Sunday, March 31, 2013

We Believe in the Resurrection of the Body

The New Jerusalem by Nicolas Bataille
The New Jerusalem by Nicolas Bataille (1373-1387)
Some time ago, my lay Dominican chapter president asked me to prepare a study "on the Resurrection" for our March meeting. That meeting was Palm Sunday. The study went well, I thought, but it occurred to me that maybe others would be interested in it.  So here are my study notes, slightly edited.

I asked chapter members to find and bring a favored Scripture passage on the Resurrection. Maybe you can think of one that you like now.

What do we mean by Resurrection?
I think when most of us think about Easter, we think about the Resurrection of Christ. It is after all the historical event that we are remembering. Most of the chapter members, as I expected, shared passages about this. One that I liked in particular focused on Mary Magdalene, whom we call "The Apostle to the Apostles" because she shared the Good News with the Apostles. She is also co-patroness with Our Lady of the Dominican Order, for this reason.

So yes, absolutely when we speak of the Resurrection, the first and most natural thing we think of is the Resurrection of Christ. It is a good thing for us to remember, but despite how awesome and amazing the event is itself, what is even more amazing is what it means for us.

READ 1 Cor 15:1-4; 15:12-22

Then also:

I think sometimes we can get caught up in the recounting of the story of the Passion and Death of Christ, that it becomes more of a story about someone else, or maybe we personalize the story, so that we put ourselves in the feet of the Apostles, imagining what it must have been like for them. The sadness, the fear, the disappointment, the guilt--and then the elation of Easter, that Christ is not dead; he is raised from the dead. Again, we are overjoyed at his Resurrection--what a relief! He's not dead; he is risen!

This is all very good, but it is just a nice story if we stop there, if we do not go on to consider what it means for us. The significance of Christ's Resurrection lies precisely in that by his Resurrection, his conquering death and hell, we too can take part in it. Our Christian hope is in this--the resurrection of our own bodies.

But what does this mean? It is interesting how this fundamental aspect of the Christian faith is so often obscured and, in a sense, minimized, while it is actually the core, the kernel, the essence of the Gospel. It comes towards the end of most of the creeds, and it is easy to just rattle it off without really thinking about it. So in this study, I thought it could be helpful to focus on this aspect of what we mean when we say "the resurrection," in particular, what is referred to as "the general resurrection," meaning that which will occur for all people (hence "general") at the end of the world.


Read Catechism 988-1004

Read 1015-1019 (Follows)
1015 "The flesh is the hinge of salvation" (Tertullian, De res. 8, 2:PL 2, 852). We believe in God who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh.

1016 By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. Just as Christ is risen and lives for ever, so all of us will rise at the last day.

1017 "We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess" (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a "spiritual body" (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44).

1018 As a consequence of original sin, man must suffer "bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned" (GS § 18).

1019 Jesus, the Son of God, freely suffered death for us in complete and free submission to the will of God, his Father. By his death he has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all men.

This is the basic outline of our doctrine, but let's dig deeper, with the help of good ol' Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. If you recall, I recently drew from this book for a study on theological grades of certainty, so the bits in parentheses speak to that.

All the dead will rise again on the last day with their bodies. (De fide.)

Nearly all of the most ancient creeds specifically say "resurrection of the body" (or of the dead, which can only mean body). (I followed Ott's references to Denzinger to find that out.) Now let's go to the Scriptural references.

Jo 11:24 - Martha professes faith in the resurrection.
2 Macc 7:9-11 - Maccabee martyrs profess faith in it.
Dan 12:2-3
Is 25:8; 26:19

Jo 5:28-29; 6:39-40
Matt 22:29-32
Lu 20:37-38
Acts 24:15
And the passages already referenced above.

You can see this is one of the better attested teaching, and that is of course why it is considered de fide--as being directly revealed by God.

You may also want to read Summa, Supplement, Q75, a1.

Many of the Fathers wrote treatises on it, by way of apology and instruction of the faithful, some of them extensively: Pope St. Clement I, St. Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Tatian, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Hippolytus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ephraem, St. Basil, St. Epiphanius, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, St. Peter Chrysologus, and of course St. Augustine

The dead will rise again with the same bodies as they had on earth. (De fide.)

This is a slightly more challenging proposition because it raises a number of interesting difficulties. Let's dig into it a bit more. First, let's establish it is de fide.

Job 19:25-27 - this passage is now disputed with reference to the original languages, which St. Thomas did not have access to. At best, it seems the meaning attesting to the "this same body" aspect is less clear, although it can still be seen.
2 Macc 7:11 - "these [tongue and hands]" will be received again
1 Cor 15:35-58 - this passage can be difficult, but St. Thomas helps tease the meaning apart. Note "What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies." This is the basic argument for understanding that it is this body, and not some other. We cannot rightly call it resurrection unless it is the bringing back to life of that which died, our bodies.
Phil 3:21 - change our lowly bodies, not give us a different one

Now from Denzinger, the parts that Ott refers us to.

Denzinger 429, The First Chapter of the Fourth Lateran Council (12th ecumenical council, 1215--against the Albigensians, Joachim, Waldensians, etc.) declares, "And finally the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, incarnate by the whole Trinity in common, conceived of Mary ever Virgin with the Holy Spirit cooperating, made true man, formed of a rational soul and human flesh, one Person in two natures, clearly pointed out the way of life. And although He according to divinity is immortal and impassible, the very same according to humanity was made passible and mortal, who, for the salvation of the human race, having suffered on the wood of the Cross and died, descended into hell, arose from the dead, and to render to each according to his works, to the wicked as well as to the elect, all of whom will rise with their bodies which they now bear, that they may receive according to their works, whether these works have been good or evil, the latter everlasting punishment with the devil, and the former everlasting glory with Christ."

D 16, the "Faith of Damasus" formula of the creed, Gaul c. 500: "...We believe that cleansed in his death and in his blood we are to be raised up by him on the last day in this body with which we now live…"

D 40, the Creed "Quicumque", a.k.a., the Athanasian Creed (some ascribe to St. Ambrose, also one "Anastasius"), which was used with authority in east and west, and in the liturgy, says, "…at his coming all men have to rise again with their bodies…"

D 287, Council of Toledo XI (675, against Priscillianists), The Creed of Faith, "In this example, therefore, of our Head we confess is accomplished (with true faith) the true resurrection of the body of all the dead. Neither do we believe that we shall rise in an ethereal or any other body (as some madly say) but in that in which we live and exist and move. When this example of His holy resurrection was finished, our same Lord and Savior returned by ascending to His paternal home, which in His divinity he had never left."

D 347, Pope St. Leo IX, in a letter of congratulations to Peter, the newly consecrated bishop of Antioch, in 1053, sharing the symbol of faith (the formula here was very much like the questions proposed to bishops being consecrated, "…I also believe in a true resurrection of this body, which now I bear, and in eternal life."

D 427, from a formulation of faith for recanting Waldensians, 1208, from the archbishop of Terraco, "We sincerely believe and with our mouth we confess the resurrection of this flesh which we bear and not of another."

D 464, 2nd Council of Lyons, 1274 (14th ecumenical council, concerning the union of the Greeks), from the profession of faith of Michael Paleaeologus: "The same most holy Roman Church firmly believes and firmly declares that nevertheless on the day of judgment 'all' men will be brought together with their bodies 'before the tribunal of Christ' 'to render an account' of their own deeds (Rom 14:10)."

D 531, Pope Benedict XII, edict Benedictus Deus, 1336, "…all men with their bodies…"

We see from these sources, including Scripture and ecumenical councils, that this doctrine is de fide, but we can do more to consider how it is so and what exactly the bodies will be like. For this, we turn again to St. Thomas, in the Summa Supplement, Q79ff. In it, you will see him referring back to many of the Scriptures above.

