Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quote of the Week

"There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church....As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do." - Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Liturgical Thoughts: Praying to the East (repost)

If there are two things that stand out most concerning the changes to the Mass after Vatican II, they would have to be the use of the vernacular in place of Latin, and that the priest now faces the people at the consecration. In this post I would like to examine the latter of these…

I grew up post-Vatican II. The only Mass I have ever known is the Novus Ordo, said in English, with the priest facing the people (versus populum). I have never attended a Mass where the priest offered the Holy Sacrifice ad orientem, that is “to the east” – meaning the “liturgical east” or towards the risen Christ who is represented by the rising sun. Traditionally (that is before the Second Vatican Council) Catholic worship had always been conducted with the priest and the people facing Christ together, in the same direction, so that the prayers spoken by the priest are directed to God – not to the people. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book Spirit of the Liturgy, explains briefly this traditional form of worship:

“In the early Church, prayer toward the east was regarded as an apostolic tradition. …[I]t is certain that it goes back to the earliest times and was always regarded as an essential characteristic of Christian liturgy (and indeed private prayer). This “orientation” of Christian prayer has several different meanings. Orientation is, first and foremost, a simple expression of looking to Christ as the meeting place between God and man. It expresses the basic Christological form of our prayer.

“The fact that we find Christ in the symbol of the rising sun is the indication of a Christology defined eschatologically. Praying toward the east means going to meet the coming Christ. The liturgy, turned toward the east, effects entry, so to speak, into the procession of history toward the future, the New Heaven and the New Earth, which we encounter in Christ. It is a prayer of hope, the prayer of the pilgrim as he walks in the direction shown us by the life, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ. Thus very early on, in parts of Christendom, the eastward direction for prayer was given added emphasis by a reference to the Cross. …[T]he symbolism of the Cross merges with that of the east. Both are an expression of one and the same faith, in which the remembrance of the Pasch of Jesus makes it present and gives dynamism to the hope that goes out to meet the One who is to come. But, finally, this turning toward the east also signifies that cosmos and saving history belong together. The cosmos is praying with us. It, too, is waiting for redemption. It is precisely this cosmic dimension that is essential to Christian liturgy. It is never performed solely in the self-made world of man. It is always a cosmic liturgy. The theme of creation is embedded in Christian prayer. It loses its grandeur when it forgets this connection That is why, whenever possible, we should definitely take up again the apostolic tradition of facing the east, both in the building of churches and in the celebration of the liturgy.” [pages 68-70]

Not surprisingly, as Pope Benedict XVI, Ratzinger has been known to occasionally celebrate Mass ad orientem. It seems that the Holy Father strongly encourages (in his writing as well as in his own actions) the celebration of the Mass with the priest facing away from (or more correctly with) the people. It is, as he points out, a part of apostolic tradition and brings a rich symbolism into our worship.

Also it is important to note that Vatican II did not forbid Mass to be celebrated ad orientem. In fact, in this very helpful article on the Liturgy after Vatican II by Fr. Joseph Fessio, publisher of Ignatius Press, we read the following:

“The Council did not say that Mass should be celebrated facing the people. That is not in Vatican II; it is not mentioned. It is not even raised in the documents that record the formation of the Constitution on the Liturgy; it didn’t come up. Mass facing the people is not a requirement of Vatican II; it is not in the spirit of Vatican II; it is definitely not in the letter of Vatican II. It is something introduced in 1969.”

(I encourage everyone to read the entire article for more details about this and other liturgical distortions that came about after the Council.)
Now, none of this means that the typical Mass of today, with the priest facing the people, is illegitimate or not allowed. But it appears that the complete abandonment of ad orientem worship, in favor of versus populum was not the intention of the Fathers gathered at Vatican II. It seems that our current practice constitutes an abrupt break with the traditional form and it removes much of the symbolic richness of the liturgy as celebrated facing with the people.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing standing in the way of any parish priest, on any given Sunday, turning to face away from the people during the parts of the Mass (specifically the consecration) which are addressed to God. If the congregation is properly informed beforehand, it may prove to be an uplifting and spiritually enriching event for him and for the congregation. I read recently of a priest who tried just that. He immediately realized that in facing away from the people he no longer felt like a “performer” with an “audience.” The Mass felt more like prayer to the Almighty, rather than a staged drama in front of spectators. He could more freely pray to God instead of engage a gathered assembly. In other words, the Mass became what it was designed to be…an act of worship.

Put yourself in the place of the priest. It is inevitable when all eyes watch your every move that a priest feels a certain burden to “perform” when celebrating versus populum. But much of that feeling melts away when the priest faces with the people, in solidarity with them, toward the symbolic east…toward the risen Christ. Then Jesus becomes the focal point rather than the priest.

Unfortunately many people react negatively the first time they witness an ad orientem This could certainly be remedied through proper catechesis and by selecting the right Sunday Mass to introduce this practice. Many parishes (such as the one I attend) have more than one service on Sundays, with at least one service featuring a more traditional liturgy. The ad orientem celebration could be limited to this Mass. celebration of the Mass.

