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Sunday, April 30, 2006

When love goes away..

.. then it makes sense that the ultimate fruits of love will also go away.

Not that it's easy -- my wife and I have three little boys, we're immigrants, no family support -- things can be very tough, especially for my wife. But love never is. Yet without love, where would we be?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Terri Schiavo all over again..

.. and this time it's the hospital that's making the decision to pull the plug after ten days (unless another medical institute takes over).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

One Rock Did It?

Not really. If you ever see an abandoned house with all its windows smashed, you can bet that most of them were smashed by multiple rocks, thrown by vandals who, after the first breakage, were encouraged by the continuing state of disrepair and, they assume, apathy. Amazingly, this truth is unbelievably... ignored. The line goes that if you give them an inch, they'll walk all over you, but people are getting lazy, as the article above says. I once asked a neighbor why he was painting his fence immediately after it was spray-painted by some vandals. His answer was that if he didn't, then they'll think that he doesn't mind.

Sometimes it's hard to square what Christ said on one hand about offering the other cheek if slapped on one, and what he said to the temple guard who struck him: " If I have spoken evil, tell me what evil I have said. But if not, why do you hit me?" (John 18:22-23) But perhaps it isn't all as confusing as that. In the first case, the Lord challenges the natural tendency to render an eye for an eye, i.e., vengeance. In the latter case, the Lord challenges the guard's violence because injustice cannot be tolerated passively. As an aside, check this thread for an interesting discussion about (neo-?) pacifism (or passiveness) and justice, applied to the oppression of Christians and the question of self-defense.

A number of people who disbelieve the gnostic nonsense of Dan Brown's Da Viinci Code are nonetheless against actively engaging the lies in the book or movie. They worry about how any reaction will appear to the world: unsportsmanlike? They worry that it makes a mountain out of a molehill. It is true that not even the very gates of hell will prevail against the Church, but it isn't just for our own welfare that we must speak out: it's for the young, the initiates whose faiths rest on untested foundations. It is also for our very detractors who may not even be aware that they rest their cases on shaky scholarship and false logic. We do not do them any service when we neglect to correct their behavior which will ultimately bring themselves to ruin. They break a window, no reaction. They break another window, no reaction. Hey, this is fun! Let's burn the house down! They will either burn themselves up or will face other consequences of their actions.

Dan Brown and his ilk are breaking the windows of the Church. They are slandering our family and, most of all, our Lord. Christians, wake up! Yesterday, they spat at him and bring false witnesses against him. Today they crown him with thorns. Tomorrow they crucify him. Turn the other cheek? Absolutely: don't sling their mud, don't trade insults with them, don't try to out-lie them. Instead, ask them calmly: "if our Christ is false, where's your evidence? And if not, then why do you lie?"

Friday, April 21, 2006

Breaking the Da Vinci Fever

It was almost amusing when I first saw the movie posters of the Da Vinci Code recently: those grim faces, but most of all, the subtitle, "Seek the Truth." Unfortunately, people can be very lazy. They might watch the movie and, in search of the truth, read the novel. End of research. Amusing but deadly. Imagine trying to pass a course on history by reading just one source and watching its movie adaptation. Or trying to publish a paper on a peer-reviewed conference or journal with only two or three references, furthermore omitting a section reviewing related literature and related works by other people. That would easily be dismissed for lack of evidence. Amazingly, Dan Brown's fiction has been passing the standards of most people these days with exactly the same lack of evidence and, worse, despite contrary evidence. For example, what DVC claims about the Priory of Sion is false, as admitted to by the folks who "discovered" its secret documents. It is also amazing that there is so much evidence to discredit DVC yet people are still buying into its claims.

George Weigel is right: there is an opportunity here, a teaching moment. Like every opportunity, we have to seize it. In a world where mass media lets people pass lies off as truth, let's face it: truth is often thought to be in the voice of the loudest. To the young and uninitiated, silence means assent. We cannot afford to give the world a reason to believe that we subscribe to the false claims of DVC.

