Is your love free, total, faithful, and fruitful? Because that’s what true love is all about.

Monday, November 17, 2008

If you study Economics and Politics (or you want to laugh out loud), this post is for you!

Okay, maybe you’ve heard of these analogies before. What they do is take something small that was used for bartering back in the day and use them to oversimplify economic, political, and social institutions. Sounds complicated, but trust me, it’s not. They each tend to use two cows and then describe the conditions affected with them. Here you go:

Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one cow and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the profit.

Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.

Feudalism: You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.

Totalitarianism: You have two cows. The government takes them and denies they ever existed. Milk is banned.

Representative Democracy: You have two cows. Your neighbors pick someone to tell you who gets the milk.

Dictatorship: You have two cows. The government takes both cows and shoots you.

Bureaucracy: You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. Then it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.

Democrat: You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. You feel guilty for being successful. You vote people into office that put a tax on your cows, forcing you to sell one to raise money to pay the tax. The people you voted for then take the tax money, buy a cow and give it to your neighbor. You feel righteous. Barbara Streisand sings for you.

Republican: You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. So?

Enron Venture Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to an offshore company secretly owned by the majority stockholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States from Texas, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet is provided with the release of the annual report. The public buys your bull and you use a small portion of your profits to buy Congress’s support for regulating all transactions involving cows.

French Corporation: You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows.

German Corporation: You have two cows. You reengineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

Hindu Corporation: You have two cows. You worship them.

Italian Corporation: You have two cows but you don't know where they are. While ambling around, you see a beautiful woman. You break for lunch. Life is good.

New York Corporation: You have fifteen million cows. You have to choose which one will be the leader of the herd, so you pick some cow from Arkansas.

Pacifism: You have two cows. You let them stampede you.

Surrealism: You have two giraffes. The government makes you take harmonica lessons.

Russian Corporation: You have two cows. You have some vodka. You count them and learn you have five cows. You have some more vodka. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. The Mafia shows up and takes over however many cows you really have.

Californian Corporation: You have a cow and a bull. The bull is depressed. It has spent its life living a lie. It goes away for two weeks. It comes back after a taxpayer-paid sex-change operation. You now have two cows. One makes milk; the other doesn't. You try to sell the transgender cow. Its lawyer sues you for discrimination. You lose in court. You sell the milk-generating cow to pay the damages. You now have one rich, transgender, non-milk-producing cow. You change your business to beef. PETA pickets your farm. Jesse Jackson makes a speech in your driveway. Cruz Bustamante calls for higher farm taxes to help "working cows." Hillary Clinton calls for the nationalization of 1/7 of your farm "for the children." Gray Davis signs a law giving your farm to Mexico. The L.A. Times quotes five anonymous cows claiming you groped their teats. You declare bankruptcy and shut down all operations. The cow starves to death. The L.A. Times' analysis shows your business failure is Bush's fault.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Did ABC Just Promote the Pro-Life Movement?

Boston Legal, if you don’t know of it, is a very liberal dramedy set in a Boston law firm. The show is by far one of the funniest I have ever seen and I only watch it because it isn’t liberal ALL the time. When I heard they were tackling abortion once again, I figured it would be very pro-choice as it was in other one-sided stories.

Last week surprised me.

At the end of the show, Alan Shore and Denny Crane, the best of friends, are talking about abortion on the firm’s balcony. With a somber and semi-distressed tone, Alan says: “You know Denny, I am very Pro-Choice. I believe it’s a woman’s right. But from a scientific and human perspective, it’s hard to argue that life doesn’t begin at conception… I suppose I am desperate for Roe to remain law. In part maybe to reaffirm my own moral position.”

After telling Denney that he has been involved in two abortions, Alan acknowledges that the abortions “weigh” on him to that day. Nevertheless, Alan argues that abortion has brought down the crime rate (to me that’s like mandatory execution of any criminal, and of course, not all aborted babies are going to grow up to be criminals!). To this Denney asks: “Does that make it easier for you to feel okay about your procedures?” With a heavy sigh, Alan responds, “No.”

In another aspect of the show, Shirley Schmidt (an attorney, pro-choicer, and a woman who had procured an abortion), after looking at several images of unborn infants, argues against a particular case of abortion in which a young Chinese girl wants to get an abortion because her child is a girl. Schmidt calls abortions of females “female infanticide… sexism… and vile.” She says she can no longer stand by “while the abortion license is exploited to carry out the holocaust of women.”

