Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sunday Mass Readings

October 31, 2010
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1(Wis 11:22-12:2)

Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people's sins that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness
and believe in you, O LORD!

Responsorial Psalm
(Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14)

-R. (cf. 1) I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
I will extol you, O my God and King,
and I will bless your name forever and ever.
Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
R. I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
-R. I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might.
-R. I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
The LORD is faithful in all his words
and holy in all his works.
The LORD lifts up all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
-R. I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.

Reading 2
(2 Thes 1:11-2:2)

Brothers and sisters:
We always pray for you,
that our God may make you worthy of his calling
and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose
and every effort of faith,
that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you,
and you in him,
in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.
We ask you, brothers and sisters,
with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our assembling with him,
not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed
either by a "spirit," or by an oral statement,
or by a letter allegedly from us
to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.

(Lk 19:1-10)

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
"Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house."
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
"He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner."
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
"Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over."
And Jesus said to him,
"Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost."

Friday, October 29, 2010

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

Multiculturalism: Political Correctness Run Amok - "There is, indeed, a clash of civilizations in play, and it is only a matter of time before the problems plaguing Germany and France manifest themselves in cities and towns across America."

Politics 101: Principles First - "[In] acting politically, Catholics should not be blinded by personal attractiveness, slogans or self-interest; they should first examine matters of principle. Indeed, to avoid socio-political disaster, we must first restrict our choices to the persons and policies which reflect the correct principles.

Catholic Voters Get Guidance from Rome - Catholics "are bound in conscience to vote for political candidates who oppose aborting babies, embryonic stem cell experiments, euthanasia and so-called homosexual 'marriage.""
Dangerous Election-Year Demagoguery on Trade - "Here are the economic reasons why trade is preferable to protectionism..."

Revisiting the Question: How Much Time Does the U. S. Have? - "[W]e must vigorously resist the misguided and increasingly virulent efforts of those who would seek to have us reject the faith and morals that once made us a great nation."

What I Saw in the Chapel - "Surely I’d encountered Church teaching on the Eucharist before that moment. But it wasn’t until I saw fifteen otherwise sane, intelligent and delightful people bowing down before a monstrance that I grasped the full significance of that teaching, and it rocked me to the core."

Top Ten Ways to Have a Catholic Halloween - "Even some Catholics are concerned that Halloween has become "evil." Well, here are ten ways to keep good ol' Halloween fun and sacred." 

Catholic Anglicans: don't be taken in by this incoherent scheme to undermine the Ordinariate - "The crucial issue is the ministry of the Pope himself, as the successor of St Peter."

The Tea Party and Catholic Social Doctrine - "I think Pope John Paul II articulated some of the basic concerns of numerous Americans, including many Tea Party folks, when he wrote of the proper relationship between State and citizen, a relationship that has become a matter of grave concern as the federal government continues to vastly expand its economic and political powers."

Just another step in the tyrannical pursuit... - "A civil rights complaint has been filed against a woman in Grand Rapids, Mich., who posted an advertisement...[that] "expresses an illegal preference for a Christian roommate."

"How he wished to go":priest dies while celebrating mass - "The exact moment of his death occurred during the Institution prayers of the Mass or the "consecration" of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus."

The Catholic Church in the Obama Era - "President Obama, elected with 54 percent of the Catholic vote, is substituting for the free economy and limited government a centralized command system along Marxist lines of potentially unlimited power without regard to the Constitution and the will of the American people."

Why I Won’t Donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation - "Until they take a stand for women by financing more research into the CAUSE of the breast cancer epidemic and disassociate themselves from Planned Parenthood and any other anti-woman association, they will get none of my money."

Conversion - "...Catholics believe—or should believe—that the Catholic Church is not a "denomination". That language is essentially Protestant; it is not used, or should not be used, by Catholics (or Orthodox, for that matter). It implies an equality in ecclessial identity that the Catholic Church does not teach."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Defense of Catholic Bloggers

An Associated Press story has been making its rounds recently concerning Catholic blogs that stand up against false teaching within the Church and that call out public figures who betray their Catholic faith in a public manner (such as politicians who support abortion). The piece opens with these lines:
“Pressure is on to change the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it's not coming from the usual liberal suspects. A new breed of theological conservatives has taken to blogs and YouTube to say the church isn't Catholic enough.

“Enraged by dissent that they believe has gone unchecked for decades, and unafraid to say so in the starkest language, these activists are naming names and unsettling the church.”
To call these bloggers a “new breed” is a bit misleading. There have always been brave Catholic souls who have stood up against abuses in the Church and called for a return to orthodoxy. Indeed the Church must always have such members, unafraid to speak the truth even when certain members of the clergy and powerful members of society resist. What is “new” about this generation is the medium with which they carry out their task. In the Information Age even the simple layman has access to blogs, websites, YouTube, social networking sites, and a host of other technological tools to get their message out. The volume of chatter is staggering.

