Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A New Low at Georgetown.

Last night, as I was leaving campus (much too late, but alas), I noticed this poster on the wall:

If you can't read it, here's what you need to know:
  1. The picture says, "Even though we know dinosaurs survived the flood (on Noah's Ark) we don't know if Jesus ever rode them. But He probably did!" accompanied by a picture of Christ on a velociraptor (a clearer, color picture can be found here).
  2. Beneath that, it says, "Awesome? Yes. Science? No." and beneath that, "Okay. Now that we have your attention, we'd like to let you know that the First Meeting of the Georgetown Law Secular Student Alliance is happening Thursday, Septemeber 24 at 2pm in McD 156. GULCSSA@gmail.com."
  3. It's stamped by the Office of Student Life for posting, and was hanging in a student organizations only spot (where, incidentally, the pro-choice group had recently put up flyers for their "Wine, Cheese, & Choice" gala which Georgetown allegedly doesn't support).
Now, I don't know if Georgetown is actually funding this "student group" or not. I don't think I need to say that to fund them would be totally incompatible with Georgetown's alleged mission as a Jesuit University.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II released an Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, on the purpose, identity and mission of Catholic Universities. Paragraphs 13 and 14 read as follows:
Since the objective of a Catholic University is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture(16), every Catholic University, as Catholic, must have the following essential characteristics:

  1. a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;
  2. a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;
  3. fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;
  4. an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life"(17).

14. "In the light of these four characteristics, it is evident that besides the teaching, research and services common to all Universities, a Catholic University, by institutional commitment, brings to its task the inspiration and light of the Christian message. In a Catholic University, therefore, Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities in accordance with the proper nature and autonomy of these activities. In a word, being both a University and Catholic, it must be both a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge, and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative"(18).

Now, a University which promotes "secularism," the mockery of religion, and the blasphemous mockery of Christ seen above (whether that promotion is financial, or simply through providing wall space to air that message, authorizing the student group with this anti-Christian message as it mission, and allowing the use of University-owned supplies, like computers and paper) is failing in its essential Catholic mission. If there is any difference between a secular University and a Catholic University, it is that the Catholic University has a distinct identity. In other words, a secular student group is antithetically opposed to the distinctly Catholic elements of Georgetown. The group, then, is an assault both on the University's goals, and her character.

The Secular Student Alliance is a perfect example of everything wrong with the New Atheists. The poster promoting their first even doesn't actually affirm anything (an affirmation might be something like: "Those of us who don't believe in God still follow an ethical and moral system - find out why!"); instead, they assault everything else. And as it happens, what they assault is continually a straw man argument. In a nominally Catholic University, they don't intellectually challenge Catholicism. Rather, they challenge a parody of Fundamentalism. No Christian believes Christ rode dinosaurs. It's just a stupid and insulting stereotype, like showing a person eating a pork chop at a traditionally Jewish school and saying, "Wow, it didn't kill me on contact like we all thought!"

The Secular Student Alliance is also allied with some of the worst anti-Catholics currently living. Exhibit A: PZ Meyers, one of their speakers. He's the guy who thinks it's funny to steal and desecrate the consecrated Eucharistic host... that is, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. There's nothing intelligent or intellectual here, just a bunch of bitter athiest fundamentalists fueled by hatred and blindness. Georgetown should do everything in its power to stop this religious hate speech, rather than supporting it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Catholicism, Libertarianism, and Fundamental Rights

For a very good article on the limits to rights (including the right to life), and why Ron Paul's Libertarianism isn't 100% compatible with Catholicism, try this one.

The Essence of God

Yesterday, I talked about what defines us - what it is that makes each of us "us." I meant for the post to not only suggest that our individuality is greater than the physical, material sum of us parts, that the soul not only exists, but defines us. But what about the essence of God?

The reason that this question is important is because there is a view that says that the defining characteristic of God is His omnipotence. After all, the first difference we notice between us and God is that He's in charge. He runs everything, we (hopefully) follow Him. But viewing God primarily as Sovereign or Omnipotent is problematic. Springboarding off of the C.S. Lewis discussion from earlier, the problem is primarily this: if the devil were more powerful than God, worship premised upon power would suggest that we worship the devil, instead of worshiping God. The solution to this is to suggest that goodness is more important than power. So a powerless Christ who preserved His goodness is worthy of worship, while a mighty and evil Huitzilopochtli is not. This isn't just some ivory tower hypothetical. Christ tells us that Satan is prince of this world (see John 14:30), and that the whole world is his fiefdom (1 John 5:19). Certainly, we know, as Christians, that the good guys win in the end. But if our reason for worshiping God is because He's sovereign, we might as well say, "we'll back whichever horse crosses the finish line," and there's no merit in that.

But there's a second part to this, too. Not only is the notion of omnipotence-worship just an exaggerated form of dangerous power-worship, the notion of power as being central to the identity of God is contrary to Scripture. Take Philippians 2:5-11:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So Christ Jesus is able to detach Himself from His power, leaving Him totally dependent upon God the Father for His miraculous powers (John 3:2). His life on Earth is full of rock-bottom moments. He's born in a stable, He dies amongst criminals on a Cross, and in between, we see things like Mark 6:5, where He's unable to perform miracles due to the people's lack of faith... in His own hometown. Isaiah 53:2's Christological prophesy reads:
He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
If our worship of Him is based upon His power, He'd be an unlikely candidate. In fact, He would have "emptied Himself" of His Deity (which would, in turn, render the Incarnation false, since it's premised upon Jesus being both fully God and fully Man).

In contrast, the above passage from Philippians suggests that God the Father exults Christ because of His humility. Or, more to the point, the Holy Trinity is worthy of our worship for two interrelated reasons: (1) the Trinity is the source of all love; and (2) the Trinity is the epitome of Love. 1 John 4:16 captures it best in the succinct statement, "God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him." This may seem like some poetic flourish, but it's not. It's foundational for the entire Judeo-Christian system. Obeying power isn't a particular merit: it's doing what you're forced to do. But pursuing the Good even when evil rules the world is meritorious. So the only reason to ever worship God is because of His love. Most concretely, He died for you on a Cross, but even prior to this, He was worthy of (and received) worship.

This is a different way of looking at God than perhaps we're used to, but it's absolutely fundamental to understanding anything else (like why an all-powerful God would choose the course of Redemption which He did).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cool Undergound Stone Churches

Catholic Eye Candy cheats a bit by including the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church's underground stone churches in Lalibela as Catholic art. It's worth fudging the self-made rules, I think. If you haven't seen pictures of them before, check them out!

If you're interested, Wikipedia's got a good primer including a good quote from Fr. Francisco Álvares, the first (Roman) Catholic to stumble upon them - in his account he swears by God, because he fears no one will believe his story otherwise.

The Essence of Man

What's your defining characteristic? I don't mean this in the way that they mean this on job interviews. I mean this in a serious way. What is it that, if changed, would render you no longer you? Here are some possible answers which I find unconvincing, or at least, incomplete:
  • DNA, since it "codes" much of who we are here on Earth. This answer sounds fine on the surface (and indeed, may be a helpful indicator of when life begins), but it's pretty flawed, scientifically speaking. Mutagens are substances which cause DNA mutations. In other words, if your precise DNA code is what makes you "you," then "you with cancer" is a separate person whose "birthday," so to speak, is different from your own.
  • Your personality. The best argument for this position would be Phineas Gage, a railroad crew foreman who, after suffering traumatic brain damage (from a chunk of hot iron being shot through his skull by mistake), became what might be called "a new man." As his physician put it:
    His contractors, who regarded him as the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ previous to his injury, considered the change in his mind somarked that they could not give him his place again. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint of advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinent, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was “no longer Gage.”