While Shirley’s position is fatally flawed, I credit the show for at least saying that there is a case in which abortion is wrong. More still, showing (the albeit fuzzy) images of the unborn for the sake of an emotional pro-life reaction should be applauded. Nevertheless, saying that only wrongful abortions are ones in which women are killed seems somehow sick. But I suppose it’s the perfect synthesis of the pro-feminist and pro-abortion position.

I’ll conclude with some words of Denny to America’s pro-choicers. “You pro-choice people, you need Roe vs. Wade. You’re desperate for it. Not because you’re sure of your positions but because you’re not. You need to cling to that ruling as moral validation for a moral position you’re not entirely comfortable with deep down.”

It’s not a refutation of abortion – it is an argument, however, that cuts to the heart.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Catholic Bishops: It’s War!

Though I am still in shock over the fact that so many Catholics voted for Barama last week, I am feeling very proud of the way the US Bishops are re-acting to his radical abortion stand. I have a good vibe that in four years, things will be very different. I believe that if Barama attempts to press a hard-line pro-choice agenda, the war is on!

Here’s what a handful of bishops have said in the last 24 hours:

Bishop Bruskewitz (Omaha): "One cannot compromise between the fire and the fire department, the fly and the fly swatter. There are things that don't admit of compromise - and a vile … intrinsic evil such as abortion do not admit us any such compromise."

Bishop Martino (Scranton): "We are going to have to speak as firmly as possible to Catholic politicians who are not merely reluctant to vote pro-life, but are stridently anti-life… We have to [use] something like [excommunication]. I cannot have the vice president-elect coming to Scranton saying he learned his values there, when his values, at least in the area of abortion, are utterly against the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Bishop Conlon (Steubenville): "Some people may think it's time for a truce, but we're dealing with a moral absolute. There's nothing here that allows for common ground. We're talking about a human being whose life cannot be compromised."

Bishop Hermann (St. Louis): "Any bishop here would be willing, would consider it a privilege, to die tomorrow if it meant ending abortion… We should dedicate the rest of our lives to taking any kind of criticism, whatever it is, to stop this horrible genocide."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Berkeley-Instructed Neurobiologist Defends Life via Sicentific Inquiry

Dr. Maureen Condic, an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy who received her doctorate in neurobiology from the University of California (Berkeley), has just published a major paper on when human life begins.

She recently sat down with Zenit news for an interview about her scientific findings. The following blips are a few highlights from the interview:

Zenit: You define the moment of conception as the second it takes for the sperm and egg to fuse and form a zygote. What were the scientific principles you used to arrive at this conclusion?

Condic: The central question of "when does human life begin" can be stated in a somewhat different way: When do sperm and egg cease to be, and what kind of thing takes their place once they cease to be?To address this question scientifically, we need to rely on sound scientific argument and on the factual evidence. Scientists make distinctions between different cell types (for example, sperm, egg and the cell they produce at fertilization) based on two simple criteria: Cells are known to be different because they are made of different components and because they behave in distinct ways.These two criteria are used throughout the scientific enterprise to distinguish one cell type from another, and they are the basis of all scientific (as opposed to arbitrary, faith-based or political) distinctions. I have applied these two criteria to the scientific data concerning fertilization, and they are the basis for the conclusion that a new human organism comes into existence at the moment of sperm-egg fusion.

Zenit: Many in the scientific world would say that fertilization doesn't happen in a moment, but rather that it is a process that comes to an end at the end of the first cell cycle, which is 24 hours later. Why is it important to define a "moment of conception," as opposed to a "process of fertilization"?

Condic: It is not important to somehow define a "moment" or a "process" of fertilization in the abstract. It is important to base conclusions and judgments about human embryos on sound scientific reasoning and on the best available scientific evidence.Had this analysis led to a different conclusion -- for example, that fertilization is a "process" -- I would have accepted this conclusion as scientifically valid. However, a scientific analysis of the best available data does not support the conclusion that fertilization is a "process"; it supports the conclusion that fertilization is an event that takes less than a second to complete.The events of the first 24 hours following sperm-egg fusion are clearly unique, but they are also clearly acts of a human organism, not acts of a mere human cell.

