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The Rise of False Worship

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There are now more witches in America than Presbyterians. Sorcery is on the rise and it is more than fun-and games.

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Church Scandal & the Devil

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Those who hate the Catholic Church are falling over themselves in blaming pedophile clergy for the abuse and scandals.  They absolutely refuse to acknowledge that the majority of cases are instances of homosexual pederasty.  These critics, that include major newspapers and other news outlets, are in collusion with churchmen who want to protect or hide “gay” priests in the Church and promote the growing acceptance of homosexuality in secular culture.  The devil as the great deceiver has not only corrupted some in the Church but many in our secular society.

When Pope Francis targeted Satan as the primary culprit of the crisis, many public officials, journalists and others roundly ridiculed him.  Article headers around the world heralded a distorted view of his remarks: “Pope Blames Satan Instead of Pedophile Priests!” A spiritual view was derided as a political deflection.  Given that many critics of the Church are also inimical to any and all religious affiliations, this should not surprise us— atheists neither believe in God nor a devil. Nevertheless, the devil is real and if it seems that he is spending an inordinate amount of time and energy attacking the Catholic Church the reason is that she is the house that Jesus built.  However, if he is present in the Church as an interloper, he is alive and well in modern society as a welcomed guest, or at least this is so in terms of his distorted values.  He wants to take ownership of the world and is willing to hide as the ghost in the machine.

Satan_Gustave_Dore_paradise_lost_the_devil_cast_out_of_heavenThe Pope warns us: “We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.” While other confessions broke away from Catholic unity, the legacy of the Catholic Church goes back to Jesus and the first bishop-priests, his apostles.  The devil hates the Church because she is the present-day realization of the incarnation in the world.  Christ is the head and his Church is his Mystical Body.  There is a profound unity.  Given that none are saved apart from Christ, the same can be said about the Church.  As the Mystical Body of our Lord, she is the great sacrament of encounter with Christ.  Even as the Church is composed of sinners and invites others by divine command, the Church remains holy because Christ is holy.  Our Lord’s redemptive work won the victory over sin and death.  However, the consequences must be unraveled throughout subsequent human history.  The devil has lost the war but he still seeks to steal individual souls.  Given the importance of the priesthood and the Eucharist as at the heart of the Church, the devil attacks where he can cause the most damage and scandal.  Just as he can numb the consciences of mothers about the tragic abortion of their children; he deadens the souls of renegade priests to their heinous acts against God’s children, making a sacrilege of their role at the altar and in the confessional.

None of this mitigates the priest’s own culpability for his sins.  Similarly the bishops have an obligation to insure a priesthood that is sanctified by grace and devoted to a service realized in sacrificial love.  They must be new Christs.  We can accept nothing less as it would come from the evil one.  Bishops and priests are called as ministers of mercy or reconciliation.  It is in this regard that we should not dismiss Satan’s efforts to tempt and corrupt priests.  We are not Donatists and the powers of the priesthood are not dependent upon personal holiness.  However, bad priests do not readily invite others to repentance and holiness of life.  Our Lord abhors duplicity.  Compromise the truth and few will listen to our preaching and teaching.

When the devil targets priests, he uses their own loneliness and brokenness against them.  He sows weeds from the beginning in secret.  Things that needed to be said were not said.  Weaknesses were not acknowledged or treated.  Truth was the victim throughout— in the psychological evaluation, in the acceptance into seminary, in the regular reviews of candidates and even as they prostrated themselves before the altar. Men who were afraid thought they could hide their cowardice and defects within the priesthood even though our Lord had admonished his apostles not to be afraid. Men who were not committed to celibate love came forward with divided hearts to be ordained.  Men who were not humbled by a call of service knelt before the bishop with princely dreams instead.  Men who pledged obedience became infected by the poison of Milton’s Satan who cried, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” Did any of the rogues possess a genuine conviction to answer a calling from God? If so, what was it that changed their trajectory?  While some of these men deceived themselves; others were given help.

Most priests are good men who seek to realize the holiness of God and the forgiveness of sins, in their lives and in the lives of those to whom they minister.  But it only takes a few bad men to hurt many.  It only takes a moment of passivity or weakness or silence to become complicit in their crimes.

Pope Francis has asked God’s people to pray the rosary every day in October so as to repel the satanic attacks and to exorcise the demonic presence from the Church.  Of course, we should always pray for good and holy priests.  Pope Francis tells us: “The Church must be saved from the attacks of the malignant one, the great accuser, and at the same time be made ever more aware of her guilt— her mistakes— with the abuses committed in the present and the past.”

