I look forward to the day when the headline reads “Three-thirds of abortion clinics in this country have closed”.
Archive for December, 2009
In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus doing something he rarely did during his ministry:
Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist
So what is so rare about this statement? Jesus is praising someone! If you look through the Gospels, he scarcely ever praises others – and the few he praises, such as the centurion (Matthew 8:10) or the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28), are usually those not considered part of the people of God. He even follows his praise of John by saying, “yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (I can just see John thinking, “thanks a lot for the compliment, Jesus!”)
This reticence to dispense praise goes against the spirit of our age. How often do we hear from the pulpit how great our parish is? How often are we told to lavish praise on our children? How often is the slightest accomplishment praised as if it were equivalent to landing on the moon? Yet Jesus felt no need to praise other people. Why is that?
I think part of the reason is simply cultural. Christ did not live in a time in which the praise was given freely. If he had been the equivalent of the modern glad-handing salesman, most of his contemporaries would have thought him crazy.
But I think his restraint in giving out compliments goes deeper than that. Christ recognizes no one is good but God alone (Matthew 19:17); he knows that any good someone does is due to God’s grace. See what happens after Peter makes his confession of faith – a confession no one else was able at this point to make:
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father (Matthew 16:17)
Jesus doesn’t say, “Great job Simon! You really are a bright guy! I’m so happy that you are part of my team!” No, Jesus instead points to the true source of Peter’s enlightenment: God.
We are complimented and praised so much in our day that it is easy to begin to think we are the source of our goodness. But this is a lie from the devil, one that he has been telling since the time of Adam and Eve. Anything good we do, any strength we have, any accomplishment we achieve: they all have their source in God alone.
To Him alone be praise and glory and honor.
I do not normally keep up with celebrity gossip, but as a golf fan, I haven’t been able to avoid the Tiger Woods scandal. At the time of this writing at least 11 women – mostly a combination of porn stars, cocktail waitresses and clubbers – have been intimately attached to the married golf star.
I think most people – even those who are not religious – find Tiger’s actions reprehensible; if the accusations and rumors are true, he appears to have engaged in extra-marital relations on a very frequent basis with many, many women. He seems to have no control over himself and his desires and little respect for his marital bond. Obviously I too condemn such behavior, but we would miss an important lesson if we just thought this was a problem unique to Tiger or even to celebrities.
Tiger engaged in adulterous behavior on a wide scale because a wide scale of women were available to him easily. As the comedian Chris Rock cynically noted, “A man is only as faithful as his options”. I don’t agree with this statement as it doesn’t take into account the power of grace, but there is truth in it. How many men in Tiger’s place would have been able to remain completely faithful? I think we can answer that question by looking at what is available to most men on a wide scale easily: pornography. Considering the tremendous commercial success of pornography, it is ridiculous to think many married men are not engaging in it. Yet every time a married man views pornography, he is engaging in adultery just like Tiger.
For both Tiger and the average husband viewing pornography, he is committing adultery when it is convenient for him to do so. For Tiger, that involved real physical contact with woman. For the average husband, it involves virtual contact. Christ told us that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery with her in his heart: so how is the married man who views pornography any different than Tiger?
Tiger’s family life is imploding very publicly right now, but pornography is causing many families to implode silently. We should pray for Tiger and his family and also for all husbands struggling with pornography.
When I was an Evangelical, I was for a short while a member of Campus Crusade for Christ. CCC is very evangelization-focused and it encourages its members to go out and evangelize as much as possible. To make this task easier, the founder of CCC, Bill Bright, came up with the “Four Spiritual Laws“, which are intended to lead someone to make a “decision for Christ”. Basically, this involves saying a prayer in which you ask Christ to be your Lord and enter into a personal relationship with him. Once someone does that, the work of the evangelist is over, at least in the eyes of CCC.
The ease of this evangelization method is attractive: all you need to do is get someone to say one specific prayer, and you can consider him a convert you have brought to the Lord. You don’t have to worry whether the person grows in holiness, if he embraces heretical doctrines or if he continues in sinful lifestyles – all you need to get is the prayer and you have a convert under your belt. It really is compelling to many college students as they are given a simple goal and a directed means to accomplish it.
Of course, it is not evangelization; it is simply sales. True evangelization has as its goal to bring people into a lifetime relationship with Christ which leads to their eternal salvation. As Catholics, we know that the best way for someone to achieve this goal is to live a sacramental, holy life, so this is what we want to encourage in others. Simply saying one prayer won’t cut it, no matter how sincere you may be when you say it. What matters is that you give your whole life to Christ and that you do this every day.