Zenit: Do opinion, belief and politics have a place in defining the beginning of a new life? How is it that the topic has become an issue of debate?

Condic: …It is important to appreciate that the scientific facts are themselves entirely neutral; they are simply a reflection of the way the world is… While people are free to formulate their opinion on when human life begins in any manner they choose (including belief and politics), not all opinions are equally consistent with factual reality. Those who choose to ignore the facts cannot expect their opinions to garner as much respect or to be given as much credibility as those who base their opinions in sound scientific observation and analysis. [Comment: So people can say that life doesn’t begin until birth – but the scientific truth of the matter is that it begins at the moment, less than a second long, of conception]

For more, check out the full article.
You can also read her paper: When does human life begin?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gay Marriage Supporters Get Violent

In case you are unaware, last week the citizens of California voted in a measure to overturn a California Supreme Court ruling which legalized gay marriage in the state. The measure, Proposition 8, was a success – but gay “rights” activists have taken to the streets, chanting hate and even beating those who opposed them.

Here are some excerpts from a recent article about the protests:

“Supporters of California’s Proposition 8 are reporting harassment and even violent assaults from opponents protesting the passage of the ballot proposal which rescinded a California Supreme Court decision that imposed same-sex marriage on the state.”

“Paul Bishop, a Los Angeles Police Department supervisor reported on the election aftermath…”

While both sides were opposed to each other, “‘…the way to tell the difference [between them] is the No On 8 supporters [pro-gay marriage] usually accompanied their horn honking with an obscene gesture or a string of obscenities. They also liked to swerve their cars toward the children on the curb.’”

Bishop, “… noted that several of his ward members had received hate mail after their names, religious affiliation, contribution amounts, and addresses were published on a web site inciting Proposition 8 opponents to target the individuals listed.”

“Los Angeles police were deployed to keep the peace at an anti-Proposition 8 protest held last Thursday at the city’s LDS temple, where protesters were rushing the gates… ‘The late local news showed scenes of several Hispanic females in tears outside the temple trying to remove the signs desecrating the walls and fences surrounding the temple. As these individuals – who according to a temple spokesperson were not church members – removed the hate-filled signs, the mob exploded and began beating the individuals to the ground,’ Bishop wrote in Meridian. ‘Police intervened and arrests were made, but the fact this was allowed to happen at all was appalling.’”

“‘The time has come to take it out there to the people who voted for this awful thing,’ said San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty [a supporter of gay marriage].”

It’s ironic when peace-loving, anti-war liberals act like terrorists in their own lands.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Secular Counterfeits to Eternal Joys

While this whole campaign season is over the fight for what is fundamentally moral against what is immoral continues. Over the last few years, the Republican Party has been undergoing a political shift away from pro-life issues. This is not to say that all republicans (particularly President Bush) have gone astray – but rather that there has been a push towards national security as the key to victory in elections. In 2004 President Bush won because of moral issues (he beat John Kerry, a lifelong Catholic, among Catholics!) but GOP strategists simply attributed more to national security voters over voters who emphasized moral issues. It is my hope that the GOP will realize that they can’t run a half pro-lifer like McCain (who supported embryonic stem cell research) and in 2012 we will get a true pro-life candidate. Indeed, the GOP has a lot of work ahead of them.

But I still have hope that the Democrats can see the light on this issue.

During the next four years, however, we have a great deal of work ahead of us as well. We need to be real pro-lifers. We need to help people see in their hearts and know with their minds what abortion really is. But more still, we need to show people the kind of love only God can give and the joy that comes with putting others ahead of ourselves, even sacrificing ourselves for the good of our neighbors.

Our society offers us a worldly counterfeit to the love and peace of God.

Ever ask yourself why so many people are depressed and even committing suicide in America? Or why since the sexual revolution in the 1960s has the crime rate spiked, education dropped, drug use skyrocketed, and divorces rampant? As Catholic theologian Christopher West put it, the argument over abortion is not about when life begins – it’s about the meaning of sex. The thing is, when a culture fails to understand what sex is, people and families get hurt. Now a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and when we destroy the family, the cell of the State and domestic church, we take a gun to the head of society and pull the trigger.

