Tag Archives: Catholicism

Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part III)

Introduction?  Check.

Chapter One?  Check.

Chapter Two?  Ok, here you go.  

PART III

In Chapter Two, Pope Francis launches into a beautiful spiritual examination of man’s stewardship over Creation.  Beginning with the creation accounts in Genesis, Francis traces man’s responsibility for the world around him, and notes that the rupture we have with the environment stems from the Original Sin, which broke our relationship with God and our world.  We are responsible for creation, not in a domineering way, but in a caretaking way (67).  God alone dominates creation; we share in his dominion, but since “we are not God,” we are responsible not for ruling over creation, but rather for “tilling and keeping,” for cultivating and protecting (67).  Even when the Israelites travel into the Promised Land, God notes that it is His land, and that the Israelites are journeying there (Lev. 25:23; Francis quotes the verse). 

This responsibility carries into our relationships with each other.  Pope Francis examines the story of Cain and Abel in light of this role of man as caretaker.  “Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth. When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered” (70).  Yet, God does not leave us when others treat us with injustice: “The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil. Injustice is not invincible” (74). 

One of the key points that Francis drives at in this section is that God is a Creator, for creation must have a Creator.  Those who seek to be atheist environmentalists miss that essential component to an authentic ecology.  Those noted naturalists, like my favorite, David Attenborough, should note what the pope says in this chapter:

The world came about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things, . . . “the love which moves the sun and the stars.” (77; quote from Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 145)

The Holy Father also addresses divinizing nature, as pagan religions do (78), and the error of applying evolution to the spiritual world (81).  All three of those errors (atheistic ecology, paganism, and spiritual evolution) harm our understanding of nature and view it in an askew way.  It is only in having a correct theology and anthropology that we can truly see the wonders of the world God created. 

While developing this ecological spirituality, Pope Francis brings up again the unity of creation.  Everything in creation, because it comes from God, is worthy of respect.  However, Francis notes, there is an order in creation.  Even though all of creation is worthy of respect, man has a special dignity, unique among all other creatures.  That said, there is not a hierarchy in mankind based on nature.  A person is not “better” or “worth more” because of his or her race, creed, gender, financial status, age, or health.  We cannot measure each other in such a way and expect to treat the environment correctly.  In a truly profound statement, Pope Francis stresses, “It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted” (91).  We can’t claim to care about poaching and selling exotic animals if we don’t care, or even engage in, selling people through pornography or prostitution, or if we disregard the poor and needy, or if we support abortion and euthanasia for the unwanted baby or sick patient.  We must respect creation and each other. 

In Jesus we find a man uniquely in touch with the natural world, for He alone is both God and man.  What happens when the Creator enters Creation?  Miracles, to put it simply.  His calming of the sea, His walking on water, the miracles of healing, and of course the Eucharist all point to Christ’s dominion over creation.  Pope Francis doesn’t mention this directly, but you can see this connection in John 6.  That passage starts with the feeding of the five thousand, showing that Jesus had control over nature.  Then Jesus walks on water and calms the storm, showing how He has full control over His physical body and can use nature to do what He wants it to do.  Finally, Jesus tells His disciples how they will receive eternal life by eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which He can give to them through a mysterious way.  Why do Peter and the Apostles stay with Jesus?  Because they know He has control over nature and His Body; if Christ says to eat His flesh and drink His blood, then He’ll find a way that we can do just that.

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Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part II)

To read part one of my reflections, click here.

On with Part II!

Chapter One is the more controversial chapters in the encyclical, because it is here that the Pope examines scientific diagnoses for the Earth’s problems.  Pope Francis agrees that man-made climate change and pollution are big problems.  The pope makes a profound point: the throwaway culture that leads to pollution also leads to throwing away human lives.  In such a culture, as populates the developed world today, what is useful is used and what is not useful is discarded.  It’s the classic utilitarian philosophy that grew out of the Industrial Revolution, reheated for a new generation of oppressors.  The Holy Father examines this further in the encyclical, connecting disrespect for the environment with abortion and euthanasia, as they are symptoms of the same spiritual disease. 

Many commentators have noted that Pope Francis uses incorrect scientific data to argue that man-made climate change occurs, that we are responsible for rising oceans, destroying food chains in the oceans, rising carbon dioxide levels, etc.  Such commentators, however, often miss the purpose of the Holy Father’s discussion.  He is seeking to encourage an “honest debate … among experts” (61) on the issues and their solutions.  We are responsible for some changes to the planet.  The pope is requesting that the human family step back and examine what role we’ve played.  We must admit that we’ve done something to the planet.  What cannot happen is a wistful glance at the planet and assume we can still live the way we have for far too long (see 59). 

Francis focuses on climate change in paragraphs 23-26, referring back to the topic in a few other occasions later in the encyclical.  The majority of the discussion, however, is not over whether we caused the change (Pope Francis notes that, while the majority may have come from human causes, there are some natural reasons for a changing climate, such as volcanoes and solar influences); the focus is on the effects of the change, particularly for the poor in developing countries.  When we break the planet and ignore our needy brothers, we break civil society.  Mankind has affected the planet, sometimes for the worse, and we need to recognize our responsibility towards the planet and towards each other.  What Pope Francis is pointing out is that, no matter how you view the scientific data, all must understand that we have a role in tending to this planet.  Tending is the right word, because we have the same responsibility as Adam and Eve; the Earth is our Garden of Eden.

Whenever the Holy Father addresses an ecological issue in this chapter, he includes in his discussion how the environmental changes affect human society.  For example, in his discussion about water shortages, the Pope looks not only at how the loss of fresh water affects species living in areas near water, but in particular at the affect such shortages have on people.  He notes,

Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market.  Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.  Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. (30; emphasis in the original)

Likewise, in his discussion of biodiversity, Pope Francis looks at a theme which he will address throughout the encyclical, one which becomes the backbone of the entire work: the interconnectedness of all of Creation.  Over-fishing, for example, hurts food chains and the livelihood of local people.  We lose who we are when we lose respect for the planet. 

The Pope also has a warning concerning excessive uses of the digital world: “When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.  In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload.”  It is a teaching which I have tried to emphasize with my own students.  We cannot ignore those who came before us.  This is not merely a matter of Faith; it is a matter of who we are as human beings.  To isolate ourselves in a digital world formed by “tweets” and “likes” is to separate ourselves from true human interaction and, ultimately, interaction with the created world, prepared for us by God. 

Also in Chapter One is one of the passages that many (politically) liberal readers do not like, and so tend to ignore in their praise for the encyclical.  Pope Francis condemns using population control to solve environmental issues:

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.  At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health’ . . . .  To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. (50)

The Holy Father’s comment about pressure from countries that make economic aid “contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health’” should leave a sour taste in the mouths of certain politicians in the USA.  That seemingly essential liberal link between birth control and helping the poor has always befuddled me.  The starving people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas cannot be fed by condoms and abortion clinics.  Such efforts might remove the mouths to feed, but it does not feed the still hungry mouths.  It is a true international scandal. 

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Question: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul?

We are back!  Well, we’re back with a QUESTION!!!!!

 

Marcy asks: “Why was there a split between what I think of as the doctrine Peter and the doctrine of Paul?  Was it a matter of ‘money talks’?  And, of course, why no married priests if Peter was married?”