Catholic parishes that have re-instituted this ancient practice often report a renewed sense of sacredness among parishioners. When the celebrant turns his back and approaches the altar (facing away from the congregation) there is a palpable sense that something solemn and out-of-the-ordinary is about to occur. The readings and the homily are still proclaimed facing the people, but the moment of consecration is distinctly set apart by the priest’s orientation. He is united with them (all facing one direction) in reverence before God, rather than “putting on a show” as a performer on a stage.

I do not mean to suggest that every Catholic parish ought to revert back to ad orientem worship. A less radical compromise, in congregations where such a switch would not be pastorally prudent, might be to place an altar crucifix on the altar in front of the priest, so that an image of Christ is between him and the people. In this way, all will be facing Christ rather than each other. The image of Christ becomes the “east” to which we look in worship. The important point here being that our worship is directed to God, not to the priest or to the people gathered there. In re-thinking our orientation during Mass, I believe we can all benefit if we realize that God is the focus, and not our fellow parishioners or the priest.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Musings

A few random thoughts and ponderings to start the week...

I've been making a few changes to the blog... nothing major, but some of the page elements may be moving around or disappearing until I get everything cleaned up. Among other things I am creating some separate pages that are not "blog posts" per se, but rather stand-alone pages that deal with specific topics. The first one is up in rough form, and can be view by clicking the link on the left-hand side of this page titled "The Teachings of the Catholic Church." This page contains a collection of excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church explaining various teachings of the Church in a sort of summarized form. It should provide a good reference point for readers who are unfamiliar with Catholic doctrine. Other pages will serve a similar purpose: giving a quick reference on important topics. Also I've been updating my links and eliminating redundant or obsolete features. At the bottom of this main page you should find a list of recent posts from blogs that I follow. This list will update itself with the most recent post at the top of the list. So even if I have not posted anything new, there will always be new content from other blogs listed at the bottom of the page.

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I often hear Protestants criticize the Catholic Church for having such detailed explanations of particular doctrines and beliefs. They will sometimes appeal to the Orthodox Churches and point out that Eastern Christians often leave much of their doctrine cloaked in mystery. They often do not use specific terms to describe their beliefs, but rather leave it in subtle language and avoid directly addressing the whys and wherefores of a belief.  And so, they may believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but they shy away from specific terms such as transubstantiation to describe this belief.

Protestants ask, "Why can't the Catholic Church just leave doctrinal details vague the way the East does, so that we can reach a consensus on the essentials of these doctrines without squabbling over precise terminology."

The problem with this argument is that Protestants largely have themselves to blame for the specificity of Catholic doctrinal definitions. It was mostly due to Protestant challenges to Traditional Christian teaching that the Catholic Church found it necessary to clarify doctrine and answer specific Protestant heresies. In the East, the Orthodox Churches did not have the same inter-denominational struggles as we did in the West, and so they did not have the need to define doctrine beyond the vague notion of "mystery."
So this argument from Protestants does not stand. Protestants cannot criticize Catholics for an ecumenical problem that they created.

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Sending up prayers for a friend who is close to conversion. - Always be prepared to share the faith!! You never know what your words may accomplish.

Friday, August 26, 2011

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...

Forgive Us Our Debt Ceiling? - "The bottom line for America is how to put our public sector on fiscally sustainable ground—for the good of all Americans.  The welfare state, the disproportionate expropriation of private income and wealth transfer schemes embodied in public programs all make for unsustainable spending patterns."
Oh, How America Has Changed - "We can now see clearly that giving cash and benefits to single moms, beginning with Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, destroyed families by making fathers unnecessary and even a barrier to the women receiving free money."

Do't, Knight! - "Men, be knights. This does not mean going off into the woods everyday and finding other knights to fight and slaughter, although it can involve that... The main virtue behind chivalry is not courage, it is humility."

America's conservative Catholics are on the warpath. Republicans should be courting them - "The Catholic electorate used to be regarded as microcosmic because it voted as a block on economic issues. But studies of the 2004 results identified a new hardcore vote of roughly 16 percent of Catholics (nearly 10 million people) who attend church more than once a week and identify as ideologically 'conservative'."

Economics in One Lesson - "The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or public policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."

Biden Faces More Criticism For Not Bashing One-Child Policy - "In a speech, Biden talked about demographic concerns associated with the policy but said he would not “second-guess” it and “understood” why Chinese put the policy in place."

What, Exactly, Is an Abortion, and Why Does It Matter? - "...the most accurate definition of abortion is one like that found in Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae: “the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.”
Feminists Don't Respect Women; the Catholic Church Does - "Pro-choice feminism only respects women once they’ve reached a certain age, usually about 36 weeks; the ones who are younger than that are not considered worthy of consideration as human beings, let alone worthy of respect. The Catholic Church respects all women, no matter how small and voiceless."

Number of Converts to Catholicism Continuing to Decline – You Know What to Do - "Some will be quick to blame the liturgy, others the sex abuse scandal. But CARA and other studies show little correlation to these issues. The biggest issue is secularization."
Making Children Pray - "What to do when your minor child, who is expected to follow all the secular rules of the family, does not want to participate in the Faith?"