    The current theory about what lead to Gage's transformation is that the accident functioned as a makeshift lobotomy that damaged his frontal frontal cortex, removing his social inhibitions. In a way, this 'new Gage' was perhaps lurking in the personality of 'old Gage.' This cannot be the defining standard that creates the "essence" of a man. Where would such a standard end? Truama of all sorts, physical or otherwise, can fundamentally alter a person's character. So can things like education, a new-found faith, and so forth. And what of temporary changes to personality? After all, a man who imbibes a bit too much on alcoholic beverages may find himself acting "not quite himself," but this is merely a figure of speech. Should we really claim that before four drinks, you're yourself, and after, you're a "different person" who is born and dies with the cycle of your sobriety?
  • Your memory. This one is related, but not identical, with personality. As bizarre as Gage's case was (the guy started to walk off being shot through the brain with a chunk of iron), he still had a memory of who he was before. But what if you woke up one morning like Jason Bourne from the Bourne Trilogy, with no recollection of who you were prior to that day? Of course, this standard is as problematic as all the rest. What of people with amnesia or Alzheimer's, who chronically forget? Do we claim, "oh, you're the twentieth in a line of people named Mary to inhabit your body"? Or, you're not a person at all, because you can't remember anything? Would two people with equally blank memories be considered the same person? Obviously, this standard won't do, either.
  • Your body. Going in a different direction, one might speculate that the physical boundaries of a person, so to speak, define who they are. Some perverted form of this seems to arise in the abortion debate. The unborn child, with a discreet and identifiable physical shape and form, as well as a distinct brain, organs, and DNA, is considered by law to be the same "person" as the mother, since they inhabit the same body. But immediately, there are problems: conjoined twins share a body, but are two people; people are amputated, give and recieve blood, or have organ transplants, and remain "themselves." So body, then, is clearly out.
  • Your brain / mind. But what if, instead of defining a person by their body, you identified them just by their brain or mind? For the physical organ, the brain, there are some theoretical problems. There's a hypothetical procedure called either a "brain transplant" or a "whole body transplant" (since theorists couldn't decide if the body was getting a new brain, or the brain a new body). There are also really serious questions, due to hypothetical "partial-brain transplants," where a chunk of one person's brain is fused with someone else's. A science-fiction book, My Brother's Keeper, by Charles Sheffield, apparently examines this issue by having two twins (a concert pianist and a spy) in a terrible accident undergo surgery. The patient who awakes has the personality of the pianist, but the memories of both, so of course, he undergoes some secret mission. Would the patient, post-procedure, be considered the pianist, the spy, or a new person completely?
All of the above options relate (some more obviously than others) to the physical person. All of them are the types of answers which might be given by materialists. And thus, all are suseptible to a sort of Sorites' paradox in reverse. [Sorites' paradox, for those of you who aren't familiar, asks, "If one has something that is not a heap of sand, and one adds a single grain of sand to it, the result is still not a heap of sand . . . if n grains of sand are not sufficient to make a heap then n+1 grains aren’t either." The seeming conclusion is that "no matter how many grains of sand may be gathered together, they are not sufficient to make a heap of sand."] If one cell dies or is transplanted (from a person's brain, or body, etc.), the person's "essence" wouldn't change, and adding one more cell couldn't conceivably be the difference. So following the logic to its end result would seem to suggest that one could eliminate or replace an endless number of physical cells composing the organ, and it would remain the original organ, with the original person's "essence." After all, a large number of brain cells do die every year, and many more die after incidents like strokes.

Still, of all of these possibilites, the brain, and more specifically, the parts of the brain we call the "mind," which help create self-awareness and self-identity, serves as the most accurate answer. But it's only partially correct. From a theistic perspective, the answer is easy enough. The "soul" is what we consider the defining characteristic of a person. It's invisible, distinct from the physical phenomenon, and yet interacts through them. It's impossible to transplant (even theoretically), and completely indivisible, so it's immune from that reverse Sorites' paradox. It's impossible to say the precise interconnection between the soul and the mind, because we don't know much about the way that the brain works, and we'll never know the depths of how the soul works. So to the extent that the mind seems to be the primary playground of the soul, and the hotspot for temptations to the soul, I think brain/mind is at least a half-right answer for what makes us "us."

One final piece of the puzzle. In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus identifies the "heart" as being the source of all sin - that it is not the physical things we come in contact with, but how we decide to react to them that determines sin. This was, for example, why the early Christians declared the raped virgins of Rome to still be virgins. What He means by "heart" is easier understood than defined: it's what any of us mean when we say someone "has a lot of heart," or "sang with all their heart," and it pretty definitively doesn't refer (at least primarily) to the physical organ.

So heart, soul, and mind... where have we seen that trinity before? Oh right. Jesus already suggested this answer in Matthew 22:37.

So the soul, working through the heart and mind, defines the essence of an individual. But what about the essence of the Holy Trinity? What is the defining characteristic of God? I'm going to try and tackle that one tomorrow.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Greatest Question Ever?

This past week I was visiting one of the freshmen classes at the high school I serve at as chaplain. After giving them my vocation story, I asked if they had any questions. Silence. I told them that if they didn't have any questions they would have to take the quiz their teacher had planned. Silence. Seriously, no questions? Silence. Finally, I asked, "You don't even want to know my favorite band?" (I was grasping for anything to get the ball rolling).

At that prompt, the inquiries started flowing in. Questions about everything from my most embarrassing moment to who is my favorite college team. Eventually, I received a question that I had never been posed before: What is the greatest question I can think of?

Hmmmm.

Excellent question.

The greatest question I could think of that day: Why does God love us so much?

I explained that God plus us is not greater than God alone. We add nothing to God's greatness. God doesn't need us. Yet, God loves us. In fact, God loves us with an unparalleled love.

To emphasize my point, I referenced the Crucifix on the wall. I asked them to think about why a God who doesn't need us would become like us in every way but sin and endure that for us. Why would God go on a deadly rescue mission for us when only we could benefit?

Every Crucifix should challenge us to ask that question. As was discussed previously, Boston College finally put a Crucifix back in each classroom. Here is the explanation given:
Rev. T. Frank Kennedy, chair of the committee on Christian Art, wrote (in part): “I suppose a question might be posed to Boston College as to what purpose this Christian Art serves? In a world that is pretty successfully driven by media (imagery) ours is a response that seeks to pose the age-old invitation of Christ to enter into love – a love that is made perfect in its unselfishness. John Paul II spoke of the crucifix on September 15, 2002 saying ‘It is the sign of God, who has compassion on us, who accepts human weakness, who opens to us all, to one another, and therefore creates the relation of fraternity.’ The Pope also went on to say that though this symbol has been abused in history, it is the Christian’s duty to reclaim that symbol as an invitation to love. An invitation to love, and an invitation to faith is exactly that, an invitation. One is not required to respond, one can decline, and one can have many reasons for declining the invitation, but to imply that a Jesuit and Catholic university is not free to offer this invitation is simply an impossibility.”
Another good question remains: Why do we run from the invitation to love?

Forty Days for Life!

Today is St. Mary's day with forty days for life, so a bunch of parishioners signed up for different time slots (or like me, forgot to sign up for a time slot, and will just show up) to pray outside of the abortion mill* here in Alexandria. As I understand it, what this means is that every day, from 7 AM - 10 PM, for forty days, running up until November 1st, there will be people out there praying quietly for an end to abortion, for healing for women who have had abortions, for guidance for women contemplating abortions, and for the men who may be either suffering from the woman's choice (and an early end to their stint as fathers), or encouraging her to do something she doesn't want to do. It's a mostly-silent witness, lots of rosary praying, and trusting the Lord, rather than our own yelling, to change peoples' hearts.

Check out 40 Days for Life's website for locations. Even if you're busy today, there are plenty of spots and plenty of locations. You can sign up now for a time slot, or just show up ready to pray. If you don't see your city or state on the list (I'm looking at you, City of Kansas City, and State of Kansas), it might be time for you to prayerfully consider starting a chapter. This literally saves lives. Not as many as we'd like, perhaps, but saving even one human life is worth a few hours (or a full day) of prayer. The thought that I keep having is that at the end of my life, I may be approached by someone in Heaven whose life I either saved through pro-life activities, or failed to save, because I was "too busy" for them. This is especially relevant to me since I walk past an abortion mill on the way to work. Say a few prayers, and if you feel the Spirit is calling you to help save some innocent lives, check out the website, show up, and pray your heart out.

