Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues - CD Review

Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues

CD Review

          Father Robert Barron is well known for his Catholicism series, which ran on PBS and is now available as a DVD set.  He has also put up numerous You Tube videos about some aspect of the Faith or philosophy and has reached many people through that ministry as well as his Word on Fire organization.

          Father Barron has also made a number of CDs for St. Joseph Communications, which are distributed by Lighthouse Catholic Media.  In this article I am reviewing his CD Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues.  The CD, along with many others (and the Catholicism series), is available at the Lighthouse online store, a link to which is on the sidebar of this page.

          Hopefully this review (and others that will follow from time to time) will be informative and give people an opportunity to go deeper by purchasing the CDs if they desire.  The reviews are not meant to be a sales pitch, but will hopefully be a worthwhile encounter with a ministry in which I believe.

          In Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues, Father Barron follows Dante’s Divine Comedy through the seven deadly sins.  He explains each one in detail, and with wonderful examples.  Then he gives a counter-virtue that is an antidote for the sin, and some practical advice on what to do to overcome it.  Finally he gives a Marian example from Dante in which she beautifully models the virtue.

          Pride:  Father Barron starts with pride, which is at the base of Dante’s Mount Purgatory, and is the base of most all sin.  Father Barron gives St. Thomas Aquinas’s definition of pride – turning oneself into God, taking on the prerogatives of God to oneself.  This is the sin that made Lucifer say, “I will not serve,” and led Adam and Eve in the Garden to steal the prerogative of God and decide what is good and what is evil, according to their own authority.  The lively virtue that is the antidote for pride is humility, one of the most precious and difficult of all the virtues.  The practical advice Father gives is for us to find opportunities to purposely take the lowest place.  By allowing others to be ahead of ourselves we will develop humility and conquer that tendency to grab for ourselves that place to which we have no claim, God’s.

          Envy:  Next is envy, what Aquinas defines as sorrow at another’s good.  This sin Father Barron says is the nearest to pride, and its antidote is admiration.  If we can admire the good of another we can rejoice in it.  His advice is to go out of our way to praise someone, particularly someone whom we envy.  If we are in a group where envy leads to gossip about another person, make a point of finding the good in that person and praising it.

          Anger:  Next up Mount Purgatory is anger, which Aquinas defines as the unreasonable desire for vengeance.  Not surprisingly the antidote lively virtue is forgiveness.  Father’s practical advice: take a step today to heal a broken relationship.  Particularly if it has been festering, become a grudge, or led to not speaking to another, make some step to begin to heal the relationship, and quench the sinful anger.

          Sloth:  Midway up the mountain is the sin of sloth, the lack of energy for spiritual good.  It is a spiritual lethargy that may be very present in people who have much energy for the cares of the world.  The antidote virtue is zeal, and Father’s advice is to seriously discern our mission.  Take to prayer the question of what mission God would have us accomplish.  If we discern our mission, we will obtain that zeal that drives out sloth.  He also suggests we practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, visit the sick, instruct the ignorant, pray for the living and the dead, etc.  It’s not hard to see how these would be incompatible with sloth.

          Avarice:  Avarice is defined as the unreasonable or immoderate desire for wealth.  Father Barron passes on wonderful wisdom from the Saints and popes about the use of material goods, of the right to private property and the responsibility to use that property with the common good in mind.  The lively virtue is generosity, and Father Barron gives a host of practical advice.  First, he advises that we make a habit of giving things away on a regular basis.  We should often clean out our closet to the benefit of the poor.  He suggests when we make a purchase to buy a model item one step down from the one we want and give the difference to the poor.  His suggestions are difficult to follow, but certainly powerful for replacing avarice with generosity.

          The last two sins deal with sensual pleasure, which is good when used properly and seen as a foretaste of Heaven.  However, the devil is a master at distorting and corrupting the good things God has made.

          Gluttony:  Gluttony is the immoderate pleasure in food and drink.  Despite America being an overweight nation in a health craze, gluttony as a spiritual problem is not given much concern these days.  However, food and drink can become an addiction and over-indulgence in them can be used as an escape or even a substitute for God.  The lively counter-virtue is asceticism.  Father Barron notes the irony that the modern world considers asceticism some medieval, crazy idea, while at the same time rushing to the gym to spend hours on the Stairmaster.  The goal, he reminds us, is not puritanism, but to discipline our lower nature.  And his practical advice is fasting.  He offers the simple recommendation to occasionally skip a meal, spend the time in prayer, and give the money we would have spent on it to the poor.

          Lust:  At the top of Mount Purgatory is the deadly sin of lust, which is defined as treating another person as a means to one’s own pleasure, particularly sexual pleasure.  Father Barron reminds us of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, that we must always treat the other as an end and not a means.  The virtue that does that, particularly with our sexuality, is chastity.  His advice will require us to examine our relationships.  First, he says, if we are using any form of pornography, stop.  If we have a problem with it, seek help.  Then, if we can recognize any relationship, perhaps even a marriage, in which we objectify another person, we have to reorient it.

