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The Mission of Making Converts

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The RCIA team and this Muslim family in Bethesda has done that which would earn them rebuke and imprisonment in many non-Christian countries: making possible their conversion to Catholicism this Easter. Given religious intolerance elsewhere, even the Pope told the Christians of Morocco that their mission was NOT to make converts. Speaking for myself… God bless this family for having the courage to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in coming to the true faith! And God bless those Catholics who have walked with them on this journey of faith!

The family above also comes from a non-Christian nation. What will happen to them should they return?

All the first believers were Jews. If they had not converted their own then there would be no Church. The early Christians were persecuted by a pagan Rome that worshipped multiple deities and the emperor. We do not stand outside the doors of Hindu or Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques or Jewish synagogues tearing down the faith of others through proselytization. But much of the non-Christian world has criminalized any evangelization and/or conversion. The mission of proclaiming the Good News is a systemic element of Catholic faith.

We may remember that the whole fight with the Obama administration was on this topic of religious liberty… that the Church has a mission beyond the walls and doors of her places of worship. Given the oppressive yoke of either Communism or Islam, many of the Orthodox churches of the East (unlike Western Catholicism) opted to emphasize ritual and liturgy over any missionary outreach or social gospel. How can the Church be a genuine “yeast” in any society where we are hesitant to share the full message and person of Jesus with others… the one and only Savior and Lord? Is the preservation of harmony in society worth the price of people’s immortal souls? The truth must be proclaimed… to our own and the fallen away, to non-believers and to those who belong to religions where truth and error are mixed.

Part of the problem we face as Americans is that we are too insular, interested in Hollywood or feminism or gay marriage or other local concerns while ignorant to the crises faced by believers throughout the larger world.

Given personal integrity, each of us is called to pursue the truth as he or she sees it. Silence does not always promote truth or equate immediately to faithfulness. The witness of Christ is not a passive or disinterested docility but an aggressive and countercultural pursuit for the truth and for justice. Catholicism is a global faith and we need to open our eyes to the plight of believers everywhere.

Granted his singular position, the Pope speaks not for himself but for Christ and the world-church. This makes anything he says important for reflection and guidance. We show respect to him personally and render religious assent to what he teaches all the while knowing that the charism of infallibility does not apply to every practical decision or policy. Cardinals Burke, Mueller, Sarah and Zen and others have rightfully offered their concerns about this papacy, all the while doing so in fidelity to Petrine authority and Church teaching. While we are not part of the Magisterium, I would suggest this is a pattern for “thinking” and “caring” believers.

Your Mission is Not Conversion?

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Matthew 28:18-20 – “Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'”

The Holy Father praised the moderate Islam that is being fostered in Morocco? And yet, converts to Christianity are not recognized and they must often worship in secret. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is illegal. Missionary outreach or evangelism is punishable with three years in prison. Jesus commanded us to be fishers of men… so how can the Pope say that making converts is not our mission? Catholics and other Christians are suffering for the faith… is it all for nothing?

I hear the story is getting a lot of press worldwide, not just among Muslims but among Buddhists and Hindus.  The link here is to a Jerusalem newspaper.  It has also made big headlines in the Hindu newspapers of India. Evidently this is being thrown into the faces of Christians who have sought to make converts there. There will be a lot of ripples from this.

It may be that I am too thick to understand the Holy Father. Certainly we should strive to live in peace with others. My posture will always be one of respect and obedience… even if I am somewhat befuddled. I may also be somewhat over-sensitive… particularly when it comes to the situation of Christians persecuted for their faith. The first glimmerings of my call to priesthood came with an admiration of those Catholics and clergy who suffered for their faith… oppressed by non-Christian religions and/or by Communism. My thoughts also turn to China where many worry about the underground church and pray that we have not betrayed them.

Episcopal Church Near Collapse

While Catholicism continues to struggle with a secular world and modernity, the Episcopalian confession has surrendered to the profane and hedonistic fads of contemporary society. Catholicism might get smaller but it will go down fighting. The Anglicans have already lost and a few faithful souls are trying to keep their heads above water after the ship has sunk.

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Interfaith Pollution of the True Faith?

I thought it was a joke or exaggeration, but when I visited the website for the Catholic diocese of Hallam in the UK under Bishop Ralph Hesket I was shocked to see that charges of religious relativism or indifferentism might have merit.  As part of a national interfaith outreach, Christian believers were encouraged to visit and honor pagan shrines.  I fail to fathom how this is either genuine dialogue or true ecumenism.  Despite the directions given, Catholics should not bow to pagan images or eat the food that has been offered to idols.  Christians were persecuted and even martyred in the early days of the faith for refusing such acts that compromised the true faith and pampered superstition.

