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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Isolated Verses Misused Against the Church

A frequent tactic used by critics of Catholicism is to use verses orphaned from their proper context to impugn or undermine the teaching authority of the Church. They both misunderstand and misapply these passages so as to give their personal interpretation credence against the Magisterium. It is symptomatic of the Protestant individualism that often privatizes faith over the corporate understanding of a Church established and sustained by our Lord.

I write you these things about those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:26-27).

The initial difficulty in attacks of this sort is the very origin of the Bible, particularly the New Testament. The Catholic Church gathered and reproduced the canon of the Bible for the believers. As the Mother of the Bible, the Church and her bishops saw no challenge between biblical truth and her authority. The fundamentalist tends to be short-sighted in his historical assessments. This leads to another problem, in that the text he would use as a weapon against Catholicism becomes his own trap. The effort backfires.

His own role as a teacher of faith contradicts a literal reading of these verses. John speaks here with the authority of an apostle, a role which shall find its succession in the bishops. The warning here is not against the Magisterium of the Church, but against those who would lead God’s people astray. There is no Gospel that saves other than that of Jesus Christ. No community possesses any secret knowledge that surpasses that of the public proclamation of the true Church. Keeping faith in Christ Jesus, the believer is baptized and anointed (confirmation), receiving the Spirit of wisdom, the Holy Spirit. We have a responsibility to know the true faith and to spread it. This is the mission of the Church. The Christian has no need to seek another religious truth and we are to remain in solidarity with the chosen community of faith and in union with God. True wisdom and faith comes as a gift from God.

Further, the Holy Spirit leads the humble person to God. Against the Gnostic heretics, John is defending the Catholic truth that Jesus is the anointed Holy One, the Christ. Jesus Christ is indeed the revelation of the Father. In a certain sense, the “sola scriptura” critic of Catholicism is akin to these ancient Gnostics. While they believe that Jesus is both Christ and Savior; like the Gnostics, they minimize the importance of the material in regards to the spiritual. Thus, the Mystical Body and pre-eminence of the Church is denied, the sacramental signs are ridiculed, and the significance of the body in our personhood is often maligned for its wickedness.

Another interesting element about the verses given is their context. At the end of chapter two, something is said about our justification that is sure to make the anti-Catholic reviewer uncomfortable:

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right is born of him. (1 John 2:29).

A real sign of our being “born again” is our just behavior; dare I say our good works?
The anti-Catholic critic will sometimes resort to trying to scare Catholics. He argues that time is running out and that Catholics, no matter how well-meaning, are in the wrong camp and facing the prospect of damnation.

So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12).

The detractor of Catholicism would do well to read a few verses earlier,

Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10).

Dissimilar from most other institutions, the inherent unity of Church members in Christ means that an attack against one is an assault on all. Similarly, if one targets the Catholic Church, then every Catholic believer is between the cross-hairs. The Church is a family. It is not really possible to hate the Church but to love individual Catholics. Hate the family, and you hate all of us. We are the Church.

While certain critical voices would employ such verses in their apologetics, the citation from Romans points to how one’s faith is actualized by the life of charity and following the commandments. We will each have to give an accounting for what we did in the body, either good or evil. While there is a particular judgment for each of us, there will also be a general judgment at the end of the world. Individual souls as members of God’s holy people or those for whom the Church has interceded will be accorded the reward of the just. The communion of saints is a celebration of the unity of the Church among those glorified by grace and thus worthy of heaven. Having repented, they place their faith in Jesus. They are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb and given the wedding garment of heaven as their vestiture. Those who reject the gift of salvation remain lost in their sins. They are separated from God and breached from their brothers and sisters by their own selfishness and iniquity.

But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. (John 16:13).

These words are not written for various individuals apart from the believing community; these words regarding the Holy Spirit are directed to the Church as a whole. This promise of Christ is fulfilled when the Holy Spirit descended upon the infant Church at Pentecost. Imaged as tongues of flame over the heads of the apostles, the leadership of the Church would always be enlightened and protected in the truth. Individual members can and should invoke the Holy Spirit for wisdom. But, the gift of infallibility and steadfastness in the truth is conferred upon the Church, particularly the Magisterium, and not to every individual believer. The assurance of Christ’s teachings require that members of the faith take seriously the guidance of their lawful shepherds and that they seek to conform their hearts and minds to that of Christ realized in the teaching Church. Our Lord speaks to us through his Church.

As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed! (Galatians 1:9).

Apart from Christ’s true Church, ministers and the people who follow them fall ever further from the truth. Fundamentalists might love this verse, but it also places them under divine judgment. Originally it applied to those missionaries who insisted that pagans had to become Jews before becoming Christians. Thus, circumcision and other Jewish rituals would be placed on par with the saving Cross of Christ. Paul denounces this activity and insists that his is the correct Gospel proclamation. Catholics place faith in Jesus and consider baptism as the manner in which we join the new People of God and are touched by Christ’s saving activity. The verse can in no way be applied against the Catholic Church. Ours is a faith in continuity with history: to the early Fathers, to the apostles and to Christ.

Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; … (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Paul recalls the living TRADITION which he himself received and transmitted to the Corinthians. Paul stresses their faith in Christ and in his saving actions against the views of those who would deny the bodily resurrection of the Lord. Catholics believe in this very same Gospel and retain the ancient traditions repudiated by many non-Catholics.

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus….” (Acts 16:30-31).

Here the anti-Catholic critic is purposely deceptive. As the verse reads, it appears that salvation is an entirely personal matter. Nothing could be further from the case. The complete verse reads as follows,

“And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” (verse 31)

We read further:

So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God. (Acts 16:32-34).

Can we presume that even the babies of the household were baptized? Most probably it is so. The household or family becomes the setting for the “little church.” The gift of faith brings people to Christ, not simply as isolated individuals, but corporately– as a family in faith.

Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:12-13).

Pope John Paul II stressed this crucial element of the Good News in his encyclical on the Gospel of Life. Christ is the author of life and makes possible our share in eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John 3:16).

Again, this is a central teaching of the Catholic faith. Those who would use it to stress belief or faith profession over the merits of the Christian life would do well to read verses 20-21:

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

We believe as Catholics that God will show his face to those who search for him with humility and with sincere hearts.

When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart… (Jeremiah 29:13).

God is the source of our being. He gives our lives meaning. As St. Augustine would say, “Our hearts are restless O Lord, until they rest in you.”

Mr. Sean Hannity vs. Fr. Thomas Euteneuer

I wrote this commentary back in April of 2007. Given that we are coming up to the March for Life in a week’s time, I thought I would repost it.

Mr. Sean Hannity: “I have no problem with birth control. It’s a good thing.”

It was this statement and attitude that was to result in a sad spectacle of dissent on Church teaching and disrespect to a Catholic priest. It should be noted that Mr. Hannity claims to be pro-life, although he makes exceptions for abortions in cases or rape, incest, or for the life of the mother. A rule is only as strong as its exceptions, and thus this really reflects a moderated pro-abortion stance. A child conceived through rape is still innocent and cannot be understood as an unjust aggressor. A child of incest or sexual abuse is still a human being entitled to the right to life. A child’s life and that of the mother cannot be measured on a scale as to which one is more deserving to survive. All human life is incommensurate.

Mr. Sean Hannity invited Fr. Thomas Euteneuer of Human Life International to the television show, supposedly to discuss the matter of dissent on contraception by high profile Catholics, particularly in the media. It turned out to be a setup forum for Hannity to enact revenge against the priest for questioning his Catholicism and judging his dissent.

Regarding the recent public clash between Mr. Sean Hannity of FOX News and Fr. Thomas Euteneuer, I must come down on the side of the good priest. Compounding the matter, the “sometimes” FOX News analyst Fr. Jonathan Morris scolded Fr. Euteneuer and inadvertently aided dissenters on birth control. He said that Fr. Euteneuer “exercised, on this occasion, shockingly poor judgment,” and was mistakenly “brandishing law without palpable love.” However, the truth be said, Fr. Euteneuer hardly got a word in edgewise. I do not think undermining Church teaching was Fr. Morris’ intent, but it has been the result. As one purported Regnum Christi member said, “If a Legionary of Christ supports Hannity, then he must be in the right!” Personally, I think a general clarification from the Legionaries is required and Fr. Morris should be directed to terminate his formal association with FOX News. He was ordained to be a priest for Christ and the Catholic Church, not for Murdock’s neoconservative news propaganda machine. He has compromised himself.

Fr. Euteneuer reveals that he sought a private meeting about the subject with Hannity back in 2004. Nothing came of it.

Even a number of people who disagree about artificial contraception admitted to me that the priest was treated pretty shabbily after being invited upon the television show. There was no real discussion of the matter at hand. The priest was kept on the defensive and given no opportunity for a proper response. Mr. Hannity contended that the priest had no right to judge him and that he should worry about the outrageous cover-up of pedophile priests before coming after him. Of course, Mr. Hannity makes such judgments on his television and radio shows regularly. This was not the real problem, just that he disliked being under the gun, himself. Further, a priest is not any Christian. He is appointed by Christ as a minister of reconciliation. This role requires that he be a judge of souls and that he speak clearly about what is right and wrong.

Mr. Hannity argued falsely that Fr. Euteneuer had not spoken out forcibly about sexual abuse and the scandal of bishops who did not take it seriously. What Mr. Hannity did was to take the attention off him and to move it elsewhere, insinuating that Fr. Euteneuer was being hypocritical. Mr. Hannity also quickly appealed to the fact that not everyone is Catholic, as if that is an excuse for a Catholic in the public forum to renounce an important element of our moral teaching. Such an appeal to relativism is tragic from a figure who purports to be a political conservative. He had apologized for eating meat on a Friday of Lent. Fr. Euteneuer rightly observed that there is a big difference between the inadvertent violation of a Church discipline and the repudiation of a doctrinal or moral teaching, as here touching upon the Theology of the Body and the openness to human life that must be present in every instance of the marital act.