 

I don’t know if Marcy is getting at the famous phrase “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.”  If she is, the best my research can show indicates that the phrase has nothing to do with these two Apostles.  Most of the sources I’ve found in my research say that the “Peter” in question is actually Westminster Abbey (aka, the Abby of St. Peter’s), while the “Paul” is St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Apparently, after King Henry VIII took over the monastery lands, including Westminster Abbey, in the sixteenth century, he used money from the monastery to pay for repairs to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  Thus Peter was robbed to pay for Paul.  The phrase had nothing to do with the doctrines of the two disciples.  There is evidence for earlier references to the phrase, but they always have to do with moving money around and nothing to do with the actual Apostles.

 

However, there is a deeper topic of discussion here.  Marcy mentions the debate over the doctrine of St. Peter vs. the doctrine of St. Paul.  Many Protestant theologians embrace the writings of St. Paul as an antidote to the theology of the Catholic Church, and since the first pope is St. Peter, these theologians set up St. Paul as an antidote to St. Peter.  It is a hot topic in many interdenominational debates.

 

In order to approach this hotly debated topic, we must first get to know the two great men in question, Sts. Peter and Paul.  Both men helped form the Church.  If there was a divide between them, if one’s beliefs were suppressed for the other, then perhaps the entirety of Christian history is a lie.  That would be bad.

 

But first, a little about St. Peter.

 

He was a fisherman named Simon, a strong man, tough and weathered by years on the Sea of Galilee.  He was like all of us, a sinner.  He admits as much to Jesus when Our Lord helps him catch a miraculous net of fish.  He was outspoken, saying his mind, a sometimes-flaw which Christ used to spread His Word.  Christ did not choose him randomly to be the “Rock” upon which He would build His Church.  Matthew 16 is clear on this; it was a defining moment in Church history, and as such merited the change of the Apostle’s name from Simon to Peter.  Yet this same man who declared Christ was the “Son of God” later tried to forbid Christ from going to Jerusalem.  Christ’s rebuke of Peter serves to remind us that though Christ works with us for our salvation and the salvation of others, He is in charge, we are not.  Jesus used this man of conviction, in spite of his brash nature, to transform the world.  It was Peter who, after Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, stood up and took charge of the Apostles; Christ had, after all, left Peter the task (see Luke 22:31-32 and John 21:15-19).  No one challenged him.  When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost, it was Peter who addressed the crowd, and 3000 joined the Church that day.  Peter was the leader, and the Church followed his lead.

 

Paul was similar to Peter in that he too had great faith and spoke his mind.  Unlike Peter, Paul (whose original name was Saul) was well educated and, notably, a Roman citizen.  He studied under Gamaliel, one of the most notable rabbis of first century Jerusalem.  On fire for God, Saul joined the Persecution of Christians in Jerusalem.  He was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians there when a blinding light knocked him to the ground, and Christ’s voice announced that Saul was persecuting Him, not merely His followers.  This conversion transformed Saul.  After retreating to the Arabian desert for three years, Saul met with the Apostles in Jerusalem.  During this time, Paul drew into Christ, and soon he referred to himself not by his given name (Saul) but by a Greek version of that name (Paul).

 

These two men are, as Fr. Robert Barron says in his Catholicism series, “the indispensable men” of the early Church.  The Church would not exist as it does today if not for these men.  They together formed a huge bulk of the New Testament.  St. Peter wrote two letters contained in the Canon of Scripture, as well as working with St. Mark on his Gospel account.  St. Paul is responsible for the bulk of the New Testament, penning the majority of the New Testament Letters, as well as working with St. Luke to write the third Gospel and Acts of the Apostles.  These two men, Peter and Paul, presented to the Church an authentic understanding of Christ’s mission and teaching.  St. Peter helped spread the word to Jewish Christians; St. Paul’s preaching earned him the title “Apostle to the Gentiles.”

 

What, then, of this split between their teachings?  Did they teach different doctrines?  If so, who was right?

 

The controversy stems from a rather strong passage in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (2:11ff).  Here Paul describes how he went to preach to the Gentiles, as Peter, James, and John preached to the Jews.  However, while in Antioch, Paul stood up to Peter “to his face” because Peter ate with the Jewish Christians but not the Gentile ones.  Protestant scholars see in Paul’s statement proof that he and St. Peter were at odds with each other, and that Paul had enough authority to counter the authority of Peter.  Peter, it seems, taught one thing while Paul taught something else, and given the chance, Paul would reject Peter’s authority.  Does this mean Peter was not really in charge of the Christian Church following Christ’s Ascension?

 

The answer lies in the Acts of the Apostles (side note: remember to read the Bible, especially St. Paul’s letters, as one book; St. Paul’s writings fit into the historical narrative relayed in Acts of the Apostles, and oftentimes the historical writings are helpful for making sense of Paul’s writings).  In Acts 10 there is the story of a Roman centurion named Cornelius.  Cornelius was one of the “God-fearers,” pagans who believed in the one true God, but didn’t want to go through the rather painful process of becoming Jewish.  Cornelius received a vision telling him to send for Peter.  He does this immediately.  The next day, as the messengers from Cornelius approach the place where Peter stayed, Peter himself received a vision of a sheet with all sorts of animals, clean and unclean.  Peter, though very hungry (it was lunch time), refused to touch the animals, saying “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14).  A voice responded, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”  This happened three times, and at the end of it, Peter was confused.  Then he met the messengers from Cornelius, and things started to make sense.  He went with the men to Cornelius, and long story short, Cornelius and his household were baptized, even though they were not Jewish.  They became the first Gentile Christians, baptized by the hand of Peter himself.

 

Now as time progressed, many Gentiles became Christians.  Some of the Jewish Christians (converts from Judaism) were upset that the Gentile Christians didn’t have to follow the law of Moses before becoming Christians.  Other Christians said the law of Moses no longer had the authority it did before Christ.  Christ fulfilled the law, the logic went, and so we don’t need the explicit law any more.  Paul supported this latter view.  The final decision on this question finally came at the Council of Jerusalem (the first council of its kind in Church history).  There the Apostles decided that Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians were equal, and that Gentile Christians did not have to follow the Mosaic law (the whole story is in Acts 15).  Peter not only supported this decision, it was his speech in the council that rallied the Apostles to agree.  So there in Acts 15 Peter and Paul agree on this issue of Gentile vs. Jewish Christians.  They are the same, and one can interact with both groups.  All are one in Christ.

 

What, then, of Galatians 2:11 ff?  Look at what Paul says he said to Peter.  First, the context.

 

Chapter two of Paul’s letter begins by Paul saying how he went to Jerusalem to defend his ministry to the Gentiles.  He gives a beautiful, reflective summary of the council in Jerusalem:

 

“When they [the other Apostles] saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do” (Gal 2:7-10).

 

Paul left the council with the blessing and prayers and support of Peter, James, and John (Peter = Cephas).  However, the very next verse is the startling one: “But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”  Does Paul know better than Peter?  Does a normal bishop dare stand up to the pope?  The rest of the passage holds the answer.

 

For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.  And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”  We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.  But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin?  Certainly not!  But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor.  For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.  (Gal. 2:12-21)

 

This isn’t an example of a bishop (Paul) splitting off from the pope’s (Peter’s) teaching.  This is a bishop reminding the pope of his own teaching.  Paul does this reprimand not to break off from Peter or to try to take control of the Church, but to unite the Church, rallying the faithful around the teaching of the Apostles.

 

And before anyone gets too excited, no, this episode does nothing to diminish papal infallibility.  Peter was causing scandal through his actions (a discipline-related matter), but he did not break from the set doctrine of the Church.

