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Thursday, March 29, 2007

From Sola Scriptura to the Catholic Church

Owen posts about a journey via Sola Scriptura to the Catholic Church. I'm not gloating, but simply pointing out that the Bible and Catholicism are not as contradictory as they seem for many. A Bible-believing Catholic is not a contradiction in terms either, nor is it contradictory to be Christ-centered and Catholic.

The Church as sacrament of unity and salvation

From the Office of Readings today:

  From the dogmatic constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council

See, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah... I will plant my law within them and inscribe it in their hearts. I will be their God and they shall be my people... All shall know me, from the least to the greatest, says the Lord. It was Christ who established this new covenant, the new testament in his blood, calling into being, from Jews and Gentiles, a people that was to form a unity, not in human fashion but in the Spirit, as the new people of God. Those who believe in Christ, reborn not of corruptible but of incorruptible seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are constituted in the fullness of time as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people God has made his own..., once no people but now the people of God.

This messianic people has Christ as its head: Christ who was given up for our sins and rose again for our justification; bearing now the name that is above every name, he reigns in glory in heaven. His people enjoy the dignity and freedom of the children of God, in whose hearts the Holy Spirit dwells as in a temple. They have as their law the new commandment of loving as Christ himself has loved us. They have as their goal the kingdom of God, begun on earth by God himself and destined to grow until it is also brought to perfection by him at the end of time, when Christ, our life, will appear, and creation itself will be freed from slavery to corruption and take on the freedom of the glory of God’s children.

This messianic people, then, though it does not in fact embrace all mankind and often seems to be a tiny flock, is yet the enduring source of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. It is established by Christ as a communion of life, of love and of truth; it is also used by him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent out into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

The Israel of old was already called the Church of God while it was on pilgrimage through the desert. So the new Israel, as it makes its way in this present age, seeking a city that is to come, a city that will remain, is also known as the Church of Christ, for he acquired it by his own blood, filled it with his Spirit, and equipped it with appropriate means to be a visible and social unity. God has called together the assembly of those who in faith look on Jesus, the author of salvation and the principle of unity and peace, and so has established the Church to be for each and all the visible sacrament of this unity which brings with it salvation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Judging the Roman Catholic Church

This is a brilliant and thought-provoking post at Open Book. Amy brings out two gems from Fr. Al Kimel (the Pontificator):

Adam, it is not just the poor worship. The poor worship has a cause, and the cause is ineffective, poor, or misleading catechesis. And, for me, still, this calls into question the proposition that “this is THE church”. If this is THE church, shouldn’t it do better at making Christians, out of both unchurched adults and little children?

The simple answer to your question is, yes. Yes, the Catholic Church should do better at making Christians, it should do better at evangelizing, it should do better at catechizing, it should do better at preaching the gospel, it should do better at worshipping God, it should do better in serving the poor and the oppressed, it should do better in every aspect of its life and ministry.

However, if the Church was doing better in all of these areas, or even just the one you have mentioned, would you be persuaded that the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, as she claims to be? Of course not! Because performance neither proves nor disproves the claims of the Catholic Church. Ironically, your objection to the Catholic Church—viz., her poor, even sinful performance—is grounded in a works-righteousness understanding of the gospel. You are demanding that the Catholic Church justify herself as the Body of Christ by her works! But the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ only by grace and election!

Are you willing to apply the same criterion of performance to individual believers, to yourself? Are you willing to prove your regeneration in the Spirit by your works, by how well you are living the Christian faith, by how effectively you are proclaiming the gospel in word and deed? Jim, are you not in fact judging the Catholic Church by a standard you would never apply to yourself? What would you say to the nonbeliever who declares that Christianity cannot be true because there are so many bad Christians?

But your criterion of performance also fails for other reasons. For one thing, you are judging the Catholic Church on the basis of her performance in one geographical area in one period of time. But she has no doubt performed better (whether it be at catechesis or evangelism or whatever) in other places and in other times. Why not judge the Catholic Church at her best? Why not judge the Catholic Church by her saints?

But would you be persuaded even then?

And this..

Jim, for 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and making disciples. How many saints must the Catholic Church produce to convince you? How many martyrs must lay down their lives? How many nations must she evangelize? How many churches must she build? How many baptisms must she administer? How many penitents must she absolve? How many Masses must she celebrate? How many religious orders must she establish? How many hospitals and schools must she found? How many hungry persons must she feed? How many homeless must she house? How many kings and despots must she confront in the name of Christ? And who stands today, pray tell me, more firmly and courageously against the culture of death, abortion, and sexual immorality than the Catholic Church?

