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Talking to an Atheist on Original Sin & Evolution

FATHER JOE:  A few years ago I made a response to a post at THE GOD COMPLEX (an atheist site) about a faulty reading on the doctrine of Original Sin. Much was made of the fact that I said the Catholic Church “allows” believers to accept the theory of evolution. He was sarcastic instead of politely recognizing that there need be no fight upon this issue.

ANDROO: You allow followers to accept evolution. How nice of you. It’s good to see that the catholic church no longer shackles its faithful with burdensome chains of ignorance, well, at least not in the case of evolution anyway.

FATHER JOE: This illustrates why discussion with non-believers today can oftentimes be very difficult. Everything is in the attack mode. Did their parents force them to go to church? Did sister beat them with a ruler? What gives? Like certain fundamentalist Protestants, they treat matters like the inquisition and Galileo’s house arrest like they happened last Tuesday. The fact that the Church preserved learning and that many great scientists are faithful Catholics is ignored. When I voiced a Catholic view of evolution he seemed supportive until I wrote that “Adam and Eve are more than metaphors for Catholics.” To this he found objection.

ANDROO: This is actually pretty good. We can agree on everything right up until this part right here: ‘More than metaphor’ is truth. There is no gray area of speech where something is ‘kind of’ a metaphor and ‘kind of not a metaphor’. Either it is truth or it is metaphor. As I said in my original post, either Adam and Eve existed or they did not. If you say they are more than a metaphor than you are saying that they are truth. If you say they are truth then by default you are saying that Evolution did not occur because anyone who knows the slightest bit about evolution knows that there was no first man and woman in a magically perfect garden with manipulative talking snakes.

FATHER JOE:

It may be the confusion here is due to the way language is used and how history is understood. A scientist wants words to have one meaning so as to narrow the descriptive parameters. Theologians may also prefer such words when trying to strictly define beliefs and to eradicate misunderstandings. However, often the language of faith is that of parable and poetry. The assembled words are multivalent. My critic probably reads “metaphor” as strictly fictional. He seems to be objecting to the notion that Adam and Eve had any existence whatsoever. But, he would certainly have to grant the existence of the first true humans and/or proto-humans. Nevertheless, the way the ancients understood history is a far cry from our “video replay” mentality today. History and the stories passed down become immediately interpretive. What is read into the stories is judged as real and meaningful. When I said that Adam and Eve were more than metaphor, I expressed a belief in the existence of our first parents—not that they were simply blond haired, blue-eyed white people waiting to be fooled by a snake.

I wrote that “We would not usually talk about the fall or the infusion of a rational soul when discussing such concerns as evolution and prehistory with non-believers.” He then argues that we are holding opposing contradictory beliefs as true.

ANDROO: If I simultaneously held to be true two totally contradictory beliefs I wouldn’t talk about it with anyone either. Let me illustrate:

  • This is belief number one: “allows believers to accept the theory of evolution, but such is also taught in our schools and universities”
  • This is belief number two: “Adam and Eve are more than metaphors for Catholics”

Belief number one, and belief number two are diametrically opposed Father Joe, they cannot co-exist at all and no amount of vague definitions or hand waving can change that.

FATHER JOE: The problem here is that there is no strict syllogism. The propositions need not contradict one another. Admittedly, if Catholics strictly applied the biblical story there would some conflicts. But one need not be a stickler on the details to get the basic information that it is intended to transmit: that God is our Creator, the creation is good and that evil is the result of man’s misuse of his freedom and a violation of his stewardship. Nothing of this stands in violation to the notion that human beings may have evolved from proto-humans or more primitive animal forms, particularly primates.

ANDROO: This type of thing reminds me of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, specifically this: “…the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them . . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

FATHER JOE: I have both read and written upon Orwell’s novel, but the Church seeks not to further “doublethink” but to do justice to all the disciplines of truth while proclaiming the Gospel. Unlike certain Protestant groups which claimed that scientific and philosophical views in conflict with faith did not matter; we seek to give both faith and reason their proper place. The critic here fails to appreciate this because he is blinded by his own bigotry against theism. Making proper distinctions is not Orwellian subterfuge, but is an element of proper and clear logical thinking. He did my explanations a severe injustice and literally bypassed them altogether without any analysis. We might still disagree, but should recognize that for most aspects of science, we could be on the same page. Science and atheism are not necessarily linked; indeed, most scientists in the history of the world have possessed some kind of faith, everything from Christianity and Judaism to variations of Deism.

ANDROO: So which is the reality Father Joe? Adam and Eve or Evolution? Is the entirety of man sinful because of the acts of the first man, or is the entirety of man sinful because you say so? Or, like Doublethink, are both of them true situationally? Is evolution true when you talk to me and Adam and Eve true when you take the podium on Sundays? you know, even if it was the case that You were a fundamentalist and you believed only in Adam and Eve I would be fine with that. That is a more logical and rational stance than trying to believe both at the same time. I mean, if you’re going to believe something wild and outlandish you might as well really commit to it and ignore all of the evidence all of the time and just be a total fundie. Saying that the story was just total metaphor would be fine too. But you didn’t go with either of those options.