From these we better understand Some characteristics of resurrected bodies:

  • Incorruptible - they will not be subject to deformity, decay, or destruction.
  • Immortal - they will not die again.
  • Identical - they will have the same form and matter.
That they are incorruptible and immortal is, according to Thomas, due to two reasons. First, he explains that the principle of change in our bodies will be removed; this is due to the overall change in the state of the universe at this time--the new heaven and new earth will also no longer be subject to the same changing nature. This is equally true of the damned and the just.

The second relates to the restoration of original justice and the total subjugation of our bodily nature to our spiritual (also attested by St. Paul in the passage from 1 Corinthians 15 above--the "spiritual body," i.e., the body subject to the spiritual nature), so our immortal spiritual nature can prevent corruptible changes from happening to our bodies. This is only true of the just, who have received this grace of right ordering of our human nature.

As for identical matter, this presents some more interesting difficulties. It doesn't take a modern understanding of biology to find the difficulties in this teaching, and you can see even the ancients, both Greek and Jew, had trouble with it: Acts 17:18; 31-32; 26:5-8. And there is further evidence in the early Fathers' apologies and explanations around this subject as mentioned above.

St. Thomas first addresses the reasons why it must be the same, in Q79, a1: "For we cannot call it resurrection unless the soul return to the same body, since resurrection is a second rising, and the same thing rises that falls: wherefore resurrection regards the body which after death falls rather than the soul which after death lives. And consequently if it be not the same body which the soul resumes, it will not be a resurrection, but rather the assuming of a new body." Then also in a2: "... to maintain that he who rises again is not the selfsame man [199] is heretical [200], since it is contrary to the truth [201] of Scripture [202] which proclaims the resurrection [203]."

So it can help to ask, what does it mean to be identical? 
Q79, a3 - does it have to be the exact same matter in the exact same place ("the ashes")?  To answer this, Thomas gives us the analogy of identical matter of clock, toy, etc: "Now in artificial things, in order that the same artificial thing be remade, from the same matter [301], there is no need for the parts to be brought back to the same position. Neither therefore is it necessary [302] in man [303]." In other words, it doesn't matter if the same kind of matter is used to remake the various parts (heart, bone, ears), as long as the result is it is the same heart as pertains to it being my heart for me.

If we cast this is slightly more modern scientific words, we could rely on the concept of DNA. Our DNA forms, as it were, the schema for our bodies, the set of instructions that are used to give our bodies their particular identities. It isn't important that the exact matter in our body at any given time remain for us to retain our identities. We gain weight; we lose weight. Our hair and nails grow; our cells regenerate, and so on--the matter of our bodies is in constant flux. We no more have the same matter we had ten years ago, then we will in the resurrection, and yet we will have the same identical body.

Of course, St. Thomas didn't have the luxury of our modern scientific knowledge, and yet it is interesting how he uses different words that speak to the same realities. He speaks of "the truth of human nature," in terms of what will need remain for us to retain our identities. Q80, a3: "Whatever belongs to the integrity of human [118] nature [119] in those who take part in the resurrection [120] will rise again." And further in a4: What belongs to "the truth (essence/being) of human nature," which he says is, "what first belonged to the substance [346] of a man's body… and of that which was added secondly, thirdly, and so on, as much as is required to restore quantity."

He hits on the concept of DNA in Q80, a4: "all that was in the substance of the seed will rise again in this man who was begotten of this seed." St. Paul also speaks of a "bare kernel" and how God gives "to each of the seeds its own body."

He continues, "while certain parts are on the ebb and others are being restored to the same shape and position, all the parts flow back and forth as to their matter [391], but remain as to their species [392]; and nevertheless the selfsame man [393] remains." Again, it is not as if we could grasp the current matter in our bodies and say, "this is the matter I will have in the resurrection," but we can say, these arms, these eyes, this hair, in the sense that we would recognize them in ten years, and in the sense that if we had a DNA test, it would return positive.

The difference is that any defects in our DNA will be repaired, so our bodies will be the perfect body they should have been were it not for those defects and disorders. For the just, we will not be subject to either inordinate nor disordered desires.

In Q81, he addresses questions of age, size, male and female, animal functions. Our age will be the perfect age of maturity, meaning the point at which our body naturally achieves maturity, but before it begins to decay. Many speculate around 30 years or so. The same can be said for size/stature, except again, no defects or deformities will remain--we will have perfect health. Because being male or female is part of human nature and identity, we will retain our sex (and it will be rightly ordered), but as we will no longer have need of our animal functions, we will be "as the angels in heaven." Because we do not need to materially maintain our bodies nor to grow them, we won't need to eat. Because we will not need to propagate the species, we won't need to have sex. And so on.

For those who lack of matter for the resurrection of their bodies, St. Thomas says in Q80, a4: "substitution is made by Divine power so far as the perfection of quantity requires, as it does in those who die before the perfect age." This is also true if our matter were to be, for instance, shared in some way. For instance, we die, and our bodies feed other plants and animals that then are consumed by other humans--in such cases, God will make up for the insufficiency of matter.

Somewhat amusingly, Thomas also addresses the question of whether all of the matter that belonged to our bodies will rise again, in a5: "body of one who rises again will be very dense, or it will be immoderate in quantity." LOL. Just imaging our bodies if it were true that all the matter were resurrected. We'd be as dense as diamonds or as bloated as a blimp! He goes on, "the whole of what is in man will rise again, if we speak of the totality of the species which is dependent on quantity, shape, position and order of parts, but the whole will not rise again if we speak of the totality of matter." Again, the concept is akin to the idea of reconstructing the human body from DNA (as in the cloning in science fiction, if you will).

Our bodies will be our bodies (again about DNA), from Q81, a2: "At the resurrection human nature will be restored not only in the self-same species but also in the selfsame individual : and consequently we must observe in the resurrection what is requisite not only to the specific but also to the individual nature."

To put it briefly, it is not the exact same particular matter from any point in our lives (much less what was there when we died or remained thereafter) but the identity of our bodies, free from defect and disorder, and restored to perfect maturity, health, stature, and so on. What particular matter is used to form this body is for God to figure out, but it will be my body, this body, not some other and not some non-physical spiritual/ghostlike body. That's pretty awesome.

The bodies of the just will be remodeled and transfigured to the pattern of the Risen Christ. (Sent. certa.)

The qualities of the resurrected bodies of the just as outlined above:
- Perfect - completely whole, healthy, of optimum age, and rightly ordered

And also, as in Summa, Suplement, Q82-85 - the four qualities of beatified bodies
- Impassibility, the incapability of suffering
- Subtlety, spiritualized nature--not spirit but a spiritualized body--completely subject to the soul
- Agility, capability of the body to obey the soul with the greatest of ease and speed (near instantaneous)
- Clarity, brightness, the "glory" of our souls being seen in our bodies

These are drawn from Scriptural sources, either specific statements about our bodies, taken from the Transfiguration, and from that related about Christ's body after his resurrection. Our bodies will be conformed to his, like his, so we can derive these truths about our bodies based on what we are told about his.

The bodies of the godless will rise again in incorruption and immortality, but they will not be transfigured. (Sent. certa.)

The understanding of the quality of the bodies of the damned are taken also from Scripture, implied in what is said of them. St. Thomas deals with this topic also in Question 86 of the same part.

Q86, a1: ""The dead shall rise again incorruptible"; where a gloss [13] says: "The dead, i.e. sinners, or all the dead in general shall rise again incorruptible, i.e. without the loss of any limbs." Therefore the wicked [14] will rise again without their deformities."

a2: immortal and incorruptible: " It is written (Apocalypse 9:6): "In those days men shall seek death, and shall not find it, and they shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them."
Further, the damned will be punished with an everlasting punishment [78] both in soul [79] and body (Matthew 25:46): "These shall go into everlasting punishment [80]."

a3: not impassible: "Now on account of the former co-operation not only the soul [129] but also the body will be rewarded after the resurrection [130]. Therefore in like manner the bodies of the damned will be punished; which would not be the case were they impassible. Therefore they will be passible."