If you insist on judging the Catholic Church by her works, then by all means do so, but do so across all categories of mission and ministry. Do not judge her just by your parish church in the year A.D. 2007 but judge her by her remarkable and glorious history that reaches back to the Apostles of Christ.

Yet are you truly in a position to judge her sanctity and sins, good works and failures? Why do you see only her weaknesses and not her strengths, her defeats and not her victories?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Running the race

In my conversations with Lito at extranos about his concerns regarding Catholics trying to buy their salvation with works (something which the Catholic Church does not teach but many misconstrue to be the case), I sometimes wonder what the point is in arguing about words. I recently read through Jimmy Akin's explanation of the term "justification" in Catholic teaching, and he reminds us that St. Paul exhorted his listeners "to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers" (2Tim. 2:14, RSV; cf. 1Tim. 6:4).

Lito is only being thorough when he wants me to articulate my attitude concerning justification and works. This morning at Mass I was comforted to find St. Paul in today's readings (Philippians 3:8 - 14) capturing my very Catholic perspective on that:

"All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I can assure you my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for is the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus."

Yes, it is Lent, and I can tell a Lutheran that I also wish to share in Christ's sufferings by training my flesh in self-denial. This is something that Christ called us to do. Am I trying therefore to buy my salvation with this self-denial? No. At the foot of the cross in the school of Christ's passion, I simply wish to live the Incarnation in my flesh. To be perfect, as God calls me to be, in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sin, Scrupulosity, Fear and Lov

Lito had posted in his blog about Sean Hannity and Fr. Tom Euteneuer, the latter having publicly contradicted the former's heterodox notions about contraception. Lito had latched on to Fr. Tom's later statement (in another venue) that he was compelled to try and correct Mr. Hannity by his duty as a pastor, that to fail to even try would jeopardize his salvation. Lito and I had been going back and forth about justification by works (and Catholics do not advocate that this is by works alone), so I felt that I had to respond in order to head that off. Then Lito asked about mortal and venial sin:

All sins from my understanding are mortal as I think Jesus taught - for example he says to the Pharisees "to look at a woman to lust after her" is already tantamount to adultery so we sin in our thoughts, in our words and in or actions too. Would you agree to this characterization of sin? For example we do not love God and neighbor constantly so we are sinning mortally everyday.

This was my response. Not that everything that follows is spot on -- I am often guilty of hastily writing a response, particularly when I'm way past my bedtime (and the bread has probably gone past simply cooling down -- it is probably soaking by now -- in the bread pan). But Mark Shea's quip that no thought of his, "no matter how stupid, should ever go unpublished," is forever etched in my mind, so I wish to post my response to Lito for posterity:

I think the Catholic theology on mortal and venial sin is more .. rigidly organized. To constantly ask the question "is this mortally sinful or is it venially sinful only?" is not really the right attitude to sinfulness, but some people do fall into that. I have been known to drive myself crazy with scrupulosity, particularly when I was still in college.

BTW Cardinal O'Connor gives a good homily on that.

For me, scrupulosity loses out with love and trust: God's love and my trust in God's love more than any fear of God's judgment. It took a while for me to get here though, and scrupulosity can still rear its ugly head from time to time...

But as to sinning mortally everyday.. let's just say that we would disappoint God daily if not for His grace which, from time to time, manages to spur us into love. When we are called to regular confession, Catholics are urged to consider two things: God's love and our contrition. Love is superior to fear, but fear is not without its place. The fear of the Lord is of wisdom. Love of the Lord is at the end. Fear brings about imperfect contrition. Love spurs us into perfect contrition, with the right motive being that we would want more than anything to please the Lord because we love him. Now for those who would worry about mortal and venial sins.. I guess at a tender age with an immature level of faith, one would go through that stage when the Law is a set of rules; before one moves into the Law being a life of freedom written in our hearts. For those, I guess it is important to reassure them that, so and so are not serious acts of unrighteousness and so should not elicit an exaggerated dread of having lost Heaven, something which can harm one's faith -- the notion of God picking you apart for every transgression, the minor as much as the major. At the same time, it is important to be able to bluntly (sometimes necessary) point out to those with calloused consciences that so and so are serious sins which cry to Heaven for justice and must be dealt with appropriately. To do otherwise would also be harmful to the faith -- the notion that God does not care for the oppressed, does not expect justice in our actions.

