Monday, July 28, 2008

By Whose Authority? (Part I)

Why do we believe what we believe? Do we accept the authority of scripture? Is scripture inerrant? If so, how do we know? Do we accept the authority of the Church? What about tradition? Can we know for sure that our beliefs are correct (orthodox)? Many of these questions are being asked by the authors of the blog "By Whose Authority?" These are all questions that we should be able to wrestle with and ultimately answer. I hope to complete a two part series that will look at the Protestant position of authority (part I) and then look at the Catholic position (part II).

Can we know for sure the we have correct doctrine? For a Catholic, the answer to this is, YES! But for the Protestant, the answer is ...probably, in as much as I am being led by the Spirit and using my well informed reason. The Catholic Church believes that scripture, tradition and the magisterium (teaching office) of the Church work together in order to guarantee right doctrine.

Protestants, however, are unanimous in saying that scripture alone (sola scriptura or SS for short) is the rule of faith. "We believe that the only rule and standard by which all dogms and all doctors are to be weighed and judged, is nothing else but the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments" (Form. Concordiae, 1577). The problem with this is that scripture doesn't interpret itself. The early reformers had already acknowledged this as well. In 1571 Convocation had put forward what was, perhaps unwittingly, a double rule of faith: "preachers", they say, "shall see that they never teach anything . . . except what is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, and what the Catholic Fathers and ancient Bishops have collected out of that very doctrine" (Wilkins, "Concilia", IV, 267). They acknowledged the necessity of the Church for right doctrine. The irony here is that the reformers themselves were exercising "church authority." [1]

Not too long after, we see attempts to remove any Church authority and the individual, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is now to be considered the rule of faith. "[I]n the Westminster Confession of Faith (1643-7), which declared that the "Books of the Old and New Testaments are . . . given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life" (art. ii), but that the "authority of the Holy Scripture . . . dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church" (art. iv). They add: "We may be moved by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture . . . yet our full persuasion of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts" (art. v). " [2]

First of all, does the Spirit tell us that we are reading the inspired word of God when we open the Bible? If so, how do we know? Is it as simple as the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our hearts? This makes things very subjective. The Mormon Church claims the Book of Mormon to be inspired. They can also claim that the Spirit bears witness with their hearts. Using this logic, we must elevate the Book of Mormon, Koran, or any other religious literature that one can claim to be inspired to be on the same level of scripture. This assertion is obviously false.

Second of all, assuming that we are reading the inspired word of God, how can we know for sure that we are correct in our interpretation? For centuries, there have been disagreements on what the Bible actually says. Is infant baptism appropriate? Is baptism necessary for salvation? Is Christ really present in the Eucharist? Disagreements on these issues have created division after division throughout Christendom. So who is right? If we agree with the assertion that the Spirit led individual is the rule of faith, then we have a major problem.

Basically, I see their logic going like this:

Q: "How does one know if he has right doctrine?"
A: "He must be led by the Spirit."
Q: "How do we know if one is led by the Spirit?"
A: "He must have sound doctrine."

This is what philosophers could call "petitio principii" or begging the question. We could also call it circular argument. You can't prove something if your premise is that which you are trying to prove.

It is difficult for the individual to interpret scripture apart from another authority in one form or another. One may use a commentary to help interpret difficult passages. Or one may look to the Church Fathers. Maybe one will even look to the early Church Councils. "In practice, however, the Reformed Churches have never acted up to the principle of private judgment, but have, in one form or another, urged the authority of the Church in deciding the contents of the Bible, its inspiration, and its meaning."[3]

The irony here is that the problem that a protestant has with church authority, they seem to apply to themselves. So if they believe that the Spirit can guide the individual, why can't He guide the magisterium?

[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What is at stake?

"I stand by my votes against confirming Justices Roberts and Alito," he stated to a cheering crowd. "I made it equally clear that I will never back down from making sure that women have their reproductive rights here in this country -- that's what's at stake in this election."