Indeed, the early apologists argued that despite the generosity of the pagans toward the poor, Christians should not eat the food of pagan sacrifices because the pagan deities were actually demons.

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Moses was commanded to remove his sandals when he encountered God in the burning bush. But what we have here is an image of Buddha and a pagan shrine.  While these locations may hold anthropological interest for learned Christians, most would best avoid such places. As Christians we may honor persons and give deference to religious liberty that also protects our rights in a multicultural society, but we should not underestimate the general ignorance and tottering faith of many Christians.  Already many are adopting Eastern ideas about the yin and yang of the Tao, the transmigration of the souls, the spirituality associated with yoga, and a pantheistic view of creation.

The removal of shoes may be a small concession but the added flower presentation and material sacrifice of money, mimics or parallels the offertory at Mass.  Christ and the Church he instituted is the one way that God has established for our salvation.  No one comes to the Father apart from Jesus Christ.  A confession of faith can be made both in words and with gestures.  We must be wary of making a wholesale compromise of the truth. Buddhism is incompatible with the Christian kerygma.  Pope John Paul II was criticized for his assessment in CROSSING THE THRESHOLD OF HOPE.

Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the “enlightenment” conveyed by Buddha. Buddhism is in large measure an “atheistic” system. We do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad. The fullness of such a detachment is not union with God, but what is called nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world. To save oneself means, above all, to free oneself from evil by becoming indifferent to the world, which is the source of evil. This is the culmination of the spiritual process.

While some might note Buddhism as more a philosophy of negation than a deistic religion, the diocesan guidelines also threaten to taint the faith of believers under an effort to show respect to the adherents of Hinduism.

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The early Christians were put to death for refusing to throw the smallest fleck of incense into the fire for an idol of Rome and its emperor. Just as we would not expect Hindus to bend the knee and cross themselves in our churches; neither should Hindu shrines be honored by Christians with bowing before the idols of false deities. This act impugns the heroic sacrifices of the early martyrs. Such concession signifies a cowardice to accusations of intolerance where there should be a brave act of witness that promotes the missionary spirit within the scope  of both understanding and charity.

Christians need to respect the Eastern effort to discern truth while not abandoning our own rich inheritance.  The missionary effort, going back to the days of St. Francis Xavier, had many successes.  But we must admit that the faith also suffered from the stigma of being Western and foreign.  Right or wrong, the saint regarded all the Hindus as devil worshipers.  This is part of our historical faith inheritance.  Doors were closed where the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes might have opened them.  There is said to be an evolution in Hinduism toward monotheism; but this truth is already realized in Christianity.  We must be careful that weak Christians do not embrace Eastern religion due to an attraction to the strange or exotic.

Pope Paul VI stated in NOSTRA AETATE the following:

Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust.

We would not deny any elements that are true in such religions, but there are also wrong turns and false understandings (error).  All salvation truth subsists in the Catholic Church.  We do not have to look elsewhere. People who are largely ignorant of their own rich Christian faith inheritance might be lost if we are passive to their involvement in other religions.

Catholics should bow or genuflect before the Christian altar, or the Crucifix or the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle but NOT before the image of alien gods.  Definitely they should not eat the food given to them, demons or not.

1 Corinthians 10:18-22 – Look at Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? So what am I saying? That meat sacrificed to idols is anything? Or that an idol is anything? No, I mean that what they sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger? Are we stronger than he?

At a time when exorcisms are on the rise, this is the height of idiocy.   We can respect persons and work together for a more civil and caring society; however, we should not do so at the cost of our immortal souls.  Ignorance of the truth may save some from the full weight of judgment.  However, our Catholic and Christian community will be judged according to our understanding and fidelity to the revelation of Christ that is passed down to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

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Catholics and other Christians might visit such sites for educational purposes. They should do nothing that suggests worship. Pope John Paul II argued that the Allah of the Muslims is the same Father God of the Christians. This may be, but there remains much that divides us, particularly the role of Jesus as Lord and Redeemer. The Pope states:

Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.

A gesture for peace is also fine, as long as we do nothing to undermine or apologize for our identity as Christians. We should also insist that the Islamic community become more pro-active against discrimination and violence against Christians throughout the world.  Otherwise, gestures of human respect (not divine worship) become empty.

While we can respect others, we should not be giving directions to Christian believers on how to commit idolatry.

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The Sikh religion is inherently pantheistic.  We believe that God maintains creation but he cannot be identified with it.  While its tenets include reincarnation and various Hindu teachings; it is monotheistic, rejects the caste system and the use of idols.  It also espouses a syncretism where it tries to unite various beliefs from disjointed sources.  Christianity might adopt elements of culture and even the symbols of others (as it did in the Roman and Greek world) but the content is always that of the Gospel.  The blunt matter is that, no matter how interesting, this still constitutes a false religion for Catholics.  Ours is a jealous God.  He will not share us with others.