The Pope has asked us to add to the rosary the traditional intercessory prayer to St. Michael:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

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.

Pope Urges Use of Exorcists

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It is no wonder that Pope Francis is urging the appointment of more exorcists!

CRUX reported:

According to Pope Francis, confessors should not be averse to referring their penitents to exorcists if they suspect demonic activity is at work, and after consulting psychological professionals. The pontiff said the ministry of confession takes place on the “peripheries of evil and sin.”

Pope Francis stated:

Discernment is necessary also because those who approach the confessional may come from the most desperate situations; they could also have spiritual disturbances, whose nature should be submitted to careful discernment, taking into account all the existential, ecclesial, natural and supernatural circumstances. When the confessor becomes aware of the presence of genuine spiritual disturbances – that may be in large part psychic, and therefore must be confirmed by means of healthy collaboration with the human sciences – he must not hesitate to refer the issue to those who, in the diocese, are charged with this delicate and necessary ministry, namely, exorcists. But these must be chosen with great care and great prudence.

LINK: Audience with participants in the Course on the Internal Forum

The Issue of Mediums, False Religion & the Devil

Kim writes the following:

fortune_teller

Dear Father,

I need some help. I have talked with a lot of priests and have always been turned down. I’m a medium. I don’t want this gift. It’s more of a nightmare for me and I’ve tried everything to expel these demons out of my life. No matter where I go. I cause death sickness and violence.

Please if you can help me. My family and I would greatly appreciate it.

My initial response:

I think some clarifications are in order here.

First, you do not define in what sense you view yourself as a medium. The Church condemns false worship or the practice of the occult. Thus, so-called mediums are prohibited from fortune-telling or divination, séances, sorcery, and channeling the dead for secret knowledge.

Second, there is no guarantee of spiritual agency, and such operations might be expressions of either deceitful chicanery or mental delusion.

demon_03Third, there are those who have opened doors to demonic oppression or worse types of spiritual infection. We see this type of tragedy in Scripture where the oracle or medium has no immediate or personal power; rather, it is borrowed through a devilish entity that postures as the dead or manifests itself in ecstatic utterances, ghostly appearances and/or other strange happenings.

Fourth, even approved exorcists make note of “sensitives” who do not seek out the supernatural but seemed somehow spiritually attuned to its presence. Because they can be useful in rooting out hidden entities, the devil may try to abruptly frighten such people. He desperately would not want them to assist clergy or to answer a religious calling of their own. When filled with faith and love of God, these people seem naturally inclined toward Christian mysticism. They realize that we wage a battle against powers and principalities; they respond with humility and prayer. The Catholics among them make ready recourse to the sacraments. They trust the Church.

Returning to your case, if there is a spiritual agency then your few details would point to the third scenario. I would urge going to Confession, regular participation at Sunday Mass, recitation of a daily Rosary, and having your home blessed by a priest with a consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Further, the prayer to St. Michael makes a good oration that directly seeks protection against the devil.

Kim states:

I was basically born into a family where strange happenings are about. I was one that inherited these things. I have the gift to channel the dead and when I was little I somehow channeled this demon that has been in my life from age 2 till now.

Father Joe responds:

That is not really how it works. The situation is a deception, either a psychological or a spiritual one. If the latter, then know this— demons would not share you with anyone or anything except other demons. If there is a demon involved, then he is responsible for all the strange happenings and may even falsely posture being the dead. Have you been targeted your whole life? What introduced it? Often there is an occult operation that opened the door.

Kim states:

I am 18 now and here in the past 3-4 years it’s been given my family a lot of problems. From family getting sick to our farm animals dying.

Father Joe responds:

God does not work that way… only the devil. That does not make you a medium or even a sensitive. It makes you a victim. What you take for your talent or ability would not be you at all.

Kim states:

There has even been a few things that have great religion value that has come up missing. We bless the house regularly but it seems to have no affect anymore.

Father Joe responds:

How have you blessed the house? Are you Catholic? Is it a Christian ritual? What are the religious items? Occult elements only make such things worse. House blessings by a priest are valuable; however, a home can only maintain the blessing if the people that live there are godly. If there is fear, superstition, mortal sin, etc. then blessings have little or no value. A house blessing and the consecration to Christ is NOT magic. The graces of God must be sustained.