Among these millions of unfiltered voices there is certainly a handful that uses uncharitable, mean-spirited language and tactics to get their message out. These individuals are rightly chastised for their un-Christian rhetoric. But one critic of Catholic bloggers (as cited in the A.P. article) describes this movement as “Taliban Catholicism,” and the whole article seems to paint all conservative bloggers with this broad brush.

It seems to me that such harsh language only drags the critic down to the same level as those he criticizes. The Taliban are a ruthless group of thugs who uses violence and scare-tactics to enforce a radical Islamic agenda on populations in the Middle East. The Taliban literally stones people to death for straying from their moral code; they destroy property, they kidnap and torture, cut off heads and commit other unspeakable acts of brutality. Catholic bloggers are not known for such tactics, nor do they generally target private individuals, but rather public figures with influence and power (politicians, theologians, bishops, priests, and so on).

My experience has been that most conservative (read: “orthodox”) bloggers are motivated by a love for the Truth and a desire to see the many wrongs committed since the 1960's and 70's (such as liturgical abuses, feminist radicalism, sloppy catechesis, errant bishops and priests, etc.) corrected, and to see Church leaders and prominent Catholic politicians adhere to Catholic doctrine in public. They are not brutal thugs; though they are imperfect lovers of Christ. They may not always use the most diplomatic language (though most I encounter do) but there is nothing shocking or horrifying in the goals they pursue…unless of course you happen to be one of those Catholics who embrace the radicalism and unorthodox beliefs of cafeteria-style Catholicism.

Conservative bloggers are challenging fellow Catholics to live up to the precepts of the Church (especially those Catholics who play prominent public roles). It comes as no surprise that the critics of orthodoxy offer no substantive response other than to mutter under their breaths about the “Taliban” or the “Inquisition” and complain that such Catholics are “mean” and “shouldn’t we all just get along, and agree to disagree.” Conveniently this avoids any real discussion of the doctrinal matters at hand, the public policies, and the political issues that are raised on these blogs.

Conservative Catholics are seeking answers: How can a Catholic politician actively support abortion and remain in good standing with the Church? How can a Catholic college or seminary flaunt their support for the radical homosexual agenda and yet be called “Catholic”? How can a bishop turn a blind eye to flagrant abuses in local parishes under his charge and not be held accountable? – These issues are too important to simply be swept under the rug or labeled “mean-spirited” by the Left. These are questions that deserve to be answered.

Catholic bloggers (imperfect as they are) fill a vital role. We all bear the responsibility to spread the Gospel in whatever way we can in what has been called the “New Evangelization,” as described by John Paul the Great in Redemptoris Missio:
"[T]he moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
The New Evangelization is leading us to a return to orthodoxy - and every institution of the Church and every believer has a role to play. After decades of wandering in a desert of confusion, sound teaching and strong leadership is returning to the Church. We must all do our part to strengthen our fellow Catholics in living out the faith. Resistance will be met from those who are uncomfortable with this Truth. But in the end Truth prevails.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Christ-Centered Church, Part II

Let us review what was said in Part I: There are many so-called “Bible-based” churches which derive their form and function directly from Scripture. They begin with the Bible and from its pages springs forth their version of “church,” pieced together verse-by-verse. For these Christians, the Bible acts as the source and focal point of their ecclesiology (or “doctrine of the church”). We might call this a “Biblio-centric” (Bible-centered) view of church.

However, we know from Part I that it was Jesus (not a group of people with Bibles in-hand) who established the Church on earth. God did not send down a Bible and expect us to construct the Church from its pages. He sent us His Son, and it was Jesus who then gave us the Church. Jesus built His Church as a lasting institution. “…I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Such a Church should never need to be rebuilt in any age.

Christians who form new “Bible-churches” generally do so after first scanning the religious landscape and finding themselves in sharp disagreement with existing denominations and sects. They see the divisions within Christianity and they determine that there must be some source, some divinely established guide, which can solve these disagreements. There must be some final arbiter which can settle disputes and determine where the Truth lies.

Disagreement between individual Christians can certainly cause pain and division. Christians are all too often guilty of great sin against one another due to doctrinal disputes or jealous strife. There is no question that such division ought to be healed, but who should be the final judge between Christian factions? Where do we find the basis, the foundation of Truth for Christianity? What entity holds up the Truth for all to see?

The Protestant would answer: The Bible, of course! The Bible Alone forms the basis for Christian Truth! - And the Protestant would be wrong. The Bible itself does not even make this claim. Instead the Bible points to another source: “…the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”(1Timothy 3:15) According to Scripture, the Church forms the foundation of Truth and holds up the Truth, like a pillar in a strong building. This is the same Church that Jesus built to last for all ages, as a light to the world.

So according the Bible, the Church determines truth from error. And furthermore, this power extends over every Christian as a moral imperative; we are bound to the Church’s pronouncements even in matters as personal as sin:

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:15-18)

Jesus tells us that the Church has moral authority over every individual Christian. And God Himself recognizes this authority in the Church by “binding and loosening” in Heaven all that the Church declares “bound and loosed” on earth.