While certain traditionalists would attack overtures toward the Jews, we must always acknowledge that Judaism is a true, albeit natural religion.  While they have yet to embrace the revelation of the Trinity, the Jewish faith was called into existence by Almighty God.  Pope John Paul II insisted:

The New Covenant serves to fulfill all that is rooted in the vocation of Abraham, in God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai, and in the whole rich heritage of the inspired Prophets who, hundreds of years before that fulfillment, pointed in the Sacred Scriptures to the One whom God would send in the “fullness of time” (cf. Gal 4:4).

We have a genuine historical and faith relationship with the Jews that we do not share with other religions. Interfaith efforts should not be so diffusive that we lose sight of this fact.  The Jews are our elder brothers and sisters in faith.  Their story is part of our story.  The truths of the faith preserved and passed down by the Hebrews made possible the coming of Christ and his kingdom.  While we believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of the covenant, God has not forsaken his first people.  God keeps his promises.  There are NOT two covenants.  Both Pope Benedict XVI and the late Cardinal-priest Dulles clarified that there is ONLY one covenant. The covenant of old now embraces (in Jesus Christ) both the first and the new People of God. We pray and hope that those first called will one day come to a full awareness of the fulfillment in Christ.

ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 3

“The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.”

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I have a profound respect for the utility of the scientific method; however, it would be the height of hubris for one to place it alone on the dais of truth. It has very significant limitations. I am not surprised that this “new” commandment is proposed by one of the renowned television Mythbusters. One of my favorite shows, the premise is that a “myth” or hypothesis must be testable through experiments or observations that are repeatable. The program gives one of three answers: Confirmed, Plausible or Busted. Despite a desire from certain cast members to tackle “religious myths,” the Discovery Channel has said no, if not to avoid the mockery of faith at least to preserve a large faith-based audience.

Such an approach to the natural world is often best with particularized or tightly delineated questions. The topics that concern philosophers and theologians are generally beyond the parameters of the scientific method. For instance, string theory might make good math but how would one go about proving experimentally a theory “about everything”? When researchers try, the experiments, by necessity become increasingly expansive. Astronomers and astrophysicists want telescopes that see further into the universe and into bands of light or energy that we could not normally perceive. We now think we have detected the cosmic radiation present after the Big Bang. Physicists peer in the opposite direction, looking for the God particle or the infinitesimally small, as with the massive (17 miles long) Hadron Collider. However, after all the number crunching and investigation, there is still no good science that demonstrates either a doomed or self-perpetuating cosmos without a Creator. This should force even the most hardened cynic to agnosticism, not to an atheist’s absolute denial of a deity. They will argue that the burden of proof is upon the believer. And yet, the believer looks around and sees proof everywhere; he is shocked that the atheist cannot see it. Nothing comes from nothing. If there is no Creator, then nothing should exist— not a butterfly or a smiling child— not a tick of the clock or the movement of an electron and proton— nothing, no time, no space, no matter, and definitely nothing that should be asking these questions or reflecting upon existence. But here we are. Are we just a cheap accident? That is no answer. If being and non-being is a flip of the coin, then I want to know who is supplying the change!

While the Catholic already accepts the existence of God and even says that he has intervened in human history as a caring God; nevertheless, he wants to make sense of the natural world. God can use miracles and suspend his laws but usually he does not. Otherwise, creation would be capricious and God would seemingly curse the very order he put into place. The Catholic notion of intelligent design looks at the patterns in the natural order and philosophically deduces a knowing agent. Schools often refuse to admit the view, even though it respects the scientific data associated with theories of creation and evolution. There is no empirical test to prove or disprove the existence of a divine being. Public schools, in particular, will make room for experiential science, but increasing reject not only religion but the benefits of natural reason and philosophy. This throws out the best of Western civilization and represents a type of intellectual reductionism. The same philosophy that would allow for intelligent design would also promote logical reasoning and a study of the virtues. It is no wonder, that vice and actions are increasingly separated from the concern of culpability or objective morality. Schools become hell holes because we have subtracted everything of heaven out of them.

The scientific method is a useful tool, but it is only that.  It has led to discoveries that have both improved and endangered the world.  Knowledge is gained but often without the wisdom as to how to use it properly.  Understanding the atom has made possible new sources of energy and medical treatment; it has also made possible the Bomb and the prospect of nuclear holocaust.  It is truly a two-edged sword.