--Barak Obama

Read the entire article here.

How can a Catholic or any Christian for that matter vote for this man?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"If you look at a woman to desire her..." TOB 40

In chapter 2 of TOB John Paul the Great shifts from the creation account to Jesus' sermon on the mount. The passage that he analyzes is Matt 5:27-28:27

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.RSV

The word that is used for "lustfully" is better translated as "desire." Two other places where the word desire is used would be : Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7. Take a look at the texts:

Gen 3:16 To the woman he said,"I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing;in pain you shall bring forth children,yet your desire shall be for your husband,and he shall rule over you." RSV

Gen 4:17 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it." RSV

In both of the cases in Genesis, the word desire is used to describe a taking. JPTG gives a great definition of concupiscent desire in 40:1:

Concupiscent "desire," I would say, is the deception of the human heart with regard to the perennial call of man and woman to communion through ta reciprocal gift--a call that has been revealed in the very mystery of creation. Thus, when in the Sermon on the Mount Christ refers to "the heart" or to the inner man, his words do not cease to be charged with that truth about the "beginning," to which he had referred the whole problem of man, woman, and marriage in the answer to the Pharisees (see Mt. 19:8).

Notice that JPTG is not saying that concupiscent desire is completely opposite from that which God intended in the "beginning." We are supposed to desire our spouses. But we are to desire them in the way that we desire communion with God. We must first be willing to give ourselves before we can receive. When we "desire" to take something, we destroy the gift. One of the consequences of original sin is that we take something that is good and treat it as an end in and of itself, thereby foregoing the very thing that God has for us. We reduce the marital act to a physical exchange rather than a communion of persons.

JPTG is trying to tell us that our intentions are as great as our actions.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Work, Love, Romance, Joy - Opus Dei

Finding time to read has not been easy as for me lately as it has been in the past. I still find time here and there to pick up a book, however, new books are not coming in as much as they used to. With our new house, and our first child on the way :), when it comes to buying books I now have a budget, a very small budget. This actually works out for me because it allows me to go back and reread some of my favorite titles that I haven’t read in over a year or two. One of which is, “Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei” by Dr. Scott Hahn. (I know this is one of David’s favorites as well). Throughout his book Hahn underlines how much joy should enlighten our hearts when we are working for the love of God. Here, Hahn gives us a biblical illustration of that type of love we should all strive for among our daily lives.

". . . Consider the story of Jacob, in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 29). One day while traveling, the young man met a woman “beautiful and lovely” named Rachel. He was so smitten that he wept aloud. Soon he approached Rachel’s father, Laban, and asked for the privilege of marrying her. So much did he love her that he promised to work in Laban’s lands for seven years in order to merit such a wife. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her”. Jacob would, in fact, labor another seven years that way, because of the trickery of Laban.
Notice, however, that Jacob did not toil in bitterness. Nor did he grimly ponder all the places he’d rather be than pushing sheep through the pastures of an untrustworthy man. He worked with joy because his heart was set on the goal: the love of Rachel. He kept a spirit of service because he was serving the only man who could lead him to that goal. In fact, when all was said and done and Jacob had married Rachel, he served Laban for another seven years, out of gratitude!"

We can learn a lot from Jacob, especially when it comes to reaching our ultimate goal, Heaven. As Dr. Hahn asks, “for that goal, how much should we be willing to work? Seven years? Fourteen? Twenty one? Seventy? The longest lifetime would not be enough.” Lets all strive to work with love and joy at every moment in our everyday lives, and especially in our homes.

[1] Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei” by Dr. Scott Hahn. Pg. 121-122.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Death Wish by Fr. Corapi

A large number of endangered, unwanted, and unborn children held a town hall meeting on the 4th of July--alarmed at the brutal and untimely killing of millions of their brothers and sisters in recent years. That the murderous war waged on them had the full force and respectability of the law made their plight all the more terrifying. Their complaint was humble and it was simple. They were not distressed by rising gas prices, or the deteriorating economy in general. They were not even frightened by the exponential increase of natural disasters. The threat of global warming or global terrorism did not greatly disturb them.