How does the Church arrive at this power?

Remember that Jesus breathed out the Spirit onto the Apostles on Pentecost. About the Spirit, Jesus had earlier proclaimed: “…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13) And so, guided by the Spirit, the Church speaks the Truth to all generations of Christians throughout history. This is the Church that Jesus established – a Church with real authority guided by the Spirit.

So, contrary to the Biblio-centric theory, it is not up to individual Christians to look into the Bible and determine what the Church ought to believe or how the Church ought to act, rather it is up to the Spirit-filled Church to instruct each individual Christian on the path to Truth. The Church has the authority to settle disputes between Christians and we are morally bound by these decisions. The individual Christian must submit to the authority of the Church or he finds himself cut off like “a pagan or a tax collector.” It seems that the Biblio-centric model has ecclesiology exactly opposite from what Christ intended.

Then where do we go from here?

We know that the Church was established by Jesus as a Spirit-filled institution, indestructible (even by the powers of Hell); that the Church is a visible institution (a light to the world) that has never faded away, or apostatized, or been lost from the pages of history; we know that the Church has authority to determine Truth (and is in fact the very foundation of truth), and can settle disputes between Christians with authority; we are bound by the Church’s decisions and this authority is recognized in Heaven (in binding and loosening); if we fail to listen to the Church’s authority we are cut off as any sinner would be. If all of this is true then it becomes imperative that we find the true Church that Christ established and submit to her authority.

So, which church is the true Church? To which body do I owe my allegiance? There are many competing denominations and sects within Christianity, each claiming to be the true Church that Christ founded. How can we know which is in actual fact the very same Church granted authority over all believers? If we can discover this, then we have no alternative than to obey.

To settle this, we can look again to Jesus’ words concerning the Church’s power. Twice Jesus stated that His Church would have the power to “loose and bind.” One of these passages has been cited above in Matthew 18:18. The other occurs two chapters earlier in the same Gospel. To this passage we now turn, for in this verse we see, quite literally, the “key” to the Church’s authority:

"I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

These words were spoken by Jesus to Simon, whom Jesus gave the name Peter (which means “rock”). Peter was to be the “rock” on which Jesus would build His Church. And to Peter Jesus gave the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” While the other Apostles were later given (in chapter 18, as we have seen) the same power to “loose and bind,” it was Peter alone who was given the “keys.”

But what are these “keys”?

In our day the meaning of the “keys” may be lost or obscured, but Scripture provides the answer. For the Jews of Jesus’ time the image of “keys” would immediately conjure up an image from the royal household of Israel in the Old Testament and the power that was given to the steward of the kingdom.  Isaiah 22:20-23 speaks of this authority:

“On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open. I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family…”

The power of the keys represents the authority to “shut and open” (or “loose and bind”) given to the chief steward of the kingdom of Israel. The “steward” was second in command to the king, and in the king’s absence, the steward exercised decision-making authority until the king’s return. Jesus is King of kings, and Lord of lords. Peter was given power to exercise authority as chief steward over the Church until Jesus’ return in glory. It is this power given to Peter (together with similar power given to the other Apostles) which forms the basis of the Church’s authority.

Now we must ask, how does this authority continue until our present time? Where do we find the keys of the kingdom of heaven?

The Apostles were careful to maintain their offices of leadership within the Church. Whenever one of their numbers died, another was appointed to take his place. The Acts of the Apostles records this in the case of Judas, as Peter himself explains:

“…it is written in the book of Psalms, 'May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, 'May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:20-22)

As the Church grew, more positions were added to the original Twelve, most notably Paul who preached among the Gentiles. And selected men were placed as heads of local churches – for instance Timothy was placed by Paul over a local congregation. These became known as bishops, and the Church continued this practice down through the centuries as Paul tells Timothy: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2Timothy 2:1-2)

The Apostles passed on their authority through the laying on of hands as Paul reminds Timothy: “…I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2Timothy 6-7) In this way, the power of the Spirit to govern the Church has been handed down through the centuries in Christ’s Church.

So where is this power now?

Only one Church has maintained (through the laying on of hands, from bishop to bishop, down through the centuries) the teaching authority first granted to Peter and the Apostles. Only one Church can trace itself back to the Church of the First Century, through a steady succession of bishops to Jesus Himself. Only one church can truly claim to be established by Christ upon the “Rock” - upon Peter - to whom was given the keys of the kingdom.

The Catholic Church has been governed by the successors of Peter (the popes) for nearly 2000 years. The Catholic Church was granted the power to “loose and bind,” an authority granted by Jesus Himself. The successors to Peter have passed on the “keys to the kingdom” as the stewards of God’s people until the King returns. All Christians who wish to be truly Christ-centered in their obedience must turn to the authority which Christ Himself left us. And that authority the Catholic Church alone possesses.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sunday's Mass Readings

October 24, 2010
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

Sir 35:12-14, 16-18

The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23

- R. (7a) The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
- R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
- R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.