Kim states:

I am a really big Christian and I’ve gotten to the point to where I turn my back on everything that I know is not there. I refuse to help anything or anyone.

Father Joe responds:

I am not sure here what you mean by “turning your back.” I am also unsure as to the meaning of a “big Christian.” We are all sinners and dependent upon the Lord. The power is not ours but ultimately his. We are called to lives of fidelity to Jesus— praising God, thanking God, and serving God. We imitate the mercy and love of Jesus. If you belong to the Lord then mock the devil. He cannot stand mockery. Many homes I bless even establish small shrines where they keep Bibles, prayer books, holy cards, holy water, rosaries, etc. They keep religious pictures in each room as a reminder that the family is the little church. The Lord’s Prayer is itself a powerful deliverance prayer. Pray with the family every day. Trust Jesus and be not afraid.

Kim states:

Because you may recall there aren’t any in-betweens. There is either heaven or hell. Therefore only demons walk the earth and show their face to people like me. I’m only asking for guidance with my next step because I am completely clueless.

Father Joe responds:

Are you well? It is possible that the problem is psychological. Have you seen a counselor? Your words here do not jive with my faith as a Catholic priest. Catholicism permits prayer for the dead (the poor souls in purgatory) but we are not to seek two way communication. We ask the saints of heaven to pray for us. The Church on earth is the pilgrim Church, and we live not by sight but by faith. Demons are fallen angels or pure spirits. They have no material bodies. They are real and destructive but despite their intellectual and spiritual powers, we have something they do not. Christians in good standing with the Lord possess sanctifying grace. It is this grace that protects us. Compared to God and the guardian angels, the demons are poor cripples. They make mischief but the Great War is won in Christ. We have been redeemed from the devil. You still give the devil too much credit.

Seek both psychological and spiritual counsel. Any hesitance to do so is not from God. Try not to be obsessed by such matters— that too can come from the evil one. Place the emphasis daily upon the Lord and push aside an unhealthy preoccupation with demons.

Faith Challenged By Scripture

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A person who is struggling with faith wrote the following:

I was raised “catholic” but now I am considering leaving “catholicism” along with belief in “god.” I honestly cannot come to believe in “god” anymore. I used to be such a fervent believer in him but I have come to the realization that I no longer believe in him. The more I read the “bible” and verses like the ones below the more I become disillusioned with Christianity.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12 / Genesis 38:8-10 / Deuteronomy 21:18-21 / Exodus 35:2 / Leviticus 20:13 / Isaiah 13:13-16 / Exodus 21:20-21 / 1 Timothy 2:11-12 / Colossians 3:22-23 / Luke 14:26 / Deuteronomy 22:13-21 / Isaiah 40:8

This does not seem like the “word of god” to me— of a being who is supposed to be all knowing and perfect. Rather it is the work of an individual with a primitive way of thinking. Many times I tried to convince myself that the “god” of the Old Testament was different but sadly that is not the case since most Christians believe that “god” is eternally unchanging as is expected of a perfect ‘know it all’ being. I have many more problems with the “bible,” including inconsistencies with history and science. I also don’t like the fact that everything in the “bible” has to be watered down especially the negative portions. Why can’t I just read it for what it is, why does it have to be read metaphorically. When Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves I understood the message loud and clear. So why are other portions, which are just so ridiculous, have to be read symbolically or metaphorically? I honestly cannot believe in “god” anymore. I tried but I just can’t bring myself to honestly and sincerely believe anymore. I don’t consider myself an evil person but the more “scripture” I read the less I believe.

Here is my response:

First, the Bible is not dictated word for word in a manner that invalidates the learning and life experiences of the human authors. The nature of the instruments (as human beings) has to be respected. Anything more controlling would be a form of possession, and that devilish business undermines human dignity. We are men and women, not pencils. The light of God’s truth shines through but as through the prism of the human condition. We see this ultimately with the incarnation and the one who is the Light of the World. Consequently, the coarseness and cruelty that upsets us in the Old Testament says more about mankind and sin than it does about God. The passion and death of Jesus is his confrontation with such a mindset. What was tolerated before is now challenged so that it might be healed and perfected.

