Getting More Out of this Blog

It turns out that Blogger has designed some pretty cool ways you can view this blog (or any Blogger blogs).  Check out:
To turn any Blogger blog into one of these formats, just add: /view/flipcard after the URL (obviously, if you want Mosaic or something, write that instead of Flipcard).  So to see this blog as a timeslide, go to, instead of  Pretty easy! Of them all, I think Mosaic's my favorite, but Sidebar's definitely the most usable.  If I had more images on this blog, it'd look a lot cooler, too.

The other way to get more out of the blog is to subscribe to the comments feed!  I knew you could subscribe to get the posts, but I hadn't realized that you could set it up so the feedback is automatically sent to your RSS or Atom feed reader.  It's not false modesty to say that the comments are one of the best parts of this blog -- lots of people have added valuable insights I never would have picked up on by myself.  Anyways, you should be able to get the Atom feed or RSS feed by adding those two URLs to your feed reader.  By the way, if that doesn't work, let me know.

Edit: Proving my point about how helpful the comments are, Sam Pack Gregory writes:
Also, this might be too widely known to be helpful, but searching on Google like this: 
"site: search term" 
Makes it a lot easier to find where you've talked about certain things than using blogger's internal search function (which makes you wade through the entirety of each post with your

St. Josemaria Escriva on Catholicism and Politics

One of the friends who'd I referenced in yesterday's Catholicism and Politics post sent me along a great homily on the subject by St. Josemaria Escriva, delivered at an October 8, 1967 Mass:
Light is shed upon many aspects of the world in which you live, when you start from these truths. Take your activity as citizens, for instance. A man who knows that the world - and not just the church - is the place where he finds Christ, loves that world. He endeavours to become properly trained, intellectually and professionally. He makes up his own mind, in full freedom, about the problems of the environment in which he moves, and he takes his own decisions in consequence. As the decisions of a Christian, they derive from personal reflection, which strives in all humility to grasp the will of God in both the unimportant and the important events of his life.

But it never occurs to such a Christian to think or say that he was stepping down from the temple into the world to represent the Church, or that his solutions are the Catholic solutions to the problems. That would be completely inadmissible! That would be clericalism, official Catholicism, or whatever you want to call it. In any case, it means doing violence to the very nature of things. What you must do is foster a real lay mentality, which will lead to three conclusions:

- be honourable enough to shoulder your own personal responsibility;

- be Christian enough to respect those brothers in the faith who, in matters of free discussion, propose solutions which differ from yours; and,

- be Catholic enough not to make a tool of our Mother the Church, involving her in human factions.

It is obvious that, in this field as in all others, you would not be able to carry out this programme of sanctifying your everyday life if you did not enjoy all the freedom which proceeds from your dignity as men and women created in the image of God, and which the Church freely recognizes. Personal freedom is essential for the Christian life. But do not forget, my sons, that I always speak of a responsible freedom.

Interpret, then, my words as what they are: a call to exercise your rights every day, and not just in times of emergency. A call to fulfil honourably your commitments as citizens in all fields - in politics and in financial affairs, in university life and in your job - accepting with courage all the consequences of your free decisions and shouldering the personal independence which is yours. A Christian lay outlook of this sort will enable you to flee from all intolerance, from all fanaticism. To put it positively way, it will help you live in peace with all your fellow citizens, and to promote understanding and harmony in the various spheres of social life.
So perhaps the most important thing we can do, as lay Catholics, is recognize those things which are left to conscience, and respect the consciences of others in these areas. Just because someone doesn't agree with you on the flax tax doesn't mean they're a bad person, or even less Catholic than you.

With that in mind, I was heartened to see that the USCCB announced that the "kinetic military action" in Libya "appeared to meet" the just-cause criterion within just war theory (just kinetic military action theory?).  In announcing this, the USCCB noted,  “As pastors and teachers, we have refrained from making definitive judgments because the situation on the ground remains complex and involves many prudential decisions beyond our expertise.”  That nod towards the fact that good Catholics may freely disagree is something we need to carefully preserve.  There's a tendency to want one acceptable Catholic answer for every question, but for many issues, this is just not the case.  Meanwhile, the pope is troubled by the outbreak of violence and threat to civilian populations, calling for peace talks in Libya, while the North African bishops are flatly against the war, because of its effects on the poorest of the poor.

I largely agree with all three. The fact that Qaadafi, Libya's dictator, wanted to massacre his own people was just cause for external intervention, but we must be careful that in intervening we don't end up making life worse for those on the bottom rung through our intervention.  Arming the rebels seems like a particularly short-sighted idea, given that many of them are al Qaeda-affiliated.  We've rightly stopped them from being murdered en masse (at least for now), but if we're not careful, we may end up enabling them to murder Americans and other Libyans.

Catholicism and Politics

The relationship between faith and politics generally, and Catholicism and US elections specifically, is too complex to adequately summarize in a blog post, and I don't pretend to have the expertise necessary to do so. But a 20,000 mile view of the terrain, I might be able to do.  A couple Catholic friends of mine sat down Sunday evening and talked about this relationship, and here's what I walked away with:

Basically, it seems that US Catholics ally with a certain political party based on that party's views on the "Big Issues." To clarify what I mean, imagine two Catholic-friendly candidates running against each other. Both of these candidates are solidly pro-life, neither want to force healthcare workers to assist in abortions against their will, neither support torture, etc.  Outside of the issues of abortion and torture, though, the two candidates resemble the modern Democratic and Republican parties.  This sort of election would require each of us to form some real opinion on what we thought the government's role ought to be in education, or healthcare, or labor rights, or foreign aid, etc.  There would be no "wrong" vote, but it would take some thoughtful contemplation over whose approach was better.

