Thursday, September 30, 2010

One Lazarus, or Two?

In this morning's post, I mentioned the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from Luke 16:19-3. Mark Shea discusses that today with a particularly interesting theory: that the "parable" might be actually be the true story of the real-life Lazarus.  After all, this is the only person ever named in any of Jesus' parables, and the account from Luke 16 (about how the rich man begged Abraham for Lazarus to come back from the dead to warn his brothers) fits in perfectly with John 11, in which the real-life Lazarus does come back from the dead. If nothing else, Mark's post is worth the read if for no other reason than this priceless insight from John 11:
It is particularly notable that this suffering has come to this family, whom John records as the special objects of Jesus' love. Indeed, John makes the shocking remark, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was" [John 11:5-6]. It is the strange word "so" at the beginning of the second sentence that baffles the modern reader. We could accept "yet" or "but," but "so" means that Christ deliberately allowed this affliction and death as a sign of special favor to Lazarus. And so He did, as He often does, permit suffering to afflict those who are His special favorites. To them, as to Lazarus, a special work of healing will be done for the one He loves so much. The supreme paradigm of this is Christ Himself, who endures the most suffering and has been exalted higher than all.

How Catholics Pray

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples."  (Luke 11:1)
The question of how we're to pray is one which all Christians should ask, and seek to understand more deeply.  In the comments of this post, Jennae asked:
In Catholicism, how do you pray? I remember being told something about praying to Mary, but I can’t remember much more than that. I have no idea what the rosary is for other than there is a prayer per bead. When do you recite memorized prayers and why do you have them? Until just recently, I was unaware that you have individual personal prayer (and when I say you, I mean Catholics in general. I’m not trying to suggest you don’t have a personal relationship with God.). As LDS member, I know we general start every prayer with “Dear Heavenly Father” and end it with “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.” We only have a few prayers that we use word for word and those involve ordinances, ex: blessing the sacrament. I think explaining how Catholics pray would shed some light on the subject or at the very least be helpful to those of us who have no idea.
These questions are common ones, so it seemed fitting to address the issue in a post, in case anyone else is similarly confused.
Pre-Written and Individualized Prayers
The short answer to the first question is that Catholics pray a combination of pre-written and improvised prayers.  How that balance is forged is based in no small part on the person and the setting. Imagine, if you will, a birthday party. Most likely, everyone offers their birthday wishes individually, but they also sing "Happy Birthday."  Obviously, if everyone is going to wish you "happy birthday" in unison and (hopefully) harmony, pre-written words and tune are a bonus.  Or think about the birthday card: a card is chosen for you generally because the pre-written words are fitting.  But then, individuals add their own intentions at the end. That's, more or less, how Catholic prayer words, and for the same reasons.

Think about it: why do people use the pre-written words to Happy Birthday, instead of making their own words up as they go along?  Because it's a group setting: it's beautiful to have everyone singing the same thing at the same time.  And why do people use pre-written words on greeting cards?  I imagine it's both because someone at Hallmark has already said what your heart was feeling in prose superior to your own, and because sometimes when you read a card, it inspires you to something you never would have consciously thought about otherwise.  It's why the smitten sometimes do things like recite Shakespeare to each other.  Pre-written prayers share these three benefits: they're optimal for communal settings, they're better-written than what we could come up with on our own, and they remind us of things we might otherwise forget to pray for. 

For certain settings where everyone is praying together, like at Mass, having a set prayer is unifying.  It's a beautiful thing when millions of people around the world are praying the same prayer for the same cause.  The Our Father is an obvious example here: when the Disciples asked Christ how they were to pray in Luke 11, this is the prayer He gave them (it's spelled out at greater length in Matthew 6). But it's not the only way we're told to pray. At the opposite end of the spectrum, beyond even impromptu prayers, are the prayers Paul talks about in Romans 8:26, the ones which we feel in our heart but can't even begin to put into words, the "groans that words cannot express" which the Spirit offers on our behalf.  Obviously, there are times when we're praying for someone or something specific, and of course, we don't have pre-written prayers for every occasion.  Even at Mass, each local church will offer its own petitions: for individuals who may be sick, for crises going on locally, etc.  That's where the idea of finding the right "granularity" of prayer comes in: for those individualized prayers for specific concerns.

As a rule, Catholics combine pre-written and impromptu prayers all the time.  In my family, for example, when we pray as a family at night, we usually begin or end with prayers and petitions (sometimes both, since we'll think of some more prayers partway through), and then we'll pray certain pre-written prayers in the middle.  At Thanksgiving dinner, we'll all pray the Catholic table blessing (the one beginning, "Bless us, O Lord..."), and the person leading will usually end with a short prayer of thanksgiving for family and the countless blessings we've received over the last year. In my men's group, we offer up our prayers and petitions, and then pray the rosary in the beginning. At the end, we do an examination of conscience, and then pray as a group for forgiveness of our sins.  Even as we pray this pre-written communal prayer, we're asking forgiveness for specific and personal sins.  So it's almost never either/or for us.
Five Types of Prayer

Prayer takes many forms. This brief article notes five types: adoration, thanksgiving, expiation, love, and petition.  Prayers of adoration, or prayers of worship, are ones where we just worship God for His Glory and His Holiness and His Goodness.  The Gloria is the perfect example of this.  They're distinct from prayers for thanksgiving, because we're not thanking God for anything He's done: we're just praising Him for being God.  Prayers of expiation are ones where we pray for forgiveness of our sins. Prayers of love are ones where we just tell God how much we love Him, and as the article notes, they're not always verbal things at all - often, it's actions we do for God and neighbor out of love of God.  We don't do enough of these first four forms of prayer. Finally, there are prayers of petition.  These are the most common forms of prayers, I'd bet: in fact, the English word "prayer" comes from the Latin word for "to beg."  This is where we ask for stuff. It's easy to knock prayers of petition as selfish, but Christ tells us to pray this way in the Our Father: it's a list of requests.
Prayers to Mary and the Saints
In addition to praying to God directly (which every Catholic does: after all, the Our Father is said at every Mass), we also pray to the Saints in Heaven.  The forms of these prayers are similar to the five forms of prayer to God.  There is one huge, huge difference, though: we don't worship Mary or the Saints.  We have prayers honoring them, but not worshiping them.  In Latin, the distinction is clear: prayers of ventria, or veneration, can be offered to the Saints, while prayers of dulia, or worship, can be offered only to God, since to worship anyone else would be polytheism and/or idolatry.

If you're not familiar with it, praying to Mary or the Saints might seem eerie or immoral.  But consider: in our day-to-day interactions with other people, we'll tell them how special they are and how much they mean to us, we'll thank them when they've done things for us, we'll ask forgiveness if we've wronged them, we'll tell and show them how much we love them, and we'll ask them for things -- in particular, we'll ask them to pray for us, for example.  No sane Christian has any problem with any of these things, when done to a person you can see.  Catholics simply recognize that we're not cut off from the Saints at death, and that through the mercy and power of God, they can still hear and respond to prayers.  This is the faith of the early Church: on the walls of the catacombs, they found inscriptions from the persecuted Christians begging the long-dead Peter and Paul to pray for them.