*The priest pointed out last night that it's not really a "clinic," at all, in that it doesn't provide a medical service. I'm still fine with either term, but I thought it was an interesting point.

On Wikipedia and Charity

Mark writes, regarding my most recent post on the LDS Hoffman scandal:
hm... Thanks, once again, for the effort and time you put into this. Just one complaint though:

PLEASE don't use wikipedia to cite sources! I would also recommend using current, up to date, official LDS documents if you really actually want someone to rethink it. Everything else can simply be brushed off as, "Well that's wikipedia." or "Well that was a long time ago."

While we as Catholics can argue history, most other people just don't think that way, ya know?Just a suggestion.

"what criteria is used, I am not sure"
sounds like good meat for a new post. also, it'll help your posts grow in charity, for sure. :)

pax et bonum.

_mark

First, on Wikipedia. I try to cover a lot of subjects, with as much information as I can, while still holding down an 18 hour/week job, and 5 third-year law school classes (including two tax classes, an ethics class, a critical race theory class, and Antitrust - so not easy "senioritis" classes, either). I take certain shortcuts, and Wikipedia is one of them. Still, I'm working on this. For example, the Stefan Aust quote here was something I'd originally found on Wikipedia, but traced to the NY Times easily enough. Besides that, the post in question references Wikipedia, sure, but then says, "And if you don't trust Wikipedia..." and includes a second source, this time from an official LDS site. An earlier post included JoAnna's link to the official LDS website as well. I'll keep making an effort to get credible sources, but there will be times when I fall back to Wikipedia, and leave interested readers the responsibility of following up on it - either due to time restraints, or because Wikipedia puts it most succinctly.

Second, on rejecting information just because it comes from Wikipedia. I agree that someone can do this. But I think when presented with reason to believe x, they should at least find out that x isn't true before rejecting it out of hand. The major claim Wikipedia was used for here was to say that the LDS First Presidency are all considered "seers, prophets, and revelators." And since I realized that someone might dismiss it that way, I backed it up with another source. I feel like those two sources work best in harmony, so I left the Wikipedia link in.

Third, on a new post. I'm punting on this one. Defining the precise contours of what the First Presidency is and is not capable of is something best done by a person involved in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I know the basics - they're considered "seers, propets, and revelators." If someone within the LDS Church wants to defend why that definition doesn't protect them from accepting as authentic inauthentic documents, I'll let them.

Fourt, on charity. This is a fair point. I was annoyed that Maggie accused me of manufacturing the scandal without bothering to type "Mark Hoffman" into Google. I continue to feel that it was an unbecoming move, although her follow-up comment is graceful and heartfelt. But calling her claim that I was manufacturing the scandal "batty" wasn't any more charitable, either -- I've fixed it. Thanks for pointing this out to me. If the problems you're seeing with my posts being charitable are more widespread, please let me know. I sometimes word things more strongly than is necessary to convey my point -- the best I can say is, "I'm working on it, please pray for me."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zombie Hunting 101


Yesterday we had our first all school Mass at the high school where I serve as chaplain. It was held under a big tent (large enough to hold nearly 1,100 students plus faculty, staff, and visitors) in front of the school because our gymnasium is being worked on. The setup worked really well actually. It felt like an old-fashioned revival!

I started out my homily by sharing an exchange I had with one of my classmates who's a priest in another diocese. After getting back from a Mass with his local Catholic high school, he asked me, "How do you do it? It's like preaching to freakin' zombies!"

The more I thought about it, the more I could see where he was coming from. I told the students that the world might have good reason to see them as zombies. For instance:
  • High schoolers tend to run in packs
  • They also have a herd mentality: If everyone else is going to do it, I guess I will too!
  • They are obsessed with the flesh (big time)
  • Without a doubt, they will take over the world (it's inevitable)
Enter the zombie slayer: the Holy Spirit!

I reminded the students what Paul says in Romans 8:5-6:
For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace.
If we live according to the flesh without acknowledging the Spirit, we are quite literally "dead meat." I challenged the students to risk believing that there is more to life than just what we see. We are more than just bags of meat. The Spirit truly does give us life!

Here's the problem though: many of us remain zombies for a long time. For most of us, it is only after the Holy Spirit has taken hold of our hearts and gives us "life and peace" that we can recognize how truly empty we used to be. Zombies don't want to accept that they are zombies. However, settling for life without God is accepting existence as just that: a member of the walking dead.

Some of the most heartbreaking stories I hear are from parents who's children have settled for just such an existence. Priests hear many stories about children from devout families who have left the Church or denounced the existence of God or become totally apathetic or just think religion is one big joke. The feelings of frustration, guilt, anger, and betrayal that the parents experience gnaws on them at the core. Basically, many parents are on the brink of losing hope or have already given up the good fight. It's a lot like the reason zombies are such a scary monster: we think they can't be stopped. No matter how long survivors of a zombie outbreak holdout, eventually the zombies will find a way to get to them. It's the way the story goes. It's why a slow, clumsy, clueless, rotting corpse is so terrifying: zombies always win. Freakin' zombies!

Fortunately for us, there is reason for hope. Jesus already won the battle over sin and death. He also sent us the Holy Spirit so that we can share in the victory of the Cross and Resurrection.

A couple from my parish reminded me of this hope we should have. They started the Marian Mantle Group as an effort to rely on the Holy Spirit in this battle for wayward souls. They are a great group with a focus on prayer. They also impressed me with the term they use to describe those they pray for: prodigals. While I typically say "fallen away Catholics" or "non-practicing" or "lost sheep," they keep the focus on the hope that we should have since we play for the winning team. Their motto is: It's not hopeless and we're not helpless.

Hope is the name of the game, especially when hunting zombies.


The photo is from the September 25, 2009 issue of the Kansas City Star.

C.S. Lewis' Argument from Desire (and Neurology)

My post from earlier got me thinking about the way that we are or are not wired for God. One of the most convincing proofs for God comes from C.S. Lewis' argument from desire. Peter Kreeft explains it very well here, and structures the argument in a Thomist fasion like so:
  1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
  2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
  3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
  4. This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."
Here's how Lewis originally presented it:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, "Hope")

There are a few important caveats that must be made to this:
  1. The desire should be understood in the broadest of terms. That is, a man might desire sex with a woman who doesn't exist, or you might have a dream about eating a non-existent food: but women, sex, and food are all real, and these imaginary deviations relate to an existent core. Applying this to God, we have desires which are satisfied in God, but that certainly doesn't mean that whatever we imagine (or desire) God to be, He is.
  2. The fact that some individuals aren't aware of the desire doesn't serve as a negation. After all, there are plenty of people who consider themselves asexual. Any number of causes might explain this lack of desire - a lack of self-awareness, psychological causes (be it trauma, suppression, or fear of the desire itself). But the fact that I'm not hungry right now doesn't disprove the existence of food.
The atheists who criticize the argument here seem to misunderstand those two caveats (and come to the mystifying conclusion that C.S. Lewis was desperately trying to convince himself that God existed).
Going back to the substance of this morning's post, let's plug in Lewis' argument from desire, and see how it fares. We know two things:
  1. There is a unique neurological reaction to religion which doesn't relate to the other known neurological reactions. (This is Newsweek's argument that God is "all in your mind," because we're pre-programmed for religion).
  2. People in affluent societies tend to be less religious. (This is Newsweek's argument that God is, in fact, not all in your mind, and that we're not pre-programmed from religion; instead, religion is but a delusion clung to by the ignorant and sufferring).
In other words, given the prompt, "Is belief in God an innate neurological phenomenon?" Newsweek offers the options, "Yes, and this disproves God, because it means we're imagining Him;" and "No, and this disproves God, because it means He's a social construct." In other words, Darwinism or Social Darwinism is to blame for the problem of God. Lewis' argument, in contrast, explains things in a much more convincing manner:
  1. There is a unique neurological reaction because God is a unique desire not satisfied through the satiation of other desires (sex, money, fame, food, drink, comfort). Thus, through prayer and meditation, we can observe people getting this unique spiritual hunger fed.
  2. People who perpetually indulge in sex, money, fame, food, drink, comfort, often misidentify the spiritual hunger as a carnal hunger. We see this in other contexts, like when a person sometimes thinks he's hungry when he's sleepy. We often mask a hunger through the satiation of other desires - it's the reason that people rebounding from a rough breakup often turn to drugs, drink and meaningless sex, or throw themselves into another relationship. In indulging generally, they mask the specific hunger they're trying to ignore.
So far as I can tell, this explains both the phenomenons we see quite aptly, without having to create an impossible-to-win double-bind against the existence of God. That is, whereas Newsweek's argument presumes the lack of existence of God (because it's unprovable), and sets out to explain why we miss Someone who we can't prove scientifically exists, Lewis' argument is supported by observable phenomenon, like the neurological data. Additionally, we know that people indulging in everything but God aren't getting this neurological stimulus. Whether they would like to admit it or not, the science now shows that believers are getting something which non-believers aren't. No matter how Newsweek tries to spin it, this is an argument for God, and a pretty good proof for the argument from desire.