 

So there was no conflict between Peter and Paul.  In fact, one finds in one of Peter’s letters an endorsement of Paul’s letters: “Count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters.  There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability” (2 Peter 3: 15-17).  Likewise, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul lists Peter first among those who saw the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:5).  Paul also discourages the Corinthians from distinguishing between his teaching and that of Peter.  As Paul states, “let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3: 21-23).

 

Peter and Paul together transformed the Church.  It is no wonder that the Church celebrates both men together on June 29 (which, on a completely unrelated side note, is also my wedding anniversary).

 

 

Above: An Icon of Peter and Paul.  See, they’re bros!

One final note about Peter.  Marcy asked why there are no married priests if Peter was married.  We know that Peter was married because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (see Matthew 8, Mark 1, and Luke 4 for the story).  Why, then, can’t priests be married?

 

The celibate priesthood is a discipline of the Church.  Disciplines can change.  In the early church, some priests were married (as we mentioned in the post about the question of women priests in Church history), and this discipline is still practice in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.  Likewise, in the Roman Catholic Church, certain clergymen who convert from certain Protestant groups (like former Anglicans) may, under certain circumstances, be ordained even though they are married.  There are also permanent deacons in the Roman Rite who are married.  However, there is a major condition for all of these men, whether they are Eastern or converts or permanent deacons: married clergy must be married prior to receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders, that is, before ordination.  Married men can become priests.  Priests can’t become married men.

 

There is a lot more which could be said about this.  I have a special section in the For More Information below concerning married priests.

 

For More Information

 

On “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”

 

http://idiomation.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/rob-peter-to-pay-paul/

 

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/rob-peter-to-pay-paul.html

 

 

On Married Priests

 

Thurston, Herbert.  “Celibacy of the Clergy.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Vol. 3.  New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.  Accessed June 8, 2014.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03481a.htm

 

Catholic Answers.  “Celibacy and the Priesthood.” Accessed June 8, 2014.  http://www.catholic.com/tracts/celibacy-and-the-priesthood

 

“Clerical Celibacy (Catholic Church).”  Accessed June 8, 2014.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clerical_celibacy_(Catholic_Church)

 

Cattaneo, Arturo.  Married Priests?: 30 Crucial Questions about Celibacy.  San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2012.

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I had originally written this reflection for publication in an online magazine, but I didn’t submit it in time.  So I’ll publish it here!

Happy Feast of the First Martyrs of Rome

On a late July night in AD 64, hidden in the imperial palace, Emperor Nero’s dark thoughts stirred.  A substantial portion of the great city of Rome lay under ashes.  Outrage spread throughout the streets of the empire’s capital.  Like any outraged populous, the people of Rome called for answers.  They needed answers.  For many, their lives seemed utterly ruined.  The emperor, that sick and twisted man who had murdered his wife and his mother, must be to blame.  So the rumbling crowds shouted.  Nero needed an answer for them, something that would divert their anger from him to someone, or some group, of no consequence.

Perhaps it was an aide to him who made the suggestion.  Perhaps he had heard tales of a strange group that had trickled out from Palestine, a group that adhered to strange rituals and bizarre teachings.  They were a relatively unpopular group, often at odds with the traditional Roman priests.  Perhaps reports came to Nero’s court that these new zealots had stirred up trouble in Greece a few years earlier.  The more the emperor thought on this, the more he knew he had his scapegoat.

He announced by imperial decree that this radical group was to blame for the fire of Rome.  The religion became illegal, and for the 250 years that spanned the fire of Rome in AD 64 and the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians throughout the empire lived and preached under that ban.  The hunt began, and it was not long before the first Christians appeared in a Roman court for that most persistent of crimes: faithfully following Jesus of Nazareth.

The feast of the First Martyrs of the Roman Church falls on June 30, the day after the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.  It is a fitting placement for such a feast, for if we include in the list of the earliest Roman martyrs those who died before Nero’s bloody suicide in AD 68, then tradition holds that both St. Peter and St. Paul fall into this category of First Roman Martyrs.  On the other hand, this feast celebrates the lesser known martyrs, those whose names or life stories are lost to history.

Their deaths, however, scar the period of the early Roman Empire and provide a blueprint for the persecution of Christians even in more recent years.  Imperial troops scoured the city for Christians.  Arrested Christians often confessed that they were Christian, and under torture often gave the names of other Christians.  The Roman writer Tacitus describes how “an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind” (Tacitus, Annals 15: 44).  Soon this multitude filled the prisons in Rome, and executions followed.

These executions, providing the martyrs with their crowns, stand in history as among the most appalling murders ever recorded.  Men, women, and children died in the circus on the Vatican Hill, near where St. Peter’s Basilica is today.  Some were killed by more traditional Roman methods of execution, such as beheading or crucifixion (St. Paul died through beheading; St. Peter died via crucifixion).  Others died in more diabolical ways.  Nero held grand parties in his private gardens.  There the attendees would see performances of horrific tales from Greco-Roman mythology, particularly ones where the tragic figure would perish at the end.  The part of the helpless victim fell to the Christian prisoners.  In similar fashion, guests of the emperor hunted game in the gardens, though in this scenario the game was a Christian dressed in animal skins.  Nero’s dogs attacked the caught Christian and killed him or her, as they might any wild animal.  The most horrific, however, came after the sun set.  Nero mounted his personal chariot and rode along the garden’s pathways, cheered on by the guests.  As he rode, servants lit torches along his route.  These torches, burning and spitting in the Roman night air, contained not mere pitch or oil, but rather helpless Christians, who being condemned to die, served as Nero’s “Roman candles.”  Many died in such horrible manners, shocking though they may be.  Though the death of Nero granted the Christians some respite from such tortures, it would not be long before another Roman emperor saw reason to wipe out Christians from the empire.  As French historian Henri Daniel-Rops puts it,

Between 64 and 314 every single day held for the faithful believer the ever-present threat of a frightful death: the period is divided fairly evenly into the years of active bloodshed and those of relative quiet.  And every so often, during those two hundred and fifty years of history, we shall hear that cry of distress and agony rising heavenwards again, just as it had risen from the gardens of the Vatican glade in Nero’s day.  But from the moment of the first tortures the faith had known how to transform that cry into a cry of hope.  (Daniel-Rops, The Church of Apostles and Martyrs, 159)

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How do these stories of men and women slain nearly 1950 years ago apply to us today?  Like in the days of Ancient Rome, Christians today face persecution.  While many are not called to martyrdom, as the Christians under Nero were, we are all prepared for it.  By our baptism we are brought into new life in Christ, and by living in Christ, we also share in His death and Resurrection.  We are all called to suffer for the sake of the Name, even if it isn’t to the death.  We are all called to sacrifice our lives for the glory of God.  No matter our vocation, we are called to give up what we once were and embrace a radical new way of living.  This, then, is the ultimate lesson from these earliest martyrs of the Church, the same proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council: the Universal Call to Holiness.  Only when we embrace this call can we stand with the martyrs of the early Roman Church and worship the Triune God for all eternity.

For Further Reading:

Henri Daniel-Rops.  The Church of Apostles and Martyrs

Warren H. Carroll.  A History of Christendom.  Volume 1.  The Founding of Christendom.

