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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 6

A continuation from part #5.

MISS ATHEIST

Philosophers do indeed reason from causality, motion, existence and from the mind; that doesn’t mean that what they come up with is always true. I know that there are plenty of philosophers you don’t agree with so your attempt to claim that I have to believe whatever a philosopher comes up with is weakened by your own actions. In that you use special pleading to excuse your god from all of those things, means that there is no reason to agree with your claims.

FATHER JOE

Here is an immediate instance of how irrational is your so-called rationality. You write: “I know that there are plenty of philosophers you don’t agree with so your attempt to claim that I have to believe whatever a philosopher comes up with is weakened by your own actions.” Did I ever say that I accept all philosophies? The local university even has a course called “The Philosophy of Star Trek.” Philosophy like science has its frauds and fools. The brand of philosophy espoused by the Church speaks to the mind’s ability to know the world and to deduce elements present but not directly seen. We take nature seriously. As our empirical knowledge of the world around us changes and grows, we move beyond the world of the Scholastics, still trusting that man is a rational animal (albeit ensouled) who can know objective truth and ultimate meaning. Philosophies that reject such concepts would obviously not find much room in the Catholic tradition, just as they would be in conflict with the world view of science and/or physics.

MISS ATHEIST

There is nothing about complexity that requires a god or your god in particular. You wish to pretend that your god always existed and that’s how things started. There is no reason not to make the same assumption that physical laws have always existed too and that’s how things started, no god needed.

FATHER JOE

Here you make a presumption that infinite regressions or progressions are possible without a source. Many of us would view this as an absurdity. The notion of God as a Prime Mover is often misunderstood as it would not place the Creator God within the spatial-temporal order but outside of it.  God does not simply knock over the dominoes, but fashions them and gives them space to fall.  You appear to make matters more cut-and-dry than they actually are.

MISS ATHEIST

You might be amazed that someone can disagree with you and love— so? 

FATHER JOE

Did I say this? No, but my faith does inform how I love. I would love sinners without approving of their sins. I would love freedom but not at the cost of human rights as with those of an unborn child. Hopefully I would love as Jesus does, in a sacrificial way. Trusting that there is something beyond this world makes it easier to do so.

MISS ATHEIST

That’s only an appeal to personal incredulity and the usual sad attempt by a theist to claim that atheists are somehow less than human. I hate to break it to you, but non-Christians are just as happy and loving as Christians are. It is sad that it seems that many Christians have to make up things about atheists so that you can feel better about yourselves.

FATHER JOE

Again, these are your words, not mine. My contention is not that the atheist is less than human but rather that he might sometimes too narrowly define what it means to be human. As for happiness, it is about more than transitory delights or satisfaction. If people like yourself are so happy then why would you rob others of what makes them happy, believe in it or not? Why should you be their (uncertain) arbiter over reality? You condemn the resolution of believers, but do not offer anything in return that matches up to it. You do not know the joy that Christians possess, and while a subjective experience, that does not mean necessarily unhinged from reality. You are intent upon nullifying the experience of faith and any relationship with God that others have just because you do not believe or feel it. You may be the more dogmatic one in this argument.

I am only a parish priest. Greater minds than mine would have to tackle the questions of faith, doubt and disbelief. Nevertheless, I have come up with some questions for such a discussion:

  • What is prayer and does it work?
  • Are miracles real and how do they relate to natural laws?
  • What is the resurrection and how has it impacted upon believers?
  • How does creation and providence interact with human agency?
  • Does the human mind and desires speak to the existence of the soul?
  • How can we know the true God?
  • How do we reconcile a good God with suffering, pain and evil?
  • Can truths in science, philosophy and religion complement each other?
  • Is intelligent design compatible with modern scientific views?
  • In what ways does our view of creation allow room for evolution and the human condition?
  • Do the things we say about God have a lot to say about ourselves?
  • How can we relate to a God outside of space and time?
  • Given both a mental and material world, can we substantiate a spiritual world of meaning?

MISS ATHEIST

I see you make a claim that there are extra-biblical sources and good archaeology for the events of the salvation story but you do not present them. Now, being a student of archaeology and those extra-biblical sources, I know your claims aren’t true. We have forgeries in Josephus. We have claims that since Christians exist and are mentioned that it has to mean that the salvation story is true, which would mean that since believers of other gods exist, those gods have to really exist too. We have claims that the Talmud mentions Jesus, but Christians fail to mention that it gets the details wrong. We have no archaeological evidence for Jesus or of Noah and the flood, or of the existence of Israelites enslaved in Egypt, etc.

FATHER JOE

There are three passages in Josephus about which authorities argue. However, it is generally admitted that these works provide valuable insight into first century Judaism and the early days of Christianity. This makes me wonder what kind of student you might actually be. I do not hide my identity and background. Since you make claims of professional standing, why not tell us who you are and what your credentials might be? It is easy to attack from the shadows. Who are you? The term “salvation history” has a meaning that seems to elude you. It does not mean a kind of video news recording of the past. It speaks to the stories and testimonies of saints and sinners. We encounter prophets and patriarchs, and eventually the fulfillment of an ancient promise. Even the manner of the telling is part of this legacy, with all the hyperbole and cultural trappings. It speaks to a God that has inserted himself directly into human history. You would throw it all away, claiming there was no primordial flood (although there is evidence in the Mediterranean basin), no Moses and miraculous escape from Egyptian bondage (that takes care of the commandments), and no Jesus (even though believers died professing the risen Lord). It is here that you show your true face. You are not a rational atheist. You are a bigot who so hates religious themes that you would negate not only the supernatural but the meaningful tangible human experience. You are to be pitied.

