Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Farewell To An Unsung Hero

This week the firefighting community of the greater Phoenix area said farewell to one of our own. Salt River Battalion Chief and Fire Marshal Frank Molina was a 20 year fire service veteran who was a major figure here in the Valley of the Sun, especially in the Fire Prevention profession. Not only did he work diligently (even through his illness) to make the community a safer place for all, he was simply one of the nicest, most knowledgable and most helpful guys most of us ever had the honor to work with.

A blogger in the local paper had a very nice write-up on him:

The funeral procession brought our office to a standstill.
Fire truck after fire truck passed. There were ambulances, waves of flashing lights. Virtually every Valley fire department was represented.
The procession took about 10 minutes to pass.
As the audience multiplied at my second-story window, so did the questions. Who died? Was it someone killed in the line of duty? Someone we'd all recognize? What did we miss?
After checking the obits and making some calls, we learned the procession was in honor of Frank Molina, a long-time battalion chief and fire marshal for the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community. He died last Monday of cancer at the all-too-young age of 41.
I didn't know Molina, but apparently, a lot of folks did. He was a 20-year fire veteran who spent more than half of his career at Salt River. He was well respected around the Valley for his emergency management and fire prevention efforts, and about 1,000 people were expected to attend his funeral today at St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa.
Despite an attention-getting procession down Baseline Road, it's possible that Molina won't make the 5 o'clock news. Heroes pass away every day, but sadly, we only seem to cover the ones who die in burning buildings or during high-stakes pursuits.
But I know of at least a dozen folks who were mesmerized, at least for a few minutes, by who could possibly be in that hearse. Must have been a great man, I heard one say.
Yep. And he's not alone.
There are countless Frank Molinas out there, great men and women who spend their lives helping others. Not because they expect any big procession out of it, but because they feel it's the right thing to do.

God speed, Frank. We'll miss you big guy.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pray for the Catholics of Viet Nam

Half a million Vietnamese Catholics march through the streets against police violence

An Dang - Peaceful marches in the provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh. The demonstrators protest against arrests and police violence against Catholics last week, who were attacked by security forces at the ruins of Tam Toa church

It seems like atheistic Communist oppression is alive and well in Viet Nam. See my previous blog about coercive birth control measures and the war on baby girls, Hanoi style:
Viet Nam has the fourth largest Catholic population in Asia, after thePhillipines, India, and China. It has a long history of martyrdom: In Eastern Cochin China (the southernmost part of Viet Nam) the martyrs included 15 priests (7 native), 60 catechists, 270 nuns, 24,000 Christians (out of 41, 234); all the charitable institutions and ecclesiastical buildings of the mission—including the episcopal curia, churches, presbyteries, 2 seminaries, a printing establishment, 17 orphanages, 10 convents, and 225 chapels — were destroyed. In Southern Cochin China 10 native priests and 8585 Christians were massacred in the Quang Tri Province alone—the two remaining provinces supplied hundreds of martyrs; two-thirds of the churches, presbyteries, etc. of the mission were pillaged and burned. In the Mission of Southern Tong-king, 163 churches were burned; 4799 Catholics were executed, while 1181 died of hunger and misery. These figures apply only to the year 1885. In 1883-1884 eight French missionaries, one native priest, 63 catechists and 400 Christians were massacred in Western Tong-king, while 10,000 Catholics only saved themselves by flight. The carnage extended even to the remote forests of Laos, where seven missionaries, several native priests, and thousands of Catholics were killed.
All Vietnamese Catholics who had died for their faith from 1533 to the present day were canonized in 1988 by John Paul II as, collectively, the Vietnamese Martyrs.
Vietnamese Police Maul 2 Priests, 500,000 Protest Anti-Catholic Violence

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Characters of the Reformation

Now that I'm on vacation, I finally got a chance to crack open a book that's been sitting on my nightstand for about a year (and I do mean literally crack open, since this book came wrapped tightly in plastic shrink-wrap so that it was impossible to peek inside and get a preview without damaging the "newness" of it.). Anyway, when I finally did open it this week, I was disappointed to see that it covered, not the ususal Continental Reformation figures like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, but exclusively characters of the English Reformation -- Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, Thomas Cromwell, etc, etc. My disappointment quickly waned, however, once I started reading the book, and I have scarcely been able to put it down since. Hilaire Belloc has long been one of my favorite writers and the accounts he gives of these historical figures is just fascinating. Here is the Product Description from the publisher:

Perhaps the most fascinating book ever written by this great Catholic historian. Here in bold, living colors Belloc sketches the destructive results of the greed, lust, weakness, tenacity, blindness, fear and indecision of 23 famous men and women of the Protestant Reformation period, analyzing their strengths, mistakes, motives and deeds which changed the course of history. Belloc cites Anne Boleyn, not the weak-willed Henry VIII as the "pivot figure" of the English Reformation, for it was her iron will to be Queen which started the movement. He describes Cromwell, the monastery looter and destroyer, as "the true creator of the English Reformation." He shows how the crafty William Cecil accomplished the task of "digging up the Catholic Faith by the roots" and "crushing out the Mass from English soil." Belloc also highlights the fatal error of Cardinal Richelieu in putting France before Catholicism and thus torpedoing Europe's last great chance of keeping Christendom united. Belloc warns that this breakup of Christendom may still destroy our Christian civilization. Even those who think they do not like history will be unable to put this book down. Brings history vividly to life!