          This CD is a wonderful example of why Father Barron is such a popular speaker.  It is informative, interesting, and leads to reflection.  From time to time I will review other CDs from various speakers.  This CD and many others can be found by clicking the Lighthouse online store icon on the sidebar of this blog.  There are specials for Lent and gift ideas as well.  If you would like this ministry brought to your parish, please email me ( or contact Lighthouse directly.  Finally, if you know of another ministry faithful to the Church that I can promote on this blog, please email me with information about it.  I am happy to promote any program that will bring people to Christ. 

Link - The Media's Rebuke of Santorum (and reality)

Link – The Media’s Rebuke of Santorum

(and reality)

          Probably the most important reality we can acknowledge is that God exists.  Another reality that has a great impact on our world is that the devil also exists.  Whereas it is acceptable among the media elite to acknowledge God (as long as you don’t pay too much attention to Him), belief in the devil is something that deserves nothing more than mockery.  And yet, as the media are reporting, Rick Santorum, in a speech at Ave Maria University years ago, acknowledged the reality that the devil’s influence is increasingly being felt in many of our institutions.  To the media this makes him fair game for mockery and scorn, but to those of us with a firmer grip on reality it makes him uniquely qualified to be President of the United States.  Iran, Al Qaeda and the Taliban may be our enemies, but we have a far greater enemy and unless we recognize that, we have no chance of victory. 

          In the spiritual life we know this, and it is no less true for our country, which has a spiritual life of its own.  Ronald Reagan wasn’t afraid to accept it and the Iron Curtain fell as a result (with no small help from Pope John Paul II, and others). 

          At the link below, Harold Fickett provides an interesting perspective of Senator Santorum’s speech and the grasp on reality it displays, as well as the media’s sad reaction.

Monday, February 27, 2012

One Step Closer

One Step Closer

          Richard Dawkins has been called the most famous atheist in the world.  Only he isn’t.  An atheist, I mean.  At least, by his own admission.  Dawkins said in a recent discussion at Oxford University that he can not be sure that God does not exist and prefers to call himself an agnostic.  In the same discussion he said he is pretty confident that God does not exist, so why is his admission that he can’t be sure such a major event?

          Dawkins is a professor at Oxford and is probably best known for his book The God Delusion.  Christians have become accustomed to having their beliefs mocked by Dawkins.  As I have become familiar with Dawkins’s work I have come to believe that he doesn’t actually believe that God does not exist, but rather that he is angry with Him.  And the little I know about Dawkins himself actually allows me to understand that a bit.  I don’t want to be presumptuous; I do not know the man personally; it is simply my interpretation of his work.

          It is clear that Dawkins is a man of at least average intelligence and his arguments against God’s existence don’t withstand even rudimentary scrutiny.  His response to challenges by other scientists, such as Michael Behe, has been to set up a straw man, and proceed to knock it down.  Dawkins is at least intelligent enough to recognize a straw man.  But the purpose of this post is not to criticize the philosophy Dawkins espouses.  There has been plenty of that done.  The Godless Delusion, by Patrick Madrid and Ken Hensley is an easy-to-read book that does a good job.  And my purpose is certainly not to cast judgment on the man himself.  I have no right to do that.

          No, my purpose today is to rejoice.  One would think that Professor Dawkins’s recent admission does not amount to a powerful statement of faith.  And of course it doesn’t.  But it does represent an opening of the heart.  Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks.  He respects our freedom, and if we insist on keeping the door tightly locked shut, He will not break it down.  But neither will He stop knocking, stop pursuing us.

          As often as Richard Dawkins has spoken against God, one thing is certain: God has continued to love him.  As often as Dawkins may have blamed God for his pain, God has longed for the professor to seek comfort in Him.

          As Christians we are called to long for the same thing.  I have not appreciated many of the things Professor Dawkins has said, but I have always desired his salvation. 

          His recent admission is not a profession of faith, but an openness to the reality of God, however slight, and an indication of humility.  For a man like Dawkins, that is a journey of a million miles.  It is an incredible development.  It is a cause for hope to those of us who have been praying for him, or praying for anyone far away from God.  Not many people have at least publicly seemed farther from God than Dawkins, and I certainly can not be sure what his future holds.  But I know that with every crack he opens that door to his heart, the Love of God will find more of a foothold, and the Church will pray ever more fervently.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Debate Recap

Debate Recap

          Last night was held what may have been the last in a seemingly endless stream of Republican debates during the 2012 primary season.  It came less than a week before the Arizona and Michigan primaries and less than two weeks before “Super Tuesday.”  Though the debate was sponsored by CNN, not exactly a Republican-friendly organization, the host, John King, did a much better and more balanced job than George Stephanopoulos did in a recent ABC debate.