They had become an endangered species, and little had been done to answer their terrified and silent screams from the womb. They decided that the barbaric treatment that they and their fellow unwanted unborn human beings have had to endure for perilous decades sunconscionable and unbearable. They cried out to their Creator for inspiration and protection, and then unanimously they put forth a declaration. It began as follows:

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.


The first and pre-eminent right is the right to life. This truth the Founding Fathers were sure of, and anyone with any common sense at all is equally sure of it. 232 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed the amount of common sense that seems to be operative in many spheres of influence—most notably the courts and the political arena-- can easily be poured into a very small thimble.

The United States of America seems to have a death wish, and we have traveled far down
the road to having that wish realized. When law divorces itself from common sense and spawns the illegitimate offspring of distortions of law, resulting in illegal laws—based neither on the natural law nor divine law--this undermines law itself, generating disdain for the law. Erosion of trust in the courts, or the system in general, is inevitable.

The genesis of the death wish is rooted in the fall of man that we see in the Book of Genesis. The substance of the fall is wrapped up in Lucifer’s pride, transferred to Adam and Eve—“You can be like gods, knowing good and evil.” The unholy, yet inevitable, consequence of that pride is disobedience—eating the forbidden fruit. The ultimate end is death, as God said it would be. That’s the way it was in the beginning. That’s the way it is now. That’s the way it will be until time breathes forth it’s last moment.

The prototypical sin is pride, the pride that seeks to exalt the creature above the Creator:
“I can be like God.” Then, subjectively and arbitrarily, man tries to assert himself, imagining that he knows what’s good and evil for himself without reference to God and God’s law. This was the fall of the angels and the fall of man. The attempt by creatures to usurp what is only the province of God. Only God knows what is good for His creation.

In recent years it took the form of a self-inflicted heart wound when some dissident Catholics rejected the teaching of the Church, a teaching that clearly held that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil. Then, as Pope Paul VI had warned, it metastasized into abortion. From abortion it degenerated even further into partial-birth abortion. It was then a short and easy step to infanticide.

The exclamation point at the end of the death wish is that now there is yet another candidate for the office of president of the United States who has in an extraordinary way done everything possible to breathe life into all of the barbaric elements of the death wish. He and his party make no apologies for their support of abortion, partial-birth abortion, and even infanticide. It’s hard to believe that we have degenerated to the point that we’ll murder a helpless baby should it escape the violence of an abortion and be born alive. Can a Catholic vote for such persons? We are told, “yes” for a “proportionate reason.” What, I might ask, is the proportionate reason so weighty as to excuse supporting those responsible for what is tantamount to genocide? The judges and politicians that support such barbaric practices are truly guilty of genocide: genocide—the deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, racial, religious, national, or social group. “What is the group so targeted?” you might ask. The group is unwanted, unborn children--tens of millions of them.

The Supreme Court justices that gave us Roe v. Wade will have to plead temporary insanity in the court of history. There will be no defense in the highest Court that is the judgment seat of almighty God if they do not repent of the incalculable evil they have wrought. Yet, despite the life and death importance of this travesty of authentic law, there will be no serious discussion among political candidates, or anyone else. It is as if society has been bewitched, blind to the splendor of truth, deaf to the cries of the most innocent, most vulnerable, and most utterly helpless.

From artificial contraception to abortion to partial-birth abortion, then on to infanticide we march toward the abyss of oblivion, a society marked for death. Is it any wonder we can rationalize the killing of the elderly or the sick through euthanasia? The tragic murder of Terri Schiavo is a logical extension of a morally numb society’s mad march toward its own suicidal death. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t dying. They murdered her, starved her to death--one of the cruelest forms of death. She was innocent, yet subjected to a most cruel and unusual punishment. Why? Because she was helpless? Because she was too much trouble, too hard to look at?