We don't live in that society.  Instead, we've spent years living in a society in which faithful Catholics were allied with only one party.  In the past, this meant that we were Democratic, because the Republicans were fiercely anti-Catholic and against Catholic immigration.  Remember the accusation that the Democratic Party was the party of "Rum, Rebellion, and Romanism" back in 1884.  Since Republicans didn't want us (and even hated and feared us) we were Democrats.  The DNC was unafraid to nominate a Catholic, Al Smith, to run for president against Hoover in 1928.  And in 1960, Kennedy ran and won, winning a now-shocking 80% of Catholic votes.  For about a century, the Democratic Party had been the party of choice for Catholics

These days, the opposite is true.  We're Republicans, because of abortion. For much of our history, it's been hard for Catholics to support one of the two major parties, because they were on the wrong side of a Big Issue. The unfortunate consequence of this, though, is that we tend to fall in lock-step with the party of choice on the "small issues." That is, on those areas where the right choice is a prudential judgment, our consciences are often shaped by our favored political party. There are a lot of reasons for this:

  1. The small issues don't matter -- To use the extreme example, if you're a German voter in the 1930s, you're not basing your ballot for or against Hitler off of your feelings on his proposed Autobahn.  If one of the two candidates supports the legalized killing of infants, his ideas about tax reform don't matter. You're voting for the one who doesn't support legalized killing.  
  2. Since the small issues don't matter, we don't think about them -- We generally don't have a very well thought-out position on the prudential judgments of the day, even on the ones we think are very important.  A lot of American Catholics are troubled by the state of the healthcare system, by the crisis of poverty here and abroad, and so on.  But because we never have to stand in a voting booth and choose based on that issue, we give practical solutions to the problem less thought.
  3. We stop trusting the other side -- Quite sanely, if Candidate (or Party) X either is pro-legalized killing, or perhaps worse, is "personally opposed" to killing children, but doesn't have the good sense to think it should be outlawed, we find that Candidate untrustworthy.  Perhaps they're evil, or stupid, or terribly naive; perhaps they just have a "different" (stupid, evil, or naive) system of morality.  At the very least, we can say that their judgment is terribly flawed on the major issues.  As a result, since this Candidate or Political Party isn't trustworthy on the big things, we're unlikely to trust them on the small one.  It makes sense: it's the converse of what Matthew 25:23: "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things."  From a Catholic perspective, if someone gets the question of abortion so radically wrong, there's no reason to think he's any better on the question of, say, tort reform.
  4. As a result, we trust our favored party -- Because we haven't given the small issues a whole lot of thought (generally speaking), our default position is to trust the party which is trustworthy on big things to be trustworthy on small things.  So when the DNC was the only party for Catholics, we tended to take Democratic views on issues from immigration to labor rights to caring for the poor -- that is, we didn't just agree that those issues were important, but we trusted the Democrats to be the party to fix them. Faithful Catholics today tend to agree with the Republican party on many of these same issues, disagreeing with their forebears.  The Church's stance hasn't changed.  Instead, the Catholic-friendly party has.
All of this makes is quite rational behavior, quite frankly.  Human beings are communal and tribal by nature, and so we want a party we can trust. In the American context today, is ridiculously simple.  The Democratic Party supports the legalization of the killing of infants.  When push came to shove, even many of the allegedly "pro-life" elected members of the party sold out and voted for a healthcare plan that even they believed funded abortion.  So faithful Catholics tend to vote Republican (or, in a few cases, third-party) at the polling booth.  As bad as the Republican Party can be, it's not even a close call.  

But it's also problematic:  
  1. This can cause us to tune-out of the political issues of the day, or engage in them in a strictly partisan manner.  Given how stark the abortion divide is, it's easy to paint a Republicans Good / Democrats Bad narrative that's just not accurate.
  2. When the USCCB says something the GOP disagrees with, many Catholics' first impulse is to take the GOP's side.  In doing so, we risk ignoring the Bible's warning, from Psalm 146:2-3, "Put not your trust in princes:in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation." Once we start putting all of our trust in the GOP over Christ and His Church (even a fallible body like the USCCB), we're playing a very dangerous game, spiritually.
  3. We get taken for granted. The Republicans don't even need to do anything about abortion.  They can preserve the status quo, and pro-lifers have nowhere else to turn.  Faithful Catholics aren't much of a "swing" vote, since the two parties' positions are pretty constant, as is Catholic moral theology on abortion.
  4. The problem only gets worse as time goes on. With each passing year, the two sides get more and more entrenched.  Once Catholics' consciences are formed by the GOP to agree on the small things, and once they've become convinced that they can't even trust "pro-life" Democrats, even a genuinely pro-life Democrat would face an uphill battle to win those votes. So they don't even try (let's be clear: pandering to pro-lifers for their votes is part of the problem, but not making any effort may be worse).
  5. This opens the door for a betrayal. I don't see a lot of prospects for a pro-life Democratic candidate emerging from the presidential primary.  But I do see a very real risk of a pro-choice Republican.  Look at the evidence: McCain was pro-embryonic stem cell research, he contemplated choosing pro-choice Lieberman as his running mate, and rising Republican star Scott Brown's pro-choice.  You've even got pro-lifers like Mitch Daniels and Hailey Barbour wanting to shush pro-lifers, to prevent them from getting in the way of a 2012 victory. The pattern's clear: since the GOP knows pro-lifers aren't going to vote Democratic, there's a real urge to put up a "socially-liberal" candidate to appeal to moderates.  Or they'll just find some other block of voters they like more than us.
  6. This betrayal would risk many Catholic souls. Look at the DNC in the 1970s.  As I mentioned above, the had the Catholic vote virtually locked down.  But then the Democrats discovered the "New Left," the young radicals who were pro-feminism, free love, and abortion.  The DNC sensed that this was the emerging trend, and wanted to be at the forefront.  For the first time, it started supporting causes that a Catholic could not support.  Catholics were forced to either abandon the party they'd voted for their entire lives and which made up a huge part of their social identity, or abandon their morals.  A number of Catholics chose the wrong answer to that question.
There's not an easy answer to this question.  On the one hand, Catholics can't support the Democratic Party, as long as the Democratic Party supports abortion.  On the other hand, Catholics can't blindly trust the Republican Party, or they're putting themselves in real peril.  The only solution seems to be to keep eyes wide open, be willing to throw away the occasional vote on a quixotic third-party candidate, and pray for the return of our country and the DNC to Christian morality.