Belloc's main thesis in this book is that, if the English Reformation had failed -- and it had every opportunity to do so -- Protestantism as a movement would have quickly died out. Once England went Protestant and placed it's newly found naval and trading power behind it, it could not help but quickly aid in the spread of Protestant influence.

Of course Belloc writes as a Catholic, so not all will agree with his analysis of history, but it is a refreshing counterbalance to other versions of this history we are used to hearing, first in school, and as foisted upon us by the popular media, especially in such laughable movies as "Elizabeth."

Slow Genocide in Viet Nam

The communist government of Viet Nam is punishing couples with more than two children, a local Catholic news agency reports. Catholic villagers in Thua Thien-Hue province told the Union of Catholic Asian News they are being fined for having more than two children under a revived government two-child policy.

Same old story: Communism and Socialism are so inefficient at running a country that they have to coerce families into contraception and abortion.

Despite the fact that Viet Nam now has a below-replacement rate of fertility - 1.83 children born per woman - the communist government in the early 1960s imposed a 2-child limit for couples. The UN’s leading population control group, the UNFPA, has been active in contraception and abortion campaigns in the country since 1997.

It seems this is the only thing the UN is good at.

In 2000, the BBC lauded the policy for having reduced the overall fertility rate from 3.8 children per woman to 2.3, but admitted that a “degree of coercion” was used to ensure compliance. This included fines, expulsion from the communist party and confiscation of land. The original policy was scrapped in 2003 but revived in 2008 after a 10 percent spike in the birth rate alarmed officials who never stopped “encouraging” couples to have only small families.

"A degree of coercion," BBC? Probably some of that good old British tendency for understatement.

But even the UNFPA was reportedly “puzzled” by the revival. “In Vietnam now life expectancy is rising, the fertility rate is decreasing and in the next 20 years many people will be in the senior group,” said Tran Thi Van, of UNFPA. “If there’s not a sufficient labor force as the population is ageing, the country will face a lot of problems.”

Well, DUH; what did they think would happen? Shouldn't the UNFPA have sort of foreseen this would be the result of the forced population control they aided and abetted?
Viet Nam is following China and India on the path of demographic imbalance. The combination of ultrasound tests to determine the sex of the child plus abortion to favor boys, has forced the male to female ratio of the population to climb to 112-100 in 2007.

Facing the Canon

As you may know I am currently teaching a series of classes on Catholic apologetics at my parish. One class topic we explored was on the canon of Scripture, that is, on why the Catholic Bible contains seven more Old Testament books than Protestant Bibles (or, alternately phrased: why are Protestant Bibles smaller?)

The word “canon” comes from a Greek word (that may be derived from a Hebrew word) originally meaning “reed”— it means a standard, or rule. Christians apply the term to the list of inspired books that appear in the Bible. After being defined by the Church in her early centuries, the canon went virtually unchallenged for about 1100 years, that is, until the Reformation.

Someone who attends my class asked me "All this is great information, but when do you ever have an opportunity to use it?" I told her that the opportunities will come when you least expect it, and the knowledge is never wasted.

The following is from an amiable conversation I had earlier this week in a online discussion forum regarding the canon of Scripture. I am in blue and my interlocutor is in red:

First, you don't even know your own history concerning your Church and the Apocrypha or you chose pick out the certain parts and leave out others; they were used by some for devotional purposes and not by others within your own Church, some considered them inspired and others did not within your own Church; but when the reformation came and and challenged the issues of praying to and for the dead, the perpetual virginity and immaculate conception and other challenges were made to the Church; this is when they decided to hastily Canonize 11 of the 14 Apocrypha books. This way anyone who denied the books as inspired and the issues contained within; then the Church pronounced anathema on them.

I'm afraid it is you, my friend, who are ignorant of history. The Council of Trent merely reaffirmed, in the face of heresy, the 73 book canon that had been authoritively affirmed several times before that. To wit:

·Council of Rome, 382 AD, included all protocanonical AND deuterocanonical books (this is the first record we have, incidently, of all 27 New Testament books being affirmed as canonical. Protestants acknowledge this, but deny that same ccouncils authority to affirm the 73 OT books. Go figure.)