There's Scripture pretty directly on point here. In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus gives the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  It says in v. 22 that "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side."  The rich man also died, and went to hell.  Luke 16:23-26 says that:
"In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
So that's the rich man's first prayer to Abraham: send someone to Hell.  And Abraham responds both that he won't, and that he can't (because of the great chasm).  Compare that with the next part, Luke 16:27-31:
"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
" 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
So realizing that the chasm prevents anyone from Abraham's side from coming into Hell, the rich man begs Abraham to send someone to Earth.  And Abraham's response here is only that he won't: not that he can't. Admittedly, Abraham is not yet in Heaven, since Jesus hadn't atoned for his sins yet: instead, he was waiting in the "abode of the righteous dead," awaiting the opening of the gates of Heaven.  But that's a distinction without much of a difference: whatever the case, Jesus tells a parable in which there's praying to a dead man, Abraham, who's honored ("Father Abraham"), and to whom petitions are made.  Abraham responds to the prayers, even if it's not in the way that the rich man hoped.  And none of this is presented as if it's even slightly problematic.  Moreover, Abraham speaks as if he's able (should he so desire) to intercede on behalf of the rich man's brothers who are on Earth.  There's not a note of condemnation of the rich man for praying across the chasm to Abraham, or condemnation of Abraham for answering.
The Mysteries of the Rosary
The rosary is a specific and beautiful prayer, or set of prayers. It's particularly Marian in nature, meaning that it focuses upon the unique role of Mary more than many other Catholic prayers.  The history of the rosary is pretty cool, too: the monks used to have a circular set of fifty beads which they used in praying the Psalms: they would pray all 150, so having beads to keep track of where they were was helpful. People living near the monasteries were moved by this prayful devotion, and asked for prayers which they could say as well.  Since the average layperson didn't have the Psalms memorized and often, wasn't literate, they needed simply prayers upon which to dwell on the Gospel: this became the Rosary.  Just as there were 150 Psalms divided into three sets of 50, the rosary was also divided into three sets of Mysteries with five "decades" apiece.  Depending on the day of the week, you'd pray a different set of the mysteries.  These are:
  • The Joyful Mysteries: (1) The Annunciation; (2) The Visitation; (3) The Nativity; (4) The Presentation in the Temple; and (5) the Finding in the Temple.
This follows the early life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary, and follows closely Luke's Gospel.The Annunciation is Luke 1:26-38, the Visitation is Luke 1:39-56, the Nativity is Luke 2:1-20, the Presentation is Luke 2:21-40, and the finding in the Temple is Luke 2:41-52. 
  • The Sorrowful Mysteries: (1)  The Agony in the Garden; (2) The Scourging at the Pillar; (3) Crowning with Thorns; (4) Carrying of the Cross; and (5) the Crucifixion.
These are self-explanatory, but I'd note that they're tied to the Joyful ones in some not-obvious ways. At the Presentation, Simeon warns Mary that Her Son is to be a sign of contradiction, and that a "sword will pierce through your soul, too" (Luke 2:35): that is, in the radical action of Christ in the Passion, Mary suffered along with Christ in a unique way.  She's tied to Him.  He was taken, flesh and bone, from Her.  And of course, She is His Mother.  When even the Apostles fled at the Death of Christ, Mary stayed close by, even at the foot of the Cross, unshakable in Her faith in Her Son.  The finding in the Temple also foreshadowed the Death and Resurrection of Christ: Jesus is "lost" for three Days around Passover, but it turns out He's just been doing the Will of His Father, and was to return.  So the Joyful Mysteries lead into these Mysteries well, and the Finding in the Temple already foreshadows the next Five
  • The Glorious Mysteries: (1) The Resurrection; (2) The Ascension; (3) The Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles; (4) The Assumption of Mary; and (5) The Coronation of Mary.
The last two of these five Mysteries are not addressed as directly as the rest of the Mysteries, but we still know them to be true.  There are a number of ancient sources attesting to Mary's Assumption, and it is supported by the notion of Mary as the New Eve and the Ark of the Covenant.  In any case, we see the already-crowned Mary in Heaven in Revelation 12 -- the Bible just skips explaining how She got there.

The above are the traditional fifteen Catholic Mysteries.  For each, you prayed the Hail Mary ten times (along with other prayers, see below), reflecting the 150 Psalms.  But Pope John Paul II proposed another five to focus upon the ministry of Jesus, the Luminous Mysteries:
  • The Luminous Mysteries: (1) The Baptism in the Jordan, (2) The Wedding at Cana; (3) The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God; (4) The Transfiguration; and (5) The Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
Chronologically, these events fit in between the Joyful and the Sorrowful, and are taken from all four Gospels.  We hear about the Baptism in the Jordan from the Synoptics, for example, while John tells us about the Wedding at Cana.  The Holy Spirit plays a key role in the Luminous Mysteries, which is fitting.  In each Luminous Mystery, Christ also reveals Himself (or is revealed by the Father) more fully.

Since the rosary is a private devotion, there's no one way that it has to be prayed.  It was a human invention to draw us closer to God by praying "through the eyes of Mary," if you will.  It's a wonderful tradition, but it's not immutable in the way something like the Our Father is.  Typically, we do the Joyful Mysteries on Mondays, then Sorrowful on Tuesdays, Glorious on Wednesdays, Luminous on Thursdays, Sorrowful on Fridays, Joyful on Saturdays, and Glorious on Sundays, but that's not set in stone.  Depending on if you're celebrating or mourning, you might opt to go with a different set.
How to Pray the Rosary
There are a lot of Catholic resources explaining this very well, so I'll try and keep it brief.  Here's the rosary here:

You'll note that it is a circle, with a "tail."  You start with the tail.  You first pray the Apostle's Creed; then the Our Father; and then the Hail Mary three times, praying for an increase in faith, then hope, then charity; after that, you pray the Glory Be, a short prayer of Divine worship for the Trinity.

Then you're ready to begin the circle.  Let's say you're doing the Joyful Mysteries.  When you arrive at the medallion of Mary there, it signals that you're ready to start the  first Joyful Mystery, which is the Annunciation.  You then pray the Our Father, and the Hail Mary ten times.  While praying each Hail Mary, you may pray on a different verse of Scripture, or a different aspect of the Mystery.  This site has a good example of what that looks like.  At the end of the ten Hail Mary's, you pray a Glory Be, and optionally, the so-called Fatima Prayer, which goes, "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy." Then you start the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation, and you do the same thing. 

At the end of all five Joyful Mysteries, you're back to that medallion of Mary.  You then close the Rosary with a Hail Holy Queen, a prayer of veneration and petition for Mary, and this prayer:
O God whose only begotten Son by His life, death and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant we beseech Thee that in meditating on the mysteries of the most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ Our Lord.  Amen. 
This closing prayer is the best explanation for why we pray the Rosary. It also marks the end of the rosary, although some people choose to add on some extra closing prayers, which they're free to do.  Typically, these closing prayers are an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be for the intentions of the pope (so that we may be praying in harmony with one another, centered around the Roman Pontiff), although there are plenty of other variations as well.  What you may have noticed about the Rosary is that it's less about asking God for stuff, and more about seeking to understand the Gospel message more fully and more personally through prayer.  We seek to understand and experience the joy Mary felt at the coming of Christ, and experience it ourselves.  We seek to understand and follow the light Christ presents in Himself.  We seek to understand and grasp the depths of the sorrow which our sins caused Christ, and the sorrow felt by His Mother watching all of this. And we seek to understand and appreciate the glory of the Resurrected Christ, and the glory which He has chosen to bestow upon His Mother.  Throughout this, we come to understand the Good News of Christ and His Life, Death and Resurrection, we learn to loathe sin, and we wait in joyful anticipation for the rewards of our faithfulness.
Conclusion
That's the bird's eye view of what Catholic prayer is like: a mix of individual prayers and written ones, prayers seeking understanding which meditate upon the Mysteries of our Faith, as well as prayers worshiping God, prayers of thanksgiving, contrition, and love.  I doubt any two Catholics pray the exact same way, but this should at least lay out the terrain.  If I've missed anything, please don't hesitate to add to what I've said here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The People's Pope and the Role of the Laity

In the aftermath of the papal visit, the Catholic Herald published an insightful article which warrants mention.  Noting that the British tabloids had already nicknamed him the "People's Pope," the Herald notes just how apt the new moniker is:
From his homily in Bellahouston Park to his speech in Hyde Park, Pope Benedict kept returning to the role of lay people. It almost seemed as though the Holy Father, in his elegant way, was calling for an empowered laity.

This is a far cry from the 1960s radical call for empowered laity where people wrestled for new positions on parish councils and the faithful became ever more clericalised. This was not a call for more lay people to take over the role of the priest during Mass or be more active in the life of their parish, because in many ways, that point was passed long ago. He was instead calling the laity to live their Christian faith, to go beyond mere faith and live the Gospel.
The role of the laity as Benedict envisages it, is to engage with Catholic culture and present it as an alternative to the “dictatorship of relativism”.
The article then substantiates this claim with a number of good quotes from Benedict himself.  It's this concept in particular that I want to hone in upon.  There are, I think, roughly three camps which people can fall into when thinking about the involvement of the laity in the church.  The first two are two sides to the same coin, I think.
I. The Errors of Clericalism and Anti-Clericalism
First, there's what I'm calling traditional clericalism.  I'm using this term loosely, to stand in for the mindset that people sometimes get into where the clergy are the Church, and the laity are mere spectators.  Monks and nuns are sometimes referred to collectively as "religious" (generally in the phrase, "priests and religious"), and there was a tendency to think that the quest for God was something that came at the expense of an ordinary job or a family.  As a result, the Church produced a wealth of great saints from the ranks of priests, monks, and nuns, but not a few moms, dads, and laborers slacked off in their faith because they didn't view it as their own calling.  The Mass reflected this as well: the priest would pray the Mass, while the faithful would all too often simply pray the rosary, or watch what was going on.  This is a spiritual pitfall that's been present with the Church for centuries, at the least.  St. Francis De Sales was combating it in his Introduction to the Devout Life, and the Second Vatican Council was still facing the same problems four centuries later.

Next, and largely in response to the first, there's what you might call progressive clericalism.  This is the "radical call" from the 60s that the Herald article mentioned.  In the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, we saw the flip side to traditional clericalism.  Now, the laity wanted to (and were told to) be empowered, but tried to do so by co-opting clerical roles.  In other words, much of the post-conciliar "lay empowerment" consisted of turning the laity into quasi-priests.  The most extreme examples of this are the quixotic push for women's ordination, and the shocking practice of having laypeople and the priest hold hands around the altar and pray the words of Consecration.  These two were clear heresies, but beyond them, were simple obnoxious culture wars on the issues of female altar servers, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, laypeople reading the first and second Readings, even over the placement and garments of the choir and cantor.  My intent here isn't to criticize those laypeople who, say, do the Readings at Mass.  Rather, it's to point out that if the way that the laity are empowered is by a handful of them assuming traditionally clerical roles, the underlying implication is that to be fully active as a Catholic, you need "Fr." before your name.  In other words, it's the same error as traditional clericalism. 