Presbyterians Meet To Consider Leaving Church Over Gay Clergy, Other Issues - "We have come off track, and Presbyterians have become a declining part of American life instead of a vibrant, growing part..."

Why do we reverence during the Nicene Creed? (Saint Louis of France) - [Interesting bit of trivia]

Alternative Liturgy for the Establishment of a Parish Minister Person - [A really funny tongue-in-cheek post by Fr. Longenecker.]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Liturgical Thoughts (repost)

I seem to have let time slip away from me and neglected this series of posts, which I started during Lent. So this will serve as a re-introduction. I will also re-post the first in the series - Praying to the East - before continuing on to the next topic.

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Several weeks ago I began posting a few thoughts on some liturgical situations that I think could be improved at most Masses in the United States. To a certain extent, I suppose some of my comments on these issues may come down to opinion or personal taste. On the other hand, I do believe that there is a solid argument in favor of the positions that I advocate in each of these cases. Regardless of which side you come down on, I believe the issuance of the new liturgical translation (due out this Advent) presents a perfect opportunity to reevaluate some of our current liturgical practices/abuses. Besides just the words that we speak (which the new translation is supposed to improve), there are also gestures, symbolic actions, and music that may be in need of reform. As we adopt the new translation this Fall we may take this as an opportunity to ensure that other areas of liturgy comply with the rubrics and reflect a profound reverence for Sacred Tradition.

Here is a list of the topics I plan to address:
  • The orientation of the priest during worship
  • The use of Latin
  • Holding hands during the Our Father
  • Proper musical selections
  • Art and architecture
These are just a few topics that immediately come to mind. Each topic from this list will have its own brief post under the title Liturgical Thoughts (which will serve as a title for this series of posts). I may add to this list or change the order. I do not intend any of these to be exhaustive treatments of the topics at hand, but they will at least give a brief account of what I think could be improved or how we might approach these issues differently than we do now.

I tend to think along "traditional" lines on these matters, so my opinion on these issues will reflect a more traditional style. I am in no way an advocate of a complete return to the pre-Vatican II, Tridentine form of the Mass (however, I do favor greater access to this form). As I stated above, these are largely a matter of taste and opinion (though I think the case could be made that some opinions do weigh more heavily than others). As I am not trained in liturgy, I do not have the authority to say what is the correct path to follow. But I would like to convince fellow Catholics to rethink some of the practices we have come to accept as the norm.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quote of the Week

“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need.” (Blessed John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 48)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: Lectio Divina Bible Study: The Mass in Scripture

Drawing Our Worship From God's Word

Many fundamentalist Christians are capable of quoting Scripture word-for-word from memory, citing chapter and verse to support their various doctrines and beliefs. Unfortunately, Catholics are not as well known for their biblical literacy. The best Catholic memorization tends to focus on the parts of the Mass for which the congregation is responsible on any given Sunday. We know when and how to say, do, and respond to every word and gesture throughout the Liturgy, just as well as the average Protestant can quote John 3:16.

It may seem from this that we Catholics are an unbiblical people (a common accusation) - we are so wrapped up in our ceremonies, rituals and traditions. But the truth is that the Mass is a deeply biblical worship, rooted in both the Old and New Testaments, and expressing biblical truths in a most dynamic way. The Mass is a lived biblical experience. Our fellow Christians may be able to cite chapter and verse by heart, but the Mass shows us how to truly live out those words in heartfelt Christian worship. The Mass forms the basis of Catholic scriptural knowledge. We need only look deeper into the rituals and prayers of the Mass to make this connection. For this reason, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing has chosen The Mass in Scripture as the first title in its series, Lectio Divina Bible Study.

The book is structured, as one might expect, with sections covering each of the four parts of Mass: the Introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Communion Rite and Dismissal. These are preceded with two other sections: one brief chapter entitled “Overview of The Mass in Scripture” and a separate section concerning “Covenant Worship.”

Each of these “Sections” is further divided into six individual “Lessons” which provide biblical passages and points for reflection that pertain to each part of the Mass. The biblical passages are quoted in full and are selected from both the Old and New Testaments. Within each Lesson we are asked to “listen” to the passages that are cited, and to “understand” the meaning of God’s Word in these passages; we then “reflect” on how God’s Word can be applied in our lives today, and “pray” for guidance in living out these truths. And finally we are encouraged to “act” on what we have learned. This approach is shaped by the ancient method of lectio divina – “divine reading” or “holy reading” – a traditional, centuries-old method of prayerfully and reflectively immersing oneself in God’s Word. It is designed to make Scripture spiritually accessible and relevant to the reader.

The Mass in Scripture is the first in a series of Lectio Divina titles from Our Sunday Visitor. A brief introduction to this series states that future volumes “will focus on worship, prayer, spiritual practices, and active commitment, helping participants make the Catholic Christian way of life more fully their own.” With that in mind, each of these books is intended for a broad range of uses: individual study, classroom work, RCIA preparation, or parish study groups. Considering the affordable price, the amount of material that is presented, and the quality of writing from author Stephen Binz this is a potentially valuable resource in any setting.

