Author Archives: Matthew B. Rose

Reflection: I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 3)

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!  St. Joseph is the MAN (meaning he is awesome AND his is my model of manhood).  I’ve written about how awesome St. Joseph is HERE and am also working on a series of reflections about him and how he is a model of manly virtues.  


Shot from The Nativity Story (dir. Catherine Hardwicke) showing my man St. Joseph being an awesome foster father to the Incarnate Lord.  


But this post, like my devotion to Joseph, isn’t really about Joseph.  Its about Jesus.  


Today, we continue our reflections on the Creed, and our reflections on our Lord Jesus Christ, by examining the historical importance of the Incarnation and the theological importance of the Hypostatic Union.


For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven

One of the fundamental truths the Church teaches about Jesus is that Christ is truly God and truly Man.  He isn’t part god, part man, like Hercules or some other demigod from other world mythologies.  Rather, in the words of the Council of Chalcedon, Christ has two natures, Divine and human, “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”  When the Incarnation happened, God took on a human nature without losing any of the Divine Nature.  It is what the Church calls the Hypostatic Union.  Practically speaking, this means that Jesus was fully God, and yet truly one of us, “like us in all things but sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  All of the Christological heresies in the Church, from Gnosticism onward, took issue with some aspect of this fundamental teaching of the Gospels.  The Creed of Nicaea answers their heresies sometimes before they were even formulated.


Perhaps Christ was merely God, with an imaginary body.  So the Gnostics, specifically the Docetists, taught.  The New Testament allows no such confusion.


Perhaps He was like God, but not quite God, since it would not be fitting for God to join with His creation.  No, Arius, that’s not right either. 


Perhaps He was God and Man, with a real body, but with two persons: the Second Person of the Trinity and the human person Jesus, son of Mary.  No, Nestorius, that doesn’t work either; He wouldn’t be truly God. 


Maybe, at the moment of the Incarnation, the power of God was SO POWERFUL, that the divine Nature subsumed Jesus’ human nature?  No, you Monophysites, then He wouldn’t be truly human.  You can’t be human without a human nature. 


What if Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t really God, but was so good, as a moral teacher, that God picked Him to be His Son at His baptism by John in the Jordan River?  No, Apollianarius, then he wouldn’t be God; he would be a mere hero from Greek and Roman mythology.


Jesus of Nazareth was (and is) 100% God and 100% Man.  That statement continues to baffle people today.  The pendulum has swung away from those who sought to paint Jesus as God and not really man to the point that you might be mocked today for considering Jesus truly God, that the miracles attributed to Him really happened, that He did, indeed, rise from the dead.  Modernism, “the synthesis of all heresies” according to Pope St. Pius X, tried desperately to keep the relevancy of the Gospels while gutting it of the spiritual dimensions found therein.  The result was a mixed bag of confusion and error, a perfect storm of bad history and messy heresy.


And the Church continues to confess, in season and out of season, that “He came down from heaven.”


Fine fine FINE.  He’s truly God and truly man.  But we didn’t really need Him as a redeemer, just as a model for right living. 


No, Pelagius, that doesn’t work either.


The line “For us men and for our salvation” answers the question, “Why did God become incarnate?”  Check out one of the most famous lines in all of Scripture:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17)


Our salvation is through Christ Jesus, through the grace of God for us.  It was this fundamental facet of our Faith that Pelagius denied.  Pelagius taught that it was our work, our effort, that won us our salvation.  In other words, we weren’t redeemed by Christ, but we instead seized our place in Heaven.  In fact, we didn’t need a redemption at all, because Adam’s sin (Original Sin) had no affect on us directly; rather, we followed his bad example and sinned.  Christ was not our redeemer; He was merely a good example to counteract Adam’s bad example.


Now Pelagius should have known better.  At least the earlier heretics like the Gnostics and Arius did not have the benefit of the Nicene Creed to help in their theological discussions.  Pelagius did, having come onto the theological scene a generation after Nicaea I.  St. Augustine dealt well with Pelagius’ arguments, earning Augustine the nickname “Doctor of Grace.”


So Christ, truly God and truly man, saved us from our sins.


What of our good works?  Are they as bad as Martin Luther taught in the 16th century, that the best human act is at least a venial sin?  Are they a waste of time, since our redemption has been won for us by the blood of Christ on the cross?


Often forgotten in this context, at least by those who reject the Church’s position on salvation, is St. Paul comment in his letter to the Colossians, that in his suffering he is “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God” (Colossians 1:24-25).  In other words, our actions unite with those of Christ for the whole Church.  What is “lacking” is our joining our joys and sufferings with those of Christ, through which we participate in Christ’s sacrifice.  This is particularly clear at the Mass, where the faithful are called upon to “lift up your hearts.”  The Roman Canon has the priest pray to God for those gathered at the liturgy,

Whose faith and devotion are known to you.
For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise
or they offer it for themselves
and all who are dear to them:
for the redemption of their souls,
in hope of health and well-being,
and paying their homage to you,
the eternal God, living and true.