It falls short in teaching us values and in answering the question about the origin of the natural order. Even if there were an infinite sequence, and eternal regression and progression, (which Thomists regard as an absurdity), the question could be raised as to whom or what put it into place. Similarly, if creation has a beginning and an end then questions emerge that beg for an answer. When the last of the energy evaporates from the one remaining black hole, what happens next? Or looking to the very beginning, where did the point or singularity come from? Compared to the claims of science, those of religion are looking more credible, even if still inscrutable. God lives outside of time and space. Even though he is the source for the natural world, there is a wall between experiential knowledge and a dimension without matter or temporal and spacial extension. He is existence or the source of all being. He creates everything from nothing. While no one is compelled to believe in a deity, similarly the notion should not be ridiculed or banned. As a believer, I contend he shares with creation the perfections that he has in infinite measure as their source. God by definition would defy being placed under the microscope or being reduced to mathematical formulae. He has called us to know him, but only the surface of this “knowing” can be scratched. The mystery remains and the response of believers is gratitude and praise. I suppose the lack of thankfulness is what most infuriates believers about atheists.

The Situation We Face

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I have been giving some thought to the pressing issue of keeping our young people Catholic and in the Church. Before I lay fault at the proper doorposts, it must be said that many of our parents are faithful in raising their children in the faith and insuring the opportunity for the sacraments. When their kids abandon the faith and Mass attendance, these good people are the first ones who feel guilty and wonder if there be more they could have done. But they did their duty and there comes a point where we have to let go and trust the Holy Spirit. Similarly, there are pastors and catechists who try program after program in hoping that the next one might turn matters around. They join their tears to those of heaven praying that prodigals might come home and that the children might be counted among the saints. Too many have forgotten God. Too many have turned their backs on the practice of their faith.

I would not want to condemn anyone, even parents who are themselves “fallen away” Catholics. God will be their judge. But of course, we can target many sources for the current problem. Whole generations of Catholics were poorly catechized. Poor text books and an air of dissent infected the Church. I recall tried-and-true books being thrown away because they represented the thinking of “the old pre-Vatican II Church.” And yet, this mentality betrayed a false dichotomy. There are no two churches. The accidentals may change but the deposit of faith is faithfully transmitted generation after generation in the one true Church instituted by Jesus Christ. The later publication of the universal catechism was an attempt to correct any false thinking about this issue. Our appreciation of doctrine can develop but the public revelation is fixed. What is objectively true will always be true. The false “spirit of Vatican II” has been exposed and in many circles has increasingly lost sway as a general segment returned to orthodoxy. This is cause for hope.  Those resisting it have necessarily found themselves set adrift.  The truths of faith were never denied by the Magisterium, but progressive theologians and their enthusiasts wrestled to place the whim of men over the wisdom of God.

There is no denying that the dominoes began to fall. The damage was done.  Religious relativism, a false view of universal salvation, and the moral failure of churchmen to live out the faith compounded the situation. People fell away from the Church. The stakes did not seem as high as they once did. Meanwhile, the world was changing and Western Christian culture was collapsing. The process had begun prior to Vatican II. Indeed, the Enlightenment and later the French Revolution were signposts to what was fast approaching. Pope Pius IX promulgated his Syllabus of Errors. Pope Pius X confronted Modernism. When Vatican II arrived, many had hoped that there might be a dialogue with the modern world. Unfortunately, the world did not play fair and the council was unable to forestall the many negative agencies poised against her. A secular humanism was quickly taking hold. Man would be regarded as the measure of all things. The degree of hubris involved here would have been unthinkable in much of our earlier history. The “God is Dead” movement of the 1960’s and 70’s was thought by many as the final result of this movement. But there was more to come. Today many do not consider God as dead but rather, while rejecting the incarnation, declare that Man is God. The love of science, which in its place is a good thing, becomes a kind of idolatry where technology and the media are secular sacraments. There is the fantasy and/or pseudo-science that even death will one day succumb to man’s genius. Paralleling all this there has been the ascendance of a new paganism, expressed through heightened eroticism (homo- and heterosexual) and a general vulgarity in speech, music and behavior. Pleasure is sought as an ends to itself, not as an element of a greater good.

