Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

Order 'Evolution for the Catholic Student' - Click on the image above

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas - Ernie Ford

Merry Christmas!

          I will be visiting family for Christmas and will not be posting again until the new year.  Have a very blessed Christmas and enjoy this presentation by Tennessee Ernie Ford.  God bless!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Do We Help?

How Do We Help?

          A number of years ago I volunteered at a Birthright (now Birthchoice) clinic.  The purpose of the clinic was to offer support to women in crisis pregnancies.  Women don’t have abortions because they have “choice,” they have abortions because they believe they have no choice.  We aimed to change that, by offering counseling, prenatal services, adoption assistance if desired, and financial, job and education help.  There were even homes for unwed mothers with nowhere to go.  Today, many of the clinics offer even more, including ultrasounds.
          As the only man, my role was going to be talking with the husbands and boyfriends that came in, but as I was only there a short time, I ended up basically just walking the women to their cars when we closed at night.
          What really impressed me about the experience was how much the women that worked or volunteered there were willing to sacrifice for the women who came seeking help.  Some of them had gone through an abortion themselves and wanted to keep others from suffering in the same way. 
          What a beautiful thing it was to see these women serving the cause of life, and their fellow women, often in honor of their own unborn children.  They were loving, strong and courageous.  With so many women out there suffering from abortion, we in the pro-life movement have a serious duty to help them heal.
          They certainly won’t be getting any help from the other side.  Because of the politics of abortion, groups like Planned Parenthood work hard to convince women in general that they have no right to feel pain over an abortion, and by and large, they don’t want to hear about it.  Thanks be to God there are people who are willing to fight for children, and truly love women at the same time.
          We as Catholics know there is healing and forgiveness after an abortion.  Jesus said, “I have come to make all things new.”  And he frequently spent time with the worst sinners of His day to bring them healing and build up their dignity.  Today, through the Sacrament of Confession, women have the chance to tell someone about their abortion and hear the words, “I absolve you from your sins.”
          But there is so much we can offer as well.  First, although as individuals, we always hate the sin (starting with our own), we love the sinner.  A woman who has had an abortion must encounter in us the loving Face of Christ. 
Our culture suggests that simply speaking out against abortion makes us judgmental, but that is a lie.  To condone abortion, or even to encourage someone who is having one, doesn’t help, and makes us cowards.  We have a duty to stand up for the lives of children and to support all women by defending the Truth. 
However, no one does more to support both women who have delivered in crisis pregnancies, and those who have had abortions, than the pro-life movement.  What we want to offer is not support of sin, but true healing from it.
Aside from our own personal witness of love and forgiveness, there are a couple of programs we can become familiar with that serve women in this situation.
One is Rachel’s Vineyard.  This is a spiritual retreat that seeks to build up these women and help them understand that God still loves them and will forgive them.  That, I think, is the greatest problem.  There is so much pain after an abortion, that it is easy to go into denial.  And so many women believe that God can never forgive them for what they’ve done.  But that is not true.  God still looks upon them as His beloved daughters, and though he hates all sin, He seeks His lost sheep to the ends of the world, and when He finds them, He lifts them on His shoulder, and carries them home. 
The cause for canonization is even open for Dorothy Day, who herself had had an abortion.  One word of caution about Rachel’s Vineyard, is that I have heard it is very intense, and it is important that women be psychologically ready for the experience.  Research and preparation should probably be done before attending.
Perhaps a simpler place to start is Project Rachel.  This is a ministry, which the Church is seeking to expand right now, in which women who have had abortions can simply talk and meet with a trained counselor for as long as they need.  In it they experience that loving Face of Christ in someone who will support them in their healing.  These programs, of course, are available to Catholics and non-Catholics, and I am sure there are others out there as well.
The important thing for us is to look upon all people with the Eyes of God, and see in them one of His beloved children.  We also must acknowledge that truth about ourselves.  We should recognize the particular pain that comes with abortion, and as Catholic when we see suffering, we do what we can to alleviate it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Intellectual Bankruptcy of the 'New Atheism'

The Intellectual Bankruptcy
of the ‘New Atheism’

          One of the interesting paradoxes of our time, to me, is that the “New Atheists” seem to be too intelligent to fall for the nonsense they peddle.  In the video below, Father Robert Barron gives a thoughtful and rather charitable response to Stephen Hawking’s latest book.