There's Just No Winning With Some People.

Over at Newsweek's website, their underlying views regarding religion are on display for those who care to look.  I offer two exhibits.
  1. Sharon Begley's (Un)wired For God.  Because of the speed at which highly developed societies like those in Western Europe lost the Faith, Begley's article explores the fact that religion may, in fact, be a crutch that the mind clings to when things are bad, and discards when things are good:
    More interesting is the fact that if social progress can snuff out religious belief in millions of people, as Paul notes, then one must question "the idea that religiosity and belief in the supernatural is the default mode of the brain," he told me. As he wrote in his new paper, "The ease with which large populations abandon serious theism when conditions are sufficiently benign . . . refute[s] hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the normal, deeply set human mental state." He posits that, rather than being wired into the brain, religion is a way to cope with stress in a dysfunctional society—the opium-of-the-people argument.
  2. On the sidebar on the same page, there's a link to a video called "Is God All in Your Head?," which describes the neurological impacts of prayer.
So if your brain is hardwired for Faith, God's all in your head.  And if your brain isn't hardwired for Faith, God's an opium of the masses.

Or look at Begley's own introduction:
At last check, intimations of mortality had not been banished from the human mind—the Grim Reaper still stalks our thoughts. Nor have our brain circuits shaken their habit of perceiving patterns in chaos, such as seeing the face of Jesus in a piece of burned toast; imagining the invisible hand of a supernatural agent in acts of randomness, as in "answered" prayers; and conjuring what anthropologist Pascal Boyer of Washington University calls "non–physically present agents."
The assumption is that the hand of God is "imagined," "conjured," and "non-physically present."  A few sentences later, she throws us believers an only mildly patronizing paranthetical: "Of course, humans might believe in God because a deity designed that belief into our brains, but that hypothesis is not amenable to scientific investigation."  Assume for a moment that this last sentence is entirely accurate.  Does it follow, then, that "non-testable," means "non-existent"?

Quick thought experiment.  Imagine that God is real, and that prayer is communication with the Eternal Triune God.  Are we surprised that this occurs more often when people are desperate?  And are we surprised that this form of communication stimulates parts of the brain not stimulated when we communicate with one another?  If not, how do either of these sets of facts disprove the notion of God at all?

Certain atheists, Begley perhaps being one of them, are so against the idea of God that they'll buy any theory, no matter how irrational, that "explains away" God - even if the theory doesn't explain much of anything at all.  It's no different than those very lonely scientists who try and "disprove" romantic love by showing the biological impulses that help stimulate it, or the brain's reaction to it, and so forth.  These people need our prayers, because it's not really the latest scientific fad that's keeping them from God.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Which Traditions Are Authentic?

First things first, if you haven't read Fr. Andrew's latest post, or heard his recent homily, they're very much worth your time.  There's a tag at the bottom of his posts that says "Fr. Andrew," so if you ever want to skip my stuff and get right to his, I won't be offended!

A blogger named Andre Rook wrote a blog post on sola Scriptura and Tradition back in January, and I've been telling myself for the last couple of months that it deserves a thought-out response. It's a thoughtful post from a blogger who comes across as intelligent, irenic, and full of love for both God and his fellow man.  The post is here, and I'll quote from him in red, with my responses in blue.  I've cut some of his block quotes down a bit, but I've tried to preserve all the necessary context to see his point.

His first argument is against a Catholic argument he's heard, that "Scripture is infallible inasmuch as those who canonized were themselves infallible; therefore, these men, operating from within the Holy Tradition, bear the weight and authority of Tradition onto the canonized Scripture.":
As I have said, this can sound very convincing at first, but there are some big problems with this reasoning. The biggest error that I can see is the lack of objectivity given to God's Word, the Scriptures. The way I see it, if we can give math the benefit of objectivity, we should do likewise for God's Word. [...] Most certainly math exists outside of our knowledge of it. Two and two make four, quite regardless of whether I acknowledge that or not. This objective view of math can be very helpful when searching for the authority of Scripture. Just as the objective principles of math can be acknowledged by men, so those who helped to canonize Scripture recognized its authority outside of themselves, or objectively.
As I understand it, Andre is saying that there are two forms of truth.  There's law-by-decree, where the king individually creates a law, and it's binding by his individual or official authority; and there's Divinely created law, from the law of gravity to the wages of sin, which exist whether we acknowledge them or not.  This is a helpful distinction.


In the realm of Catholicism, the pope can dictate something like law-by-decree in the realm of discipline.  He can say, "we're all going to celebrate Christmas on December 25th," and we follow it.  That's a legislative fiat.  But for dogma, which is the sort of Tradition we're talking about, the pope can't just say, "we're now going to believe something new about Jesus!"  He doesn't have the power to do that.  Dogma is only Divinely-created and revealed law.  And that binding revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle.  So for newer things, like the apparitions of Mary at Lourdes or Fatima, the Church authorities can say, "these things seem to be true," but they can't say, "...and therefore, you must believe them."


But let's look to Scripture, specifically.  Clearly, the Truths described aren't simply done by fiat, with a few possible exceptions (like some of the Pauline rules for worship, the Pauline privilege, etc.), but there at least don't conflict with Divine Truth.  It seems like Andre is saying, "Scripture is True because it describes true things, rather than because it is written by the Apostles."  In a sense, I agree.  But the way that we know that it is written about true things is because it is written by the Apostles and their followers.  We don't trust Luke's Gospel because Luke's a doctor, and doctors are smart.  We trust Luke's Gospel because we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired him.  And we believe that in part because his Gospel accords with what we know from all the other sources (the other books, early non-written sources, the reception his Gospel had in the early Christian community, etc.), and partly because of who he was: a student of Paul's.  Mark Shea calls this the "roots and fruits" test - Luke's roots are in the Pauline camp, and the fruits are an orthodox Gospel in accordance with the rest of Scripture and Tradition. He describes it on page 164 in his book By What Authority?, like this:
The Church said, in essence, "Does the book have a widespread and ancient tradition concerning its apostolic origin? Check.  Does the book square with the total paradosis we all learned from the apostles and the bishops they gave us? Check.  Then it is to be used in public worship and is to be regarded as the word of God."