Second, we must acknowledge that the Bible was written by many authors, exhibiting many styles, over a great deal of time and in many places. The oldest books may go back as far as the 16th and 12th century BC. The Scriptures also contain many forms of literature: histories, speeches, prophecies, legal codes, parable stories and mythology, poetry and hymns, etc. One must understand what one is reading if it is to be interpreted correctly. Jesus gave us a Church so that the truths of faith might be faithfully transmitted without dilution or corruption. While it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, this same Spirit in the Church preserves the truth. The Holy Spirit also grants us the gift of faith. The Bible is not a manual on how to live your life. The Bible is not a science book. It is a library of books that chronicles God’s activity in salvation history and our response. You should not make the Bible out to be something it is not. If you want an easy listing of moral certainties then pick up the universal catechism of the Church.

God as a perfect Spirit is unchanging and has within himself all perfections: knowledge, power, goodness, holiness, eternal, etc. But God must communicate with us in time. All we know is change. One day we are a child and the next we look into the mirror and see wrinkles and white hair. God enters the human family: the Word becomes Flesh. He suffers and dies for you and me. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the Father. He lowers himself to our level so that we might better know and love him. While you like his words about love, you are ready to renounce Jesus as a divine Person and his real presence in the Eucharist. Why are you more willing to see mankind as a cosmic accident than as a providential creation with an eternal destiny? That is not much of a trade-off.

Old heresies often raise their ugly heads. Marcionism was a dualism insisting that the “harsh” and “bloodthirsty” deity of the Old Testament could not be the same as the “loving” Father of Jesus. This view was rightly condemned by the Church. Jesus is the long-promised Messiah and even our Lord says that “salvation comes through the Jews.”

I would like to say that man’s capacity to understand grows but I am often amazed at the depth of ignorance and error, even in the modern world. The deity of ISIS Islamic extremists is a throwback to the view of God as one of law over love, of forced conversions, and of espousing death to infidels. By contrast, the God of truth, justice and mercy is reflected in the courageous men and women who are tortured and beheaded for their Catholic faith and for the love of Jesus. While you reject God because your interpretation will allow no clash in models; the Christian martyrs witness to the truth with courage. They embrace in their agony what you throw away in your leisure.

Genesis 38:8-10

Then Judah said to Onan, “Have intercourse with your brother’s wife, in fulfillment of your duty as brother-in-law, and thus preserve your brother’s line.” Onan, however, knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, to avoid giving offspring to his brother. What he did greatly offended the LORD, and the LORD took his life too.

Often cited against the sin of masturbation and/or coitus interruptus, the situation again reflects an ancient code (pagan and Jewish) about raising a child up for one’s dead brother. Onan has no problem with enjoying the sexual act, but his selfishness will not allow a child to be conceived. If there is no progeny then no inheritance will have to be shared with his brother’s family. While Christians do not follow this legal code, and would object to such an understanding of the marriage bed, we can see in the story a divine negative verdict against those who would separate the conjugal act from its natural fertility. In any case, Onan is disobedient to what he perceives as his obligation under the law. Disobedience always invokes a reckoning. Given that he acts against life, his life is demanded of him. Remember that God is the author of life. We belong to him. If he should demand our life, it is his right.

Exodus 21:20-21

When someone strikes his male or female slave with a rod so that the slave dies under his hand, the act shall certainly be avenged. 

If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.

The ancient world kept slaves. These rules here were to make the masters of men accountable. While we disagree about such bondage, we can appreciate the yearning for justice. There is still slavery in certain parts of the world. The seed of freedom planted in the New Covenant would take a while to germinate and grow. Christians were urged to treat slaves as brothers and sisters in Christ. Later slavery was tolerated until that time that debts were paid off or savages were civilized and given the true faith. Popes condemned slavery in the 1600’s and yet it would remain an institution in the United States until 1865. Dissent is not something new, as today the full humanity of the unborn is compromised. It became ever clearer that in Christ all are given grace and regarded the same— Jew or Gentile, free or slave, man or woman— all possess a precious dignity. Freedom is our birthright as children of God and everyone has natural rights. Here is one of the clearest instances of the organic development of doctrine.

Exodus 35:2

On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy to you as the sabbath of complete rest to the LORD. Anyone who does work on that day shall be put to death.

This is part of the Decalogue, although later Jews and Christians would not have any part of a death threat. Ancient peoples often attached the death penalty to matters they wanted obeyed— Canaanites did this, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and of course, the Romans, etc. The preference would be to imitate God because we want to be like him or because we love him. This particular law also reflects the human condition. Men need rest just as they require work. This law would prevent men from being forced to labor without a day of rest where they could worship God and find their leisure. Today we have forgotten this and poor people are sometimes forced to work seven days a week to put food on their tables and to care for their families. We live in a world which no longer either loves God or fears him.

