Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Saturday, June 30, 2012

One More Chance on Obamacare

One More Chance on Obamacare

          I count myself among the majority of Americans who believe the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is a bad law.  In fact, I count myself among the plurality who believe it is horrible.  In light of that, Friday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the law was quite a disappointment.
          As a Catholic, I have grave concerns over the inclusion of abortion in the act and the fact that we will all have to finance it, as well as the “death panels” (loaded language to be sure, but not inaccurate), and the fact that the act completely violates the Catholic social justice principle of subsidiarity.
          On a practical level I am also deeply worried that this act is the first major step toward a single-payer, government-run health care system that will divorce morals from medicine, rob people of their freedoms, and destroy the quality of health care in this country, as such systems have done in other parts of the world.
          The Supreme Court, as Chief Justice John Roberts said, was not charged with determining whether Obamacare was good law, only if it was Constitutional law.  On that point, I agree with four Supreme Court justices and countless legal experts who believe the court got it wrong.
          The main question revolved around the individual mandate, forcing Americans to purchase health care insurance or pay a penalty.  The court said that the mandate did not pass muster under the commerce clause but was ruled Constitutional as a tax.  This, however, is wrong.  There is such a thing as a sales tax, but not a non-sales tax.  To force someone to pay for not purchasing something is not a tax; it is a fine.
          The court ruled that the Obama administration lied in adamantly claiming that Obamacare was not a tax.  However, I disagree.  I actually think Mr. Obama was being accurate in not classifying the individual mandate as a tax.  However, five justices disagreed, and that is all that saved the bill.
          A word about Chief Justice Roberts, who shocked everyone by joining with the “liberal” justices to give the bill the one-vote majority it needed.  I will not accuse Mr. Roberts of betraying his Catholic Faith, like many people do, for example, when anyone votes for a budget that does not exponentially increase funding for their favorite social program.  Though the anti-life provisions in the bill would make it hard for me to cast a vote in support of it, regardless of how I felt about its Constitutionality, Justice Roberts believed (erroneously I would submit) that he was interpreting the law correctly, and upholding the duty with which he was charged.
          What, then, do we do?  The survival of this bill is a devastating blow to many, probably most, Catholics.  There is still some hope, though.  The egregious portions of Obamacare, for the most part, do not take effect until 2014.  That means we have one last chance to do what the Supreme Court did not – kill the bill.
          If Mitt Romney wins the White House, and especially if Republicans take control of both houses of Congress, there is good chance that we will never suffer under the worst parts of Obamacare.  If they lose in November, however, all you-know-what will eventually break loose.  The stakes just got even higher.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Fathers Speak: St. Ambrose

The Fathers Speak: 
St. Ambrose

          St. Ambrose (A.D. 340-397) was a fourth century bishop of Milan, and is a Doctor of the Church.  He was known for his holiness and brilliant intellect.  He was also instrumental in the conversion of St. Augustine.  There is such a wealth of writing from Ambrose, I have included excerpts from only two pieces: On Repentance and On the Mysteries.  These excerpts include comments on the Sacrament of Penance (Confession), the priestly ministry, Baptism as a born again regeneration, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the primacy of the pope as successor of Peter, and more.  Ambrose is a very early and prolific Catholic writer whose works are invaluable apologetic tools that prove the early Church was Catholic and contained practices and beliefs that have been preserved today only in the Catholic Church.

On Repentance

And the Lord indeed came to a sinner, though indeed He had no sin, and desired to be baptized, having no need of cleansing; who, then, can tolerate you, who think there is no need for you to be cleansed by penance, because you say you are cleansed by grace, as though it were now impossible for you to sin?