Mere months after the release of DVC the novel, I came across three high school students on the train. Two were insisting to the third that the latter's Christian beliefs were hogwash in the light of DVC's damning claims. The cornered student valiantly stood his ground, amused and smiling but not allowing himself to be baited. How many such victims of DVC indoctrination are so steadfast? At that age (perhaps 14), I'm not sure if I would have had the resources, inclination or the time to verify their claims. Pity our youth with similar limitations facing similar challenges to their adolescent faith. Which is exactly why we must speak out. It is really not for ourselves that we must speak out in truth. It's for those who have not come to it yet, and, without prophets of truth to rely on, may never do so.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Crisis Magazine e-Letter: Does The Gospel of Judas Undermine Christianity?

April 13, 2006

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Dear Friend,

It just keeps coming... one after another.

First, there was The Da Vinci Code, which sent historians and art experts into fits over its countless errors and distortions.

Then there was a lawsuit in Italy and a feature-length documentary... both of which argue that Jesus never actually existed (if you read my last e-Letter, you know how to respond to that claim).

And now, we have the Gospel of Judas... which is being promoted by National Geographic as a bombshell that could destroy the very foundations of Christianity.

The press -- going for sensationalism over fact -- has jumped on the story, intoning solemnly that new light has been shed on the life of Jesus, and that the traditional biblical accounts have been thrown into question.

In reality, this latest episode says less about Christianity than it does about the media's profound ignorance of ancient history.

But just in case you missed all the press hoopla, let me give you some background...

In 1978, an Egyptian farmer unearthed a box that contained an ancient manuscript. He sold the document to a dealer in Cairo, who then tried to sell it himself.

Finding no buyers, he put the piece in a safe deposit box in a New York bank... where it sat for 16 years. Finally, a buyer purchased the manuscript in 2000, and in 2001, National Geographic teamed up with a Swiss antiquities foundation to restore and translate the ancient text.

In it, they discovered several apocryphal documents... the Apocalypse of James, the Epistle of Peter to Philip, fragments of another ancient book (temporarily titled the Book of Allogenes), and the Gospel of Judas.

The text was carbon dated to between the third and fourth century, though the gospel itself was penned in the mid-second century.

But here's where it really gets interesting...

You see, the Gospel of Judas tells a different story of Christ's relationship to the man who would betray Him. In fact, according to the newly found gospel, Judas wasn't His betrayer at all.

Apparently, Jesus (who came from “the immortal realm of Barbelo”) took Judas aside at one point and asked the apostle to turn Him in... so that through the crucifixion, He could be freed from His body.

So Judas wasn't such a bad guy after all. And traditional Christianity may have gotten the whole religion thing wrong from the start.

At least that's what most of the media coverage has been saying.

Here's where a drop of historical knowledge would do wonders for secular journalists. In point of fact, the Gospel of Judas is hardly a theological earthquake. After all, the Gospel of Judas is one of the Gnostic gospels. There are many others... the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of the Egyptians, etc. And with the possible (and partial) exception of Thomas, they offer no reliable historical insight into the actual events of the first century.

You see, Gnosticism was a parasite theology. It latched onto whatever religion was available and rewrote the host's scriptures and doctrines to fit its own unique beliefs. Often, the villains of the original religion were turned into the heroes of the Gnostic variation (and so we often see Cain lionized in Gnostic texts). Furthermore, Christianity was not its only victim... there were also Gnostic forms of Judaism and paganism as well.

One of the primary tenets of Gnosticism is salvation through hidden or secret knowledge -- the name itself comes from “gnosis,” the Greek term for knowledge. And so, not surprisingly, the Gospel of Judas begins with a nod in this direction:

“The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover.”

What follows is a relatively short summary of Gnostic belief, dressed up in Christian garb: There's a spark of the divine trapped within the prisons of our bodies... Through knowledge, we'll learn to free ourselves... etc.

Of course, like any good Gnostic, the Jesus of the rediscovered gospel shares his knowledge with Judas, even going so far as to arrange His own arrest.