At every Mass we, in our prayers, admit that we are not the source of our salvation, but that we play a role in it through our participation in the sacrifice of Christ.


Yet it isn’t to the sacrifice of the cross that the Creed turns at this moment.  Rather, it is the other side of Christ’s life, the Annunciation itself.  We will turn to this mystery in our next reflection.

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Quickie: Placuit Deo

The big news in the Catholic world today, March 1, 2018, is that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a letter to bishops “On Certain Aspects of Christian Salvation.”  I haven’t read the letter yet (it’s pretty short, just over 4000 words), but the report from the National Catholic Register is that the document addresses modern revivals of Pelagianism and Gnosticism, the later of which we’ve examined in great detail, the former hopefully being a topic brought up in later episodes of our reflection on our One Lord Jesus Christ.


I hope to read the document and get around at some point to reflecting on it.


In Christ, our Salvation!

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Reflection: I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 2)

Let’s continue our reflections on the nature of Jesus Christ.  As before, quotes from the Nicene Creed are in bold.


“Begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”

The word we translate as “consubstantial” was at the heart of the Arian crisis in the latter part of the fourth century.  “Consubstantial” is the English translation of homoousios in Greek.  The word is a dense one, indicating that the Persons in the Trinity are “of the same substance,” which philosophically means they are the same thing, that they share the same nature.  For the purposes of Arian crisis, homoousios means that the Father and the Son are, in fact, both entirely God.  They are the same “substance.”


You would think that such clear teaching from the Church would solve the problem of Arianism.  Yet, as with most heresies, just because a teaching is rejected does not mean that the teaching goes extinct.  More often than not, a heresy with little public support goes underground.  Usually, over time, such heresies die out.  However, may reemerge, having slightly adjusted their teachings to maintain the heresy but seem orthodox.


This is exactly what happened with Arianism.


Nobody wanted to be caught teaching pure Arianism.  Instead, what we now call semi-Arians began teaching Arianism lite.  They centered their twisting of Church teaching on the very word taught by the Council of Nicaea: homoousios.  Homoousios was too strong of a word, they held.  The Son couldn’t be the exact same substance of the Father.  So they proposed a different word, nearly identical in Greek: homoiousios.  The difference was one letter, but that one letter changed the entire meaning of the word.  Rather than speaking of the Father and the Son as the “same substance,” the semi-Arians taught that they were “of a similar substance.”  Close, but very different.  Something similar to another does not mean they are the same.


Many in the Church recognized this distinction, and they rejected the semi-Arian position.  However, in the intervening years since the Council, the semi-Arians had risen to ranks of influence in the Roman Empire, even into the court of Constantine (who was not yet baptized, and was receiving instruction in the Faith from semi-Arian catechists).  The result was a persecution of the Christians by the semi-Arians.  Bishops throughout the Church gave in to the heretics, some after severe torture.  The pope at the time, Pope Liberius, the first pope not recognized as a saint, was coerced into signing an ambiguous document which could be interpreted along the lines of Nicaea’s decrees, but could also be interpreted as a support of the semi-Arians.  Despite Liberius including a note saying he intended the statement to be interpreted according to the Church, the semi-Arians proceeded to use the statement as papal support for their position.


The whole matter finally ended not with another council, but with the rise of an ant-Christian Roman emperor.  Julian was baptized as a Christian in his youth, but because of the murderous actions of Constantine’s family after Constantine’s death, Julian vowed to reject Christianity and bring back paganism.  In an effort to expediate the demise of Christianity, he removed any official government protection for the semi-Arians.  Without that protection, the orthodox began preaching more vigorously to the semi-Arians, with orthodox bishops publicly speaking against the heresy.  Soon semi-Arianism was officially gone, thought it would crop up throughout Church history (some quasi-Christian groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, hold views similar to the Arians and semi-Arians).


That is why this line in the Nicene Creed is so important.  It is a reminder of not just the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation, but also the heroic strength of those who defended this truth.




“Christ in Majesty” from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC


“Through him all things were made.”


This line from the Creed encapsulates the opening, rather bold, statement from the Gospel According to John, which begins, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (John 1:1-3).  Central to the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Creation is the providence of God.  We are not blindly made, started by some distant god who sets us on our merry, or miserable, way without guide or directions.  Rather, God carefully guides us to our destination.  That’s the ultimate meaning behind the book of Job, the answer to why God allows suffering.  Following the thought of Job, St. Paul echoes, regarding God, that “from him and through him and for him are all things” (Romans 11:36).