MISS ATHEIST

Now, I’ll ask you since you make the claim of good evidence, what dates did these events happen? If we have good evidence, then you should know. Then we can look for evidence around those times. If a strong earthquake, and the darkening of the sun, and the dead were walking on a single day, we should be able to find evidence of it. If your messiah did have thousands of people meeting just outside of Jerusalem, more than a legion’s worth of men, plus women and children, one would think that the Roman occupiers would have noted it. If there were hundreds of thousands of people walking around an area the size of half of Pennsylvania for 40 years, we should be able to find at least a few latrines.

FATHER JOE

This has already become a long discussion, mostly an elongated clarification or correction of your misconceptions. Note the differences in the Gospels. While truth is proclaimed, it is done in a way that reflects different communities and their emerging theological traditions. Sources outside of the Bible give credence to the people and events in the Scriptures, but details are sometimes wrapped up in numerology, a limited worldview and science.  While the Jews appealed to an invisible, spiritual God; nevertheless, an unavoidable anthropomorphism sometimes entered into what they thought he demanded of them. Archeological finds emerge every day but we should not underestimate how centuries upon centuries can effectively bury much of the past. The torn veil, the darkening sky, earthquakes, well maybe, but these are not the determining elements of Christ’s story. The crucial mystery is the saving death and resurrection of Christ. God keeps his ancient promise to redeem a people. As for signs among the Romans, the greatest empire on the earth would be converted by the new faith and the old Rome of Caesar would after several centuries of martyrs’ blood make room for the new Rome of Peter and Christ.

There are all sorts of writings that point to the Christ-event. Josephus, already mentioned, in book 18 of his work speaks about John the Baptizer and Jesus, although he merely termed the latter as “a wise man” and a “doer of wonderful works.”  The Babylonian Talmud (200 AD) refers to Jesus as one executed for practicing “sorcery” and threatening the Jews with “apostasy.”  There are many extra-biblical writings from the Romans about the early Christians, even if the pagans did not understand what they were about: Pliny’s Letter to Trajan (111 AD), Suetonius (110 AD) on the persecution of Christians, and Tacitus on the Christian “superstition” in the Roman Annals (115 AD).  There was also Eusebius, and of course, there would be volumes from the early Church fathers, other Christian apologists and the heretical Gnostics.  Clement (a papal successor to Peter) penned a letter to the Corinthians that is purportedly older than the Book of Revelation!

MISS ATHEIST

I see you mentioned the Barna report. Now, if one looks at the paragraph you gave one can make some interesting observations on how they chose to present the data. Churches are considered charities, the problem is that most of the money just goes to the church and only benefits its members.

FATHER JOE

And where are your facts to base up this claim? Restricting ourselves to Catholic charity work in the United States, estimates vary from 17 to 34% of all non-profit social-service charities. That is not counting the efforts of other Christian organizations as well as Jewish ones. Worldwide it is estimated (in 2010) that Catholic charity efforts amounted to $171,600,000,000 (The Economist). When you look to what actually reaches the needy and what is spent for administration, figures show that most is spent to make a difference in people’s lives. A very small percentage goes to administration, which not all operations can claim. We do not seek to benefit just our own. We do not ask a beggar on the street for his denomination before giving him a sandwich.

Where you would fault the Church is that she is tax-exempt and that not everything given the Church is for social services or charity. Parishes have churches and schools to maintain. We have salaries to pay. Also, we are not social workers. We are about spreading the Gospel, about worship and about teaching certain moral values.

MISS ATHEIST

Churches do fund actual work that helps others, but not to the degree they fund themselves. If they did give as much to others, then my local mission wouldn’t have to beg for money from everyone, when there are ten pages of churches in my local yellow pages.

FATHER JOE

You want me to substantiate even the smallest of claims, no doubt an effort to make a response so ponderous that none could be made with any practicality; however, you do not hold yourself to the same standard. You remain anonymous and neither offer identification of your charities nor what they do? Is Planned Parenthood one of your charities? They would not only rank as a Fortune 500 corporation but sell baby parts for money, too.

MISS ATHEIST

If the claims of Christians are true, and that the US is a Christian-majority country, that means that Christians are in those groups that Barna singled out, except of course for the atheists and agnostics. Christian young people, Christians who didn’t go to college, Christians in the northeast, Christian Asians and Christian Hispanics didn’t give to charities. What is amusing about this is that “25% or more” didn’t give but 75% (or less) did give. Since Barna is a religious group, there is a reason that they write the way they do. They also don’t show their numbers, which is always suspect.

FATHER JOE

I am no apologist for Barna but I can speak to the fact that many claim to be Christian or Catholic when in fact, they are not. It has been my experience that the most fervent believers have been the most generous with needs.

MISS ATHEIST

To which group does the “or more” apply? By how much more are we talking? Now, another study was done and it broke down giving to church and non-church non-profits, “Connected to Give: National Study of American Religious Giving Frequencies.. Unsurprisingly, when that was done, there wasn’t much difference at all. Again, if one actually follows the evidence, and does not have a presupposition, the truth to be found is quite different. Christians don’t have a lock on charity work at all. Christians aren’t funding soup kitchens and homeless shelters to the exclusion of everyone else. What they are doing is falsely trying to claim credit for the actions of all humans.