Note:  Let us pray for Christopher Hitchens, who died last week, that before he did, God was able to find an opening in his heart and make His way inside.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Fathers Speak: St. Justin Martyr

The Fathers Speak:
St. Justin Martyr

          Justin was martyred in the middle of the second century.  He was a student of Greek philosophy who converted to Christianity after finding in it the truth he had been seeking.  He is perhaps best known for his two Apologies, which he wrote in an attempt to show the emperor that Christianity should not be a capital crime.  They are beautiful witnesses to the faith and practices of the early Church.  It is amazing to see how the Mass of those first Catholics parallels so closely our worship today.
But we, after thus washing the one who has been convinced and assented [to our instruction], lead him to those who are called brethren, where they are assembled; and we offer prayers in common for ourselves and for the one who has been illuminated and for all others everywhere, that we may be accounted worthy, having learned the truth, by our deeds also to be found good citizens and guardians of what is commanded, so that we may be saved with eternal salvation…

Then there is brought to the Ruler of the Brethren bread and a cup of water and [a cup] of wine mixed with water, and he taking them sends up praise and glory to the Father of the Universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanksgiving at some length for our being accounted worthy to receive these things from Him.  When he has concluded the prayers and the thanksgiving, all the people present assent by saying, Amen…

And this food is called among us eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things which we teach are true, and has received the washing that is for the remission of sins and for rebirth, and who so lives as Christ handed down.  For we do not receive these things as common bread nor common drink; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior having been incarnate by God’s logos took both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food eucharistized through the word of prayer that is from Him, from which our blood and flesh are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who became incarnate. – From the First Apology

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Link - The Mystery of Christmas

Link - The Mystery of Christmas

          The entire Old Testament is a preparation for the New and Eternal Covenant, brought about by the central event of human history – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We will be reminded of this on Sunday when we hear in the first reading the promise God makes to David, to be fulfilled in Jesus, the Begotten Son of God, born into a human family in David’s line.  Marcellino D’Ambrosio reflects on some of the other New Testament fulfillments of Old Testament types surrounding the birth of Jesus at the link below.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Those Kinds of Pictures

Those Kinds of Pictures

Many of us have seen them – the pictures of tiny dismembered arms and legs, or perhaps even pieces of a head.  They are the remains of babies that have been killed through abortion.  Then again, many of us have not seen them.  Perhaps that’s the problem.
People have differing opinions about the use of such pictures in fighting against abortion, but I think Father Frank Pavone, the founder of Priests for Life, sums it up perfectly when he says, “America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion.”
I think it is true.  How many people’s hearts have been changed by facing what abortion really is, by seeing with their own eyes, what it does to our tiniest brothers and sisters?  I think the effectiveness of those images is clear.
And yet, there are pro-lifers that disapprove of that approach.  I can certainly respect that people of good will can have different opinions on this question, and I can certainly see a need for prudence.  I personally would not want to expose children to such graphic images at a young age.  But in general, I think the pro-life movement needs to make greater use of them.  They are the truth, and our nation has to face the truth about abortion.
In the civil rights movement it was the same thing.  Those who fought for the equality of all Americans knew that the complacent majority had to see what a lynching looked like to really care.  Even Christ Himself allowed a graphic image at Calvary to be a witness to the Love of God.
Some people are concerned about hurting people, given the number of women in our society who have had abortions.  That is a natural and reasonable concern for a charitable person.  There are some things we must keep in mind, though.  First, women who have had abortions and have not yet spiritually healed are already hurting.  We need to do what we can to keep other women from the same suffering.  And we also have to be ready to show those women who are suffering that there is hope.  We have to be ready to reach out to them, to have resources to share, to help them find that in Christ all things really are made new.  Countless women have found hope, healing and forgiveness after abortion.  Our efforts at saving lives must coexist with our desire to help other women find that same peace.  I will be writing more about that next week.
One thing I recommend is that if you’re having a debate with someone about abortion, challenge them to see what abortion really is.  (Click here to link to some images of aborted babies from Priests for Life.)  If someone is not even willing to face abortion, to look it in its wicked eye, they have no right speaking about it. 
And get involved.  Organizations like the Center for Bioethical Reform have had success using images of abortion.  They often give presentations to groups in hopes of getting people inspired to get involved. 
That’s the most important thing of all.  If you’re not comfortable with the pictures, or not sure if you can use them prudently, then don’t.  But do something, whatever you can.  First, pray.  Pray for unborn children, pray for women who are in crisis pregnancies or scared, pray for women who are hurting from an abortion and need God’s healing, and then ask the Lord what He wants you to do next.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Link - Vatican Responds to SSPX

Link – Vatican Responds to SSPX Concerns

          The Vatican has been in talks for years with the traditionalist schismatic group the Society of St. Pius X.  Recent attempts at reconciliation have not been as warmly received as we might have hoped, but the Church continues to pray for reunion.  Jimmy Akin’s article at the link below covers some of the history as well as recent events between the Vatican and the SSPX, particularly reporting on a recent article published by the Vatican newspaper.