As noted already, these truths are at the very heart of the Christian faith. They are part and parcel of the Good News. Even that dealing with the damned is in accord with this being Good News, not because we, much less God, are spiteful and wishful that any should so perish--God forbid! Rather, it is in that part of God's perfection is perfect justice, and the only just recompense to a rejection of God's mercy is to be judged without the application of that mercy. We know that God does not desire that punishment, but in his justice, he allows for it. We know that God gives each person sufficient opportunity to take advantage of his mercy, so no one is thus condemned unjustly.

This is good news because we know that God is and remains perfectly just and that he rewards each of us according to what we have done. Even more, for those who throw themselves on God's mercy, they will be receive the additional grace of having their resurrected bodies glorified, transfigured to be like Christ to live with God forever.

"Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”  Rev 21:3-4

Friday, March 29, 2013

I Am Barabbas

During the Palm Sunday reading this year, more than any year I can recall, the figure of Barabbas stood out to me. I'm sure I've heard others make the connection, but you know how it is when you have a personal epiphany--it's like this blazing light that sears into your soul, all else temporarily drops away, and you can briefly see with some kind of unhindered clarity something that you didn't see before or maybe only saw less clearly.

This happened to me. Specifically the aspect of how Jesus quite literally took the place of Barabbas  I mean, we often speak in a general sense about how Christ took our place in the sacrifice of the Cross. But for some reason, it just struck me how literal it was in the case of Barabbas.
But all together they shouted out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” — Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder. — Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Pilate addressed them a third time, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”
With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed.
The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.
This man. A murderer. A leader in rebellion. The Incarnate Word took his place.

We are often tempted to think that Christ couldn't possibly forgive our sin. Our sin is too heinous. Or we keep doing it--how could he keep forgiving on us? But he does. He took the place of a rebellious murderer. And he wants us to let him take our place as well. He wants us to rely on his atonement, on his mercy.

Yes, I am Barabbas, and Christ really did take my place.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Diabolical Debate or Divine Dialectic

Instead of starting from "how well does what this person has to say align with what I already think?", we would be better to start from "what can I learn from what this person has to say?". This is the way of dialectic and fruitful dialogue. Sadly, too often I forget this and fall into the comfortable cage of my own preconceptions and prejudices.

Must try harder. Must remember to pray first.

Clear Thinking About Redefining Marriage

Given what is going on at the Supreme Court this week, it seems only fitting to add some commentary on that for my post of the day. I know, because so few people are, I thought I'd fill the much needed gap. ;)

First, I'll offer some past commentary I've written on the subject. As I guess many people have, I've been pondering this subject in some depth for many years now, dare I say, "wrestling" with it. I seem to recall my first attempt to gather my thoughts on paper about it was back in the summer of 97 or maybe 98, but I no longer have that. And before and after that initial attempt, I have had innumerable (it feels that way anyhow) discussions with people about it.

Note Well: I should mention that I have family members (yes plural) who self-identify as homosexual. I have also worked with people who have identified as homosexuals--people I consider friends, and I have neighbors currently who make no secret of their sexual orientation. This issue is not something I take lightly nor dismissively, nor is it based on some kind of prejudice, nor is it based on simply quoting biblical passages, nor is it even based on what the Catholic Church says on the matter. It is quite simply based on natural law--something we can reason to based on natural evidence and considerations.

I would love nothing more than to just go with the pop cultural flow on this topic--especially these days with the increasing normalization of irrational hate and bigotry on the side of advocates of gay marriage, but as someone who makes an effort to try my best to understand the truth of things and to live accordingly, I cannot simply ignore what seems to me to be the truth of things in this matter.

The earliest writing of mine that I can readily track down of my writing on the topic is this post back in 2006:
On the Good and "Right" of Marriage - This one is still a pretty good reflection of my thoughts today, although I think/hope they've been refined a bit and maybe I'm a little more aware now of my own prejudices than I was then.

Review: Sexual Authenticity - In 2009, I read this great book written by a former lesbian. This book, probably more than anything I've seen or read, helped me to better appreciate the struggles folks in those situations face (inasmuch as I can), as well as to recognize prejudices I still had, even despite my efforts to be open minded about the subject.

Marriage Must Be Strengthened, Not Redefined - Also written in 2009, it was an attempt at restating a holistic consideration of the matter.

Speaking of Abominations - A 2010 response to/rant against those opponents of homosexuality that mainly rely on prejudice and simple-minded quoting of biblical passages to act in bigotry towards homosexuals.

Who Cares Who Gets Married - A 2011 rant/response to the stupid statement, "who cares who gets married?" that is often used as a way to dismiss the issue entirely.

What If My Child Were Gay? - A 2012 reflection on this question, one that is often posed by advocates for homosexual unions as a way to try to guilt people into caving on the issue.

And that's it of the publicly, readily available writing I've done on the subject. The rest is lost to time or locked in walled gardens like Facebook, G+, and elsewhere, but this sampling is I think a pretty good reflection on most of the issues and concerns involved.

I would set all of this up against what any advocate for homosexual unions has to offer (specifically with regards to the desire to redefine marriage to include these unions). As time has progressed, I have watched as the argumentation on the other side of the discussion has devolved to the point that it is rare to have someone engage thoughtfully and reasonably. More common by far is the throwing of epithets, the false comparison to the racial civil rights movement (and concordant demonizing of opponents of redefining marriage), and essentially a simple dismissal and refusal to rationally engage in dialogue.

Allow me to summarize the arguments advanced in the cause of redefining marriage:
1) By far, the most common and usually unspoken argument is that it feels right. It feels good to feel openminded and so "tolerant" (this moniker itself being just another dishonest rhetorical device, implying as it does that to hold an opposing position is "intolerant" and made even more absurd by the extreme, real intolerance shown towards defenders of marriage).

It feels good to feel like you're in with the crowd--all the kids are doing it, after all. Nearly every show (quite disproportionate to reality) has a token homosexual, and usually they are portrayed as the most fun-loving, lovable, and good persons. Sadly, the homosexuals I've known do not match up with this presentation. At best, they are just regular folks with all the usual foibles.

The efforts in popular media have largely succeeded to normalize homosexuality, which is of course the intent, but more than that the goal is to make it seem as if that if you don't go along with it, you are bad, you are a bully, you are intolerant, you are a bigot, which again is ironically exactly what this sort of thing encourages in reverse.

And boy, how telling is it that as I write this, my wife is watching a Crossing Jordan in which a pregnant homosexual woman is killed and her baby ripped out by a hateful religious bigot. What utter, evil bullshit, and yet, that is the caricature pushed by the popular media on those who oppose redefining marriage.

2) It is progressive and youthful to advocate for redefining marriage. Again, the media portray opponents as old, ignorant, backwards, stuck in their ways. Only rural, uneducated, bible-thumping old folks could possibly object, and, as the argument goes, it's only a matter of time--these folks will die off and become increasingly irrelevant, just like the racists of yore.

Well guess what? I know plenty of young, educated, intelligent, charitable, and thoughtful folks who don't go in for redefining marriage. Further, and perhaps more importantly, this is ageism. Progress is no reason in itself. Youth is no measure of wisdom (usually quite the opposite).

3) "Why are you so obsessed with what people do in their bedrooms?" I got news for ya. We are not obsessed with that. This is a variation on the "Who cares who gets married?" question. See the above post--same answer applies here. The short answer is that we are not the ones who brought the subject up. Maybe the subject deserves to be brought up, but in doing so, it opens the door for people to debate and discuss it. It is the hot button topic of our time, and so it is normal that we are talking about it.

It is only our peculiar contemporary cultural insanity with regards to sexuality and marriage that has occasioned this being a significant social issue. Marriage, more than other things in our society, is an ancient and well-tested institution that pretty much has always in every culture meant to mean the union of man and woman in a stable (ideally life-long) relationship ordered towards procreation and raising of the children from the biological mother and father in said committed relationship.

It would be better to ask, why are advocates so obsessed with flaunting their sexuality in public? We really don't want to know about it--keep it in your bedrooms.