          Unfortunately, the debate itself was not all that good.  It was characterized mostly by personal attacks and accusations.  Ron Paul and Mitt Romney went heavily on the offensive against the surging Rick Santorum and Romney himself was, as usual, the target of many attacks.  Newt Gingrich once again won the debate, which is key to his strategy for regaining momentum, but not for the usual reasons.  He made intelligent points and did have one of his trademark clever applause lines about an educational system that spends all its energy helping students build self-esteem, while leaving them unable to spell self-esteem.

          But Gingrich won primarily because he stayed above the fray last night.  While the other three traded barbs, he kept his message positive or targeted on President Obama.

          There was one period when camaraderie prevailed, and that was when the candidates agreed on the importance of keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Of course, Congressman Paul was left out of the brotherly love fest, since he disagreed with the other three and put forth the notion that we should basically butt out of Iran’s affairs.

          The most energy was stirred up around the issue of President Obama’s indefensible contraception mandate.  The issue came up after a ridiculous question from a viewer asking each candidate their personal opinions on contraception and to explain any opposition to it.  The question was presumably targeted at Senator Santorum who, as a practicing Catholic, does not practice artificial contraception.  Of course he has said he would not seek to stop others from doing so, so the question was totally irrelevant.

          Although Santorum could likely give a reasoned explanation (and I’m not certain a completely laissez faire approach is necessarily the right one) the conversation turned to the real pertinent issue of Obama’s forcing Catholics to violate their consciences by providing contraception and other services to employees through their health plans.

          Gingrich responded to the original question by proclaiming Obama the real extremist.  As he tends to do, he called out the mainstream media, saying, “You did not once, in the 2008 election, ask why Barack Obama supported infanticide.”  This, of course, refers to Obama’s refusal to defend the lives of children who survive a failed attempt at abortion, and his protection of “doctors” who subsequently kill them.  On health care Gingrich followed up, “When you have government as the central provider of services you inevitably move toward tyranny because the government has the power of force.”  This is an important point we would all do well to understand.

          Romney stated, “I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the attack on religious conscience that we’ve seen under Barack Obama.”

          Paul attacked the government’s heavy involvement in health care altogether: “The problem is the government is getting involved in things it shouldn’t be involved in, especially at the federal level.”

          By the time the question got to Santorum the moderator had adjusted it a bit, and the senator made the point that, “We have a problem in this country – the family is fracturing.”  He went on to lament the great burden this places on children and the social evils that follow, including the fact that broken homes are five times as likely to be in poverty.   

          The debate featured one novel moment when each candidate was asked to describe himself in one word with no explanation, and they all stuck to it.  Paul – consistent; Santorum – courage; Romney – resolute; Gingrich went a bit lighter with “cheerful.”

          There was one issue that was brought up late in the debate that I haven’t heard before regarding an Obama initiative that, in the name of equality, would put more women in combat roles in the military.  I hadn’t heard of this before, but most of the men last night got it wrong, with the exception of Santorum.  I know it is difficult not to be too politically correct when you’re trying to win an election, but we need to be able to have the courage to say that any nation that sends its women off to combat has lost its way, perhaps beyond return.

          Gingrich and Romney both said they would seek the opinions and advice of military leaders on the issue.  Paul said he does not like to think of people in terms of groups and that he would like all our soldiers to come home, but that if there were a just war we would have both men and women in combat.

          Only Santorum had the courage to call the idea into question, not as forcefully as I may have liked, but he said nonetheless that while he would consider the opinions of military leaders, he has concerns about certain roles for women in the military, particularly in the infantry.

          There is no doubt that women make great contributions to our military, and they increasingly have important roles to play, but combat is not one of them.  I actually think it is rather important to have a Commander in Chief who understands that and is not afraid or too politically correct to acknowledge it.

          All in all, I’m not sure the debate will do much to sway many voters.  I’d expect Gingrich will benefit somewhat, and for voters truly undecided, it’s hard to tell what comment or accusation will be the one to influence them.  I have endorsed Santorum but each American needs to make an informed and prayerful decision.  Regardless of who we are supporting, we should all, as Catholics, Christians, and people of good will, pray for our nation as we undergo this important process.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Vision of the Saints

The Vision of the Saints

The Saints are quite a varied group of people.  Some have been men, some have been women; some have been poor, some have come from wealth; some have been old, some have been young; some have been geniuses, some have had below average intelligence; some have been robust, some have been sickly.  Whoever we are, we have something in common with a great many Saints.  All the same, sometimes we can be intimidated by them, as though they are another species.  But they are all human beings, and some had been great sinners.  But they all, at least eventually, sought holiness, and found it.

          There is something else that sets the Saints apart from the rest of us (from me at least) and that is their singleness of vision.  Once a person attains that holiness that allows them to become a Saint, they see everything in terms of God.  Or perhaps it is that singleness of vision that leads to saintly holiness.