Could Paul teach in opposition to his own act? He had at Corinth forgiven sin through penance, how could he himself speak against his own decision? Since, then, he could not destroy what he had built, we must assume that what he says was different from, but not contrary to, what had gone before

Therefore most evidently are we bidden by the teaching of the Lord to confer again the grace of the heavenly sacrament on those guilty even of the greatest sins, if they with open confession bear the penance due to their sin

The Church holds fast its obedience on either side, by both retaining and remitting sin; heresy is on the one side cruel, and on the other disobedient; wishes to bind what it will not loosen, and will not loosen what it has bound, whereby it condemns itself by its own sentence. For the Lord willed that the power of binding and of loosing should be alike, and sanctioned each by a similar condition.

The office of the priest is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and His right it is specially to forgive and to retain sins.

In like manner it seemed impossible that sins should be forgiven through repentance, but Christ gave this power to His apostles, which has been transmitted to the priestly office. That, then, has become possible which was impossible

…for they have not the succession of Peter, who hold not the chair of Peter, which they rend by wicked schism; and this, too, they do, wickedly denying that sins can be forgiven even in the Church, whereas it was said to Peter: "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.

On the Mysteries

We have proved the sacraments of the Church to be the more ancient, now recognize that they are superior. In very truth it is a marvelous thing that God rained manna on the fathers, and fed them with daily food from heaven; so that it is said, "So man did eat angels' food." But yet all those who ate that food died in the wilderness, but that food which you receive, that living Bread which came down from heaven, furnishes the substance of eternal life; and whosoever shall eat of this Bread shall never die, and it is the Body of Christ.

In that sacrament is Christ, because it is the Body of Christ, it is therefore not bodily food but spiritual.

So, then, having obtained everything, let us know that we are born again…If, then, the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Virgin wrought the conception, and effected the work of generation, surely we must not doubt but that, coming down upon the Font, or upon those who receive Baptism, He effects the reality of the new birth.

Nor, again, is there the Sacrament of Regeneration without water: "For except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God...

Do not consider the merits of individuals, but the office of the priests….Believe, then, that the Lord Jesus is present at the invocation of the priest, Who said: "Where two or three are, there am I also." How much where the Church is, and where His Mysteries are, does He vouchsafe to impart His presence!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Fellowship of the Unashamed

The Fellowship of the Unashamed:
Mission Statement

I am a part of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

The die has been cast. The decision has been made. I have stepped over the line. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.

My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is in God’s Hands. I am finished and done with low living, small planning, the bare minimum, smooth knees, mundane talking, frivolous living, selfish giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, applause, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, the best, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by Faith. I lean on Christ’s presence. I love with patience, live by prayer, and labor with the power of God’s Grace.

My face is set. My gait is fast, my goal is Heaven. My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, and my mission is clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won't give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and spoken up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I am a Catholic. I must go until He comes, give until I drop, speak out until all know, and work until He stops me. And when He returns for His own, He will have no difficulty recognizing me. My banner is clear: I am a part of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

Adapted from the original (author unknown) by Patrick Madrid

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why a Catholic School?

Why a Catholic School?