What We can Learn from the Samaritan Woman at the Well

Yesterday's Gospel reading was John 4:5-42.  It's the passage of the Samaritan woman that Jesus meets at the well.  There's a lot to be gleaned from it, and likely much more that I'm not picking up on.  But here are a few things of interest:

In John 4:1-4, we hear that after Jesus left Judea to return to Galilee, He "had to pass through Samaria" (John 4:4).  The NAB's footnote explains that this was a theological necessity, not a geographic one -- that the Jews often bypassed Samaria by taking a separate route, along the Jordan.  So Jesus doesn't just stumble upon this woman -- it's part of His mission and His ministry.  That should be shocking to us.  Here, the Christ who came to save the world includes as part of the eternal plan of salvation, to meet with and save a single non-Jewish woman.

John 4:6-7 notes that the time was about noon, and that this woman came to draw water then.  Fr. Kelly explained in his homily that this is unusual.  In the Middle East, when townspeople need to go to the well, they do it in the morning or at night, when it's cool.  You don't want to have to walk all the way there and back with a heavy jug in the hot sun.  Three groups of people were at the well at noon: travelers, prostitutes, and outcasts.  This woman seems to be in the third group.  She's come to the well for water, not illicit purposes (John 4:7),  and she's not a traveler.  John 4:28-42 makes clear that she knows the people of the neighboring town, which is why it's so sad she's at the well alone at noon, instead of with the other women in the cool hours of the day.  We can deduce why it is that the woman is an outcast. She's had five husbands, and is living with a man who isn't her husband now (John 4:16-18).

This woman is simple, and has simple desires. The woman is slow to realize that the "living water" (John 4:10) Jesus speaks of isn't literally water. Even when Jesus rephrases it as "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14), she still thinks He's talking about some sort of magical drinking water (John 4:15).  Christ has mercy on her, and instead of relying upon parables, reveals Himself explicitly to be the Christ to her (John 4:25-26).

The most incredible part of this passage, to me, is what it says about Christian anthropology.  Jesus says many things to the woman at the well.  He describes living waters welling up to eternal life; He explains that salvation is from the Jews, but that both the Jewish and Samaritan places of worship will soon be destroyed or abandoned; and He even declares Himself the promised Messiah.  But look at what the woman says when she journeys back into town: "Come see a Man who told me everything I have done. Could He possibly be the Messiah?" (John 4:29).  In other words, the thing that most awestruck this woman what that Jesus knew her. There's an incredible power there.  Here's a woman desperately searching for love, going from one man to the next.  And Jesus reveals to her the love she's been so unsuccessful in finding.

One of the other priests of St. Mary's, Fr. Jean Claude, said in his homily on this that there are couples who have been married for 40 years, and things will still arise in which they say, "I never knew that about my spouse!"  With God, this never happens.  Instead, we learn from God things about ourselves we don't even know. He knows us better than ourselves, and He knows precisely how we fit into His Grand Design.  We have a God Who promises the saved "a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it" (Revelation 2:17). That is, part of salvation is this intensely individual and unique relationship with God, almost like an inside secret only the two of you know.  This same God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:15).

The Catholic Church teaches that it's only through faith, through learning to see things through God's eyes as best we can, that we learn who we really are.  That might sound sentimental, but it's not.  If you reject God, then what's the point of man? For our lives to have any true purpose, they must have been given purpose by One greater than ourselves.  For this reason, the Church says things like, "Therefore, reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way" (Fides et Ratio 16).

Vatican II put it brilliantly:
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,(20) namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown. (Gaudium et Spes 22)
Every time anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, economists and historians have attempted to describe the condition of man without reference to God, and man's relationship to God, the picture has seemed flat or hollow.  Some specific aspect of man (his sexuality, or his need for daily bread, or his greed, or his willingness to fight) will be colored in, but other parts of the human experience are overlooked or denied.  In Catholic Christianity, we see these pieces, and countless others, take shape.

There's a Divine irony here. Just as a man who dedicates his life to pleasing only himself is never happy, while a man who dedicates his life to serving others often is, the same is true with knowledge: those who desire to know nothing more than themselves never obtain a picture of who they truly are or what their purpose is (since man was never meant to desire to nothing more than himself).  Only when man seeks to know Someone greater than Himself, and seeks to understand the Lord and Hub of the Universe, can he begin to grasp his role as a single spoke, seemingly insignificant, but known and beloved by God.

Are Catholic Rituals, Teaching Authority, and Church Structure Biblical?

This post is in response to a comment I received from a man named Austin here.  His criticisms are ones frequently heard by Evangelicals, so Catholics and Evangelicals might both do well to read on. 