·73 book canon ratified by the Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD).

·73 book canon infallibly declared at the Council of Florence (1441)

·73 book canon dogmatically defined by the Council of Trent in 1546.

Furthermore, from the Jewish perspectives the Hebrew canon was closed around 300 BC and did not include any of the extra books.

By then the Church had long been using the Septuagint version of Scripture that included all 73 books. Besides, in what way does 4th century Judaism have the right to definitively define the Christian canon?

The earliest Septuagint did not include the Apocrypha and overtime it was added.

It is true that there were several Septuagint versions with varying canons. What is crucial is that the early Church clearly used the version of the Septuagint containing the canon that contained 46 books, as a careful reading of the New Testament and the Apostolic and other Early Church Fathers will affirm.

At this point, the other party started ignoring my posts and basically kept repeating the same information. But hopefully a seed was planted; if not in this particular person, but in others who may have been viewing the conversation. If nothing else, it was good practice for me. :)

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Hunt For Gollum

If you can get beyond the fact that no original actors are featured, this is an impressive independently made 'prequel' that will go a long way toward satisfying your "Lord of the Rings" withdrawl pains. Running time, about 40 minutes:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Without a Doubt

Hoo boy! Carl Olsen over at the Ignatius Insight blog has a scathing and brilliant review of the recent sensationalistic Newsweek op-ed piece about the recent meeting between President Obama and the Holy Father, "Without a Doubt: Why Barack Obama represents American Catholics better than the pope does" (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, July 9, 2009). He highlights the passage that got my goat as well:

In truth, though, Obama's pragmatic approach to divisive policy (his notion that we should acknowledge the good faith underlying opposing viewpoints) and his social-justice agenda reflect the views of American Catholic laity much more closely than those vocal bishops and pro-life activists. When Obama meets the pope tomorrow, they'll politely disagree about reproductive freedoms and homosexuality, but Catholics back home won't care, because they know Obama's on their side. In fact, Obama's agenda is closer to their views than even the pope's.

My gripe was that this statement does not make a distinction between Catholics who live their lives of faith in a consciously faithful manner, and those usually called "Catholics In Name Only" who are indistinguishable from the rest of society, only holding views in common with the Church by accident.

Anyway, Olsen has a lot more to say about this piece, and says it much better than I could. You can find his blog entry here:

Who Were The Earliest Christians and What Did they Believe?

The Apostolic, or Early Church Fathers (ECF), were the first Christians that picked up where the New Testament-era Christians left off. The ECF period is roughly considered to span the years from around 100 A.D. to about 700 A.D (the term Apostolic Father is usually given to those who knew or who are thought to have known and been taught by the Apostles themselves. St. Polycarp, for example). The study of their writings is called patristics. As Joe Gallegos on his Corunum Apologetics website explains:

Who are these guys(and gals) called The Church Fathers?The Church Fathers is a titled bestowed on men (and some women such as Egeria of Spain fl AD 448) in the ancient Church that are united by four trademarks: (1) a rigid orthodoxy in doctrine, (2) an exemplary holy life, (3) approval in the Church, and (4) antiquity. Today, some ecclesiastical writers are bestowed this title who have partially fulfilled these marks( e.g. Tertullian, Origen and Eusebius of Caesarea). These writers are included due to their invaluable service to the Church. The majority of the Church Fathers were bishops, a few held a lower clerical rank such as St. Jerome, and fewer yet, were laymen such as Clement of Alexandria and perhaps Tertullian of Carthage. In the Catholic Church the period of antiquity ends with St. John Damascene (d AD 749) in the East and with St. Gregory the Great(d AD 604) or St. Isidore of Seville (d AD 636) in the West, hence the patristic age spans 7 centuries.

Why are the ECF's important to later Christians, including those of today? Because from their writings (and there are lots of them in existence) we can see how they interpreted the Scriptures, how they addressed problems and heresies that arose in the Church, and how they practiced the Faith. Some of the ECF's had the words of the Apostles still ringing in their ears and all were zealous to have the Faith handed down just as they had recieved it from the Apostles. Also, as Gallegos points out:

Protestant Evangelical Christians often gain a keener understanding of Holy Writ either by a private reading of Scripture or by listening to or reading various interpretations of Scripture through various ministrations of the church such as a Bible study or a Sunday sermon. Many of the interpretations are harmonious with the historic tenants of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church and some contradictory. Nevertheless, this is the primary vehicle through which many Evangelicals learn Christian doctrines and morals. Therefore, why not take advantage of a Bible study or a sermon by listening to the written words of a disciple of an Apostle or their immediate descendants rather than from someone who is 20 centuries removed from the Apostles? This is the case when one delves in the writings and faith of the early Church Fathers.