Our Lady of Guadalupe…Pray for us!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Movie Review - The Greatest Miracle

Movie Review – The Greatest Miracle

          The Greatest Miracle, from Dos Corazones Films (makers of Guadalupe), hit theaters last Friday, December 9.  It is unlike anything else you have seen in a movie theater.  This animated film (also available in 3D) is a theological walk through the Mass.
          The movie follows the story of three main characters, each dealing with personal struggles, who all find themselves at Mass one Saturday thanks to the help of their guardian angels.  It then progresses through the Mass and the characters are inspired to delve into it more deeply as their angels open the doors to an amazing spiritual world they had never really contemplated before.
          The beautiful thing about this movie is that it not only tells the viewer what each of the parts of the Mass is about, it also reveals invisible realities that we are often unaware of when we come to Mass.
When we come to Mass, we don’t just sing a few songs, say a few prayers, and try to think about God for an hour.  We take one step into Heaven.  The Communion of Saints is there, Our Lady is there, the Choirs of Angels are there, and most importantly, Our Lord is there, truly present.
The Greatest Miracle does a beautiful job illustrating all this.  As the Mass progresses, the characters learn how to truly prepare for the Sacred Mysteries, and offer themselves at Mass.  They see angels guiding souls to the Lord.  They watch as Jesus Himself, through the priest, forgives sins in Confession, and offers Himself to the Father, and then to us in Holy Communion.  The connection between the Eucharist and the Cross is powerful.  They see the elevation of a soul from Purgatory as it benefits from a worthy Communion offered by a pure heart.
The format the film uses keeps the audience engaged and successfully integrates the Mass with the stories of the main characters.  It challenges adults to approach Mass with wonder and love, and be conscious of everything that happens there, both seen and unseen.  It will also be an incredible teaching tool for parents and religious educators.  I will certainly be awaiting its video release, but it is worth seeing in the theater while you have the chance.  However, it may be difficult to do with a child, at least a young one, because it would probably need a lot of explaining and lead to a lot of discussion.  Perfect, of course, for home or in a classroom.
The film is not without its flaws.  First, considering we are just adopting the new translation of the Roman Missal, it would have been nice had that been in the movie.  But if you’re already nostalgic for “and also with you,” or “Lord, God of power and might,” you’ll find them here.  Also, there is a part in which we see little devils trying to distract people and keep them from making good Confessions.  That may be a little scary for younger kids.  In one instance a devil even becomes a voluptuous, scantily clad woman in order to tempt a man to lust.  Even with an animated film, those of us trying to guard our senses won’t really appreciate that.  A priest friend of mine pointed out that it was slightly inaccurate demonstrating the moment of transubstantiation, as well.
Still, it is an enjoyable and edifying film.  What’s even more beautiful is that a film whose main purpose is to explain and inspire devotion for the Mass is being shown at mainstream movie theaters.  We can all pray that more Catholic filmmakers will use their talents to honor and serve the Lord.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Fathers Speak: St. Ignatius of Antioch

The Fathers Speak:
St. Ignatius of Antioch

          St. Ignatius was born in the first century in Syria.  There is a legend that he was the child Jesus placed in the midst of his disciples when He taught them to receive the Kingdom of Heaven as a child, but it is unsubstantiated.  What we know for sure is that he was the bishop of Antioch.  He was arrested for his faith and sentenced to be thrown to the lions in the Colosseum.  He was martyred around the year A.D. 107.  His feast day is October 17.  As Ignatius was being taken to Rome he wrote seven letters, which still survive, to Christian communities and to his friend St. Polycarp.  St. Ignatius learned the Faith at the feet of St. John the Apostle and his surviving writings give us great insight into the Faith of the early Church.  They (like all the writings of the Fathers) are great apologetic tools for Catholics.  Below are a few excerpts, particularly focused on the Eucharist:
Be diligent to employ only one Eucharist.  For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and there is one cup for unity in his blood.  There is one altar as there is one bishop together with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants.  The purpose of all this is so that your practices will be in accord with God’s intention.—From the letter to the Philadelphians