There will always be people for whom the difference between mortal and venial, serious and minor trespasses, are relevant. To fail to distinguish them could be harmful to such people as they are still growing in their faith and righteousness.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Guilt and Confession

Please read this latest e-letter from Karl Keating (to which I am subscribed):


Dear Friend of Catholic Answers:

That is what I imagine the average church's signboard could advertise, so few are those who go to confession any more. Like me, you probably go to confession regularly, but most Catholics go rarely or not at all.

This was confirmed in a newspaper article that appeared last week, so it must be true. The article was distributed by the Religion News Service, which said that "only 14 percent of Catholics go to confession yearly. ... Forty-two percent reported they never go to confession at all. ... Fifty years ago, penitents lined the aisles outside confessional booths on Saturday afternoons, waiting to admit their sins, recite the Act of Contrition, receive absolution from a priest, make their penance, and be forgiven."

Gone with the wind, that. What happened?

The article said that "sociologists and Catholic clergy list a number of reasons, including changing notions of sin, opposition to the Church's stance on birth control, widespread changes after the Second Vatican Council, ignorance about the sacrament, and busy lives."

Each of those, no doubt, has had something to do with our ending up with everybody going to Communion and almost nobody going to confession, but I think the real answer may be simpler than that. Let me tell you a true story.

Some years ago I was invited to dinner at the rectory of the most populous parish in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. When I knocked on the door, the housekeeper admitted me. It was evident at once that no one else was there. Had I shown up on the wrong night? Oh, no, said the housekeeper. All four priests were still in the church, hearing confessions.

On a Thursday night?

When the priests finally returned to the rectory, the pastor apologized for keeping me waiting. They had had fifty more penitents than usual for a Thursday. I remarked that Thursday evening seemed an odd time to have confessions. "Oh, we have confessions every evening," said the pastor--hundreds and hundreds of confessions each week.

I wondered how that could be possible. The pastor chuckled. He said that neighboring pastors asked the same thing--and they proffered answers. "Many of them say, 'Well, you're just getting our penitents because you have such convenient times for reconciliation,' but that's not so, you know. We can tell that these are our own people."

But why, I asked, were the four priests in this parish kept busy with confessions each evening, not to mention on Saturday afternoons, when in neighboring parishes only a handful of people showed up at the once-a-week slot for confessions?

"Easy," said the pastor. "It's so easy that other priests don't believe how we do it."

Okay, I said. What's the secret?

"From the pulpit we tell our people that they are sinners, that they know they are sinners, and that they need to go to confession. We tell them that God loves them and wants to forgive them. We tell them that we will be waiting for them in the confessionals each night and on Saturday afternoon. We tell them this often and always gently, and so they come to confession. Lots of them."

That's it? I asked. No fire and brimstone? No bribes, spiritual or otherwise? No threats?

"Not necessary," said the pastor. "If you tell people the truth that they already know in their hearts--that they are sinners and need forgiveness--they will respond to that." And so they did.

No matter what changes have occurred since Vatican II, no matter how ill-instructed today's Catholics may be, no matter how put off they may be by scandals or flat homilies, one thing has remained constant: human nature. People today commit the same sorts of sins that people committed fifty or a hundred or a thousand years ago, and those sins affect them as sins always have affected people. At least in this regard, there is nothing new under the sun.

The story I have told suggests why most parishes have few penitents: The fault is found not so much in the wider culture but in the narrow pulpit. When is the last time you heard a priest, even a good one, say clearly that those listening to him were sinners, knew they were sinners, and needed to go to confession--and that he would be waiting for them and would give them as much time as they needed?

Yes, I know of good priests who mention confession, but I can't remember the last time I heard that even one of them spoke about the sacrament the way it should be spoken about. And those are the good priests. What about priests who would rather not have Saturday afternoons so inconveniently interrupted, the ones who have never uttered the word "confession" from the pulpit, who think they are doing their parishioners a favor by not trying to burden them with guilt?

I have news for such priests: Their parishioners already are burdened with guilt. They struggle with guilt because each person over the age of reason is a sinner. That is something called a Brute Fact. What a pity that so many priests fail to understand what is so obvious to the people they preach to each week!