Our society tells us to do whatever “feels good” in regards to just about everything. Sin can seem great at the time but afterwards people feel alone, hurt, neglected, abused, and unwanted. More still, our culture tells us to avoid the confessional and simply go to a psychologist who will charge us a hundred dollars an hour to confess our sins to a person who is not bound to hold them secret. What’s worse is that instead of being forgiven of our sins we are told that “there’s nothing to forgive.” Society made you do it; your parents made you do it; your brain made you do it. We are taught to take no responsibility for our actions and are thus deprived of the great joy of mercy and forgiveness. [On a side note, I’m not against psychology as I am good friends with a psychologist and there are people who really, really need to see one. What I am saying is that the total rejection of Confession for the Almighty Scientific Psychoanalysis is simply another secular counterfeit for the eternal joy of mercy.]

Here’s a biblical counterfeit. Remember Barabbas and Jesus? When Jesus was arrested, Pilate offered the people a choice: the political rebel, Barabbas, or the spiritual messiah, Jesus. Barabbas wanted to forge a kingdom on Earth while Jesus sought to establish the kingdom of Heaven. The choice: the world or God. More still, Barabbas’ name literally means Son of the Father (bar-Abba). So here we have Christ, God the Father’s only Son, in competition with a man named Son of the Father. The people choose the later and confused worldly “freedom” to the freedom Jesus offered: “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

The freedom of the world, symbolized by Barabbas, only leads to the slavery of sin. True freedom, which Christ offers, sets us free to do what is right and just. Sin makes us addicts, the grace of God enables us to truly be ourselves. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how happy you are deep down. Is there something missing? If there is, you might give Christianity a try.

I think you’ll like it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Psychological Argument against Abortion

Okay, this argument I developed isn’t general enough to convince all people of the immorality of abortion. It really takes some moral intuition to agree with it. But if one has a heart, it should make at least a crack in that person’s stance on abortion.

Many people today say that they are not pro-abortion but pro-choice. They even say that they would never get an abortion but that having the freedom to choose is what is important. Choice is really a middle ground between pro-abortion and pro-life. They even say that they really don’t support abortion and that they would like the number abortions to decrease.

These same people, however, say that abortion is just a medical procedure, that the baby is just a part of the woman’s body and that she has a right to do what she wants with her body. [Of course they never explain how this particular organ in the woman’s body has its own organs or how this organ can have a different genetic code from the rest of the woman’s organs.]

But their view is inconsistent.

If the baby is just a part of the woman’s body, then there is no reason not to be openly pro-abortion. My dad had heart bypass surgery a few years ago. Without that surgery he would be dead today. Thus I’m very much pro-heart bypass surgery. There’s nothing wrong with it. I don’t have to say I’m “pro-choice” about heart bypass surgery.

In conclusion, one only hides behind the name “pro-choice” when they know deep down that abortion is wrong.

[Note: This argument can lead one to realizing that abortion is wrong – but it can also lead one to “bite the bullet” and be openly pro-abortion, so use it with care!]

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cardinal Martini has Lost his Crotchety Old Mind


According to a news release from the Catholic News Service, Cardinal Martini has lost his crotchety old mind. Well, they didn’t say that exactly – but their quotes from him sure seem that way. What’s more, the article shows us the where Martini sits in regards to a big debate among Catholics.

What could that be? Contraception.

Apparently Cardinal Martini is opposed to the “strict teachings” in the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”) in which artificial contraception was – for like the millionth time – rejected by the Church. More still, he is opposed to the Pope John Paul II’s adherence to the Church’s teaching.

So what does Cardinal Martini recommend?

“Today, he said, the church might be able to adopt ‘a new vision’ and indicate ‘a better way’ than it did in ‘Humanae Vitae.’” More still, he views the Church’s teaching as a mistake! “‘Knowing how to admit one's errors and the limitations of one's previous viewpoints is a sign of greatness of soul and confidence,’ he said.”

So why is contraception so bad anyway?

Contraception has helped bring about some of the greatest evils of our day: divorce, sex outside of marriage, gay marriage, and abortion. Abortion, by the way, has lead to embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and human cloning. Contraception has helped lead to divorce because it helps couples view sex as simply recreation instead of procreation. Contraception leads to lust instead of love and life. Contraception enables one to treat another as a disposable source of selfish pleasure and not a monogamous relationship of life-giving love.