Reflection: First Martyrs of Rome

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Reflection: Year of Faith – I Believe in God (Part II)

See Part I of this series

Ahhhh!  Running out of time to write reflections on the Creed before the end of the Year of Faith!  I guess I’ll have to continue the reflections AFTER the year ends.   That’s not so bad, though.  One should grow in Faith no matter what year it is.   I’m sure it wasn’t Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s intention to have the faithful look into the Faith for one year and then abandon such pursuits.  No, deepening your Faith involves a lifetime of devotions.

So let us continue where we left off. . .

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty”

Explain the Trinity.  Go ahead, explain it.  Having trouble?  Unsure of exactly how to describe the 3-in-1 thing perfectly?  The language of “three Persons, one God” is helpful, but do you ever still feel confused at the end of your reflections on the Trinity?

As Fr. Robert Barron says at the end of his discussion of the Trinity in his Catholicism TV series, “Good.”

There is a difference, a huge difference, between a discussion of God’s existence and a discussion of his oneness, and a discussion of the Trinity.  The existence of God can be known through human reason, without the aid of Divine Revelation (St. Thomas, that great thinker of all things theological and philosophical, called natural beliefs like God’s existence “preambles to the Faith”).  The resulting knowledge of God without Revelation isn’t perfect, for we need Revelation from God to better understand Him, but it is possible.  We can see “proofs” that show that God’s existence is reasonable.  This is not the case with the Trinity.  Try all he wants, a pagan Greek philosopher could not come to the philosophical conclusion that God is three Persons yet one God (as a side note in speculation, perhaps the ideas of polytheism did somehow hint at this reality, and man formed multiple gods out of the truth of one God in three Persons).

The doctrine of the Trinity, though not apparent through philosophic thought, does make sense on a rational level.  If God is perfect, as He would have to be, being God, then He would have to have pure Love as one of His attributes.  St. John is right in noting that “God is Love” (1 John 8: 8, 16).  Love is a good thing, but it cannot exist if there is not some person to receive the love, someone to receive the affection (and no, you can’t really love chocolate).  You cannot love something that is not a person; love can only be shared between persons.

This is a powerful truth when applied to God.  God is perfect Love, which means that He loves eternally, without beginning or end.  Being eternal, He must likewise love perfectly someone eternal, another eternal person.  This eternal person would have to exist from all eternity, also without beginning or end.  This second person is thus also God, for God alone is eternal.  This is the Second Person in God, the Son.  Thus we can see it follows that God is two divine, eternal Persons.

So the Father (the First Person) loves the Son (the Second Person) from all eternity, and the Son loves the Father likewise.  Their Love, then, is a third eternal existence, without beginning or end, and is therefore a Third Person, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, in case you couldn’t see where this is going, is also God.

Now, of course, this model of the Trinity is not perfect.  It is not without reason that the Church refers to the Mystery of the Trinity.  This is not a Mystery in the sense that you hunt it down and try to find the answer.  No, it is a mystery because it transcends our limited, human understanding.  We cannot fully grasp the inner life of the Trinity, the ad intra workings of God.  What we can grasp, partially, of course, are the ad extra acts of the Trinity, that is, when He works outside of Himself through creation.  God has revealed Himself throughout history and in various steps.  He first revealed Himself through creation, which is why we can use reason to know He exists.  We can look at the created world to know that there is a God and that He loves us (we will look at God’s act of creation in the second half of this post).  God further revealed Himself through His interaction with the Hebrew people.  They were blessed to know God as Father.  God would more fully reveal Himself through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in Jesus of Nazareth, who likewise revealed the Third Person of God the Holy Spirit.  We do not have time now to discuss these later revelations of God, but will examine them when we look at the Son and Holy Spirit in later posts of these reflections.

“I believe in One God. . . Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible.”

All of Creation depends on God, from whom all good comes.  God, being perfect, did not need to create.  He did so out of love.  He, being infinite Being itself, is the source of existence for all of creation.  God is the creator.  Nothing exists that He did not create, at least indirectly (so for example, the plastic stuff all around you wasn’t DIRECTLY created by God, but He did make the materials that would eventually become the plastic).

[And no, that does not mean God creates evil.  Evil is a privation, a lack of a good.  God allows evil to come into the world for our benefit.  We can’t know exactly how it works in this life.  Evil is another one of those mysteries of Faith mentioned above.  But evil isn’t God’s fault, as if He were trying to hurt us.  We should stop blaming God for bad things and instead work towards correcting the bad.  We should turn to Him as our model for goodness, rather than rejecting the one perfect thing in existence.]

This line from the Creed, about God creating “all things visible and invisible” went through a slight translation change in the newest translation of the Roman Missal (from 2010).  The prior English translation of the Latin phrase “visibilium omnium et invisibilium” made God the creator “of all things seen and unseen.”  The translation now states that God is the creator “of all things visible and invisible.”  This is not some obsessive translation on the part of churchmen who have nothing better to do than think of new translations of creedal statements.  It reflects a more sound concentration of the importance of God’s revelation.  “Seen and unseen” implies that one could somehow physically see everything in creation (“unseen” seems to imply that the focus of our attention could be seen somehow, but just hasn’t been seen yet); “visible and invisible” puts every thing into a category of things we can sense and things we can’t.

The new translation points towards not only invisible natural forces in creation, such as gravity or even something like the wind, but also includes the spiritual world, namely angels (and demons, or angels that rejected God).  Pure spirits without material bodies, angels are invisible.  They appear to humans, some theologians say, by manipulating light into a form that can be visible to those to whom they are sent.  Angel means “messenger,” and the angels who do interact with people do so because they have special missions from God.  The three archangels, Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, are known by name because they appear in Scripture, helping God at important points of Salvation History.  All people have their own guardian angel, as does every church and every country.  Angels were created all at once, the Church teaches, and are not the same as souls who have died and gone to Heaven (contrary to pop cultural references).  And speaking of erroneous ideas of angels, get out of your head the idea of angels as cute and fluffy babies.  There is a reason that the first words angels normally say when greeting humans are “Do not be afraid.”  Visitors from other planes of existence can be quite terrifying.

The Creed affirms not only the existence of angels, but of Heaven and Hell as well.  The existence of both Heaven and Hell are denied rather frequently today, sometimes more frequently than God and angels.  We need to remember that such eternal places exist.  Heaven is a place of bliss, where the souls of the just exist in happiness with God forever.  Dante’s Paradiso captures this reality beautifully.  The souls in Heaven, represented by human-sized lights, swirl around God.  When Dante asks one of the souls who is further away from God if that soul is jealous of those closer to God, the soul says no, because God has placed her where she belongs, and she is still in the presence of God.

Hell, also real, is eternal separation from God.  The most terrifying aspect of Hell is that the people there WANT to be there.  They have chosen to separate themselves from God, and God gives them what they want.  Hell, as strange as it sounds, is a place of justice and love, justice because it gives the souls what they are due (separation from God because of unrepented sins), love because it gives the souls what they want.  Nobody is surprised to end up in Hell.  Again, Dante portrays this marvelously in his Inferno.  At the center of Hell is Satan, frozen in thick sheets of ice.  He remains frozen because, in his pride, the Father of Lies beats his wings, creating a freezing wind that further freezes the ice around him.

Two parables emphasize this point by two very different men.  One is told by Jesus, the other by Oscar Wilde.  The parable of Jesus recounts the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man, who would not help Lazarus, even though he saw him daily outside his house, ends up in Hell, while Lazarus ends up in Heaven.  When the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they might repent, Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29).  The rich man rejects Abraham’s offer: “No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30).  The brothers, like the rich man, have separated themselves from God, and the rich man fails to see how God might have offered the key to salvation for men like him and his brothers.