The timely release of this title is yet another mark in favor of The Mass in Scripture. With the new translation due out in Advent of 2011, there is sure to be a renewed interest in the study of the Mass among the faithful. Thankfully this book takes into account this updated translation. And so we find “And with your spirit,” as the response to “Peace be with you,” instead of “And also with you.” The section concerning the penitential rite includes the phrase “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Throughout the text, the author makes use of these new adaptations of the Mass text and the result is a book that will serve Catholics for many years to come.

It took much longer than anticipated for me to finish reading The Mass in Scripture. I had set out to read it as quickly as possible for the purpose of publishing this review. At just under 200 pages it is a compact size and would seem to be a quick read, but the structure of the text encourages one to linger over each Lesson and ponder its depths. The purpose of Lectio Divina is to cause one to pause and reflect - not to rush through the words and devour them, but to savor each syllable as God intended. His Word is meant to feed our souls. How fitting that the first of this series focuses on God’s Word made flesh and given to us as food in the Mass. This book, and those to come in this series, will surely provide much food for thought.

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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 Lectio Divina Bible Study: The Mass in Scripture . They are also a great source for a Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic Bible.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Musings

A few random thoughts and ponderings to start the week...

As I mentioned last Monday, the Feast of the Assumption was celebrated on August 15. I read an interesting observation later in the week concerning this holy day:

The feast of the Assumption is rejected by Protestants and in this rejection they point to the fact that the Orthodox and Catholics are unable to explain the details of the event. Did Mary die or was she assumed before death? Was she buried? And if so, for how long? What exactly is the difference between the Orthodox “Dormition” and the Catholic “Assumption”? The whole event is rather sketchy.

But these questions only distract from an important truth at the core of this ancient feast. The fact is that Catholics and Orthodox agree that SOMETHING happened! Mary did not just die and was buried like most every other human in history. Her remains are nowhere to be found, and the two major branches of ancient Christianity agree that some event, some unusual incident occurred which caused the end of Mary’s life to be unique and memorable. This is a fact that cannot be ignored and it bears closer examination by Protestants.

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On Sunday the Gospel reading was from Matthew 16, the giving of the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” to Peter. Over the years, I’ve had many conversations about this verse, and of course I always point to the Catholic interpretation as a support for the papacy. Non-Catholics usually respond by telling me why it is the wrong interpretation. But I have never had anyone tell me what other interpretation could work and still make sense given what we know about the biblical symbolism of the “keys” and Peter’s role among the Apostles. If Jesus gave “keys” to Peter, then what else could it mean? And where are those “keys” now?

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I was listening in on a conversation between Protestant ministers, and I was struck by the lack of theological consensus among them, even among those who were of the same denomination. They were all of the same "family" of Protestants, but there seemed to be no agreement on basic beliefs. Questions like: What is ordination? What happens to the bread and wine at consecration? What is the role of a bishop? Should the church even have bishops?

It's not just that these men had different views on these issues, it is that their churches have no defined theology regarding these things. There is simply a huge vacuum where their ought to be a laid-out, systematic theology for these core beliefs. I am amazed that they can stand in the pulpit and preach when they have no sure theological footing on which to stand.

Friday, August 19, 2011

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...

On Truth and Trade: Economics and the Catholic Vision of the Good Life - [Two great essays explaining the benefits of capitalism versus distributism from a Catholic perspective.]

World Youth Day: Pope talks profits and people - "The real challenge for economists and policy makers is how do we move from the good intentions of providing ever-increasing, ethically-sound prosperity for all to actual results."
Why the Assumption of Mary into heaven began in the Garden of Eden - "The spirituality of a woman is rooted in the fact that she is the heart of love and through her special and unique relationship with the Holy Spirit (as one who gives life), a woman is truly the example of what it means to be fully human."

Ordination, Equality, and Natural Law - "Natural law defines the distinction between genders in the functions of parenthood, even on a biological level.  Divine law, through the Magisterium of the Church, defines, by gender, and by many other factors, distinctions in ministerial roles and functions."

Homosexual Leaven in the Liturgical Lump - "The male who suffers with deep-seated homosexuality has difficulty in being Christ visible in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for a number of reasons..." [This article gives a compelling argument in favor of a return to ad orientem worship.]

British Leaders Talk Moral Collapse - "Moral decline and bad behavior is not limited to a few of the poorest parts of our society. In the highest offices, the plushest boardrooms, the most influential jobs, we need to think about the example we are setting..."

Children of divorce are born ‘losers’ claims bishop - "This is not to say that children cannot thrive outside of the marital family but if we really value childhood, then we must do what we can to try and ensure that children are raised by the fathers and mothers who bring them into the world."
Moments After America - "...what is a daily reality in Britain will soon be America’s reality, too, unless the country reverses its embrace of the social and economic policies that are bankrupting Europe and bringing its society to its collective knees."
External Markers of Our Faith - [From Archbishop Dolan of New York] "Scholars of religion–all religions, not just Catholic–tell us that an essential of a vibrant, sustained, attractive, meaningful life of faith in a given creed is external markers."