Leviticus 20:13

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, they have committed an abomination; the two of them shall be put to death; their bloodguilt is upon them.

We should not get caught up with the death penalties enacted by the ancient peoples. While we find it abhorrent, the emphasis is on the accompanying value, not the censure. When you do not have jails and are desperate to keep an organized society, societies typically enact harsh measures. This proposition here comes as part of a much longer list, each with a similar penalty: occult worship (6), dishonoring parents (9), adultery (10), incest (11 & 12), and bestiality (15). Here the prohibition is against the sin of homosexuality. Are you upset because the Scriptures and the Church teaches against homosexuality? Catholicism would say it also conflicts with the natural law. We must love our disoriented brothers and sisters; but we cannot give our approbation for immoral behavior. Those who are truly homosexual are called to lives of celibate love and service. How do you feel about the other sins listed? They have their advocates just as homosexuality did. During my lifetime there has been a major paradigm shift. That which was almost universally regarded as abhorrent and criminalized is now esteemed by our secular humanistic society as a basic right. The Church cannot dismiss objective truths so easily or because of the changing fads and fashions of the day. Doctrine can develop, but a reversal here would be in stark conflict with what came before. The accidentals of faith can sometimes change, the substance cannot.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not listen to his father or mother, and will not listen to them even though they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders at the gate of his home city, where they shall say to the elders of the city, “This son of ours is a stubborn and rebellious fellow who will not listen to us; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all his fellow citizens shall stone him to death. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear and be afraid.

Again, note that we are not under the many Hebraic laws but saved by faith and the Lord’s gift of grace. These dictums do not apply to Christians. The ancient society to which they applied no longer exists. While capital punishment clashes with the Church’s ethic for life, what was it that the people of old were seeking to foster? First, this passage is not in reference to a small child but to an adult (man). Second, his rebelliousness is not over minor issues. He is self-preoccupied to the extent of neglecting his parents and the community. He is abusive and dangerous. The stakes were high, life and death. It may be that the threat of ultimate punishment turned many of these men around. The law here was connected to a religious society. They did not make a distinction between secular or civil law and religious tenets.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21

If a man, after marrying a woman and having relations with her, comes to dislike her, and accuses her of misconduct and slanders her by saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her I did not find evidence of her virginity,” the father and mother of the young woman shall take the evidence of her virginity and bring it to the elders at the city gate. There the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, “I gave my daughter to this man in marriage, but he has come to dislike her, and now accuses her of misconduct, saying: ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity!” And they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the city. Then these city elders shall take the man and discipline him, and fine him one hundred silver shekels, which they shall give to the young woman’s father, because the man slandered a virgin in Israel. She shall remain his wife, and he may not divorce her as long as he lives. But if this charge is true, and evidence of the young woman’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the young woman to the entrance of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a shameful crime in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.

Do you not remember the story of the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus challenged the angry crowd? He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” They all walked away. Jesus came to bring mercy, even when the woman was guilty. He also preached against divorce, something that is affirmed here. You wrongly get caught up in the graphic elements. All these things must now be viewed in light of Christ. How is it then that these elements of ancient Judaism would cause you to dismiss your faith in Jesus Christ? Either you have not thought this through, or this whole comment with citations is a ploy from a non-believer to ridicule the faith.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12

When two men are fighting and the wife of one intervenes to save her husband from the blows of his opponent, if she stretches out her hand and seizes the latter by his genitals, you shall chop off her hand; show no pity.

And how often do you suppose this actually happened? The religious gravity is not cruelty but upon the gift of fertility and respect for manhood. Destruction of a person’s faculty in the transmission of human life was regarded as a serious crime. It robbed a man of his posterity and remembrance. Remember, the early Jews had a poor understanding of an afterlife. They placed the emphasis upon children and property. This is one of many civil laws that were not unique to the people called by God. It is merely an ancient legal code. God calls us from where we are with all our ignorance or sophistication. Notice the law that follows it forbids carrying different weights in your traveling bag, so that men might not cheat each other when scales are used in purchases. The code that proceeded about marriage would mandate marriage within a family to carry on a brother’s name and linage. As with the Mosaic code on divorce, this would conflict with Christ’s teachings on the nature of marriage. Jesus would speak about their hardness of hearts. God’s passive will tolerates certain weaknesses and sins because of the freedom he gives us. We are not ants or robots. Not everything in the Old Testament reflects God’s direct will. The Bible is not a manual or rule book. It is a chronicle of salvation history. You have to read it as such and place the emphasis upon Christ and the teachings of his Church. God shows us his face and his will over time. While the deposit of faith is now fixed, it develops through our reflection and deepening understanding.

