Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Monday, July 20, 2015

The Fathers Speak

The Fathers Speak – Confession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

'The Jim Gaffigan Show' - Catholic Humor?

‘The Jim Gaffigan Show’ – Catholic Humor?

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

Saturday, July 11, 2015

One Nation, Under God

One Nation, Under God

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sacrifice and Suffering

Sacrifice and Suffering

          One of my favorite quotes of all time is by St. Josemaria Escriva: “The world admires only spectacular sacrifice because it does not see the value of sacrifice that is hidden and silent.”
          This statement exposes one of the defining characteristics of our culture, and one that has been instrumental in its decline.
          It’s true, isn’t it?  We say that “sacrifice” is laudable, but when we do, we are almost always talking about “spectacular” sacrifices.  We honor (rightly so) those fallen heroes who have procured for us our freedoms and defended them over the years.  They made the “supreme sacrifice,” and of course they should be honored.
          We admire the sacrifices of athletes who put in countless hours perfecting their craft to bring home a championship.  People were duly impressed with Adrian Peterson’s work ethic rehabbing from a torn ACL and MCL, suffered in December, 2011, to come back and win the NFL’s MVP award in 2012.  If the sacrifice wasn’t spectacular, the fruits it bore were.
          It’s good that we honor and appreciate those sacrifices.  Of course, we tend most to appreciate the sacrifices of others from which we benefit.  But what about when we are called to sacrifice, in ways that will not be noticed or garner parades?  Then, we tend to take a much dimmer view.
          How about the sacrifice, for example, of a young person struggling to stay chaste while dealing with same-sex attraction?  That person should “be who they really are,” says our culture.  How about the mother who wants to work through her husband’s infidelities, for the sake of her children and her sacred wedding vows?  She’s choosing to be a “victim,” who should “honor herself” or “actualize her full potential.”
          How about teenagers who sacrifice so much in the eyes of their peers to be people of virtue?  We’ll give them birth control (without the knowledge or consent of their parents), but we will not support them in their quest for purity (at least not in our public schools).
          We could go on and on.  An unwillingness to honor hidden but heroic sacrifice has led to the exaltation of evils ranging from abortion, to broken homes, to same-sex “marriage,” promiscuity, and a lack of religious vocations.
          As Catholics, sacrifice should be in our blood.  At every Mass, we participate in the supreme Sacrifice, and are called to join our daily sacrifices to His for the salvation of the world.  And yet, we seem to understand the concept as poorly as everyone else.
          Beyond sacrifice, what about suffering?  This is something in which our culture sees no value whatsoever.  And yet, it is one of the most powerful weapons we have, and we will never get to Heaven without it.
          Don’t get me wrong, I don’t seek out suffering, and I avoid it when I reasonably can.  I’ll admit that.  But suffering is part of our human experience and only our understanding as Catholics can give true meaning to it.
          Pope St. John Paul II once received a priest who had suffered a broken arm while skiing.  The priest, knowing that the holy father was an avid skier, decided to ask the pope’s blessing over his injured arm.  The pope obliged, but admonished the priest: “Don’t waste your suffering.”
          When we are suffering, Jesus is drawing us to Himself at one of His most intimate moments, on the cross, as He gives His Life for the salvation of the world.  He asks us, in a supreme act of humility, to offer our sufferings, with His, that our pain might be exalted to heights we can not imagine. 
And yet, so often, we waste our suffering.  I know I often do.  I complain, in self-pity, instead of offering my pain to Jesus, on the cross, for the salvation of souls.
St. Paul says in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…”  He recognizes that his suffering is a prayer, and that prayer has power.  Why?  Because Christ’s suffering was somehow insufficient in itself?  Of course not.  It’s because Our Lord, much like a mother who lets her young daughter help bake a cake, allows us to contribute something, not because He needs it, but because we do.  And yet, that something that we contribute, is something of value.  Just as every ingredient the young girl pours into the recipe really does go to making the cake, every suffering we offer with Christ really does go to building up the Kingdom.
It is so powerful, so beautiful, and yet our culture misses it.  Worse than that, it fights against it.  Right now in California, we are fighting against SB 128, a bill which would legalize assisted suicide in the state.  Now there are many things wrong with this bill.  It abandons our most vulnerable populations when what they need is support.  It lends itself to horrible abuses, and it sends a terrible message to our youth.
But spiritually, it is even worse.  It operates under the principle that suffering is the worst possible evil (a lie which has destroyed societies greater than our own).  Instead of tapping into powerful spiritual riches, it destroys them.  We should also remember how suffering of the body often leads to conversion and the salvation of souls.  (Not to mention the serious nature of the sin of suicide.)  I am quite confident that the suffering of my father’s cancer was instrumental in his salvation.  How grateful I am that his doctor could not have prescribed him a deadly medication!  The little suffering it might have spared him on earth might have caused an eternity of suffering.
Rebuilding our culture is a tall order.  And there is no doubt that we will have no real renewal in our country or in the Church until we again recognize the value of sacrifice that is hidden and silent, and of suffering.  All we can do is try to recognize that value ourselves, and share it with those within our sphere of influence: at home, at work, in our parishes.  That may add up to quite a few mustard seeds, and we know what Jesus can do with those.