4) "Redefining marriage to include homosexual unions is the 'civil rights' issue of our day." This is simply an untenable, reprehensible co-opting of a still-emotionally charged issue as a means to bully advocates of traditional marriage into silence and submission. After all, who wants to be like a racist, right? Racists are almost universally agreed upon to be a pariah in our society, and rightly so.

There are two problems with this assertion.  First, there is a rather large burden of proof to make the case that redefining marriage is on the same level as the racial civil rights movement. (Hint: it's not possible to show this.) But more to the point, even granting that there are some superficial similarities (i.e., a minority group advocating for some perceived right), the similarity itself is actually no argument at all. Again, it is just a rhetorical tool, and a particularly vicious and dishonest one (not to mention the injustice it does to African Americans).

5) "I know so-and-so who had a very sad personal event (usually death or something healthcare related) that was made worse because of the legal status/not being married." This, again, is more of a rhetorical device than a valid argument. There are legal tools made to address such situations, and where they are still lacking, I think no right thinking person would oppose their creation (and not just for homosexuals but for any people in a loving relationship). Nobody wants people to suffer worse due to bureaucratic red tape.

There are two issues here as well. First, the problem can be fixed without redefining marriage. I think in terms of expediency and practicality, it may be hard to argue against that the redefinition of marriage is legally easier than addressing the problem in other ways--but that doesn't make that solution right. We can create a legal solution that is both correct and sufficient without redefining marriage.

Second, even marriage these days does not guarantee the elimination of bureaucratic red tape. I have been advised by multiple attorneys that I need to have a will in place, ideally also a living will, and a power of attorney--for my wife (and vice versa). This is needed due to the general breakdown of marriage in our society that has slowly eroded spousal privileges (because they have been abused and because marriage is so easily cast off these days). The point is, marriage itself doesn't fully address the bureaucratic red tape problem, so redefining it won't effectively solve this issue. We should have a simple way to designate any other person or persons to have the various rights, powers, and responsibilities over us and ours. Redefining marriage is not the best solution for that.

6) "I know so-and-so has had a hard time feeling accepted by society because of their self-identification as a homosexual." Again, no right thinking person would advocate against loving people regardless of their sexual orientation. Mistreating and abusing anyone due to their sexual orientation is wrong. Bigotry is wrong no matter what the cause.

But that does not mean we need to redefine marriage to solve this. Not being able to marry another homosexual person does not make homosexuals second class citizens. As above, this term "second class citizens" is another emotional bullying term. There is nothing (legally) stopping homosexuals from marrying a person of the opposite sex--that's what marriage is, a union of a man and a woman. Just because they don't want to marry a person of the opposite sex does not mean they are second class citizens.

There have always been individuals who don't want to marry because they value something else more highly (be it their personal freedom, not liking children, their religious vows of celibacy, their lack of interest in the opposite sex--whatever). The fact remains, they are completely free to marry a person of the opposite sex under law--they have that equal right, but they choose not to. The case is no different for a homosexual person. Merely wanting to live an alternative sexual lifestyle--no matter how deep seated one's sexual desires are--does not entitle one to redefine marriage to include that lifestyle.

Again, all right-thinking people should agree that mistreating someone based on their self-identifying as homosexual is wrong. But this does not automatically imply that we must all approve of that form of sexual activity or see all forms of sexual activities as equally healthful. I think that few people would suggest such a thing--that all forms of sexual activity are equally healthy--so where we differ then is on where we draw the line in terms of what is and is not healthy for a person. And no matter where we draw the line, I guarantee that those who engage in the forms of sexual activity we think unhealthy are going to feel that somehow we are not fully accepting of them and their choices.

But that's okay. There are plenty of people who don't approve of my choice of religion, my choice of food, and many of the choices I make in how I raise my kids. In fact, I know there are people who are more restrictive than I am in terms of what is acceptable sexual behavior. I'm okay with that--similarly, homosexuals that engage in homosexual activity need to learn to be comfortable with the fact that not everyone is going to approve of their behavior.

And lest anyone think I am missing the point that homosexual tendencies are not choices, let me assure you that I am not. I do not claim that they are definitely not biological. I do not claim that a person "chooses to be a homosexual." I do, however, make a distinction between biological and psychological dispositions and what we, as free human beings, choose to do with them. One mustn't hold people accountable for their predispositions; however, one can hold people accountable for actions.

This doesn't make those who disapprove of homosexual behavior bad or evil or inherently bigoted, nor does it mean that such people don't accept them as persons, as human beings with human dignity and all that entails. It certainly does not mean those people think they are entitled to mistreat homosexuals, but by the same coin, homosexuals need to deal with that disapproval of their behavior if they want to keep doing it. It's just a fact of life that people are not going to agree with nor approve of everything you choose to do.

Heck, I don't even approve of everything that I do. Does that mean I don't accept me as a person with human dignity? No, it surely does not mean that.

Still, I grant that homosexuals have received more than their fair share of mistreatment at the hands of bigots. And I fully agree that this mistreatment is wrong. I just want to be clear that this doesn't mean that everyone has to approve of homosexual sex to make up for others who have mistreated them, much less do we have to redefine marriage for that reason.

7) "Equal rights!" This is I think the strongest argument offered in favor of redefining marriage. Unfortunately, it is nowhere near as simple as most advocates for redefining marriage like to portray it. Our American culture (especially) is very into "rights" and "equality"--to an irrational extent. So most people who toss this one out, do so more out of this feel-good American sense of equality and some vague notion of "equal rights" than they do from having really thought it through.

Rights involve justice. Justice involves considering not just blanket "equality" but equality that is based in balance, in giving things their due. The lady justice holds scales, and not for no reason--because justice includes this notion of balance. Goods offered by the state, as they are to married people, are offered in relation to the perceived goods of marriage. Therefore, to make the case for homosexual unions being equal to heterosexual marriage, one would have to make the case that they, as a rule (i.e., as the norm), bring with them equal goods.

Chief Justice Roberts hit this nail on the head today:
I’m not sure that it’s right to view this as excluding a particular group. When the institution of marriage developed historically, people didn’t get around and say let’s have this institution, but let’s keep out homosexuals. The institution developed to serve purposes that, by their nature, didn’t include homosexual couples.
It is — yes, you can say that it serves some of the other interests where it makes sense to include them, but not all the interests. And it seems to me, your friend argues on the other side, if you have an institution that pursues additional interests, you don’t have to include everybody just because some other aspects of it can be applied to them.
Yes, it really does come down to not only two people in a loving, committed relationship but also 1) the  capacity to normally produce children and 2) the typical raising of those children in a stable relationship by the same man and woman who brought them into this world. Are there exceptions? Sure--heterosexual couples can not have children, and these days, it is possible for homosexual couples to procure children artificially. But these are the exceptions, not the norm. And the law should reflect that. This article by two distinguished professors of law and one of bioethics tackles the intrinsic relationship between marriage and procreation far better than I can. I highly recommend anyone who doubts this connection to read it.

Finally, redefining marriage has other, undesirable consequences:

Before getting into these, I should note, in response to some critiques of this article that focus on these three points exclusively, that the following consequences do not sum up the arguments against redefining marriage. The burden of proof to change such a time-tested human institution belongs with those wishing to change it, and so they must demonstrate a compelling state interest in making the change. As seen above, they have not yet done that. That there are also negative consequences are not the sum of the case against redefinition; these are but part of it. The primary argument against redefinition is simply that marriage is intrinsically a heterosexual union, as illuminated in the article referred to above.

I will add objections to these points and answers to them as they come up.

1) It perpetuates the false notion that children are not integrally tied up in marriage, that their good and their future is unaffected by marriage. We all know such a proposition to be plainly false, and yet many are ready to enshrine that false notion into law by redefining marriage thereby implicitly tossing the normal good of children by the wayside.

Objection 1) Marriage is not just/only about procreation and children as seen by the fact that infertile and aged couples can marry, and there is no test/guarantee that fertile couples will have children.