One of my favorite ECF quotes is from the 5th century apologist St. Vincent of Lerins:

Here, possibly, some one may ask, Do heretics also appeal to Scripture? They do indeed, and with a vengeance; for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture—through the books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, the Prophets. Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture. Read the works…of those pests, and you will see an infinite heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old…

And if one should ask one of the heretics who gives this advice, How do you prove? What ground have you, for saying, that I ought to cast away the universal and ancient faith of the Catholic Church? He has the answer ready, “For it is written;” and forthwith he produces a thousand testimonies, a thousand examples, a thousand authorities from the Law, from the Psalms, from the apostles, from the Prophets, by means of which, interpreted on a new and wrong principle, the unhappy soul may be precipitated from the height of Catholic truth to the lowest abyss of heresy…

But the more secretly they conceal themselves under shelter of the Divine Law, so much the more are they to be feared and guarded against.
(St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, c. 450 A.D.)

There are ton of websites that one could go to to read the writings of the ECF's -- probably to the point that [a] one would not know where to start and [b] quickly be overwhelmed. A good place to get an introduction and a generous and representative sample is Gallego' site, found here:

Catholic Answers has a nice topical selection of writings, called "Fathers Know Best," found here:

Dave Armstrong has an extensive site of ECF selections:

If you want to read the patristic writings in their entirety, you can go here:

Mike Aquilina, who regularly appears on EWTN and has written several books and given numerous talks on this subject, has probably the best blog out there dedicated to patristics, called "The Way of the Fathers." You can find it here:

Finally, you can find several downloadable talks by Mike on the subject of the ECF's here:

To close, here are the words of that great Early Church Father, St. Irenaeus:

"As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same" (Against Heresies 1:10:2 [A.D. 189]).

"That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them [heretics], while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. . . . What if the apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the churches?" (ibid., 3:4:1).

... "It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors to our own times—men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. "But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. "With this church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree—that is, all the faithful in the whole world—and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition" (ibid., 3:3:1–2).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Study on This Sunday's Mass Readings - July 12th

Here are the readings for this Sunday's Scripture readings from the U.S. Catholic bishops website:

And my own study (and Don Schwager's meditations) from my web page:

Also a couple of new (for this blog) additions: a weekly audio/print meditation on the readings by one of my favorite Bible teachers and theologians, Dr. Scott Hahn:

And a video by another up and coming theologian, Professor Michael Barber:

Charitible comments and discussion are always welcome. Have a blessed and holy Lord's day!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In Charity and Truth

The Vatican has just (today) released the newest encyclical by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, which is entitled in Latin Caritas in Veritate ("On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth"). This is the third encyclical by the present Holy Father, the two previous being, respectively, on the topics of love and hope. This newest encyclycal is, in the words of the B16 himself, "on the vast theme of economics and labor." You can view the encyclical here, on the official Vatican website

Printed, it comes out to about 40 pages, so I haven't had time to read it just yet. When I do, I hope to post my thoughts (humble and elementary though they may be).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Homeschooler Humor

Good article over at Catholic Exchange talking about the oft-asked question to homeschooling parents: What about socialization? Aren't you afraid that your kids are going to become misfits or wierdos if they don't attend public school?:

I will tell the curious many that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I will make sure that our children stand in line for the bathroom for 15-20 minutes, so that they can learn to stand in line and have an opportunity to pull hair and kick people in the backs of the legs. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will make sure never to mention God or the Church, so that they can begin to question their real and practical existence in their lives. Everyday, I will make sure to ignore or approve of immoral or unacceptable behavior of all, so that they can have open minds and learn to be tolerant and diverse. Also, each day I will factor in several 15-minute recesses, so that I can drag the school day into as many frustrating hours as possible causing them to never be able to accept invitations to play. Once a year or so, I will have my children dye their hair into a shocking shades of black or hot pink, pierce unspeakable body parts, and allow them to buy $75 jeans that are nearly torn into shreds brand new. This ought to take care of it, don’t you think?

This reminds me of something that appeared in the Kolbe Little Home Journal, Fall 2005:

When my wife and I mention we are strongly considering homeschooling our children, we are without fail asked, 'But what about socialization?' Fortunately, we found a way our kids can receive the same socialization that government schools provide.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I will personally corner my son in the bathroom, give him a wedgie and take his lunch money.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my wife will make sure to tease our children for not being in the 'in' crowd, taking special care to poke fun at any physical abnormalities.

Fridays will be 'Fad and Peer Pressure Day.' We will all compete to see who has the coolest toys, the most expensive clothes, and the loudest, fastest, and most dangerous car.

Every day, my wife and I will adhere to a routine of cursing and swearing in the hall and mentioning our weekend exploits with alcohol and immorality.