We need a starting out point to even judge whether a book is orthodox.  I think Andre's logical stumbling block here (and elsewhere) is that he starts with the Bible fully assembled, and thinks, "does this book fit with the rest of the books in the Bible?"  But that's not the way it occurred, historically.  The people preceded the books.  If there wasn't an authentic and binding paradosis being proclaimed orally, the Scriptures when written wouldn't have been recognized as authentic by the early Christians.  The problem with his logic is that if you just say, "Is the Gospel of Luke authentic?" you're left with what standard of comparison?  It agrees with the other two Synoptics, it's compatible with John, and it disagrees with the Gnostics' "gospels."  If you start with the assumption that Matthew, Mark, and John are true, and the Gospel of Thomas is false, then Luke makes sense.  But you can't get to that assumption using Andre's test, because it's only half-right.  He's looking at the fruits, but imagining you can't judge that detached from its roots.  You can't.  The early Church judged the Gospels against what the Apostles (and their students) had taught them orally.  So the written Scriptures rely upon the already-established oral and written Tradition (paradosis) for authority.

His second argument is the one that I thought really warranted a response:
No Roman Catholic would argue with the fact that there have been false, or bad traditions that have disguised themselves as tradition in the past. Many have not even been disguised. Now, I acknowledge that many bad or false traditions have been purged from the Roman Catholic church over the years, and that is a good thing. What I find contestable are the words good and bad, when applied to Tradition. Now, if it is true that Roman Catholic's place the Holy Tradition as their highest degree of authority, then how in God's Name can subjective terms such as bad or good be applied to it? If the Holy Tradition is the yardstick by which we must measure everything else, then how is it even possible that it can be questioned or deemed bad? [...] Likewise, if Holy Tradition is the highest authority, how then would it begin to make sense to question it? If it is, in fact, the highest authority, then we should conform ourselves to it, no questions asked. But once we begin the nonsense of saying there is good absolute authority, worthy of our devotion, and bad absolute authority, then we have begun to hold Tradition up to a higher standard, a standard objective to it's subjectivity. Now what would be the candidate for Tradition to be subject to? Men, who are creatures prone to change? I shouldn't think so. Then what? Why, the Holy Scriptures of course.

Two major flaws here. First, he claims that "No Roman Catholic would argue with the fact that there have been false, or bad traditions that have disguised themselves as tradition in the past." I will argue that.  No capital-T binding, taken-as-revealed-from-God Tradition has ever been revoked or recanted.  They work harmoniously with one another, and are attested to from very early ages.  Some practices, like simony or the sale of indgulences, have been discredited, but no one ever claimed that God commanded these as Traditions.  Nothing which we've ever held to be dogma do we now hold not to be dogma, although it's true that some non-dogmatic beliefs were likely wrong (like geocentrism).  On the other hand, there are lots of beliefs whose origins are primarily in Tradition.  These range from many of our beliefs about Mary to the contents of the Bible - which leads right to my second point.  He says, "there's good tradition and bad tradition, and we need something that's not tradition (Scripture) to sort those two out."

But since he's starting with a compiled Bible, he's missing the obvious.  There were good books which claimed to be Scripture, and bad books which claimed to be Scripture.  His argument against having Tradition determine what is and isn't Tradition is an equally valid argument for letting Scripture determine which Scripture is Scripture.  In both cases, the Church (relying upon the teachings of the Apostles, both written and oral, see 2 Thessalonians 2:15) separated the Holy Traditions and Holy Scripture from the non-inspired traditions and scriptures.  Some of this second category were still worth keeping around (like the Didache, and certain pious practices), while others were evil in origin (like the Gospel of Thomas and simony).

So this is really an argument for a visible and identifiable Church with the authority (and thus, necessarily, the guidance of the Holy Ghost) to separate wheat and chaff, and bind and loosen.  This is also the standard which both Scripture and Tradition point to (see 1 Timothy 3:15, Acts 15, etc.).

 Finally, he writes:

The last argument that many Roman Catholics like to raise goes something like this: both Tradition and Scripture are subject to divine revelation, which comes from God and empowers both equally. Now, this is perhaps the best of their arguments so far, but it remains unconvincing. One must ask this crucial question: How do we receive divine revelation? Of course, this is the key point where Protestants and Roman Catholics answer differently, Roman Catholics answering that they receive divine revelation from the papacy, Tradition, and Scripture, while Protestants answer only the Scriptures. Personally, in reference to the Catholic argument, I can think of nothing more circularly problematic. Maybe I just need to ask the Lord to increase my faith...for when receiving divine revelation from the papacy, Tradition, and Scripture, which have all erred in the past, sans Scripture, then I'd consider myself in deep doodoo if I placed my foundation upon something that has failed, and is certainly prone to fail again.
Of course, on issues where they claim to have inspiration from God, neither the papacy nor Divine Tradition have erred.  But there have been pretenders, like he says.  Still, "Scripture," which just means "writings," is equally fallible, in the sense that there are true and untrue Scriptures - just as anti-popes and false traditions have existed, so have false scriptures.  So it's Andre's approach (Scripture tells us which Scripture is Scripture) which seems to be circular.  Trusting the early Christian community to have the best grasp on who was put in charge, which traditions come from the Apostles and which don't, and which Scriptures are authentic isn't circular, it's logical.  So look to the early Church:
  • Do they read the Deuterocanon?  Yup.  So they have the full Catholic Scriptures, not the limited Protestant ones.  
  • Do they believe in the sinlessness of Mary? Yup.  So they have the full Catholic Traditions, not the limited Protestant ones.  
  • Do they believe in top-down authority governed by a bishop who is a higher rank than a presbyter? Yup.  So they have the full Catholic ecclessiology, ont the limited Protestant one.
I'm over-simplifying here, of course (there are lots of other issues which could be raised for my point, and some more interesting ones on the Catholic/Orthodox side), but my point is that the eyewitnesses seem to harmonize with what the Catholic Church believes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Trouble with "Americanism"

I. Why Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a Bad Standard
You may remember that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend wrote a singularly foolish piece for Newsweek claiming that Obama is more Catholic than the pope, because his views better represent American Catholics.  In a particularly confused phrasing, she writes:
When Obama meets the pope tomorrow, they'll politely disagree about reproductive freedoms and homosexuality, but Catholics back home won't care, because they know Obama's on their side.
Let's leave aside the blatant elitism of conflating the views of liberal American Catholics with the views of lay Catholics globally (in fact, Catholics in the Global South tend to be much more orthodox). Kennedy Townsend's premise is that of a lot of misinformed liberal Catholics in the US: that the Church is a "democracy," which should govern by majority rule.  So if 51% of Catholics think that abortion's okay, then it's ok.  Of course, this raises a series of confusing questions: if Catholicism is simply what the majority of Catholics believe, who's a Catholic?  Under this sort of majority-rule system, heresy may just be the next big orthodoxy.

This heresy is nothing new.  In 798 A.D., Alcuin of York wrote to Charlemagne in 798, in a letter which reads, in part:
"Those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness."
But given America's distinctive political contributions, it's not surprising that people who have benefited so much from political democracy would seek Church democracy as well.  It's particularly appealing to dissidents on the political left because of an unstated premise: legalized abortion and gay rights, because they're newer, are "progressive"; that is, that society is moving in that direction.  The recalcitrance of the Catholic Church  continues to defy this Myth of Progress, but devout progressives still fantasize about the day when the "hierarchical Church" (as they term the Magisterium, as well as the actual hierarchy) will do a 180 and declare "abortions for some, miniature American flags for others." 

These dissidents don't just support Church democracy because they like democracy per se; they like the idea of Church democracy, because they think a democratic Church will be a Democratic Church.  But there are ominous signs on the horizon for anyone with the sense to see them.  Take the death penalty, for example.  The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) compares Latino with non-Latino Catholic views on a variety of political issues (pg. 29 here).  Long-story short, over 60% of both Latino and non-Latino Catholics support the death penalty, contrary to traditional Catholic teaching.  Significantly, the death penalty is not an intrinsic evil, the way that torture and abortion are, meaning Catholics can, under certain circumstances, support it.  Still, the Church's general view is much more "liberal" on this issue than the view of lay Catholics.  In a signal that I find much more disturbing than the Catholic views on the death penalty, a recent US News poll found that fewer than 25% of white non-Hispanic Catholics said torture was "never right" (I was unable to find anything which examined Catholics, in toto).  In other words, if Obama is more Catholic than the pope for being pro-choice, Bush is more Catholic than the pope for being pro-torture.

