Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

The Fathers Speak

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

To Whom Shall We Go?

To Whom Shall We Go?

          One of the most important writings of St. John Paul II’s long reign as pope is the encyclical, Fides et Ratio, “Faith and Reason.”  In this masterpiece, the pope investigates the deep relationship between faith and reason, and shows that the two support and enlighten one another.  This, of course, only makes sense since our reason, our intellect, comes from God and its highest purpose is to know God.

          However, since the French Revolution, and its “goddess Reason,” there have been those who make the ridiculous case that faith is actually the enemy of reason.  Most prominent today are the so-called “new atheists.”  However, any thorough examination of the discourse shows that reason is clearly on the side of the Christian.  I have said many times that I don’t have nearly enough blind faith to be an atheist.

          However, as much as we love to show that our Faith is incredibly reasonable, and we base so many of our arguments in favor of the Faith on reason, we must be careful not to go so far as subjecting everything about the Faith to the judgment of our reason. 

What I mean is this: we can fall into the trap of saying that we will not accept the truths of the Faith until we scrutinize them and unless they pass the test of our personal judgment.  This, of course, is a heresy, and one that has led to great division - tens of thousands of Protestant denominations.  As Catholics, who know that the Church has received the fullness of the Truth, and the authority to teach that Truth, we must not set ourselves up as the final judges of Truth, regardless of the power that reason has to deepen our faith.  It must be remembered that although our Faith is not hostile to human reason, there are aspects of it that are above human reason.

The Gospel readings of the last few Sundays have brought this consideration to mind.  They have been the Bread of Life discourse in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.  The past few weeks Jesus has been telling the crowds that He is the Bread of Life, and that whoever eats His Flesh and drinks His Blood will have eternal life.  This is not the place for it, but a study of the text shows without question that He is speaking very literally.  His Jewish disciples understood that as well, because in this week’s Gospel, we heard that many of them left Him forever, and He let them go.  He refused to back down from this teaching; it is essential to the Faith.

Imagine if you had been one of those hearing Jesus say these words for the first time.  You knew that, as a Jew, the consuming of blood at all was forbidden, and cannibalism would have been unthinkable.  Yet here is a man telling a massive crowd that unless they fed on his flesh and drank his blood, they would not have life.  Your first instinct would probably have been disgust and, like many of those who left probably felt, you might have wondered if this man was crazy. 

With hindsight, we can understand that Jesus was talking about the Eucharist, which truly is His Body and Blood, but which is not being fed to us as his disciples in John 6 would have imagined.  This doctrine is above human reason, even for those who believe and understand it (as much as a person can this side of Heaven), but it is not opposed to reason.  Of course, the people hearing Jesus say these words had no understanding of the Eucharist and certainly would never have been able to grasp it if He had laid out the whole thing to them at the time.

We can understand, as reasonable Jews, why they would have left Him, shaking their heads as they went.  Why, then, did the Apostles stay?  Did they understand better what Jesus was trying to say?  I doubt it.  But they did understand better who Jesus is.

They had heard His teachings, they had seen His miracles, they had been among the 5,000 that He had just fed with five loaves and two fish.  They had come to believe, as Peter said, that He had the words of everlasting life.  These particular words they did not understand yet, but they trusted the One who spoke them, so they stayed with Him, and their faith was rewarded when, the following year, at the Last Supper, the meaning of those words was made clear.

Many of the disciples had seen and heard the same things as the Twelve, though, and yet they went away.  What was lacking?  I wonder if, perhaps, it was love.  Jesus had said just prior that they were seeking Him not because they had seen signs, but because they had eaten of the loaves.  At the multiplication of the loaves and fish, their bellies were filled, but their hearts and minds were not.  Faith was not allowed to illuminate their reason.  They wanted more of what Jesus might give them, but not more of Him.  So when they did not think they wanted what He was offering anymore, they left.

The Apostles, on the other hand, (with the possible exception of Judas) had come to know and love Jesus.  Faith and reason told them that this was One sent from God, and God was to be trusted.  So, when understanding was lacking, Peter responds to Jesus’s question about their leaving: “To whom shall we go?”

They did not wait to understand everything before they would believe Jesus.  Yes, their reason worked with faith (and God’s grace) to convince them of who Jesus is, and perhaps most importantly, they had a deep personal relationship with Him.