But how do you get people to do this? When evangelizing (and the Church has made clear that we are all called to evangelize), what does the Catholic want to direct the person towards? It is oxymoronic to think you can get someone to make a lifetime commitment in a single prayer. So what do we want them to do? As the true end goal is their salvation, which comes from a sacramental, holy life, here are three suggestions of what to direct people towards:
1) Regular Prayer. It might sound like I just dismissed the whole idea of leading someone to say a prayer, but as Catholic evangelists we need to encourage people to deeper prayer. We don’t want them to say a single prayer, but instead become people of prayer. Encouraging people to pray every day for a set amount of time (even five minutes) can be eternally beneficial.
2) Confession. If someone is already Catholic, I can’t think of a better thing to encourage than for them to go to Confession, especially if they haven’t gone in a while. Often this sacrament is the turning point which leads to a lifetime of serving Christ.
3) Adoration. Evangelization is bringing someone to Jesus, much like Andrew brought Peter and Philip brought Nathaniel. Well, what better way to bring someone to Jesus than to actually bring him to Jesus, sacramentally present in the Eucharistic host? Encouraging adoration is a great method of evangelization. Find out where it is offered in your area and then tell anyone you know about it – they don’t even have to be Catholic!
Note the simplicity of these suggestions: you don’t have to know reams of dogma or be a Scripture scholar. You are just pointing people to make small steps towards Christ – He will do the rest.
For example, let’s say you went to adoration during your lunch hour. If your co-worker asked where you were, don’t just say, “Oh, I was at church” or even worse, “I was at an appointment”. Tell him you were at adoration and explain it to him briefly. Yes, some people will think you are weird, but you will be surprised by how many will be interested. Little moments like these are placed before us all the time – we need to take advantage of them!
So, don’t be intimidated by evangelization – if you are a practicing Catholic, you can do it; all you are is a guide leading them to Christ.
St. Paul, pray for us!
Every religion must address the issue of suffering in this world. Why do we suffer? How should we deal with suffering? Is there a purpose to it? Christianity’s answer to the problem of suffering can be seen on the crucifix – God unites Himself to our suffering and makes it redemptive and the means of our salvation. We all must deal with suffering in our life and it usually is either our path to deeper holiness or estrangement from God.
In the series of videos below, Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) addresses the issue of suffering:
It should not be this difficult. For all my seventeen and a half years as a Catholic, I have been dissatisfied with the selection of good study Bibles available for Catholics. I resigned myself to this plight long ago, but it has reared its ugly head now that I am looking to buy a good study Bible for my soon-to-be-teenage daughter. Here are my requirements:
Readable, yet respectful, translation: The “Good News Bible” is readable, but not respectable. The King James Version is respectful, yet not readable. I want a translation where I don’t trip over the antiquated words (and in my view, “thee” and “thou” are antiquated), but also don’t get distracted because the wording is too simplified or bland. My personal favorite translation is The Jerusalem Bible.
Good format: I would like the pages to not be whisper-thin and the text be in a clean, decent-sized font. Also, there should be decent margins for note-taking. The Catholic Study Bible is a good example of how a good study Bible is formatted (unfortunately, it doesn’t qualify on the other counts).
Faithful, traditional notes: I’m tired of Bible footnotes which, at worst, contradict or question Church teaching, and at best focus exclusively on source criticism. Reading the Bible fruitfully doesn’t just involve knowing who wrote a text and in what context. It also involves understanding a passage in connection with the rest of the Bible and understanding how it has been interpreted throughout the history of the Church.
Years of searching have been fruitless, and it doesn’t seem to me that my requirements are that strenuous. I currently use the Catholic Truth Society’s New Catholic Bible (available only in the UK), which has my favorite translations – the Jerusalem Bible with the Grail Psalter – and uses a beautiful font and clean layout. However, its notes are subpar and there are tiny margins for notetaking.
Perhaps I should just have the standards of this esteemed bible scholar:
During Advent we should all take extra time for prayer and contemplation. A beautiful way to do this is to participate in the liturgical hours of a monastery. However, most of us don’t live anywhere near a monastery and therefore can’t expose ourselves to this traditional form of prayer.
Now, due to the wonders of the InterWeb, we can! The Community of Maria Sedes Sapientiae, also known as the “Monks of Norcia”, are an order based in the birthplace of St. Benedict (and of whom I’ve written about before – here and here). They are making available recordings of their Vesper services. I have a good friend who is a priest of this order, and I can’t speak too highly of them – I would recommend that you check out their website and spend some time in prayer listening to their Vesper services.
I know that not everyone reads the comments on a blog – I often don’t in other blogs either. However, you really will miss out if you don’t read the comments from my “What would Catholic-Orthodox reunion look like?” post. They really are thoughtful insights into the issue of East-West relations.
