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, November 21, 2013

Out of Town

Out of Town

I will be visiting family the better part of next week, so the next article on this blog will be posted Monday, Dec. 2.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Christ the King

Christ the King

Image from

This Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, is the feast of Christ the King.  This feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical Quas Primas, in response to a rising secularism that denied Christ’s authority in this world.

The feast of Christ the King reminds us that Jesus is not just Lord of Heaven, but of earth as well.  The king of this world is not the government, or the United Nations, or the popular culture; it is Jesus Christ.

With secularism in our time taking the false notion of “the separation of Church and state” to ridiculous conclusions, it is a good time for us to meditate on just Whose world this is, and where true authority comes from.

This Sunday’s feast is also a reminder that Christ must be the King of our hearts.  Does He rule in our hearts?  In our lives?  Is He the end toward which we strive?  Do we allow Him to guide our thoughts, our words, and our actions?  And do we submit ourselves to His authority, which He has left us in His Church?

As we approach Advent, when we will be preparing to welcome Christ anew by celebrating His coming in history, these are essential questions to ponder.  And hopefully our meditations surrounding the feast of Christ the King can help us to make changes in our own lives if need be.  Once we, His people, unashamedly allow Christ to be the King of our hearts and submit ourselves to His loving authority, we can lead our culture down the same path. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Link - Navigating 'Francispoloza'

Link – Navigating ‘Francispoloza’

Since his election, many people have been trying to paint Pope Francis in different ways.  Often, they try to paint him in their own image.  Liberal media outlets have taken numerous comments out of context to try and convince people that the teachings of the Church are about to radically change.  However, to most people paying attention, I think the pope has made clear that is not about to happen.  (People of Faith knew that all along.)

Pope Francis has demonstrated a genuine humility, a deeply pastoral heart, and an authentic love for Christ and His Church.  As Catholics, we may be on the receiving end of many questions about this shepherd of ours, who has so captivated the world and also so confused it.  The link below gives an interesting perspective on how to respond to such questions.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Challenge of Funerals

The Challenge of Funerals

Catholic pastors face many difficult challenges.  I suspect that often, weddings and funerals are two of the big ones.  I wrote on the importance of good marriage preparation recently.  Like weddings, funerals are important Catholic services, with very specific religious purposes.  And like weddings, our culture has totally secularized them.  Unlike weddings, which are usually planned over a period of months when people are in happy, excited moods, funerals are often planned in only a couple of days by people suffering through emotional turbulence.  I imagine that presents a very unique pastoral challenge.

I have been to numerous beautiful, spiritual Catholic funerals.  But we all know that our culture sees funerals as very different events than the Church does.  What happens when a non-practicing child, for example, has to plan a funeral for a deeply religious parent?  The parent deserves a proper Catholic funeral, but the child is not as interested.  And because of the deep pain the child is suffering through, it is not the most opportune time for catechesis.

So what is a funeral?  We often hear funerals described as, “A celebration of the life of…”  It is certainly important and praiseworthy to celebrate the lives of our deceased loved ones, but that is not what a funeral is for.  Neither is it primarily a tool to help grieving family and friends cope, though that too is essential, and is certainly an important role of the Church.  A funeral is not a pseudo-canonization ceremony, dedicated to extolling the virtues of the departed and contemplating on the effect he is now having on Heaven.

A funeral is a commending of a soul to God.  The focus is the deceased, and the focus should be on prayer for the deceased.  It usually takes place in the context of a Mass, so worship of God is central.  And it is an opportunity for the Church, the family of God, to commend a brother or sister into the Hands of the Lord with prayer, and if that person be in Purgatory, to offer sacrifice for the sake of his or her purification.

It is a very beautiful thing.  And for those who understand it, it provides deep spiritual healing for grieving family and friends, not to mention spiritual benefits to the deceased.  It can even be considered, in some ways, “a celebration of the life of,” since there is no better celebration than the perfect worship of God, offered for the soul of our beloved.

The Church sees funerals so differently than our culture does because the Church sees death so differently than our culture does.  “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones” (Psalm 116:15).  It is a sign of beauty, love, and eternal hope.  We have so much more to offer than does our culture, but when someone who does not understand is planning a funeral, it can pose a difficult pastoral challenge.