II. Playing Both Sides of the Magisterial Fence
So surely, dissident Catholics who love Church democracy have to say, contra their political views, that the Church should cast off her old-fashioned opposition to the death penalty and torture... right?  I mean, surely, it would be brazenly hypocritical to suddenly side with the Magisterium (no longer "institutional Church," of course) when it supports one's personal or political views?

Enter Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, who we see here shamelessly attempting to use Magisterial teaching to simultaneously permit Obama to speak, and bar Rick Santorum:
That means that no Catholic institution -- university, study group or Knights of Columbus Council, etc. -- can invite Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity or Rick Santorum to speak. Each of these Catholics supports Cheney and thus endorses torture.
 With no apparent sense of irony, he claims it's his opponents (political, of course, not religious), "who would defy Catholicism for political gain."  Right.  Lots of others could join his ranks, and plenty of non-Catholics have even picked up the ball, clumsily arguing, for example, that Scalia can't be Supreme Court justice because of his support for the death penalty.  This has all of the credibility of an anarchist taking you to court for trespassing on his property.  Although (like the anti-torture camp), they're right on the issue, winning the battle costs them the war.  It undermines the entire position, and shows the necessity of having a central set of rules to appeal to. 

A "democracy Church," which governed by the whims of American Catholics, would be a pro-death penalty, pro-torture, pro-choice, pro-women's ordination Church which represented only the least religious.  On all of these stances, American Catholics have taken the "American view" over the Catholic one.  This is a heresy known, fittingly, as Americanism.

Red Coins of Redemption


As I was finishing my time in prayer in our adoration chapel last night, I said goodnight to the other man in the chapel. He told me that it was good to see a priest in there praying and asked me to wait a minute. He pulled out his wallet and took out a bill. He told me that he wanted me to offer a Mass for the cause of Fulton Sheen's canonization on December 9, 2009 (the 30th Anniversary of Sheen's death). At that point, he shared how important the daily holy hour was to Bishop Sheen (a point I had heard earlier in the day emphasized by Fr. John Corapi on the radio). He then asked if I had read Sheen's "Life of Christ." I told him that I owned the book but haven't read it yet. He then said to look up on page 544 the "Second Word of Christ on the Cross." He then when on to quote almost verbatim this passage in which Sheen describes the scene in Luke 23: 39-43:
A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life; a man without possessions asked a poor man for a Kingdom; a thief at the door of death asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise. One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of Redemption, but in the Divine plan it was a thief who was the escort of the King of kings into Paradise.
When I got back to the rectory and went down to my man cave (AKA basement suite), I pulled out the book and opened it to page 544. I was stunned. The devotion of the adorer I spoke with in the chapel obviously caught me off guard. However, the depth of reflection by Bishop Sheen on this passage was astonishing. Obviously, I was experiencing the fruit of years of prayer and study by a dedicated disciple. A life spent in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Sheen constantly talked about the importance of the daily Holy Hour for his life and the life of all priests. When asked about why the daily Holy Hour with Christ in the Eucharist is so important, he related a story that I have retold many times:
A couple of months before his death he was interviewed on national television. One of the questions was this: "Bishop Sheen, you have inspired millions of people all over the world. Who inspired you? Was it a Pope?"

Bishop Sheen responded that it was not a Pope, a Cardinal, another Bishop, or even a priest or a nun. It was a little Chinese girl of eleven years of age. He explained that when the Communists took over China, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory near the Church.


After they locked him up in his own house, the priest was horrified to look out of his window and see the Communists proceed into the Church, where they went into the sanctuary and broke into the tabernacle. In an act of hateful desecration, they took the ciborium and threw it on the floor with all of the Sacred Hosts spilling out. The priest knew exactly how many Hosts were in the ciborium: thirty-two.


When the Communists left, they either did not notice, or didn't pay any attention to a small girl praying in the back of the Church who saw everything that had happened.


That night the little girl came back. Slipping past the guard at the priest's house, she went inside the Church. There she made a holy hour of prayer, an act of love to make up for the act of hatred. After her holy hour she went into the sanctuary, knelt down, bent over and with her tongue received Jesus in Holy Communion, since it was not permissible at that time for laymen to touch the Sacred Host with their hands.


The little girl continued to come back each night to make her holy hour and receive Jesus in Holy Communion on her tongue. On the thirty-second night, after she had consumed the last and thirty-second host, she accidentally made a noise and woke the guard who was sleeping. He ran after her, caught her, and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle.


This act of heroic martyrdom was witnessed by the priest as he watched grief-stricken from his bedroom window.


When Bishop Sheen heard the story he was so inspired that he promised God he would make a holy hour of prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament everyday of his life. If this little Chinese girl could risk her life everyday to express her love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with a holy hour and Holy Communion, then, at the very least, the Bishop thought he should do the same.

In this Year for Priests, hopefully all priests will deepen our appreciation of the Eucharist and foster a greater devotion to Eucharistic Adoration.

As a closing comment, on this memorial of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, it is important to remember that the stigmata that Padre Pio had received were given to him especially for the sanctification of those living a consecrated life to God. As new discoveries uncovered:

Asked to swear on the Gospel, Padre Pio for the first time revealed the identity of the one from whom he received the wounds.

It was June 15, 1921, and in answer to a question posed by Bishop Rossi, Padre Pio said: "On Sept. 20, 1918, I was in the choir of the church after celebrating Mass, making the thanksgiving when I was suddenly overtaken by powerful trembling and then there came calm and I saw Our Lord in his crucified form.

"He was lamenting the ingratitude of men, especially those consecrated to him and favored by him."

"Then," Padre Pio continued, "his suffering was apparent as was his desire to join souls to his Passion. He invited me to let his pains enter into me and to meditate on them and at the same time concern myself with the salvation of others. Following this, I felt full of compassion for the Lord's pains and I asked him what I could do.

"I heard this voice: 'I will unite you with my Passion.' And after this the vision disappeared, I came back to myself, my reason returned and I saw these signs here from which blood flowed. Before this I did not have these."

Padre Pio then said that the stigmata were not the result of a personal request of his own but came from an invitation of the Lord, who, lamenting the ingratitude of men, and consecrated persons in particular, conferred on Padre Pio a mission as the culmination of an interior mystical journey of preparation.
Personally, I can't think of a better way to develop a deeper gratitude for the "red coins of Redemption" than to thank Jesus daily in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

What's the Catholic Position on Feeding Tubes?

The Catholic Church is clearly and unambiguously opposed to euthanasia, the intentional ending of life (through an act or refusal to act) as an attempt to alleviate suffering.  But at the same time, there are clear limits to what one ought to do to preserve life.  We should respect and love life, but we shouldn't cling to it madly, nor enter death's door kicking and screaming.  There's a huge theoretical difference between accepting death when your time has come, and assisted suicide through the deprivation of feeding tubes.

The beginning premise is this: it is fundamentally immoral and unchristian to refuse to give food to the hungry, and water to the needy.  It violates even the most basic test Christ forewarns of at the Last Judgment (see Matthew 25:35 and 25:42), and it makes no difference whether the food and drink are administered artificially or not.  The general rule of thumb for feeding tubes, to separate acceptable (and praiseworthy) acts of facing one's own death bravely, and morally unacceptable acts of ending one's own (or another's) life, even for "therapeutic" reasons is this: the cause of death must be the disease itself, rather than the deprivation of food and water.

Here are some hypotheticals:
  • In "a situation where a person is actively dying, one’s death being imminent (presumably within a few days)," is it obligatory to provide nutrition and hydration, even artificially?
  • "What if it is possible that a person may live indefinitely but need to be artificially fed?"
  •  "What if, after a feeding tube is placed, the nutrition and hydration is not being assimilated into the person’s body?"
  • "What if, after a feeding tube is placed, grave medical complications arise because of the presence of the feeding tube?"
 Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted raises, and answers, these questions skillfully here (see sections 9-12).   The entire article is succinct and very readable, which is unusual on this subject.  Bishop Olmsted wisely, in my opinion, limits himself merely to the question of "feeding tubes," without addressing other end-of-life decisions.  Trying to tackle the whole beast of euthanasia and end-of-life judgments can be hard: the good Bishop of Phoenix has painted a clear piece of the puzzle.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Brash, Bold, or Just Bald?