The LORD redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.
- R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

Reading 2
2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18

Beloved: I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Lk 18:9-14

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Friday, October 22, 2010

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. You can sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

Will the Real First Amendment Please Stand Up - "Thomas Jefferson wrote in a private letter of a “wall of separation” but, for the record, a private Letter of Jefferson is not the US Constitution and if Jefferson really intended a wall of separation then he never got his own memo."

What is This Wicked Capitaliam? -  "I’d like to address in this case the way in which opponents (particularly Christian opponents) of “capitalism” tend to address the object of their condemnation."

Archbishop Chaput  - The First Freedom: Religious liberty as the foundation of human liberty - "...many millions of Christians are now being persecuted or harassed for their faith around the world.  We need to pray for them.  And we also need to pray for ourselves.  Because we're not as securely free as we might like to think."

Pope Names 24 new Cardinals -  "...including two from the United States: Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, head of the Vatican's highest tribunal, and Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington."

Archbishop Raymond Burke, Critic of Obama and Pro-Choice Pols, Named a Cardinal - "Among those tapped is an American archbishop who has become one of the harshest critics of President Obama and pro-choice politicians -- and of bishops he feels are not sufficiently hard line."

Can a Catholic Accept Evolutionary Theory Uncritically? - "There are important insights of science in the matter of creation and the material world that Catholics are free to accept and wise to accept. The Catechism stakes out a middle ground wherein a Catholic may be able to accept certain aspects of evolutionary theory in terms of secondary causality. But this must always be balanced with a deep reverence for God as the first cause of all that is..."

Anglicans' Regret over Bishop's Conversion to Rome - "He intends joining the Roman Catholic Church because of his opposition to the way the Church of England plans to introduce women bishops."

Archbishop of Canterbury moves to flush out Anglicans plotting to defect to Rome - "In a surprise announcement, Dr Rowan Williams said he wanted to establish a new joint group of Roman Catholic and Church of England figures to oversee the conversion process."
Prank Calls and the Power of Humility - "The idea came to me to play the role of a religious zealot, to see if I could get the telemarketer to be the first one to hang up if I launched into a hellfire and brimstone lecture about how carpet cleaners were from the devil."

Gay Parents More Likely to Have Gay Kids - "...Walter Schumm knows he's about to become the next punching bag for the left. But this is where the study led him and he's sticking to the facts, and not heeding the politicized thuggery of the left."

What is a Cardinal and what is the purpose of the College of Cardinals? - "With the elevation of Archbishop Wuerl to the College of Cardinals, it might be good to spend a brief time reflecting on what a Cardinal is and how the College of Cardinals functions."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mark Shea Doesn't Get It

Mark Shea has posted several commentaries in recent days at the National Catholic Register website slamming Catholic political conservatives using unfair caricatures and false assumptions. He obviously does not understand the people with whom he disagrees and he doesn't mind spreading that ignorance to his reading audience. He assigns the worst motives to conservatives and uses false logic to make his points. Pat Archibald offers a great rebuttal to Shea at the same website. Below is a excerpt to which I agree wholeheartedly:

"I am a Catholic.  I call myself a conservative.  I put my Church first and my party about 108th.  I prefer small government because I believe it protects our God given liberties, including our religious liberties, best.  I believe in the Constitution.  Not because it is a document handed on from on high but because it was written by men who understood what dastardly deeds of which men with power are capable.  Moreover, I support the Constitution because it is the arrangement to which we all agreed.  Until that changes, it should still apply..."

"I believe in free enterprise, not because I hate poor people, but because I think that it offers the best chance at prosperity for the most people.  Does it eliminate inequity?  Surely not.  However, all the other systems I have seen tried produce even more inequity or even worse.  So free enterprise seems like the best idea."

"I believe in a strong defense, but a strong defense that never subjugates the dignity of any individual to a greater good.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  No way.  No how."
To read the whole piece click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Christ-Centered Church, Part I

Many Christian churches describe themselves as “Bible-based.” That is to say, their structure, their organization, their method of worship, etc. are all drawn directly from biblical passages that have been woven together to form their own idea of “church.” So-called “Bible Christians” claim that this verse-by-verse method is the most accurate way to re-construct the First Century Church; they are simply worshipping as Christians of the New Testament worshipped. The pages of the Bible (so they say) describe Christianity as it was in the first decades after Jesus’ death, and there is no need to look anywhere else when trying to live out the Christian faith. It is the old Protestant motto – “The Bible Alone” – carried to its logical conclusion.

Of course, there is no end to the types of Christian churches this method yields. No two Bible-based churches look the same. They function differently; their doctrines are different; their interpretations of Scripture contradict one another; their understanding of salvation, the sacraments, the afterlife, heaven and hell, the end times…all of these and much more are often radically opposed to one another. Biblio-centric (Bible-centered) Christianity offers a plethora of competing churches with no sure way to distinguish which one is practicing real, authentic Christianity.