Mr. Hannity asked again and again, more in a rhetorical fashion than in actuality, “Do you know me?” He said he had been in seminary and had studied Latin. When I heard this I began to scratch my head, so what? The news anchor was becoming incoherent in his tirade against the priest. Were we suppose to give him a gold star for being an altar boy? Fr. Charles Curran, the great dissenter on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, etc. also went to seminary and studied Latin…such things did not make him right or insure that he had the mind of the Church about all matters.

NOTE: When challenged by Fr. Euteneuer, Hannity made a big deal out of being a former altar boy and “seminarian” who studied Latin. Actually, his “seminary” training consisted of attending a boys’ Catholic High School called St. Pius the X Preparatory Seminary in Uniondale, NY. Most of its graduates, like Hannity, were not headed for the priesthood. He was a college drop-out and his “theology” courses were nothing more than high-school and grammar school catechism.

Let us cut to the quick, Mr. Hannity is a neo-conservative in the political arena who leans toward liberalism in the area of Catholicism. It is fine and good that he has urged his children to be chaste and celibate until marriage. He might be anti-abortion, and about this we should all be pleased, but he is not consistent given his stance in favor of certain exceptions and artificial contraception. He even went so far as to mock the priest with what he saw as an inconsistency on Catholicism’s part, a so-called Church-approved birth control, i.e. contraception, Natural Family Planning. But, of course, NFP is not true contraception, it is simply periodic abstinence based upon a knowledge of the body and how it works. It is a way to regulate or space births. Further, unlike the pill or condom, NFP can be used to help couples get pregnant, since they know the times of maximum fertility. If one were to use NFP in a selfish way then it could also be turned into a sinful practice. One may space births but not turn against the meaning of the marital act.

The priest was able to squeeze in the truth, under the mantra of Hannity’s unending assault, that a majority of those who have abortions do so because of contraceptive failure. Artificial contraception is indeed the handmaid to abortion. This is what the priest knows and what Mr. Hannity refuses to admit. It creates a contraceptive mentality which fuels the holocaust of abortion. Nothing was said about the fact that certain forms of contraception are also abortifacient. But, as I said, the interview was not a civil exchange of ideas, but an opportunity to malign a priest who wanted to help Mr. Hannity to be consistent and to insure that Catholics know that contraception is a grievous matter not to be flippantly handled.

In writing to Fr. Jonathan Morris, who chastised a fellow priest and gave solace to Hannity, Fr. Euteneuer writes:

The question that comes to mind is an obvious one: if you are a Fox analyst on Catholic matters, wouldn’t you have been the one to have had those “private conversations” on birth control with Mr. Hannity? How about discussions on his abortion exceptions? When you told Sean “in person” that you “disagreed with him,” was it on the issue of birth control? If you had done that, I applaud you, but your powers of persuasion may need a little honing—Sean has only gotten more vocal on this issue over time. If you did not speak to him about his public dissent, then I ask you, “Why?” While we are on the subject, have you also analyzed and disagreed with Bill O’Reilly’s perfectly horrible disdain for the Holy Father and the Church that you represent?

The church sex abuse scandal was not just about homosexual and predatory priests. It was about clerical negligence and silence on issues that not only affect people’s souls but also ruin people’s lives. It is highly unusual that you or anyone else would want a priest to be silent on issues that affect the salvation of souls. We used to recognize “admonishing the sinner” as one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, and I consider my admonishment of Mr. Hannity to have been done in that spirit. I might also add that in doing so I have fulfilled my duty as a priest which is a requirement for my salvation.

Further evidence that Mr. Hannity suffers from a poor faith formation as a Catholic is the following notation at the HLI site:

Mr. Hannity is not backing down, saying on Monday’s radio program that if he were excommunicated he would call the Rev. Jerry Falwell and ask to join his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va.

No one, of course, is talking about excommunication; that is just his continuing hysterics about this matter. But note that he would join a Baptist Church, no doubt because of their “political” conservatism, but one that is silent on a weighty moral matter like artificial contraception. Doctrinal differences between them and Catholics are enormous. He would reject the Pope, much of the deposit of faith, and the sacramental life, particularly the Eucharist, to maintain his dissent. He would embrace a Protestant sect and forever turn his back on the sacrifice of the Mass and the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament in exchange for grape juice and loaf bread. Even a knowledgeable Catholic excommunicant, if his faith be real, would want to come home to the sacraments and to the true Church established by Jesus Christ.

ADDENDUM

Fr. Jonathan Morris

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,258291,00.html

As I watched a fellow Catholic priest spar with you on the March 9 edition of Hannity and Colmes, I hung my head in shame and sadness. My colleague in religion (whom I’ve never met) used the public airways and Internet to call you a heretic and hypocrite. Because he chose to do this in a public forum, I want you and your viewers to know, publicly, that as an analyst of this television network, I believe this good priest, who does great work, exercised, on this occasion, shockingly poor judgment. I consider his willingness to give his personal opinion about your status within the Church inappropriate and ill-considered, to say the least.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,258501,00.html

While Fr. Thomas Euteneuer and I may disagree on how best to attain this lofty goal in certain venues, like on a secular television network, we are of one heart and mind on substance.