FATHER JOE

Other than those operated by the government, how many independent (non-religious) shelters and soup kitchens do you know? How many strictly atheist groups run charity operations for the homeless and hungry?  My parishioners regularly feed the homeless at SOME, an operation started in DC by a Jesuit priest. Today it invites people of all faiths or none at all to assist in the work. President Obama made an appearance and dished out food. I am not saying there are no good-hearted atheists. I am saying that religious believers are the main movers and shakers for the bulk of charities in our nation. You have shown nothing to prove otherwise. Indeed, you have given a caricature of a self-seeking and narcissistic Christianity that is a far cry from the REAL witness of faith that I have seen and experienced.

See part #7 that continues this topic.

Once Saved, Always Saved?

KATHLEEN:

Hello, I am a “catholic.” I firmly believe that through my faith in Jesus he has saved me. I, along with everyone else who believes in Jesus already has salvation. We are not going to hell. So my question is why would a “catholic” want or need to wear a scapular? How can one save what is already saved? And isn’t their belief in Jesus enough for salvation?  Thank you for input.

FATHER JOE:

You may be a Catholic, but your assessment of “blessed assurance” is representative of a Protestant view. Indeed, it is the sin of presumption for a Catholic to view himself as irrevocably saved. Certain evangelicals believe in the “once saved, always saved” interpretation that emerged from Martin Luther’s teaching of juridical justification through imputation. Simply put it means that after a faith profession in Christ one is saved regardless of personal sins and weaknesses. Supposedly, we are masked by Christ when the Father looks upon us. The Catholic understanding is different. The ancient Catholic truth has to do with being born again as a new creation. We must be transformed. Faith and baptism makes us members of God’s people, but just as faith can grow, it can sour. The Evangelical would say that if a person becomes a grievous sinner that their earlier faith was counterfeit. Catholics would not nullify or doubt such faith. Instead, we argue that we must grow in the life of grace.

Your view would dismiss a lot more than scapulars. If you are already saved then you would need no sacraments, no Mass, no Eucharist and no Church. That is why those who hold such ideas reject the divine mysteries and reduce the “Church” to a place for fellowship and making converts. Catholicism is the true Bible Church and views salvation in terms of faith and obedient works in charity.

I would recommend that you attend a Parish RCIA program and relearn your Catholic faith.

Catholics live in the sure and certain HOPE of their salvation in Christ. Salvation is God’s free gift to us. But faith is defined as more than believing with our heads. The apostles understood faith as something lived out in faith and obedience. It is in this manner, and the reception of the sacraments, that the life of grace grows within us. The spiritual life is not stagnant but dynamic. We must always be properly disposed to God’s mercy and strength.

Here are some passages for spiritual reflection:

Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

John 5:28-29 – Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voices and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.

Philippians 2:12 – So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Hebrews 5: 7-10 – In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 10:26-27 – If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.

James 2: 17-24 – So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.” See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead….You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 1

DRIVEN TO BE ATHEISTS

CIMG0713

VINCENT

I do not wonder that atheism became popular given that people became fed up with Catholics and Protestants killing each other. People killing in the name of God— that is one of the reasons behind many do not believe in God anymore. These churches teach that to kill is a sin but they are killing each other. They practice the very opposite of what they teach. The hypocrisy both the Catholics and the Protestants is what built atheism.

FATHER JOE

The true face of Christianity is seen in the blood of martyrs who loved those who hated them and forgave those who persecuted them. The Church is the voice of the oppressed and the poor around the world. I even heard an atheist commentator lament the fact that believers shame them (secular humanists) in terms of charity and self-sacrifice for others. We live in a broken world and people are people… good and bad. Religion is not magic to make every sinner into a perfect saint… such takes time, cooperation and grace. Soviet and Chinese Communism was atheistic. Millions were murdered, imprisoned and enslaved under Stalin and Mao. That is not such a great track record, either.

MISS ATHEIST

To let you know, many atheists aren’t atheists because of people murdering each other over who has the best imaginary friend. I am an atheist because there is no evidence for any gods at all. There is nothing to support the claims of Christians or anyone else, that their god has done anything or that any of their essential events ever happened.

Which atheist commentator “lamented” that theists “shame” atheists in terms of charity and self-sacrifice? Where is the evidence to support this claim? As you say, there are people, good and bad, and religion has no lock on being good.

In case you might forget, Stalin and Mao were megalomaniacs who wanted to be worshipped as a god. I do ask you to show how the lack of belief in God caused the murder of millions and how it wasn’t this megalomania that caused the death. Hitler believed in the Christian god. Do you want to blame his actions on which: his Christianity or his megalomania?

FATHER JOE

Most Christians and Jews, and I would hope the Moslems as well, would not want to kill each other over religion either. It must be said that Christian communities and churches that stretch back 1,700 years or more are being devastated by militant Islam. Christianity had its extremists (like all movements and religions) but proved that it could tolerate and live in a non-Christian world. But the world has become less tolerant of Christians. A secular humanism would strip the Church of a voice in the public forum. A radical Islam would insist upon conversion or death. That is why a million Christians are exiled and on the run. That is why thousands have had their heads chopped off. All they had to do was to renounce their faith. But like the martyrs of old, they preferred to witness by their blood than to save their lives by betraying their faith and God. You mock their sacrifices. If atheists were really as good as you claim, they would defend the rights of all men and women to either practice the religion of their choice or no religion at all. They would be urging intervention to prevent a Christian “holocaust,” a term recently alluded by the Israeli prime minister. But again, atheists of your stripe are not much about either charity or justice. You make yourselves into very small men (or women) with little or no respect for others. When atheists gathered on the national mall, the scenes were filled with vulgar images and their spokesmen all flippantly attacked believers with strawman arguments, cursing God’s name and dropping the “F” bomb. This is a far cry from the agnosticism of Carl Sagan who could offer a decent intellectual debate and then work hand-in-hand with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to make a difference in this world as well as to give expert advice for the future of the Vatican Observatory and telescope. In the history of the world, some figures have misused religion for their agenda and this has cost lives. But the true face of Catholicism is with the work of the saints and the millions saved through her charity efforts and for being a voice for the voiceless against oppression.