As Abraham Lincoln asserted, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” We are dying by suicide, moral and spiritual suicide, and the moral demise of a nation almost always precedes the ultimate demise of a nation. Many of our leaders, political and legal, are reminiscent of the horrid witches in Act 1 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” chanting shrilly to a morally sick public all too eager to be confirmed in their sins, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

Good is evil, and evil is good. The truth is a lie and lies are the truth, hover through the fog of moral relativism and the filthy air of a world gone mad with the madness of sin. The words of the prophet thunder through the ages, “ Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).

We have inverted the poles of the moral power grid. We have begun to call the negative pole the positive, and the positive the negative. This inversion of reality begets disaster: The power fails, the lights go out, darkness falls—and indeed, if your light is darkness, how deep, how very deep will the darkness be! (cf. Mt 6:23).

This death wish has marched toward its logical and inexorable conclusion with little opposition from leaders--political, legal, or religious. The world knows the Catholic Church and any self-respecting and faithful Christian roundly reject abortion and all of the other nails in the coffin of contemporary society, but the defense of life has been weak. Weak leadership, whether in society in general, or in the Church in particular, is punishment for sin. The Old Covenant has examples enough of the Chosen People being turned over to exile and their enemies because of infidelity. They lamented, “We have no priest, prophet, or king.” These were taken away because of infidelity. In recent times large numbers of Catholics and other Christians rejected Pope Paul VI’s landmark and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae, on Human Life. A majority of the bishops of Canada did so publicly, formally, and in writing with their infamous Winnipeg Statement.

The great Archbishop Fulton Sheen lamented bitterly in the 1970s that the prophetic spirit of Christ had all but been extinguished in the contemporary Church. Today there are many CEOs, all too few Apostles. Are we afraid of a fight? Do we fear rejection, misunderstanding, or derision? Are we cowed and intimidated by fallacious notions of the separation of Church and state? Could we be afraid of persecution? Could we be afraid of losing our tax-exempt status? Have we declared détente with evil?

The clock is ticking. Midnight is approaching. Time is running out for our nation, a nation that once was great, and could be great again if enough of us wake up and renounce this curse of a death wish. Will God turn his friends over to His enemies as He has done multiple times in the past? Will radical Islam overrun us? Will the planet cook? Will one too many natural disasters grind us into dust? Will we collapse economically? All of the above? Perhaps these are all merely effects of the underlying cause—a death wish that chokes the life out of us.

In the end it is likely that President Abraham Lincoln had it right: “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” Thus forgetting that we are one nation under God, we become a nation gone under (President Ronald Reagan). And, indeed, “If destruction be our lot we ourselves will be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

May God grant us the grace to awake from this deadly moral slumber, renounce the death wish, and live like truly free men and women—in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Should We Be Surprised? (Updated)

Art suggested that we submit "Should We Be Surprised?" as a letter to the editor in our local paper. After much deliberation, I have decided to do so. My good friend AJ Fredette looked it over and offered some suggestions, which I will gladly take. I would also like any readers of our blog to offer comments and/or suggestions before I send it off to the paper. So...the semi final draft is as follows:

As we all know, the California Supreme Court recently decided to make same sex marriage a fundamental right. Needless to say, this has created quite a stir. Chief Justice, Ronald M. George wrote the majority opinion and was quoted as saying, "I think there are times when doing the right thing means not playing it safe." I completely agree. Doing the right thing does mean not playing it safe; especially when one is defending the rights of others, which is what the Court believes it has done. Others, however, disagree that this is what was accomplished.The central problem in the debate over same sex marriage revolves around the definition of marriage. There are those who argue, as the California Supreme Court does, that marriage is simply an agreement between parties to share certain assets as a result of the experience of a certain degree of affection. Dissenters, however, recognize that marriage has a deeper meaning, basis, and function.