God made the world, and became incarnate as Jesus.  This flies in the face of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, which I examined in some detail in a blog post long ago.  For our purposes, we’ll look at Gnosticism’s hatred of creation.  For the Gnostic, the physical world is evil, and it was made by an evil god, who trapped our poor spiritual souls in evil physical bodies.  Our spiritual salvation comes not at that creator god’s hand, but at the hands of the spiritual god, who taught us the secret of how to escape our evil physical bodies.  However, the Judeo-Christian view of creation encapsulated in the Creed is that the God who created is the source of our redemption.  By calling the Son the source of all of creation, we reaffirm that the Son is God, just as much as the Father is God.  


The Gnostics had an issue with the Incarnation.  How could a good god take on a physical body if bodies are evil?  This led to a version of Gnosticism called Docetism, which taught that Jesus’ body wasn’t a real body, more of a pretend one.  You see references to this in some of the Gnostic gospels, where the Apostles try to touch Jesus, and their hands pass through his body.  The Church’s response to these appears in the the center of the Creed, where we as Church affirm the great mystery of the Incarnation.  


And that will be the topic of our next reflection.  

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Reflection: I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 1)

How many unfinished series did I start with this blog?  Sheesh!


This is the continuation of a series of reflections on the Creed, begun during the Year of Faith (which was begun by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and was concluded by Pope Francis in 2013).  Since we should always strive to grow closer to God, not just through years of Faith, I’ll pick up the reflections here.  This part of the series will look at what the Church teaches about Our Lord Jesus Christ.  As with previous parts of this reflection series, I will look at a section of the Creed each time.  If you want to read the previous reflections, you can find them here and here.


So then, let’s begin.


“I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ”


Image result for Jesus


“Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?”  Too often that question is reserved for evangelizing Jehovah’s Witnesses or some Evangelical televangelist.  But it shouldn’t be.  It is a serious question that strikes at the deepest levels of our spiritual life.  Oftentimes, however, our beloved Protestant brothers in Faith seek too narrow of a relationship with Jesus.  Yes, you MUST accept Jesus as Lord and as Savior, for that is the first, not the last, step in a dynamic relationship with Him.  Catholics are called to a radical relationship, not just accepting Jesus (as if that was the only thing necessary for salvation) but living His will in the world.  To paraphrase a prayer attributed to St. Theresa of Avila, We are Christ to the world.  We are the hands and feet He uses to spread the Gospel.  This is the calling of EVERY Christian, no matter his or her denomination.  We cannot fulfill our mission without first accepting Jesus into our lives.  We cannot stop there; our act of Faith is not enough, for as the Epistle of St. James notes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

The Creed uses the word “one” in reference to Jesus.  As St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.  This was the testimony at the proper time.”  There is only one Jesus, one moment where God entered into history (more on that later).  Jesus alone is Lord.  Not Caesar (Paul was writing in the Roman atmosphere) but Jesus, crucified for our sake.  We won’t get into the controversy over this verse and the veneration of saints.  I will merely say this: praying to saints is the same as asking someone to pray for you here on earth, only the saint is closer to God, being as the saint is in Heaven.


The word “Christ” is the anglicized version of Christos, which in turn is a Greek version of Mashiach (Messiah).  All of these words mean the same thing: “Anointed One.”  Christ is THE Anointed One of God.  There were many Christs throughout the Old Testament.  Anyone anointed priest, prophet, or king among the Israelites was a Messiah, a Christ.  But Jesus is THE Christ, the ultimate Anointed One, for He has in His person the fullness of priest, prophet, and king.


“The Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

There is a crisis of Faith in the Church; there is always such a crisis, as there was in the earliest moments of the Church (did not Judas leave the Last Supper to betray Our Lord?).  We see a similar crisis in the earliest Christian centuries, when the Church faced persecution and death at the hands of the Roman Empire.  In 313 that all changed.  In that pivotal year, Emperor Constantine promulgated the Edict of Milan, which granted Christianity the status of an accepted religion in the Roman Empire.  No longer were Christians hunted down and killed simply for their Creed.  Now churches could be built, preaching could commence on a grand scale, and Christian thinkers could meditate on the great mysteries of the Faith.


But with time to think, Christian thinkers began to question fundamental aspects of the Church’s theology.  A theological revolution erupted in Alexandria, Egypt when a priest named Arius, having reflected on the Scriptures, began teaching that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was not God, that He was just a creature like everything else (the highest creature, of course, but still a creature).  Arius was clever, brilliant even, and had an overabundance of charisma.  Many followed his teaching, and enormous pressure piled upon the pope and bishops to accept his heresy.  Riots broke out in the streets of the empire as men and women of both theological camps sought to beat out the heretics (both sides saw the other as heretics) and establish themselves as the dominant theological voice in the Church.