He tells Judas:

“'But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.... Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star.' Judas lifted up his eyes and saw the luminous cloud, and he entered it.”

While the Gospel of Judas sheds no light on historical Christianity, it is nevertheless a significant find. After all, it's a pretty big deal when an ancient work long considered lost is rediscovered. And the document does flesh out the heavenly pantheon of second-century Gnosticism.

But that's as far as it goes. In the end, this is just another Gnostic gospel... interesting if you're a scholar of Gnosticism, but of little value to anyone else. As for it's historical reliability, St. Irenaeus said it best in A.D. 180:

“[The Gnostics] declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas” (Adversus haereses 1:31:1).

Before I sign off, I want to make a quick recommendation. You may have heard about the five-part miniseries, “God or the Girl,” to be shown on the Arts & Entertainment channel. If not, the program -- a documentary, really -- follows the ups and downs of four young men who are considering the Catholic priesthood.

I had the opportunity to watch a preview of the show, and despite the unfortunate title, it's absolutely wonderful. While presented in the style of a reality TV program, it has none of the lurid sensationalism of the genre. Quite the contrary. This is a thoroughly respectful look at the trials young men experience when considering a vocation to the priesthood.

The show premiers on Easter night, but there will be a showing of all five episodes on April 23. Here's the Web site, complete with the program's schedule:

http://www.godorthegirl.com/index.php/

We've rightly criticized the Arts & Entertainment channel in the past, when they've aired their tiresome “debunking the Bible” shows. So let's now give them full credit for putting together a powerful and emotionally moving testament to Catholic youth and the priesthood.

The best way to thank them (and ensure future programs of this quality) is to watch. Don't worry, it won't be difficult. This is an immensely enjoyable show and I give it my highest recommendation.

Have a blessed Triduum,

Brian

*** HOW TO FIND REAL HAPPINESS BY IGNORING THE SELF-HELP BOOKS ***

What if everything you've been told about happiness is wrong? The self-help movement has turned the subject into a billion-dollar industry.

And yet, those who follow the advice of the feel-good gurus will actually be farther from real happiness than they were before.

Get the facts here:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/truth.htm
(Cut and paste into your web browser if the link doesn't work.)

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To subscribe to the FREE CRISIS Magazine e-Letter, and get the latest news, views, and responses to current issues, send an e-mail to e-letter@crisismagazine.com and write "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.

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To learn more about CRISIS Magazine, visit http://www.crisismagazine.com/subscribe.htm

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Despair of Judas

Commentary of the day :

Saint Catherine of Sienna (1347-1380), Dominican Tertiary, Doctor of the Church, Co-patroness of Europe
Dialogue, 37

[“Judas… began to regret his action deeply. He took the thirty pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders and said, ‘I did wrong to deliver up an innocent man!’ They retorted: ‘What is that to us? It is your affair!’ So Judas flung the money into the temple and left. He went off and hanged himself.” (Mt 27:3-5)

God said to Saint Catherine:] In this world and in the other, the unforgivable sin is that of the person who, despising my mercy, did not want to be forgiven. That is why I consider it to be the most serious, and that is why Judas’ despair made me sadder and was more painful for my son than his betrayal. Thus, people will be condemned for the false judgment that makes them believe their sin is greater than my mercy… They are condemned for their injustice when they weep over their lot more than over how they have offended me.

For that is when they are unjust. They do not give me what belongs to me, and they do not give themselves what belongs to them. To me, love is owed, sorrow over one’s fault and contrition; they must offer these to me because of their offenses, but they do the opposite. They only have love and compassion for themselves, since they only know how to lament over the punishment that awaits them. So you see that they are committing an injustice, and that is why they find themselves doubly punished for having despised my mercy.

First Reading: Isaiah 50,4-9
Psalms: Psalms 69(68),8-10.21-23.31.33-34
Gospel: Matthew 26,14-25

Commentary courtesy of DailyGospel.org, for Wednesday, April 12, 2006. Readings are from the Catholic liturgical calendar, links via the New American Bible online via the USCCB.