Marriage, in this view, has two components: contractual and covenantal. The Court has the legal right to do what they please with the contractual part of marriage, as contracts are strictly legal instruments. However, they have no say over the covenantal, or sacramental, aspect of marriage, as this part is subsumed in spiritual considerations. While a contract is an exchange of goods and services, a covenant is a union of persons.

The sacrament of matrimony is more than just two people who love each other agreeing on terms and conditions under which they will share a life. It is more than being able to file a joint tax return or reap legal benefits granted by the government. These are the contractual aspects of marriage that should be the Court’s purview. But the covenantal, spiritual dimension of matrimony transcends and supersedes the contractual and is beyond the scope of the Court’s authority.
Matrimony, in its fullest sense, is about the communion of persons as God intended from the beginning. Look no further than Matthew 19 to see Jesus' teaching on marriage:
"And the Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."
Notice that Jesus refers to the "beginning,” harkening to the Creation. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Together, male and female make up "man." And "man" is created in the image of God. The way we reflect the image of God is in the one flesh union of the marital act. This is not possible in a same sex union as the marital act requires a male and a female. Why?If God is a communion of persons, then we, as images of God, are to be a communion of persons. But God is the communion of Three Persons in the Blessed Trinity and a married couple is just a communion of two persons. Where is the third person of the human trinity? Well, my wife and I have four of them. The love between a husband and wife is so real that in nine months you give it a name. That is how we image God. This is what makes marriage a covenant rather than merely a contract. Covenants create families.

Covenants, then, result in procreative, self-perpetuating unions. Contracts specify terms, conditions, limits, and duration of agreement. In contracts, the parties remain separate. In covenants, the parties become one. Further, now that the courts have officially taken marriage out of the context of a covenant and made it purely a contract between consenting adults, what is to keep them from allowing multiple marriage partners? After all, contracts often involve more than two parties. This and a variety of other marital contractual arrangements become permissible by denying or ignoring the covenantal aspect of matrimony.

A difficulty, perhaps by now insuperable, is that many of the folks who are so upset about this decision, claiming that it isn’t the way God intended or it isn’t “natural,” have become part of the problem without realizing it. Marriage was actually taken out of its covenantal context long ago. The 1970’s saw the legalization of “no fault” divorce as well as abortion. And the door to all of this was opened in the first part of the 20th century with the legalization of artificial contraceptives. With the extensive use of contraceptives, most married couples have negated the third person of the family and reduced the marital act to a pleasurable, strictly physical experience. Husbands and wives are simply using each other for pleasure. How is that different from that which a same sex couple can accomplish? The thing that sets the covenant of marriage apart is life-giving love. If the possibility of life is taken out of the marriage by way of contraception, then it is no different than any other act between two people who "love" each other, thereby reducing the marriage to a contract. The irony is striking. While proponents of contraception, “no fault” divorce, and abortion claim to work for happy, healthy families, what they have accomplished is a diminution of the importance of the covenantal, procreative, life-giving aspect of the institution, thus degrading it. Many of these people are the loudest voices protesting the statutory recognition of same-sex marriages.

If we truly want to protect the sanctity of marriage, then we need to reclaim the covenant of marriage. If we want to reclaim the covenant of marriage, we had better take a hard look at how we can protect the sanctity of life. When it comes to life and marriage, God has brought them together, let no man put them asunder. So really, we shouldn’t be surprised by the court’s decision-- our society has been working to destroy the underpinnings of marriage for years.

I would appreciate any feedback I can get...thanks.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

US Bishops on Stem Cell Research

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently made a statement regarding stem cell research. It is worth reading at length. Stem cell research has caused quite a bit of controversy, and rightfully so. It seems that the stem cells from adults as well as umbilical cord blood has proven beneficial while the stem cells from embroys haven't been proven to be effective. Why would the scientific community insist on "harvesting" stem cells by destroying the lives of human embryos when umbilical cord blood is easy to come by?