The Church’s teaching against contraception is not because the Church wants everyone to have a million babies. Instead, the Church wants to help us see each other as a good to be loved, not a thing to be lusted for. Contraception leads one to lust. Lust for sex is like the lust for the Ring in the Lord of the Rings. [The classic Lord of the Rings episode of South Park (while not recommended) perfectly synthesizes the two in the character of Butters.] People talk about “free love” and how contraception can lead them to that. But by becoming slaves to lust (like Gollum became a slave to the Ring) they lose their freedom! They can’t say no – they have no self-control! This is why Pope John Paul II and the Church rejected contraception. Contraception enslaves us. The truth of Christ, however, frees us (John 8:32).

But back to Cardinal Martini. He also recommends simply not talking about contraception. Well, first of all, when’s the last time you heard a homily about contraception? Second of all, not talking about something because it’s not popular is ridiculous. In fact, looking back at the great saints we see that the saints of a particular era were great because they were the contradictions of their culture. The prophets were the same way. Telling the Church to stop preaching the truth is cowardly, unbiblical, and unchristian.

Oddly enough, the Cardinal also said: “Whatever the church affirms, it should be supported by many people, by responsible Christians who want to be conscientious in love.” Sorry Cardinal Martini, the Church has given its affirmation against contraception – it’s time for you to give your support to the Church instead of fighting it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Baroma Wins - Time to Move?

I was talking to someone today about the unspeakable results of Tuesday's election. This particular person was talking about moving from Minnesota in hopes of finding a safer and better place to live. Canada came up - but in all honesty, it's much worse there! Not only are a great many of their politicians spineless, but so too are many of their bishops!

But truth be told, now is the time to rally behind the Pro-Life cause. It was the Pro-Life movement that brought Bush to his second term - and it was the rewarded with the apointments of Pro-Life Catholic justices on the Supreme Court (Roberts and Alito).

Some people rejoiced over the one silver-lining: gay marraige was again opposed across the country. I believe this is a hollow victory, however, for when Baroma gets his judical nominees in place, they will overturn the will of the people on such basic moral issues.

Hopefully people will understand this in four years.

So when someone tells me they want to leave, I say stay and fight. The war for Life is not lost - only one battle. It took America over 200 years to defeat slavery - and while we do not know how long this new war for freedom will last, all we can do is our duty and fight on.

The fact is: Minnesota is not the most dangerous place in America; the most dangerous place is the womb.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Note Concerning Abortion

While I tried to make this clear in my talk this week – and I do the same when talking to people one on one – the issue of abortion is not just a logical refutation. There a millions of women who have had an abortion and many of them are going through a lot of pain, remorse, and solitude afterwards.

Maybe some don’t feel anything – or maybe some are hostile to people who are opposed to abortion.

In any case, it is important to reach out to others who have had an abortion or who have thought about having or who are supporting abortion with Christian charity (love). The Pro-Life cause is not about winning debates or arguments but is rather about imaging the God we worship so that they can find the peace only God can give.

And don’t forget, the same is true on any issue – be it regarding the Eucharist, Confession, or Purgatory. St. Peter tells us to be ready to give a reason for our hope but to do so with gentleness and reverence.

My Final Word on the Elections (More or Less)

I find elections way too nerve wracking. I always have. And now it doesn’t help that the elections are covered for like two years in advance. But this year it’s even worse because the Pro-Life cause is a heartbeat away from their biggest victory ever… or their worst loss ever.

I say this because if Obama wins next Tuesday, he will more than likely get to nominate two or more justices to the Supreme Court. The justices he would nomination would not simply be Pro-Choice – they’d be fundamentally opposed to what it means to be human.

I gave a talk the other evening about the Catholic Church’s teaching on voting and I have reached the conclusion, based upon the Church’s reasoning, that I cannot vote for Obama.

Why is that?

Because he upholds more intrinsically evil acts then McCain. Obama supports the killing of unborn children by abortion and embryonic stem cell research. He also supported a bill that would allow the murders of children born alive due to botched abortions. He is also supporting of killing the disabled – in fact, his only decision he said he would have changed during his time in the Senate was the decision he made not to allow the killing of Terri Schiavo.

But perhaps you’re wondering about McCain as I mentioned that Obama upholds more intrinsically evil acts than McCain does. It’s true, McCain also supports embryonic stem cell research, an intrinsically evil act.