What does the baptized Catholic believe today? It is amazing how many false assumptions are made about the faith. While the Church teaches intelligent design and the complementarity between science, theology and philosophy; many view Catholicism through the prism of Protestant fundamentalism. Enthusiasts for evolution ridicule the Church for a literalism which she does not profess. Neither does Catholicism embrace a blind faith, which is rightly decried as mindless. While recognizing mystery, we espouse a faith seeking understanding and as a true companion to human reason. The Church argues for modesty and yet is not puritan in her aesthetic appreciation for the human body and the beauty of sexual love as a part of the divine plan. Nevertheless, some critics (even Catholics) mock the Church as if it is a Calvinist congregation or one knotted to Jansenism. The Church seeks to work with non-Catholics for a better world and for the remittance of human suffering; however, despite false allegations from traditionalists, lays hold to no ecumenism that would compromise her singular faith claims. It has also been a sad discovery that many Catholics suffer an impoverished understanding of the Trinity, the meaning of the incarnation, the value of the Mass, the mystery of the real presence in the Eucharist, the nature of the afterlife and the prayers for the dead, etc. Indeed, some believers deny the existence of hell despite the biblical testimony and the presence of evil that demands the full measure of divine justice. The occult has also infected believers, substituting magic for supernatural faith. It is ironic that atheism and the occult should simultaneously infect members of the Church. We need to do all we can to correct the errors of our times. There is no reincarnation. There is no parallel oriental bad force that counterbalances the good. We do no become angels after death as popularized in movies. The dead human body is a corpse. The human soul is a ghost. We are promised restitution in the resurrection of the dead. I cannot begin to say how many Catholics do not know the truth about these matters. Yes, even those in the pews need correction and a renewed formation. But, other than with preaching how do we do this? Many will not attend special classes or even online workshops. They fail to attend bible study or instruction classes. As for those not in the pews, is there any way left to bring them and their children home? How can the message of the Church compete with the many voices of the world?

Women Bishops – The Lights Go Out for Anglicanism

5f0c3e5657ed3b8229685eac8a081987The General Synod of the Church of England voted on Monday to consecrate priestesses as women bishops. Well, there’s the nail to the coffin for the home of Anglicanism. Ecumenism with them will be restricted to soup kitchens, sharing contributions from C.S, Lewis, and appreciation for perfecting the English language. The bridges have been burned to most else. Since women cannot be ordained in truth, this makes arguments about their Masses and the Eucharist mute. Fake priests can only give you a counterfeit Holy Communion. When it came to morality, our ships passed in the night a long time ago. They disregard both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, wrongly approving homosexuality and dismissing the indissolubility of marriage. Abortion is reduced to a personal choice, far from the Catholic stance that sees it as an assault upon the heart of the Gospel of Life. Their last convention in the States could only agree about how terrible landmines were, as if that is a big issue in suburbia. This is what happens when morality collapses and an “everything goes” mentality takes over. Public opinion and modernity is given preference over divine revelation. Instead of obedience to God, the human becomes the measure of all things— and people are fickle and frequently wrong. The Orthodox churches are lamenting that years of work toward a common faith and even levels of recognition have been thrown upon the garbage heap. Anglicanism, except as a small group received by the Holy See, is destined not to be counted as a branch of the apostolic and “catholic” family of churches. The “reapproachment” with them since Vatican II is now a dismal failure because the Anglicanism of even half a century ago no longer exists. It has been replaced by a mutated structure that will continue to devolve and crumble. Australian Anglicans are arguing that priests might be optional and that the laity can offer the Mass. Fragmented, one segment fights with another, and there is no contemporary pretense of a world Anglican order. Certain traditionalists among them refused the offer of Pope Benedict XVI, hoping to rebuild with a union of conservative African bishops. But how long will it be until modernity will invade that new structure? Ironically, some of them attack the Anglicans who accepted the special offer from the Pope in becoming Catholics. They still buy the prejudices against Rome which were initially an element of their split. Catholicism has its dissenters; but they will have no official weight in the practice of our sacraments and doctrines. The accidentals may change, as with language, but the deposit of faith is safe and sound. As for the Anglicans, could they even agree as to what this deposit consists?

The Anglicans feel that immutable doctrine can be changed by ballot. Here is the vote approving women bishops:

  • House of Bishops: 37 to 2 with 1 abstention
  • House of Clergy: 162 to 25 with 4 abstentions
  • House of Laity: 52 to 45 with 5 abstentions

This move goes against the teachings and pattern passed down from Jesus. There was no woman among the twelve apostles. Jesus did not worry about stereotypes. But this one, he did not break. It was God’s will. Anglicans no longer care. I guess they would say that Jesus was wrong. Of course, this change was anticipated. A long time in the mix, the first ingredient was added back in 1994 when they began ordaining women as priestesses (women priests). Error breeds error. The United States made a woman its chief Episcopalian bishop some years ago, Katharine Jefferts Schori. Before her they elected their first gay bishop. Australian, New Zealand, and Canada also have women bishops. The show continues but it no longer matters. They can wear their pointy hats and play-act all they want— these women are neither true priests nor bishops. Both Orthodoxy and Catholicism are in agreement here. There is no third tier to the Church. Without a valid hierarchy, there can be no true priests. If there is no priesthood, then there can be no Eucharist (sacrifice of propitiation and real presence). If there is no Eucharist, the ecclesial community is not really a CHURCH.  End of Story

Capital Punishment & Heresy

ASSERTION (PJ):

Proposition condemned: “That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.” (Exsurge Domine). Self-defense of a Catholic community especially is protected by this, not sure about aggression. Capital punishment for heresy is not contrary to Catholicism.