Reply to Objection 1) See the article referred to above. It illuminates the nature of marriage and how it is intrinsically connected to procreation and children. Part 2 of the article also add further clarification on the matter.

2) There are inadequate protections of conscience and freedom of religion for those who do not hold with redefining marriage to include other forms of unions. It is not far fetched to see how, without such protections in place, people could be forced to violate their consciences and/or the tenets of their religion by being forced to marry, participate in such marriages, and/or recognize them in ways that they find morally objectionable. We see this happening with other issues of conscience such as abortion today, and even without the redefinition of marriage, people have been caused to violate their consciences or lose their livelihood. As I said, it's not far fetched at all.

Objection 1) This is a red herring. These rights can be protected without regard to the definition of marriage.

Reply to Objection 1) In theory that is possibly true. However, this is a very real consequence, and it is happening already. Basically, once homosexual unions are recognized as legal marriages, it makes it far easier to bring suits against those who object to them on moral/conscience/religious grounds. If homosexual unions are not granted equal status in law, then there is a much weaker case.

3) By divorcing the meaning of marriage from the normal procreative aspect, it removes any defensible rationale against other forms of state-recognized unions, be they sexual or even asexual in nature. Sex itself, divorced of its procreative nature, has little meaning, much less meaning as far as the state is concerned. Put another way, it should really be irrelevant to the state what the sexual orientation of the people involved is (that's the essence of the equality argument, right?). So as far as recognizing a self-declared committed relationship as "marriage," there is no reason to prevent others--regardless of their sexual orientation or behavior--from declaring they they love each other and want to commit publicly and legally in a "marriage."

Objection 1) This is the slippery slope fallacy.

Reply to Objection 1) This is not a slippery slope fallacy--that fallacy requires that there be no demonstrable rationale or evidence for the connection/consequences identified. On the contrary, the consequences are not remote/extreme nor is this based in an appeal to fear. It is just a simple examination of the rationale advanced in favor of redefinition and the logical consequences of it. We are talking about making marriage have nothing to do intrinsically with sex or procreation--that is the logical consequence of the homosexual "marriage" rationale. Even proponents of redefinition recognize that these are the rational consequences of their position.

Now maybe some advocates find nothing wrong with these other forms of unions. And frankly, if marriage were simply about loving people declaring their love to the world and getting some nice legal benefits for it, I'd as a rule agree that there's nothing objectionable in granting the status to any such persons. By all means--any two or more adults who want to enter into such an arrangement should be allowed--if that's all marriage is. But that's just it--marriage is more than that. It's always been more than that. It is inexorably tied up with (heterosexual) sex and, consequently, children, as expounded above.

The redefinition of marriage to these other forms makes marriage nothing more than a convenient arrangement of two or more people for the sharing of goods, rights, and responsibilities in a manner that has traditionally been seen as part and parcel of marriage. It strips marriage of what is core to it--sexual complementarity that biologically unifies a man and a woman in the communion of a family. That complementarity is by its very nature intrinsically procreative, even if not every sexual act results in procreation, even if there are impediments to the possibility of procreation.

In Conclusion
If we, as a society, want to sap marriage of all the good it does society, then I think we have to ask ourselves, what is all this hullaballoo about? If all it is about is people getting public recognition for their loving feelings toward others, then the state should just get out of the marriage business altogether. There is no reason for it to be involved. Let people have all the public ceremonies they want for that purpose in whatever religion or lack of religion suits them and matches their worldview!

If redefining marriage is about making it easier for loving people to care for each other (or to facilitate the equitable division of goods in the dissolution of such relationships), then by all means, ensure those legal apparati are in place and equally accessible to all. Even marriages are aided by extra legal contracts around individual goods (pre-nuptials). I don't see any reason why such agreements would have to involve marriage. Just write up a contract to handle it. Done. We don't need to redefine marriage for that purpose. Also in this case, the state doesn't need to be involved in marriage to solve that problem.

But marriage is not just these things--they are ancillary to it. Marriage is about both stable loving commitment and intrinsically procreative and child/family-oriented unions. Those conditions only apply to heterosexual unions. I would go further to say that we/society/the state have a lot more work to do to promote and support healthy families as I have previously argued. This is not just about "denying" homosexuals the "right" to marry. It is about recognizing how poorly we are doing as a society in encouraging healthy marriages and families and not letting the state of things get even more confused and deteriorated by further undermining the institution of marriage.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Strengthened for Martyrdom

On Sunday at Holy Name in Fishtown, where my lay Dominican chapter meets monthly for prayer, mass, and community, the recently confirmed children from the parish were dressed in red robes and sitting in the first pews. I was seated behind them, and it occurred to me that they looked like so many young martyrs. I thought about how the sacrament of confirmation gives the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
When they lead you away and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say. But say whatever will be given to you at that hour. For it will not be you who are speaking but the holy Spirit. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. (Mk 13:11-13)
Of course, the Holy Spirit strengthens us to be witnesses. The Spirit strengthens us to be soldiers of Christ, but the Spirit also strengthens us for martyrdom.

Sadly, such a thing seems less far fetched these days than it did when I was growing up, and looking at these kids, it makes me wonder how far fetched it will be when they are my age. The increasing hostility in the West to Christianity, while not yet to the point of outright violent persecution and martyrdom, it certainly seems more likely as the governments increasingly chip away at religious freedom and the President arrogates more and more powers to himself, including that of arbitrarily killing American citizens in the name of the "fight against terror."

How long before Christianity gets classified as inimical to the State due to our unwillingness to bow to the zeitgeist? Perhaps we will need this strengthening for martyrdom before long. Perhaps if not us, our children. Let us pray and hold fast to that hope we have in Christ, sealed with the Spirit for the day of redemption.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Liebster Award – Helping Blog Communities to Grow and Thrive

Allow me to firstly thank Chris Weitzel over at for choosing me among his nominees for the "award" (or "task"). I realize that I am definitely "undersubscribed." I mean, come on, people! This blog is awesome! ;) ;) nudge nudge

What is the Liebster Award and how do you get one?

The Liebster Award was started some time ago by a German blogger who wanted to assist others in finding great but, under-subscribed to blogs.  The “award” nomination is granted from one blogger to another and is considered as “awarded” when the nominated blog completes a certain set of requirements.  The current requirements have evolved over time and are as follows:

  1. Post the Liebster award graphic on your site. (Google to find it if needed)
  2. Thank the blogger who nominated the blog for a Liebster Award and link back to their blog.
  3. The blogger then writes 11 facts about themselves so people who discover their blog through the Liebster post will learn more about them.
  4. In addition to posting 11 fun facts about themselves, nominated bloggers should also answer the 11 questions from the post of the person who nominated them.
  5. The nominated blogger will in turn, nominate 9 other blogs with 200 or less followers (We’re guessing for our nominees) for a Liebster award by posting a comment on their blog and linking back to the Liebster post.
  6. The nominated blogger will create 11 questions for their nominated blogs to answer in their Liebster post.

That’s It! (ha ha)

Essentially, The Liebster Award is a way to connect smaller blogs to one another.  It promotes the discovery of new blogs and also helps to increase traffic through link exchanges.  While not an “award” in the traditional sense of the word, it is a great way to build up communities and to help other small bloggers to get discovered.