People took their beliefs a little more seriously back then.

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Serious debating for serious men!

Cries for a solution reached the ears of Emperor Constantine, and he called for bishops from around the Roman Empire to meet in a lovely city called Nicaea.  Even the pope sent representatives.  The debates between the bishops got intense (the story is that St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, punched Arius after hearing the heretic defiantly argue his heresies at the council), and eventually, the orthodox side won by a landslide (only two bishops voted against the Church’s teaching that the Son was God).


That should have settled the matter, but men being what they are, an even greater Arian crisis erupted.  Heretics of political power captured and killed those who stood against them.  It looked as if the Church would crumble.  As St. Jerome would later write, “The world awoke and groaned to find itself Arian.”  But the Church prevailed and today, very few so-called Christians claim that Jesus was not God.


The First Council of Nicaea clarified the Church’s teaching about Jesus.  At Mass, we recite the Nicene Creed, which is the statement of belief composed at that council (with some additions about the Holy Spirit composed at the First Council of Constantinople in 381).  The wording of each statement in this creed was carefully selected, each emphasizing the truth of Jesus’ divinity.  Hence, in the Creed we repeat the words of the Council’s declarations.  We acclaim Christ as God.  All of those phrases (“God from God, Light from Light”) get at the fundamental teaching of Nicaea, that the Son is God, just as much God as the Father.  There is no big God and little God.  There’s just God.  Words like “begotten” and “Light from Light” indicate that the Son has the same Divine Nature as the Father, no more and no less.  They are equally God, “consubstantial” to use the word in the Creed.


What’s that?  You don’t know what “consubstantial” means?


Well, I guess we’ll have to address that in the next post in this series.



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What are you doing for Lent?

Lent is a season of penance and preparation for the glorious Resurrection of Jesus.  It begins with the distribution of ashes and ends (if we include the mini-season of the Easter Triduum) with the darkness before the light of Easter Vigil.  Catholics around the world traditionally give up something for Lent, be it dessert or television or something else we love.  Yet too many of us stop there, limiting our Lenten observance to simply removing something.  Is it any wonder that Lent has become a time of moaning and groaning, of more sadness than joy?

Image result for grumpy lent

Preach it, Grumpy Cat. 

We ignore the Gospel for Ash Wednesday.  Christ tells us,

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you (Matthew 6:16-18).


Lent isn’t a time for doom and gloom.  Lent is a time of preparation as well as penance.  We fast, but only to the extent that it brings us closer to Christ.  If our fast isn’t done with that goal in mind, then it would be a reason for gloomy faces and depressed comments.


But even in Lent, we are an Easter people.


That’s why I’m a big supporter of doing something for Lent.  There are lots of ways to approach this.  You could add some prayers to your daily routine (I’ve added a rosary on the way to work in the morning), or some spiritual reading (I’m reading Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelley) to draw closer to Christ in this holy season. 


If you do fast from something, make it count, but don’t go too far (as one priest I know put it, don’t become a penance for someone else!).  For example, for years I would give up drinking anything but water during Lent.  I did this for several years, and without fail I would get sick (lack of vitamins maybe?).  It might be more of a fast to do a limited amount of something you love, rather than cutting it out cold turkey.  So, in my case, this year I realized I waste a lot of time on Facebook (plus it gets me depressed half the time).  In response, I’ve limited my Facebook time to 15 minutes at most each day, but ONLY after I’ve done my spiritual reading AND written at least a paragraph for an article or blogpost (like this one :D).  


Of course, as I said, different people have different spiritual habits and do different penances and preparations during Lent.  The key, no matter what you do, is us the time of spiritual cleansing to prepare a place for our risen Lord who, in His infinite love, died for us so that we could be with Him forever in Heaven.  


So smile during Lent, carry your penance with the taste of Easter joy, and hopefully you will find yourself closer to Jesus, He who walks with you along the journey and waits for you at the mouth of the empty tomb.  

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Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part VI)

Did you think I forgot about this series?  Yes? 


Well, I didn’t!


I mean, I kinda did, but I REALLY didn’t.


In light of recent comments by Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences that “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” despite China’s consistently messy human rights record and it’s dishonor of having two of the top ten most polluted cities in the world within its borders, it seems like the right time to reopen your copy of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si (or read it online) and look at what the Holy Father has said about properly implementing the Church’s social teachings in light of a true human ecology.  


You can read parts I through V by following the links on Part V


Here’s Part VI.  