You seem to be hedging your bets on the fact that God is our “imaginary friend.” But given that he is REAL we have nothing to lose. Rejecting him out of hand you have nothing to gain. But you are entitled to your perspective, even if it signifies a false or illusionary view of creation without a Creator.

No evidence for God? No, this is not true. The issue is that you throw out certain types of evidence, wrongly interpret the rest and are overly restrictive as to what is admissible. Microscopes can only magnify so far and telescopes can only see so far. The atheist throws out the aesthetic and the sense of awe that touches the hearts of rational creatures when they witness the glories of creation. Philosophers reason from truths like causality, motion, existence and even from the mind itself. We exist and yet we know that we are not the ultimate source of our existence. The complexity of creation and life speaks to an order that cannot be the result of accident or mere chaos. The believer is often amazed that anyone can know and love and have being while still doubting that there is a God.

There are extra-biblical sources and good archeology for the events of salvation history.

https://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/180-americans-donate-billions-to-charity-but-giving-to-churches-has-declined#.VZbUrsLbLL8

“In 2004, nearly four out of every five adults – 83% – donated money to one or more non-profit organizations. That is similar to the percentage that has donated funds throughout the past decade. Barna’s national study found that the people least likely to donate any money at all were those under the age of 25, people who never attended college, residents of the Northeast, atheists and agnostics, Asians and Hispanics. A quarter or more of the people from each of those segments failed to give away any money in 2004.”

http://bjornisageek.blogspot.com/2008/09/10-things-christiand-do-better-than.html

“For all of the faults in theology, Christians have a lock on charity work. When someone thinks of Christian kindness, I doubt that they imagine brainwashing children to fear a nonexistent Hell and a deity who watches every move and knows your thoughts. Instead, images of soup kitchens, food shelves, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity, even sandbagging ahead of a flood are all things churches are known for. Why aren’t the same things associated with atheist kindness?”

Religious or atheist, megalomaniacs are the same. They exploit and corrupt religion. They find comfort in the feigned vacuum of atheism. You cannot criticize believers or Christians as murderers without also pointing to atheists. Stalin studied for the Orthodox priesthood, but rejected religion for the atheistic Marxian dialectic. Mao also embraced atheism and restricted the rights of believers. China still oppresses people of faith and recently bull-dozed a brand new Catholic church. Along with the rejection of religion, the Communists dismissed the values of the Gospel. This led to the deaths of millions. Hitler was baptized but also wanted to institute a secular religion and destroy the Christian faith of Rome. Just being baptized did not mean that Hitler was motivated by a Christian faith, any more than was Stalin. Totalitarian regimes can allow for no deity that might condemn or restrict their actions. That is why the modern era finds these movements moving simultaneously with a rise in atheism. Indeed, here at home in the U.S., secular humanism, rampant commercialism and materialism fuel a selfish society that has no room for God. People are literally shouting to the heavens that “No one will tell them what to do!” Man becomes his own idol. God gets in the way. When challenged about giving, atheists will often point to one significant billionaire giver and his huge foundation, Bill Gates. When asked why he did not go to Mass with his wife and family, he responded that he “could think of more productive things to do with his time.” Many of the rich feel that charity makes up for an aggressive business life where “little people” suffer for the needs of the affluent. The media giants may be generous too, but they also exploit the seven deadly sins to get people using their products. By contrast, Christian charity is both about giving and loving.

See part # 2 that continues this topic.

A Response to Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage & Defection

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RUFUS:

I am (was??) a Catholic. I am now divorced and in a second relationship. I have no idea what God has in store for me, whether I am going to roast in Hell or simmer in Purgatory; but I am done with the double standards and hypocrisy of the Catholic church.  I still love God and believe in Jesus but I think it is ridiculous to attend church and not have communion; either you are or are not in good grace… there is no middle ground… Hell or Heaven.

FATHER JOE:

It seems the issue is more than a disagreement about the perpetuity of marriage as a sacrament; you quarrel about basic Catholic soteriology. Like many Protestants you would reject the notion of Purgatory and yet this teaching is reflective of divine mercy and the tradition of praying for the dead that we inherited from the Jews of Christ’s time. We must be perfected by grace if we are to enter fully into the kingdom and the heavenly presence of God. Protestants get around this conundrum by positing a juridical imputation over any kind of actual transformation into the likeness of Christ. Thus, people might remain sinful worms but as long as they have faith they can enter heaven because Christ conceals them from divine justice. Catholics believe that all will be unveiled. Unless there is a true conversion and perfection, we could not bear to stand in the divine presence. A process of purgation heals the soul that belongs to God so that it might be purged of the last remnants of selfishness and venial sin. Saints already perfected would indeed rush into heaven. Those who die in mortal sin would be cast into hell. The damned are damned because they place their own will above that of God and his commands. Such souls might say they love God and believe in Jesus, but they fashion for themselves a counterfeit Christ that cannot save them. Hypocrisy is immediately implied with sinfulness from believers; but the Church, while composed of sinners, is holy because Christ is holy. Our Lord called sinners to himself and so the Church must do the same, even if it sometimes compromises her witness. You should have remained with the Church. One more sinful hypocrite would have made little difference— and you had everything to gain from abiding in the house established by Jesus Christ.