Now, obviously it is commendable when Christians desire to imitate the early Church. It is wise to seek our roots in ancient Christianity, to be grounded in the historic foundations of our faith. And it is certainly correct to use Scripture as a guide to govern doctrine and maintain sound teaching. But is the Bible truly the starting point for the formation of the Christian Church? Did God give us first the Bible and from the Bible springs forth the Church? Is this the true order of things?

Is the Church Biblio-centric?

I would propose instead that the Church ought to be Christo-centric – centered on Christ. God gave us Jesus Christ and from Christ springs forth the Church. Those who call for a “Bible-based” Christianity should instead be seeking a “Christ-based” Church. This does not mean that the Bible must be rejected. Far from it! The Bible is the primary source for Jesus’ own words about the Church as recorded in the Gospels, and an excellent record of how those words were applied in the early Church. The Bible plays a vital role in any search for Christian Truth. The Bible is, after all, the very Word of God. It is His revelation to mankind.

But as “the Word of God made flesh,” Jesus is the truest, most direct revelation of God to humanity. It is in Jesus that we must search for the Church, since it is through Jesus that God searches for us. We must not seek a Bible-based Church; rather to find the true Church of Christ we must find the Church that has its origins in Jesus Himself.

If we listen to the words of Christ, we can see that the Church had its start directly from Christ: “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) He did not say: “I will give you a Bible and from that Bible you will construct my church.” The Bible does not precede the Church. Jesus precedes the Church and it is through Him that we become children of God.

Since we know from Scripture that Jesus built the Church nearly two thousand years ago, why would Bible-Christians today feel the need to re-build the Church from the pages of the Bible? If Jesus built it, then where did it go?

Many Bible-Christians would argue that the original Church apostatized, fell into serious error, collapsed into doctrinal ruin. According to this belief, at some point in its long history, the Church that Jesus originally established failed and must now be reconstructed. Others believe that the Church slowly faded away, disappeared from the pages of history, or dwindled into obscurity. Some believe that the Church’s failure was a part of God’s plan; that the Church was meant to be hidden or gone for all these centuries only to resurface in our own age. Whichever theory they espouse, Bible-Christians believe that it is up to them to restore the Church so that she can fulfill her intended purpose.

But this idea of the Church’s failure and re-establishment does not agree with Jesus’ own words. Recall the earlier passage we cited from Matthew concerning Christ’s Church: “the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” If not even Hell itself can topple the Church, then how could she have fallen into apostasy? And furthermore, look at the broader context of this passage: “[U]pon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” The Church that was built by Jesus to withstand the powers of Hell was built to last. Like the wise man from the parable (Matthew 7:24-27), Jesus built His Church on the “rock,” not on “sand” like the foolish man. Bible-Christians who claim that the Church failed are, in effect, calling Jesus a fool!

What about the claim that the Church slipped into obscurity; that the Church vanished for a time from the pages of history only to resurface in our own time? This also does not agree with the words of Jesus. He said to his disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15) Jesus did not light the lamp of the Church only for it to be hidden from view. He did not place a “bowl” over the Church and keep it out of sight. The Church was built as a visible symbol of Jesus’ presence in the world. Bible-Christians have a low estimation of Jesus’ power to sustain His Church.

Even if Bible-Christians were correct that the Church did fail and it must be re-established with Scripture as our sole guide, the Bible contains no blueprint for the structure and function of the Church. There is no point-by-point manual in the pages of Scripture that tell us how to “do church.” This is because the Church does not arise from the pages of Scripture, rather the Church sprang forth from the lips of Jesus as He breathed life into her at Pentecost: “‘…as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22)

From that moment the Church has bore witness to Him throughout history. This Church, which Jesus established, is a Spirit-filled Body centered on the Resurrected Christ. We cannot build anew what Christ Himself has already built. This Spirit-filled Church cannot be discarded when we perceive some abuse or human neglect (real or imagined), and then re-established or re-constructed by every passing generation. And yet new “churches” continually spring up in every corner of the globe, as though the Church is a “thing” to be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle from pieces scattered throughout Scripture.

Thus far, however, we have shown that the Church, when rightly understood, is NOT derived from the Bible in this way. There should be no need to “reverse engineer” a Church from the Scripture when Jesus has already given us a Church which He promised would be a visible light to the world and that would resist being destroyed even by “the gates of Hell.” Christians who seek a “Bible-based” Church ought instead to seek the “Christ-centered” Church, the one Church that can trace itself back to the Lord.