Isaiah 13:13-16

For this I will make the heavens tremble and the earth shall be shaken from its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts on the day of his burning anger. Like a hunted gazelle, or a flock that no one gathers, they shall turn each to their own people and flee each to their own land. Everyone who is taken shall be run through; and everyone who is caught shall fall by the sword. Their infants shall be dashed to pieces in their sight; their houses shall be plundered and their wives ravished.

This is part of a collection of oracles from various sources that focus upon foreign nations. While God’s people were indeed guilty of barbarism (we even see this in the psalms), the point here is divine retribution and judgment. The emphasis is that death will overtake everyone. There was also the appreciation that this existence is messy. There is violence and death awaiting us in a fallen world. Our life belongs to the Lord. Because of sin, we deserve to die. Jesus would fail to come as this kind of military Messiah. Rather, he brought mercy and not the sword. However, at the final consummation, he will be the true Pantocrator— the Lord of Judgment. Those who love the Lord need not fear. Those who disobey him have every right to be afraid. It does not mean that God directly desires child murder and rape.

Isaiah 40:8

“The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever.”

What do you find objectionable about this? It means that God’s Word does not forfeit its binding force. God keeps his promises. Did you write the wrong citation?

It is at this stage that you turn your disdain to the New Testament. Are you really a Christian? Were you ever?

Luke 14:26

“If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

This is an example of Hebraic hyperbole. It is an artifact of language. There is no exclamation point for emphasis. Jesus does not mean that we should literally hate our parents and family. That would be absurd. Jesus uses similar hyperbole when he says let the dead bury the dead or to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand. Jesus is actually saying that there is urgency to embracing the kingdom. Now is the appointed time. We should not delay or even allow familial relations to inhibit our acceptance of the Gospel. Jesus takes the family, our most prized human institution, and says that even that should not get in the way of following him. Note that Peter and Andrew left everything to follow Jesus. The boats would have to be used by other family members or friends for fishing. Jesus was making his apostles into fishers of men. It must also be said that in the early days of the Church, pagan families often opposed and tried to block the conversion of members. The words of our Lord would urge strength in the face to opposition and even betrayal.

Colossians 3:22-23

Slaves, obey your human masters in everything, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but in simplicity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance; be slaves of the Lord Christ.

Paul did not invent the institution of slavery but Christianity was altering it. Master and slave have the same dignity. This must be measured with verse three: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” Read God’s word in a contextual way. Often slaves had to work off just debts for their freedom. It was quite different from the tyranny of slavery in America. But as I said before, Paul’s words about our equality in Christ would eventually bring such subservience to an end. Here Paul is sharing his hierarchical view— one that still influences the constitution of Christ’s Church: wives subordinate to husbands (18), husbands love your wives (19), children obey your parents (20), and fathers do not provoke children (21). The mention of slavery falls within such a schema. We are all called to service. We are all servants or slaves of God. Even the Pope is called “the Servant of the Servants of God.” He is literally a slave for the Gospel and the Church. He lives not for himself, but for Christ and his people.

1 Timothy 2:11-12

A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet.

While it is doctrine that priests must be male, and I would cite this as apostolic evidence that such male leadership reflects the divine will, it probably refers to an immediate accidental about worship in the time of Paul. Not everything in Scripture and Tradition is unalterable doctrine. There are certain disciplines, even apostolic ones that can be abrogated. I think here about women’s dress or the mantilla veils that were once popular with women in church. Of course, today women are permitted to read the Old Testament and New Testament epistles in church. The citation here was principally concerning pagans or Gentiles who had recently converted. Women oracles and prophetesses (often possessed by demons) were a problem that Paul did not want to see translated to the churches. They would swoon, speak gibberish and cryptic remarks. Paul saw this as distracting from the truth of Christ. It may be that such women were seeking to wrestle authority away from the men who functioned as the legitimate shepherds.

You want a simplified or literal Bible and yet why should revelation be absolute baby talk? The things of God are far more complex than the inside of a car or computer. To reduce their repair manuals to what you would make the Bible would leave everything broken. It is past time to grow up. God’s Word is not broken, you are. We all are as sinners, me too. But in Jesus there is healing and salvation.

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.