Understandably, the community wants to be sensitive and supportive, but also to give the deceased the dignified, prayerful, proper funeral that he deserves.

The time to start teaching people these things is not the three emotional days during which a funeral is being planned.  It is now.  It is always.  We must be sure that people understand the beautiful spiritual treasures the Church wishes to dispense, so that when the time comes, they are received with joy.  It also may lead to the essential practice of continued Masses being offered for our beloved dead.  They should not be forgotten at the altar when the funeral Mass is over.

Another difficult issue is the proper burial of one’s earthly remains.  It is critical that we make known our belief in the resurrection of the body.  We say we believe in it during every Creed.  When we die, our soul goes to God for particular judgment.  A soul, being purely spiritual, can not be killed.

Our bodies, of course, are buried.  But, at the end of time, when Christ returns, our bodies will rise, and our soul and body will be reunited for all eternity.  The saved will receive glorified bodies, but they will be their bodies.  As such, the treatment of earthly remains is very important.  It has been throughout all of Christian and Jewish history.

Generally a body is to be buried on sacred ground.  A body can be cremated, provided it is not meant to display a lack of faith in the resurrection of the body (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2301).  But the ashes should be buried or placed in a mausoleum.  Again, our bodies should await their resurrection with a dignified burial on sacred ground, whenever possible.

This, too, provides a difficult pastoral challenge.  Many people want the ashes of their loved ones kept in their homes or scattered at some place they found special during life.  Again, this is such an emotional issue and such an emotional time, pastorally, priests want to be sensitive and supportive.  But the fact is, the deceased (and God) deserve to have the remains properly buried.

I remember the struggle a friend of mine had at the death of her brother.  His wife wanted his ashes dumped into the ocean because he enjoyed being out there on his boat.  My friend gently requested a proper Christian burial and even offered to pay for it.

Not only was this offer rejected, my friend suffered great scorn from her sister-in-law and even her family, who found the request to be selfish.  But there was nothing selfish about it.  She did not wish it for her own sake, but for her brother.  She felt, out of love for him, that he at least deserved that she make the offer, even though she found it very uncomfortable.  It was profoundly unselfish.  Many of us have found ourselves in similar situations.  It is at these times we need to pray for both courage and prudence.

But we also need to pray for greater catechesis on these issues all the time.  May the beauty of the Church’s teachings, received from God Himself, be known and celebrated.  During this time at the end of the year, when our readings focus on the end times, it should remind us that even those not alive to see those days, will face their own end at some point.  Perhaps it is a good time for us as individuals, and as a Church, to prepare.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Kicking the Can

Kicking the Can

Mr. Obama’s “solution” to the problem of millions of Americans losing their health insurance despite his assurances, is to allow people to keep their plans for one year, and to allow companies the option of reinstating plans that they have recently cancelled due to his mandates for that year.

This is unacceptable, however.  There was nothing in his famous promise that said, “If you like your current plan, you can keep it for one year.”  Democrats and Republicans are both pushing him for a better, permanent solution that honors the words of his original promise, and we need to demand such a solution.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Force Obama's Hand

Force Obama's Hand

“Under my plan, if you like your current health insurance, you can keep it.”  These words were spoken by Barack Obama when he was selling Obamacare to the American people, and they are not true. 

Since Obamacare began taking effect, millions of Americans have received cancellation notices from their health insurance companies.  Usually this is because the plans that people have, and like, do not conform to Obamacare mandates.

People are rightly very angry.  Obama is getting pressure from Republicans and Democrats to do something about it.  And we have been assured by his spokesman Jay Carney that he will.  One thing he will not do, however, is simply let people keep their current plans, even if they want to, if those plans don’t comply with his mandates.

Congress, however, is trying to force the issue.  A bill called the Keep Your Health Plan Act is being voted on Friday in the House, which will allow people to do what Mr. Obama promised they would be able to do.  Former President Bill Clinton has endorsed such a plan and Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein is co-sponsoring a Senate version of the bill.

It is imperative that we pressure our representatives to pass this bill, and by a large margin.  If nothing else, we should force Obama to stand up before an angry public and veto a bill that simply seeks to make him keep a promise he repeatedly and forcefully made.