RESPONSE:

It would certainly be contrary to notions about freedom of conscience and religious liberty taught since Vatican II. Even prior to that, many theologians seriously questioned any use of force that was contrary to human dignity and the rights of the individual. The view once held by certain Protestants and Catholics was that physical intimidation and even the prospect of death could be used to compel conversion. The idea, even reckoned by Sir Thomas More, who would face execution himself, was that the one who threatened or murdered the soul was more dangerous than the villain who could destroy the body. Today, capital punishment is generally rejected since it perpetuates a culture of death and there are other reliable ways to punish criminals.

Pope Leo X released his papal bull on June 15, 1520. A somewhat confused or hastily drawn up document, it listed 41 propositions that Martin Luther was commanded to retract under pain of excommunication. Dr. Johann Maier von Eck and a committee assembled the document and the Pope released it as his own. Cardinal Cajetan was concerned about the lack of theological reflection and that minor matters were lumped together with more serious ones. Luther argued against the burning of heretics although other Protestants and even princes that favored his views also resorted to the death penalty. The Pope was also a secular ruler at that time and churchmen resisted the notion that such a penalty could not be exercised. However, the fact that just authority may have such authority is a separate question from whether or not it should be exercised. Today the consensus, even among the Catholic hierarchy, is closer to Luther than Eck or Pope Leo X. Luther cites St. Jerome and the bull makes no reference to it. But of course, this was one question, and one that was disputed even in orthodox circles. The tragedy is that the tone of this document closed the door to any further dialogue with Luther, a man whose temperament needed few excuses to argue and ridicule. He declared the Pope to be the antichrist. The Reformation split had begun.

In any case, a censure of something scandalous like this does not fall under the protection of papal infallibility. Popes can require religious assent even of propositions that have yet to be proven as absolutely true. This would certainly have been the Pope’s right toward an Augustinian priest who had pledged obedience. There are a number of factual mistakes in the bull where caricatures of Luther’s teachings are presented but they fall short of the mark. In retrospect, the Church probably should have taken more time to research the dissenter’s idea. Of course, it was a political climate inhospitable to civil and rational debate. They probably felt they had to act quickly.

Communion in Orthodox Churches? Same Catholic Faith?

QUESTION:  As a Catholic can I receive Communion in an Orthodox Church? Aren’t our beliefs essentially the same?

ANSWER:

You cannot generally receive Holy Communion in an Orthodox church. The only exception is when it is physically impossible for you to participate at a liturgy in a Roman Catholic or Eastern rite in union with the Holy See. However, please note, that not all Orthodox churches would want Latin rite Christians taking the sacrament from them, either. We should also try to respect their laws. Having said all this, we recognize the validity of the seven sacraments in the Orthodox churches.

The Orthodox churches are national churches and Roman Catholicism has always been in tension with such embodiments of faith communities. This is true in the East and West. Gallicanism placed great stress upon the unity of the Church in France just as Anglicanism signified a juridical breech. Political reasons related to Church authority are still very much part of the problem that must be resolved. What is the extent of papal power and the unity under the Petrine see? This brings with it the debate over the status of the small Eastern rite churches in union with Rome. The Orthodox churches tend to look down upon them as traitors. The Orthodox churches regard the Pope as “the first among equals.” Such is not how we regard the universal see.

Besides ecclesiology, there are also some doctrinal interpretations which divide us. The most famous of these is the Filioque debate in the Nicene Creed: both the authority of the Pope to add to the profession of faith and the understanding of the eternal generations or relations of the divine Persons in the Blessed Trinity. Given pressure from worldly monarchs, Protestant influence and secularism, the second or penitential marriages of divorced persons is also a divide. We cannot readily forgive that for which we were willing to allow the entire English church to slip away— a marriage that is no marriage but adultery. Orthodox churches transplanted into the West are increasingly adopting elements of Lutheranism (emphasis upon Scripture over tradition and the value of faith over works) but these eccentricities are also placing stress upon their loose inner unity worldwide. Indeed, some communities have split as have several of the Russian Orthodox over the fragmentation of the old U.S.S.R. and what was seen as complicity with communism. Indeed, it appears that some prelates might have been KGB plants. Indeed, the recent news has detailed a public rift between the Orthodox patriarchs in Russian and the Ukraine.

Happy All Hallows’ Evening

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I was recently involved with a FACEBOOK discussion on the topic of Halloween.  A college student was challenged by his roommate that the celebration was “evil.”  His friend was a “born again” Christian.  He asked friends to shed light on the question.