[To be continued in Part II ]

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blog Face Lift

I'll be updating the blog layout for the next few days, so things may look jumbled up and out of place for awhile. This should not affect the readability of the posts or disturb any functionality of the blog, but some items may appear out of place or shuffled around. The end result should be worth it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mass Readings

In Lumen Gentium we read: "The gathering for Mass should begin long before the Entrance Procession and Hymn. As people ready themselves and their families in their homes for the Sunday Eucharist, they should be preparing for Mass. The Eucharist is 'source and summit' of all we do, and it deserves attentive preparation." In that spirit, I have provided below the text for this Sunday's readings so that we are better prepared to recieve our Lord:

October 17, 2010
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1
(Ex 17:8-13)
In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel. Moses, therefore, said to Joshua, "Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand."
So Joshua did as Moses told him: he engaged Amalek in battle after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur. As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on.
Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8)
-R. (cf. 2): Our help is from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
I lift up my eyes toward the mountains;
whence shall help come to me?
My help is from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
-R. Our help is from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
May he not suffer your foot to slip;
may he slumber not who guards you:
indeed he neither slumbers nor sleeps,
the guardian of Israel.
-R. Our help is from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shade;
he is beside you at your right hand.
The sun shall not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
-R. Our help is from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
The LORD will guard you from all evil;
he will guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and your going,
both now and forever.
-R. Our help is from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Reading 2 (2 Tm 3:14-4:2Reading 2)
Beloved: Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

Gospel (Lk 18:1-8)
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, "There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, 'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.' For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, 'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.'"
The Lord said, "Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Friday, October 15, 2010

This Weeks Headlines

As another week comes to an end this is your chance to top off your glass with news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye in the past week. You can sample what you like. I'll serve up more next Friday...

Should You Read Non-Catholic Materials? - "While one certainly should and must rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance, the Holy Spirit does not promise to protect us from coming to mistaken conclusions just because we pray to him. He also wants us to study, internalize, and thoroughly know our own faith. And then, with his guidance, we can approach materials from other perspectives profitably and with confidence."

Human Love Defies Darwinian Explanation - "On August 5th, a copper and gold mine in Chile caved in... This past weekend, the rescue shaft was completed. Given its width, the miners will have to be removed one at a time. Since each trip will take approximately an hour, it will take the better part of two days to remove all the miners. Who should go first? The weakest? ...a surprised Health Minister Jaime Manalich told AP that the miners 'were fighting with [authorities] yesterday because everyone wanted to be at the end of the line, not the beginning.'"

It was surely praying at their ‘makeshift shrine’ that kept the Chilean miners sane - "One of the first things the miners’ relatives did at the pithead, while it still looked as though they must be all dead, was to set up a statue of St Lawrence, patron saint of miners, who in statues of him in this role movingly wears a miner’s hat and carries a miner’s lamp. And the whole rescue mission was placed under his patronage: it was called simply Operation San Lorenzo."

Changes to Pope Benedict XVI's Coat of Arms - "At the time of his election the new Pope's coat of arms was displayed with not only the innovation of the papal pallium but also using simply a mitre decorated to allude to the triple crown...The banner hanging from the Papal Apartment for his Angelus blessing displays the 'new' version of the Pope's coat of arms including both the pallium...and the triple tiara or triregno of the Popes!!!"

British bishops suggest Eucharistic adoration, saint costumes on Halloween - "The celebration of feast days is an important part of our Catholic culture. On the evening of 31 October why not do something to make your faith respectfully seen and heard? Light a candle or display publicly another kind of light, for example, perhaps alongside an image of Christ. This could be a powerful way in which we can show people that we have hope in someone other than ourselves."

Obamacare: Here Comes the Judge
- "As expected, a Federal District Judge Roger Vinson is permitting a lawsuit filed by 20 states against Obamacare to go to trial."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Downloadable MP3s of Latin Prayers

As previously mentioned (here and here), I have been memorizing basic Catholic prayers in Latin for use in my own private devotion. My two oldest children (ages 4 and 6) have taken an interest in learning the Latin too, and can now recite the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Meal Prayer fairly well (they are also working on the Glory Be).

As we learned each of these prayers a particularly useful tool were the audio recordings I downloaded from various websites, which provided the correct pronunciation of the Latin. In a previous post I listed a couple of sites where I found good quality mp3 downloads. I would like to mention another great source of traditional prayers that can be found at this link. The website is Sonitus Sanctus. It is a wonderful source for free Catholic audio - music, prayers, lectures, sermons, debates, and much more - all free for downloading (and all orthodox in content). I've gotten a lot of chant and choral music from Sonitus Sanctus as well as lectures from big-name apologists. I recommend visiting the site frequently as something new is always being posted. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Court of Highest Authority

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas have been in the news again recently for organizing distasteful and vile protests at funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. For several years church members have gathered outside of private memorial services carrying signs that read “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” and other such slogans in an attempt to make their message heard. They believe that God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality and that soldiers are selling their souls by serving a country that would allow a behavior which God condemns. In their eyes these soldiers’ deaths are divine retribution for the sins of the nation.

Although the Westboro Church members are most famous for their protests at the funerals of fallen war heroes, they do not limit their twisted ranting to these private memorial services. This same church has protested other venues as well: pop concerts, retail stores, theaters, and even the 2004 funeral of Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood). Several lawsuits have been brought against this small congregation (which numbers less than 100 members) and one of these cases has finally made its way to the Supreme Court. Protesting a shopping mall or a rock concert is certainly understandable (whether or not we agree with the message), but verbally assaulting family members of deceased loved ones is (in my opinion) disgusting and frankly un-Christian.