Hopefully the bill will garner enough support to override a veto.  The American people deserve it, and Mr. Obama needs to be taught a lesson about the value of a promise.

Note:  Although I believe these cancellations are a violation of Mr. Obama’s promise, at least as most people interpret it, in fairness I should state his position that grandfathers in plans in existence when the law was passed in 2010.  Any plans that have been created or changed from that time until now, as the law takes effect, from his perspective, can be cancelled without violating his promise.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Catholic Roots of Thanksgiving

The Catholic Roots of Thanksgiving

Image from

In just a couple of weeks we will be celebrating Thanksgiving.  Most people know the history of the holiday, from the first Thanksgiving celebration with the Pilgrims and American Indians, to its official proclamation as a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

But many people don’t know that our modern holiday of Thanksgiving actually has roots firmly planted in Catholic history.  Besides Veterans Day, November 11 is also the feast day of St. Martin of Tours.  Martin was a fourth century pagan soldier who once saw a poor beggar freezing in the cold.  He cut his own heavy cloak (meant to keep himself warm) in half and gave half to the beggar.  That night he had a vision of Christ Himself wearing the cloak.  Martin left the army, converted his family, and moved to Gaul to live a monastic life, where he was eventually made the bishop of Tours.

In medieval Europe it was customary to celebrate St. Martin’s feast day by having a Thanksgiving feast, thanking God for the harvest.  This custom survived in Protestant communities even after the time of the Reformation, and was one the Pilgrims brought with them to the New World.

So it is not surprising that they chose to offer thanks with their Native American friends that first Thanksgiving with a feast similar to that which they held back home.

There have been a few minor changes, of course, the most obvious of which is the date.  Also, the Thanksgiving feast celebrated on Martinmas featured goose as the customary main dish.  The Pilgrims did in fact celebrate that first Thanksgiving with goose, along with some of the abundant wild turkey they had hunted.  In America, of course, the turkey has wrestled control of the holiday away from the goose (not that many geese are likely to complain).

So as we prepare for Thanksgiving this year, it is nice to remember that it truly is a Catholic holiday, and perhaps we can ask the prayers of St. Martin, without whom we may never have had this annual over-stuffed, football-frenzied day of grace.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Happy Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day

      Thank you for your service.  May God guide and protect you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review - 'Answering Atheism'

Book Review – Answering Atheism

Trent Horn has been studying the phenomenon of atheism for years.  In his new book, Answering Atheism, published by Catholic Answers Press, he makes a clear and charitable response.

The book is broken into three parts.  The first clarifies the terms and positions in the debate.  He also analyzes its tone in recent years, and promises that his work will not sink to the level of insults and name-calling.  In reading the rest of the book, one finds that he keeps his word.

The second part of the book analyzes and critiques the arguments for atheism.  Often we find that in talking to atheists, they will debate our positions for theism and see atheism as a default position.  It is as if atheism is the starting point and as long as there is any conceivable answer to our points (reasonable or not), then atheism must be assumed.

But of course this position is unreasonable.  An atheist should be able to give clear reasons for being an atheist.  Horn looks at the most common reasons in this section of the book, most notably the ideas that the concept of God is a logical contradiction, and that the existence of God is incompatible with the existence of suffering and evil.  Horn very thoroughly and fairly presents the atheist arguments, and very charitably and completely shows them to be false.

The third and longest part of the book includes the reasons to believe in God (theism).  Horn is not specifically an apologist for Christianity in this work, although there are a few points at which he shows that the Christian conception of God makes the most sense out of reality.

Horn delves into the recent advances in physics that prove the universe (space-time) had a beginning, before which there was nothing.  And, of course, something can not come from nothing.  He looks at the improbable fine-tuning of our universe that makes it capable of supporting life.  Finally, he puts forth the moral arguments for the existence of God and takes a look at personal experience.

In the spirit of Thomas Aquinas, Horn gives voice to every possible objection to his arguments.  Much of the book, in fact, is spent answering these challenges.  The result is that when the reader is finished, it is very likely he will have any points of disagreement left untreated.