...And we have asked (our kids) to report us to the authorities in the event we mention faith, religion, or try to bring up morals and values


Two women meet at a playground, where their children are swinging and playing ball. The women are sitting on a bench watching. Eventually, they begin to talk.

W1: Hi. My name is Maggie. My kids are the three in red shirts --helps me keep track of them.
W2: (Smiles) I'm Patty. Mine are in the pink and yellow shirts. Do you come here a lot?
W1: Usually two or three times a week, after we go to the library.
W2: Wow! Where do you find the time?
W1: We homeschool, so we do it during the day most of the time.
W2: Some of my neighbors homeschool, but I send my kids to public school.
W1: How do you do it?
W2: It's not easy. I go to all the PTO meetings and work with the kids every day after school and stay real involved.
W1: But what about socialization? Aren't you worried about them being cooped up all day with kids their own ages, never getting the opportunity for natural relationships?
W2: Well, yes. But I work hard to balance that. They have some friends who're homeschooled, and we visit their grandparents almost every month.
W1: Sounds like you're a very dedicated mom. But don't you worry about all the opportunities they're missing out on? I mean they're so isolated from real life -- how will they know what the world is like --what people do to make a living -- how to get along with all different kinds of people?
W2: Oh, we discussed that at PTO, and we started a fund to bring real people into the classrooms. Last month, we had a policeman and a doctor come in to talk to every class. And next month, we're having a woman from Japan and a man from Kenya come to speak.
W1: Oh, we met a man from Japan in the grocery store the other week, and he got to talking about his childhood in Tokyo. My kids were absolutely fascinated. We invited him to dinner and got to meet his wife and their three children.
W2: That's nice. Hmm. Maybe we should plan some Japanese food for the lunchroom on Multicultural Day.
W1: Maybe your Japanese guest could eat with the children.
W2: Oh, no. She's on a very tight schedule. She has two other schools to visit that day. It's a systemwide thing we're doing.
W1: Oh, I'm sorry. Well, maybe you'll meet someone interesting in the grocery store sometime and you'll end up having them over for dinner.
W2: I don't think so. I never talk to people in the store --certainly not people who might not even speak my language. What if that Japanese man hadn't spoken English?
W1: To tell you the truth, I never had time to think about it. Before I even saw him, my six-year-old had asked him what he was going to do with all the oranges he was buying.
W2: Your child talks to strangers?
W1: I was right there with him. He knows that as long as he's with me, he can talk to anyone he wishes.
W2: But you're developing dangerous habits in him. My children never talk to strangers.
W1: Not even when they're with you?
W2: They're never with me, except at home after school. So you see why it's so important for them to understand that talking to strangers is a big no-no.
W1: Yes, I do. But if they were with you, they could get to meet interesting people and still be safe. They'd get a taste of the real world, in real settings. They'd also get a real feel for how to tell when a situation is dangerous or suspicious.
W2: They'll get that in the third and fifth grades in their health courses.
W1: Well, I can tell you're a very caring mom. Let me give you my number--if you ever want to talk, give me call. It was good to meet you.

More homeschooling humor:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

How Are We Saved?

A Protestant correspondent of mine wants to know: What do Catholics believe about salvation?

Believe it or not, "how we are saved" isn’t a subject that is emphasized as much among Catholics as it is in Protestant churches—it’s pretty much taken for granted by Catholics that the average layman doesn’t need to know the subject that much in depth. As a person who is involved in apologetics and teaches Adult RE, I can see the fruits of this mistaken attitude in that many Catholics cannot articulate the Church’s teaching on salvation. Many, in fact, end up leaving the Church convinced that the Church teaches a form of crass works-righteousness or a semi-Pelagianism. This isn’t helped by the fact that some of the churches they end up in have an equally distorted view of what Catholics believe and their erroneous misconceptions are reinforced. I was listening to a local Christian radio show recently in which a man was giving his testimony, saying he used to be a Catholic “but was now a Christian” and was happy he now didn’t have to worry about being “good enough” and “didn’t have to work his way to heaven.” He mentioned a lot of other things he said the Church taught that clearly pointed to the fact he was, if nothing else, a victim of poor catechesis.

On another level, I think it is possible to show that Catholics and Protestants don’t differ on this topic as much as people think they do. In the centuries since the Reformation, however, the terminology and teaching emphasis of each group has become so particular to each group, that, essentially, we are talking about the same thing but in different words! This is bound to be confusing in any conversation between Catholics and Protestants on this (or any other) subject, but in recent years there have been attempts by various groups to try to iron out the language difference, without smoothing over or ignoring real differences. I have two real good book recommendations: The first is by a Catholic, Jimmy Akin, and it is called The Salvation Controversy. The other is by an Evangelical Protestant named Mark Noll and is called Is The Reformation Over? Both of these books make the same point: that Catholics and Protestants have more in common than they think they do.