FATHER JOE: The reality is greater and more wondrous than you would credit. Adam and Eve, or whatever you want to call the first parents, represents the beginning of humanity on this planet. I cannot tell you if they were dark or light skinned, hairy or bald, tall or incredibly short. They might have walked with a peculiar stride. They were part of nature and yet represented something special and new on the scene. There was a fall, and I would be at a loss to say what exactly happened. There was a test and our ancestors failed. They were the first and would set the pattern for all who would come after them. The first true human has a sense of himself called to a higher dignity. For the first time there is a creature that can respond to God in kind. He has the power of a self-reflective mind and a freedom of will. He is not a necessary slave to instinct. However, instead of embracing the mystery of his calling and dignity, he reverted to the bestial—the way of least resistance—and forfeited a unique relationship with the Creator. We can only imagine what things might have been like had mankind initially said YES to God. Maybe death would have been as easy as walking through a door from one room into another? In any case, it did not happen and the pattern of sin and death would be replayed over and over again. Nothing is denied from a study of pre-history, archeology, and the current interest in DNA. As I said, God could certainly form the human body from pre-existing forms using such things as natural selection and mutations. We would not usually talk about the fall and the infusion of a soul because these are matters that science cannot place under a microscope or discover in the fossil record. It must not contradict or invalidate good science; but science itself has neither the tools nor the perspective to say much about such religious views. The disciplines study different things.

ANDROO: What really bothers me though, is that when presented with the evidence, and the impossibility of both things being true, you retreat to this: “Obviously there are still mysteries left to be discovered and it is our expectation that revelation and science are not in opposition.”

FATHER JOE:

At this point I must apologize because I assumed the critic would understand the usage of my terms. This statement here proves me wrong. There is no opposition and I am not using the word “mystery” as in regard to something not yet discovered. Theologians use the word MYSTERY in a different way. The seven sacraments were originally called the divine mysteries. When we talk about the mystery of God or of creation, we are not talking about questioning God’s existence or how this relates to the natural world. The sublime revelations of God are called “mysteries.” Theological mysteries can be known to a certain extent but given their source in an infinite God it is not possible for us to exhaust their meaning. The old edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia had this to say:

Relations of natural and supernatural truth

(a) Superiority of the Supernatural

The mysteries contained in supernatural revelation are not simply disconnected truths lying beyond the realm of natural things, but a higher, heavenly world, a mystical cosmos whose parts are united in a living bond. (Scheeben, “Dogmatik”, I, 25.) Even in those parts of this vast system that have been revealed to us there is a wonderful harmony. In his great work “Die Mysterien des Christenthums”, Scheeben has sought to show the logical connection in the supernatural order by considering its supreme mystery, the internal communication of Divine life in the Trinity, as the model and ideal of the external communication to the creature of the Divine life of grace and glory. The knowledge of the supernatural is more excellent than any human wisdom, because, although incomplete, it has a nobler object, and through its dependence on the unfailing word of God possesses a greater degree of certitude. The obscurity which surrounds the mysteries of faith results from the weakness of the human intellect, which, like the eye that gazes on the sun, is blinded by the fulness of light.

(b) Harmony of Natural and Supernatural Truth

Since all truth is from God, there can be no real warfare between reason and revelation. Supernatural mysteries as such cannot be demonstrated by reason, but the Christian apologist can always show that the arguments against their possibility are not conclusive (St. Thos., “Suppl. Boeth. de trinitate”, Q. ii, a. 3). The nature of God which is infinite and eternal, must be incomprehensible to an intelligence that is not capable of perfect knowledge (cf. Zigliara, “Propædeutica”, I, ix). The powerlessness of science to solve the mysteries of nature, a fact that Rationalists admit, shows how limited are the resources of the human intellect (cf. Daumer, “Des Reich des Wundersamen und Geheimnissvollen,” Ratisbon, 1872). On the other hand reason is able not only to recognize wherein consists the special mysteriousness of a supernatural truth, but also to dispel to some extent the obscurity by means of natural analogies and to show the fittingness of the mystery by reasons of congruity (Council of Cologne, 1860). This was done with great success by the Fathers and the Scholastic theologians. A famous example is St. Thomas’ argument ex convenientia for the Divine processions in the Trinity (Summa Theol., I, QQ. xxvii-xxxi). (See FAITH, REASON, REVELATION.)

Here my response changes from third person to first…

ANDROO: You’re essentially saying that you just don’t know how both things can be true, but you expect that they are. That is one of the most intellectually dishonest things I have ever heard.

FATHER JOE: No, this is not what I was saying at all. The dishonesty is yours for failing to pick up on so much that I made clear in regard to Catholic respect for science, if not for atheism. Maybe this confusion is a symptom of your atheism? You have no soul, or at least refuse to allow your soul to express itself. When I speak of mystery, I am remarking upon that which causes awe and wonder. The fact that we can even have this discussion is incredible. Our very existence and that of our universe should by my way of thinking be highly unlikely; but, here we are! That is absolutely incredible, no less or more so than the religious beliefs I hold to be true.