First off, thanks for following up, and proving me too much a cynic.  I think your second comment crystallizes quite well the areas upon which we disagree: rituals, teaching authority, and how to understand the Church.

I. "Rituals"

A. Weekly Mass-Going

The two "rituals" you cite to, weekly Mass-going and annual confession, are both Scriptural. The notion of a weekly Sabbath is obviously Scriptural (Exodus 20:8-10), and in the New Covenant, this was transferred to Sunday to honor Jesus' Resurrection (John 20:1). This is to be group worship, not the sort of private prayer we're called to offer up constantly (1 Thes 5:16-18). For this reason, Hebrews warns us not to forsake the Assembly (Hebrews 10:23-25). I had a post on this very subject, if you're interested.

So the Book of Hebrews views it as a sin to miss church. What’s not said is how frequently or infrequently one should go. How often should the church assembly meet, at what time, etc.? Scripture doesn’t provide a clear answer that, but someone has to. There are three principles at work within the Catholic Church – weekly Mass (the fulfillment of the Sabbath), the minimum; daily Mass (the fulfillment of the daily Manna), the ideal; and holy days (the fulfillment of the Jewish liturgical celebrations). So the norm in Catholicism is weekly Mass attendance (unless that’s impractical), and those holy days set by the Church in that area, while Catholics are encouraged (but not required) to go as frequently as possible, even daily.

So the practice of communal worship is Scriptural, the timing of that worship is Scriptural, and the condemnation of abstaining from that communal worship is Scriptural.  In addition, I suppose it's worth noting that we know historically that the earliest Christians had liturgies.  They transitioned from Jewish liturgy to Christian liturgy -- we even see this transition happening in places like Acts 2:42, Acts 2:46, and Acts 18:7.  The Christians go to synagogue, then go to one of the Christian's houses where the celebrate "the breaking of the Bread."  This is a Eucharistic reference, and of course, it's only Passover bread which is broken, instead of torn (more on that here).  In particular, the fact that, in Acts 20:6-11, hours into the "Breaking of the Bread" there's been no Bread broken yet shows pretty plainly that this is a reference for something more than a meal.

B. Confession

As for confession, that's James 5:16, plain and simple. The next question is always, "why to priests?" And the answer is that's who Jesus gave the powers to forgive sins in John 20:21-23, and "sends" them. We know John 20:21-23 doesn't apply to all Christians, because not all Christians are sent (Acts 15:24, Romans 10:15). St. Francis De Sales has a great Scriptural exegesis on who is sent, and how, in Scripture, in his "On the Mission of the Church."  So this is also very clearly Scriptural.  For Protestants to deny confession requires, in my opinion, a bit of twisting of the plain words of Scripture.

C. Conclusions

Towards the end of this argument, you suggest that these rituals substitute for the place of God.  On the contrary, the "rituals" only have any worth if you have a right heart.  Look at Psalm 51.  David sings, "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings" (Psalm 51:16), but keep reading. Next, we hear, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise" (Psalm 51:17).  This sounds like David's saying rituals stand in the way of a right relationship with God, which is what's really important.  But he's not, because he notes that once his heart is right with God, "Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar" (Psalm 51:19). So David's actually saying that these sacrifices and offerings are good, but that they can't replace a contrite heart.  The Catholic sacraments and the Mass are the same way.  Confession is good, and commanded by God through Scripture, but it's only got value if you're truly contrite for your sins.  If you're not, and are just going through the motions, you're not going to get anything out of it.

II. Teaching Authority

For your second argument, you say:
And it seems to me that Protestants are in a bit of a catch 22 when it comes to the authority issue. On the one hand, if they did claim to be the holders of truth, then it seems that Christ rebuked them for aggrandizing to this position. And so it would be anomalous for Catholics to do the exact same thing. 
But, if "the Pharisees never taught that they were the only ones with the truth", then God didn't think a teaching authority was necessary for thousands of years. And then all of a sudden implements one and barely mentions it except in a couple ambiguous statements? That doesn't stand to reason.
Let's address these in reverse order. Your second argument in this section is that if the Pharisees weren't infallible, then no teaching authority was necessary.  That doesn't follow at all.  The Pharisees weren't infallible, but Jews were still to follow them, because they were in charge (Matthew 23:1-3).  Likewise, we're to obey our parents, even though they're fallible.  But you're right that if there's to be One True Church, it has to be infallible, or the Church will eventually teach heresy.

I agree on the first paragraph, about the catch-22. Protestants don't dare to claim to be the One True Church, so they're left in a position not far removed from moral relativism -- we think this is right, but we could all be wrong.  Worse still, to be Protestant, you effectively have to conclude that over a millennium's worth of Christians were wrong on really fundamental doctrines like justification, the canon of Scripture, the priesthood, the Liturgy, etc.  I outline this at length here, All of the Apostolic Churches -- the Catholics, Orthodox, and Coptics -- disagree with the Protestant answers on every one of these issues, and many more.  All of us have more than 66 books, believe that justification is synegistic, that Christ established a priesthood through His Apostles, and all of us have epic Liturgies (called the Mass, Divine Liturgy, or Holy Qurbana, depending on who you're asking).  If every Christian everywhere was wrong from, say, 500 - 1500, who's to say that every Christian now isn't wrong, and that the right answer is some not-yet-made-up denomination? So yeah, it really does put you in a catch-22 where you can't condemn error on anything greater than your own reading of Scripture or history.

You'll note that the Church Christ established did not find Herself in this position. Look at Acts 15.  Despite no new revelations being given at the Council, She speaks on behalf of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28) in condemning the errors of the Judaizers (v. 28-29), and in condemning those who preach without prior Church approval (Acts 15:24).  So you have not just a logical problem, but a Scriptural problem.