In Chapter Five of Laudato Si, Pope Francis addresses the environmental movement, in particular the international efforts and organizations which have sought to solve the modern ecological crisis.  While many people place the burden of fixing the environment on such organizations, Pope Francis seems to have his doubts and his disappointments with such groups, at least as they are currently organized.  Francis laments that “the same ingenuity which has brought about enormous technological progress has so far proved incapable of finding effective ways of dealing with grave environmental and social problems worldwide” (164).  The issue isn’t that no countries are addressing the ecological crises that we face today; the problem is that each country is not working with all of the other countries to provide a lasting solution, not simply one tainted by political parties (166).  Civil groups have worked to help the planet and defend human rights, but they can only do so much when they do not have the cooperation of the world’s governments. 


The Holy Father does mention some progress in this vein, such as the work of the Basel Convention, which helps regulate the international movement and disposal of hazardous waste (168).  However, the big risk in any enviro-political discussion is the dignity of the poor and poorer countries.  Proposed solutions to ecological problems will cost a lot of money, and too often the bill is left at the feet of poorer people and countries (170).  A solution that helps the developed world might completely ignore the human needs of the developing world (172).  There is a need for a “true world political authority,” as Benedict XVI stated in Caritas in Veritate (see Laudato Si 175)

There is no one solution to every environmental issue, and there isn’t one solution to the same problem in different parts of the world, “because each country or region has its own problems and limitations” (Laudato Si 180).  The laws set in place in a country cannot change with the arrival of new political parties into office.  These laws must transcend the political divide, and politicians must see in them the long-term solutions to problems, rather than their own short-term political gains (181).  We see this issue especially in our own country, where a law passed by a government of one political party will be amended or removed as soon as the other party comes into office.  The laws helping the environment (or defending fundamental rights, like the right to life) must not fall into that category. 


The discussion over environmental laws should not stem from certain business propositions.  In other words, one should not wait until an economic factor arises to discuss the protection of the environment.  Instead, environmental discussions should play a part in all other discussions, including those dealing with human well-being and working conditions.  Repeatedly the Pope emphasizes the evils of consumerism and how such a lifestyle ruins our relationships with others and the world.  We can use new technologies without making our focus be how much we can get out of them.  We can use technology to help the world (see 184-187 for more on this). 


Paragraph 188 has a short, but important reminder from Pope Francis.  With all his discussion of scientific findings regarding the environment or the problems with modern political and economic systems, the Holy Father takes a moment to remind everyone that “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.”  Many writers falsely claimed that Pope Francis somehow added human-caused climate change to the teachings of the Church.  He did not, and reminds us of that here.  


Returning to political issues, Pope Francis notes that “Politics must not be subject to the economy,” meaning that one should not make all political decisions based on economic policies, such as saving banks or bailing out companies.  The Holy Father notes that many nations wasted a perfect opportunity to reevaluate their economic and political structures when responding to the economic crisis of 2007/2008.  Decisions should have been made in light of the common good and respect for all people; instead, many nations continued using the economic structures that did more harm than good in the past.  “The problem of the real economy is not confronted with vigour, yet it is the real economy which makes diversification and improvement in production possible, helps companies to function well, and enables small and medium businesses to develop and create employment” (189).  More funding and research should be put into working with our environment, such as sustainable use of natural resources and finding methods of production that do not harm the environment (191).  Likewise, economic growth should be examined in light of human dignity so that a location’s quality of life does not diminish in light of developments (194).   Economies shouldn’t be about maximizing profits, but rather about serving the citizens of a country. 


The key to all of this is subsidiarity (196).  Subsidiarity allows smaller groups in society to govern certain aspects of society, rather than having them all fall under the control of the government.  For example, disciplinary issues in a school should be dealt with by school personal.  If for some reason the issue reaches beyond the scope of the school, the local police get involved.  But the local police do not get involved if the matter can be dealt with at the smaller level.  This is a basic tenant of the Church’s social doctrine.  Pope Francis is evoking this teaching in regards to his discussion of politics and economics.  Too top heavy politics and economics do not leave room for the little guy, and often lead to the oppression of smaller units in society (we see this sort of discussion come up in the USA when politicians debate states’ rights issues).  When the various levels of a society work together, when politics, economics, and ethics unite, “we see how true it is
that ‘unity is greater than conflict'” (198, quoting Evangelii Gaudium, 228).  


Pope Francis concludes this chapter with a reflection on how Faith can play a role in all of this.  Against proponents of scientism, the Holy Father notes that science cannot explain “the whole of reality,” and that reasoning with science alone leaves “little room . . . for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things” (199).  If we lose sight of our purpose as human beings, of the greater good of society, of our place in God’s plan for creation, we will likewise lose our ability to protect our common home.  Above all, dialogue is needed between groups of believers and branches of science.  “The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue which demands patience, self-discipline and generosity, always keeping in mind that ‘realities are greater than ideas'” (201, quoting Evangelii Gaudium, 231).  

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Review: Books I Read in 2017 (“The Others”)

Books Read 2017 (part 2)

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This is me reading.  It is not me reading one of the books on this list.  Actually, its not even from this past year.  Make of it what you will.  