ANDROO: It is common for religious people to ridicule scientists, and even you yourself have done it Father Joe, for not actually knowing everything and having mere ‘theories’ (this displays an ingnorance as to what a theory actually is in scientific terms though) as to the creation of the universe or the development of certain traits or species.

FATHER JOE: I am not presumptuous of scientists and their theories. I acknowledge my ignorance just as you are blind to yours. When theories are proven, we have facts. However, facts always lead to more theories, and sometimes even to the revision of our so-called facts. I have never ridiculed scientists. I am critical of you as an atheist. So far I have seen no sign that you are a scientist. We could talk science, but you have chosen to ridicule religion. Indeed, you have dedicated much of your poor blog to this cause.

ANDROO: Isn’t saying ‘It’s a mystery, but I expect that I’m right’ even worse than what you mock scientists for? Scientists work to solve problems, and come up with ideas when they don’t know the answers. then they experiment and study to see if their answers ideas and theories are correct.

FATHER JOE: I have already explained about your faulty and impoverished understanding of the word “mystery.” Scientists have never been mocked by me. They have my highest respect and admiration. All men and women who seek truth of any sort are kindred souls to me. But you are not really interested in that on your site, are you? You are all about mockery and bigotry. You hate the Church. You think Christians are pathetic. And you do the one thing that no true seeker of truth would ever do; you have closed your mind.

ANDROO: You Father Joe, when presented with a problem just give up and say ‘It’s a mystery, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I’m right so let’s not talk about it.” I for one, would rather say “I don’t know yet” and try to find the answer myself.

FATHER JOE: Excuse me, to whom are you talking? I have given more of a response than probably anyone else has ever given you. It was my hope that you would see that not all religion was the same. Faith need not invalidate science (or visa versa). I am a parish priest who studies, albeit as an amateur, religion, philosophy, astronomy, physics, history and pre-history, evolutionary science, the classics of literature, etc. I did not expect any great degree of human respect, but I was somewhat surprised at how tenaciously you would grab at any and every straw to promote your personal atheism at the expense of sound argument and a true picture of Catholic Christianity.

The Original Discussion

ANDROO THE ATHEIST:

According to Catholics, man is created sinful and must struggle his entire life against his powerful tendency to sin in order to be good enough to enter heaven. In an effort to help us out, God sent Jesus down here to suffer and die and then go back to heaven. This ‘ultimate’ sacrifice somehow makes forgiveness possible. So lets take a detailed look at this, if that is even is possible. First, why is man sinful? According to Catholic.com our sin descends from Adam and Eve.

The doctrine of original sin is that “in” Adam all have sinned. / This sin of Adam’s was not your ordinary sin. This was a sin that affected all mankind forever. This sin changed the course of human history. It did not just affect Adam personally; it also affected his human nature—which means it affected our nature, since we inherited it from him. / Adam was tested by God not just as Adam but as the representative of the whole human race, since we are all the seed of Adam. Just as David and Goliath met on the battlefield as champions of their respective armies, Adam was our champion. If your champion lost in battle to the other army’s champion.

A champion whose enemy was none other than god apparently, the odds seem to have been against Adam from the start. But I digress, here’s one more.

These passages are all about the Church’s doctrine of original sin. Because of Adam’s sin, all men were made subject to sin and death. That is Scripture’s teaching on the doctrine of original sin.

Now, because I generally don’t like to pull from just one source, here are some quotes from my old friend Father Joe These are comments from an entirely unrelated article, but they illustrate that the belief in Adam, the Garden of Eden and original sin is more than metaphorical amongst catholics and their religious figureheads.

If Adam had not sinned, the course of world events would have been quite different. However, we cannot be sure what would have happened. It might have meant the immediate consummation of all things. Natural laws might have been suspended. Death might have become an easy transition from this world to the next… indeed, not a true death (as we know it) at all. / Mankind fell in Adam. He was called to respond to God as one made in his image and likeness. Instead, he preferred the path of least resistance, the way of the brute.

Moderate religious people of any faith always say that science and religion are entirely compatible. The above quotes clearly illustrate that that is not true. How exactly can one accept evolution and the age of the earth as fact while simultaneously accepting as fact the story of Adam and Eve? Those two things are diametrically opposed, if one happened the other simply could not have happened. This is a fact, only one of those events could have transpired, and the overwhelming mountain of evidence is in favor of evolution. Sorry Adam, you just didn’t exist. Since we know, as fact, that there was no Adam and Eve, no Garden of Eden, and no lively games of Fetch between Adam and a Tyrannosaur, where then, does that leave the doctrine of Original Sin? Well, if Adam did not exist, then he could not have betrayed God and he could not have passed that sin onto us all. Is it possible then, that mankind isn’t sinful by Nature, and that the Catholic Church just wants you to think that in order to perpetuate a cycle of guilt and forgiveness that constantly leads people back to the Church?