As for participation at Mass, this is a fulfillment of the command to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Every Mass is a re-presentation of the oblation of Christ on the Cross, albeit in an unbloody manner. Here too your faith was evidently defective. The reception of Holy Communion is a great gift and the ideal, but you closed that door because of a weakness of the flesh and a heart that loved, not too much, but too little. The prohibition about divorce and remarriage is clearly taught by our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew. Only since the reformation and particularly in the modern era has this teaching been called into question by dissenters. Short of an annulment, the Church’s hands are tied. Jesus is unapologetic, we are talking here about adultery, no matter how one might “feel” about it.

Matthew 5: 31-32

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Matthew 19: 3-12

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” His disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

If an annulment can ascertain that a union is “unlawful,” then one might be free to enter into a true marriage. But if the marriage is real then it endures until the death of a spouse.

RUFUS: 

The bottom line is this, if you are Catholic and marry and the marriage, for whatever reason, your fault or not, ends in divorce then if you start another relationship (because God gave us the power of love and the will to use this most beautiful gift), whether a marriage or not, the Catholic church teaches you will go to hell unless you sincerely repent, i.e.. end the relationship and live the rest of your life alone.

FATHER JOE:

Do you think people only hate themselves into hell? I perceive plenty of hate in your words, but you fail to note that love can be disordered or distorted. We can love the wrong things. Ultimately, we are to love God above all else and that means following his commandments. If you love yourself or even another person in a way that is not in sync with divine love, then you manufacture a type of idolatry. True husbands and wives are to see Christ in the beloved. That makes the defection from a marriage into an abandonment of Christ who is signified in the sacramental covenant and union. Note that here you only think about yourself. If you trusted Christ’s words (not just the Church’s rules), then you would have been wary of risking the soul of the person with whom you committed adultery. If you really loved her than you should sooner die than do anything that would place at risk her share in eternal life. Resentful for yourself, you enter into a tirade against the Church. I suppose this is an attempt at self-justification. Instead of facing or even struggling with your guilt, you castigate the Church. Mass attendance would have exposed you to God’s grace, even if you were not fully receptive toward it. Did you attempt an annulment? Or did you just run away? If you go to hell, and we leave that judgment to God, it will be because of your closed disposition to his grace and gift of mercy— not because you fled a Church that was both faithful to God’s law and desiring to show you compassion. The way you talk about “repentance,” you make it sound like a dirty word. The problem here is yours.

RUFUS:

Thinking you can get away with this until you are on a your deathbed and repent at the last minute doesn’t count as such repentance is insincere, as if planned.

FATHER JOE:

No one is saying that you had only the deathbed for which to look forward. That is you speaking. Such cynicism is poison to the hope that should be the life’s blood of every believer. No one would urge you to wait until close proximity to death to repent. However, neither should you malign the sincerity of such conversions at the end of mortal life. Not only do you blaspheme against divine mercy; such an attitude would negate the value of contrition, perfect and imperfect, as displayed by the good thief on the Cross who steals heaven. Ideally we should be sorry because we love God.  Nevertheless, God’s forgiveness will even reach out to us if our faith be largely grounded on the fear of losing heaven and suffering the pains of hell.

RUFUS:

Of course, you could die in a road accident, in which case, you have no time to repent and are going to go straight to hell. So the choice for a divorced Catholic who cannot get an anulment is bleak; spend the rest of your life alone or accept that you are going to hell anyway, so you might as well eat, drink, be merry, whore to your heart’s content, and break just about every commandment in the book. This is ridiculous.

FATHER JOE:

Sin is sin. A mountain climber might miss a footing or a ledge by an inch or by a yard, it is all the same. He would be just as dead. You cannot make one sin an excuse for others. I bet no priest ever told you that you were going to hell. It may be that God faced you with this prospect in your life and you refused to acknowledge your fault. Your problem is not so much with the Church and her catechism but with God and his living Word. I cannot say if you would have gotten an annulment, but if you walked with the Lord then you would never really be alone. Am I supposed to feel sorry for you? I freely embraced a celibate life. There were wonderful girls I knew in my youth who would have made incredible wives and mothers; but I dedicated my life to Jesus and his Church. The trouble with you is that you did not trust and love God enough. Now all you can share with others is venom or poison.

RUFUS:

There is nothing in the bible that unambiguously states this and the outmoded catechism needs to be thrown out and rewritten. This, and good marketing is the only way the catholic church will save itself from the extinction it is suffering.

FATHER JOE:

Does it make you feel better to attack the Church? God’s laws and truths are timeless but you would have us subscribe to the fads and fashions of a fallen world that parades its broken promises. Christ keeps his promise to us. We must keep our promises to him and to each other. Faithfulness still matters. I would call you back to fidelity and the safe harbor of faith. You need not join the world’s chorus in forsaking the Church and Christ. Yes, the Church is increasingly a sign of contradiction. Yes, religious liberty is threatened and faith is attacked. But believers have everything to gain in being fools for Christ. The folly of the world leads only to death and despair. Have faith— have courage— embrace sacrificial love— and come home.

The Pope & Questions About Poverty, Politics & Popularity

SIMON: Hello, Father!  In the beginning I have to mention that I try to be a devout Catholic every day. I believe the Pope is the Father of the Church appointed by Christ. But sometimes I have those thoughts, which keep eating at me inside. I’m very sorry in advance as I know these are not appropriate thoughts for a Catholic to have. I feel guilty for that. I pray that these thoughts would go away and leave me alone; but they keep coming back (sometimes even during the Mass, which is quite frightening for me).