On Lutheran Objections: Bibliolatry vs. Ecclesiolatry?

Pardon the invented word "ecclesiolatry", but the idea was brought up by Lito, a Lutheran commenting on what was said by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, a former Protestant who came home to the Catholic Church:

 

Firstly which "idolatry" do you rather have? Fr. Neuhaus said

For the ecclesial Christian, the act of faith in Christ and the act of faith in the Church are not two acts of faith but one. In an important sense, every Christian, even the most individualistic, is an ecclesial Christian, since no one knows the gospel except from the Church.

If Protestants (Lutherans/Reformed etc) idolize the Bible, then Fr. Neuhaus idolizes the RCC. This statement is significant, notice that he says that faith is an action and that faith in Christ is not enough, one must have faith in the Church and by Church he means RCC.

This is not what Fr. Neuhaus is saying at all. That quoted line comes not from his experience as a Catholic convert but as a cradle Lutheran long before his conversion. A few lines earlier he says "To be brought up a Lutheran, at least a Missouri Synod Lutheran, at least there and at least then, was to know oneself as an ecclesial Christian." He is not referring to his faith in Christ in the same way as his faith in the Church. When he says the latter, he means faith in Christ within or as a member of the Church. That is what he means by being an ecclesial Christian, i.e., a Christian in the Church, not one who worships the Church as deity.

Fr. Neuhaus is really stating something simple: one's faith in Christ brings one inside the Church. The Church is, after all, the household of God and the pillar and foundation of truth, and Christ is the truth. This might sound controversial, but it is so true that extra ecclesiam nulla salus: outside the Church, there is no salvation. Here I refer to the Church referred to in Scripture, the one bride of the Christ, the one body of Christ. A Protestant may be free to dither about a Catholic Church that is not the Roman Catholic Church, but I think it is perilous to suggest that there is no Church as such, that an individual relationship with Christ is all they need. The people of God is a people, not a loose group of strangers who individually have a relationship with Christ. In this sense of what the Church means, Fr. Neuhaus is absolutely correct: faith in Christ and having that faith within the context of being in the Church are not separate things. Christ makes of us a bride, a body, a flock, a household, a great nation of royal priests, a family of sons and daughters, co-heirs of the Kingdom. Christ makes of us a Church, his Church, which he took great pains to build on top of himself, the cornerstone, using the Apostles as pillars and foundation. When his Church is persecuted, he is persecuted. When his Church is unfaithful, he is wounded terribly. It must also be pointed out that, when all is said and done, at the Lord's triumph will be one bride of Christ, not several brides. It must also be pointed out that the Lutherans also proclaim their belief in the one, holy catholic and Apostolic Church in the Nicene Creed, a Church entered through one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

The real issue Lito is raising is not that there is any contradiction between faith in Christ and faith within the Church, but that the Roman Catholic Church is not that Church. That's a different issue altogether.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Lutheran friend is reading Scott and Kimberly Hahn

My friend Lito of extra nos (his blog) is reading Scott and Kimberly Hahn's "Rome Sweet Home," which is by now commonly cited by many Protestant converts to Catholicism as especially helpful. The conversion story taped from an interview by Scott has also been very popular. The audio from another venue can be found here, along with other audio resources of Scott and Kimberly. Scott was a presbyterian minister who found his way to the Catholic Church through a series of hard questions raised by others and himself about Protestant doctrines. Kimberly, a presbyterian minister's daughter and herself highly educated in a seminary, found her way in differently, but not long after. Her taped audio story is here. Their journey home took several years of study and prayers, and the book Lito is reviewing covers both their stories.

I'm sure Lito is discussing the book online to solicit comments about his take on the book, one of my favorites. Should you wish to contribute some input at his blog, please do so with all charity and respect. Lito is a good man and, while we have had disagreements (as a Lutheran and a Catholic would), his sincerity and devotion to Christ is unquestionable.