Well, MAYBE the whole Adam and Eve thing is just some sort of confusing metaphor. Maybe God was a little busy when he wrote that part of the bible and didn’t make it clear that he wasn’t being literal. Well, that just leaves us with another problem, the problem of sin and justice. Let’s say I had a son, and I decided to have both of his arms amputated at the shoulder because I wanted him that way. Now lets say that I take him out into the back yard and constantly throw footballs at him. Would it be fair of me to get angry with him because he can’t catch any of them? Would it be justice lock him in a smoldering basement for rest of his life because he cant catch any of these footballs? If Adam and Eve are only a metaphor, than that leaves God as the one responsible for our sinful nature. After all, God created us exactly the way he wanted us to be, a omnipotent and omniscient being could do no less. So, if god made us sinful by nature, is it fair that he punishes us for giving in to sin? Is it fair that he sentences us to hell for giving in a desire he gave us in the first place? I don’t think so.

One final thought though, if we truly are sinful by nature, and it is ‘natural’ for us to sin, and God is forcing us to act righteously, than isn’t that coercion?

Coercion is the practice of compelling a person to behave in an involuntary way (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation or some other form of pressure or force.

Seems like god is the bad guy no matter how you look at it.

FATHER JOE:

The Catholic Church not only allows believers to accept the theory of evolution, but such is also taught in our schools and universities. Unlike Protestant fundamentalists and certain Catholic traditionalists, we have long been open to the notion that the human body may have developed from pre-existing forms. Further, while men probably ran with mammoths and faced the extinct sabertooth, I do not think human beings were around when the dinosaurs or their precursors roamed the earth.

Adam and Eve are more than metaphors for Catholics, but there are certainly metaphorical elements in the story. We would not usually talk about the fall or the infusion of a rational soul when discussing such concerns as evolution and prehistory with non-believers. Rather, we would stress those things in which we find agreement from fossil and/or genetic evidence. Catholics would not hold opposing propositions as true; however, different matters are studied and each discipline is respected in its own right. Obviously there are still mysteries left to be discovered and it is our expectation that revelation and science are not in opposition. Instead they look at the basic questions from different perspectives. I would not use the Bible as a science textbook; neither would I use Darwin or Einstein as prophets of faith.

I am not trying to prove God to you, anymore than you could make me question my faith. I just hope we can live in a world where believers and non-believers can work together and live in peace and respectful civility.

Bishop Walsh Knights of Columbus Assembly

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We had a Fourth Degree Assembly meeting Monday night and renewed our promises as Knights.

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Courageous Words from a Montgomery County Pastor

Maryland

When the vote was over, despite all the work of the Maryland Catholic Conference and our own Archdiocese of Washington, the same-sex marriage initiative passed. The day after, when analysts were looking at the numbers, it was noted that Prince Georges County had voted against the measure by a razer thin margin. No doubt while there were many Obama supporters, this was also the church mecca of the state, a county with a 93% minority population. The more affluent Montgomery County voted for the measure, almost two to one. Msgr. Filardi is a Montgomey County pastor. Here is his message:

WELCOME TO SODOM

Pastor’s Letter
Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Bethesda, Maryland

Welcome to Sodom. Yes, that is what Maryland has now become. Sodom with its neighbor Gomorrah was a city of antiquity whose disregard for the natural law of human love led to its destruction. That same disregard is now written into state law. The distinctive physical and life-cultivating complimentarity of woman and man has been dismissed as a basis for marriage. Additionally, those who cannot honor this diluted definition in their personal and business activities will be held legally liable for discrimination and punished accordingly.

Already, the owner of a trolley service in Annapolis seeing this coming announced he will no longer offer wedding services. By doing so he will lose much of his business, but he cannot in good faith go along with treating as normal what is not, neither can we.

It is a great sadness that many of Satan’s helpers in ushering in this demonic distortion of marriage were Catholics, such as our governor. In promoting this desecration they have not only brought dishonor to our holy faith and shame to all Catholics, but invite the real possibility of damnation on themselves. We must pray that they recognize this error, repent and make reparation.

Some may interpret my words as an unfair disregard for individuals who bear same-gender attraction. It is not. Such brothers and sister must be loved and embraced. Indeed, we must make greater efforts of proper inclusion and support. At the same time true love is not allowance for any activity. It has no authority to overlook what is written in nature. Love cannot comply with a lie. It first honors what God has designed, and then encourages all to live in authentic love that leads to true fulfillment. Nothing changes for us, because God defines marriage. This has not changed. The purposeful union of man and woman was the crown of God’s creation. Anything else by that name mocks what God has created, and therefore mocks God.

Maryland is our home. It is where we are placed, and it is where we will continue to live. But especially now we must live upholding in word and honor the truth of marriage with clarity. We cannot betray what God has created without betraying God. This means never placating or playing along with a false notion, no matter how “well intention” some may be. It will not be easy. We do so at the risk of the ire and even legal sanctions this will invoke.