11 Boring Facts About Ambrose

  1. I was born in Little Rock, AR and raised in Tulsa, OK. I have been called a hayseed because of my accent by a lifelong New Jerseyan, but I do not have an accent.
  2. Despite my immense powers, my beard eclipses me in fame.
  3. I am married to an immensely patient woman, and we have five fun and often annoying children. 
  4. I find thinking up facts about me somewhat tedious and self-indulgent, and the number of things to do for this "award" a tad much. But all for the greater good...
  5. I grew up a charismatic, evangelical Protestant, began my journey towards the Catholic Church as a freshman in university and completed it with my wife on Easter Vigil 2001.
  6. I am a huge fan of bacon, cheese, and spicy food. Who am I kidding; I just like food. And beer. And scotch. And sometimes wine. I brew my own beer and like to smoke meat.
  7. I joined the lay Dominicans in 2007 and made my final, permanent profession in the Order in 2011.
  8. Aaaagh.. four more??  Umm.. I like to shoot pool. I'm pretty good at it, as an amateur.
  9. I'm a big sci-fi nerd. Star Trek: TNG, DS9, Original, Farscape, Firefly, Babylon 5, BSG, Dr. Who, to name some of my favs. Been to a couple conventions, but I have yet to wear a uniform. On the other hand, I do have a kilt.
  10. My BA is in European History, with a late medieval focus, minor in humanities, but I make software for a living.
  11. I'm really a nice guy, somewhere deep down underneath my big, mean brusque exterior.
My Answers to Chris' Questions
  1. 42, but what is the question?
  2. Yeah, I'm not going to answer this one honestly. But ONE pretty dumb thing I did was TP the pastor's lawn (his daughter was in my class). What can I say, TPing our friends was a thing for a while then...
  3. My superpower is the ability to win any argument, if I want to. ;)
  4. I'll go with the obvious and say I'd want a good knife with me at all times while camping, maybe even a machete.
  5. I'll take scotch any day over basically any other alcoholic beverage, and right now, I'm pretty keen on Clynelish 14. Gee thanks, now I gotta go pour one. Boston Lager is my staple beer.
  6. I'll go with the horse-sized duck. If nothing else, it'd be delish to cook up later.
  7. Holy Grail. Hands down the best Monty Python.
  8. Thomism. Ha. There. Nice and big, so I don't have to pick among the many interesting things I've discovered about the Church.
  9. There are tricks for such things? In general, I have cultivated a calm demeanor to try to deal with my hot temper. Also: Prayer. Confession. The Eucharist. Not tricks; just grace..
  10. Yes. I watched Veggietales while I was still in high school, when (I think) it first came out. The kids have watched it some, too. I also liked the SNL spoof "Religtables" (for the name, mostly).
  11. I don't really care that much any more. The favorite vehicle I've owned (still own) is my 2004 Dodge Ram.
My Nominees
Hopefully none of them will be offended if I assume they may have fewer than 200 subscribers. They may have many more for all I know, but at least I don't know that they are super popular.
  1. Just Thomism -
  2. Countercultural Father - 
  3. Franciscan Focus - (I know Chris also nominated her.)
  4. Domine, da mihi hanc aquam - 
  5. Bilik Family - 
  6. Laudet Dominum -  
  7. Never Give Up -
  8. nowhere - 
  9. Musings of Todd - 
My Questions
Okay, now for the hardest part. Coming up with clever questions.. oh I give up on that. Here are questions, at least.
  1. Why do you blog?
  2. Did you grow up to be what you thought you wanted to grow up to be? What was it? How do you feel about your answer?
  3. What is your favorite sci fi series?
  4. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Feel free to say why.
  5. Did I guess right that you are "undersubscribed"?
  6. Do you think I should trim my beard? Why or why not?
  7. Are you happy with your parish life?
  8. What is the most quotable movie ever? Answer with a quote from that movie.
  9. How long did you spend on this nomination thingie? 
  10. Which is better: pecan pie, chocolate pie, or pumpkin pie? Discuss.
  11. What is the motto of the Order of Preachers?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Evolution in the Economy of Salvation

A half-baked thought occurred to me the other day. The old Catholic Encyclopedia treats of three types of evil, one of which it calls "metaphysical evil," which seems to largely correspond to the idea of survival of the fittest, or more broadly that the nature of the universe is that it seems to be in a struggle with itself.

We know that the universe and many things in it preceded us, and that, cosmically speaking, we are very late to the party. We know that this "metaphysical evil" is a fact of nature, and that it seems to have in very large part shaped the world that we came into, and that it continues to shape it. We were not brought into a peaceful utopia that was shattered as a result of original sin. The world was in turmoil before us.

Our primordial nature, while given to us with original justice, contained its right-ordered-ness by grace, not by our natural nature itself, which without God's grace shared in this metaphysical evil. Our primordial nature was, shaped by this world striving with itself, inclined also to this striving. But through that original gift of grace, we were enabled to subject that nature and order it properly, in subjection to God and to live truly freely in that state of original justice, with true freedom to choose to embrace that right ordering or to turn away from it, as Adam did, thereby destroying that state of original justice and, in the economy of salvation, calling for God's further action to restore it.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that God knew Adam's choice before he made it. He knew that he would forfeit that original gift of justice. He knew before the foundations of the cosmos this would happen. Indeed, he ordered the cosmos in such a way to allow for it to happen--precisely so that he could bless us with the greater gift of his Incarnation and Redemption through the Cross.

Thus it seems to me--and this is just my speculation on the matter, not any Catholic teaching per se that I am aware of--that this striving nature, this principle of the survival of the fittest, this mechanism of evolution was part and parcel of God's Providence that led to the need for his own Incarnation and Sacrifice as part of his plan. Thus it seems it can be said that evolution is part of the economy of salvation.

God's Mercy Drives Out Fear

The other morning during our team Friday brekky, it came up again that I and some others do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. One of the fellas present was raised Catholic, and someone asked him why he still eats meat. He said something like, "I gave all that stuff up a long time ago." Then he said something like, "Ambrose, maybe you can cover me?" At which my raised-Catholic-turned-atheist colleague laughed and muttered some kind of agreement.

"Noo.. sorry, it doesn't work that way, guys," I said.

Then my nominally-Catholic friend said, "my plan is to just wait until the end and then take care of things." To which my atheist colleague added, "yeah, that doesn't really make much sense that you can just do whatever and then make it all okay by confessing at the end."

"But it does make sense--that's what God's mercy is all about." I replied, which somehow ended the conversation. I think everyone wasn't ready for any kind of involved discussion on it. It was just Friday brekky at work after all.

In any case, it got me thinking about it. You know, it can seem like hell is a convenient religious stick to beat people into submission, but the problem with that idea is that through Christ's triumph on the Cross, hell has lost its sting. We do not rely on our own goodness, our own merits, to save us but rather Christ's. This is Good News--it ain't called that for no reason.

As our Holy Father recently said--God never tires of forgiving; it is we who tire of asking. It is also we who get it in our heads sometimes that it is we who save us, but it is not we--it is God. It doesn't matter if we wait until the last moment, God is still merciful. It doesn't matter if we have committed the worst of crimes, God is still merciful. God offers his grace to us freely, regardless of our own merits, because it is the infinite merits of Christ that justifies us, not our own goodness.

People need to get a handle on this, because as long as they think they are the ones who save themselves, they can and should live in fear--because such justification is impossible, even for the goodliest person. But once we realize that we are wholly dependent upon God for our justification, due to his infinite love and mercy, we no longer need to live in fear. God's mercy drives out fear.

Should we then live profligately and wait until the end? Hell no! Not just because it is a gamble--because we could die in our sin without a chance to repent. It is also because sin has consequences here and now. It binds us and makes us slaves, slaves to our flesh, slaves to our habits, slaves to the opinions of others, slaves to our own opinions of ourselves. It also has a tendency to hurt others in very real and serious ways.

No, those who are baptized have died to sin and been born into newness of life. It is a freedom, a freedom through that grace to begin our journey to reform our fallen selves, reliant upon his sanctifying grace freely offered in the Sacraments, to develop the virtues, to offer joyful penance, and to develop authentic human freedom. There is no fear here. We are assured of God's mercy. All we have to do is acknowledge our sins and ask for his mercy, availing ourselves of the infinite merit of Christ.

An interesting corollary is that this illustrates how Christianity is decidedly not just an ethical system dressed up in religious robes (nor an ethical system used by a priestly caste to control people). Without an understanding of God's mercy and why his infinite merit satisfies justice, one can make no sense of how the Christian ethical system is just. In fact, without God's infinite merit offered on our behalves, it would be terribly unjust. It is the Cross, or it is nonsense.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Riches and Poverty of the Church

Much has already been made of our new pope's obvious humility and closeness to the poor and needy. Everyone who knows him seems to confirm it; he already has a history of living it (e.g., eschewing the episcopal palace and living in a normal apartment, preparing his own meals, using public transportation, telling his people to stay in Argentina rather than coming to his incardination and now installation as pope, to give the money they would spend on the trip to the poor, visiting the poor and sick, washing their feet,  and so on), and he is making an effort to continue living it now that he is pope.