          I teach in a Catholic school.  My first two years of teaching were in a charter school.  Growing up, my education was completely in public schools.  And we are homeschooling our children.  When it comes to education I have experienced a pretty wide variety.
          One of my greatest concerns is the development of extraordinary, authentically Catholic schools.  In that regard I have been quite blessed personally.  Like all schools, the school at which I teach is not perfect.  But there is a real effort being made that the kids receive not just a good education, but a Catholic education, and we are supported by wonderful priests and a great parent community.
          However, I had an interesting conversation the other day with a friend of mine who teaches at another Catholic school in my diocese.  We were “talking shop” and she shared with me the struggles her school has because about half the student population is not Catholic and about half of the remaining population is non-practicing.  She is the junior high religion teacher and at a recent open house two parents came up to her and confided that they were happy their daughter attended that particular school since it would help her get into a good college (how?), but they really would prefer it if religion was not part of the curriculum.  They want her to have a good GPA, but they aren’t concerned about her actually acquiring any faith.
          My friend wasn’t sure how to respond.  Why would you tell all that to the religion teacher?  So she would understand if the daughter didn’t really try?  As a veiled threat not to ruin her GPA?
          The bigger question to me is, why did they enroll her in a Catholic school in the first place?  Although I have rarely come upon this situation, my friend tells me for her it is commonplace.
          Why should someone send their child to a Catholic school?  I teach in a very good neighborhood with highly ranked public schools.  Why should someone send their children to my school?
          To prepare them for high school?  The public schools can easily do that.  To prepare them for college perhaps?  The charter school across town can do that.  Maybe to prepare them for 21st century jobs?  The secular private school can do that, and give them the status of being a private school student to boot.
          No, there is only one reason for any child to attend a Catholic school, especially in a neighborhood with good public schools.  To prepare that child for eternity.  The public schools will not do that; the charter schools are forbidden by law from doing that; and the secular private schools distinguish themselves from us precisely by promising not to do that.
          And yet, ultimately, that is what matters.  High school lasts four years, college maybe six, a 21st century job maybe 40, but eternity lasts forever.  Preparing children for eternity is the number one task of every Catholic school.  That is what parents are passing on the free public schools and paying for.  And if it’s not, it should be.
          It is what the last two popes have been repeating over and over.  Of course the other academic subjects are important, and no school trying to be faithful to Christ would neglect them, but you can get those anywhere.  A Catholic school, however, has the power to prepare students for eternity.
          As we all know, many schools are failing miserably in that charge, which is why it is so critical to pick the right Catholic school.  The problem is even worse among our universities.  And parents who have children in Catholic schools should be asking questions, finding out what their kids are learning in religion and other disciplines.  Every school is made up of many classrooms, each with its own culture.  But a school with a parent body that is involved and actively interested in the Catholic identity of their school, can go very far in ensuring that their kids are being prepared for eternity. 
          It is also, of course, important to remember that the Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children.  The schools are supposed to play a supporting role.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Is Romney Pro-Life?

Is Romney Pro-Life?

          Because of President Obama’s repeated attacks on Catholic values and Catholic institutions, most Catholics find themselves with a very easy choice this November.  However, although they are planning to vote for him, many are not completely comfortable with Mitt Romney.  One of the biggest concerns is his stance on life issues.
          Romney has repeatedly said for years that he is pro-life, and that he had a conversion experience that brought him to that conviction.  However, the image of him running in Massachusetts, promising to defend a woman’s “right to choose,” is hard to get out of one’s head.
          At the link below is an article from Dr. Jack Willke, president of the Life Issues Institute, in which he argues why he believes Romney’s pro-life stance is authentic.  He also shares an interesting experience he had with then vice presidential candidate George H.W. Bush regarding this issue.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Discussing Baptism with Mormon Missionaries