Until next time,



If you have a comment about anything appearing in this E-Letter, please do not hit your Reply button. Instead, go to Catholic Answers' discussion forums at http://forums.catholic.com, where you may post your comment in the forum dedicated to the E-Letter. You will find a thread devoted to this issue of the E-Letter. Feel free to add your comment in the form of a reply to that thread. *******************

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pope Benedict Releases Sacrament of Love

Today I received this email from CatholicCulture.org:

Pope Benedict XVI today released Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love), his apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist following up the work of the 2005 Synod of Bishops. What this important document covers can be roughly outlined by the titles of its three main parts:

  1. The Eucharist, A Mystery to Be Believed
  2. The Eucharist, A Mystery to Be Celebrated
  3. The Eucharist, A Mystery to Be Lived

The document is available on CatholicCulture.org: Sacramentum Caritatis—Sacrament of Love.

Love into action

From the Daily Gospel, I found this gem from St. Cyprian concerning "love into action", as a good commentary of today's Gospel reading from Matthew 5:17-19.

Saint Cyprian (about 200-258), bishop of Carthage and martyr
Treatise on jealousy and envy, 12-13

The fulfilment of the Law: love into action

To put on the name of Christ, and not to go in the way of Christ, what else is it but a mockery of the divine name, but a desertion of the way of salvation; since He Himself teaches and says that he shall come unto life who keeps His commandments (Mt 19,17), and that he is wise who hears and does His words (Mt 7,24); that he, moreover, is called the greatest doctor in the kingdom of heaven who thus does and teaches; that, then, will be of advantage to the preacher what has been well and usefully preached, if what is uttered by his mouth is fulfilled by deeds following?

But what did the Lord more frequently instil into His disciples, what did He more charge to be guarded and observed among His saving counsels and heavenly precepts, than that with the same love wherewith He Himself loved the disciples, we also should love one another? And in what manner does he keep either the peace or the love of the Lord, who, when jealousy intrudes, can neither be peaceable nor loving? Thus also the Apostle Paul, when he was urging the merits of peace and charity, and when he was strongly asserting and teaching that neither faith nor alms, nor even the passion itself of the confessor and the martyr, would avail him, unless he kept the requirements of charity entire and inviolate (1Cor 13,1-3).

It would be easy to think that the Lord speaks to a separate group of people, i.e., unbelievers, when he warns of wrongdoing, e.g., "whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven." It is easy for us to think that our baptism makes us privileged members who can do no wrong. Not so. Being privileged members, much more is required of us. Our baptism gives us the means of sanctifying the world through our witness in deeds and words. In this generation, as much as it had ever been, the world needs a pure witness of charity/love, so that the world might believe that God the Father sent the Son who brings the gift of our salvation. Being recipients of this gift ourselves, we must share this gift with the whole world. To do otherwise would be to turn our backs on those who desperately seek satisfaction in the wrong places, whereas their hearts will only find joy when they rest in the Lord.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I sound almost like a Protestant?

At least that's what Lito says over at his blog in the comment box for this post on Orthodox developments. My response is by pointing out what not a few people have said, including scholar Prof. Scott Hahn and I think Cardinal Dulles: that 99% of what Protestants and Catholics believe are compatible. Take for instance the name of Lito's blog: "extra nos" or "outside of us". To Protestants, this may seem to be a notion that trumps and baffles Catholics, but it doesn't. I learned this from Dominicans, La Sallians, Jesuits, Redemptorists, Opus Dei priests and numeraries, not to mention lay authors and speakers. What Protestants fear about the Catholic faith may be well founded among the lapsed Catholics, even lapsed Catholic teachers and leaders, particularly in the 15th and 16th century, and quite a few in the "Spirit of Vatican II" generation, but not quite in Catholic dogma, and never as a whole applicable to every single Catholic.

Take for example the joint Lutheran-Catholic declaration on justification, very succintly presented by Cardinal Dulles in this article, which points out (jointly by the two bodies):

"Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works."

You know, 99% is a pretty good number. It isn't 100%, but it sure is a heck closer to 100% than one might have expected. Syntax and semantic nuances aside, Christendom is not in such bad shape. After all, the Lord himself has prayed for our unity, and we are enlivened by the same Holy Spirit of unity. It is only that we must continue to give assent to that unity and allow the Holy Spirit to bring it about, not just for our sake, "that they also may be in us," but just as importantly, "that the world may believe that you sent me." Get that? The Lord said in John 17,

  1. "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
  2. so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
  3. that they also may be in us,
  4. that the world may believe that you sent me.

So just how important is visible unity? What do you think?