Our beloved state is now a modern-day Sodom. We should not be surprised at the coming of confusion, conflict, and even catastrophe. We reap what we sow. May God have mercy on us.

Msgr. Edward J. Filardi
Pastor, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish
Bethesda, Maryland

Catholic Bandita / Courageous Priest / Parish Bulletin / A Culture of Life / Father Z’s Blog / Deacon for Life

The Baptism of the Lord: What is Baptism?

jesus-baptismLast week I preached about how the Epiphany was the first of three theophanies (revelatory moments) where the divinity and power of Jesus was made manifest. At one time the Church celebrated them upon three consecutive days (a triduum): the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord and the Transfiguration. Today, the first two are in close proximity but the Transfiguration is elsewhere in the liturgical year (August 6).

Today also brings Christmas or Epiphanytide to an end. On the Epiphany, Christ the child is honored as the new king, God joining himself to the human family. When he is baptized by John, our Lord is a man beginning his public ministry. But, here too, he is made manifest as the long-promised Messiah, the one who would “increase” just as John would “decrease.” The Holy Spirit appears as a dove and there is the voice from above announcing, “Here is my beloved Son upon whom my favor rests.” It fits with the message of Christmas because while Jesus (the God made man) resembles us externally, his objective is that we might be more like him, internally.

This feast provides a wonderful opportunity to speak about the meaning and importance of baptism. Several years ago I had the privilege to visit Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. There were various caves and much of the old settlement had been excavated. I was taken by these large tubs of stone or rock. Steps led up the sides of them and then more steps down into the tubs. These were ablution baths used by the Jews for ceremonial washings. There were several occasions in the New Testament where such things were mentioned. Remember the men suffering leprosy that were healed by Jesus and told to bathe and show themselves to the priests? Remember the poor man needing healing but there was no one to place him into the pool when the water stirred? Jesus would heal him outright. What John the Baptizer was doing was not something new to the Jews. They were familiar with ceremonial washings where people would beseech God for mercy and healing. But, like their sacrifices, these washings were never able to fully accomplish what they hoped. What drew people to John was that, even according to ancient standards, he was a peculiar character, unkempt and living off the land. There was also a strangely compelling and powerful element to his message of repentance. John’s baptism of people in the Jordan was really a baptism of PREPARATION. He was making a straight path for the Lord— preparing a people— disposing them to receive the one who was coming after him. Notice how his disciples quickly became followers of Jesus.

The second type of baptism was unique to our Lord. The waters of baptism were made holy by the one being baptized. Through the symbolism of a dove, along with the voice, the whole Trinity was present at the scene of Christ’s baptism. Jesus was identified as God’s Son. His baptism was precisely one of REVELATION. Jesus had no sins that needed repentance or forgiveness. Jesus was the one they had long awaited. Jesus’ identity was made manifest.

Turning to the third type of baptism, we recall our Lord’s words at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. He tells his apostles to go out to the entire world and to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When he spoke about salvation, he insisted that we must be “born again.” While the baptism of Jesus reveals his identity, our baptism CHANGES our identity. We are remade as a new creation, something different than before. Baptism makes us members of Christ’s kingdom. We become brothers and sisters to Jesus, spiritually adopted sons and daughters of the Father. Sin is washed away, both original and personal. We are made holy and living temples of the Holy Spirit. This third baptism makes us into new Christs, molding us into his likeness. This is a baptism of TRANSFORMATION.

We recall this baptism every time we enter a church and cross ourselves with the holy water from the basin at the door.  As members of the divine family or royal household of God, the world needs to see Christ living and ministering through believers. Creatures of God have become sons and daughters. We are given a share in the divine life and abide as a people of faith in the real hope of salvation.

For more on this feast and the mystery of baptism, read Msgr. Charles Pope’s blog entry.

Saint Ann, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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NOVENA PRAYER

GOD OUR FATHER, the beauty and the order of your creation was wilfully damaged by those who rejected your friendship. Undeterred by this ingratitude, your Son entered our world on a mission of mercy and healing. He walked among us as a divine physician seeking the lost and the strayed, curing the sick and the handicapped, mending broken hearts and restoring broken friendships, comforting the distressed and bringing peace of mind to the victims of sin. With the exception of sin, he too was the victim of suffering and anxiety. He knew fatigue and hunger and loneliness. In taking flesh and blood from the children of Eve, he honored Mary and Ann as mother and grandmother. From them he inherited eyes which behold the ills of man and hands which constantly reach out to bring healing to mind and body. In this novena of prayer, dedicated to Saint Ann, the friend of the sick, we ask her intercession to strengthen our faith that miracles of healing may continue to testify that the compassionate Jesus still walks among us. We ask him to bless us, today and forever. Amen.

ASSORTED DAILY PRAYERS (Choose one)

DAY 1 – Glorious Saint Ann, by the special bond of affection uniting you still with your child, our blessed Mother, and with her divine Son, we call on your powerful aid to meet today’s pressing needs. We freely acknowledge our own sinfulness and unworthiness, and yet we count on your help, and promise ever to be grateful to you and faithful to God’s will for us. Amen.