The Church readily claims to be the holder of the entire Truth.  She even calls Herself "the Way" (Acts 24:14, 24:22), a title for Christ (John 14:6). And Christ promises Her all the Truth, explicitly, in John 16:13.  This promise is meaningless if He means only that the whole Truth will be "out there" somewhere. It's a promise to the visible Church, or it's nothing.

When St. Paul persecutes this Church (Acts 8:3), Jesus accuses him of persecuting Himself (Acts 9:4-5). Paul will later write that the Church is the Body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5) and the Holy and Blameless Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32).  He even describes the relationship between Christ and the Church as a "profound Mystery" (Ephesians 5:30) -- and this Greek word, Mysterion, is the root of the Latin word meaning Sacrament.  Christ sets up this Church as the court of last resort for disputes against Christians.  In Matthew 18:17-18, we hear Jesus instruct us how to deal with unrepentant sinners:
If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the Church; and if they refuse to listen even to the Church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
As you've noted, Protestantism can't do this. What one church disagrees with, another agrees with.  If you find your theology doesn't agree with your pastor's, you just get a new pastor. Christ promises that this isn't how His House will operate, since "If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand" (Mark 3:25). Instead, His prayer is for absolute unity within the Church (John 17:20-23):
My prayer is not for them alone. 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. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one —  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
So Christ absolutely proclaims that there's to be One True Church, which is called to be in complete unity, just as the early Church was (Acts 4:32).  And He prays this specifically for those of us who are descendants of the Gospel.  As you've said, this can't be Protestantism, since Protestants think that this idea is somehow unscriptural.   Finally, schism from the Church is a mortal sin (Galatians 5:19-21), and Christians are ordered to listen to Church authorities (Hebrews 13:17).  I've actually written on a closely related Catch-22: without an infallible Church, Protestants often find themselves forced to choose between accepting heresy or committing schism.  Clearly, this isn't what Christ established.

III. What is the Church?

Your final argument was that:
Rather what makes more sense is the Protestant understanding of Paul in 1 Tim 3:15: That the "church" means Christians in general just as Israel meant the Jews in general in the OT. Yes there are a few stragglers who preach false doctrines, but those who seek after the truth honestly find it. Mt. 7:7 This is just like it was in the OT. There God would speak of Israel doing right, finding the truth, etc. That is, He spoke of Israel in general, even though, surely, there were some Jews who weren't doing the things He said were happening. And this is what Paul meant when he said that the church was the pillar of truth. Not that a hierarchical structure was the infallible pillar of truth, but that those who seek the truth find it. Mt. 7:7.
The Catholic Church, like you, apparently, thinks that the New Testament Church is a fulfillment of OT Israel.  But the Old Testament clearly depicts Israel as a visible society with borders (Numbers 32:1-12, Ezekiel 47:13-23), censuses to count the exact number of people (Exodus 30:12, Numbers 1, Numbers 26:2, 2 Samuel 24, 2 Chronicles 2:17, etc.), elders (Exodus 3:16, Exodus 4:29, Exodus 24:9, Leviticus 9:1, Deuteronomy 31:9), priests (Exodus 28, Numbers 3:32, 2 Kings 16:10), a high priest (Leviticus 16:32, 2 Kings 12:10, 2 Kings 22:4), officials and judges (Joshua 8:33, Joshua 23:2), kings (Deuteronomy 17:15, 1 Samuel 8, 1 Samuel 15:17, 2 Samuel 5:12, 2 Kings 18:1) and lots of governors, bureaucrats and governmental officials (1 Kings 4:1-19 is a perfect example of this, because it lists who's got which jobs under King Saul).  It couldn't get much more hierarchical. The Jews are those who either live in the nation of Israel, or are spiritually connected with that nation. Saying "all Israel" is a reference to the people, but so is "all Catholics." Neither phrase refutes the idea of a visible structured institution.  In another post, I graphically compared the three tiers of the religious hierarchy between Israel:
... and the Church:
In fact, Korah decries this hierarchy and tries to go it alone in Numbers 16, arguing against the consecrated priesthood, "The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” (Numbers 16:3).  God answers this (Numbers 16:31-32).

There was no question in the early Church that it was hierarchical.  The New Testament describes bishops, presbyters (who were quickly called "priests," to reflect that they were the lowest rank capable of serving the priestly function), and deacons, and no early Christian source argues against them.  You don't get another Korah until the Reformation.

But let's just consider the thing practically.  Certainly, there are times when "the Church" means "everyone in the Institution."  This is true of both the New Testament, and a lot of Catholic writings today.  We believe that all the saved are part of the Church, so describing the totality of the saved as "the Church" is accurate.  It's just not the only way of speaking of the Church, since it's also that Institution, that Structure, that Body, which supports us. For example, look at the following passages:

  • Matthew 16:17-19, "Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in Heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.”"  What does it mean to build "a Church" upon Peter, if there's no structure?

  • Ephesians 2:19-20, "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His Household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the Chief Cornerstone."  Look at the reverse-hierarchy here. Christ, the Head, is at the bottom, supporting everyone else.  The Apostles and prophets then serve in a middle tier, supported by Christ, and supporting the flock.  This is the same pyramid I described above, just upside-down, in keeping with Luke 22:24-32.  Note that in Luke 22, He also describes the Apostles in a position of authority even in Heaven, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

  • With that in mind, go back to 1 Timothy 3:15.  The Church is the "pillar and foundation of Truth."  This is an obvious reference to those in authority.  Otherwise, it's telling us to either listen to whatever we happen to think, or listen to popular opinion within the Church.