The other story is “The House of Judgment” by Oscar Wilde.  In it is a man who has done pretty much everything bad that is humanly possible.  He is told he has to go to Hell, but he replies he can’t because he’s spent his entire life there.  When Heaven is offered to him, he rejects it because, as he says, “Because never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it.”  One cannot be with God in Heaven if he cannot build his relationship with God on earth.  In what is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of sin, Hell is the only place where such a person can feel at home.

A quick word on visible creation.  There is a lot of debate about whether science or religion has the key to understanding the beginning of the universe.  When man pits science against God or when a man rejects reason in the face of faith, only ignorance results.  Both extremes deny the other’s truth.  Faith and science work together and should agree with each other.  If they don’t, someone went wrong.  The fights over creation vs. evolution are frequently neither scientific nor religious.  Bad science ignores evidence, as many believing evolutionists do; bad religion ignores reason and Tradition, as too many creationists do.

I wrote a paper once trying to reconcile theories of human evolution with the Church’s teaching on Adam and Eve.  Maybe someday I’ll publish it in some scholarly journal.  One thing I found was that there was not a lot of work by Catholics in the field of evolutionary biology, particularly in reconciling the findings of the scientific community with the Church’s teaching on creation, original sin, and the origins of man.  There are some notable contributions by Catholic scientists, but their works are too often ignored by both scientists and Catholics.  Much is said about fitting the scientific theory of the Big Bang into the account of Genesis 1, but there has not been as much work on fitting recent genetic and biological research into the first three chapters of Genesis.  My paper sought to do that, but I am not a scientist, nor am I a genius theologian.  The work still needs to be done.

We Catholics must remember above all that, no matter the details of how the universe came to be as it is today, God must have started it.  If the evolutionary theorists are correct, that the earth and life came to be through gradual changes, then God directed those changes, with our salvation as its goal.  We must also keep in mind that often forgotten point in the debates over man’s origins: man’s ultimate goal, which is salvation in Heaven with God.

It was to regain our salvation for us after we lost it after the Fall that God became incarnate in the womb of Mary, mother of Jesus.  We will reflect on what we believe about this pivotal event in human history, upon which even our dating of history hinges (even if you don’t believe in God): the Incarnation.  And in looking at that crucial historical event, we will delve deep, deep into the mystery of God.

For Further Reading (or Listening)

Augustine of Hippo, On the Trinity

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section Two, Chapter One (198–421)

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Trinity

________.  On “Not Three Gods

Gregory Thaumaturgus, Fragment from “On the Trinity”

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity

Institute of Catholic Culture Lectures

David Brown, Science & Religion: Compatible or Combative? (especially the first talk)

Dcn. Sabatino Carnazzo, Catechism 102: The Creed

Dr. Timothy T. O’Donnell, Suffering with God: Job & the Attacks of the Evil One

Fr. Andrew Hofer, Original Sin

Fr. Paul Scalia, Credo: I Believe in God the Father

Fr. William Saunders, Alpha and Omega: God the Father, Creator of the World

_________.  Creation or Evolution: What Does the Church Really Teach?

Pinto, Matthew J.  Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?  And 199 Other Questions from Catholic Teenagers.  West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 1998, Chapters 1 & 2.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Part I (deals with God and creation, including parts discussed in the previous post.

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Celebrating ‘All Hallows Eve’/ ‘Feast of All Saints’ in a Pre-Christian West

A similar, though slightly different, approach to the same question we examined in our most recent post. Happy Halloween and Happy All Saints Day!

Catholicism Pure & Simple

Death is a fact of life. When St. Francis of Assisi lay dying he said, “Welcome, Sister Death”. Tomorrow is Halloween – when we recognise that death is another creaturely thing in a world that will one day pass away. “I believe…in the communion of saints,” we say every Sunday in the Creed. The following day, the Feast of All Saints, is our family Feast day when we honour all those who have died, marked with the sign of Faith, and gone on before us to be with the Lord.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

The term “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve”, the Christian Vigil of the celebration of the Christian Feast of “All Saints”. I contend that what it is becoming, with its undue influence on goblins, ghosts and the demonic, simply reflects the waning influence of the Christian vision in the West. It also presents an opportunity for Catholic Christians to…

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Question: Can Catholics celebrate Halloween?

Kristy, who writes at Granola Vogue, asked a question (and to emphasize just how BEHIND I am, I had joked with her that I hopefully wouldn’t be writing about it around Halloween. . . ) about everybody’s favorite candy-giving, creepy movie watching, totally spiritual holiday: “I read your latest post on Christmas [sorry to interrupt again, but this kinda shows just how old this question was] so I was wondering where does the Catholic Church stand on celebrating Halloween? Where does it fit it, if at all into their beliefs?”

A fine question, Kristy.  Let’s look at the history of Halloween first, compare its historical celebrations to today’s, and see what Catholics say about it.

Halloween got its start as a religious feast.  It is the day before All Saints’ Day, one of the holiest feasts of the year, when the Catholic Church celebrates all of the saints in Heaven, especially those who have not been declared a saint by the Church (remember, the Catholic Church doesn’t make someone a saint; she declares that that person is a saint).  The word “Halloween” is adapted from its proper, liturgical title: “All Hallows’ Eve.”  “Hallows” is an older English word that we still use in some contexts (for example, in the “Our Father” we say in the first line “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name”).  The word “hallow” means “holy,” and thus “All Hallows’ Eve” celebrates the eve (evening) before the feast of All Saints (the holy ones of God).  The words combine to make Halloween.

The feast of All Saints’ Day wasn’t established in the Church calenders until 615, when Pope Boniface IV established the Feast of All Martyrs to commemorate the conversion of the Pantheon in Rome into the Church of “St. Mary of the Martyrs” (“Santa Maria dei Martiri”).  There had been earlier celebrations commemorating the Church’s martyrs, but this was the first time it was made official by the Pope (it was celebrated on May 13).  This feast was later turned into the Feast of All Saints by Pope Gregory IV in 840 and moved to November 1 in 844 by that same pontiff.  Several commentators note that the establishment of both the feast in honor of All Martyrs and the feast in honor of All Saints marked an attempt to turn a sometimes pagan Europe towards God, baptizing the day in honor of the saints, rather than towards pagan gods.  To highlight the importance of the feast, Pope Sixtus IV made the feast a holy day of obligation in 1484, meaning all Catholics were to attend Mass that day.  Pope Sixtus also established a vigil feast for this major feast day (what is now called Halloween) as well as an octave to extend the feast’s celebration.  However, the octave and the liturgies attached to the eve of All Saints were removed before the mid-1950s.

(Above: Raphael’s “The Disputation of the Sacrament,” aka, What they do in Heaven)

All Souls’ Day (November 2) has a much shorter history.  Since the beginning of the Church (and before, as noted in 2 Maccabees 12:38-46), the faithful have offered prayers for the dead, so that they might be freed from the stain of sin and brought into paradise.  The feast of All Souls’ Day grew out of this practice, first in local monasteries as a way to pray for those monks and loved ones who had died (particularly from the 6th through 11th Centuries), then in the major cities (Liege by 1008, Milan by 1125), and eventually to the whole world.  Pope Sylvester II recommended the feast for the Universal Church (but did not require the feast be added to the universal Church calender) in the 11th century, and as is often the case in matters liturgical, once the feast gained the support of the Pope, it spread throughout Europe.  It wasn’t until very recently (1915, under Pope Benedict XV), however, that the feast became an official one on the universal Church calendar (and a special exemption from the two-Masses-per-day rule was given to priests).