My last post was the list of books I challenged myself to read (and succeeded, I might add) in 2017.  Check out the post to see just how crazy I am. 


This essay lists all of the books that were not from “The Big Ten,” but that I read anyway.  I’ll call them “The Others.”  


“The Others” (also in no particular order)


  1. The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien – I assign my freshmen a book report assignment in the second and third quarter.  In solidarity with them (because a teacher should not assign an assignment that he isn’t willing to do himself) I did the report on a book of my choosing from the list.  I chose this posthumously published collection of sagas from the Middle-Earth before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien spent the majority of his life working on these stories, rewriting, adjusting, simplifying and expanding them.  Some are better than others (the creation account is amazing, but you would have to read my wife’s essay from the 2016 Tolkien Seminar for more on that), and it isn’t as much of a continual story, more a collection of stories from the time before the events of The Hobbit.  Overall, I enjoyed it immensely.  


  1. Charmed Life by Diane Wynn Jones – My wife and I read this together.  I had not read any Diane Wynn Jones books prior to this one (I just didn’t read a lot of fiction as a child).  It was great, featuring an interesting fantasy world of real life Britain mixed with magic.  I look forward to reading more Jones books. 


  1. The Church & the New Media by Brandon Vogt – Another book I read in solidarity with my freshmen. This one featured several essays by a variety of notable Catholics involved in the New Media.  Some looked at more spiritual or theological aspects of discussing the Faith on the Internet, while others were more advice driven, explaining how Catholics and Catholic organizations can use the New Media to reach more people and expand their ministries. 


  1. Real Love by Mary Beth Bonacci – Another book I read in solidarity with my freshmen. Bonacci answers real questions from real teens who have real relationship problems.  The answers aren’t mere “Here’s the Church’s teaching” type answers; the majority of the answers invoke statistical evidence, making the book approachable for those outside the Church.  The book was a great help for me as a high school teacher, as I often get similar questions inside and outside of class.  


  1. Scripture Matters by Scott Hahn – Scott Hahn is one of the most recognizable Catholic Scripture scholars.  This collection of essays, covering a wide range of Scriptural topics, looks less at particular interpretations of specific passages, but rather at Scriptural exegesis as a whole.  Overall, the book is a good introduction to the Church’s study of Sacred Scripture. 


  1. On the Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists by Thomas a’Kempis – This was my spiritual reading during Lent.  Drawing from the Passion accounts in the Gospels, the mediation, which was a portion of a larger work on the life of Christ, walks with Jesus along his path to the cross.  Even though it was clearly written for those in religious communities (there are explicit references to life as a religious brother, to your religious superior, and to regularly praying the Divine Office), anyone can read it and draw deeply from a’Kempis’ spiritual well.


  1. One Heart Full of Love by Mother Teresa – This collection of speeches and interviews by St. Teresa of Calcutta is, shockingly, my first real introduction to the saint’s public addresses. I grew up knowing the greatness of this woman (I was 11 when she died), but I hadn’t read or heard any of her talks.  This collection shows the depth of Mother Teresa’s love for the poor and the neglected, as well as for Christ.  You feel her heart in every line, every word, in the collection. 


  1. Angels (and Demons) by Peter Kreeft – Written in question & answer format, this book (an easy read, I might add) delves into the theological and philosophical tradition about angels (and demons). Humor infuses Kreeft’s reflections, as do references to literature (Kreeft posits that the best depiction of angels in literature lies in the opening section of The Silmarillion, which I had read just prior to this book) and the writings of various saints. 


  1. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander – My wife and I read this together. This is the first of the Prydain Chronicles, a fantasy-adventure series that I, in my majority non-fiction reading youth, hadn’t encountered before my marriage (I had seen Disney’s The Black Cauldron, which is sort of based on the series).  Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper under the care of the enchanter Dallben, goes on an adventure against an evil lord Arawn.  Along the way, he meets an increasingly interesting cast of characters, the kind he will want by his side in his other adventures.  [Side note: My favorite memory of reading this book wasn’t as much the plot or characters, but my wife’s reading it.  Her version of Gurgi, the man-beast that befriends Taran, is adorable!]


  1. Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis – I read this book during Adoration over the span of a couple months. Rather than reflecting on each individual Psalm, Lewis examines themes and doctrines found in the Psalms, connecting them to literature, history, and philosophy, as well as the rest of the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition. 


  1. Rising Sun by Michael Crichton – I’m a big Michael Crichton fan.  I had read almost everything of his except this book.  Now I have.  Corporate corruption abounds in this murder mystery/crime drama, with Japanese businesses essentially controlling the economy of the United States.  The novel follows our hero as he tries to follow conflicting leads and questions less than helpful suspects, all the while trying to make it through the night alive.  Enjoyable, but I still stand by my view that Crichton was at his best when writing sci-fi novels.  