FATHER JOE: It is okay to ask questions.  As believers, we should focus on matters of faith and seek to grow in the Lord.  As for attending to the Mass and better participation at worship, maybe a better understanding of the elements and prayers of the liturgy would help keep your mind from wandering?

SIMON: I sometimes think: 1)  If we are followers of Christ then as the Church teaches, we should try becoming more like Christ every day. Christ lived modestly, as we know, and even in poverty. How is it that so many people today are in hunger and poverty while Pope is an extremely rich man provided with everything that he needs. He even has (or had) a Harley-Davidson. Many people could feed their children from the money of Vatican administration. People in poverty could live for a year from the money you would get by selling a Harley-Davidson bike.

FATHER JOE: First, the Pope is “personally” very poor and most everything he has belongs to the Church. Pope Francis, in particular, has very simple tastes. Second, the motorcycle was given the Holy Father from the Harley-Davidson Company to celebrate their 110th Anniversary. The Pope sold it at auction for the Caritas Roma Charity. It went for $327,000. In addition, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle jacket signed by the pontiff sold for $77,485. Money from the sale of the two items went to benefit a hostel and soup kitchen at the Termini train station in Rome. We must be careful not to make allegations that would misjudge the Holy Father. We would not want to add our voices to those who wrongly condemn. Third, the Church is a worldwide organization and as such she must have income to sustain buildings, pay salaries and operate. While there are isolated cases of hypocrisy, many critics wrong the Church which does more globally for the oppressed, poor and hurting than any other institution.

SIMON: 2) Christ was open to everyone he met. How come it is almost impossible to meet the Pope? It seems sometimes like his time is only reserved for “more important” people. In front of God and Christ, shouldn’t every life be equally worthy?

FATHER JOE: I am perplexed by this assertion.  This is the Pope that takes great personal risks in going out to people. He is only one man and there are a billion Catholics. He could never knock on every door.  Are you upset that you have not met him?  Do you feel that this somehow makes you unimportant?  I can assure you that the Pope and the Church cares about you and everyone else.  Everyone has value.  All life is incommensurate.  This is the Pope that washed the feet of juvenile delinquents for Holy Thursday. This is the Pope that served food at a shelter. Similarly, other Popes reached out to the crowds, kissed babies and showed that they care. The late Saint John Paul II even got shot because he wanted to be visible to his flock. Do you understand how vulnerable this makes them? As for our Lord, he did go out to the marginalized, the poor and the oppressed. But he was also silent when placed before Herod. His words might mean conversion, mercy and life. His silence passed a deadly judgment upon the tetrarch. We will all be judged.  Because of this, we must all be careful in judging others.  Do we have the mind and heart of Christ?  Are we unselfish?  Can we see past our own sins?  Is our own posture that of utter humility?  I would not want to judge the Holy Father either from ignorance or malice. He is Christ’s Vicar on earth.

SIMON: 3) Why is Pope dealing with politics? I understand his intentions for a better and more peaceful world but isn’t it bit unfair— in front of God’s face— to take sides? Jesus never dealt with politics— did he?

FATHER JOE: What do you think got Christ crucified? The charge is even placed over his head on the Cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The crowd disowned him and shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!” Pilate was not the servant of the Jews but the procurator for the empire of Rome. When Jesus told them to love their enemies and to forgive those who hurt them, he was speaking a morality that was immediately translated into politics. After centuries of persecution, the Church would arise as the religion of the state. The Pope is the sovereign leader or head of the smallest country on earth, the Vatican, which rests in the heart of Rome. He even has his own representatives at the UN. More importantly, he is the visible head of the Catholic Church and it is vital for Christianity to make an impact upon world politics. The Church speaks against persecution, slavery, abortion, injustice, unwarranted aggression, poverty and oppressive economic systems, etc. She defends human rights, including religious liberty. Our faith must touch all the elements of human existence. We are not just Christians when within the walls of our churches. Ours is a jealous God. The testing of the coin is often misunderstood. Christ is asked if it is right to pay the tax to Rome or not. Rome was the occupying power and government. Jesus never answers the question but takes a coin and asks, whose face is upon it? The people answer, “Caesar.” He says, “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar but give to God what belongs to God.” Ask yourself, what belongs to God? The answer is everything. It is wrong to expect the Pope and the Church to stay out of politics. There may be a separation of Church and state (in terms of a national religion), but they should still work for the common good. It would make no sense for the Church to remain passive or silent, especially as our religious liberty is being compromised both here in the U.S. and around the globe. The Church must have a voice and a part to play in the public forum.

SIMON: 4) Pope should be a servant like Christ used to be and actually on that one I am quite happy with current Pope Francis who seems to be very humble and willing to serve. But still, the Pope is being praised like a rock star. Is that really something that Jesus or St. Peter would have wanted?

FATHER JOE: Jesus was pursued by vast crowds and they cried Hosanna when he entered Jerusalem. While some would turn against him, he was the celebrity or rock star of his time. Thousands wanted to see and hear him. Vast throngs of people sought him for healing. Have you never read the Gospels? Jesus called Peter or the ROCK of his Church and gave him the keys to the kingdom.  He is made the chief shepherd.  Tradition gives him the title, “Servant of the Servants of God.”  As this unique shepherd, the honor given the Pope reflects upon the dignity and place of our Lord, Jesus. The Pope is Christ’s instrument of universality and order in the world.