Obviously the church is framing their defense as a matter of free speech, and in some sense they do have a point. After all, if Neo-Nazi skinheads and white supremacists can congregate in public areas to voice their opinions, then how can we tell this equally repulsive and ignorant group that they cannot do likewise? Personally I would like to see the Westboro Baptists, the Nazis and other hate-mongers disbanded and shut out of public discourse. They have nothing constructive to contribute. But the Supreme Court has a difficult task in making such a thing happen within the bounds of the law. As the highest authority on the matter, the Supreme Court must obey the rule of law even when it leads to a distasteful conclusion.

The case is perplexing. When the Court heard arguments last week, Justice Breyer made known his frustration: “What I'm trying to accomplish is to allow this tort to exist, but not allow it to interfere with an important public message.” In other words, he wishes to see the Westboro Church punished, but this must be done in a way that protects the free speech of others in the public square. This dilemma is echoed in questions posed by Justice Kagan: “So does that mean that now we have to start reading each sign, and saying 'war is wrong' falls on one side of the line but 'you are a war criminal' falls on another side of the line? Is that what we would have to do?”

How this case will be decided, I do not know. It is up to the Court to determine how the law must be applied so that justice is served. But there is another issue at stake here beyond the scope of our secular legal system. The actions of the Westboro Baptist Church have ramifications within the religious community that are just as complex as the legal questions and yet more weighty as they pertain to our relationship with God and His Church. The public perception of this case calls into question the moral authority of Christianity. The hateful rhetoric of the Westboro Baptists damages the reputation of Christianity as a whole by giving non-Christians an easy target for discrediting the faith. Secular atheists and agnostics can point to this radical fundamentalist group as “proof” that Christian morality is oppressive and cruel. The Westboro Baptists preach about a God whose authority and power demands the death of innocent people and then treats their loved ones who mourn their loss with contempt and disrespect. How can a “loving” God be so cruel?

I agree with this assessment as it applies to the Westboro Baptist theology (as well as other fundamentalist sects that promote such a distorted view of the faith). Their brand of Christianity is twisted and corrupted. I reject their image of God as a hateful oppressor who uses His divine Law as a club to beat people into submission.

But secular atheists take this one step further. They respond to this image of Christianity by turning away from God and religion altogether. As they see it, they must throw off the “shackles” of religious authority and oppression. The Westboro Baptist distortion of Christianity serves as an excuse to reject all Christian moral authority across the board.

However this tearing down of moral authority does not solve the problem at hand. Tearing down all authority does not produce a more just or cohesive society. The sad fact is that fundamentalist Christianity (of the Westboro type) is a product of just such an idea. The Protestant Reformers sought to throw off the “shackles” of an “oppressive” Church just as modern secularists wish to do in a more radical way. In the eyes of the Reformers, the Catholic Church presented a distorted image of God and had corrupted the pure message of the Gospel. In some ways the Reformers were right in protesting the corruptions of Catholic clergy. In response, the Council of Trent and other actions taken by the hierarchy went a long way to correct these abuses. But by then the Protestant rift had already occurred. Protestants set about eliminating the authoritative mechanisms of the Church (the hierarchy, Tradition and the witness of the ancient Church) and chaos ensued. Without a central authority to act as a check on run-away doctrine, one Protestant sect broke away from another, disputes between rival groups spawned even more schism, and eventually we find ourselves in our present condition with tens of thousands of competing denominations and no single authority over any of them.

The Reformation took a bad thing (corruption and injustice in high places) and made it worse (with the removal of any authority whatsoever). Christianity became a free-for-all with every home-grown theologian patching together his own doctrinal creed and finding a niche audience who will swear allegiance to his cause. Today we find congregations such as the Westboro Baptist Church claiming “authentic” Christianity as their basis while using their beliefs to desecrate the solemn memorials of soldiers who died defending our country. There is no check and balance within Protestantism to protect against such distortions.

This is not to say that Protestantism is to blame for all of Christianity’s distortions. After all, it was Catholic abuses that sparked the Reformation in the first place and most of the original Reformers were themselves baptized in the Catholic Church (many of them priests). It is part of the human condition that we all fail and fall short of the ideal. Whether Catholic, Protestant, atheist or otherwise, we all need to be held to a higher authority. But unlike Protestantism and modern secularism (which tends toward relativism), Catholicism maintains a cohesive authority to solve abuses and correct sinful behavior and in doing so remains a cohesive whole.

This appeal to a higher authority is not an exclusively religious phenomenon. A similar authority also holds together the fabric of secular society. The Supreme Court has just heard arguments in the case against the Westboro Baptists. By their authority as the highest court in the land a decision will be reached in the realm of secular law. This higher authority is the means by which we survive as a nation. Whether it is God’s law or the law of man we all must submit to some higher principle to judge right from wrong, virtue from vice. In the secular world, if one citizen breaks the law this does not nullify the whole legal system or call into question our nation’s founding principles. It merely demands that the full authority of the law be brought to bear on that individual. Likewise within religion, one Christian who fails to live up to the standards of Christian love and virtue does not condemn the entire Christian enterprise. It calls instead for a strengthening of moral principles among all Christians and a greater recognition of God’s authority over sinful man.