  1. Surprised by Truth, edited by Patrick Madrid – A collection of conversion stories from a variety of converts with an equally wide range of backgrounds. Some big names are in here, as well as more obscure ones.  Quite the emotional roller coaster; more than once the convert would be so close to the Church, then take a sharp left, and I, way too invested in stories to which I already know the conclusion, would scream in my head “You’re so close!  COME IN!  The Tiber’s great!”  Anyway, I liked it.  


  1. Ablaze! by Colleen Swaim – This is the first of TWO books by someone I know personally on this list (the other is directly below). I teach with Colleen (she’s one of the greatest teachers I know) at Bishop O’Connell, and when I became chairman of the religion department, with her joining the department at the same time, I decided I needed to get to know her a little better.  So I read one of her books.  She wrote this book and it’s companion, Radiate, years before she came to O’Connell.  Both of the books contain short biographies of saintly teens written for teens.  I must admit, I learned a lot from the book. 


  1. The Demon Maelstrom by Nicholas Mason – My wife and I read this together. I’m friends with the author from our time at Christendom College.  This is the second book in his Subversion Trilogy, which is set in a dystopian future Washington DC area.  Filled with crisp action scenes and thought-provoking dialogue, the story rushes towards a dramatic conclusion that sets the stage for the final installment.  Central to the drama of this series is the dignity of the human person; outside of our heroine and the rebels she fights with against the corrupt central government, the whole society, in true “theology of the body” fashion, disregards human dignity on a societal and personal level.  It is a dark precognition, one that feels more likely each day.    


So, that’s what kept me so busy during 2017.  Altogether, I began and finished 24 new-to-me books. 


This year, I plan to do something different.  In my living room, my wife and I have a bookshelf; friends and professors of ours wrote the books that inhabit the first two shelves.  Many of them I’ve read at some point, but a substantial number remain unread at the dawn of 2018.  Therefore, my reading goal this year is to read ALL of the books by people I know that I have not yet read by the start of the year.  As of now, there are a little more than a dozen books on the list.


I’m off to a good start too!  As of this posting, I’ve finished SIX new-to-me books, including three from this list of books by people that I know. 


Want to know what I thought of them? 


You’ll have to read my post on them next year. 


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Review: Books I read in 2017 (“The Big Ten”)

These past couple of years, I have kept a tally of the books I’ve read that were new-to-me, ones that I read for the first time that year.  In 2015 and 2016 I tried to read as many books as I could, trying to reach my personal goal of reading forty books.

I still have yet to reach that goal. 

This year, I did something different.  Readers may remember that my 2016 book list essay, posted at the dawn of 2017, included a list of ten books that I was determined to read before the end of the year.  I would also keep track of additionally books that I read. 

I’ll divide my reviews into two posts, one on “the Big Ten” and the other on the others.  

“The Big Ten” (in no particular order)