Today is the feast of St. Ambrose, one of the first-named Doctors of the Church (along with St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great). Together, these four men are known as the Great Doctors of the Western Church. He is also one of the four doctors (along with Augustine, John Chrysostom and Athanasius) who support the Chair of Peter in tribune of St. Peter’s in Rome. It is clear that the Church considers him one of the most important theologians in the history of Christianity.
The connection between St. Ambrose and St. Augustine is even deeper, of course, as St. Ambrose was very influential in the conversion of the bishop of Hippo. As St. Augustine writes in his Confessions (book 5):
And so I came to Milan to Ambrose, the bishop, known throughout the world as among the best of men, devout in your worship. At that time his eloquence valiantly ministered to your people ‘ the abundance of your substenance’ and the ‘the gladness of oil’ (Ps. 44:8; 80:17;147:14) and the sober intoxication of your wine. I was led to him by you, unaware that through him, in full awareness, I might be led to you.
It was the preaching of St. Ambrose which first attracted Augustine to the faith of his mother, and he was especially impressed with Ambrose’s ability to interpret the Scriptures allegorically – a skill which allowed Augustine to overcome his aversion to the apparent mundane nature of the Word of God.
Unlike many saints, we do not celebrate St. Ambrose’s feast day on the anniversary of his death, but instead on the anniversary of his episcopal consecration – an event that appears quite extraordinary to our modern eyes: he was not even baptized when he was appointed bishop by popular acclamation, and thus went from catechumen to bishop in eight days! In hindsight, it is clear that the Holy Spirit had much to do with his appointment, however. He is not only a great Doctor of the Church in his own right, but also the spiritual father of another Doctor.
St. Ambrose, pray for us!
A few years ago I was talking to a priest and told him that I was very concerned about my childrens’ college tuition. I had four young children at the time, knew that I might have more in the future, and I saw no way to be able to pay for their college education, as my parents did for me. He quickly told me that I had to get over the idea that I could pay for their tuition – “that just isn’t possible anymore”. I should just try to do my best to help them as much as I could.
I took his advice to heart but I still worry. I have met too many people who have crushing college debt, which can have life-changing implications. If you graduate from college with a Theology degree and $50,000 in debt, are you really going to be able to consider the religious life or the priesthood? If you get a medical degree with $150,000 debt, is it really possible for you to consider using your newly acquired skills as a medical missionary? The impact does not even have to be that explicit: a newly married couple with combined $100,000 student loans has introduced a stress in their marriage that will impact all aspects of their life, including their decisions regarding the use of contraception in their marriage.
The Catholic News Agency just published an article about the impact of student loans on the lives of young people. Some excerpts:
The “crushing burden” of student loans delays marriage and childbirth and encourages cohabitation, family policy expert Allan Carlson said in a lecture on Friday. He urged a pro-family debt relief program to help alleviate the financial stresses student loans can cause…
[T]he recent practice of burdening young adults with substantial educational debt appears to significantly discourage marriage and childbirth.
At the FRC on Friday, Carlson cited a 2002 survey indicating that 14 percent of indebted students delayed marriage because of their loans, while 21 percent delayed having children. In 1988 these numbers were nine and 12 percent, respectively.
This debt can also cause problems in marriages. One survey which examined 41 marital problems and found that “debt brought into marriage” was the third most problematic issue facing newlyweds. Among respondents who had no children, debt was the second most problematic problem. Among respondents ages 29 and below, debt was named the most problematic issue.
Carlson suggested student loan debt has encouraged a “retreat” from marriage.
The marriage rate for women aged 20-24 declined 41.4 percent between 1984 and 2004. The rate for women aged 25-29 declined 19.4 percent. For men, the marriage rate in those cohorts declined 45.5 percent and 29.6 percent, respectively.
Read the whole article here.
I don’t really have a solution, but I know that in my own situation, expensive trips to Disneyworld and costly toys at Christmas are replaced with more money in the kids’ college fund. Hopefully it will be the best present I can give them.
There have been a flurry of news stories recently about the thawing of relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church (the two largest Christians Churches in the world). Here are a few examples:
I have blogged previously (here and here) that I don’t think reunion will happen anytime soon – there is just too much baggage that needs to be overcome and there are a lot of details in any reunion that are still not close to being achieved. But I want to take a moment to consider: what would reunion actually look like?
There are two concrete proposals that have circulated within East-West ecumenical circles over the past few years which address this question. They are the Zoghby Initiative and the Ratzinger Proposal.
The Zoghby Initiative is named after the late Melkite Catholic Archibishop Elias Zoghby, who proposed a “double-communion” between the Melkite Catholic Church and the Antiochian Orthodox Church (from which the Melkite Catholic Church originated). The Initiative was basically a profession of faith, which stated:
- I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
- I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.