Archbp. Dolan on meatless Fridays and external signs of our Catholic identity - [A reply from Father Z. to the above posted article.] [See also this survey by Father Z. on the issue of meatless Fridays.]
Young religious find older garb habit-forming - "Among the few young women choosing religious life today, the most popular orders are those that wear a habit."
Big Picture at World Youth Day: 'It’s the Evangelicals, stupid!' - "For today’s younger Catholics, it’s more a matter of generational experience. They didn’t grow up in a stuffy, all-controlling church, so they’re not rebelling against it. Instead, they’re rebelling against a rootless secular world, making them eager to embrace clear markers of identity and sources of meaning."
World Youth Day priests granted power to lift abortion excommunications - "The archdiocese said they hope that “all the faithful who attend the celebrations of World Youth Day can more easily access the fruits of divine grace, which opens the door to a new life for them."
Making Poor People Pray - "Whether you’re poor because of bad luck and tough circumstances, or because of laziness and stupidity, being poor doesn’t make you sub-human.  It shouldn’t give other people an excuse to treat you like a child, even if they’re helping you."

Of Cassocks and Demons - "We knew it was a Catholic priest who would know what to do about demons and all that stuff."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quote of the Week

"It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything." (G. K. Chesterton)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Musings

A few random thoughts and ponderings to start the week...

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In light of that, here is a link explaining the event that is celebrated on this important Holy Day:

And here's one that I found particularly interesting:

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With school starting, I have had several conversations with friends about homeschooling versus public school versus Catholic school. Our kids attend public school for several reasons including financial. But I see the benefit of both the parochial and homeschooling options. From a religious point of view, homeschooling certainly allows a parent to instill a strong faith in their children and to be directly active in their education. Likewise, Catholic schools provide an opportunity for children to learn their faith and to share it with others who are also Catholic. But I think public school offers a unique opportunity for a Catholic child to become a “light” to others. Surrounded as they are with secular ideas and non-religious peers, they have a chance to become a “voice in the wilderness.” Too often, the public schools are without such a faith perspective. A solidly Catholic family can be a strong witness in such a setting. Although it does require that parents be particularly diligent about instilling a firm foundation of faith in their child before sending them into this secular school system, the payoff can be twofold – a child can learn confidence in defending and explaining their faith, and other children may benefit from witnessing an authentic Catholic life.

The bottom line is: Each of these schooling options is a valid choice for parents depending on their circumstances and their child’s personality. Too often we divide into camps, trying to tout the benefits of our own schooling choice. But I think each family is called to live out their own vocation in their own unique way.

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I came across and interesting insight recently: When we pray as Christians we often end our prayers with the words, “…through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” We do this because we recognize Jesus as our mediator between God and humanity. But we must also realize that we are all members of the Christ’s Body. If we truly believe that our prayers will be answered “through Christ,” then we must understand that this will often require effort on our part. As the Body of Christ we will be called upon to bear part of His burden. We cannot sit idly by, expecting God to hand us our heart’s desire or to solve our problems with no cooperation from us. As the Body of Christ, we must be fully engaged in bringing about God’s Will on earth. When we pray that God’s Will be done, we are active participants in making that a reality.

Friday, August 12, 2011

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...

Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, the Meaning of Marriage and Political 'Conservatism'   - "Along with solidarity, which confirms the truth that we truly are our brother/sister's keeper, we must always keep in mind the importance of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is a social ordering principle which respects the proper role of the family and the mediating instituions as the first place where governing should occur. It is about much more than federalism and it certainly is not satisfied with a misguided "States Rights" approach to issues such as Life and marriage."
Do Wisconsin Unions Reflect Catholic Social Doctrine? - While Mr. Winters has a point that the Church has been in support of unions, what he and many others fail to note are the parameters which the Holy Fathers have given for that support. There are limits, and these limits are almost always ignored.

Whatever Happened to Stem Cell Research? - "Often, a lack of rules results in wider chaos while narrow rules result in greater creativity – and even beauty. That is Bush’s great contribution. He encouraged scientists – and gave them room – to catch up to the ethics."
Years of liberal dogma have spawned a generation of amoral, uneducated, welfare dependent, brutalised youngsters - "They are products of a culture which gives them so much unconditionally that they are let off learning how to become human beings. My dogs are better behaved and subscribe to a higher code of values than the young rioters of Tottenham, Hackney, Clapham and Birmingham."
Can We Stop Telling God What To Do? - It’s not only that I don’t want to be in the theologically awkward position of telling God what to do, it’s also the case that I don’t want to be in the socially awkward (and politically annoying) position of being assaulted in Mass with the latest politically-correct fad dressed up as a prayer.

We Ignore the Roots of Scandal If We Only Protest Abortion  - "Just like a weed isn't really gone until the root is pulled up, only protesting abortion -  when Catholic hospitals all over the country offer IVF, embryo cryo-preservation, sterilization and contraception - isn't really addressing the deeper issue either."
Orthodoxy Is In the Balance - "...orthodoxy is about balance. Heresy is about picking and choosing. Some heretics pick one Bible verse or concept and make it the whole thing. But orthodoxy is about the whole range of truths held in proper balance and proportion."
Shaw: Polls, presidential hopefuls and religious convictions - "Kennedy’s privatizing of religion has borne much bitter fruit in the past half-century. Among other things, it’s been extended — in line with secularist thinking — to imply that citizens shouldn’t be influenced by their religiously grounded values in deciding how to vote."