I think it’s also possible to make the argument that the original Reformers were not so much reacting against Church teaching on salvation, as they were against the poor catechesis and abuses of that particular time and place. If you look at what the Church really taught at that time (and not just the abuses) it essentially what the Church has always taught before then, and what it teaches now. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

161 Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. (John 16:16; Jn 3:36; 6:40 et al). "Since "without faith it is impossible to please [God]" and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'But he who endures to the end.'" (Dei Filius 3:DS 3012; cf. Mt 10:22; 24:13 and Heb 11:6; Council of Trent: DS 1532.)

Basically, the Church’s teaching is this: We are saved by grace alone, through faith. The Catholic understanding of faith includes both placing our trust in Christ AND obeying him—what St. Paul calls the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1 and 16). The Church teaches that everything having to do with our salvation is God’s grace. Even our original conversion is God’s initiative and an entirely unmerited gift of his grace—we cannot even take the first step without him. It is indeed 100% God’s work, but, respecting our free will, he allows us to cooperate in our own salvation through faith and charity.

Where works come in is as a response to God’s grace (obedience) and as a means to grow in sanctification. God sends us the grace (and the opportunity) to perform a good work. By being responsive to God’s grace, we please him because of our obedience, and grow in holiness. The holier we become, the less likely we are to fall into sin. Failure to respond to God’s grace is a failure to grow in holiness. If we continually refuse to respond to God’s graces, we run the risk of falling into serious sin. And, as you know, the Church teaches that if one dies in serious, unrepented sin, he cannot be admitted to heaven. It is important to remember that good works that are not done in faith and by God’s grace—on human power— do not avail anything. You do not get into heaven just by “being good.”

This is basically the place that works has in salvation: obedience and sanctification. The Church does not teach that salvation is attained by being “good enough” to get into heaven; it isn’t a “scale” that if you do more good works than bad you get in; we cannot put God in our debt by what we do. Here’s just one excerpt from the Catechism:

2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

For a more in depth treatment of this, I’d highly recommend seeing the sections in the Catechism that addresses this subject (Sections 142—165; 1987—2029). Here is an article from Catholic Answers that may also be helpful:

Grace: What It Is and What It Does

Study on This Sunday's Mass Readings - July 5th

Here are the readings for this Sunday's Scripture readings from the U.S. Catholic bishops website:

And my own study (and Don Schwager's meditations) from my web page:

Charitible comments and discussion are always welcome. Have a blessed and holy Lord's day!

Is Friday Penance Required?

Recently the question has come up in my personal circle as to whether we are obliged, as Catholics, to either abstain from eating meat on Fridays that do not fall during the liturgical season of Lent or, lacking that, substitute some other form of penance (i.e., act of sacrifice or self denial).

As it turns out, according to the U.S. bishops, Catholics in this country are no longer strictly required to perfom any type of penance at all on ordinary Fridays, although we are strongly exhorted to to so in that Friday remains "a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind, which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ crucified." (On Penance and Abstinence, U.S. Catholic Bishops, dated November 18, 1966). Here is a brief article about the subject from Catholic Answers, as well as a link to On Penance and Abstinence:

Is Friday Penance Required?

On Penance and Abstinence

So should we abstain from meat on Fridays outside of Lent? Interestingly, the U.S. bishops came out with a more recent exhortation on this issue (in the context of what we as Catholics can do to promote peace in the world) that seems to signal a move back to meatless Fridays as something approaching a norm. Perhaps they were finding that if there are no clearly defined norms in this area, people often end up doing nothing at all:

Since 1966, the American bishops have repeated the call to observe Friday as a day of penance. In a 1983 pastoral letter, they wrote: "As a tangible sign of our need and desire to do penance we, for the cause of peace, commit ourselves to fast and abstinence on each Friday of the year. We call upon our people voluntarily to do penance on Friday by eating less food and by abstaining from meat. [my emphasis] This return to a traditional practice of penance, once well observed in the U.S. Church, should be accompanied by works of charity and service toward our neighbors. Every Friday should be a day significantly devoted to prayer, penance, and almsgiving for peace." (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, no. 298. Source: Daily Penance, Days of Penance, Catholics United for the Faith,

What's my opinion? I think that as Catholics, we have fallen over ourselves trying to fit in with the predominant culture. Sometimes this is approriate, if it doesn't lead to compromise or being complicit in sin. But isn't the essence of Christianity to be in the world but not of it? Aside from the no-brainer of the example of everyday personal holiness, shouldn't we stand out as different as a body of believers? Isn't it lazy, black and white thinking that says just because something is a law it necessarily becomes legalistic?

I think that when we lost the requirement for Friday abstinence we lost something that was something distinctive to us as Catholics. Even as a child growing up in public school (but being raised in a non-practicing family) in the 1960's, I remember the school cafeteria always offered fish sticks on Fridays as an option for Catholics. Everyone had an idea of who was probably Catholic --which was even more incentive for Catholics to provide a good Christian witness.