  1. Witness to Hope by George Weigel – The first part of Weigel’s monumental biography of Pope St. John Paul II, Witness to Hope came out in 1999, before John Paul II’s 2005 death.  The book is enormous (over 900 pages, and I read the first edition, not the one with a new Preface and Afterward), but essential if you want a complete picture of John Paul the Great.  One of the best biographies I have ever read.  Well worth the work that went into reading it. 
  1. The End and the Beginning by George Weigel – This is the sequel to Witness to Hope, but it is more than a sequel. Yes, it covers the life of John Paul II from 2000 (where Witness to Hope ended) through his death in 2005, but it also reexamines John Paul’s war against communism, or rather the communists’ war against him, thanks to the opening of Soviet archives.  The communism section is part one and the rest of John Paul’s biography is part two.  The third part offers Weigel’s reflections on the successes and failures of John Paul’s papacy.  Engaging and informative.  
  1. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi – This one is written for younger readers, but it was exciting nonetheless.  I won’t spoil anything about the plot, but I will quote you the opening sentences, just to whet your appetite: “Not every thirteen-year old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.  But I was just such a girl. . .”  Grabs ya, no?  I wasn’t too fond of how the book ends, but the rest of it was great!
  1. The Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology by Michael Newton – Anyone who knows me knows that I have a not-so-secret love for cryptozoology (the study of hidden animals, like Bigfoot, Nessie, sea serpents, animals that should be extinct but are reported to be alive, etc).  This is the most encompassing book I’ve ever found on the topic.  In addition to at least a short entry on most of the important creatures, locations, or people associated with cryptozoology, the book also has appendices listing movies, novels, and television shows featuring cryptozoological storylines.  There is also a comprehensive bibliography, for further reading.  
  1. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard – The first of O’Reilly and Dugard’s collaborations on the end (“Killing”) of famous people and institutions. An exciting read, filled with details I did not know about the Lincoln Assassination plot and the final days of the Civil War, it was a little frustrating for me for personal reasons.  My family might be distantly related to Mary Surratt, who was executed in connection with the assassination.  For all the detail put into researching the book, the treatment of Surratt’s role seemed cursory in comparison, following the standard narrative. 
  1. The History of the Catholic Church by James Hitchcock – I had previously thought of using this one-volume history of the Church for a high school Church History course. While it won’t work well in that regard (a little challenging for a textbook), it is a fantastic introduction to Catholic History.  Every page contained stories and facts I had never learned, and it approaches its story, not surprisingly, from a person-centered viewpoint.  
  1. The Life You Save May be Your Own by Paul Elie – Having majored in English and History, I have a special place in my heard for literary biographies. Paul Elie’s volume, which examines the life and work of Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy, does an excellent job not only examining the lives of these writers and their important role in mid-twentieth century Catholic intellectual history, but also how their lives and writings intertwined, and how one would influence the other.  It is a compelling read.  It really made me want to read the authors’ works, which is probably the ultimate goal of all good literary biography.   
  1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – Many people read this emotional novel in their high school literature courses. I did not; I feel glad I didn’t, though, because I feel that high school me would not have appreciated the depth of this mediation on African paganism’s reaction to European Christian colonialism.  Of “the Big Ten,” this one in particular sparked in me a desire for conversation.  The beauty of the imagery, the emotional pull of the story, the complexity of the characters.  All of it came together in a masterpiece of not just African literature, but of the human creative experience. 
  1. The Poem of the Cid by Anonymous – Years ago I bought a bilingual version of this book (not that I can read Medieval Spanish; it was the only version that I could find at the time) because I thought I would need it for a history course at Christendom College (turns out I had an outdated book list so I didn’t have to read it).  It was quite the epic, very similar to other medieval epic poems like The Song of Roland (which I did read for school).  Lots of battles and loot-getting.  Check it out if you haven’t yet.   
  1. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt – I must admit, this was my least favorite of the books I read this year (that includes the books not on “the Big Ten” list). The major parts of McCourt’s autobiography are compelling and emotionally charged, beautifully using Irish dialects and standard English to paint with words.  Yet I found the book to be too sexual.  [Related note: I’m beginning to have mixed feelings about reading memoirs, since the majority (at least what I’ve read, outside of conversion stories) include too much detail about the sexual exploits and desires of the author].  McCourt’s story begins when his parents, both newly arrived in America, met each other and had casual sex in a pub, which led to little Frankie’s conception, and ends with him having a one-night-stand with a girl at a party upon returning to America.  See?  It’s symmetry!  Sigh. 

That’s “the Big Ten.”  Next time, I’ll talk about the other books that I read in 2017. 

And, of course, someday soon, I’ll ACTUALLY post a Q & A essay.   

Until then, keep reading!

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Article about me

I sometimes post articles I’ve written in other places, such as at Catholic Exchange, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and Those Catholic Men.  Today, however, I want to post an article ABOUT me, or rather, about my research and the paper I’m presenting about the historiography of Warren H. Carroll.  Carroll was the founder of Christendom College, where I went to college, and had a tremendous influence on my academic life.  I probably would not have majored in history, and would probably not have had the fire I have for the Catholic vision of history, if it had not been for his work.


Christendom published the article on their website.


I’ll present the talk at Franciscan University on October 28.  Please pray that it goes well!


Also, there’s a new post in the works. . .

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Reblog: My talk at Franciscan

As many of you know, there is a speaking component to my writing ministry.  Translation, I don’t just write articles.  I am a full-time teacher at Bishop O’Connell High School, and I also occasionally give talks.  If you want a full list of the talks and other articles by me, check out the “More by Matthew” tab at the top of the page.  


Anyway, last fall, I was privileged to give a talk at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio for a symposium they hosted entitled “Pope Francis’s Vision for the Renewal of the Church.”  The symposium included several major speakers, including Ralph Martin, Eduardo Echeverria, and Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J.  There were also several smaller breakout sessions with talks.  


Mine was one of the smaller talks.  It went great, but I wanted to put my thoughts down in a more formal format.  So I wrote them up as an article and submitted it to Homiletic and Pastoral Review, where I write book reviews.  The article was published a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to share it with you guys!  


If you want to watch the big speeches, or at least part of them, they were featured on EWTN’s “On Location” series (part 1 is here, part 2 is here).  


I’m heading back to Franciscan this October to give a talk at the 25th Anniversery Conference for the Society for Catholic Social Scientists.  That talk will look at the historiography of Warren H. Carroll (I reviewed one of his books on this blog a few years back).  


If you are interested in booking me as a speaker, check out the “About Me” tab above.  

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