A Catholic Reflection on Halloween

Halloween in a pluralistic society means various things to different people.  Indeed, given the contemporary fascination with vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts and zombies, it might seem that Halloween is now a year-long celebration.  But the question at hand is a narrow one, does Halloween place superstition above authentic faith?  The dialogue is not only between Christians but must confront the values and meanings imposed by a liberal secular humanism and the emergence of modern paganism.

Questions of sectarian faith aside, we have also connected Halloween to the fall harvests, thus the symbols of pumpkins, apple bobbing, corn mazes, hay rides, scarecrows, owls, etc. Such a feast provides a fun dress up for children and the giving of candy, which reinforces the joy of childhood and the solidarity of the community in caring for them.

The Tension over Halloween

Certain reformed Protestants often object to Halloween because of its apparent preoccupation with the dead and their souls.  Remember, such believers reject purgatory and prayers for the dead. Other groups deny even the soul and hell, like Seventh-day Adventists.  Obviously, as Catholics, we cannot play along with arguments focused against our holy faith.  While we might regard ghosts as souls in purgatory, in their estimation the whole business is either a fantasy or a devilish deception.  Since Christ has destroyed death, any preoccupation with it is negatively judged as “popery.”  But Catholicism stresses both a personal and a corporate faith.  The saints live in a communion with Christ and one another.  The souls in purgatory are still part of the Church.  We pray for the poor souls just as we ask the heavenly saints to pray for and with us.  The bond of our unity is Christ, himself.

The so-called pagan foundation of Halloween (as in Samhain) is a modern exaggeration. The roots are actually Christian, or Catholic. The name Halloween is a derivation of All Hallows’ Evening or Eve. Neo-pagan religion, perverse occultists, and New Age believers would attempt to make it something else.  Catholic immigrants from countries like Mexico are also introducing the similar “Dia de los Muerto.”

Some have the peculiar notion that All Hallows’ Eve is a night where spirits or ghosts enact violence.  This is nonsense!  It is the made-up stuff of the occult and/or horror movies.  It probably has roots in the pranks played by juveniles while dressed up and moving from house to house.

Puritans and/or Calvinists associated prayers for the dead with witchcraft and necromancy.  Their religious descendants are still among us.  Today when we think of Puritans, the legacy of Plymouth Rock is tarnished by the legendary Salem Witch Trials.  Religious hysteria brought about the condemnation and execution of innocent women.  Each year witches, real and imaginary, pilgrimage to Salem, Massachusetts. Tourism soars as revelers come to celebrate the holiday.  This has even precipitated seasonal tension between Wicca or naturalistic pagans and those who perpetuate the caricature of witches on brooms. I recall that the Salem Knights of Columbus hall had to cancel contracts when they realized that renters were using their facility for genuine witchcraft, not the make-believe variety.  It is precisely because of such fears that a number of Christian communities have now utterly rejected Halloween.  Of course, certain Christian cults reject any holiday or special day that is not clearly scripturally based.  Others object just to be different from Catholics or to illustrate their disdain for Rome’s authority.  That means that a number of these faith communities do not celebrate Christmas, Easter or the Sunday Observance.

The fundamentalist Christian critic insists that Halloween is a capitulation of the Christian commission.  This seems to be a bit of a stretch, at least in terms of boys dressed as cowboys and girls as princesses.  My only regret is that I would have children yearn for Holy Communion as much as they race to fill their Halloween bags with candy.

While some Protestants politely agree to disagree with Catholicism and about the celebration of Halloween; other Christian groups condemn the festive day as devilish and pass out anti-Catholic “Chick Tracts” to the trick-or-treaters.  Still other Christians, like most Catholics, see nothing inherently wrong with children dressing up and collecting candy.  Certain Catholics and Protestants will pass out alternative treats, like crosses, prayer books, religious stickers, etc.  Concerned about the direction that Halloween is taking, a number of Catholic families and churches urge the children to dress up as saints.  I recall one little boy who was quite upset when Sister at school told him that he could not dress as a monster.  When Halloween came she pulled him aside, angry with his costume.  She lamented, “I thought I told you that you had to be a saint?”  He answered, “I am a saint, Sister— I’m John the Baptist… after the beheading!”

The weekend of our Halloween Party at Holy Family Parish, a lady rebuked me after Mass for celebrating the “devil’s holiday.”  If such were true then Christians could have no part of it.  But the case cannot currently be made.  Baptist and Catholic churches both have Halloween parties and trunk-or-treat activities in their parking lots.  As Christians our strength is in the Lord.  The children of light are in conflict with the darkness.  But the game is fixed.  There may be casualties who reject the Lord but the victory over sin and death is already accomplished.  We need no longer be the devil’s property.  We have been redeemed or purchased at a great price.  Jesus dies that we might live.  Prayer and the life of charity are the essential ways that we confront darkness.  God made the pumpkins, the spiders, the bats, the owls and us.  He made candy sweet and gave innocence to children.  God gave us the day and the night. Halloween belongs to God.