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass freeing souls from purgatory

(Above: What happens during a Requiem Mass)

So that’s a quick summary of the history behind All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days and the creation of Halloween as a liturgical celebration.  Halloween is, as you can see, at its roots a Catholic celebration: remembering the saints who dwell with God in Heaven and the departed who left this world in need of our prayers.  In that way, it is very Catholic to celebrate Halloween.

But what about Halloween today?  Where did we get all the holiday stuff, the ghosts, the monsters, the jack-o-lanterns, etc.?  Is the Church ok with all of that?

First, the party stuff.

The connection with All Souls’ Day reveals right away the emphasis on ghosts and things that go bump in the night.  Ghosts are often connected with souls from Purgatory who cannot find rest.  A church in Rome contains relics of visitors from Purgatory (these and other ghost-like visitations were the subject of a recent book, Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory), emphasizing the need for prayers for the faithfully departed, especially those who have no one to pray for them.  The accounts attached to those relics are real ghost stories.  It is little wonder, then, that ghosts and other denizens of the night are associated with the two feast days of the Church which focus on the afterlife, not on the lives of heroic men and women but on what happens to us when we die.

Many of the familiar Halloween features stem from pagan European practices.  The most commonly noted is a festival in Celtic areas (Ireland, England, Scotland, etc.) prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries dedicated to Samhain, their god of death.  This feast marked the Celtic New Year.  Rituals included offering burnt sacrifices in huge bonfires and wearing animal skins as costumes.  The hope was that these would keep the god at bay, as well as protect the people of the villages from the evil spirits released into the world by Samhain.  From these Celtic areas, we also find familiar rituals which may be the ancestors of our Halloween celebrations.  In Ireland people joined a parade led by a druidic priest in an animal mask who went from house to house begging for food in the name of another god, Muck Olla (those who would give food were blessed, while those who didn’t were cursed).  The Irish also started carving turnips for the feast.  Scottish peasants wandered the fields at night with torches to keep evil spirits at bay.  When Roman legions conquered the Celtic regions, their Latin customs of autumnal harvest rituals mixed with the Celtic festival.  Christian missionaries attempted to baptize the festivities (as they did with festivals near Christmastime), resulting in a strong emphasis in Celtic Christianity on death and physical mortification.

Similar rituals arose in Frankish and Germanic Christian kingdoms.  French Catholics in particular had a festival known as “Dance Macabre” in honor of departed souls, often dressing in costumes to represent people throughout their life.  French monks in the monasteries in Cluny developed devotions in honor of the souls in Purgatory, offering special Masses for the dead (the Masses of the Clunaic monks inspired Pope Sylvester II, who himself was French, to spread the celebration of Mass for the Dead).  These rites and rituals became popular among the lay faithful, and soon became part of Christian culture.

Our modern understanding of Halloween came about when all of these features mixed together in America, the world’s cultural melting pot.  French, Irish, Scottish, and German immigrants lived near each other, intermarried, and formed a new culture.  The Irish tradition of carving turnips and asking for food became our tradition of carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating.  The French devotion to prayers for the souls in Purgatory and their costume-filled “Dance Macabre” mixed with Celtic fears of ghosts and goblins.  Other cultures mixed and mingled, and eventually our modern holiday of Halloween formed.

This leaves the biggest question of them all: can a Catholic celebrate Halloween?  I would say yes, provided they avoid the more disturbing facets that have slithered into the holiday’s celebration in recent decades.  The focus of the holiday turned from remembering the dead, praying for them, and invoking the saints, to a disturbing obsession with evil.  This evil appears in various forms, and its not always as obvious as the evil in a horror movie.  Many children (and those who wish they were children) dress in costumes for trick-or-treating.  Those costumes speak volumes.  A cute costume might draws “awwws” and “how sweet.”  Gory costumes draw the opposite reaction.  Girls dressed in overtly sexual costumes draw a very disturbing reaction.  Costumes of children dressed as witches and zombies seem more appropriate.  Mix this with attempts by modern witches and druids to claim Halloween as their holy day and the water gets murky.  The Christian origins of the holiday fade into obscurity.

Christians are divided into four groups regarding Halloween.  One group just doesn’t celebrate it, not out of any dislike but simply because they don’t want to.  Another wants nothing to do with it, some because of its connection to pre-Christian Europe, some because of how disturbing some of the celebrations of Halloween have become.  A third group, on the other end of the spectrum, celebrates the holiday like anyone else, without any concern over the controversies mentioned above.  The fourth group, which I lean towards, seeks to embrace what is properly Christian, reclaiming, so to speak, Halloween.  Rather than wandering the streets dressed as monsters, children trick-or-treat dressed as saints or religious figures.  Others dress in some heroic costume (knights, soldiers, policemen, etc).  Other costumes work too (I was a shark when I was very young!) and there is room for some monstrosities, gentle ghosts and lovable witches.  However, it is not my place to say in definite terms “this is wrong” or “the parent who allows this or that costume is a bad, sinful parent.”  These, of course, are mere suggestions.

There is a place for terror during Halloween, for it reminds us of the end of our lives.  Halloween brings to our attention a terrifying reality: we will all die.  Even those who emphasize the spiritual aspect of the holiday know that this reality is at the root of the celebration.  The saints, though heroic and in Heaven, had to die to reach their triumphant state.  The souls in Purgatory likewise had to die to reach their state of purification.  Those in Hell suffer the worst fate, for in their death they have separated themselves from God.  It is of this reality that Halloween seeks to remind us.  Horror has its place in reminding us.  Perhaps it is the easiest way to shock us into drawing back to God.

No matter the costume or the celebration, this main focus of Halloween should be maintained.  We should recall those who have gone before us, either celebrating in the triumph of the saints or pray for those who still journey through Purgatory.  Some suggested practices help refocus our attention during the holiday.  Reflections on the saints form a delightful part of the celebration. Readings from the lives of the saints or their writings might help to remind Christians young and old of the great patrimony of our spiritual siblings in Heaven.  In this way, a new generation of Christians can reorient themselves towards Christ through His saints.

For Further Reading (note: most of these websites are articles discussing the history of Halloween in more detail):

http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/hallween.htm

http://www.fisheaters.com/customstimeafterpentecost12aa.html#1a

http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Oct2001/Family.asp

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/overviews/months/10_2.cfm

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6210

http://www.wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/October-2012/Culture–Time-for-Catholics-to-Embrace-Halloween.aspx

http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/784/Truth_about_Halloween.html

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/all-hallows-eve-or-halloween

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315a.htm – Catholic Encyclopedia article about All Saints’ Day

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315b.htm – Catholic Encyclopedia article about All Souls’ Day

Van Den Aardweg, Gerard J. M.  Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory.  Rockville, IL: TAN Books, 2009.

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Instructions For Former Catholics

Saw this in my WordPress Reader. Please, if you read this blog, and you are away from the Church, rethink your decision. Pray! I know its hard to pray sometimes. Its very hard, and people will make fun of you. It’s sad, I know. But try these prayers. The author makes a good point. We love you, but more importantly, GOD LOVES YOU, whether you love Him or not. He is a loving Father who longs to have the love of His children.

For those who are Catholic but are struggling with some aspect of the Faith, whether it be personal, moral, or doctrinal, PLEASE pray about it. God loves all of us, and does not want to loose us.