DAY 2 – Dearest Saint Ann, teach me the value of prayer. When I pray humbly, earnestly, God’s hand stretches out to me; it takes hold of my hand, my mind, my will and helps me up the steep path that leads me to the goal he has set before me. Amen.

DAY 3 – Saint Ann, when I lose my way and lose sight of my Lord, show me how I can find him again; tell me where he wishes me to walk through life; help me discover in Christ’s teaching the light that will reveal to me the Father’s will, which is made manifest through his commandments, through my duties toward him and toward my neighbor and through the various circumstances in which I am called to work out my destiny. Amen.

DAY 4 – Saint Ann, when I lose heart before the hardships of life and the constant obstacles that I have to overcome, when I feel helpless before my bad inclinations, before my repeated struggles against the evil one and against a world that is constantly pulling me away from you, obtain for me from God, who is the source of all strength, the courage to remain faithful to him, never to pull my hand out of his hand and to overcome the countless temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. Amen.

DAY 5 – Saint Ann, first of all, let me always keep burning in my heart the eternal flame of God’s love; let the unquenchable fire of God’s love for me forever keep alive in me a consuming love for the Lord and for my neighbor. Amen.

Day 6 – Dearest Saint Ann, whenever I am unhappy, inspire me to pray for happiness, for my share in the happiness of this earth; but, first of all, for the endless happiness that God has prepared for those who serve him with loving and prayerful hearts. Amen.

DAY 7 – Each passing day is a step forward on our earthly pilgrimage. Saint Ann, let each new day bring us deeper into the Lord’s knowledge and love. This is the goal of all Christian life on earth: that every passing day and every passing year should show us better the dazzling face of our God and urge us toward him in more faithful service. Amen.

DAY 8 – Saint Ann, the afflictions that befall our persons, families, cities and nations will be unbearable, unless you teach us how God’s merciful designs for man are attained through suffering. Keep reminding us that the only way that leads man to God and happiness is the way of the cross. Amen.

DAY 9 – Saint Ann, teach us how to love one another. Love alone can do away with the evils of disputes, riots and wars. Love alone can inspire men with a sense of equity and justice. It will tear down the barriers that divide men according to languages, colors and creeds, and will inspire mankind to live in mutual understanding. Amen.

DAY 10 – Thank you, dearest Lord, for this new day and for all the blessings it has in store for me. Thank you for the air I shall breathe, for the bread I shall eat. Thank you for the gift of light which will allow me to enjoy the beauty of the universe; for the gift of strength that will allow me to keep walking on the road of your commandments; for the gift of friendship and love which will sustain my steps and give warmth to my life. Amen.

DAY 11 – Teach me, dear Saint Ann, how to use every hour of this new day as a gift from the Father’s loving hand. Let me use the sorrows of life as well as its joys in order to spend this whole day in his service and for his glory. Amen.

DAY 12 – My loving Lord, give me light when I lose sight of you and of the way that leads to you; give me strength when I am weak and faltering under the weight of my aches, of my responsibilities and of my griefs; give me hope when I am tempted by despair; give me your burning love when my heart is cold and loveless. Amen.

DAY 13 – Dear Saint Ann, bring Christ’s pilgrim people closer together while they are helping one another on the way to their eternal dwelling place. Amen.

DAY 14 – Dearest Saint Ann, I wish to make my evening prayer before you. This day was a gift from God. He gave it to me, not to be spent foolishly, but to be used for his glory and for my happiness, as well as for the benefit of my neighbor. Amen.

DAY 15 – Teach me also how to be sorry for frequently resisting God’s will and the impulses of his grace. Obtain me forgiveness for often failing in faith in God’s teaching, in hope in his assisttance and in love for him and my neighbor. This day had been given me in order to bring me closer to my Lord. At the end of this day, am I a more faithful and loving child to my God and Father? Are men more understanding, more helpful to one another? Amen.

DAY 16 – Saint Ann, as I reach the end of this day and of this prayer, I also wish to place my whole person, body and soul, under your care. Keep both, my soul and my body, in good health. Watch over my family, over my friends; watch over my city, my country, over the Church. Watch over all men, since they are God’s pilgrim people on the way to their Lord and Father. Amen.

Atheism, Blessing without a Source?

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My priest friend Msgr. Pope has an interesting blog article in response to Susan Jacoby’s New York Times article, “The Blessings of Atheism.”

I would urge people to read Msgr. Charles Pope’s critique on the Archdiocesan Blog.