Younger Christians More Likely to See Abortion as Important - "Almost three quarters (69%) of young people surveyed believe abortion to be very important compared to just 31% of those over 65."

Soon to be Extinct: Down Syndrome Kids - "Supporters of public funding argue that it is cheaper to offer subsidized prenatal testing and abortions than to pay the medical bills of a child with Down syndrome."

QUAERITUR: Woman ‘priests’ are inevitable? Fr. Z rants - "This is the irreformable doctrine of the Church which all Catholic are bound to accept as definitive, even as infallible as the CDF made plain.   This teaching is not merely a law or, as liberals like to call it, 'policy'."

Catholic Courtesy: Who Greets Whom and Holy Matrimony - "At least among ourselves, we Catholics should strive to enshrine common courtesies. The old Catholic courtesies were built around the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures."

Have any other links of interest? Feel free to post in the comments section below...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quote of the Week

"All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, because they are only the works of men, but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison, for it is but the sacrifice of man to God, but in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is the sacrifice of God to man." (St. John Vianney)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Musings

A few random thoughts to start the week...

I had a discussion recently with a non-Catholic Christian friend regarding evolution and the story of Creation in Genesis. Someday I will write more on this subject, but I challenge anyone who takes the Biblical account literally to read the first two chapters of Genesis and then tell me how the two stories of creation can both be true at the same time. Yes… there are TWO stories of creation found in Genesis, and the order of creation is different in each. They cannot BOTH be LITERALLY true. Maybe you can play around with the details to make it work out, but in doing so you have to regard some of the passages as non-literal, and that point you open up a the possibility that other parts may also be non-literal. You can’t have it any other way.

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I was listening in at another blog on a discussion concerning women priests in the Anglican/Episcopalian churches. It was stated that the New Testament gives examples of women in leadership roles (even as deacons) in the early Church, and that women instructed their male counterparts in the faith. I jumped in with the following comment:

“…I would point out that there are other passages in the New Testament which imply that women are called to a different kind of ministry within the Church than that to which men are called. For instance, Paul says that ‘women are to remain silent in the churches.’ (1 Corinthians 14:33-35) The ministry of public preaching does not seem to fit with this clear command from Scripture. Any instruction (or prophesying or leadership) a woman might provide to her fellow Christians must be apart from the formal/public ministry (the ordained priesthood) within the Church. If it really were common practice to have female preachers in the New Testament Church (as you seem to say), then why does Paul speak out against it?

“I would also suggest that the term ‘deacon’ was used rather loosely in New Testament times. This terminology was not yet fixed in the First Century. (This is true also of the presbyterate and the episcopate.) So to say that women served as ‘deacons’ in the early Church is a bit misleading since the exact understanding of ‘ordination’ and the ‘diaconate’ had not yet been solidified. If you trace the development of the diaconate you will see that it is male only when referring to sacramental ordination. Also 1 Timothy 3:8-13 describes the qualifications of a deacon and he refers specifically to a ‘man’ fulfilling this role.

“So in the end, the New Testament is rather unclear about what a ‘deacon’ is (this is a part of later development), but it is very clear that women should not preach in Church.

“Having said that… My main point is that women’s ordination is clearly a break with Tradition. Whatever the role of women in the historical Church, it was never one of public, hierarchical ministry (or priesthood) until very recently, and then only in certain denominations. So when I hear about denominations that struggle with this issue, and they try to make room for differing opinions in the hope of greater Christian unity, I am left puzzled. By allowing women’s ordination, they actually take a step away from traditional, biblical Christian teaching and in the long run that does not unify Christians, it only separates us further.”
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It seems that there are only two paths for Protestants to take... One leads further and further away from Traditional Christian teaching; the other leads back to Rome. I have been engaged in more than one discussion similar to the one I mentioned above, and I am always lead to the same conclusion, that Protestantism (and Sola Scriptura, specifically) is a self-defeating proposition. The Protestant Revolt began with the intention of restoring Christianity to its roots. But the result has been the opposite. There seems to be no end to the heresies that can be derived from Protestantism.

Friday, August 5, 2011

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...
A Dictatorship of Sentimentalism - "I wonder if the dictatorship of relativism would be so comfortably entrenched within our society, were it not resting upon a bed of snuggly sentimentalism weaved through prosperity and mindless ingratitude."

The Good Samaritan Didn’t Use a Government Credit Card - "...our duty as people of faith is to advocate for just policies that advance human thriving. We believe this means advancing liberty and opportunity through a culture of free enterprise."
Obama administration approves no-cost birth control, including ‘morning after’ pill - "Pro-lifers are horrified at the announcement Monday that the Obama administration has approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to guarantee full health insurance coverage for birth control, including the so-called “morning-after” pill, under the Affordable Care Act."

Contraception mandate tramples religious freedom, US bishops say - "The U.S. bishops spoke out on August 1 against federal rules requiring nearly all new health plans, including those of most religious agencies, to cover all government-approved methods of contraception as well as surgical sterilization."