Historian Eamon Duffy has an interesting observation on this in his book, Faith of Our Fathers:

Catholics shared that rhythm with most of the world's great religious traditions, a fact which ought to have suggested that there was something essential about fasting not only for our specific identities as Catholic Christians, but as religious beings and human beings. But since 1967 what was once a truly corporate observance, reminding us of the passion of Christ, of our own spiritual poverty and, even more concretely, of the material poverty of most of the human race, reminding us what it was like to be hungry, has become another individual consumer choice, like going on a diet. Though we pay liturgical lip-service to the old dialectic, and still nominally observe Lent, in practice all our time now has become "ordinary time," and there is nothing in this respect to distinguish Catholics from anyone else.

Yet religious communities depend on the differentiation provided by such shared observances to sustain their identities. The long and noble pilgrimage of Israel through a multitude of cultures and times, without a temple, without a priesthood, has been possible, at least in part, because of the unifying and sustaining effect of their dietary laws. The Jews knew who they were because of what they did and did not eat. Christian fasting and abstinence did not, of course, spring from a ritual distinction between clean and unclean meats, but it was just as deeply embedded in theological conviction as the older dispensation. Its abandonment was not therefore a simple change in devotional habit, but the signal of a radical discontinuity in the tradition and a decisive shift in theological perception.

The theological and practical shift represented by this abandonment of an ancient part of the tradition was not merely a matter of theological emphasis, and more, too, than a question of whether ascetical exercises like fasting are good for the character. What was also at stake was the Church's prophetic integrity: its claim to solidarity with the poor. Considered from this perspective, compulsory fasting and abstinence, practiced regularly, routinely, and in common, was a recognition by the Church that identification with the poor and hungry, with those who know themselves to be needy before God because they were needy among men, is not an option for Catholics, but a necessary and definitive sign of their redemption, as essential in its way as attendance at Mass. The Church has always linked personal asceticism and the search for holiness with this demand for mercy and justice to the poor; the Lenten trilogy of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is both fundamental and structural. By making fasting and abstinence optional, the Church forfeited one of its most eloquent prophetic signs. There is a world of difference between a private devotional gesture, the action of the specially pious, and the prophetic witness of the whole community--the matter-of-fact witness, repeated week by week, that to be Christian is to stand among the needy.

What was striking about the instructions issued by the English bishops in abolishing compulsory Friday abstinence in 1967 was the total absence of any attempt to explain the power and meaning of the traditional observances. The American bishops did much better: while also making the matter optional, they offered a powerful and sympathetic discussion of the religious reasons for the old observance and urged American Catholics to continue the practice as a gesture of solidarity with, and gratitude for, the passion of Christ, as an act of fidelity to the Christian past, and to help "preserve a saving and necessary difference from the spirit of the world." In total contrast, the English bishops recited the problems and inconveniences surrounding abstinence. Many people, they pointed out, have their main meal at work, in a canteen; social events are often arranged for Fridays; abstinence therefore put Catholics in an awkward position. As the bishops wrote: "While an alternative dish is often available, it is questioned whether it is advisable in our mixed society for a Catholic to appear singular in this matter. Non-Catholics know and accept that we do not eat meat on Fridays, but often they do not understand why we do not, and in consequence regard us as odd."

This misses the point. The whole rationale of symbolic gestures requires that they disrupt and disturb the secular order. Their power to witness--not only to others but to ourselves--comes precisely from their awkwardness. The abolition of such observances strikes at the heart of tradition, the distinctive language of belief. Catholic value cannot be sustained without its proper symbolic expression. Spiritual needs are expressed in physical needs. People can know the fundamental neediness which is the foundation of faith only if they feel our involvement with those who fast because they have nothing to eat.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Early Church: How Christians Elevated Culture

To be a devout, practicing Christian in our day and age (especially a devout, practicing Catholic) is to be truly counter-cultural. It is to run against the rough grain of popular opinion and what passes for modern culture and values. It is to defy "conventional wisdom" and to resist succumbing to the vulgarity, juvenileness, tinny clamor for "fame" and the overall cheapness of the day. As Gilbert K. Chesterton once quipped, "The vulgar man is always the most distinguished, for the very desire to be distinguished is vulgar."

That's why I find the "Politically Incorrect Guides to..." series of books so humorously refreshing and factually spot-on. Here are several examples:

A recent offering is "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization," by Anthony Esolen. He has an extended excerpt (entitled "The Early Church: How Christians Elevated Culture") over on The Catholic Educators Resource website. Here is an excerpt from the excerpt:

They raised the status of women.