I was “taken aback” by the very notion of atheistic blessings, since I have always envisioned it as the path to despair and senselessness. The catalyst for her article was the murder of the Newtown children and teachers. She tells us that she is sick of all the God-talk and that some must believe, as she does, that this is the only life we will ever know. An associate of hers contended that this is precisely the limitation of non-belief or rather false-belief. I would concur with the criticism, because nothing then remains of hope.  (It may be argued that we all believe in something, even atheists; it is just that they are blind to their almighty suppositions.) What would she have us say to the grieving parents? “Sorry, your children had their lives violently stolen from them and now they are only worm food.” No, a thousand times no, if such were the case there would be no real justice. An afterlife and the existence of God are two intimately connected corollaries. Such belief, which is more rational than not, preserves both the realization of mercy and of justice. Sometimes the wicked flourish and the good suffer. There must be some opportunity to balance the scales. Christians thus look to God as the Divine Judge and the Divine Mercy. Somehow, some way, God will make it right. Otherwise, if everything we know is simply a mad cosmic accident, then it might be better had we never existed or became aware. But God does exist and he is not a monster.

Msgr. Pope is somewhat more sympathetic to atheism than I am, although he would concur that such a view fails to suffice and that Christianity offers something richer. I would add that true faith gives us something more satisfying and real. Atheists might laugh at this because they image theists as battling science and truth. They rank religious faith with fairytales and the made-up world of comic strips. They make no distinction between Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Great Pumpkin and Jesus Christ. Although, having said this, they would allow depictions and songs for all of these in public places and schools, except for Jesus. Because people take this last “myth” seriously, they would contend that it should be restricted or even wiped out. Although it can function for social benefit, religion and its charity always come with strings attached: about human dignity, the sanctity of life, sexual morality, and so much more. Atheists repudiate standards based upon biblical commandments and many are increasingly resistant to claims from natural law, which they view as a back door ploy to sneak religious values back into the picture.

Do atheists have any lessons to teach us? Yes, although maybe not as they intend. Catholicism argues for intelligent design. We would agree with atheists against certain religious fundamentalists that there can be no blind trumping of science by faith. Catholics would speak of faith seeking understanding and the complementarity of truth: theological, philosophical and scientific. Atheists can also help us to avoid a Pollyanna faith where we too easily extricate ourselves from the problem of pain and death with a “pie-in-the-sky” solution. I remember a woman who had lost her baby. A well-meaning friend tried to console her at the wake by saying, “We just have to accept it. It was God’s will.” Yes, it is true that the mysterious providence of God allows moral and natural evil. But just because he may somehow make the crooked lines straight in the end will not take away this woman’s immediate pain. Often a sympathetic presence is more needed than jargon that makes matters worse. The mother in this episode exploded in a tirade of anger and tears against God. On a similar occasion, a mourner told the child of the diseased mother during the viewing, “Doesn’t she look good? She looks more like she is sleeping than dead.” The person really did not know what to say and so she said something stupid. We live in a world more enraptured by appearances than by the truth. But death illumines such a preoccupation as the ultimate absurdity. What does it mean to look good when you are DEAD? Atheists can motivate us to be “real” in our attitude toward questions of meaning and life. Many people SAY they believe but for all PRACTICAL purposes, they live as if there is no God and judgment.

While some atheists might adopt Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness, others would contend that if this is our only life then we should make it count for something. We should leave this world better than how we found it. It is on this level that Popes going back to John XXIII have argued we should find common ground with “people of good will.” Nevertheless, this good will is often absent. Jacoby attacks religion, but where are the meeting houses where atheists weekly assemble to promote humanism and works of charity? No, instead when they congregate it is to mock religion with obscenities, throw out slurs, and deify a science that cannot ultimately save us.

There are serious pitfalls to atheism: notably that they deny God, any direction he might offer and the graces that can sustain and strengthen us. Separated from the true faith, compassion itself can become a type of tyranny. Abortion is the solution to an unwanted pregnancy. Euthanasia is the option for those in great pain or for whom life no longer satisfies. Human life and meaning itself is reduced to pragmatic utility. Relationships become transitory and morality is what we determine or legislate upon. Atheism can become just as intolerant as the religions about which it laments.

I wonder sometimes if religious people have had a hand in the emergence of atheism. In light of the world’s absurdities, have we cast real light or just fed people pablum instead of real food? Has our own hypocrisy as Christians distorted the kerygma of faith, making it unappealing for inquirers? Have we so stressed the stigma of guilt for sin that instead of seeking mercy and healing, critics would brush aside the moral categories all together? If there is no God then there is no moral law and no sin. If there is no sin, then there is no need for remorse, contrition or change.

Jacoby traced her own atheism to a friend’s drawn-out death from polio in the 1950’s. Msgr. Pope is on the mark that she did not answer but eradicated a question that did not make sense to her (why would God allow this?) But, no matter if one believes or not, it is foolishness to brush aside the existential questions.

Nothing comes from nothing, but the fact that I am asking questions is proof that there is something. What is existence and why are we here? Did someone make us? If so, where is he now? Why is there suffering and death? What is the purpose of things? Where are we going? What is evil and what is its source? Is there justice and what is it? Can we be happy and for how long? I want food and drink and I can satisfy both desires. But I also want to live and to know reunion with those who have died; why would I have this desire if its object could not be obtained? I want to know; why would I have this desire if the source of all meaning would always be denied me?