Progressive clericalism often (and bizarrely) has gone hand-in-hand with outright anti-clericalism, an opposition to Holy Orders entirely.  This view is, of course, heretical and intrinsically anti-Catholic. But what's so strange about this is that the same people will, say, attack the Catholic Church by denouncing it as merely the "hierarchical Church," and in the next breath, support women becoming priests and bishops.  You can't really argue "Down with Management!" while you're putting in your job application as manager: it seems self-interested and hypocritical.  And certainly, it has been.  National Catholic Reporter, one of the worst of the lot, has a regular column entitled "The Peace Puplit" of essays and sermons written by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton.  That he's a member of the hierarchy would only be a negative if he actually believed the things the Catholic Church believes, apparently; otherwise, they're happy to give him all the column space he wants.
II. The Solution to these Errors: Re-Valuing the Laity
The strange position which post-conciliar lay "empowerment" found itself isn't radically different than the position which second-wave feminism found itself.  Feminism in the 60s and 70s called for female empowerment, but what often resulted was an obsession with trying to convince everyone that women were the same as men (rather than equal to them), and paradoxically, a lot of man-hating.  Women were encouraged to not only do traditionally male roles, but to do them wearing traditionally male clothes.  Meanwhile, men were told they weren't needed any more than a fish needs a bicycle.  In the end, it came across as feminists trying to be men, and attacking both masculine men, and feminine women.

Fortunately, a large subset of the population believes in women's equality without the hangups up femininity and masculinity. These people realized that if you attack every traditionally-feminine role, you end up attacking women, not helping them.  So there's been in third-wave feminism, the rise of what's called revalorist feminism.  The central argument of revalorist feminism, which I'm sympathetic to, is that women and men are equal, but not the same.  This isn't "separate but equal," but "different but equal."  And it's an incredibly American concept: we believe that "all men are created equal," but don't for a second believe that all men are created the same.  It's also an incredibly Christian concept: one need look no further than Paul's beautiful words in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26, about how the different parts of the Body are each indispensable, and yet each different.  The fact that hands and feet aren't the same doesn't mean one's more important than the other.  The idea is that a housewife isn't less than a working woman; likewise, a working woman who wants to show up to work dressed as a woman shouldn't be treated as if she's less professional as a result.  Instead, emphasis was being placed on recognizing the work that, for example, housewives and mothers do as work, and as work worthy of our respect.

What Pope Benedict calls for is something of a Catholic revalorism.  In other words, he's not calling for the laity to dress up and act like priests.  But neither is he asking the laity to sit down and shut up.  Rather, he's calling them to be empowered as laity.  At Bellahouston, the pope said:
“The evangelisation of culture is all the more important in our times, when a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good. There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatise it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.

“For this reason I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum. Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility.

“Do not be afraid to take up this service to your brothers and sisters, and to the future of your beloved nation."
This area of politics is one of ever-growing importance.  Under current canon law, priests are forbidden from holding political office in all but emergency situations, so the role of Catholic lawmaker is one which belongs virtually exclusively to the laity.  In addition, priests have an increasingly hard time in getting non-Catholics to take them seriously, particularly on political issues.  For example, the Catholic Church opposes abortion, because She thinks it's against natural law.  That is, She thinks that nearly anyone, with the light of reason, can recognize that killing an innocent human being is wrong, and that unborn children count as innocent human beings.  She doesn't oppose abortion because of anything in particular Jesus said, because He didn't have to tell us that murder was wrong.  Nevertheless, is a priest tries to present that simple message, it's considered him trying to combine Church and state.  This is, to put it charitably, a confused understanding of what the First Amendment says, but that's almost irrelevant.  Finally, the laity are often in a better position to evangelize in modern society, because they're viewed as more independent.  Catholic clergy are viewed as company men, if you will.  If you hear a manager of Nabisco tell you that Nabisco foods are great, you dismiss it: of course he thinks that.  But if your tennis buddy won't stop going on about those darn Nabisco snack foods, you're more likely to file that info away mentally.  Likewise, Catholic priests are expected to believe everything the Church teaches (would that were always true!).  But Catholic laypeople are given a somewhat fairer hearing.

In promoting the idea that the laity should become more active in the Church as laity, Benedict is continuing a long line of Catholic thought on this issue: I mentioned St. Francis De Sales earlier, and I've quoted St. Josemaria Escriva to the same effect earlier, but it's worth mentioning that this is exactly what Vatican II actually taught (for example, in paragraph 31 of Lumen Gentium).  It's also the life that was lived by some of the great Catholic lay saints, from St. Gianna to Dorothy Day.  And, of course, it's the clear message of Jesus Christ: He doesn't deputize Mary, Martha, or Lazarus as quasi-Apostles, yet they clearly have a mission which complements the Apostolic mission.  It's the mission of laypeople who lead ordinary lives while proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.

Those of us who are not called to be priests or members of the "religious life" should embrace what we are called to: a life dedicated to Jesus Christ and lived abundantly for Him, a life in harmony with the Gospel proclaimed by His Church, and a life truly pleasing to Him.  What that looks like in each life is likely to be a radical and beautiful thing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Zooming Out" in Prayer

Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary has a characteristically insightful piece on what she calls the "granularity of prayer." She says she has a tendency to want to pray for incredibly specific things, and gives this hypothetical example:
Let’s say our car breaks down. It will cost $684 to fix it, but I don’t have the money, and I don’t have any way to get the money. My husband needs the car to get to work, so we must come up with the money immediately. Let’s think about the different levels of granularity at which I could pray about this. Here’s one extreme:
Lord, please send a man wearing a blue hat to arrive at my front door on Monday morning at 9:15 carrying $684 in cash, mostly in $20 bills.
That is an extremely specific prayer! Now, let’s move up a level:
Lord, please send me $684 on Monday.
Up a couple more levels:
Lord, please send enough money to cover the car repair, sometime before it negatively impacts my husband’s job.
Now, let’s move up so high that the car isn’t even necessarily part of the picture, and neither is my husband’s current job:
Lord, please let us continue to have the resources to meet our basic physical needs.
With each new prayer, she's stepping back a little more, and a little more.  She does this by asking "why" to each prayer: why does she want the $684? why does she want her husband to be able to go to work, etc.  And she found that as she stepped further and further outward, she ended up with the prayer,
Lord, I just want you.
That's a beautiful insight, and it's perfect for my station in life right now.  As regular readers know, I passed the bar and am now officially an attorney, and am just trying to figure out where I am supposed to be working.  At first, I was praying very specific prayers of the "Lord, help me get this job" variety.  But I've been increasingly aware that left to my own devices, I could easily go in the wrong direction: a job which I hate, a job which undermines my moral values, a job God doesn't want me to have.  It'd be easy to turn a specific job into something which I covet.  Instead, I've been working towards simply placing things in His hands, and asking what He wants me to do: what'll draw me nearer to Him, what will be most pleasing, what's the best use of the talents He gave me, etc.  It's nice to see someone like Jen who's further along this road, so I see where I need to be headed: even the prayers I've been praying have been centered on me, and what I'm supposed to be doing; I need to be working towards those prayers which are more fully centered on Him, and my desire to be nearer to Him.  Anyways, I'm a big fan of this spiritual insight, and I encourage you to read her entire post.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Are We to Worship Jesus Christ?

We've covered a lot of ground on the subject of Mormonism on the blog of late (and it really has been "we": the contributions of Mormons like Seth, Murdock, and now James have proven invaluable).  The latest topic has been whether or not it's appropriate to worship Jesus Christ. 

In a 1982 talk given by Elder McConkie, who was considered one of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church, he cautions of some who "have an excessive zeal which causes them to go beyond the mark," and who "devote themselves to gaining a special, personal relationship with Christ that is both improper and perilous."  One of the "perils" of a personal relationship with Christ is that "those so involved often begin to pray directly to Christ because of some special friendship they feel has been developed," and believe that all prayers go to the Father through Jesus.  Now, Catholics view these "perils" as incredible spiritual blessings: things we would never want to be without.  But whether this is a spiritual blessing or peril turns in no small part on the central question: was Jesus Christ the One True God, worthy of worship?