          What do I mean?  It is not that a Saint refuses to live on Earth, and has his or her head always in heavenly clouds.  No, the Saints live fully their lives on Earth.  But they are constantly conscious of God’s presence, and they see the world for what it truly is, a sacramental, a sign pointing us to God.

          For example, the Saints can see the beauty of nature, and enjoy it more than the rest of us because in that beauty they see a hint of the beauty of God.  They can gaze at the great expanse of the universe and it leads them to contemplate the infinite nature of God.  Most of all, they see other people so clearly, made in the Image and Likeness of God. 

          We may look at this and be tempted to think that the Saints are always engaged in pious musings and do not see the world for what it really is.  But just the opposite is true.  This world is meant to lead us to God.  His imprint is all over it.  If I look at another person and see Jesus in that person, it does not mean that I don’t also see that person for his own unique identity.  But I see a great reality about that identity, that it is a unique and personal manifestation of the Glory of God.  I can’t help but acknowledge the other’s great dignity and worth.  With every unique person I encounter I can find some new perspective of the Image of God.

          The Saints also learn how to see in every situation an opportunity to grow closer to God.  The joys of Earth are foretastes of the joys of Heaven and should lead me to thanksgiving.  The struggles in this life help me to develop fortitude and a dependence on God.  In my sorrows I can find an opportunity for solidarity with the suffering throughout the world, and I can seek comfort from the Lord.  In humiliations and failures I can even rejoice because they afford me the precious chance to develop the all-important virtue of humility.

          Is it a wonder that it is the Saints who live life with the most peace and joy?  Is this outlook easy?  Certainly not, but nothing worth attaining is.  Is it attainable?  Yes, for both you and me.  We can train our vision.

          Years ago there was a popular program called the See Clearly Method.  It was a series of eye exercises that were supposed to strengthen our eyes and restore proper vision to those who use glasses.  We can practice a See Clearly Method for our interior vision as well.  But we must be deliberate about it.  Take the time purposely to contemplate God in his creation, particularly the people in our lives.  God’s Image is somewhere in even the most hardened sinner.  Perhaps there are people who are counting on us to help them discover it.  In all circumstances seek to find opportunities for spiritual growth.  It will take hard work and discipline at first, but in time we will develop a second nature.  (At least, as one who has not yet achieved the vision of the Saints, I am trusting in that.)  But I will persevere.  This Lent provides a perfect opportunity.  Forty days is a great amount of time to obtain a new habit. 

          So let us focus our vision this Lent.  Let us deepen our vision.  And come Easter, we may just be able to see this world with the eyes of the Saints.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Making Our Voices Heard

Making Our Voices Heard

          Last week I posted an article, Why Obama’s ‘Accommodation’ is a Joke.  I received a lot of personal feedback, almost all of it positive.  But there was one conversation I had that I’d like to discuss here.  Unfortunately, in the conversation, the real issue got a little muddied, but it brought me to another that would be relevant to explore.
          Though my article referred only to the President’s contraception/sterilization/abortifacient mandate, it is true that I oppose the Obamacare ‘reform’ altogether.  Most Americans still do, and when it was passed the vast majority of people didn’t want it.
          In debating this, the opposition can have a tendency to twist the issue and set up a straw man.  We are sometimes accused, if we oppose Obamacare, of not caring about the poor, the sick or the uninsured.  Clearly it is a false choice to say we must either accept the President’s plan or nothing. 
          As Catholics we are deeply concerned about the poor and suffering.  That is one of the fundamental principles of social justice.  However, we can also use our intellects to evaluate the Obamacare legislation.  If we believe that the President’s bill will destroy health care in this country, infringe on personal and religious freedoms, and pave the way for a complete government takeover of the health care system, we must strongly oppose it.  That in no way suggests that we are unconcerned about the uninsured or uninsurable.
          The point of this post is not to evaluate Obamacare.  There has been plenty written on that topic and many readers are undoubtedly more knowledgeable about it than I.  My point, however, is to encourage action as the Catholic electorate.
          If we do oppose the President’s health care reform and are also concerned about the uninsured, we should stand up and say so.  And specifically, we should share our viewpoints and values with our elected representatives.  I would go so far as to suggest we should offer specific solutions to our representatives personally.
          Those serving in Congress are not necessarily the best and brightest of our nation.  We can often be intimidated by people in positions of power, but their ideas and solutions are not necessarily any better than ours.
          I enjoy delving into political issues and not just deciding what I think about a particular piece of legislation, but contemplating workable solutions that support my political and moral values.  It’s true that I don’t have all the information that my Congressman does, and don’t know the details, for example, of what things would cost, but there’s no reason to think that my ideas are without value.
          We have the ability to speak not only with our votes but with our ideas.  There are many people out there far wiser than myself, and good ideas can come from any one of us.  We may be surprised how our ideas are received.  If our representative or senator is open enough, it may be a powerful way to have our values put into place.
          So if you have an idea about how we can truly reform health care in a positive way, or effect improvements to the many other issues facing our nation, say so.  Not just to your friends or even in political chat rooms or blogs, but share them with your representatives, at the state and federal level.  Maybe even discern a run for public office yourself.  There is little our country needs more than Catholic leaders who are willing to put into practice the words of the Our Father: Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Fathers Speak: St. Irenaeus