My criticisms of this book are few.  The first was touched on earlier this week in my article about evolutionism.  The only other thing to watch out for is that because Horn goes through so many difficulties people might have with his arguments, at times the main point can get lost in the technicalities.

This technique, I’m sure, is very helpful to the skeptical reader and he does well by leaving some of the more far-fetched objections to the appendices, allowing the main text to flow more smoothly.

Overall, Answering Atheism is a worthy book to add to one’s library.  It is intellectual but not difficult to read.  It can also serve as a powerful reference tool when challenged by an atheistic argument whose answer is not readily on the tip of the tongue. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Link - Journey to Manhood

Link - Journey to Manhood

     At the following link is the incredible story of Walt Heyer, whose struggles with gender identity led him to live for years as "Laura."  Calling his decision to live as a woman "the biggest mistake of his life," Walt courageously shares his story to help other people struggling like he did.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Christian Evolutionism in Apologetics

Christian Evolutionism in Apologetics

At the outset, I must acknowledge that the Theory of Evolution (macro-evolution as envisioned by Charles Darwin) does nothing to disprove the existence of God.  Most would argue that it does not disprove Christianity.  The Catholic Church, in fact, has said that Catholics have the freedom to believe in it, provided they acknowledge God as the Creator, the direct creation of our souls by God, and certain truths about our first parents (among the other principles of the Faith).

          Given all that, I was unsure about whether to even write this post.  And it is understandable why many apologists don’t bother touching on evolution.  Trent Horn, in his book Answering Atheism, recounts a debate between theists and atheists on a college campus at which he noticed that the atheist literature was exclusively about evolution.

          Given that evolutionism essentially misses the point, and is frequently used to advance straw man arguments, isn’t discussing it playing into our opponents’ hands?  Most of the time, it probably is.

          However, there is one pet peeve of mine (of which Mr. Horn is guilty despite the quality of his book) that I do think is a mistake.  That is the uncritical acceptance of evolution within arguments for theism.  Modern apologists apply the highest standards of scientific rigor to our arguments supporting the existence of God.  We want no stone left unturned in order to display beyond any doubt where the evidence leads.

          When it comes to evolution, however, there are often no critical standards applied at all.  Again, I understand the reasoning.  It does us no good to get bogged down over theories that are essentially irrelevant to our purposes.  And given the success atheist professors have had turning young people away from faith using evolutionism, it would seem that taking the sword out of our enemy’s hand would be quite wise.

          My only concern is this: by setting such a standard (or really a lack of standards), we are giving uncritical credibility to a belief system that hasn’t earned it.

          This is why, despite the theological differences I may have with him, I appreciate the recent documentary by Ray Comfort, Evolution vs. God.  In it, he asks professors at top universities for one piece of observable evidence for Darwinian macro-evolution, and he gets none.  There are a few examples of micro-evolution, such as certain fish, or Darwin’s finches.  Horn gives the impressive example of bacteria that have developed the ability to metabolize harsh acids.  (It is important to note that though this ability was designed over 50,000 generations of bacteria by the intelligence of scientist Richard Lenski, the bacteria never began to become anything other than bacteria.)

          All of these examples show adaptability, and impressive foresight in creation.  These are forms of micro-evolution and are certainly not Earth shattering.  The many breeds of dog, for example, are thought by virtually all creationists to have come from a few on Noah’s ark.  And we have heard of antibiotic-resistant bacteria for years.

          But in none of these examples did the birds, fish or bacteria become something else entirely (what are often called different “kinds”).  When the professors were asked to confirm that none of these creatures actually gave rise to any other type of creature, they responded, “Well, of course not,” even though that is exactly what Darwinian evolution would suggest.

          But we have to imagine these small principles put into effect over millions of years.  Then these small changes, applied to single-cell organisms at the start, could give rise to the massive diversity we see around us today, right?  I would argue that they could not.  There are many good, scholarly works out there that explain exactly why they could not, and I could not do them justice.  They are not hard to find.
          My point is that there are scientific standards that the Theory of Evolution can not meet.  We are still free to believe in it, but no one should blindly accept it as truth.  And though it is not at the heart of apologetics and is probably most often best left on the shelf, I think we need to be careful about setting a bad example in that regard.