McConkie argues no; that while Jesus is a God, and while He's part of the unified Godhead, He isn't in His own right worthy of worship.  He makes two arguments to further this point.  First, that Scripture doesn't show Jesus being worshiped, only honored:
We do not worship the Son, and we do not worship the Holy Ghost. I know perfectly well what the scriptures say about worshipping Christ and Jehovah, but they are speaking in an entirely different sense--the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to him who has redeemed us.
And second, that Jesus tells us to worship the Father:
True worshippers shall [note that this is mandatory] worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth. [JST John 4:25–26]
There is no other way, no other approved system of worship.
In other words, if Jesus wanted us to worship Him, He'd have said so. I think both of these arguments are answered from Scripture.
I. Worship? Or Honor?
The first thing that needs to be noted is that the word translated worship, proskyneō, can mean something other than worship: it can mean something like "to show homage."  There is one example in the Bible where both Catholics and Mormons would agree, I think, that proskyneō probably doesn't mean worship, in the sense we now use the term, Revelation 3:9, which says, "Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee."   Barnes' Notes on the Bible explains the two meanings of proskyneō, and how both of them might make sense here:
The word rendered "worship" here, means, properly, to full prostrate; and then to do homage, or to worship in the proper sense, as this was commonly done by falling prostrate. See the notes on Matthew 2:2. So far as the word is concerned, it may refer either to spiritual homage, that is, the worship of God; or it may mean respect as shown to superiors. If it is used here in the sense of divine worship properly so called, it means that they would be constrained to come and worship "before them," or in their very presence; if it is used in the more general signification, it means that they would be constrained to show them honor and respect. The latter is the probable meaning; that is, that they would be constrained to acknowledge that they were the children of God, or that God regarded them with his favor. 
So Revelation 3:9 either means to pay homage to the church, or to worship God in the presence of the church. But obviously, it doesn't mean that they're going to be worshiping the Christians.  Also, in Mark 15:19, it's more likely that the soldiers were paying Christ sarcastic homage than sarcastically worshiping Him, since they thought of Him as a political threat, not a religious one. In any case, this linguistic ambiguity means we've got to read the passages carefully, and be mindful of context.

The second thing to be noted is that the normal sense of the term is Divine worship. There are four examples which make this unambiguously clear from Scripture.   The first is Matthew 4:9-10 (and its parallel in Luke 4:7-8), where Satan tries to tempt Jesus into worshiping him, and Jesus replies, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only." The second is John 4:24-26, the very passage McConkie cited above.  It's unambiguously about Divine worship, and the word used for worship there is the same proskyneō used in all the other examples. Third is Acts 10:25-26.  Cornelius falls down to worship Peter, and Peter says, "Stand up, I am only a man myself."  And fourth is Revelation 19:10, in which John fell at the angels' feet to worship him, only to be immediately stopped, and told to "worship God" instead -- the same thing happens against in Revelation 22:8-9, with the same correction. These last examples are the most important to contrast with how Jesus responds to the exact same situation: a person falling down in worship before Him.  Here, however, it suffices to show that when the term is used, whether regarding God, Satan, the angel, or Peter, it's almost always used to mean Divine worship (even when such worship is inappropriate, as with the latter three).  Given that, let's see how the term is used about people's encounters with Jesus, and how He responds.
II. Worshiping Jesus in the Bible
With one exception, I'm going to restrict myself to those times where proskyneō is used: the exception will be John 20:28, and I'll explain its importance when we get there.  The number of times we hear of Jesus being worshiped in the Bible is staggering.

First, there's the Magi in Matthew 2.  They come to Herod, and ask, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2). Herod responds in part by asking them, "As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him" (Mt. 2:8). When the Magi do find Jesus, we hear that "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him" (Mt. 2:11). 

This strikes me as one of the strongest proofs of Jesus' Divinity, since the Bible mentions this event favorably (other than Herod's role, obviously).  Some people disagree - Barnes' lists it as a non-religious use of proskyneō, arguing that the Magi weren't aware of Jesus' Divinity, and thought of Him merely as a King.  I see nothing in the text which requires (or even supports) that conclusion.  Just because the Magi weren't Jews doesn't mean they couldn't have understood the Divinity of Christ: after all, we hear of God communicating to them in a dream in Matthew 2:12. Instead, we see three gifts: gold (a gift for a King), frankincense (a gift for God, and for a Priest), and myrrh (a gift for a Man who is going to die). I discuss this in greater depth here, about how Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60:1-6 provide the Messianic context for these gifts, and how these show the Messiah to be God Himself. 

Besides the Magi, there are plenty of examples.  A leper worships Christ in Matthew 8:2, and "a certain ruler" does the same in Matthew 9:18, as does the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:25, as well as the mother of James and John in Matthew 20:20.  In not one of these cases does Jesus rebuke them for worshiping Him.  Likewise, in Mark 5:6-7, we hear of the man possessed by the demon Legion that "when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,and cried with a loud voice, and said, 'What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. '"  The demon, if not the man, recognizes the presence of God and trembles, which is exactly what James 2:19 says they do.

In John 9:35-39, Jesus is speaking to a man He healed of blindness:

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
"Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."
Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.
Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."
Jesus not only doesn't stop the man from worshiping Him, He seems to be suggesting that the man is doing so because his eyes have been opened, spiritually; that if we weren't blind, we'd all do the same.

In Matthew 14:33, after Jesus walks on water, "those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'" This term was understood as a Divine title, unique to Christ, and John 10:33, 36 uses the term "Son of God" and "God" interchangeably.  Msgr. Ronald Knox makes the case for that here.  But even if the terms proskyneō and "Son of God" don't require the sense of Divine worship, isn't that the most logical understanding?  John apparently mistook the angel in Revelation for God after a far smaller demonstration of spiritual power, and after having spent years in the service of Our Lord.  So even if Jesus weren't God, wouldn't we expect the Apostles to want to worship Him after having seen Him walk on water?

On Easter morning, the Marys were at the Tomb of Christ.  Hurrying back to tell the Apostles that the Tomb was empty, Jesus suddenly appeared to them, at which point they "came to him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him" (Matthew 28:9). McConkie notes in his speech that Jesus doesn't let the women cling to Him, because He's not yet been to His Father (there's debate over why this is, but that's tangential), but ignores that Jesus lets them worship Him. Even more telling, the Apostles went out to see Jesus, and "When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted" (Mt. 28:17).  That sounds a lot like Divine worship.  It's supported by John 20:28.  When Thomas touches Jesus' hands and sides, and realizes it's really Him, he cries out, "my Lord, my God!"

Let's consider all of the above examples.  Let's concede up front that it's possible that in some of those cases, what's meant by proskyneō isn't Divine worship. But is it really conceivable that none of these examples involve people worshiping Christ, even when it seems so blatant from context that's what's going on?  We're to believe that Peter's doing miracles in the name of Christ was so stunning that Cornelius wanted to worship him, and that John was so blown away that he nearly worshiped an angel twice, but that Jesus driving out demons, healing the blind (intended as a testament to His own power and purpose: see John 9:5-6), walking on water, rising from the dead, and miraculously appearing didn't cause any of the above people to think that Jesus was God? That all of those references to them worshiping Him were just poorly chosen words, even though every application of proskyneō to other people in the New Testament (except Rev. 3:9, discussed above) did mean Divine worship?  This seems like special pleading: "proskyneō almost always means Divine worship... unless it's applied to the Son of God.  Then it just means honor."

No, an honest and fair reading of these passages requires us to admit that in at least some of the cases, what's being described as worship is worship.   This proves only that some people took Jesus for God -- but that's no more than could be said for Peter or the angel.  But what's different is Jesus' reaction.  Unlike Peter and the angel, He doesn't immediately stop them.  He seems, in fact, to encourage this.  He does miracles for the folks worshiping Him (e.g., Mt. 8:3; 9:23-35; 15:28); He ascribes the formerly blind man's worship of Him as evidence of his new spiritual sight (Jn. 9:39); after the women at the Tomb worship Him, He sends them to go and "tell My brothers" to have them meet Him at Galilee (Mt. 28:10), which leads to the Apostles worshiping Him as well (Mt. 28:16-18).  So Jesus is worshiped, and unlike Peter and the angel, He permits it, and even seems to encourage it.  This is either a great sin, a violation of His own words in Matthew 4:10, or evidence of His Divinity.

It's also worth noting that the earliest Christians clearly treated Christ as God, and as worthy of worship.  In the Didache, for example, it says in Chapter 9 (one of the oldest sections, a chapter almost certainly older than at least parts of the New Testament):
But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: "In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations." 
In the previous chapter, it says to pray the Our Father, "as the Lord commanded in His Gospel."  So "the Lord" includes Christ.  And it's the Lord to whom we're offering Sacrifice.  It's applying to the Eucharist the words of Malachi 1:11-12 (v. 11 is quoted, by v. 12 is directly on point for the subject of proper preparation for the Eucharist).  Those words are said in Malachi by "the Lord Almighty" or "the Lord of Hosts," Jehovah.  He's declaring that there are to be sacrifices to Him.  Now, Catholics understand Jehovah as the Trinity, and we understand the Pure Sacrifice in Malachi to be the Eucharist: offering the Son to the Father - an offering of God to God. But Mormons understand Jehovah to be only Christ.  If this is the case, Christ is demanding the sort of Sacrifice appropriate only to worship, as both Malachi 1 and the Didache attest.  Under either interpretation, Christ is worthy of worship (even if, in the Catholic interpretation, He's not the One who the Sacrifice to whom this particular Sacrifice is offered.  This conclusion is also supported by even the most ancient of liturgies: the followers of Christ clearly believed Him to be God, and worthy of worship.
III. The Best Evidence

We haven't yet gotten to the best and clearest evidence: the Book of Hebrews.  Hebrews 1 is comparing Jesus with angels, and showing Jesus' superiority from the Old Testament:
For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father" [Psalm 2:7]? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son" [2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13]? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." [Deut. 32:43, Greek version]

In speaking of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire" [Psalm 104:4]. But about the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." [Psalm 45:6,7] He also says, "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end" [Psalm 102:25-27].