The Fathers Speak: St. Irenaeus

          St. Irenaeus was a second century bishop of Lyons, Gaul (modern-day France).  He learned the Faith from St. Polycarp, who himself received it from St. John, the Beloved Apostle.  Irenaeus’s most famous work was Against Heresies, in which he refutes the growing Gnostic heresies of his day.  The following passage is taken from that work and explains Apostolic succession and the primacy of the bishop of Rome.

…pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles.  For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition.

The blessed Apostles, having founded and built up the Church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus.  Paul makes mention of this Linus in the Epistle to Timothy.  To him succeeded Anencletus; and after him, in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was chosen for the episcopate.  He had seen the Apostles and was acquainted with them…To this Clement, Evaristus succeeded; and Alexander succeeded Evaristus.  Then, sixth after the Apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telesphorus, who also was gloriously martyred.  Then Hyginus; after him, Pius; and after him, Anicetus.  Soter succeeded Anicetus, and now, in the twelfth place after the Apostles, the lot of the episcopate has fallen to Eleutherus.  In this order, and by the teaching of the Apostles handed down in the Church, the preaching of the truth has come down to us.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Secular Totalitarianism

Secular Totalitarianism

          There are many who are portraying Christians’ resistance to President Obama’s contraception mandate as an attempt to force their religious views on others.  This, of course, is laughable.  In the following video Father Robert Barron discusses how the President’s mandate is an example of what he calls secular totalitarianism, and why we must draw a line in the sand over it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012



Lent is just around the corner.  Ash Wednesday is next week.  I work at a Catholic school and one interesting phenomenon is that during Lent the teachers’ lounge is overflowing (more than usual) with cookies, cupcakes, candy and other temptations.  Another interesting phenomenon is that any comment about it draws the admonition that for an adult to give up chocolate or sweets for Lent displays an immature spirituality.

          The point they’re trying to make is valid, but the conclusions are faulty.  As we approach the season of Lent it would be good to consider what we will be offering.  Traditionally we think in terms of giving something up for Lent, and it’s true that if we just drop some habit that returns after Easter without any personal growth, the value is limited.

          Part of our discipline is purely the sacrifice of giving something up as an offering to God.  If we have a particular affinity for chocolate, that can be a valid sacrifice.  More than that, our Lenten offering should provide lasting spiritual growth.  Certainly, self-mastery is a trait our entire culture can do with much more of.  The discipline it takes to abstain from something we normally indulge in helps develop a self-mastery and strength we can apply to other areas of our lives, particularly the resistance of sin.  That’s one of the beauties of fasting.

          But my point is not that everyone should give up chocolate for Lent and be done with it.  We must prayerfully consider what offering we want to make to God and what will be most beneficial to our long-term spiritual growth.  Perhaps our Lent can open us to living with a more penitential character the entire year.

          I used to fast quite often.  As I’ve grown older it has gotten harder and harder.  But it’s not age that’s the culprit, it’s the increased workload and three small boys, with the resulting lack of sleep.  Struggling with fasting is not bad, but it seemed physically impossible for me to maintain the discipline at the level I had before.  At first I was disappointed in myself, but I prayerfully accepted that these were real limitations and I had to accept reality.

          However, this did not mean that I could not still develop a penitential spirit.  Father Hubert Van Zeller explains in his book Spirit of Penance, Path to God that we have opportunities all the time to offer things to God in a spirit of penance.  Many mothers in years past gave the advice, “Offer it up,” to their children when they experienced some form of suffering.  This is excellent advice, but not just for children.

          We have sufferings small or large all day long.  There are constant inconveniences that we can turn into prayers of penance.  The car that cuts us off in traffic, or the clerk who answers us rudely, perhaps the waiter who messes up our order, all give us an opportunity for penance.  One of the spiritual works of mercy is to bear wrongs patiently.  But we don’t even have to be wronged.  The plans that had to be changed, the stubbed toe, the broken transmission, are also opportunities.  If we develop a penitential spirit we can bear these things with patience and love, and offer them, large or small, in reparation for sin, or for the conversion of sinners, or the intentions of the Holy Father, or the souls in Purgatory, or simply for the love of God.

          Fr. Van Zeller points out that these penances have the added benefit of our offering our will, as well. When I fast, I choose my own penance.  But I don’t choose the broken down car or to be treated disrespectfully, I receive them.  If I offer them willingly to God, I offer my will as well, since I accept the penances given to me rather than choosing them for myself.