Saint Bernard: "You owe youre entire life to Christ Jesus"

Commentary of the day :

Saint Bernard (1091-1153), Cistercian monk and Doctor of the Church
Various sermons, no. 22, 5-6

You owe your entire life to Christ Jesus, since he gave his life for yours and he bore bitter torments so that you might not bear eternal torments… What would not seem sweet to you, when you have gathered together all your Lord’s bitterness in your heart? … As the heavens are high above the earth (Isa 55:9), so his life is high above our life, and yet it was given for our life. Just as nothingness cannot be compared with anything else, so our life is in no proportion to his…

When I will have consecrated to him all that I am, all that I can, it will be like a star compared to the sun, a drop of water compared to a river, a stone compared to a tower, a grain of sand compared to a mountain. I have nothing except two small, even very tiny things: my body and my soul, or rather one single small thing: my will. And I wouldn’t give it to him who came first with so much kindness? I who am such a small being to him who redeemed me entirely by giving himself entirely? Ot herwise, if I keep my will for myself, with what face, what eyes, what mind, what conscience would I go to find refuge in our God’s heart of mercy? Would I dare to break through the very strong rampart that guards Israel and cause not just a few drops but the whole tide of that blood to flow, that comes forth from the five parts of his body to pay for my redemption?

First Reading: Jeremiah 20,10-13
Psalms: Psalms 18,2-7
Gospel: John 10,31-42

Commentary courtesy of DailyGospel.org, for Friday, April 7, 2006. Readings are from the Catholic liturgical calendar, links via the New American Bible online via the USCCB.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Studying the effects of intercessory prayer..

.. just doesn't say anything about whether or not God exists, or what he's up to when the faithful intercede for the sick. But studies like these will nonetheless be used to make such conclusions. From a scientific standpoint, the study will always be flawed because there has never been nor will there ever be a guarantee that God will heal the sick within the time constraints set by the study. In fact, that sounds exactly like the sort of thing that Christ detested, this arrogant demand for a sign from God to prove himself. He owes us no such thing. Today's First Reading is quite apt for such people to consider, hopefully with a pinch of humility and open-mindedness:
 Book of Daniel 3,14-20.91-92.95. King Nebuchadnezzar questioned them: "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you will not serve my god, or worship the golden statue that I set up? Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made, whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe, and all the other musical instruments; otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God that can deliver you out of my hands?" Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, "There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up." Nebuchadnezzar's face became livid with utter rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than usual and had some of the strongest men in his army bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and cast them into the white-hot furnace. King Nebuchadnezzar rose in haste and asked his nobles, "Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?" "Assuredly, O king," they answered. "But," he replied, "I see four men unfettered and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God." Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
God is our Father. Does one conclude that the Father does not exist or is insignificant because he has not granted our every wish? No matter how well-intended the prayer might be, even for such an objectively good thing as healing, there are things that only God knows, such as whether or not such healing should be delayed if some greater good can come of that delay. It is fairly well-accepted that adversity and setbacks can offer painful but fruitful lessons. Who better to use that for our own benefit than God our Father? It is also well-documented, as I mentioned earlier, that God detests arrogance, and testing him with studies such as these is very arrogant indeed. This is our Heavenly Father we're talking about, not some djinn in a bottle.

Of course, from a scientific point of view, the study can be interesting, but only in so far as it might study the effects of optimism and a positive outlook. It just leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when people mistakenly conclude that this study is about the existence or responsiveness of God. Unfortunately, in an age of cynicism, that is the first thing that will come to mind for many people.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Problem with Embryonic Stem Cells

These are the hard questions that should be asked. Not because the answers are unknown, but because people are avoiding the questions and obscuring the answers. This is not a complex issue, but some people make it out to be so complex so that we should leave it up to "the experts" (TM). It's really simple: the science of DNA and embryology are clear that the embryo, from the moment of conception, is a unique human being. Forcibly destroying a human being for therapeutic purposes is wrong. It is so wrong that nature rebels against it: compared to years of success for adult stem cell therapy, embryonic stem cell therapy refuses to work.