We have seen it in his choice of simple white cassock and black shoes when he was introduced; we presumed it in his choice of name; we have seen it in his choices to not take advantage of various papal niceties thus far, and I have no doubt that we will continue to see it.

Today he spoke on his choice of Francis, confirming that it is indeed after St. Francis of Assisi:

"Francis of Assisi...the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and guards creation... How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor."

One of the first things he did, the morning after being elected, was to visit the tomb of Pope St. Pius V, a Dominican pope, a reformer, and, interestingly enough, the pope who started the tradition of wearing a simple white cassock--which is the habit of the Dominicans.

St. Francis was also a reformer. Although he only became a deacon, he began a reform movement that spread like fire and continues to this day--an evangelical witness of poverty.

In those days, many people were losing faith because, in part, of the wealthy way in which many of the clergy, especially the high ranking clergy, lived. St. Dominic recognized this also, and this is in part why he enjoined the vow of poverty on his friars as well. It is a kind of evangelical asceticism, a closeness to the poor for the sake of the poor's evangelization.
Many, worldly minded people will appreciate Pope Francis' emphasis on the poor. Certainly Christ himself taught what is now called the preferential option for the poor (#57). And this is precisely what our Holy Father is living, showing, and teaching himself. The catch is, again, that this is all ultimately for an evangelical purpose. It is a way of leading people to Christ; it is not a simple humanitarian impulse.

Lest anyone think I am adding my own interpretation on this:
We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. ... When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness. ... When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord. ... My prayer for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, will grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ crucified. 
These are the Holy Father's own words, in his first papal homily. And they strongly echo the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth:
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ... For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. ... When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
Caring for the poor and needy is today, perhaps more than in any other age in human history, generally recognized to be a good, desirable thing. It is certainly common ground we can find with those who are on many other counts opposed to the Church. And that should give us some pause. 

It should give us pause because we cannot risk losing our faith, obscuring it, or minimizing it in order to collaborate with them. It should give us pause when they demand we check our faith at the door. It should give us pause when they try to tell us to whom we can and cannot minister. It should give us pause when they try to define what is and is not acceptable service to the needy. It should give us pause when they refuse to let us collaborate with them because they think they understand what is good for people better than we do. It should also give us pause when many members of our own religious orders become so conformed to the world's model of service to the poor that they become indistinguishable from any other humanitarian agency.

While caring for the poor and needy is a good, it is not an end. As Catholics, as Christians, we know that our end is God. We were made by him and for him. When Christ exhorts us to care for the poor, it is with an eschatological purpose. It is because each person bears the image of God that each person has such great dignity, rich or poor alike. Thus we truly are serving Christ by loving our neighbor. Christ was not just giving us a nice, religious way of saying that we should help the poor. No, he was explaining that it is a metaphysical reality that we are serving him by serving "the least of these"; it is truly, really a way of loving both God and our neighbor by the same action. It is a direct, not an indirect, way to love God, who is our end.

And it is because of this that when we separate our acts of charity from their theological end, treating them as ends in their own right, that "things go wrong" as the Holy Father put it. If we are not, by our care for the poor, professing Christ and him crucified, we are completely missing the point. We are lopsided and wrongheaded. We get confused and potentially lost; "we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness" because seeking an end other than God, no matter how noble in appearance, leads us away from God, turns us in on ourselves, and that is the very way of the devil, who seeks nothing more than to draw us away from God.

Authentic care for the poor demands a lively faith. It is this faith that keeps us well rounded in our care, because poverty is not limited to lack of material things. We can be physically poor--suffering some lack of physical wholeness or wellness. We can be socially poor--lacking friends and companionship. We can be poor in justice--having suffered wrong at the hands of others. We can be poor in freedom--captive, in prison (physically, psychologically, spiritually). We can be morally poor--messing up our lives, the lives of others, and our relationship with God. And most seriously, we can be spiritually poor--living a sterile life devoid of transcendence and relationship with God. 

And this is where I begin to get to the point. :) Some criticize the Church for all of our supposed lavish luxury. They see the grand architecture and amazing artwork, the fine ornamentation and the expensive vestments, and they claim that these riches are contrary to the Gospel and that they show a disdain for the poor. "If the Church really cared about the poor, it would sell all that crap and give it to the poor."

Ignoring the fact that Catholic charities far and away outstrip all global charities, both today and, even more so, throughout our long history, sentiments like these are an example of how "things go wrong." Because these things are themselves a ministry to the poor--especially the spiritually poor. The sole purpose of the Church is to draw us to God, and She uses every means at her disposal to do so--both the splendid riches of our most beautiful cathedrals and elaborate liturgies and the evangelical poverty of St. Francis, St. Dominic, and all those who profess such vows. She uses her intellectual riches to draw people through the mind, and She uses the corporal service to draw others through acts of simple kindness. She uses her supernatural riches of the prayers and merits of cloistered religious and hermits, the graces of the sacraments in every parish throughout the world, and the evangelical vigor of the apostolic orders and, yes, the laity as well. All that the Church is and does is ordered towards bringing people to Christ.

This of course does not mean that every action of every Catholic is so ordered; however, that is how it should be, and that is how the Church as both a supernatural and natural institution is ordered.

Pope Benedict XVI is known for his restoration of our liturgical riches. He taught us by his example that these are good means to enrich the spiritual poverty that has even become spread throughout the members of the Church. But he has also taught that "love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel." He on several occasions exhorted people to not waste vacations idly, but to spend them renewing our relationships with God and others, and he showed this in the way he spent his own. He untiringly gave us the riches of his intellectual efforts through books, apostolic letters, homilies, and audiences.

Pope Francis may have a different emphasis, one that focuses more on simplicity in practice and an evangelical poverty, according to his vows. That doesn't mean he is changing the Church, that he'll suddenly start divesting the Church of all material wealth, and it certainly does not mean he will lack a focus on orthodoxy (much less "change the Church's teaching" as if this were something a pope can do!). 

Benedict did not eschew tending to the needs of the poor; his emphasis was on a different kind of poverty, one that the world does not so well perceive. It seems that Francis will emphasize other kinds. We should be reluctant, however, to take comfort that his emphasis is better received by the world lest we be lulled into a spiritual laxity. Perhaps that is why our Holy Father came out so strongly in his first homily emphasizing what he did. The world is not the judge of the Church, what is good for people, nor what is good for a pope to be like or focus on; only God is that judge.

Together our Holy Fathers illustrate the holistic way in which the Church cares for the poor, always keeping in mind, word, and deed "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" but exemplifying it in different ways with different emphases according to their particular talents and callings.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Five Reasons You're Not an Authority on Catholicism

As a convert to Catholicism, I have always found it somewhat disconcerting when any old Joe seems to think that because he was raised Catholic that somehow makes him an authority on Catholicism or, at least, somehow gives him credentials to speak authoritatively on the Faith, or considers his own opinions on par with that of our bishops.

You see it all the time, on TV shows, in the news, in politicians, in parishes, and in the random folk you meet every day. What makes it worse is especially on TV/in the news, when people are interviewed and asked their opinion on X, just because "they are Catholic" and/or "they were raised Catholic." The problem is that so much misinformation gets perpetuated this way, chief among which is the false notion that Catholics are independently free to form their own opinions on matters of faith and morals (and still be considered faithful/in good standing as Catholics), much less that their opinions are equally valid or authoritative as authentically Catholic positions.

So for those people, I offer these five analogies that illustrate why you're not a Catholic authority.