          Without question fasting is valuable.  So are the sacrifice, prayer and alms we offer during Lent.  Perhaps one of our disciplines this Lent can be to live a penitential spirit all the time, and offer our sufferings and inconveniences to God.  This can certainly become a habit that will provide lasting spiritual growth.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Obama's 'Accommodation' is a Joke

Why Obama’s ‘Accommodation’ is a Joke

          The past few weeks there has been a lot of news regarding President Obama’s contraception mandate, which required all employers, including the Catholic Church, to provide free contraception, including abortifacient drugs, to all employees through their health coverage.  There was no attempt to protect individual conscience rights or religious liberty in the President’s mandate.
          The Christian response was definitive, with Catholics and Protestants alike promising to defy the mandate and even go to jail if necessary.  Bishops urged the faithful to oppose the President, and even some of his most faithful supporters spoke out against him.  On Friday, the President responded with an “accommodation” that he declared solved the problem.  The Catholic Church, and all Christians, had better be satisfied, by executive decree.
          The problem is that his “accommodation” is a joke, nothing more than an exercise in semantic gymnastics.  In essence it says that religious employers can offer health insurance coverage that does not include contraception or abortifacients but that the insurance company that provides the plan must cover these items for free.
          Obviously the result of this adjustment, practically speaking, is that nothing changes.  It is a manufactured way for certain institutions to separate themselves from the coverage that they would be providing.  Perhaps it’s an opportunity for Christians to abandon their principles while saving face.  If the President thinks the Church will jump at the chance, he is sadly mistaken.
          Why does this “accommodation” do nothing to protect conscience and religious liberty?  Imagine this hypothetical conversation:
          “Where did you get your contraception?  Was it expensive?”
          “Not at all, my insurance covered it completely.”
          “Wow, you work at a Catholic school.  I’m surprised they cover that.”
          “Oh, they don’t.  It’s my insurance company that covers it.”
          “Where did you get the insurance policy?”
          “My job provides it.”
          Obviously, you don’t have to connect too many dots to say that the Catholic institution provided free access to contraception and abortion.  How again does that protect the liberty of the Church, which considers these things objectively evil?  And since the insurance company passes the cost of its services to those who pay the premiums, the Church pays for its employees to have access to free contraception and abortifacients.
          The President would have to be pretty arrogant if he expects the gratitude of the Church for this concession.  Sadly, there have been plenty of people who have already applauded him for his flexibility.  And of course it allows the media to portray him as quite reasonable, and the Church as stubborn and rigid, unwilling to accept a “reasonable compromise.”
          Politically shrewd, perhaps, but morally bankrupt.  We can’t fall for it.  And we can’t let down our guard or stifle our outrage.  If we do, we will not only lose this battle, but more violent ones will be on the way.
          Consider one of the Mr. Obama’s justifications for his mandate – it is cheaper to contracept than to have a child.  Financially there is an interest.  (I wonder if he’s ever explored what the financial benefits of chastity are.)  With his thinking, it won’t be too far a leap to make the same argument for abortion in general.  He clearly considers it a “women’s health” issue, as though pregnancy were a disease.  And considering how much campaign money he gets from the abortion lobby, the temptation will only get stronger.
          But why stop there?  Euthanasia is cheaper than treating any serious condition.  Why shouldn’t we all pay to kill the sick, disabled and elderly?  Think of the long-term savings. 
          When our government at the highest level doesn’t understand the most basic concepts of human dignity, can measure human beings in terms of dollars and cents, and shows no regard for conscience and religious liberty, there is no evil that should be beyond our imagination.
          Now is the time for all Christians to speak more loudly than ever.  We must make clear that we have no intention of accepting this insulting “accommodation,” and we are duty-bound to use our energy and resources to ensure, as Psalm 109:8 says, “that his days are few and that others replace him.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lighthouse Catholic Media

Lighthouse Catholic Media

                You may have noticed some new graphics on the sidebar of this blog, concerning Lighthouse Catholic Media ministry.  Lighthouse is a not-for-profit organization that was started in response to Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization, which has also been taken up by Pope Benedict.

          Lighthouse is best known for distributing Catholic CDs from St. Joseph Communications to parishes and schools in order to get them in the hands of the faithful.  They have titles from well-known speakers like Fr. Robert Barron, Matthew Kelly, Scott Hahn, Mother Teresa, and Archbishop Fulton Sheen, among others.  They also have agreements with Catholic publishers like Ignatius Press so people can receive good Catholic books at a discount.  If you click on the “online store” link in the sidebar, you will have a chance to browse and purchase CDs, books, and other Catholic materials.