This can be a tricky subject.  Many cult leaders have manipulated people into accepting and doing anything they say.  That is why it is so important that our Faith is not merely a blind faith, but one which continues to receive life from God Himself, with an authority received from Jesus and that has stood the test of time, so we do not run off after any charismatic preacher with his own ideas and agendas, but stay safe in the house of God, built on a rock, which will carry us surely through the travails of this life to the shores of eternity.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The 2016 Election: The First Issue

The 2016 Election: 
The First Issue

          Last week we were treated to the first two of the Republican presidential debates.  The distractions of Donald Trump notwithstanding (I can not judge him or his motives, but every time he speaks, a Trump presidency seems more ridiculous), I liked some of what we heard, especially regarding candidates’ pro-life commitments.
          But before I try to navigate my way through the immense field of candidates, many of whom I have been a long-time fan of, I find the legitimacy of the upcoming election to be a much more pressing issue.  I say this because if the 2016 election is anything like 2012, it is already over (stolen).
          Although corruption in politics is par for the course (Trump admitted to buying influence during the debate), and even election fraud is nothing new, in my opinion, 2012 was a masterpiece of dishonesty.  Here are some things to consider:
  •  Some precincts got over 100% turnout.  Not even the best get-out-the-vote campaigns can do that honestly.
  • Democratic election workers were caught on video advising people how they could cast votes in more than one state.
  • Voting machines were routinely documented as changing people’s “Romney” votes to “Obama” votes.
  • In certain precincts (in Philadelphia, for example) Obama got thousands of votes, and Romney got zero.  That is, supposedly, not even one person out of tens of thousands cast a Romney vote.  That is impossible anywhere in the United States.  By contrast, in Romney’s strongest precinct, a small town in Texas, he received 116 votes, and Obama still got 2.
          These are just a few of the “irregularities,” as I remember them.  An Internet search should be able to provide you with details and documentation.  With so many local people involved, it is impossible to pinpoint the blame, and even in a coordinated effort, there are many players, so I am not casting aspersions on Mr. Obama or anyone else.  It should also be pointed out that there have been instances in recent years of similar fraud on the Republican side, whether to the same degree I do not know.
          The point is that we are in a country that is dying and we have a major election coming up, but we have very little assurance that this election will be any more valid than those that kept Saddam Hussein in power for so long.  So our first order of business should be to demand a fair election.  Our Congressmen should hear of our concerns, as should our Secretaries of State.
          Vigilance is the price of freedom.  The dishonest will try to have people dismissed as imaginative conspiracy theorists, but nothing is as sure as corruption when it comes to the seeking of power.  And we need not cast about wild accusations, just let people know we are watching.  And groups like Freedom Watch and others should begin now to expose irregularities and demand an honest election.  Then hopefully we can trust that our decision of which candidate to support will at least mean something.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Fathers Speak

The Fathers Speak – Confession

          In the past, I have occasionally run a feature called “The Fathers Speak.”  This has included quotes taken in context from the Fathers of the Church that demonstrate Catholic doctrine.  I have compiled these and many more such quotes from the first 500 years of Christianity.  The Fathers of the Church are powerful witnesses to Christianity’s Catholicism right from the start.  I hope it will be a powerful apologetic and ecumenical tool.  The document is available for a donation of any size to Aquinas Academy.  It can be accessed by clicking here, or on the image of St. Athanasius near the top of this blog.

Local synod (council) in Antioch – A.D. 341
All who enter the church of God and hear the Holy Scriptures, but do not communicate with the people in prayers, or who turn away, by reason of some disorder, from the holy partaking of the Eucharist, are to be cast out of the Church, until, after they shall have made confession, and having brought forth the fruits of penance, and made earnest entreaty, they shall have obtained forgiveness

St. Athanasius – Letter dating A.D. 338
Therefore let us, performing our vows to the Lord, and confessing our sins, keep the feast to the Lord, in conversation, moral conduct, and manner of life…

St. Augustine – Letter 185 – A.D. 415
But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England – A.D. 731
Note: Cuthbert died in the previous century
And such was Cuthbert’s skill in speaking, so keen his desire to persuade men of what he taught, such a light shone in his angelic face, that no man present dared to conceal from him the secrets of his heart, but all openly revealed in confession what they had done, thinking doubtless that their guilt could in nowise be hidden from him; and having confessed their sins, they wiped them out by fruits worthy of repentance, as he bade them...

Cyprian of Carthage – A.D. 200-270 – Epistle 2
You see, then, brethren, that you also ought to do the like, so that even those who have fallen may amend their minds by your exhortation; and if they should be seized once more, may confess, and may so make amends for their previous sin…

Cyril of Jerusalem – A.D. 315-386 - Catechetical Lecture 1
Put off, by confession, the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit, that ye may put on the new man, which is renewed according to knowledge of Him that created him...

The present is the season of confession: confess what thou hast done in word or in deed, by night or by day; confess in an acceptable time, and in the day of salvation receive the heavenly treasure...

The Didache – circa A.D. 80
…gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that you may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned.

St. Jerome – Letter 41 against the Montanists – A.D. 385
Their strictness does not prevent them from themselves committing grave sins, far from it; but there is this difference between us and them, that, whereas they in their self-righteousness blush to confess their faults, we do penance for ours, and so more readily gain pardon for them...