According to the U.S. Bishop’s document on voting called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: “When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” (FCFC 36).

In other words, a Catholic can choose the lesser of two evils (in this case McCain) or vote for another candidate altogether (this candidate, of course, has no chance of winning). So what can I say, I’m pragmatic. I’ll take the lesser of two evils.

But this is just one more reason why we need more genuinely Catholic people running for political office. So if you’re a genuine Catholic reading this and can run for office in the future, by all means please do!

I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Defending the Church: In the Newspaper Twice!

It was so cool to get the opportunity to defend the Church in the newspaper twice in one week. As you may already know, I gave a talk on Monday night about the Church’s teaching on voting and the issue of abortion. The talk, which was written about in the paper, emphasized the fact that abortion (and other intrinsically evil acts which can never be tolerated) can be found to be evil by both faith and reason.

The only prerequisite to being fundamentally opposed to abortion is: being human.

This isn’t to say that every human being will be opposed to abortion, but it doesn’t take faith in a religion to be pro-life. In fact, there are many atheists that are pro-life. So below are a couple of excerpts from the article in the paper. Enjoy!

“Faith does have a role in the ballot box, according to the teaching of the Catholic church, a Catholic educator said Monday.

“‘As Catholics, our mission is to go out and change the world for the better,’ said Andrew Lynch… during a presentation Monday night on the church’s teaching regarding voting.

“An important role parishioners have in achieving that mission, he said, is voting for candidates based on their stance on moral issues such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research and social justice.

“‘It is not the role of the clergy nor the church to support a party or candidate,’ Lynch said, referring to the U.S. Bishop’s document titled, ‘Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life.’ However, clergy can help churchgoers see what is morally right, he said. Intrinsically evil acts are never to be tolerated, according to Catholic teachings.

"'You don’t have to be Catholic or even a Christian to be pro-life,’ Lynch said.“He said a person — by reason and faith — ‘can reach the conclusion abortion is intrinsically evil because it’s killing a human life.

"'He said it is for that reason that abortion always ‘rises to the top’ as an issue for Catholics in regard to candidates and their stance on the issue.”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hey You! Read This!

I hope I caught you with that in-your-face title! I’ve been doing a lot of reading about G.K. Chesterton and I wanted to share some really cool quotes from him!

So keep reading!

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”

“Religious liberty is supposed to mean a man is free to discuss his faith, in practice it means he is hardly allowed to mention it.”

On liberal Protestants: “I grew up in a world in which the Protestants, who had just proved that Rome [supposedly] did not believe in the Bible, were excitedly discovering that they did not believe in the Bible themselves.”

“There are no uneducated people. Everybody…is educated; only most are educated wrong.”

On housewives and feminism: “…when people begin to talk about [a woman’s] domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. …a woman’s function is [indeed] laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

“Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.”

“Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.”

“Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground.”

“Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

No Apology For History

Some people have asked me why history is so important. The most pointed debate I had was with a Marxist. They of course lack so much common sense that they would even argue against the law of non-contradiction. Nevertheless, I believe that history is tremendously important. History is the memory of a very old and ancient people.

Ever see the movie 50 First Dates?

Imagine if we treated history like that. Every year or so we’ll just wipe our slate clean and forget anything happened before it. But no society can really work that way. It’d be a great tool if Obama gets elected… But seriously history is remembering our own past, helping us to look to the future.

What’s more important is that history is His Story. The Story of Christ,

Think about it. Anyone who is eternally saved is saved by being in Christ – by being incorporated into his body, the Church. And if those before Christ could be saved by the graces of the cross in advance (like Moses or Abraham), then the whole of human history is the history of Christ.

So just as ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ (St. Jerome), ignorance of history is ignorance of Christ.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Taking Back America!

When the Founding Fathers created this great country we call America, they founded it on a key idea: human beings have rights that were given to them by God. As a result of this belief, human beings have a right to self-rule.

The problem today is that American self-government is a joke.

In 18th and 19th century America, families were the bedrock of our country. Communities took care of their own, making their own products, caring for their own buildings, and policing their own streets.

Today our country is ruled by big government and big business. The Far Left and the Far Right. Local schools have been told not to allow students to express their faith because someone a thousand miles away was offended by it. Churches cannot be allowed to enter the public sphere because their belief in a loving God is just too "radical" and "irrational" to be believed. Big businesses like Target and Wal-Mart enter our towns and suck up whatever local identity the community once had. Small businesses die away because of new laws imposed upon them from the federal government.