[These heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and [appointed times] of prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins and which the Father in his kindness raised.From the letter to the Smyrneans

Without the bishop let no one do anything that is appropriate for the Church.  Let that Eucharist be considered valid that is under the bishop or performed by one to whom he entrusts it.—From the letter to the Smyrneans

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Immaculate Conception

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Father Robert Barron discusses St. Bernadette and the Immaculate Conception as part of his series Catholicism.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Marriage with an Atheist?

Marriage with an Atheist?

          Earlier in the week I pointed out the great differences between believers of any kind and atheists.  The main point was to highlight the importance of our not losing touch with our Christian identity as a nation. 
          But what about individuals, especially married individuals?  The Church does allow marriage to a non-believer, with the proper dispensation.  Does the vast difference between the world views of a Catholic and an atheist doom such a union to a cold and loveless reality?  I don’t think so.
          A couple of years before I met my wife, I decided that I would only date Catholics, because I wanted to share my Faith with my spouse.  There have certainly been countless blessings we have received being united in the same Faith.  But that is not everyone’s experience, and perhaps not everyone’s call.  I have known couples with successful mixed marriages.  The reason, I believe, is that God’s Grace can not be limited.  Because marriage was instituted by God, there is a stamp of the divine on it.
          Certainly two Christians share a great deal in common, even if their faiths differ.  And even a Christian and a non-Christian share a common world view.  But what about a Christian and an atheist?  The gap there is pretty wide.
          And yet, at the deepest level, there is something similar.  Both have been created by the same God, and in His Image.  Every atheist is created in the Image and Likeness of God as much as every Christian is.  Perhaps that is why a Christian might fall in love with an atheist.  One must find something good or beautiful in that which he loves.  In every human being, the Divine Image is there.  Some atheists are actually quite open to the Goodness of God, even if they are not yet open to God Himself.  There is authentic beauty in them.
          There is something else, too.  Every human being is created with a desire for God.  Many don’t recognize what it is, but St. Augustine described it very beautifully when he said, “You created us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”  The great saint spent many years trying to fill that restlessness with all sorts of things – desires of the flesh, heretical philosophy.  But eventually he found the Lord that was ever seeking him.
          Many of those who are atheists today may be great saints tomorrow.  They are being pursued by the same Divine Lover, and they have the same hunger for Him, even if they do not yet recognize it.
          Scripture tells us that a believing wife can sanctify an unbelieving husband, and vice versa.  Perhaps those who are married to unbelievers are being called to just that.  The faithful love of a Christian spouse can be a powerful witness.
All of us can, in some way, help the atheists we know recognize their desire for God, and guide them as to how to fulfill it.  A Christian spouse can do this in a most intimate way, although each circumstance will require its own approach.
          Take the example of St. Monica, the mother of Augustine.  She was a holy Catholic woman married to a pagan man who was a very bad husband.  She suffered abuse at the hands of her mother in law, and watched as her wayward son Augustine strayed far away from her.  But her constant love and faithful prayers won the conversion of all three.
          More recently is the story of Elisabeth Leseur.  She married an atheist man who promised not to interfere with her Catholic Faith, but after they were married, despite his deep love for his wife, he did not keep his promise.  Elisabeth prayed to be given suffering that she could offer for the conversion of her husband.  She received that suffering and died at a young age.  But she had won many graces for him.  Shortly after her death he received the grace of a conversion and spent the rest of his life as a Dominican priest.
          Certainly there are many things for a Christian to consider if marrying an atheist, especially regarding the raising of children.  The most important thing for a Christian to do is discern a call to marriage, not just decide to get married.  Particularly with the help of a good spiritual director, one who is earnestly seeking to do God’s Will will be led down the right path.  “Ask, and you shall receive,” says the Lord.  
Although there are so many blessings of a marriage united in faith, God has shown that the love between a Christian and an atheist can be very real, and potentially the source of many graces as well.  If we as Christians put our lives and our marriages in the hands of the Lord, we will be channels of that Grace.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Link - Keeping Christ in Christmas

Link – Keeping Christ in Christmas

          Janet Morana’s article at The Catholic View for Women offers some tips for how we can resist the secularization of Christmas.  She suggests some simple ways we can remind the culture of “the reason for the season.”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Our National Identity Crisis