The Contraceptive Gateway to AIDS - "Statistics gathered over the past 20 years reveal a parallel between an increase in contraceptive drug use and an increase in HIV-1 infections in women. Several epidemiological studies over the same period also seem to demonstrate a link."
What Would Orwell Say? - "It’s a terrible spectacle — watching your own government lie, while claiming that it’s for the good of the citizenry."

Being a Christian Ain't What It Used to Be - "The Left couldn’t find the Christian jihadist that they have been searching for. So they invented him."
The Importance of the Eucharistic Prayer - "The simple fact is that while some people come to mass mainly for the homily, and others for communion, in reality we come fundamentally for the Eucharistic prayer."

What Every Catholic Needs to Know about witnessing your faith at work - "...our Lord has commanded each of his followers to share their faith with others, and this command doesn’t exclude our co-workers. We, therefore, must navigate the dangers of workplace evangelization in order to bring the saving message of Jesus Christ to those people whom God has placed in our lives."

If the Protestant canon were always true... - "...why wasn’t there an uproar when Augustine changed it?"

Catholic bloggers, this one's for you! - "Fellow Catholic bloggers: If you have ever thought of giving up your blog in frustration, there are some pretty important people who think you should keep going."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Quote of the Week

"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." (G. K. Chesterton)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Knock, knock. Who's there?...

Mormons (or Latter-Day Saints, as they prefer to be called) came knocking on my door a few weeks ago. I have always admired the courage and faith exhibited by these young missionaries. It takes a bold confidence to walk up to a stranger’s front door and try to convince him or her that your religion is true and that theirs is false. Obviously, I think these Mormon proselytizers are mistaken in their beliefs, but imagine if Catholics took the same initiative in seeking converts…

Now your average Catholic may never go door-to-door spreading the faith, but when Mormon missionaries (or others) come knocking to share their religious testimony, it is important that we take such opportunities to correct their doctrinal errors and lead them closer to Catholic Truth…or at least plant a seed that may flower in time. There are many good resources – tracts, pamphlets, CDs, booklets, etc. – that can be purchased or obtained for free and distributed to these door-to-door evangelizers in an effort to inform them of the truth of the Catholic faith. Many of these resources are designed not just for Mormons but for any non-Catholic inquirer seeking answers about Catholicism.

Unfortunately, compared to other Protestants, Mormons have an added obstacle to conversion. They have been taught that the Bible is not the only holy text containing God’s Word. They accept The Book of Mormon as another Testament from God. In any conversation with a Mormon this fallacy must be addressed. To that end, I have written a brief explanation of why the Book of Mormon is a false writing. This is not a thorough examination of the subject, but it may serve as a starting point for discussing the subject with a Mormon. Feel free to print and use the text below when approached by Mormon missionaries. If you don’t feel confident enough to discuss the issue further with your Mormon guests, then give them the web address of this blog. I would be happy to listen to and respond to any comments or questions they might have…

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The Truth about the Book of Mormon

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (commonly called Mormonism) is filled with sincere and honest people trying to live according to God’s will. They truly believe that Mormonism represents the true faith. If they are correct, if The Book of Mormon is really the Word of God (a New Testament of Jesus Christ), then certainly we owe it to God and to ourselves to adhere to its teachings and to accept it as Truth. If this is the case, then we should all be Mormons.

But if The Book of Mormon is not really the Word of God, then it is a mere fabrication, a farce, and we have no choice but to reject it. Indeed, the truth of the Mormon faith rests entirely on whether The Book of Mormon itself is true. Now, certainly there are many good lessons taught by the Latter Day Saints Church - traditional moral values, the importance of family, the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, to name a few. But these truths are mingled with other details that conflict with known historical facts, or with traditional Christian teaching. A brief examination will show us these errors are so blatant, that common sense forces us to reject the Book of Mormon without a second thought. Let us examine a few of these problematic details.

Facts Don’t Lie

The Book of Mormon supposedly tells a history spanning several centuries of a Jewish clan who arrived in the Americas around the time of the Babylonian Exile. They were led by God to build a ship and sail across the sea to the New World, sparing them from captivity in Babylon. Mormonism relies on the truth of this account as proof of its claim as an authentic faith tradition. In other words, if this event did not happen, Mormonism is false.

Here in America these Jewish exiles were to await the Good News of the coming of the Messiah. Numerous cities are described in The Book of Mormon which these Jews established in their new homeland. Details are given about geographical features such as the location of rivers and seas. We are told particulars about their culture, the crops they grew, the tools and weapons they made, the types of buildings they constructed, and their movements from one place to another across the land. One would expect that this information could be confirmed by archeologists. Such a vast and powerful civilization as described in the Book of Mormon would surely leave its mark on the land, especially considering that these events happened only a little more than 1600 years ago – not very long in historical terms. Surely some trace of their existence would be left behind.

However no such evidence has ever been found to support the Mormon account. Not only are there no remains of cities, roads, or buildings that match the descriptions given in The Book of Mormon, but even the geography appears fictitious. The rivers and seas described in its pages do not match anything we find in the Americas. Now Catholics (and other Christians) can take comfort in knowing that we do find evidence of civilizations as described in the Christian Bible. We find archeological support for King David, the city of Jericho, Moses and the Exodus, various wars and migrations, and many other biblical persons and events. Mormons cannot make such a claim about their “holy book.”