          Below that is a link for the CD of the Month Club.  Members of the CD of the Month Club receive a new title delivered in the mail each month.  This is a wonderful opportunity, which I began taking advantage of a few months ago.  I used to be a voracious reader, but it has gotten increasingly difficult to find time to read as my family has grown.  With these CDs I can get great information from wonderful speakers and listen on my way to and from work.  Members can also sign up to receive multiple CDs every month at a discount to distribute them to family and friends.  Click on either link for more details about Lighthouse’s programs.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is There a 'Catholic Vote'?

Is There A ‘Catholic Vote’?

          For many election cycles in this country candidates had to be concerned about the “Catholic vote.”  Who would win the “Catholic vote?” pundits wondered.  Would the “Catholic vote” swing an election?  Well, it would seem those days are over.  However, might it be the case that Barack Obama can bring them back?

          Catholics are as mainstream as they come in American life these days, and generally speaking, that’s not a good thing.  By and large we fit in perfectly with the modern American culture, which is largely based on hedonism and materialism.  In the last Presidential election, the votes cast by Catholics broke essentially as the national average did.

          Of course, those numbers can be rather deceiving.  For the first thing, Catholics make up by far the largest religious group in the United States, but that simply counts all people who identify themselves as Catholic, including those who are lucky to see the inside of a church twice a year, which sadly is a monstrous number.  I don’t say that as a way to cast judgment on anyone; it’s just a fact, and a major factor in our mirroring of the culture at large.  President Obama, for example, actually lost among practicing Catholics in 2008.

          There are segments of the Catholic community that are seeing a great resurgence of faith and devotion, and which are fruitful ground for vocations and evangelization.

          However, that being said, inactive and former Catholics still make up an incredibly large segment of the population in the United States and the so-called “Catholic vote” will include us all.

          So why do some people think President Obama may definitively lose the “Catholic vote” in 2012?  In short, it comes down to the indefensible, immoral contraception mandate (which includes sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs) he is inflicting on the American people, which is designed to particularly violate the rights and freedoms of the Catholic Church.

          If it hadn’t come before, the time for outrage is certainly here now.  Mr. Obama seems to think he can violate the most sacred rights and freedoms of all Americans, those of conscience and religion, simply because it suits him.  He seems to be targeting the Catholic Church specifically with this mandate perhaps to drive her from health care altogether, which would be a huge step forward in the push for socialized medicine that he has championed in the past.

          But this issue goes far beyond health care.  It is about the freedom of every American to follow the dictates of his conscience, and the freedom of the Church to live according to the principles given to her by Jesus Christ. 

          Will the average Catholic stand up and take notice?  Will we let Mr. Obama know that he is not a totalitarian dictator with our votes?  I think there are signs that we might.  The USCCB has tried very hard in the past not to be partisan or to seem as though they are endorsing a particular candidate.  The statement put out in 2008 about responsible voting, though true to Catholic teaching, seemed a bit tempered to have likely had much effect on most people.  I don’t say this as a criticism.  It is up to us to form our consciences properly (the bishops have an important role to play in that) and then apply those well-formed consciences to our civic duties.  We shouldn’t need or ask the bishops to tell us what to do in that regard.

          However, the bishops are being anything but tempered now.  They are speaking out strongly in defense of the rights and freedoms of their flock as any father should.  Some have spoken quite clearly that in this election year we Catholics need to take a stand to protect our religious freedoms and the rights of the Church.  Much media attention has been paid to this issue and there have even been some rather partisan Democrats that have publicly scolded the President for this shameful act.

          Mr. Obama has even taken a play right out of China’s playbook by censoring the military archbishop’s statement on the mandate.  The archbishop, it seems, was being seditious for daring to criticize the President and defend the rights of his people.

          It seems now that the President has seen the writing on the wall, and he’s begun backpedaling faster than a New England Patriots cornerback, but this is not the time for us to be stupid.  He has clearly shown us his face, and what he thinks of us and the Church.  We have every reason to be terrified about what he will do if he doesn’t have reelection concerns to deal with.

          There is no question that if Barack Obama wins reelection this November Catholics will be fighting for their religious lives in this country.  The time for us to be concerned about appearing partisan is over.  We put our trust in Jesus, not in any political party or candidate, but we also have a duty to do what we can to ensure that once again there is a “Catholic vote” in this country and that come November it speaks with a very clear voice.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Santoromentum? and The Contraception Mandate

Santoromentum? and

The Contraception Mandate

          There are three important votes in the Presidential primary tonight, in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota.  Recent polling shows Rick Santorum in potential position to win all three.  Rasmussen and Gallup also released polls this week showing Santorum as the only GOP candidate to win head-to-head against Barack Obama.  This blog, of course, endorsed Mr. Santorum approximately a month ago, but regardless of who you are supporting, let’s offer prayers for wisdom and entrust our nation to God at this pivotal time.  The link below offers an interesting perspective about the high profile Obama contraception mandate that has been of such concern recently.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger

Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger

When I was in college, I had a very unexpected experience that ended up being quite profitable.  I was playing baseball at Santa Barbara City College at the time and a teammate had just undergone a conversion to Christianity.  One day he asked me if I would go to church with him the following Sunday.  I thought it would be a good thing to encourage so I agreed to accompany him after I went to Mass in the morning.  The church he belonged to ended up being the Protestant denomination known as the Church of Christ.