I'm humbled that Joe invited me to be a contributor to this blog. He defends the truth, beauty, and goodness of faith in Jesus Christ with a tenacity and sincerity that is most welcome in the blogdom. I will come nowhere close to his depth, breadth, and volume of posts and insights. However, I'm sure some more bite-sized posts are welcome as well.

In terms of introduction, here is the homily that I gave last weekend (apologies for the quality of the recording...sounds like I'm preaching at a nursery in a fishbowl).

This was a difficult homily for me to give. Not so much because the topics covered are unpopular truths (the evil of contraception in this instance), but because unmasking sin hurts. Inviting Christ's light to shine on the shadows of our life is painful. Old wounds may need attention, new wounds may be revealed, and the crosses we have neglected may demand our surrender. As a priest, sharing the truth of Christ is not something I can afford to do casually. I must share in every wound and cross I uncover. Ultimately, the struggle is of course worth the share we receive in the triumph of the Cross and Resurrection, but I'm still not seasoned enough to avoid flinching.


On St. Paul's Body and the True Cross

Ever since the days of the earliest Christians, there's been a belief that the relics of Christ and certain of His Saints have healing powers.  In Acts 19:11-12, for example, we hear that, "So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them."  Today, I wanted to mention briefly (by my standards) two of these relics: St. Paul's body, and the Cross on which Christ was crucified.

I. St. Paul's Body
A while ago, I mentioned the discovery of St. Paul's body.  I know a bit more about the story now, and thought I'd provide an update.

The Catholic Church has long claimed to have had St. Paul's body in St. Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome.  But in 1823, after a fire, things got chaotic and they somehow lost his body (I'm a bit unclear how that's even possible).  They knew the body was somewhere beneath the Basilica, but they weren't sure exactly where.  Flash forward to 2006: a marble sarcophagus is found, reading "To Paul, Apostle and Martyr," in Latin. 

Archeologists were pretty skeptical.  At the time of St. Paul's death, the Christians didn't have a whole lot of marble to spare, and spoke Greek instead of Latin.  The church itself was built (on the site of an earlier church) in 390 A.D.  So the three major theories were these: first, that St. Paul's body was moved from his earlier grave to a more ornate one when the new church was built; two, that the body wasn't St. Paul's; or three, that there was no body at all.  Time seems to have leaned towards the third view back in '06:
X-ray tests on it have already failed because of a layering of concrete and plaster that still surrounds most of it. And the more than 300-year gap between Paul's reported death by order of of the Roman emperor Nero in AD 68 and the construction of the old church leaves considerable room for doubt.
At the time, these hesitations were justifiable.  No more.

This year, at the end of the Year of St. Paul, Pope Benedict XVI released information that convinced even the not-particularly-religious UK Daily Mail that "in all likelihood, they are the bones of the Apostle Paul - bones that have lain there for 1,950 years yet, astonishingly, have only been discovered in our time." The Daily Mail continues:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wisdom 2 on the Suffering of Christ

Yesterday's first reading at Mass was Wisdom 2:12, 17-20.  I think it's a shame that they chopped up one of the clearest Old Testament prophesies of Christ.  Here's 2:12-20 in its entirity:

Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the LORD.
To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like other men's, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father.
Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him."
I've briefly mentioned this passage before on this blog, I think, in a post relating to the authenticity of the Deuterocanon.  And for me, this is one of the primary verses confirming that the Deuterocanon is God-breathed.  After all, even inspired Scripture tends to contain parts where we go, "Huh?"  Psalm 137:8-9, for example, says, "O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us - he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks."  So the argument that the Deuterocanon says some strange or surprising things has never been that impressive to me.  Neither has the argument that the Deuterocanon contradicts other parts of the Bible - none of the concrete examples I've seen of this have been compelling in the slightest.  What the person saying this usually means is that the Deuterocanon contradicts fundamental Protestant doctrines.  And in fact, this is one of the reasons that the Reformers thought it must not be inspired.  But that's a backwards way of determining canonicity: starting with what you believe, and basing your Bible around it is the opposite of what sola Scriptura alleges to be its exegetical method.

So in contrast to that, where there's a clear pre-Christian prophesy that "the Just One" is coming who is going to claim to be the Son of God, and is going to be shamed and put to death to "test Him" (since if He is really the Son of God, "God will take care of Him"), it necessarily gives me pause.  This passage is directly prophetic, and lays of the story of Christ in only the most thinly veiled of terms -- it ranks right up there with the Suffering Servant passage from Isaiah 53.  What adds to the power of the passage is that it appears to be directly fulfilled in Matthew's Gospel.  Remember that Matthew was writing for a primarily Jewish audience, and took pains to note both Old Testament parallels, and prophetic fulfillment.  In the first category, it's Matthew who points out the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, and their exodus back; it's Matthew who presents the Sermon as being on the Mount; and so on.  Jesus is the New Moses: Pope Benedict XVI points out in Jesus of Nazareth, that Deuteronomy 18:18-19 includes a promise by God that "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put My words into His mouth; He shall tell them all that I command him.  If any man will not listen to My words which He speaks in My name, I Myself will make him answer for it."  Yet Deuteronomy 34:10, written about the death of Moses, concludes that "Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face."  St. Matthew recognized Jesus as fulfilling these prophesies, and went to great lengths to show this throughout his Gospel.

So in light of Matthew's tendency to include clear Old Testament parallels, consider Matthew 27:41-44 in light of the Wisdom 2 passage above:

Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said,
He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.
He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'"
The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.
The parallels between the two passages, down to the nuances in the language, are so clear as to be nearly inescapable.  It seems to me that there are only three possibilities:
  1. The parallels are totally coincidental, and Wisdom 2 is uninspired.  In this case, God permitted a book which many (perhaps most) of His people leading up to the time of Christ thought of as Scripture to have eerily prophetic information.  This is an unbelievable conclusion.  It's one thing for non-Judeo-Christian books to have Christological tones, because people grasping for the Truth find interesting elements of it.  There, there's a clear purpose - like St. Paul at the Acropolis in Acts 17, these Christological shadows can be used as evidence to lead non-Christians to the fulness of the Truth.  The Old Testament, while more than shadows of Christ, does much of the same thing.  But what motive would there be for God to include Christological information in books He didn't want His people embracing?  Christological prophesies always point towards the Truth.  Including them so clearly in a book held erroneously to be true would serve nearly the opposite purpose.

  2. Matthew believed Wisdom 2 to be Scripture, but it wasn't.  This conclusion is also unbelievable, for three reasons.  First, Matthew is inspired when writing his Gospel.  The Holy Spirit could have inspired him to omit or rewrite the passage in such a way that there was no obvious Wisdom 2 parallel.  Second, for God to permit this sort of "prophesy fulfillment" signal, when in fact, no prophesy had existed to be fulfilled, would be to render part of the Bible, and a part dealing with Faith and morals, inaccurate.  In other words, if Matthew 27:41-44 is written as a prophesy fulfillment, and it's not, then this part of the Bible is not only fallible, it's wrong.  It seems to me that no Christian can hold to that while viewing the Bible as God-breathed.  Third, Matthew sat at the foot of Christ as a Disciple.  Are we really to believe that at no point Christ correctly him for using a non-Scriptural book as Scripture?  It seems that if we can trace the practice to Matthew here, we can trace it to his Teacher.

  3. The most obvious conclusion is that Wisdom 2 is canonical, was prophetic, and was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Introducing... Fr. Andrew Strobl!

You may have noticed that the right side of this page looks a little different.  In fact, the entire page looks different. I updated the html editor, and for some reason, that switched everything to Times New Roman.  Oh well.  More important change: there's a new co-blogger for Shameless Popery, and I wanted to be the first to introduce him.