And It Gets Worse…

To further complicate the matter there are obvious historical inaccuracies in the description of the culture of these ancient Mormons. For instance, the Nephites and Lamanites (the two clans described in The Book of Mormon) are said to have used sail boats, magnetic compasses, wheeled vehicles, and fine linen; they used swords and employed advanced metallurgy including the refinement of steal; they made glass and had wine presses. But the truth is that none of these things were found in the New World before Europeans arrived centuries later. There is simply no historical evidence to support what The Book of Mormon claims on this matter. There is not a shred of evidence, not one artifact or relic, to verify the existence of these cultural advances in the Americas at this early date.

Also mentioned in The Book of Mormon are crops such as grapes, wheat, and barley, and domestic animals such as horses. But all of these things were brought over after Columbus’ discovery of America. These plants and animals were not native to America, and none of these things were brought here before 1492. Obviously the Book of Mormon is wrong.

Perhaps most telling of all is the genetic evidence against the existence of the Nephites and Lamanites themselves. According to Mormonism, Native Americans of today are descendants of these Jewish immigrants. And so, American “Indians” ought to provide a living testimony to the book of Mormon. If the book is true then there should be genetic evidence that would link Native Americans to the Jewish people. But this is simply not the case. There is not a single shred of DNA evidence to support this theory. Tests conducted on all of the various tribes of Native Americans show that they most closely resemble the people of Asia and the Far East, not the Jews of the Middle East.

Clearly, all of the facts point to one conclusion. The evidence is stacked solidly against The Book of Mormon. So why should we accept it as God’s Word? What could possibly persuade us to convert to the Mormon religion?

Hooked on a Feeling?

When Mormon missionaries ask us to read The Book of Mormon, they obviously do not suggest that we check the historical facts or research the truth of the text. As we have already seen, such research would only prove Mormonism false. Rather, the Mormon evangelist will say that we should read the Book of Mormon and search our souls - we should look for a “burning in the bosom” as a sign from the Holy Spirit. This feeling deep in our heart supposedly proves that this book is the very Word of God.

Now every Christian knows that God’s Word can certainly move us spiritually and produce a “burning in the bosom” as described by Mormons. But this cannot be the only proof necessary to demonstrate a book’s authenticity. As for the Bible, Christians can point to ample historical evidence to support its claims. And there are witnesses to the Bible’s authenticity dating all the way back to pre-Christian times. Thus history provides a witness to the Bible’s reliability.

On the other hand, The Book of Mormon has no such track record. There are no ancient manuscripts or outside sources to corroborate it or to verify the events described. Indeed, we are told that the only “ancient manuscript” that ever existed was “discovered” by Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith in the 1800s. He secretly dug it up in upstate New York, copied the words in his own hand, and then the original document was mysteriously “taken up to heaven” so that no scholar has ever examined or verified its existence. All we have left are copies of the text transcribed by Smith. No amount of “burning in the bosom” can erase the doubt that surrounds the history for Mormonism. It takes more than a “feeling” to explain away this empty hole in the Mormon narrative.

Interestingly, Mormons are not the only group to claim a “burning in the bosom” as the proof for their religion. Muslims also claim that the Koran is an inspired text for much the same reason. They claim that simply reading the Koran will lead one to faith in Allah and in his prophet Mohammed. Supposedly the reader will be moved to belief by the shear power of the “divinely-inspired” text. And just as Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon through mysterious and secretive revelation from God, so too did Mohammed produce the Koran out of thin air and began a religion that had no history before.

If Mormons wish us to believe in their religion based on this flimsy proof, then they must explain why their religion is more true than Islam. The two religions have the same basis in fact…which is to say, absolutely no basis whatsoever.

Trust in God’s Word

Christians and Mormons can agree to at least one thing: God is no liar. Our God is the God of Truth. From this brief examination we now know that Mormonism is obviously founded on falsehood. The history presented in The Book of Mormon is a complete and utter fiction. This cannot possibly be the religion of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! The real Church of Jesus Christ could not have been established on an historical fabrication.

We also realize that we cannot simply brush aside these falsehoods because we feel a strange “burning in our bosom” that tells us to do so. Such emotional reactions cannot erase the Truth. Indeed, we are fallen creatures who can easily be led astray when we give in to unchecked emotions. We must not throw reason out the window in favor of whims and fancies. But Mormonism asks us to do just that – to ignore the Truth and follow a false feeling or emotion.

But the good news is that, for Mormons, God’s grace is not far away. The Bible is also accepted by Latter Day Saints as God’s Word. And this book is not filled with the errors and inconsistencies that are found throughout The Book of Mormon. In the pages of the Bible we can find the true history of God’s people, a history that is not invented by a Nineteenth Century charlatan, but rather a true account of God’s love for His people as it was carefully recorded and passed down through the centuries. If we can meet our Mormon missionary friends on this common ground, after carefully demonstrating the falsehood of their Mormon text, we can show them the Truth of God’s Holy Word and point them toward a more perfect relationship with the God of Truth.