  • Matthew 18:17-18 (quoted above).  Without a hierarchy, how can "the Church" serve as the court of last resort?  The same could be asked of 1 Corinthians 6:1-5.

  • Hebrews 13:17 (I know I used it above, but it's worth repeating): "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you." This is explicitly hierarchical.  There are leaders and followers, and the followers have to obey and submit, while the leaders have authority.

  • Peter even condemns those who despise authority (2 Peter 2:10).  Jude 1:8 explains what Peter's talking about: those within the Church who reject Church authority because of dreams or visions they've been having.  Jude compares them to Korah, who rejected the authority of the OT hierarchy (Jude 1:11).

  • 1 Timothy 5:17 says that the presbytery is put in place to run the affairs of the Church, and they're even described as "ruling" within the Church.  Acts 20:28 says it's the Holy Spirit who puts these men in place.  And 2 Corinthians 10:8 explains that God gave the hierarchy authority, that they may build up His people. 
Jeremiah 3:15 describes the NT hierarchy as shepherds after God's own heart.  We're the flock, they're the shepherds, put in place to watch over us and tend for us.  It's true that they serve us (as shepherds tend the sheep), but it's also true that they have authority over us (as shepherds do for sheep).

In any case, I hope that helps. God bless!

Answering Pro-Choice Christians

This morning's post on abortion is particularly fitting given that today is the Feast of the Annunciation, in which we celebrate the point at which the Incarnation begins: when Mary conceives Jesus in Her Womb by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Today's Feast is separated from Christmas by exactly 9 months, for obvious reasons.  It also seems fitting to explain exactly why you can't be Christian and pro-choice.

I.  John the Baptist and Jesus Christ in the Womb

There's no question from Scripture that the Child in Mary's Womb is very much alive right from the start.  When Mary visits Her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45), John the Baptist "leaps for joy" in his mother Elizabeth's womb when Elizabeth heard Mary's voice.  That is, the still-unborn John the Baptist recognized the presence of God in Mary's Womb.  No question that Luke depicts both John and Jesus as very much alive.  And at this time, Jesus is less than one month old.  We know this because John is six months older than Jesus (Luke 1:26), Mary went to visit "at that time," right after the angel announced to Her (Luke 1:39), and because Mary stayed three months, and left right before the birth of John (John 1:56-57).

So Elizabeth was about six months pregnant with John when the Visitation occurred, while Mary was less than a month pregnant with Jesus.  And yet both Jesus and John are treated as fully alive, human beings with intrinsic dignity.  More than that, Jesus is fully God Himself.  Now, this plainly establishes that from a Christian perspective, unborn children are children from the start, and children with intrinsic dignity and worth.

II. Jesus, Mary, and Abortion

There's another way of looking at this, which I concede is unpleasant for any of us who love the Blessed Virgin Mary. Imagine that Mary declined to become the Mother of God in Luke 1:26-38 (it wouldn't have happened, for obvious reasons, but bear with me).  This refusal to become pregnant by declining to conceive might have been a sin, but it wouldn't have killed Jesus Christ (obviously). On the other hand, to have "ended the pregnancy," that is, had Mary had an abortion, She would have killed Jesus.  Once She conceives Christ in Her Womb through the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), He's there, not simply some genetic material that may someday be formed into Christ.  And that's why there's a large emphasis placed on conception as well as birth (see Luke 1:31, Luke 2:21, Matthew 1:23, etc.).

III. The Bible Teaches that Life Begins at Conception

It's not just here, it's throughout the Bible.  We're told that original sin haunts us from our conception in our mother's wombs (Psalm 51:5), while David proclaims in Psalm 22:10, "From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God." Psalm 139:10 proclaims to God, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb," a passage only more beautiful now that we know about DNA.  God tells us that He formed us in our mothers' wombs in places like Isaiah 44:24, Isaiah 44:2, and most famously, Jeremiah 1:5. Isaiah himself was formed to be a prophet in the womb of his mother (Isaiah 49:5).  Although Hosea 2:5 is a metaphoric prophesy, it still speaks of life beginning at conception (same with Isaiah 33:11).

In Genesis, Rebekah is troubled because while pregnant with Esau and Jacob, "the babies jostled each other within her," which God explained was because they were predestined to be rivals, saying that the "two peoples from within you will be separated" (Genesis 25:22-23).  Jacob grabs his brother's heel while still in the womb (Hosea 12:3; Genesis 25:24-26). Samson is dedicated to God from his mother's womb (Judges 13:7; Judges 16:17).. Job, in his misery, wishes he'd died in vitro (Job 10:18-19), which only makes sense if he was alive. Jeremiah says something very similar in Jeremiah 20:17-18. Paul is called to be an Apostle before birth (Galatians 1:15).  And of course, in Luke 1:44, Elizabeth calls the unborn John the Baptist her "baby."  And on and on it goes.

IV. Conclusion

When the Saints in the Bible, as well as the Prophets, the Angels, and even God Himself describe life as beginning at conception, and the conceived child as a person -- a person who God already has a plan for, and who already has a personality -- the dispute is settled.  To reject the life and dignity of the unborn child, you have to reject the word of God.  You also have to go against literally thousands years of Judeo-Christian teaching on the subject.  Simply read the condemnations of abortion in the Didache, or even in apocryphal literature like the Apocalypse of Peter, and you'll quickly see that both the early Christians and the early heretics realized that the unborn child was just that: a child. To toss off the explicit word of God and a constant line of Tradition is to simply cease to be Christian.  So you can't be Christian and pro-choice.  You must choose. Choose life.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. 
(Deuteronomy 30:19)

Why's New York City's Population Growth Slowing? Abortion.