Remember, if you have questions, concerns, comments, or just want to pose a question you don’t think can be answered, send it over. We here at Quidquid Est, Est work hard to provide the Truth.

John 8:32

Belief In The Communion Of Saints

To ‘fallen away’ Catholics:

If you were baptized a Catholic, raised in the Faith and have left the Church know that there are many of us, who have remained true to the Faith, are praying daily for your conversion back into the Faith.

Know that this life is a test to see if your soul is worthy of heaven for all of eternity.

Understand that God does not want you to lose your soul.

To pass the test you must align your will with God’s will.

This is done by obeying His commandments, by praying daily, by participating in the Sacraments (which He instituted to help you grow in holiness) and to do the best you can, at all times, at whatever ‘station in life’ you find ourself.

But, God does not interfere with a person’s free will.

We love you.

But most importantly God loves you.

Return His love…

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Question: God of the Old vs. God of the New?

And we’re back!

Sheila (who blogs at http://agiftuniverse.blogspot.com/) asks: “Why is the God of the Old Testament so different from the God of the New? One minute it’s the flood, fire and brimstone, and the next it’s ‘God does not desire the death of the wicked.’ One minute it’s ‘sacrifice these animals in this way,’ and the next it’s ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.’”

This is a question which troubled the Church in the early days.  It boils down to the apparent contradiction between the harshness of God in the Old Testament and the gentleness and love of Jesus in the New Testament.  Jesus is supposed to be God, right?  Well, then why does He pretty much contradict what God said to the Israelites?

There are three basic ways of approaching this question.

The first is that the Old Testament and the New Testament tell the story of two different gods, one harsh and evil (that would be the Old Testament) and one good (Jesus in the New Testament).  This was the belief of the Gnostics, whom we’ve discussed before.  Typical monotheists don’t like the idea of having two co-eternal, equally powerful deities, one pure good, the other pure evil.  Besides, Gnostics had a whole bunch of other beliefs that made their argument rather unpleasant.  As discussed in the post on Gnostics and my reflections on the phrase “I believe in one God” from the Creed, belief in multiple gods doesn’t work.  So we don’t have two gods fighting.

The second idea is worse than the first.  There isn’t agreement between the two parts of the Bible on the most important point, that of the nature of God.  How, then, can we trust the Bible?  We can’t.  Therefore, it’s a bunch of [insert preferred insulting word].  While we’re at it, we can’t even know if God exists.  He must not, since if God did exist, and was good, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.  God must be made up.

Clearly this idea has problems too, the main one being that it rejects the existence of God.  While we don’t have time to get into the arguments for the existence of God, let’s leave it at this: Something can’t come from nothing.  This is discussed in greater detail in my earlier post on belief in God, mentioned above.  Its one thing to read the Bible and decide that God is mean, cruel, and terrifying; it’s another to claim it is entirely made up.  Many of the arguments that Jews and Christians invented God stem from the arguers preconceived ideas that all religions are inventions of people.  The widespread use of this argument is surprising, since it’s hard to argue using a source (the Bible) that the arguer has claimed to be unreliable.

But there is a better way. . .

The third idea is that maybe, just maybe, we need to look at the Bible as a WHOLE, searching for points of continuity rather than disunity.  When that happens, a remarkable image appears.  God is not a vicious “god monster,” as one atheist wrote; rather, He is a loving parent, a loving Father, wanting the best for His children.

Let’s start with the Old Testament.

We first meet God in the first verse of Genesis, the first book in the Bible: “In the beginning, when God created the Heavens and the Earth, the Earth was a formless wasteland and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters” (Gen 1:1-2).  God is Creator, and in the course of creation makes everything good.  The first Creation account uses the statement “God saw that it was good” as a refrain, showing that ALL of creation, mankind especially, is good.  Thus God creates everything.  Why did He create?  Not because He was lonely, but out of love, for it is better to exist than not exist.  In that sense, because He created all things and is the origin of all that is good and whole, God is called Father.

The rest of the Old Testament tells the story of God as Father to the human race.  Like any father, God faces rebellious children.  This rebellion started with Adam and Eve, the first humans, who rejected God’s instruction to avoid eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (on a related, though not strictly theological note, the comedian Bill Cosby has a hilarious standup routine where he compares the Fall of Adam and Eve to “brain-damaged” children).  From then on, God had to play that most unfortunate role of parents: Disciplinarian.  Now, I don’t have children yet, but I do teach them (or at least teenagers, who are sometimes more childish than children), and I hate having to be the disciplinarian.  You tell students to do something, and to avoid doing this other thing, and before you know, they have done the very thing you told them not to do, and have somehow forgotten what they were supposed to do.  So it was with the people of God.

Trace the story of Salvation History and you can see this.  Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and have two sons: Cain and Abel.  Both are supposed to offer sacrifice to God, and they do, but Cain’s is half-hearted; without giving his heart to God, his sacrifice is moot.  When God prefers Abel’s sacrifice to Cain’s (Abel was righteous, and therefore gave his best to God), Cain kills Abel.  He is exiled from the family, and he starts his own, each generation separating themselves more and more from God, eventually becoming the “men” mentioned in Genesis prior to Noah’s Flood (Gen. 6:1-4).  Meanwhile, God’s blessing bestowed upon Adam at creation is passed down to Seth (born after Abel’s murder), from whom Noah is born.  Noah listens to God, while the rest of mankind doesn’t (Genesis notes regarding the men of that time: “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”), and as a result God wipes out the rest of the human race.  It was not out of some evilness on God’s part that he wiped out everyone but Noah.  The other people of that age were so evil that they had no room in their hearts for God, for any goodness.  Hence Noah and his family are spared.  The often used metaphor of cutting off limbs to prevent the spread of disease is apt here: in order to save mankind, Noah and his family needed to be protected from the evil that infected man.

Such was God’s plan.  But, as is often the case with God and men, God’s will is contingent (for more on this, see Dr. William Marshner’s lecture series on Predestination from the Institute of Catholic Culture), and man fallen human nature rejects what God had planned.  No sooner had Noah and his family descended from the ark than sin appears again in mankind’s story.  A drunken, passed out Noah is unable to prevent his son Ham from having relations with Noah’s wife (Ham’s mother).  The biblical phrase “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father” (Gen. 9:22) refers to this sin (see Leviticus 18).  A curse comes down not only on Ham but on Ham’s son, Canaan, who would be the fruit of the incestuous relationship.  Why the curse on the son?  Often in the Old Testament, when some curse falls upon the descendent of an evil person while the evil person gets off free, there is more to the curse.  Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo at the Institute of Catholic Culture explains in an audio lecture that Ham, by having sexual relations with his mother, shows that he was trying to take over the family, for in those days one took control of a family or kingdom by having relations with the mother.  Ham, as the youngest of the sons, would not hold a place of authority in the family.  He wanted to control Noah and the whole family, and his son Canaan would allow him to do just that.  The curse that made Canaan the slave of the other brothers ruined Ham’s hopes to rule.

Similar stories abound throughout the Old Testament.  Whenever the Lord establishes a chain of command or sets up some regulations, people rebel or try to usurp the authority of the legitimate leaders.  Why the elaborate laws of Leviticus?  The Israelites had been led out of Egypt, and therefore shown the power of God over the false gods of the Egyptians.  But when Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, the people got impatient and had Aaron, Moses’ brother, set up a golden calf for them, their attempt to continue the Egyptian pagan worship they had partaken of while slaves in Egypt.  As a result, the original laws and plans that God had given Moses were nixed, and thus God gave the Israelites the ENTIRE book of Leviticus.  Everything is specified, particularly how the people are to worship, how they are to live, how they are to interact with each other.  There is nothing, NOTHING, left out, or at least nothing that the Israelites might need.  Hence the heavy burden of the Law the Israelites bore throughout their history.  Yet even with these rules, the people managed to mess things up.  Hence the “wrath of God” flaring up every once in a while.