1. Being an American or raised an American doesn't make you an expert on the Constitution, U.S. government in general, U.S. economics, U.S. foreign policy, and so on; you get the picture. Growing up as an American no more makes you an expert on the United States of America than growing up Catholic makes you an expert on the Church nor the Faith.

2. Watching lots of movies does not make you an expert on film or the film industry. You may grow up watching movies. You may have watched hundreds of them in your life. This doesn't mean you know one iota about what it takes to make a movie, how to be an actor, how to be a director, or any of the various other minutiae involved. Nope, watching a ton of movies doesn't make you an expert on film any more than being baptized, confirmed, and going to mass makes you an expert on Catholicism.

3. Working at a large corporation for your whole career does not make you an expert on that organization. You may even be a division or department manager by the end of your career. You may be an expert at your job, you may spend a ton of time with the people in your department and on your teams, but your perspective is of necessity limited. Unless you are the CEO, and probably even then, there will be plenty of aspects about the company that remain hidden from you. And in any case, your expertise and experience is in one area. The Catholic Church has over a billion members spread all over the world; the doctrine of the Catholic faith has been reasoned about and practiced over nearly two thousand years. I guarantee, you can't speak for all of that, no matter how involved you are in your parish, no matter how long you've been Catholic.

4. Being raised among musicians does not make you an authority on music; it doesn't even make you a musician. You may be surrounded by music your whole life; you may attend many musical events with your family, but if you don't apply yourself to learn music, then you are nothing approaching an authority on it. In the same way, you can be around other Catholics your whole life, go to plenty of Catholic events, but if you don't apply yourself to learn the Faith and practice it faithfully, you are nothing like an authority on Catholicism.

5. If you grow up in a house of immigrants who speak a different language and came from a different culture, you are no expert on that language or culture. You may be able to understand it and relate to it; you may even be able to hold up a decent conversation, but if you didn't apply yourself to learn and practice the language and culture, you certainly would be no authority. Just so, growing up in the Church, learning the language of liturgy, and experiencing some aspects of Catholic culture does not make you an authority on it.

In all these cases, to become an authority, there is much more to it than just being raised in or around it, spending lots of time with others in the same organization/culture, attending events, or picking up the language. All of that is great and good in itself--nothing wrong with it, but it just doesn't make you an authority.

To become an authority on the Church, one should study ecclesiology, Church history, and/or canon law. To become an authority on the Faith, one should study one or more of the many specialties in Catholic theology such as dogmatics, moral theology, exegesis, and so on. Even so, it is impossible for one person to be an expert in all these things.

None of this is to say that it is hard to be Catholic nor that one needs to do such things to live a saintly life. In fact, one can easily and rightly be Catholic just by being baptized in the Church. It's just that "being Catholic" or even "being raised Catholic" by no means gives you any credentials to speak authoritatively on any aspect of Catholicism other than your own personal experience.

So I hope the next time you're tempted to say, "well, I was raised Catholic ," just keep this in mind--maybe add a caveat of your own lack of authority. And for the rest of us, too, there are plenty of authoritative resources freely available to learn about Catholicism. Judge what we say by them.  

But keep in mind also that as far as Catholicism is concerned, the authority on interpreting such resources is the Church itself, specifically the bishops in communion with the Pope. It is not the dissenting Vice President, not the dissenting former Speaker of the House, not the dissenting famous comedian, not the dissenting news anchor or talk show host, not the dissenting parishioners, not the dissenting womynpriests, not the dissenting sisters, not even the dissenting priests. You can even be a faithful, cradle Catholic and still not be such an authority. You can even be someone who, like me, has extensively studied the Faith, and still not be such an authority, although our answers may be more reliable in this way. Still, always judge what we say by authoritative texts interpreted the way that the bishops in communion with the Pope interpret them.

And if a Catholic steers you away from our authoritative texts, waves his arms and says they don't really mean what they say, or, most tellingly, suggests that the bishops and Pope are wrong in their "interpretation," those are all pretty good red flags you're on the wrong track to understanding Catholicism. Such a person is about as far away from being an authority on Catholicism as they can get, no matter how long they have been Catholic.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Servant of All

Cardinal Bergoglio Washes and Kisses Aids Victims' Feet

Last night, I shared the image above on Facebook. One of my programmer friends, in a dramatic display of the no-social-skills stereotype of programmers, commented, "Now they just molest kids in public."

I'll just let that sink in for a minute.

Okay, you back? Ignoring the fact that comments like these are utterly boorish and fiendishly unjust, let's talk about what is happening in the image above. Washing feet is an ancient, biblical Christian ceremony, instituted by Jesus Christ, who after washing the Apostles' feet said, "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."

This pattern of being through doing is an example of Jesus' instruction: "'If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.' Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, 'Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.'"

The kissing of the feet hearkens back to the woman who kissed and washed Jesus' feet with her tears and hair. It was a sign of humility, an acknowledgment of her sinfulness, and a work of mercy and honor, a penance and a blessing. Then Cardinal Bergoglio is calling upon all this rich symbolism in what he is doing here. He, a "prince of the Church" (as cardinals are called), humbly acknowledges that he is a man who needs God's mercy just as much as the woman who washed Christ's feet; he shows by this action that he is obedient to Christ, and following Christ's example, he is welcoming the little children, that he is a servant of all--even of those whom the world considers the least among us, children with incurable terminal illness. He has done the same for drug addicts. He has done the same for women.

And priests all around the world do this yearly. It is part of our Holy Thursday liturgy. In imitation of Christ, following his command, they wash the feet of parishioners, representatives of the people they serve. It is a vibrant reminder at the culmination of our most holy season of the true nature of the priest: a minister, which means a servant, one who attends to the needs of others. This is the priest's life, a life given over to the service of others. And the Pope is, as shown in the title taken by Pope St. Gregory the Great, the servant of the servants of God, or as Christ put it, the servant of all.

God bless Pope Francis.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sheltering, Brainwashing, Meh

My atheist colleague at work today said something interesting today. He said, "I have a beef. I don't know how they do things these days, but when I was growing up, they acted like there were only Catholics. And where I grew up, it was very monoculture--bunch of white French Canadians. It wasn't until I grew up that I started hearing about this Jewish thing, then that Hindu thing, and so on, all these other things. Doesn't seem right to me to do that to kids..."

Okay, so it's not an exact quote, but that's the basic gist of it. The beef, I guess, is another way of stating the common atheist complaint that religious parents brainwash their children. I'm sure that some do, to an extent, though I don't agree with the characterization of teaching your children your beliefs, in itself, as brainwashing (at all).

In any case, I'm not commenting on his particular experience because I just don't know, but it does highlight a potential problem for religious parents (and religious educators). The problem is not so much that we need to worry about brainwashing, per se, but rather that we need to guard against leaving our children so ill equipped that when they do get more exposure to the broader world and its many different philosophies and ideologies. We need to ensure that they have enough grounding in the faith that they are not swept away in whatever wind happens to catch their sails.

If my colleague had received a better religious education, one that included awareness of other points of view, along with help to think critically about them, as well as understand the criticisms of his own faith and the defenses of those criticisms, he would have been better prepared and, I dare say, might still be Catholic. That's not to say that no one who well understands the Catholic faith would turn to atheism; however, I am saying that most people who turn away from the faith do so based largely on misconceptions or just some bad experience/ill will towards someone they perceive to be an exemplar of those who follow the faith.

We can only do so much about the latter--try to be good exemplars ourselves; however, we can and should minimize people leaving the faith due simply to being poorly prepared or misinformed. This doesn't mean we treat all viewpoints as equally valid, nor that we don't teach our children the faith, nor that we expose them unnecessarily before they are ready, but sheltering only goes so far.

At the end of the day, our children are their own selves. They will be responsible for the free choices that they make, and just like we work to prepare them academically, socially, etc., we need to prepare them philosophically and theologically. We can't do this by pretending that other viewpoints don't exist or by shying away from hard questions and providing slippery easy answers that gloss over difficulties. They will face these at some point, and if we don't help prepare them, we are at the very least in part responsible.