Here's something I thought I'd never see: the New York Times is lamenting slow population growth.  In New York City, no less.

It turns out, the reasons for their concern are political -- the Times is worried about a less political powerful New York, and what that means for the DNC (although they stop short of saying this last part).  In particular, the Times is running an article on the dramatically slowed growth of New York City between 2000 and 2010, noting that "New York City’s population reached a record high for a 10-year census of more than 8,175,133, according to the 2010 census released on Thursday, but fell far short of what had been forecast." In particular, for "the first time since the draft riots during the Civil War, the number of black New Yorkers has declined, by 5 percent."  The number of white New Yorkers also fell (by 3%), but that decline was actually much smaller than in prior decades.

Even though this was in the news section, the Times made clear that this slow growth was a bad thing:
City demographers offered a number of explanations for the disappointingly low figure, ranging from the possibility that the 2000 census had overestimated the population to the likelihood that many addresses where tenants live in overcrowded and illegally divided apartments and basement cubicles, particularly in Queens and Brooklyn, were overlooked even after aggressive efforts last year by census takers. 
While population growth is not always good, it is considered a byproduct of a robust economy. Fewer people also can mean less federal aid and political representation when Congressional and legislative districts are reapportioned.
In all, the article looks at all sorts of reasons for the decline.  Frankly, I don't doubt that there were a number of illegal immigrants who avoided reporting themselves in the Census, out of fear of deportation. But I also that there were a lot of people similarly situated in 2000 (which is why I don't think the 2000 Census "overestimated" at all).  You probably have a chronic underreporting problem, which doesn't really account for the slow growth very well at all.  In fact, the economic slump should have produced a much larger NYC population than we're seeing:
If the 2010 official count is sustained, it would suggest that the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, coupled with the impact of the nationwide economic collapse during the second half of the decade, produced much slower growth since 2000 than in the 1990s — even as the recession and housing crisis prompted more New Yorkers to remain in the city rather than retire elsewhere or move to usual job magnets in the South and West.
In the end, the Times was stumped. Of course, there is one possibility that the New York Times didn't touch, at least, not this month.  From last month's New York Times:
At a time when evidence suggests that people in New York City are smoking less, eating better and biking more, one health statistic that has not budged is the abortion rate.

Two of every five pregnancies in the city end in abortion, a statistic that has barely changed in more than a decade. At a news conference last month, Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, called the city’s 41 percent abortion rate “downright chilling.” And on Thursday, State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx brought up the figure repeatedly as he urged a group of anti-abortion ministers to spread the word that abortion was nothing less than an attack on minorities.

“They might think that we will take over, and that they’ve got to stop us,” said Mr. Díaz, who also is a minister. “What they did, they are killing black and Hispanic children.”
So maybe the problem isn't that New Yorkers are leaving town or failing to report for this year's Census. Maybe the problem is that they're being killed en masse in the womb through abortion-on-demand.  This problem is particularly acute amongst African-American New Yorkers, who are now more likely to be killed in the womb than to live to childbirth. Seriously: an abortion rate of 60%.  "Safe, legal, and rare," my foot.

In a healthy city, much of the population growth occurs through childbirth, not just new waves of outsiders.  Both figures -- the 2010 Census and the 41% abortion rate -- suggest that New York is not a healthy city right now.  And the implications of that are much graver than simply "less federal aid  and political representation when Congressional and legislative districts are reapportioned." Fortunately, we've got a small but dedicated band of pro-lifers trying to save the city's soul.  Unfortunately, the city's pulling back the welcome matand how.

Rob Bell and the Need for a Magisterium

Rob Bell's written a book called Love Wins.  I haven't read it, but it's been clear -- both from the video he made promoting the book, and from the reaction of those who have read it (h/t Phil Naessens), it sounds like Bell's promoting universalism - the notion that everyone is saved and goes to Heaven, at least eventually.  If that's what's going on, Bell's promoting heresy.

From a Catholic perspective, that's easy to say. The Catechism lays it out really clearly in CCC 1035:
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
So hell exists, and it's eternal.  Those who enter hell enter eternal separate from God, and since God is the only Good, separation from God is the worst experience imaginable.  To the extent that Bell says anything contrary to CCC 1035, he's preaching something that's both false, and contrary to clear Church teaching.  We have a name for that: "Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same" (see CCC 2089).  So Bell promotes heresy, Q.E.D.

But what can you say about Rob Bell from a Protestant perspective?  This was hammered home to me in a very real way a few weeks ago, when a group of Evangelicals and Calvinists at a party I was at started arguing about Bell, and John MacArthur's response to him (these are the sort of "parties" I go to -- I can't complain). A few things became clear:

  • Everyone likes the axiom, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”  None of the Protestants could define which things were objectively essential and which were objectively non-essential. As one of the women at the party pointed out, if you quiz 150 "born-again" Evangelical Christians (of which she readily included herself) on this question, you'll get varying answers as to which doctrines are and aren't fundamental.  I added that if you quiz two Evangelicals, you'll likely get different answers.
  • If there's no way of knowing if Hell is even a fundamental doctrine (is there any logical reason one has to believe in Hell to go to Heaven?), how do we know whether we should even be concerned with what Bell says on it?  After all, if it's a non-essential, he's got liberty to explore, which is what he seems to be wanting to do.
  • Bell teaches something that's contrary to the interpretation of Scripture taken by most or all of the people at the party. But who's to say that their view is right, and Bell's is wrong? Sure, it may seem obvious to us that Matthew 18:8 teaches what Bell denies, but it seems just as obvious to me that James 2:24 teaches what Luther denies. "Seems obvious to me" is obviously not the standard for determining orthodoxy, or which doctrines are fundamental.
  • Bell's teaching is also contrary to the historical and traditional beliefs of the Church.  But so are a whole slew of beliefs that every Protestant at the party held.  It's true that if you hold this view as authoritative (as Catholics do), Bell is a heretic.  But so are Luther and Calvin.
Clearly, Protestants can say "Bell's view on Hell disagree with my own, and I think he's wrong, and I think he's wrong on a very important doctrine for Christians to hold."  But is there any principled basis for Protestants to go beyond that, to start speaking of Bell's "heresy" and Christian "orthodoxy"?