This profession was endorsed by 24 of 26 Melkite bishops at a 1995 Synod, but it found a cold reception both from Antiochian Orthodox officials as well as from Rome (including from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger). Fundamentally, Zoghby felt that the Catholic and Orthodox faiths were essentially the “same faith” and therefore communion could be established now.
The Ratzinger Proposal refers to a speech made by then-Father Joseph Ratzinger in 1976 which was included in his book “Principles of Catholic Theology” published by Ignatius Press in 1987. In the speech, he proposed the following, which is very similar to Archbishop’s Zoghby’s profession (emphasis added):
Certainly, no one who claims allegiance to Catholic theology can simply declare the doctrine of primacy null and void, especially not if he seeks to understand the objections and evaluates with an open mind the relative weight of what can be determined historically. Nor is it possible, on the other hand, for him to regard as the only possible form and, consequently, as binding on all Christians the form this primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries…Although it is not given us to halt the flight of history, to change the course of centuries, we may say, nevertheless, that what was possible for a thousand years is not impossible for Christians today. After all, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida, in the same bull in which he excommunicated the Patriarch Michael Cerularius and thus inaugurated the schism between East and West, designated the Emperor and people of Constantinople as “very Christian and orthodox”, although their concept of the Roman primacy was certainly far less different from that of Cerularius than from that, let us say, of the First Vatican Council. In other words, Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one also presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had.
This is an incredible statement and one I’m not even sure if Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, would still endorse. He is basically saying that reunion can occur if we both treat the situation of the 1st millennium as normative for relations and accept the separate developments of each other during the 2nd millennium as valid if not normative on the universal Church. If you take a minute you can see how radical that proposal really is.
Neither of these two proposals have gotten much traction lately, but I think we would all do well to prayerfully consider if they are a road to reunion. What are we willing to concede for the greater good of unity? Are we Catholics willing to accept a form of primacy different than that which has been practiced since Vatican I?
Sts. Peter and Andrew, pray for us!
I blogged previously about the efforts of the Montgomery County (MD) Council to force pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to advertise that their clients must go elsewhere for medical advice, in spite of the fact that no actual clients of these centers have ever complained of poor or deceptive practices on the part of these clinics.
A few days ago there was a hearing on the matter, and Msgr. Mark Brennen, a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, pastor of St. Martin Catholic Church here in Gaithersburg, and former member of the Board of Directors of Shady Grove Pregnancy Center gave the following excellent testimony:
Please pray for all pro-life crisis pregnancy centers and especially those here in Montgomery County.
I love to read the lives of the saints. Along with countless biographies of saints, I also have a number of different compilations of saints’ lives, including a concise edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints. What I don’t have, however, is the full twelve-volume Butler’s Lives.
Now I don’t have to purchase it, as a blog has been set up to make available the entries in that classic set:
Check it out!
Today is the feat of St. John Damascene, the last of the Greek Church Fathers. St. John was an extraordinary saint, living in an extraordinary time. He lived under Muslim rule all his life, and this fact actually helped him in his great battles against the iconoclasts. Because he was not part of the Eastern Empire, he was protected against the iconoclastic Eastern Emperor as well as the iconoclastic Patriarch of Constantinople.
Along with his work against the iconoclasts, he also wrote An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, which cataloged the teachings of the Greek Fathers who proceeded him, and which in many ways is the Eastern equivalent of the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas. In fact, some even consider him the first scholastic (a term I’m sure most Eastern Christians would not use).
St. John Damascene, pray for us!
I remember as a boy reading the Sports page and Comics in the Cincinnati Enquirer every day. I had no interest in the world events that found a place in the Front section of the paper. However, that changed one day when at the age of nine I read the following headline: “Stampede Kills 11 Persons at Coliseum Rock Concert”. I had now entered the “real world”.
Thirty years ago today, the popular rock band The Who held a concert in Cincinnati which had “festival seating” and incompetent security and management. This combination turned deadly, as a stampede occurred before the concert, leading to 11 deaths and numerous injuries. This was an incredibly traumatic event in the history of Cincinnati and I don’t think anyone who lived in the city at that time will ever forget it. It just seemed so senseless: people died how? Getting into a rock concert?
(An aside: if you read the linked article, you’ll see this line: “Kim and a group of guy friends she had met while campaigning for then-city councilman Jerry Springer had general admission tickets and arrived at about 4:30 p.m“. Yes, that is referring to THE Jerry Springer, who was a city councilman, news anchor and even Mayor of the fine town of Cincinnati before his foray into talk shows).
Pray for those who died in that tragedy and their family and friends on this day. And you might as well throw in a prayer for Jerry Spring while you are at it.