The negative critic feels that Halloween gives the devil a foothold in the lives and hearts of Christians.  However, as in our recent parish Halloween party, I saw selfless volunteers running games, cooking, and distributing goodies to children out of a Christian love for youth and their families.  The devil will have nothing to do with real love.

A Christian Understanding of the Symbols of Halloween

Some authorities trace the carved pumpkin to Irish folklore about a drunk who trapped the devil in a tree and carved a cross upon it.  Having made a deal with the devil never to be tempted again by drink, Jack was denied entry into heaven.  He was given a cinder of fire in a turnip for light.  Supposedly the turnip became a pumpkin in America.  The jack-o’-lantern became a visible against compromise with the devil.  It also serves the same function as the gargoyles on the Gothic cathedrals of Europe. They became a type of sacramental to invoke divine protection.

Scary costumes, like the carved pumpkins, fulfill a similar purpose.  These were cultural or folkloric ways in which simple people sought to ward off evil.  While it may be a bit silly, the notion that people had was that evil or dark spirits would be encouraged to pass over their homes and leave their communities undisturbed.  The assumption was that the demons might be fooled by the caricatures of themselves (kids in costume) into supposing that the area was already infested or occupied.  There is no real doctrinal weight to such a practice… just a desire to be holy and not molested by evil.  Today most people just dress up for fun.

The practice of trick-or-treating probably finds its roots in All Souls Day.  There used to be processions or parades on November 2nd.  Christians would beseech “soul cakes” (dried raisin/square bread) in return for saying prayers for dead family members.  They were mostly collected by children and the poor.  Each cake represented a soul being released from purgatory.  Dressing up and singing was often parting of “souling” from house to house.

Some Christians are unhappy with the symbolism of Halloween.  I recall one person angrily upset about skulls or skeletons.  However, this prejudice fails to appreciate that the skull is embraced by Catholicism as both an immediate sign of death and of our dependence upon God. It is used by the Knights of Columbus, in depictions of the crucifixion and even decorates certain European churches.   We do not worship death but are ever mindful of the price paid for our redemption.  Further, our time in this world is short.  The theme of death or mortality is one to which we return on Ash Wednesday. “Remember, O man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”

It is unfortunate that venerable Christian symbols should be confused by the ignorant and bigoted as satanic.  I was in one parish where a shrine to St. Peter was vandalized, not by crazy kids or occultists, but by Christian fundamentalists.  They ripped the inverted cross from the ground and argued that it was a sign of Satan and of the antichrist.  You still hear such foolishness about the upside-down cross on the back of the papal chair.  But the bigots misinterpret an ancient symbol of martyrdom.  St. Peter did not feel worthy to die like his Lord so he asked his executioners to crucify him with his feet in the air and his head toward the ground.  Critics make a mockery of an inspiring witness to Christ.

Catholics also venerate the relics of the holy dead, wear medals and scapulars, carry and say rosaries and use holy water.  These are not talismans or the accidentals for magic.  Rather, they are visible signs of our faith in the incarnate God, the God made visible in Jesus Christ.

Keep Christ in Halloween

We read in Philippians 4:8-9:  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”  Christians are committed to the pure and the good.

This might make us reflective of the spiritual elements attached to the secular commemoration of Halloween. We cannot buy the entire package. However, it may yet be reclaimed for Christ. The Christian effort is to Christianize the world, not to run away or hide in a spiritual ghetto. Certainly, there is innocence about children dressing up and finding delight in sweets. My growing reservation is about where adults are taking the festivity. Catholics and significant numbers of other Christians offer alternatives to trick-or-treat and spend All Hallows’ Eve at church worshipping God and recalling the witness of the saints in Christ. I agree with the criticism that there are sinister undercurrents that are seeking to hijack the expanding season of Halloween. As a child I dressed as a clown, a cowboy, an astronaut and as a superhero. It troubles me to see children attired today as characters from “R” rated horror movies. Why do they even know anything about these murderous and blasphemous characters? I am repulsed “personally” by the sleazy costumes that cast derision upon priests and nuns. Adult costumes, especially for females, increasingly celebrate vulgarity and eroticism. If Christians cannot redirect the fun away from these elements then it is true (I would agree) we might have to opt out entirely. It may be that Halloween is escalating in the direction of the occult and vulgarity.  Maybe we as good Catholics and Knights need to campaign for Halloween as we would for Christmas?  We also need to keep Christ in Halloween.  All Saints’ assures us that we can have a share in Christ’s life and in the kingdom.  All Souls’ reminds us that while we are sinners, God is infinitely merciful.  What he has started in us, he will finish.