I think Jacoby fails to appreciate that the Christian solution to the problem of pain and death is not a pact answer. It is not resolved in any simple mathematical or doctrinal or philosophical formula. We find the answer in the weaving of our lives into the great story of Christ. We have in Jesus a God who is in solidarity with the mess where we find ourselves. He knows loss, betrayal, pain and death. The innocent Lamb of God suffers death so that we might have a share in his risen life. He does not take away our troubles, nor does he simply make a promise for a better tomorrow. He is with us, right now, saying, “Father, if it is your will, let this cup pass from me. But not my will, but thy will be done.” He is the one betrayed with a kiss, denied by his chief apostle, condemned by his people, scourged as a criminal and crucified on the dead tree of the Cross. He does not take away all our troubles, but he shares them and gives us hope. We are not alone. We are not abandoned. He is with us facing the gunman’s bullets. He is with us in the iron lung dying from polio. He is with us in the AIDs hospice. He is with us homeless on the street. He is with us facing cancer. Because of the incarnation, Christianity gives a unique religious answer to the problem of suffering and death. United to Christ, these dark mysteries are overcome by enduring them with courage and faith. We do not seek suffering and pain for their “own” sake. Such would be a moral sickness; but such is the human condition, something Christ has made his own so that we might know his divinity and life.

The rest that comes with death is freedom from mortal strife; it is not oblivion. We will be more than just fading memories in the heads of people who will also die. I wonder if atheists ever tell their loved ones, “I will love you, forever!” If so, do they mean to be liars? If the grave is the end of the story then love dies there, too. The Christian faith contends that just as love is eternal, so is life.

Three of My Small Parishioners After Sunday Mass

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Faith & Values in the News

Twitter insult to emir gets man two years in prison

Injustice practiced by our allies.

Priest bans yoga for being a ‘different religious practice’

While exercise is exercise, it is true that “spiritual” yoga is incompatible with Catholic doctrine. The priest is right but why is this news?

White House petitioned to label Catholic Church a ‘hate group’

Despite assertions to the contrary, we will soon find that there is no real tolerance from liberalism and its sexual revisionism. Disagreement will be categorized as a hate crime or something about which one might face jail time or fines. Will we find priests arrested for what they preach at pulpits? Leftists the world over cannot stand to be contradicted. Overtures for dialogue are treated with disdain and anger.

Why are Overweight People Less Likely to Die?

Now they tell me!

Incredible photo shows baby reach out — from the womb

Another testimony against abortion.

Elvis song leaves Utah school district ‘All Shook Up’

Am I missing something? Presley sings that his sweetheart has “lips… like a volcano that’s hot” and that “she’s my buttercup. I’m in love. I’m all shook up.” What is offensive? If the children sang the bleeped music we hear on the radio today the girl would be called a “b” or an “h” and the “f” bomb would drop in every line or so. Are critics barking up the wrong tree?

Child support claim rankles sperm donor to lesbian couple

He should pay through the nose. No matter whether he likes it or not, he is the father and that brings with it obligations.

My comment is not a juridical opinion but a rhetorical one. This case is reflective of the mentality that redefines fertility as a mere biological expediency while dismissing the importance of natural law and the marital act. It also reduces the child to a commodity. I have little sympathy for such reprobates. The biological father deserves whatever trouble he gets into for his moral transgressions.

The donation of sperm for insemination is regarded (in itself) by the Church as morally wrong and the matter of mortal sin. Further, not only is masturbation sinful (extraction of semen), the Church insists that every child should be conceived through the marital act between a man and a woman. There can be no tertium quid or third party intervention. Some ethicists also regard it as a technological form of fornication; indeed, if a married person gets the donation, it also constitutes adultery. There is also the matter of the seminal insertion. While it was probably a medical insemination, I had a case several years ago where a homosexual man masturbated on a spoon and the lesbians used the spoon to conceive, avoiding the initial expense of a doctor. Later the man made trouble for them, insisting on his parental rights. If the insemination was of various egg cells outside the body in petri dishes, then we are potentially dealing with abortion, too. Once an egg cell is conceived, others are frequently destroyed or frozen. The freezing of embryos is also morally wrong. This man not only enables a deviant couple to have a child but by association becomes an accomplice in a whole series of moral wrongs or crimes. A financial risk might stop others from being so foolhardy.

Free condoms to be dispensed by Philadelphia high schools

Goodness me, we take out cigarette dispensers to keep minors from smoking but we give them condom machines to encourage them to have sex… schools have certainly changed. And just think, all paid for with tax dollars! I can just see the boys piling condoms on their school desks and giving all the girls a wink… all with the teacher’s approval, right? When I was in high school we had a section of the building made into a smoking zone. Will we have free sex areas in schools, too? Will teachers and principals supervise the use of condoms to make sure they are implemented properly. Sounds ridiculous? Just wait!

Catholic moral teaching insists that condomistic intercourse is intrinsically immoral. As such it is the matter of mortal sin. Condoms fail and they increase sexual activity. We should be teaching abstinence, instead. A contraceptive mentality also leads to increased abortions, not the opposite.