It's dogma in our public schools today that women in ancient times were oppressed, because women had no voting rights, women had not the same opportunities as men, and so forth. You will be mocked if you deny that this spells oppression. If you're a college professor and you deny it, get ready for the stake.
But the charges are anachronistic and chauvinist. People who make them never imagine what it was like for people of another culture to put food on the table, a roof over their heads, and clothes on their backs, never mind bearing enough children to keep the population stable. The Romans in general treated their wives with esteem. The matron of the house had better be consulted along with the important males if the paterfamilias was going to make a decision. Still, the Christians preached that there was no separate baptism for men and women. All were one in Christ. If Christ was Himself the Holy of Holies, then that inner sanctum was thrown open for all. Jesus had been seen on Easter first by women, then by his apostles. The Gnostic heretics, who disdained the body, have Jesus saying that one could not be blessed unless one were made male; Christians condemned that nonsense. They did not expose baby girls (or boys, either). They did not divorce their wives. They shunned sexual practices that put them and their spouses at risk. They honored women who defied emperors, centurions and soldiers to witness to the faith. In his Confessions, Saint Augustine wrote the first tribute in history to an ordinary woman, his mother Monica, without whose love and faithful prayer he would never have known the love of God. (9.8–13)
Even so, early Christians were 'sexist' because they, like everybody else who has walked the earth until now, did not treat women as indistinguishable from men. That indifference is our politically correct ideal, though it's hard to name a time and place wherein women would not have decried such treatment as insulting.

Other excerpts are:

--They palliated pagan cruelties.
--They thrust a dagger into the heart of the State-worship.
--They took up the burden of civic responsibility.
--They ennobled manual labor.
--They "baptized" the paterfamilias.
--They elevated the "barbarian" cultures from which they came.
--The truth about heretics
--The Good News brings charity

See the entire article here:

For Your Listening Pleasure...

I've been meaning to do this for some time (and I hope to do more of it in the future) but I thought I'd post a link every now and them to some free, downloadable audio talk (i.e. mp3) resources that I hope will inform and inspire those wanting to know more about, and practice more faithfully, the Christian (and specifically Catholic) Faith.

If you know me at all, you know that I'm a voracious reader of theology, history (Church and otherwise), devotional material, and the Scriptures (occasionally I'll slip some fiction in there, but it's really hard to find a good yarn that's not peurile or offensive to my morals or intelligence. It usually works out that I read the fiction books my kids are interested in reading so I can kind of screen it or at least be able to discuss it with them. I also occasionally force myself to read moronic but popular literature like "The Duh Vinci Code" or "Angels and Demons" so I can discuss those intelligently as well, but from an apologetics stand point. It's an odious task, but such is the life of an apologist.)

Anyway, there are certain limitations to when and where one can read a book, tract or magazine --say, like when driving, doing the dishes, cutting the grass, or working. For the times that life interferes in this manner, I have my ipod (Well, actually, the ipod that I reverse-inherited from one of my sons when he upgraded to a newer, more powerful, more enviable model). I have discovered, to my great joy, that there is literally no limit as to the number of quality, informative, entertaining and spiritually edifying talks out there that one can download for free to an ipod and listen to the heart's content (I used to put talks like these on CDs, but that seems so primitive and, like, 90's now.)

Today's recommendation is the bringto you/Evangelical Catholic Apologetics site, found here:

Here is the self-description from the website that says it better than I probably could:

Some audio talks, conversion stories, debates, and MP3 files I have found very interesting and helpful in understanding the Catholic faith. All Real Media files have been converted to MP3 audio...The first set are converted MP3 audio from the popular EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) show The Journey Home hosted by Marcus Grodi (began Sept 1997). This program is dedicated to converts (or reverts) to the Catholic faith, many from Evangelical or Fundamentalist Protestant backgrounds, and during the hour long program the converts give their personal conversion stories and reasons for becoming Catholic. I have selected the programs I believe to be most impressive and interesting -- from the guest or show content or caller questions (or a combination of all three). I especially enjoyed and have included the ones that contain some useful and well-articulated Catholic "apologetics" content in my view.

The second set of MP3 audio files are some of my favorite archives from Catholic Answers Live. This is the radio program of the largest Catholic apologetics apostolate in North America.
The third set of audio are miscellaneous MP3 found on this web site. Topics include talks and commentary on the C.S. Lewis classic Mere Christianity; debates on atheism and other subjects with the evangelical Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig, theologian Alister McGrath, and conservative author Dinesh D'Souza; critics of the Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code; some creation-evolution-intelligent design discussions and debates; rare Scott Hahn, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, and Karl Keating; rare Bob Lassiter airchecks (Tampa bay talk radio); debates on 9/11 conspiracies, and Scientology.

There's something here for everyone, even if you profess to be an agnostic or atheist. So tune in, turn on and get ready to be informed and inspired!