His name is Fr. Andrew Strobl.  I've known him since before I could speak - the Strobls are old family friends.  And of all the priests I've known in my life, he's been perhaps the most important.  At various points in my life, but particularly in my first years of college, I'd come to him when there were questions I just couldn't answer about my Faith.  Although I did grades 1-12 in Catholic schooling, and am in Catholic (well, Jesuit) schooling for law school, I never really received the proper faith formation or catechesis.  It was Fr. Andrew Strobl (then just "Andrew"; I'll let him decide how he wants to be called on the blog -- until then, "Fr. Andrew Strobl") who answered the tough questions; who inspired me to follow him to Washburn University, where he was my R.A. and often my transportation back and forth; who saved my Faith and my soul more times than I'm probably aware; and who was one of those really rare and worthwhile people that reminds you that a loving God exists, and who cares enough to have people like Fr. Andrew Strobl bump into you.

Here's one example to show how he's a great example of the sort of "orthodoxy with a smile" that Pope Benedict XVI is so famously fond of.  Rather than presenting the Faith as a set of rules and prohibitions, he explains the beauty and the ideal that we should be striving for.  He was the first person to explain to me that sex was meant to be unitive and procreative, and that birth control damages and alters that Divine Plan; he followed it up by sending me a copy of Christopher West's Introduction to Theology of the Body.  He succeeded in changing my mind.  On issue after issue, I discovered that he (and the Catholic Church) made a lot of sense, and slowly but surely, I opened my heart to Her Truth.

So that's who he is to me.  But who is he more generally?  He's funny, orthodox, intelligent, and often random.  Like me, he's a Bishop Miege High School and Washburn University graduate; a long-time debater, and lover of debate (even after he stopped debating, he'd often have some interesting arguments I'd never considered, to sort of mull over); and a lifelong Royals fan.  When asked by our high school yearbook where he saw himself in ten years, he said, "a househusband with basset hounds."  The Holy Spirit, it turns out, had different plans.  Today, he's a priest in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas; associate pastor for Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Olathe, KS; and the chaplain for St. Thomas Aquinas High School, where my kid brother just started a few weeks ago (Ben's a novice debater, meaning he's going to have face Miege debaters eventually -- I think he'll do just fine).

When I last saw him, he talked about wanting to be involved in the online New Evangelization, but feeling like he didn't have time to consistently blog or make YouTube videos, etc., since his responsibilities with the parish and school are more pressing (which lead to this post, by the way).  Tonight, it occurred to me that: I run a Catholic blog, he's a wealth of knowledge, and this blog would be the perfect place for him to be able to share on an "at his convenience" basis.  I offered, and he accepted immediately.  His only request was that we begin by praying for one another.*  Since it's the Year for Priests, I hope you'll join me in saying a few prayers for Shameless Popery's new clerical co-author. 

*If you're interested, here's a clip of him explaining how prayer is more important than breathing.

What are the Limits to Powers of LDS "Prophets, Seers, and Revelators"?

I. Does it Matter that Hinckley was Counselor, not President, at the Time?
Maggie, annoyed at my post on LDS Mormonism, said...

For starters President Hinkley wasn't even Prophet or President of the Church when this "forgery scandal" happened yet you still try to say he was president and prophet of the church. That doesn't make a valid argument to me. President Hinkley didn't become Prophet till the 1990s so this 1981 thing about him is impossible to be real. You are hopefully just sadly misinformed about our leadership, because the only other explanation is that you are creating this for your arguments against the LDS(Mormon) religion.

To begin, the incident is well-attested historically. So the option that I'm making it up to discredit LDS Mormonism is wrong. And what's more, it goes against my whole point in the original post: that Mormons aren't this big scary group secretly trying to undermine Jesus Christ. They're generally well-intentioned people who get certain, very important, things wrong. As it was, I think both Maggie and I were sadly misinformed about LDS leadership - I was wrong in thinking that Gordon Hinckley was head of the First Presidency before he actually was; and she was wrong in (apparently) not realizing that Counselors to the First Presidency are still called "President" and regarded as "seers, prophets, and revelators."

Here's what happened. I was aware that Hinckley was the Mormon leader who was particularly bamboozled by the Hoffman scandal: what I wasn't sure of was whether he was already LDS president. So I did a sloppy Wikipedia search, noticed that it said things like, "These fooled not only members of the First Presidency — notably Gordon B. Hinckley — but also document experts and distinguished historians" and "In 1983, Hofmann sold to the Church, through its then-de facto head Gordon B. Hinckley, an 1825 Joseph Smith holograph letter confirming that Smith had been treasure hunting and practicing black magic five years following his First Vision." In retrospect, these aren't clear "Hinckley was president" statements, but that's how I read them at the time, so I went with inaccurate information. Mea maxima culpa.

Here's why it's irrelevant.
From Wikipedia again, this time the article on the First Presidency:

Like the church president and President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, counselors in the First Presidency are referred to by the title "President"; he and his counselors are referred to as President Thomas S. Monson, President Henry B. Eyring, and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. All members of the First Presidency are sustained by the membership of the church as prophets, seers, and revelators.

Or, if you don't want to trust Wikipedia, here's Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, referred to as "President Dieter F. Uchtdorf," and saying things like:

It is proposed that the First Presidency sustain the counselors in the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators.
Please manifest it.
The First Presidency will be seated.

So even in 1981, Gordon Hinckley was, as Counselor in the First Presidency: (a) properly referred to as "president," and (b) considered a prophet, seer, and revelator. So the argument still stands in full. So the statement "President Hinkley (sic) wasn't even Prophet or President of the Church when this 'forgery scandal' happened" is a bit misleading.

Finally, if you don't like the evidence I've presented so far, I offer two alternatives. One, perhaps pictures are more to your liking. Two, Google it. See what you come up with. And if I'm wrong on something important, by all means, let me know.

II. When Are LDS Prophets Allegedly Immune From Error?
Next, Mark asks:

"I realize that prophets are psychics, but if they can't tell God's ordination of a successor through Joseph Smith from a forgery, how can they tell when God is speaking to them at all?"
Even our saints and prophets have their times of darkness. Even they have questioned the very existence of God, no? We can't be one to judge such.
PS: But I DO appreciate your time into it and research.

Obviously, that should say (and now does), "I realize that prophets aren't psychics..." And it's true that prophets and saints aren't perfect. They sin, make mistakes, have errors in judgment, etc. They aren't just generally immune to being swindled. But at the same time, for someone to be considered a "prophet, seer, and revelator," shouldn't they be able to tell when they're about to promote false doctrine? The prophets of old sinned, but they never got confused over what was God's message and what wasn't.

The answer to this question may best come at the hands of an LDS Mormon him/herself; as a Catholic, I'd say that when someone is acting in regards to faith and morals, and on behalf of the Church, it's more likely to fall into an infallible (or in this case, prophetic/revelatory) category. Lots of popes have had errors in their private judgment, and there have even been errors in non-infallible papal declarations. But Mormons obviously don't use Vatican I criteria for knowing when the First Presidency is acting on behalf of God, and when it isn't: what criteria is used, I am not sure.

One thing to consider, though: after it was leaked that they'd been secretly trying to buy documents which shed negative light on them, those involved took to the pulpit to declare that these things which (a) were specifically created by Hoffman to embarrass and discredit the LDS Church, (b) seemed to contradict LDS teaching, and (c) were being purchased in secret, were, in fact, completely compatible with LDS teaching. At least by the point that they were ready to preach on them publicly, one would assume that any sort of revelatory or prophetic gifts who prevent them from being duped so publicly on an issue of faith.

But more obviously, and perhaps there's not a diplomatic way to put this, but if they can't tell which allegedly-old documents people claim to have found are authentic, there's not really a basis for their religion. Because if, despite being "prophets, seers, and revelators," they're wrong on Hoffman's "find," how do we know that they aren't wrong on Joseph Smith, Jr.'s "find"?