Our National Identity Crisis

          Many Americans bristle at the statement that the United States is a Christian nation, though it is a historical fact that that is exactly what it was founded to be.  Even many Christians won’t say it, and perhaps some Catholics are particularly sensitive, given that anti-Catholicism is also a historical reality for our country.
          However, the refusal to acknowledge ourselves as a Christian nation has resulted in an extremely dangerous identity crisis.  Allow me to illustrate.
          A Christian and an atheist, at one fundamental level, actually have very little in common.  Certainly they can coexist, work together, even be friends.  But at the root their understandings of reality are totally inconsistent.  (Note: There have been some incredible, loving marriages between Catholics and atheists, which have even produced Saints.  I will be reflecting on this later in the week.)
          As Christians, we believe we were created for a purpose, by a God who knows us personally and loves us so passionately that He is willing to die for us.  We have an eternal destiny and the main point of this life is to grow closer to our Beloved so that we can spend eternity with Him.  Not only that, there is an invisible reality here and now.  We are surrounded by angels; those who have gone before us are more alive than we are; and there is a spiritual war going on in which we are not only one of the combatants, but also the battlefield.
          The atheist believes none of these things.  There are no invisible realities; the material world is all there is.  Even our most core values, love, for instance, are merely products of chemical reactions.  We exist purely by accident, there is no purpose to our lives, and when we die, we cease to exist.
          As Catholics we have to recognize that an atheist is completely out of touch with reality.  The entire world in which he lives is a fantasy; he has no real understanding of who he is or what life is really all about.  His whole fundamental world view is an illusion.
          Individually, we should respond to this condition with charity and always be willing to share the Truth, and of course to listen.  There are many reasons one becomes an atheist, but none are based on actual facts as they have been revealed through science, history, or even the most basic philosophy.  
          Consequently, not many people are truly atheists, but they have a very disproportionate influence over society, particularly given the stranglehold their worldview has on most of our universities.  How then, as a country, are we to respond to cultural atheism?  
          Atheism as expressed in modern Western society is known as secularism, and it is very seductive.  In the United States groups like the ACLU have been very successful at imposing secularism by citing the First Amendment.  This is particularly ironic since the First Amendment specifically protects the free exercise of one’s religion, but if anyone tries to exercise his religion in public, the secularists will pounce.  This is why we have courts that say displays of crosses or the Ten Commandments are offensive, and somehow infringe on someone’s rights.
          Too many Christians have bought the secularist lie that any public display of religiosity is inappropriate, and that there is no place for religious principles in our public debate.  That is why secularism has had so much success, because it has found allies among believers of all stripes.
          When we eliminate religion from the public square, however, we do not leave things neutral.  The void is filled by the atheist religion.  Our society moves along under the principle that there is no God.  Secularism becomes the favored religion of the state, and all other religious freedoms are disposed of.
          The biggest problem with this identity crisis from which we are suffering is that it makes us less than we ought to be.  A worldview that is founded on God calls men to be great.  They have a destiny to live up to.  They have an ideal of what they want to become.  We, as a nation, in many ways have lost that.  One has only to look to Europe to see our own future if we do not recapture our identity.  And one has only to look to the Communist and Nazi regimes of the last century to see where the path we are on ultimately leads.
          The most honest of today’s atheists will admit that their belief system, taken to its logical conclusions, makes morality absurd.  The best we can hope for is a Hobbesian social contract, which is a far fall from what we once aspired to be.
          To say that we are a Christian nation does not mean there is no room for atheists here.  And certainly people of other faiths, with whom we have much in common, will find a comfortable home.  The Founding Fathers said that all religions find free expression in the United States precisely because it was founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
          And George Washington famously said that the Constitution was made for a religious people.  It is wholly unsuitable for any other.  If we don’t soon commit to turning things around, we will learn that lesson the hard way.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Link - The Gardasil Risk

Link - The Gardasil Risk

          Recent governmental recommendations for universal vaccinations of Gardasil for children have caused many concerns for parents.  The vaccine protects against two of the over 100 strands of the sexually transmitted disease HPV.  Adding to the moral concerns of universal vaccination for an STD is the mounting evidence that Gardasil itself is extremely dangerous.  At the link below read about the opinion of renowned doctor Joseph Mercola, who warns against vaccination, and testimonies from those who have suffered from it.