Again, think like a parent.  God laid out the rules for the Israelites, but they couldn’t listen, so he clarified it, and clarified it, and clarified it.  Soon there were hundreds of laws, and still the people turned from God.  Even the priests and scribes began abusing their position among the people.  It was why God spoke through prophets, condemning the empty sacrifices and prayers of the priests, who were more concerned with outward rituals than internal devotion.  Jesus frequently quoted these passages.  In fact, most references to the merciful, loving God from the New Testament are connected with Old Testament prophecies.  “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” though spoken by Jesus to the Pharisees who complained about Jesus dining with sinners, comes from the prophet Hosea.  The New Testament passage follows the calling of Matthew by Jesus.  Our Lord says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).  We should follow our Lord’s instructions.  The prophecy in Hosea reads as follows:

Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,

I have slain them by the words of my mouth,

and my judgment goes forth as the light.

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.

But at Adam they transgressed the covenant;

there they dealt faithlessly with me.  (Hosea 6:5-7)

The story of Salvation History is as follows:

1)  God lovingly gathers His people to Him, and makes a covenant with them.

2)  The people follow God for a while, until they get distracted like Doug the dog from Up.  They usually start worshipping some false god, usually influenced by their pagan neighbors, and there are usually women involved.

3)  God sends/allows some horrible thing to happen to His people (natural disasters/enslavement/conquest by an enemy).

4)  God sends a prophet, calling the people to repent.

5)  The people cry out to God, saying they are sorry for their sins (or they reject the prophet, often beating or killing him).

6)  God lovingly gathers His people to Him, and makes a covenant with them (or, if they rejected the prophet, worse things happen to them.  Do you know what happened to the lost tribes of Israel?)

Viewing the Old Testament from this perspective changes everything.  No longer is it a chronicle of a wrathful god against an innocent people.  It is a story of a loving Father who time and again offers His hand to His children, only for them to run away.  But when the children find themselves in danger, in pain, or trapped by evil, they call out to their Father, and He answers and helps them.  It is our story too.

Now look at the New Testament.  How does the story of Jesus fit with the story of the Old Testament?  It’s not a mystery; Jesus explains it in a parable:

One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.”  He answered them, “I also will ask you a question; now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”  And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, `From heaven,’ he will say, `Why did you not believe him?’  But if we say, `From men,’ all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.”  So they answered that they did not know whence it was.  And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

            And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country for a long while.  When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, that they should give him some of the fruit of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him, and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent another servant; him also they beat and treated shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent yet a third; this one they wounded and cast out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, `What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; it may be they will respect him.’  But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’  And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others.”

            When they heard this, they said, “God forbid!” But he looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

`The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner’?

Every one who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one it will crush him.”  The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people; for they perceived that he had told this parable against them.  (Luke 20:1-19)

Jesus, of course, is the Son.  What’s more shocking is that the people listening to the parable KNOW that Jesus is the Son.  Jesus ends the parable by saying, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them [the tenants]?  He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others.”  In other words, God will give the blessing, the special place of the Israelites as the chosen people of God, to all the nations, rather than the Israelites.  The scribes and priests know this is what Jesus means, for they respond, “God forbid!”  But they do what Jesus prophesied anyway.  Did they recognize that they were fulfilling the prophecies of the death of the Messiah?  The Scriptures do not say, though we can imagine many a heavy heart the night of Good Friday as more than one mouth uttered, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

The Bible is all one story.  God’s wrath and Jesus’ love are the same, just as a parent who punishes does so out of love, for the benefit of the child.  How will the child know that what he has done is wrong if he is not told so, or punished when he has done wrong?  So also with the Israelites.

So also with us.

The difference between God’s portrayal in the Old Testament and His portrayal in the New is one of perspective.  Frequently the Old Testament tells the story of God having to punish His unruly children.  The New Testament provides a view of Him reaching out His hand to us, so that we can take the hand of Jesus and walk with Him into eternal life.  Recall what Adam and Eve would do before the Fall.  They would walk with God.  When Adam heard God walking in the garden after Adam had sinned, he hid.  There is a story from the Eastern Church fathers that, when Christ went down to bring from Hell (not Hell proper, but what is sometimes called the “Limbo of the Just”) the Old Testament heroic men and women who had been waiting for their chance to enter Heaven, Adam was the first to meet Christ.  Adam, the story goes, heard the footsteps of Our Lord, recognized them as the footsteps from the garden, and rather than hiding, ran to meet his Lord, to walk with Him again.

A story, yes, but a beautiful one.  We too should run to Him, so we too can walk with our Lord.

Now, Sheila, this is only a brief look at this question.  Unfathomable numbers of words address this issue in much greater detail, and with much more finesse.  Hopefully I have at least turned you in the right direction.

For more information:

Carnazzo, Sabatino.  “Swords and Serpents: A Study of Salvation History.” – Describes the whole Bible as one big book (in just 6 hours!).  Shows how God has worked throughout Salvation History.

________.  “Genesis: In the Beginning.” – In-depth examination of the book of Genesis, with particular attention paid to the first few chapters of the book.

Carroll, Warren H. A History of Christendom.  Volume I.  The Founding of Christendom.  Front Royal, VA: ChristendomCollege Press, 1985. – Traces God’s hand in human history, drawing from Biblical and pagan histories, from Genesis through the ascension of Constantine to the Roman imperial throne.

Catholic Answers Live, April 11, 2011 (with Timothy Gray) – Radio show, the first half of the show deals directly with this topic.

Marshner, William.  “Are You Saved? The Catholic Doctrine of Predestination” – Discusses the details of God’s will in history and in our lives and how our choices can affect God’s contingent will.

Olson, Carl E., “The ‘Angry God’ and the ‘Loving God’: Can We Reconcile How God is Portrayed in the Old and New Testaments?”  Catholic Answers Vol. 27, No. 2 (May/June 2013), p. 12–14. – Pages refer to the print edition (online edition also available).  Includes a short discussion of the classic example of “Angry God,” that of the war against the Canaanites.

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Reblog: Dr. Edward Peters on Female Deacons

It seems that the issue of female deacons keeps springing up not just among casual bloggers and commentators on the internet, but by serious priests and canonists (those who deal with canon law, the Church’s legal stuff).  Readers of this blog know I addressed this issue last year, but it keeps appearing, apparently with more vigor.

 

Posted below is a link to Dr. Edward Peters’ blog (Peters is an American canon lawyer well respected in Catholic circles) discussing a recent article by one Fr. Michael P. Orsi, chaplain at Ave Maria Law School in Florida.  Dr. Peters has some issues with some of Fr. Orsi’s assertions, as do I, and does an excellent job explicating them.  The issues are not merely with that female deacons (and thereby priests), but with the understanding of priestly celibacy and Church teaching.

 

I would suggest reading Fr. Orsi’s essay first, for context, and then looking at Dr. Peters’ examination.  Dr. Peters links to Fr. Orsi’s article.  All you need to do is follow the link below!

 

Tea leaves are for brewing tea, not for theological illumination.

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