Discussing Baptism with Mormon Missionaries

          Over the past few years I’ve gotten to know and befriend a number of Mormon missionaries.  We’ve had some good discussions.  It’s hard to tell how fruitful they have been but the Holy Spirit can bring forth a beautiful orchard from one planted seed, so you never know.
          In our last round of talks we got into an interesting discussion regarding Baptism.  We didn’t discuss the issues that would usually come up with Protestants, however, namely baptismal regeneration and the baptism of infants.  Instead the focus was on the Mormon practice of having oneself baptized on behalf of those who have died, and their claim that only baptism by full immersion is valid.
          One verse to be prepared to discuss is the very mysterious 1Cor. 15:29, “Otherwise, what will people accomplish by having themselves baptized for the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they having themselves baptized for them?”  This verse is part of a section of the letter in which St. Paul is arguing for the resurrection of the dead.
          When Mormons do their “temple work,” one of the main things they do is have themselves baptized in place of someone who has died so that person can, in the spirit world, accept the Mormon gospel and progress in heaven (actually they believe in three distinct heavens).  This verse, they will often claim, is a proof text for the practice.
          The Catholic responses are many.  First, this verse is passed over quite quickly by St. Paul in the midst of a number of arguments for the resurrection of the dead, and nothing similar to this verse is found anywhere else in Scripture.  That doesn’t seem like a very important religious activity.  Contrast that to the numerous references and prefigurements of the Eucharist, for example.  Notice, too, that St. Paul makes no commentary on the practice itself, but only points out that the people participating in it obviously believe in the resurrection of the dead.  Next, Mormons will agree that the practice must have dropped away rather early in Church history (not to reappear until the nineteenth century) and yet there is no historical mention of a struggle regarding the purging of the practice, although there are ample historical records surrounding every heresy to pop up, all the way to the first century.
          These are classic responses and they are quite valid, but I wanted to find something more.  I did.
          According to my research, the Greek term that is usually translated “for,” as in baptized “for” the dead, can mean “on behalf of,” as Mormons would assert (although even that is a bit ambiguous).  But it can also mean “on account of,” which I suspect is the manner in which Paul meant to use it.
          They say that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.  If that is the case, many people became Catholic after witnessing the powerful testimony that martyrs gave with their lives, a testimony that proclaimed a belief in the resurrection of the dead.
          More than that, it seems that it was common for ancient pagans to enter the Church after the death of a loved one who had become Christian in the hopes of being reunited with that person at the resurrection.  St. Paul may have been pointing to the converts who were baptized into the Church on account of their dead Christian loved ones because they knew that at the resurrection they would be able to be with them again.
          Apparently the Greek word used in 1Cor. 15:29 can linguistically be interpreted either way.  However, I think the rest of the verse gives us some clues.  St. Paul refers to “they” when he talks of those baptized for the dead.  The practice seems not to be universal, but the experience of a group, a group to which Paul himself does not belong.  If it were a primary religious duty, Paul would certainly have participated.  We do know, however, that his conversion was not on account of a deceased Christian loved one, but due to his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.
          Regarding baptism by immersion, it was helpful to let the missionaries know that we do practice baptism by immersion, but there is ample evidence that pouring water has always made for a valid baptism.  First, we see in Scripture and history that babies have always been baptized.  The book of Acts refers multiple times to entire households being baptized, and there is no exclusion of children regardless of how young.  Also, we can find debate in the early Church about baptism of infants, but the debate was whether the baby needs to be eight days old.  Scripture says that baptism replaced circumcision, and circumcision was done on the eighth day, so some thought that babies also should be baptized on the eighth day.  The Church, by the way, decided that it was not necessary to wait until the eighth day.
          Why is all this important?  Because no one would baptize a newborn by immersion.  Clearly these babies would be baptized by pouring.  There is actual textual proof that pouring, though not the norm, was also used for adults as early as the first century.
          The Didache is a first-century document that scholars agree is authentic and was for a while even considered for inclusion in the canon of the Bible.  This is what it says, proving that from the beginning baptism did not have to be by immersion to be considered valid:
          “baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
          My Mormon friends were quite surprised and at times interested by what I shared with them.  However, we must be cautious when deciding whether to engage in discussions with Mormon missionaries.  Their presentations are very professional and well-crafted. And though the missionaries themselves will certainly be sincere, the lessons they have been given can be misleading and manipulative.
          I would recommend two books by Isaiah Bennett, who himself is a testimony for the need for prudence in this area.  Bennett was a Catholic priest who left the Church to become a Mormon.  He has since returned to the catholic Church and has tried to equip Catholics with the tools they need to avoid his mistake.
          Tom Smith, former Mormon and current Catholic priest is also a valuable and charitable contributor.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Fathers Speak: Confession

The Fathers Speak – Confession

          I have focused this week mostly on the Sacrament of Confession.  As promised, today I am presenting many quotes from the first thousand years of the Church that prove that the claim often given by opponents of Catholicism stating that the Sacrament is a medieval invention is a lie.  I found countless more references than these.  Many speak of confessing sins, and knowing that the Church has always been Catholic, it is clear they refer to the Sacrament, but they may not convince an opponent.  These, in context, are undeniable.  There are more that are as convincing as these, but frankly, I finally stopped because I got tired.

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…