To which of the angels did God ever say, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" [Psalm 110:1]? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Let's key in on just one part of this passage.  Hebrews 1:6 doesn't beat around the bush about the fact that Christ is worthy of worship:
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
"Let all God's angels worship him."
The quote is from the Greek version of Deuteronomy 32:43.  It's part of an awesome hymn to the power of God.  I suggest you read all of Deuteronomy 32:1-43 (the NIV has footnotes showing where the Greek version differs from the Masoretic text).  This is no mere homage, but straight-up Divine worship.  In Deut 32:39, Jehovah (who Mormons acknowledge as Christ) says:
"See now that I Myself AM HE! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand."
In the Hebrew, it's Jehovah declaring Himself as the one true God, Elohim (something Mormonism denies). It's in response to this that we're told to rejoice, and the angels are told to worship Him. So the hymn is about worshiping the One True God, and Hebrews 1:6 is clearly applying the chapter to Christ.  There's no way to sever v. 43 from the rest of the hymn; but even if you could, the verse Hebrews is quoting is expressly about Divine worship by angels, and Hebrews is expressly applying it to the Firstborn of God, who we know to be Christ both from the context of Hebrews 1, and from plenty of other Biblical evidence (like Revelation 1:5, Colossians 1:15-18, and the prophetic Zechariah 12:10).  Finally, note that Hebrews 1 shows God the Father Himself as presenting God the Son as worthy of worship. 
IV. Conclusion
This really leaves us only with three options:
  1. Nobody in the Bible worshiped Jesus Christ. That is, nobody even mistakenly worshiped Him. To believe this, you'd have to interpret proskyneō in the least plausible manner, repeatedly.  You'd also have to ignore both what we know of human nature, and what the Bible presents of it: namely, that at the sight of Divine power, folks often understand the messenger to be God Himself (again, Peter and the angel stand as NT evidence). You'd have to ignore all the other historical evidence which presents Christ as One worthy of worship.  Or, accepting that the students of the Apostles believed Christ to be worthy of worship, argue that the Apostles were against this practice, and proceeded to combat it by writing Gospel accounts of His life full of what appears to a reasonable observer to be Divine claims, and encouraged Divine worship. Of course, even if you were willing to go through all the gymnastics, you'd still be left with a glaring problem.  Hebrews 1 shows God the Father as presenting Jesus as worthy of worship, and instructs the angels to worship Him.  This can't be "Divine investiture," since the angels already enjoy the presence of God the Father directly.  Turning their worship towards the Son makes no sense unless the Son is worthy of it by His own right.

  2. People worshiped Christ in the Bible, but shouldn't have.  This view is obviously untenable since Christ permitting and encouraging worship would have been gravely sinful, even by His own teachings, if He's not God (Matthew 4:10).  And again, it still doesn't explain why God the Father would demand worship of the Son in Hebrews 1:6.

  3. People rightly worshiped Christ in the Bible.  This view easily accounts for all of the evidence, and there's no gymnastics required.  God the Son points to His Father as worthy of worship, as McConkie notes, in John 4:25–26.  But God the Father points to His Son as worthy of worship in Hebrews 1:6.  It's the perfect Love and humility of God: each member of the Godhead points towards the others.  Each are worthy of our worship, and worthy of the worship of the angelic hosts.  This is, of course, the Catholic view.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Show Me the Text!

This solution is as simple as it is elegant: lots of theologically liberal and even heretical Catholics claim that they're acting in accord with the "Spirit of Vatican II," and that somehow Vatican II demands this sort of new theology.  David Mills offers a simple solution in First Things:
Catholics faced with an invocation of Vatican II, or the Spirit of Vatican II, or the Vision of Vatican II, or almost any phrase that includes the words “Vatican II” but does not include the words “documents of,” should simply say “Show me the text,” and keep asking it until they get an answer. They have to keep repeating it with the calm intensity of a lawyer asking the defendant the question that will convict him if he answers.
To prove this, Mills discusses a recent example from real life, where the head of Boston College's Theology Department made a number of, frankly, bizarre theological assertions without any possible support.  It's become a bit of a joke within Catholic circles because this self-inflated professor calls Pope Benedict an Austrian (in an attempt to argue that this is the reason the pope cares about Sacred Tradition, because Austrians are a nostalgic people), perhaps suggesting just how familiar he is with the real world of Catholicism (since, of course, Benedict isn't even Austrian).

 Anyways, this professor, is one Fr. Massa, S.J. (of course), and he's the author, I kid you not, of the self-important book, The American Catholic Revolution: How the '60s Changed the Church Forever.  My hunch, without reading the book, is that Fr. Massa's grasp of the shifting dynamics and loyalties within the Church is as keen as his geography.  In any case, the precise area that Mills uses his "Show me the text" argument isn't Massa's geography, or his nostalgia towards the 1960s as the Catholic decade par excellence.  Rather, it's his disturbing theology:

A great majority of Catholics (once) thought of the church as outside of time altogether -- that what they did on Sunday is what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and early Christians did in the catacombs. Vatican II attacked this notion of the church as providing a timeless set of answers to life's questions about meaning. 
This second statement is just patently false.  Massa is claiming that Vatican II attacked a notion it never attacked.  In fact, as Mills shows in the First Things article, Massa is claiming that Vatican II attacked a notion it explicitly endorsed.  It's Massa, not faithful Catholics, who's on the wrong side of Vatican II.  Let me repeat something in case it was missed: Fr. Massa, who can't seem to speak intelligently (or at least, accurately) on either the pope or the Second Vatican Council, is the Dean of Theology at Boston College.

The Bizarre Politics of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The politics of Don't Ask, Don't Tell have been downright bizarre lately.  It's pitted Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid against gay rights groups, and pitted the Obama Administration against a Republican group in California... and not on the the side you think.

I. Reid v. Gay Rights Groups
As background, the Senate Republicans were filibustering the attempt to repeal DADT.  This is one of those rare times that a filibuster makes sense for reasons unrelated to politics. The Pentagon is currently examining how the issue would affect troop morale and readiness.  Seeing as we're currently waging two wars, performing social experiments on the military at this point in time seems loony, particularly since we don't know how things will turn out.  After all, would we rather have a politically correct military, or the most effective military possible?  I know that racial integration was done by Truman through the military, but that was during peacetime - and not by accident.  Truman realized that the social benefit of an integrated military was a benefit which wasn't as urgent as stopping the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese.  If the Pentagon concludes that there's a real risk that allowing openly gay servicemen and women in combat zones will decrease unit cohesion and morale, leading to more lost U.S., Afghan, and Iraqi lives, isn't that something Congress should want to know about before voting?


But the Republicans being against repeal wasn't surprising.  What was surprising is that Harry Reid seems to have purposely set the bill up to fail, so that he could use the "no" votes to paint Republicans as bigots.  As bad as playing politics with these important issues is, it's worse, in that this was all part of the National Defense Appropriations Act, meaning that Reid is potentially endangering the well-being of our troops abroad, just so he can make Republicans cast an unpopular vote.  Box Turtle Bulletin, a gay blog which has been following the politics closely, makes the case here

In the days leading up to today’s vote, Reid announced that he would allow a vote on only three amendments to the appropriations bill. One proposed amendment, which would have removed the DADT repeal language from the bill, would almost certainly not have garnered the sixty votes needed pass muster. A second proposed amendment, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who served in the U.S. military or who graduate from college, also likely would have failed due to Republican opposition and discomfort among some Democrats. A third proposed amendment would have placed limits on Senators being able to place holds on nominations.
Those were the only amendments that Reid would allow to come up for a vote, all of which were chosen by Reid for the political advantage they would give the Democrats in tough mid-term election campaigns. His gamble wasn’t really a gamble at all. In fact, his gambit was a win-win for Democrats, at least in how they see their strategy unfolding. If Republicans upheld the filibuster, then Reid could go home and say that it was the Republicans who blocked DADT’s repeal and immigration reform. If the Dems had prevailed on the filibuster, then Reid would have been able to get the Republican caucus on record on these two issues ahead of the November elections. Either way, what Reid actually sought to accomplish was political gamesmanship, not Senatorial statesmanship.
The Republican caucus insisted that they be allowed to bring proposed amendments up for a vote as well, a reasonable demand that in ordinary times would not have raised an eyebrow. But these are not ordinary times. [...] The sixty votes needed to break the filibuster had already been lined up, but that was before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to limit debates and votes on amendments.
So the bill on the Senate floor was the National Defense Appropriations Act, and it had a whole string of political hot-potatoes either within the original bill, or as amendments: repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; the failed DREAM Act; and legislation that would permit abortions in military hospitals (this last provision shows just how pro-life Senate Dems like Reid and Casey really are).  The Senate Democrats, lead by Harry Reid, pushed to end the filibuster in order to force a vote. Ultimately, the two Democrats from Arkansas voted with every Republican Senator (and Harry Reid) against ending filibuster.  Reid & co. had purposely made both the substance of the bill and the process of debating the bill as noxious as possible for Republicans (and inadvertently, moderate Democrats) to force them to vote in a way that can be labeled "obstructionist" this fall.  It was supposed to make the Senate Republicans look anti-gay and anti-women, but as the coverage above demonstrates, politically observant gays realize they got played by the Dems: the same article quoted the head of one of the anti-DADT groups publicly bemoaning Reid's tactics.