          The service was held on a grassy hill with a stage at the bottom and was focused around the minister’s sermon.  The people were very nice and welcoming. And many of my teammate’s friends invited me to a Bible study.  I agreed, not knowing what to expect.  The student Catholic parish had a Bible study I attended at the time which focused on understanding the upcoming Sunday readings.  This Bible study was quite different, though.  The young men knew I was Catholic and spent the better part of an hour attacking me and trying to get me to leave the Church.

          Well, I knew nothing about apologetics at the time and very little about Scripture.  They jumped from topic to topic and from Bible verse to Bible verse.  Thankfully, I was able to recognize the taking of Scripture out of context and God gave me the Grace to persevere in my Catholic Faith and search for answers to the many challenges they brought up.  The great blessing was that I discovered every challenge had an answer and I developed an interest in apologetics.

          I remember at one point turning to the Second Book of Macabees in order to give a Scriptural defense of Purgatory and they dismissed it by saying, “That book isn’t even in our Bibles.”  Well, I had no idea why the book wasn’t in their Bibles so I dropped the point.

          Who do some Bibles lack both Books of Macabees, as well as Baruch, Wisdom, Tobit, Judith, Sirach, and parts of Daniel and Esther?  Some Protestants will tell you that the Catholic Church added those books at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, but that is factually absurd.  The fact is that the Catholic Church officially established the canon of the Bible in the end of the fourth century, containing all 73 books that Catholics have today, and Martin Luther took out the disputed books in the sixteenth century himself.

          In the first few centuries of Christianity, there was not total consensus about which books belonged in the Bible.  The seven books that differentiate Catholic and Protestant Bibles are in the Old Testament, but there were disputed books in the New Testament as well.  Some groups thought the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas or Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians were Scriptural, for example.  Others thought Revelation or Second Peter were not.  In the fourth century the Church used the authority given her by Christ to make a definitive decision.  Pope St. Damasus ratified the decision of the Council of Rome, authoritatively canonizing the Bible with the 73 books we have today.  That decision was reinforced by the African councils of Hippo and Carthage in the fourth century and others since, most notably being a reaffirmation of the canon at the Council of Trent in response to Martin Luther’s heretical removal of the seven previously mentioned books.

          These are all easily verifiable historical facts that really can’t be disputed.  But why did Luther do it?  The story of Luther’s rebellion and his promulgation of his heresies is a long one and the Church is not without fault in it.  However, the bottom line is that some of the books that were removed from Protestant Bibles contain references to teachings that Luther jettisoned, one notable one being the reference to Purgatory in Second Macabees that I attempted to share with my teammate’s friends nearly 20 years ago.

          Luther claimed authority to do this from the Council of Jamnia, a meeting of rabbis in A.D. 93.  This council explains why modern Jewish Scriptures also contain only the 39 Old Testament Books that Protestant Bibles have.  During Jesus’s time the version of the Scriptures most widely used in and around Israel was called the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Scriptures made by rabbis for the library in Alexandria.  It is also the version most quoted in the New Testament.  Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and the Jewish people of the ancient world were struggling to find an identity.  One thing they decided to do was resist Hellenization, or Greek influences, so they decided that any books of Scripture that they did not have a Hebrew version of would be dropped.  This also allowed them to distinguish themselves from the nascent Christian community, which used the Septuagint at the time.

          You can probably see some of the problems with Luther citing this council in his decision.  First, this is a council of rabbis after the birth of the Church.  They had no authority.  In fact, one of the decrees at the Council of Jamnia was that Jesus of Nazareth is not the Messiah.  Also, one of their goals in dropping the seven books was to distinguish themselves from Christianity.  Ironic that Luther would follow their lead in this matter.

          Finally, even the reasoning of the rabbis at Jamnia, which Luther accepted, proved to be flawed.  The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the middle of the last century unearthed Hebrew copies of some of the disputed books, such as Tobit and Wisdom, which date to before the time of Christ.  So as you can see, not only did Martin Luther not have the authority to change the canon of Scripture, even the logic he used in doing so was flawed.

          This has been a very short explanation of this issue and there are wonderful books on the topic, such as Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger, by Gary Michuta.  So if anyone complains to you that a piece of Scripture you are quoting isn’t even in their Bibles, don’t disregard it.  It’s not your fault they have an incomplete Bible.  Give them the directions to your nearest Catholic bookstore (or the address of this blog, which features a great translation of the full Bible on the sidebar) and say a prayer that they will find great riches in the Scriptures they will be encountering for the first time.