SIMON: As I mentioned earlier, I know that those thoughts are condemned.

FATHER JOE: I would not use the word “condemned.” Ours is a faith seeking understanding.  We seek to root out ignorance and bigotry.  Only you can answer the quandary as to whether there is a hidden animus against the Holy Father and the Church? If there is resentment, from where does it originate?

SIMON: But I can’t seem to get rid of them. Maybe if I could get rational answers for these questions, then perhaps with the help of God those would leave me alone.

FATHER JOE: I cannot say what the cause of your issues might be.  But we should never be a people who resent the authority and popularity of the Pope. Critics of this sort often display a poor sense of self-worth and want to feel more important themselves. Maybe they are rash and quick to judge others? In any case, I hope the response here helps.

SIMON: Thank you, Father! And please pray for me! Sincerely yours, Simon

FATHER JOE: You are welcome.  Peace!

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Time passes and the old defenders of the faith and the dissenters are passing from the world. Today there are new faces about whom we must become familiar. One of these is Cardinal Reinhard Marx. He is now on everyone’s radar. What are we to think?

Why do I feel that high-ranking dissenters are seeking to hijack the Church? The mission of the Church is that of Christ: to preach the truth and to bring people to repentance and faith. We should neither excuse sin nor allow people to be deceived as to their standing before almighty God. We are called to be a sign of contradiction to the world, not to pamper it. This twisted business about “the family” makes me angry. There I have said it.

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Is Methodism Pro-Abortion Today?

LIFE NEWS had a peculiar story from Sarah Terzo about a Methodist minister who termed concern for aborted children as “idolatry.” It eludes me how Methodism can possibly excuse the sin of abortion, especially since its founder condemned such practices among the Native Americans he encountered. The late Reverend John M Swomley (former president of Americans for Religious Liberty and VP of the pro-abortion ACLU) wrote in his 1999 book, Compulsory Pregnancy: the War against American Women:

“Opponents of abortion in America have attributed to fetal life a sacredness that is actually idolatry… Fetal idolatry denies a woman’s right to control her body, her life, her destiny, all of which must be sacrificed to an embryo or fetus once she is pregnant… Fetal idolatry shows no mercy. … One of the major critiques of idolatry about unborn life is its lack of concern for the abundant or purposeful life to which all of us should be called. No one of us should be an unwanted child or have to experience emotional abandonment or lack of compassion and love in childhood.”

untitledNotice how the advocates for life are labeled in a negative fashion as the “opponents of abortion.” Instead, we would argue that these men and women are “proponents of birth.”  They oppose abortion out of a profound respect for the dignity of persons and the right to life. He is wrong to deny the sacredness of life and his charge of idolatry makes him one with Caiaphas who arrested and condemned Christ. Christians believe in an “incarnational” faith. We are transformed into the likeness of Christ by grace. We are given life and eternal life by the constant operation of the Holy Spirit. We have nothing of our own. Abortion, like all crimes of murder, violates a commandment and seeks to usurp from God what rightfully belongs to him as the author of life. Every child, born and unborn, reflects the Christ Child. It is for this reason that abortion attacks the incarnation. Jesus was Lord even in the womb. In “potency” every child could have been the Christ Child. I suppose the author might attack the sacredness of human life as idolatry just as certain critics attack the Eucharist as such. But Christ enters into human flesh— he is the living Word of God— he is the bread of life and the chalice of salvation— he is made manifest in the Mystical Body of the Church. Swomley’s theology is too shallow to appreciate this. Of course, he conveniently dismisses entirely the objective nature of the situation. Regardless of whether one is a believer or not, the unborn child is a human person and the rights of human persons are incommensurate. In other words, the rights of the mother do not trump the rights of a child to life outside the womb. The real choice and freedom is not over the commission of murder but in regards to marriage, chastity and engaging in sexual intercourse.

Describing the unborn child exclusively as a fetus and embryo, he seeks to distance himself from the fact that we are dealing here with two persons, not one. This is a major flaw in his argument. He has taken sides and just as blacks were once regarded as “property” by slave owners and Jews as “non-persons” by genocidal Nazis, he would wrongly strip the unborn child of his intrinsic dignity as a person and member of the human family. As a Christian, does he still believe in the infusion of a soul? Apparently, he does not. He buys into the ludicrous argument that a baby is only a baby if he or she is wanted. He would argue that it is preferred to kill a child than to allow that child to be adopted by parents who would love and nurture him or her. When we strip away the lies, his views and those of like-minded revisionists is nothing short of monstrous.

There is no “fetal idolatry.” But there is idolatry here and that is in placing human capriciousness over objective truth. It is an idolatry that worships the selfish woman and her choice over divine cooperation in the sacred act of creation. It is the idolatry to demons that want the blood offering of innocent children.

His reference to an “abundant or purposeful life to which all of us (but evidently not the child) should be called” is the rehashed argument from utility. It runs smack into opposition with the very notion of sacrificial love that defines Christian discipleship and parenthood. This argument from utility says that if the unborn child should make us sad or hurt our prospects or cause inconvenience, then the child can be terminated or destroyed. He argues that the unborn baby is only counted a baby if wanted and loved. This same impoverished thinking would threaten the elderly and the sick. If life stops being fun or there is insufficient productivity then it becomes okay to pull the plug or even to poison grandma’s IV. Similarly, if there is too great an expense to keep us around, then this thinking makes us disposable. The quality of life for some is given the higher gravity over the quantity of life for others. It is true that no one should be “unwanted” or “abandoned.” This mandates a change or movement in us to make room at the table of man for others. Instead, he focuses on termination or killing those “unborn” people so that they might not have to feel our resentment. He calls this mercy. It is not.