II. Obama v. Republicans ... but Backwards
So the legislative process didn't produce the liberal outcome desired by gay rights groups.  Time to once again turn the court into a super-legislature, it seems!  And this time, there's a perhaps unlikely culprit: the Log Cabin Republicans.  If you're not familiar, LCR is a gay Republican group (presumably, fiscally conservative) who filed suit in California to have DADT declared unconstitutional.  This necessarily presupposes first that there's a constitutional right within the military to talk about your sexual preferences, a right I'm absolutely not convinced exists (anymore than such a right exists in the workplace), and second, that this never-before-discovered constitutional right trumps whatever military considerations the military may be dealing with. 

The federal District Court judge, when prodded, suddenly discovered this right as well.  This sort of judicial overstepping is irksome anytime, but it's particularly unseemly in times like this.  Congress was actively considering whether to keep or repeal DADT, and the courts are going to step in and legislate for them?  It's this sort of thing that makes people distrust the impartiality of the judiciary, and I really think it's damaging to the idea of a neutral arbiter. It's all the worse in that this right is, of course, a new-found Constitutional right, so Congress can't do anything about it short of a Constitutional amendment.  After ruling, she asked the Log Cabin Republicans what they wanted the injunction to say, and they proposed language immediately forbidding the military from enforcing DADT, presumably pending the outcome of whatever appeals are being filed. 

Opposition to this injunction came from an unlikely corner:
The Obama administration objected Thursday to immediately ending the military's ban on openly gay service members, saying that an injunction to stop the "don't ask, don't tell" policy might harm military readiness at a time of war. [...] The Justice Department, in its response, said any injunction should be limited to members of the Log Cabin Republicans. Noting that Congress and the administration "are actively examining" the issue, it urged the judge to wait until the Pentagon completes a study on how to integrate gay men and lesbians into the ranks. 
I absolutely agree with the logic of their opposition: whatever the merits of DADT may be, this isn't the time or manner in which to plow ahead.  Of course, this was the exact logic the Senate Republicans relied upon for why the filibuster was important.  The above article gives the last word to "gay rights groups," by which the mean the group litigating the case:
Gay rights groups expressed dismay at the legal filing. "We are extremely disappointed with the Obama administration,'' said Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper. "Many times on the campaign trail, President Obama said he would support the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell.' Now that it's time to step up to the plate, he isn't even in the ballpark." 
The strange combination of gay rights, military policy, midterm politics, legislative political tricks, judicial overstepping (at the request of a Republican group), has produced some bizarre political maneuvering.  It'll be interesting to see how this plays out over the next six weeks: whether gay groups temper their support for the Democrats, after these two bruisers.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Behold, I Make All Things New

Today's first reading comes from Ecclesiastes.  There's some debate over how to understand the sayings of Qoheleth, but I think the correct understanding is that the Book explores the futility of life without God: that even if you try and "live life to the fullest," without God, that's ultimately a pretty empty thing.  As a result, the Book is pretty bleak.

We entered the world in a state of wonder.  Watch a baby sometime, and you'll see what I mean.  They have a sense of awe that we've mostly lost.  They realize that the world is an amazing thing.  Yet so many of us have lost this sense of wonder, and long for more than this world offers, or can offer. Here's Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, today's first reading:
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun? One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays. The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises. Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north, the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds. All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full. To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going. All speech is labored; there is nothing one can say. The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor is the ear satisfied with hearing. What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, "See, this is new!" has already existed in the ages that preceded us. There is no remembrance of the men of old; nor of those to come will there be any remembrance among those who come after them.
At Mass, the priest compared this view of the world with a merry-go-round.  We have our ups and downs, but find ourselves going through the same motions time after time.  We end up saying and doing the same things over and over to no avail.  What once seemed novel (and only because of our ignorance of our history, as Qoheleth reminds us) now seems old-hat.  This is, I fear, an accurate statement of the world in which we live.  The world has grown bored of its own excesses. In a world in which the envelope is daily pushed, even sin seems dull.

The truth is, we're made for more than this. Just as the eye is not satisfied with seeing nor is the ear satisfied with hearing, we feel in our souls we're called to more than we're capable of obtaining on our own here on Earth. The Bible has a ready answer for this hunger: 1 Corinthians 2:9 quotes Isaiah 64:4 as: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him." Our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our souls long for more, and God promises the faithful that we'll reach that fulfillment someday.  Today's Responsorial Psalm also answers the despair Qoheleth describes.  The refrain is "In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge."  Instead of the constant ups and down and cycles of the world, there's something Someone stable to Whom we can cling.

But the surest and the best hope comes from today's Gospel.  It's a short one, from Luke 9:7-9:
Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, "John has been raised from the dead"; others were saying, "Elijah has appeared"; still others, "One of the ancient prophets has arisen." But Herod said, "John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?" And he kept trying to see him.
It's easy to overlook the parallel to the first Reading.  It is, in many ways, the beginning of the answer.  Herod hears of Jesus, and yet look at how he hears of Him: as another John the Baptist, as another Elijah, or as another of the ancient prophets.  That's a pretty vivid image of the pessimism Qoheleth describes: "What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, 'See, this is new!' has already existed in the ages that preceded us."  The people are expecting simply another turn around the senseless Merry-Go-Round, and are skeptical that Jesus is really anything more than the same thing they've been used to.

But here's the thing: the people are wrong, and even Herod seems to suspect this.  Isaiah 43:19 foretold that God Himself would break this dreary cycle: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert, and streams in the wasteland." Christ came and broke the terrible cycle, and the people were shocked.  Just listen to the crowd's stunned reaction to Jesus in Mark 1:27: "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority!"  This culminates in His Passion, and on the night before He Died, He created a New Covenant in His Blood at the Eucharist, as Jeremiah 31:31 foretold (Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25).  The creation of the New Covenant is completed with Christ shedding this Blood on the Cross, as Hebrews 9:15 tells us. This New Covenant isn't just novel: it's superior to the Old, as Hebrews 8 explains (see particularly v. 7 and 13). In creating the New Covenant, He offers us a new way (Romans 7:6), and the ability to become a new creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).  All of this is to be brought to completion at the Second Coming, with the creation of "a new heaven and a new earth," (Revelation 21:1), at which time the Lord declares: "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5). It's this same Lord who promises a cure to the quiet desperation of life's merry-go-round, who hears the cry of Qoheleth, and the cry of people today, longing for more than a life without Him offers.

P.S.  It's the Feast Day of one of my favorite saints: St. Padre Pio!

The Case for an Ultimate Creator

Seth argues in the comments of my most recent post on Mormonism that:
It is important to keep in mind that Mormonism, unlike Nicene Christianity, does not experience a theological need for the sort of metaphysical unity described by homoousios. We don't posit God as a different species from the rest of us, because - lacking any need for ex nihilo creation - there is no real need to categorize him as a different species. This changes our entire outlook on the scriptures, and yields much different questions and solutions to be asked and solved.

In fact, I would say the real difference between Mormonism and traditional Christianity is our disagreement over the notion of creation ex nihilo.

All other distinctions between our faiths are either superficial, or a matter of degree.

But creation ex nihilo is pretty-much non-negotiable and fundamentally critical.
He and I disagree on whether this is the only non-superficial distinction between Mormonism and Catholicism, but he's absolutely right that this one's a biggie. In fact, it's even bigger than Seth mentions: if Catholics are right about creation ex nihilo, atheists and virtually all non-Abrahamic faiths have been disproven as well, for reasons I'll address below.

If you're not familiar with the term, creation ex nihilo refers to the idea that God created the universe from nothing. That is, He didn't simply reorganize the pieces: He made the pieces from scratch. It's "creation from nothing," plain and simple (the opposite term is "creation ex material," creating from existing materials). Anyways, here are some of the ways we can know that Creation ex nihilo is correct:
I. Time Requires a Beginning
This is one of the most confusing concepts, so I'll do my best to explain it. To say that time has no beginning sounds sensible: everything here was always here, right? But it's not workable. Saying time (or space, or matter) always existed is like saying that the clock started running at "infinity B.C.," if you will. So ask yourself this: how long would it take to get from infinity B.C. to 2010 A.D.? The answer seems like it would be "infinity years," which is itself nonsensical. But actually, the answer is that it simply can't be done. You cannot start from negative infinity and get to any point. But frankly, either way you think of it -- that you can't start from negative infinity, or moving from infinity B.C. to any other point in time takes an infinite number of years -- leads to the same conclusion.