What's worse is that our own individuality is being wiped away as well. People talk about "being yourself" but what they really mean is that we are to be just like everyone else. Our TV shows teach us to be irresponsible while the commercials tell us to be self-indulgent.

G.K. Chesterton said that: "Self-denial is the test and definition of self-government."

If we are to really rule ourselves, we must band together as families and communities, reject the ill-notions of our secular culture, embrace the faith we have received, and fight for the things we love. This will not be easy! It will take passion! Think about that word: passion. It can be used to describe both pain and love! If we love our family, our country, and our God, we must have the passion to do what is necessary to uphold them.

And just remember one other good quote from Chesterton: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." If saving civilization and the souls of our neighbors was easy, it wouldn't be worth doing - so when you fail or make mistakes, keep going!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quote of the Day!

Dale Alquist, an internationally known scholar on G.K. Chesterton, had some interesting Chestertonian-style words (indeed, he drew his idea from the writtings of Chesterton) about jounalism and the application of words to things and concepts.

"We live in a world of journalese. The very language that we are forced to use attacks our traditions, our morals, our faith. Things that are degenerate and sinful are called 'progressive' and 'liberating'. Good words that were once pure and noble, like 'choice' and 'gay', now have reprehensible meanings. Everything done inside a house is called 'drudgery', while anything done inside an office is called 'enterprise'. Modern doubt, which has engulfed us in the fog of agnosticism, is called bold and broad. Traditional religion, which has given light to millions across the world and across the centuries, is called dull and narrow."

And if you're unaware, Chesterton was himself a journalist! Neither Alquist nor Chesterton think journalism to be bad - they both just think words ought to be used to express both high and mighty ideas as well as practical truths about our everyday world. Chesteron loved to point out the things we've seen a thousand times but never really noticed.

And even tough he was a journalist, Chesterton wouldn't hide from criticizing the problems in his own field. He said: "The higher critics are wholly dificient in the highest form of criticism, which is self-criticism." Someone once told Chesterton that he acted as if he knew everything. His response: "I know nothing, Madam. I am a journalist."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Entering the Second Quarter

Well I’m not really having a quarter-life crisis – it’s just something I heard a few years ago that I thought sounded really cool – and I of course wanted to say it when I turned 25. And if I die tomorrow I’ll be really P.O.ed that I would have had my official quarter-life crises when I was in first grade…

In any case, since I’ve been too busy to blog much (and won’t have much more time in the near future), I thought I’d start putting up quotes from people much smarter and wiser then myself.

The first quote is from my favorite living author, Dr. Peter Kreeft. In this passage, he explains an important teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas on knowing versus loving:

“St. Thomas says that it is better to know a stone than to love a stone but better to love God than to know God, because love conforms the lover to the beloved, while knowledge conforms the known object to the way-of-knowing of the knower (S.T. I, 82, 3). When we love a dog, we become more doggy, but when we know a dog, we raise it up to our own level: thought. When we know God, we drag him down to our anthropomorphic level, we make God more humanoid than he really is; but when we love God, we are raised up more closely to his level, we become more God-like than we were…”

The second quote is from the Pensees of Pascal. To me, this passage is a good description of Socrates as well as of Pascal. In case you’re wondering, the quote points out the mystery of the human person – and the philosopher’s mission to make sure each person knows there is something different about himself and all other humans. Rocks are always rocks, angels are always angels – but humans can be inhuman! And we do this through every sin! When we recognize this with humility, we become wise. Okay, so here’s the passage:

“If [man] exalts himself, I humble him
If he humbles himself, I exalt him
And I go on contradicting him
Until he understands
That he is a monster that passes all understanding”

And while I’m talking about Dr. Kreeft and Pascal, I’ll link them with two final quotes. The first is from Pascal and the second is from Kreeft in regards to the quote of Pascal:

“To make a man a saint, grace is certainly needed, and anyone who doubts this does not know what a saint, or a man, really is.”

“The world thinks men are good and saints are better. Pascal knows that men are sinners and saints are miracles.”

So as I enter the second quarter of the game, I certainly hope that I’m more than a quarter of the way to sanctity!