The funeral protests are an ugly display of Christianity gone wrong, but this does not make the case for the wholesale dismantling of religious authority or outright rejection of God. Secularists are right to call on Christians to repudiate the Westboro Baptists (as indeed all of the mainline denominations have done). But to suggest that the actions taken by this handful of Christians condemn all of religion in general or Christianity as a whole is an unfounded notion.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Apologetics Resources

Over the years I have collected many pamphlets and booklets that defend the Catholic faith. I was recently sorting through some of these old tracts and I came accross a classic apologetic resource from 'Catholic Answers' entitled Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth. It is available online by clicking here. Hard copies can also be ordered from the same site.

'Catholic Answers' is a great resource for apologetics material and for anyone interested in learning more about the Catholic faith. As I read through my copy of Pillar of Fire I thought it would be a good idea to list a few online sources for such apologetics material. Below I've listed a few websites (in no particular order) that explain Church teaching and provide many articles and essays that inform both Catholics and non-Catholics alike:

Catholic Answers
Scripture Catholic
Catholic Biblical Apologetics
Catholic Education Resource Center
The Nazareth Resource Library
Biblical Evidence for Catholicism
Apologetics Articles (from EWTN)
Fathers of the Church (sorted by doctrine)
Catholic Scriptural Cheat Sheet
Catholic Information & Resources

This list is in no way complete. There are thousands of other websites and blogs dedicated to explaining and defending Catholicism. These are just a few that I have personally used and have found very helpful.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review: Why Mary?

Building a Relationship with Our Mother

For centuries Mary’s precise role in salvation history and her relevance for individual Christians has been heatedly debated between Catholics and Protestants. Catholic doctrine concerning Jesus’ mother is generally misunderstood and rejected by non-Catholics. Encouragingly, Protestant theology has grown more open toward Mary in recent decades. The difficulties that remain usually involve finer points of theology which are best explained in scholarly debates and theological journals. But what is sometimes missing from these technical arguments is the lived experience that Catholics have of Mary as our true spiritual Mother. This intimate relationship with Mary cannot be reduced to doctrinal statements or dogmatic pronouncements; it is an integral component of our lived faith.

A small booklet entitled Why Mary? cuts through the theological complexities of Marian doctrine by starting from a simple premise: As adopted brothers and sisters in Christ, our relationship to Mary must hinge on her role as Mother. Through baptism we enter into a common spiritual family. Having such a familial bond with Jesus we must have a corresponding relationship with Mary…as His Mother and ours. The words of Jesus from the cross to John (the beloved disciple) – “Behold your mother” – lay the foundation for Catholic devotion to Mary as our spiritual Mother. Fittingly, author Kenneth J. Howell opens his brief book with the concept of “family” at the center of his case for Marian spirituality.

To fully understand Catholic doctrine we must view Mary in this context of family and motherhood. This does not mean that doctrine and theology are unimportant or that technical arguments should not be addressed. These things must be involved in any complete discussion of Mariology. However to the ordinary Protestant mind, such technical jargon is generally off-putting. The Protestant perceives Catholic Marian doctrine as “standing in the way” of Christ. To combat this reaction, Mr. Howell places an emphasis on personal relationships and successfully describes Mary as a key figure in our own association with Jesus. In this way, the Protestant notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is brought to a new level when we see Mary’s vital role in our own salvation.

Why Mary? is not devoid of theological arguments. Included in the text are brief explanations of the four major Marian doctrines taught by the Catholic Church: 1) Mary as Mother of God, 2) her perpetual virginity, 3) the Immaculate Conception, and 4) Mary’s Assumption into Heaven. Biblical evidence is brought to bear on each of these as well as the witness of ancient Christianity. Perhaps most interesting is the testimony of some of the major Reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who held to the Catholic view on many aspects of Mariology. It is difficult to argue against Catholic Marian spirituality when Protestant founders so clearly supported these doctrines.

A more thorough examination of Catholic belief can certainly be found in larger works concerning Mary. But the purpose of Why Mary? is not to offer a detailed defense of every aspect of Marian doctrine. At only 24 pages, this booklet serves simply as a brief introduction to our Mother for those in the family who may not understand or appreciate her role. Once a personal relationship with Mary has been established (in and through our bond with Christ) further reading may follow to deepen this relationship with our Mother. I would recommend Why Mary? for non-Catholics seeking a better understanding of the Catholic faith, as well as Catholics who may not be well informed about Church teaching. Kenneth Howell’s work aids us in fulfilling Christ’s command: “Behold your mother…

[This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Why Mary? and be sure to check out their great selection of baptism gifts while you are there.]