It's possible for a thing to begin and not have an ending. It's not possible for a thing to not have a beginning. Other mental images may be helpful in understanding what's being said here. The image of a bottomless well serves the purpose here. If bottomless wells existed, you could fall down them. There's a clear beginning (the top of the well), simply without a middle or an end. You could even measure the distance you'd traveled -- 200 feet in, a million miles in, whatever. You'd be falling forever, but you had to start falling at some point. Now consider this: how long would it take you to climb out of the bottom of a bottomless well? You can't, obviously. You couldn't begin to climb from the bottom, because there is no bottom. But even if you somehow could climb up from the bottom (which, again, you can't), how long before you ever got out of the well? An infinite number of years: it could never be done. But the same holds true for any other point on the well: you couldn't get to a million miles from the top, either, or any other point.*

So you can't start from the bottom of a bottomless well and count forward. Time is like that well. The ex nihilo view of time is like falling down the bottomless well. There's a definite beginning to time (with the moment of Creation), and we can base our time off of that. Time might continue forever, just as you can fall down the well, but it has a definite starting place. Rejecting this -- rejecting a starting place for time -- and you run into the impossible problem of climbing up a bottomless well. If you understand this concept, it knocks out a lot of creation-theories. It knocks out the idea of matter always existing, a fallacy embraced by Mormonism, most atheists, and a variety of others.

* But, Wait...
Now, there's one semi-caveat. In trying to imagine this, you might imagine yourself simply waking up a set distance down the well and climbing (or falling) from there. If you woke up 20 feet into the bottomless well, clinging to the sides, you could climb up, obviously -- the same way you could theoretically climb out of a 20-foot well. You could imagine being in a tunnel with no beginning or end. But this is what's called an origin point. I don't want to get off-track, so just realize that this doesn't contradict anything I said above. It's still a set starting point -- for example, the way that 0 is the origin point for both positive and negative numbers. And that starting point is a beginning.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Msgr. Ronald Knox on St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways

Thomas Aquinas' five ways of proving God exists, called the Quinque Viae (which just means "Five Ways') serves as some of the finest theology ever penned by man. His original explanation can be found here, and is worth the read. If you're not familiar with Aquinas' style in the Summa, he starts by raising the best arguments against the Catholic position, then says "On the Contrary," explains the Catholic position, and then responds to each of the arguments against.

Some people enjoy Aquinas, while others find him hard to read. If you don't want to read the original, or just want to read the same five ways, explained in more modern terms, I suggest Msgr. Ronald Knox. This is from Chapter 4 of Belief of Catholics:

  1. In all motion, or rather, as we should say, in all change, you can separate two elements, active and passive, that which is changed and that which changes it. But, in our experience, the agent in such change is not self-determined, but determined in its turn by some higher agent. Can this process go on ad infinitum? No, for an infinite series of agents, none of them self-determined, would not give us the finality which thought demands; there must be, at the beginning of the series, however long, an Agent who is self-determined, who is the ultimate Agent in the whole cycle of changes that proceeds from him.

  2. Similarly, in our experience every event is determined by a cause. But that cause in its turn is itself an event determined by a cause. An infinite series of causes would give no explanation of how the causation ever began. There must therefore be an uncaused Cause, which is the ultimate Cause of the whole nexus of events which proceeds from it.

  3. In our experience, we find nothing which exists in its own right; everything depends for its existence on something else. This is plain in the case of the organised individual; for plants, animals, etc., are born, live, and die; that is to say, their existence is only contingent, not necessary-- it depends on conditions outside itself. Now, although the whole sum of matter does not, in our experience, increase or diminish, we cannot think of it as existing necessarily-- it is just there. Its existence, then, must depend on something outside itself--something which exists necessarily, of its own right. That Something we call God.

  4. In our experience, there are various degrees of natural perfection. But the existence of the good and the better implies the existence of a Best; for (according to Plato's system of thought) this Best is itself the cause and the explanation of all good. But this Best is not found in our earthly experience, therefore it must lie beyond our earthly experience; and it is this Best which we call God.

  5. Everywhere in Nature we observe the effects of order and system. If blind chance ruled everything, this prevalence of order would be inexplicable; it would be a stupendous coincidence. Order can only be conceived as the expression of a Mind; and, though our mind appreciates the existence of order in the world, it is not our mind which has introduced it there. There must therefore exist outside our experience, a Mind of which this order is the expression; and that Mind we call God.
Knox then explains:

It is often objected that this analysis of the facts is unnecessarily itemised; it repeats the same argument under different forms. For the purposes of the plain man, it may perhaps be admitted that the first three of these arguments are not readily distinguishable. He apprehends God in his Creation, first as all-powerful and the source of all power (i., ii., and iii.); then as all-good and the source of all goodness (iv.); then as all-wise and the source of all wisdom (v.). For all the changes that have swept over Europe since the twelfth century, he has not been bullied out of his conviction.

Understand these five arguments, and what they prove, and you're well on the way to making the intellectual case for God.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Two Great Quotes from the Pope's UK Trip

Pope Benedict brought his A-game to the United Kingdom, and the results have just been amazing. Virtually every UK news report, including ones from sources typically hostile to the Church, shows that the Brits have been wowed. The enemies of the pope may have ironically done him a real service here, by setting the bar so laughably low by misrepresenting him so absurdly. Up until this point, I think it's fair to say that most Brits had never heard or read anything from the pope directly, instead relying upon the misrepresented sound bites and outright fabrications in the British press. Instead of the raving lunatic they'd heard about, the British public was treated to a loving and humane man with transparent genius and a real grasp on the issues facing British society. For all but the most closed-minded, the encounter was profound.

I'll probably post more on the trip later this week, particularly as regards the laity (one British tabloid dubbed Benedict "The People's Pope" because of his emphatic call for an empowered laity), but here's the stuff that most stuck with me:
(1) Starting Out on the Right Foot
Benedict wasted no time getting to the heart of things. He was asked during a Q&A on the flight over what the Catholic Church could do to improve its public image. His impromptu response was one that should have every Christian on their feet applauding:

I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths and great forces of love, reconciling love that appeared in this figure and that always comes from the presence of Jesus Christ.

The more I've read on the sex abuse scandal, the more I wish that this point was understood by more Catholic bishops. The one thread which ties the worst bishops together, from theological conservatives like Law to theological liberals like Mahony, is a near-obsession with the media, and with doing the popular thing. Admitting that they had a problem with sexual predator priests would have been bad PR. Folks like Benedict get that we need less obsession with PR, and more obsession with Jesus Christ. Get that right, and the rest falls into place.
(2) The Third World Needs to Be Considered "Too Big To Fail'
Pope Benedict's speech at Westminster was historical. For starters, the location was auspicious. This is where the Church used to do coronations, up until Henry VIII. And it's where St. Thomas More was condemned to die for obeying God rather than King. The Bishop of Rome wasn't welcome on British soil for centuries after Henry, but nowhere was this more true than Westminster. And yet, here we find the pope delivering a speech to the assembled British audience, at the request of the government. Benedict didn't ignore the elephant in the room, either: he, in fact, praised St. Thomas More in his speech, rightly holding him up as a model for civic participation. The best part of the speech, in my opinion, was this passage, which came as a real surprise:
In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed "too big to fail". Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly "too big to fail".
I had to go back and re-read that part. It's just great, and nothing I can add could make it any better. Luke 12:34 says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Our treasure is in the pockets of General Motors, not in the bellies of the starving poor, and Benedict is right to rebuke us for these warped priorities. Just consider what even a fraction of the stimulus could have done for the third-world.

The entire Westminster speech is worth the read, and I linked to the full text above. Just as John Paul II was a savant on the Theology of the Body, Benedict understands the proper relationship between liberal democracy and religion better than perhaps anyone I've read. One of the insights he made was that a democracy's morality can't simply be the majority rule. Otherwise, if a white majority decides it wants to deprive civil rights from a black minority, who can stop them? No, a healthy democracy must be rooted in a morality distinct from the whims of the masses. The speech explains with an intense clarity why religion in the public square is so vitally important to a healthy society. It's the sort of speech which I bet left Fr. Richard John Neuhaus smiling.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is the Mormon Godhead Biblical?

Murdock Wallis has three responses to my post on the Trinity from last week. Helpfully, he divides them up thematically, so I'll respond to them individually. Here's his first:
The Godhead

In the LDS handbook “True to the Faith”, which can be read online at www.lds.org for any readers who would like to see it, gives the following explanation:
The first article of faith states, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” These three beings make up the Godhead. They preside over this world and all other creations of our Father in Heaven.

The true doctrine of the Godhead was lost in the apostasy that followed the Savior’s mortal ministry and the deaths of His Apostles. This doctrine began to be restored when 14-year-old Joseph Smith received his First Vision (see Joseph Smith—History 1:17). From the Prophet’s account of the First Vision and from his other teachings, we know that the members of the Godhead are three separate beings. The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit (see D&C 130:22).

Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass Heavenly Father’s divine plan of salvation.
The late Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s book "Mormon Doctrine", which is not a publication of the Church, but has sold millions of copies over 52 years and is enormously influential, includes the following in its discussion of the Godhead:
"Though each God in the Godhead is a personage separate and distinct from each of the others, yet they are "one God" (Testimony of Three Witnesses in Book of Mormon), meaning that they are united as one in the attributes of perfection. For instance, each has the fulness of truth, knowledge, charity, power, justice, judgment, mercy, and faith. Accordingly they all think, act, speak, and are alike in all things; and yet they are three separate and distinct entities. Each occupies space and is and can be in but one place at one time, but each has power and influence that is everywhere present. The oneness of the Gods is the same unity that should exist among the saints. (John 17; 3 Ne. 28:10-11)"
I am asking only whether the Bible verses you have cited as supporting the doctrine of the Trinity are consistent with the Godhead as described by the Church and Elder McConkie. My question does not raise a dispute as to whether or not the Bible verses that you have cited support the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, I am not asking whether the Bible verses you cite are consistent with the Godhead alone. I am not asking for the view of the Catholic magisterium as to what these verses actually mean. I am asking only whether, without reference to the Trinity, and understanding that reasonable people can differ, these verses can be read by reasonable people as referring to the Godhead.
Murdock's question was whether "reasonable people can differ" on the interpretation of these verses. That answer's easy: they can, and they do. If a mind as great as St. Augustine's could have been caught up for long in Manicheanism and skepticism, it's fair to say that even the most reasonable people can arrive at the wrong answers sometimes. All of this is why we need an infallible Church, and why we need to be able to easily identify that visible Church. More on that in a bit.

In any case, I think that the real question isn't whether the Mormon view of the Godhead is compatible with the Trinity. It's not, and True to the Faith concedes as much when it claims that “the true doctrine of the Godhead was lost in the apostasy,” and views the Mormon view as the restoration of an accurate understanding of the nature of God. The question then is whether either interpretation is sustainable in light of the Scriptural evidence. Here's why I don't think the Mormon view of the Godhead holds up to scrutiny.
(1) "the members of the Godhead are three separate beings."
If that's the case, Mormonism is polytheistic, period. It may have a gentle polytheism, where the major gods work in harmony, but it's still polytheism. And that creates some serious Biblical problems. For example, in Isaiah 45:18, we hear:

For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: "I am the LORD, and there is no other.

So God is identified in the singular, and He says at the end, "I am the LORD (in Hebrew, Jehovah), and there is no other." Now the He in question is the Trinity in the Catholic view. But in the Mormon view, it must be One of the three Beings speaking. In v. 5, He says plainly, "I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God." In the previous chapter, Isaiah 44:6, Jehovah says, "I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God."

Now, as I understand it, Mormonism today considers Jehovah to be Jesus Christ - True to the Faith says as much on page 87. If that's true, and it's true that Jesus Christ is a separate Being from the Father and the Holy Spirit, then Jesus is declaring in Isaiah 45 that the Father and Holy Spirit aren't God. Obviously, the same problem arises is you understand Jehovah to be exclusively God the Father or God the Holy Spirit.

This problem arises throughout the Old and New Testament: 2 Kings 19:19 declares, "you alone, O Jehovah, are God." 1 Timothy 2:5 declares that there is only One God, as does Romans 3:30. In Deuteronomy 5:9, Jehovah declares Himself a "jealous God" who won't tolerate the worship of any others. In Luke 4:8, Jesus declares, "You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only." And on and on it goes. In numerous verses, we hear the following:
  • There is only one God.
  • This God alone is God.
  • Worship of anything or anyone else as God is displeasing.
For a Catholic, these verses are a bedrock of support for us. We believe Jehovah is the One, Triune God. But these passages, and countless others, are emphatic that there is only One Divine Being, Jehovah. They do, I think, thoroughly discredit the view that there are Three Divine Beings. At the least, I can't think of a way that Jehovah could have been any clearer that He is the only God.

And finally, we arrive at 1 John 4:8, the famous proclamation that "God is Love." Love is necessarily selfless, and involves a Lover pouring Himself out for His Beloved. This is captured in the Trinity quite neatly. The Father loves the Son fully and selflessly; the Son loves the Father fully and selflessly; the bond of Love eternally proceeding from the One to the Other Person of the Trinity forms the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Thus, within God Himself, there are all of the necessary components to be, not just loving, but Love Incarnate. Now, in the Mormon Godhead, we run into serious difficulties. Since each God is a single Person, God cannot be Love. He can love, but He cannot be Love. For the action of loving to be complete, each God must go outside Himself to love -- to love Himself would be self-seeking, contrary to the very nature of Love (1 Corinthians 13:5). Only the Trinity offers God as Love in its complete form: Lover and Beloved, totally selfless.
(2) "The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones"
Obviously, we agree on the Son, Jesus Christ, having a tangible Body. But Christ is expressly declared in Colossians 1:15 to be "the image of the invisible God," because the Father does not have a tangible Body. It was Jesus’ unique calling which called for His being made Man, as Hebrews 2:14-18 explains. 1 Timothy 1:17 and Hebrews 11:27 also describe God the Father as invisible. John 4:24 says of Him, "God is Spirit." God is the maker of all things, including matter. While it isn't beyond the scope of God the Father's power to fashion Himself a Body (obviously), He hasn't done so.
(3) "distinct Beings ... One in purpose"
I've heard this argument before, based upon John 17:20-21, " I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you," and Elder McConkie cites the chapter in support of his similar claim. But this verse is being radically misunderstood regarding the nature of God because it is being misunderstood regarding the relationship of the Church.

Take the example of an engaged couple. They're the kind who get along perfectly, can complete each other's sentences, etc. - you know the type. They're "one in purpose." Then they get married. Genesis 2:24 says that in the marital union, the two become one flesh. Now they're something more than one in purpose, through the power of the sacraments. That's the distinction that you need to understand for John 17 to make sense. Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:27 and the rest describe the Church as "the Body of Christ." It's being much less metaphorical than it seems. Through Baptism we enter into union with Christ. Not a mere union of purpose, where we root for His team, but a genuine indelible unity that can never be undone. In Ephesians 5:25-32, Paul speaks of the Church as the Bride of Christ, and compares Her quite dramatically to the union of a married couple, calling it a "Profound Mystery." This Profound Mystery is something far beyond a simple unity in purpose. In Galatians 2:20, Paul declares:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
So my first point is that the relationship between the Church and Christ isn't a mere unity of purpose. To no one was this more clear than to St. Paul. And he should know: Acts 9:1-5 says that when he set out to persecute the Christians of Damascus, he was stopped on the way by a voice asking:
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?"
When he asked, "Who are you, Lord?" Jesus responded: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" - that is, Jesus identified Himself so completely with His Church that although already Ascended into Heaven, He still considered any persecution of the Church as a direct persecution of Himself.

Now, if the unity between Christ and the Church isn't a mere unity of purpose, then the unity within the Church isn't, either. We're organically connected in a way we don't fully understand, like spokes around the hub of Christ. That's why the Body of Christ image is so potent: we're connected and organized within a single organic Being... and that Being is Christ Himself. The early Christians understood this, and called themselves members of "The Way," a Divine title (John 14:6). And given this, the unity being spoken of in John 17 isn't a mere unity of purpose, either amongst members of the Church or between Members of the Trinity. Rather, it's a bond St. Paul describes as a Profound Mystery (which "unity of purpose" certainly isn't).
(4) "three separate and distinct entities. Each occupies space and is and can be in but one place at one time, "
God is the Creator of all space and time. Specifically, through Jesus Christ "all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him" (Colossians 1:16). To say that God, in His intrinsic Nature, occupies space is to render Him not the Creator. Obviously, this is also the issue with the notion that God the Father has always had a tangible Body. Beyond this, in Matthew 18:20, Jesus promises that "where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." How is this possible, given that His Body is locally present in Heaven - that is, how can Jesus be present between the Ascension and the Second Coming? The answer is that He can be present in other forms, precisely because He's not bound by the limits of humanity. So He's spiritually present at all gatherings in His name, as He says above, and He's really and sacramentally present in the Flesh in the Eucharist, but not in a way requiring His leaving Heaven, as He will at the Second Coming. Both of these forms directly refute the notion that, because He's Bodily Ascended, He cannot be present in other ways.

Likewise, Luke 12:6-7 tells us that God the Father knows the number of hairs on our heads, and has not forgotten a single sparrow in His Creation. Proverbs 15:3 says He sees everything. Both Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 inform us that the normal rules of time don't apply to God. All of this presupposes that God isn't bound by the laws of physics. He, after all, created those laws.
Conclusion
So those are the reasons that I think Scripture positively refutes the notion of the Mormon Godhead. Again, in saying this, I'm not suggesting that Mormons are either intentionally duping themselves or irrational. Simply that even well-meaning, reasonable people can go astray, particularly on a topic so foreign to human experience as the interior nature of God. But foreign though it may be, for a believer, there could hardly be more important questions than: how many Gods am I worshiping? Are they all of equal majesty and authority? Are these the ultimate Gods, or are there Gods higher yet? These questions are answered definitively, and with the weight of the Church, in the Trinity, in a way which accounts for all of the Scriptural evidence. In contrast to this, there are hole in all competing theories, including the Mormon Godhead, as viewed above.