Pope St. Gregory the Great – A.D. 540-604 – Pastoral Rule, Book II (Of the Life of the Pastor)
Yet, when they prepare the patience of their condescension for cleansing the sins of their neighbors in confession, they support, as it were, the laver before the doors of the temple; that whosoever is striving to enter the gate of eternity may shew his temptations to his pastor's heart, and, as it were, wash the hands of his thought and of his deed…

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

'The Jim Gaffigan Show' - Catholic Humor?

‘The Jim Gaffigan Show’ – Catholic Humor?

          I love the Web site  It gives detailed reviews of movies, both currently in theaters and available on video.  The reviews are done from a sensitive Christian perspective, and give details on what to expect regarding language, sex, violence, positive/negative messages, etc.  We rarely watch an unfamiliar movie with our kids without checking it out on Dove first.
          It is for that reason that I am writing this post.  Lately, I have seen excitement and even articles from Catholic publications about Jim Gaffigan and “Catholic humor.”  The Jim Gaffigan Show is debuting on TV Land July 15, and many Catholics are excited about it.
          I have seen an episode of the show that has been released by TV Land on Youtube, as well as many previews, so I wanted to share my thoughts.  First, this is no critique of Mr. Gaffigan himself.  I don’t know him personally and am only marginally familiar with his stand-up comedy.  I, like many Catholics, appreciate the fact that he is open about his Catholicism, and doesn’t apologize for having five children.  I suspect he is a faithful Catholic man, and probably a pretty fun guy. 
          I also do not intend to comment on the humor of The Jim Gaffigan Show.  We all have different tastes.  I only want to give some details that Catholics may want to know before sitting down and watching it, especially with their kids.
          In the episode I saw, Gaffigan was running some errands for his wife (and goofing them up, of course).  There were many positives to speak of.  First, he was registering his kids for St. Faustina’s Catholic School.  One of the characters was a priest, and the episode ended with the Gaffigan family at Mass.
          The representatives of the Church were portrayed positively (not caricatured) and the Faith was obviously important to Gaffigan’s family life.  Gaffigan’s failures were the focal points of most of the humor.
          Of course it is a good thing to be able to laugh at ourselves, so I am not commenting on whether anyone should watch.  However, there are some things to be aware of.  First, there was some “colorful” language that I wasn’t overly comfortable with, and certainly wouldn’t want my children hearing.  (A TV Guardian, that eliminates foul language, if you have one, would probably solve that problem.)
          There was some off-color humor, as well.  One of the central, recurring jokes revolved around Gaffigan’s son’s school art project, which consisted of a drawing of his father’s privates.  Another revolved around Gaffigan’s covering for a philandering friend.
          There are also some stereotypes that some people won’t appreciate.  There are jokes surrounding Gaffigan’s lack of Mass attendance, and the previews show that one episode focuses on his seeking a vasectomy (though I don’t know how that story line ends).  My concern with these issues is that they are monumental problems we currently face in the Church, and while it is good to laugh at ourselves, it’s not good to minimize major problems.  (To be fair, the show did portray Gaffigan’s Mass absences as, if not a serious matter, at least as a personal flaw.)  Finally, my wife has a major pet peeve about the stereotype of the foolish father figure.  Although one episode isn’t enough to make a complete judgment, that stereotype was present.
          I guess those are the important things people might want to know (what they might find in a Dove review).  Again, this is not meant as criticism of Mr. Gaffigan personally, whose willingness to identify with his Faith, especially in the challenging and often hostile world of mainstream entertainment, is something I truly admire.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

One Nation, Under God

One Nation, Under God

          A North Carolina Baptist church created a bit of a firestorm recently for flying, on its flagpole, the American flag, underneath the church’s flag, rather than at the top of the flagpole.  The pastor, Rit Varriale, explained the move, saying that it was meant to be a visual representation of what we say every time we pledge allegiance to the flag: that we are “one nation, under God.”  He also wants to remind his flock that they are Christians first, and Americans second.

          Some of the response has been less than favorable (and rational).  He’s been called insulting, disgraceful, and accused of politicizing his religion.  Bear in mind that no one desecrated the flag; they didn’t even take it down.  In fact, both flags were raised in a patriotic ceremony surrounding July 4.

          The crime of this Christian community, it seems, is that it was being too Christian.  Each of our loves, including love of country, must be subordinated to love of God.  That is true patriotism.  This has been a hallmark of Catholicism for 2,000 years (though it has earned us much suspicion and scorn as well over our nation’s history).  Remember St. Thomas More: “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

          Perhaps that’s never been good enough.  It wasn’t good enough in sixteenth century England, and it’s not good enough in twenty-first century America.

          When patriotism, which is a virtue, becomes our religion, it turns into nationalism, which is a sin.  These days, when Christians are told our faith must remain private (and silent), but secular culture feels free to dictate (quite loudly) how we must live it, I am glad to find allies among our Protestant brothers and sisters.  May we both stand firm in our common convictions.