Ninety something years old, Swomley died a few years ago. He was known not only for his liberal views but for his distrust or even bigotry against Catholicism and its influence in the United States. He was regarded as a theologian and taught Methodist seminarians. However, his views were formed more by a secular humanism than by the Gospel and Christian tradition. Is it true that Methodist churches largely share his perspective? I hope not because it is absolutely diabolical. It is worrisome because LIFE NEWS also reported:

  • Methodist Health Care Ministries gave almost half a million to the nation’s top abortion provider Planned Parenthood.
  • The United Methodist Church opposed the bill to ban late-term abortions.

Methodist doctrine could at one time be narrowed to the creeds and its hymnal. Unfortunately, such objective clarity is hard to find today. Methodism not only tolerates abortions but as an enabler pays for them. Demonstrating how far they were willing to go, the bewildered church organized opposition to efforts that would have banned partial birth “infanticide.” This seemed to violate reason, itself. Even if confused people had doubts about the humanity of the unborn, here we were talking about the killing of nine month old babies ready to be born.

When so-called Christians espouse such things, hell must be laughing. But such hardness of hearts is really a cause for tears. Everyone has value. Everyone is loved. Every child is God’s gift and abortion (as well as infanticide) throws that gift back into the face of God. Dear God save us!

Intercessory Prayer & the Saints

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ROB:

Where do we ever see person praying to another human being in the Bible?

FATHER JOE:

We see plenty of instances where people pray together and where prophets pray over their people. Catholicism sees almighty God as the proper object of all prayer. Obviously we are not going to notice much in the way of praying for sanctoral intercession while the gates of heaven are closed and the righteous dead are still awaiting their Savior in the limbo of the fathers. I am often amazed that Christians still interpret so very much with the eyes of the Old Testament instead of the New.

ROB:

Please don’t say tradition or something like that.

FATHER JOE:

In other words, you want me to accept your terms from the very start and deny a basic element of Catholicism and true Christianity. The New Testament itself arises from Sacred Tradition. This font of revelation did not disappear after the complete Bible was composed and compiled by the Catholic bishops at Hippo.

ROB:

Think about what you are saying.

FATHER JOE:

The trouble is that YOU are not thinking enough about what you are trying to say. None of us come to God alone.

ROB:

How God ever forget to tell us such an important part of our faith?

FATHER JOE:

God did not forget anything. The trouble is that bigots dismissed the authority instituted by Christ, threw out Christian traditions going back to the apostles, and then settled on an edited version of the Bible missing books.

ROB:

How can it never be in the Bible? Do you ever ask yourself why? Or do you just believe because it’s tradition.

FATHER JOE:

I already said the Bible is not silent. When Catholics pray to the saints, they are asking that they pray for and with them. We do not pray to them as deities. This is the same intercessory prayer that was realized among the Jews and later in the community of the Church. In Christ, all are alive. Do you argue that the saints are asleep or that they cannot hear us? Have you no appreciation of the communion of the saints? Look at the petition or supplication of the Hail Mary Prayer: “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Is your faith so personalized that you will allow no one, walking on earth or among the blessed of heaven, to pray for and with you?

The Catholic practice is based upon a profound hope in the resurrection. Here are some pertinent verses in the Bible where supplication is offered for others: 1 Timothy 2:1; Matthew 18:19-20; James 5:13-16; Ephesians 6:18; Isaiah 62:6; Philemon 1:1-25; and Job 1:1-22.

Clarification on the Mediation of Christ

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Giby writes:

The ONLY mediator between man and GOD is Jesus Christ!

Mary and all the saints are only people God used for his purposes. We respect but do NOT worship them. Do NOT make them mediators.

Our whole praise goes to God the heavenly Father only. God bless you!

Father Joe responds:

It is true that our one Mediator is Jesus Christ. He is the bridge or pontifex between heaven and earth. He heals the breech with our heavenly Father caused by sin. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. There is no way to the Father except through the Son. All this is Catholic teaching… YES!

However, our Lord can use human beings and sacraments as his instruments. We see this especially in the ministry of priests in whom Christ makes himself and his power active… as in the absolution of sin and in the Eucharist. The saints are like windows that allow the light of Christ to shine through. We might even say that some magnify or help us to discern this light. The saints have an intercessory role than cannot be dismissed. We come to God, not just as individuals, but as members of a faith community, the Church. This Church is also a unique vehicle of the Lord’s presence, as the Mystical Body of Christ. The Catholic view of intercession and mediation must take into consideration the full significance of the incarnation. We ask the saints to pray for and with us. All true prayer, even intercessory prayer, has as its true object, almighty God. Peace!

QUESTIONS About St. Peter’s Family

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Lee writes:

I know St. Peter had a wife. Was she Jewish or Gentile? St. Peter had a daughter, St. Patronilis. I believe St. Peter had other children. Please tell me all about St. Peter’s family— the real inside story.

Father Joe responds:

Yes, the Scriptures attest to the fact that St. Peter was married. While we are told that he is the brother of St. Andrew and the son of Jonah, we are not given other names or details. There is the tradition that his wife became a martyr for the faith. I think attestations of her name as either Perpetua or Concordia are dubious.

There is the tradition or legend that suggests a daughter, St. Petronilla, but this might have been a spiritual kinship only. She is venerated as a virgin martyr of the early Church.