Brantly Millegan made this same point on his blog, noting that not only is it impossible for Evangelicals to hammer down what "heresy" and "orthodoxy" are objectively, there's also no one in a position of authority to denounce Bell as a heretic.  That is, Bell is the pastor of his church, Mars Hill.  He's as high as the authority structure goes.  So Matthew 18:17-18 doesn't work here (a sure sign that we're not dealing with a Biblical system of Church governance).  For that matter, John MacArthur is the highest level of authority in his church, Grace Community Church. So when the two men agree, because they've got a system of church authority that stops with them, it becomes impossible to settle theological disputes objectively, short of one side simply saying "you know what, you're right!"

Why You Should Love South Dakota's New Pro-Life Law

South Dakota just passed a new pro-life law which does three things:

  1. The abortion doctors must first meet the women coming in for abortions, and ensure that they are not being coerced into it  
  2. Requires a three-day waiting period between the first consultation with the abortion doctor and the actual abortion.
  3. Requires consultation with a pregnancy help center.
I think all three of this measures should be applauded, whether you're pro-life or pro-choice. Here's why.

1. Requiring Abortion Doctors to Meet the Women First

There are countless women who have come forward and said that they were coerced into abortions they regretted by domineering or abusive boyfriends, husbands, parents, pimps, and even their rapists.  The actions of groups like Live Action have exposed the truth of this, with footage of Planned Parenthood "counselors" offering advice to people claiming to be sex traffickers, on how to avoid getting caught.  If you're pro-choice, as opposed to pro-abortion, the notion that women are being coerced into something which isn't their free choice (and which they'll likely regret later, as a result) is a no-brainer.

Right now, the state's major abortion provider is a single Planned Parenthood clinic which isn't reporting cases of coercion.  This law has the potential to change that. First, if abortion doctors obey the law here, it could really provide a way to crack down on those who abuse and control women like property. Second, if they don't comply with it, and intentionally turn a blind eye towards women being abused (and worse, facilitate that abuse by performing the abortion), they've opened themselves up for stricter regulation, and probably created a basis upon which they can be sued by the women they've harmed. Either way, the law will make those complicit in sex trafficking, rape, and domestic abuse accountable.

Of course, it also humanizes the abortion procedure quite a bit more.  In general, the field of medicine has become too cold and "industrial," and abortion has been no exception (in fact, it's been one of the worst offenders in this regard). So it's hard to see how this requirement is anything but good for women.

2. The Three-Day Waiting Period

Lliberal anti-gun advocates quite reasonably note that by instituting a few-day waiting period, you help ensure that people aren't just buying a gun on impulse, or in a fit of anger.  Likewise, this abortion waiting period ensures that decisions aren't rashly made that will haunt the woman for life.

Regardless of whether you acknowledge abortion as ending a human life or not, the decision to abort is still a huge and irreversible decision.  And a number of women have said that they regret this decision.  In the balance are a lot of pregnant women, often in emotionally unstable relationships, unsure of what the future holds if they do give birth.  Planned Parenthood's own name is a nod to the fact that many of the women who undergo abortions weren't planning on getting pregnant in the first place.  In other words, there's a real risk (supported by lots of women's testimonies) that the decision to abort will be chosen in the heat of the moment.   

The sort of situation we're talking about is obvious: on Monday, the woman announces to her boyfriend that she's pregnant, and he reacts terribly and is unsupportive.  Fearing she can't raise the baby alone, the woman goes in for an abortion right away.  Within a day or two, maybe things have changed.  He's taken ownership of the fact he got her pregnant, or she's decided she can do this without him, or with the help of her family, etc.   A three-day waiting period is totally sensible for these sorts of situations.

3. Pregnancy Center Consultations

Much of the to-do has been about the fact that women who elect to abort have to first have a pregnancy center consultation.  I've already seen allegations that it's "forced speech," since women are being forced to attend if they want to have abortions.  It's not forced speech, any more than California's mandatory sexual harassment seminars for employees of all large corporations are forced speech.  The law contains all sorts of requirements like this. Another obvious example: pharmaceutical companies are forced to list the potential side effects of their drugs in drug ads.  Since there's no way of getting Planned Parenthood to honestly explain the potential side effects, South Dakota has opted for the next-best choice: having those who don't have a financial interest in abortion provide that information.

Pregnancy centers often provide an enormous assistance in providing sonograms.  Hearing competing medical claims from pro-life and pro-choice groups is one thing; seeing your baby on a sonogram is something quite different.  In many cases, women who see the sonogram no longer want abortions.  Some still do, and opt for abortions with more information than they had before.  So as with the other two portions of the law, this provision actually strengthens the ability of a pregnant woman to freely and rationally make an important and life-changing decision.


Being pro-choice isn't the same as being pro-impulsive decision, and a true choice is an educated and rational one.  This law helps to ensure that women who choose abortion do so with an awareness of the consequences, with time to decide if an abortion is what they really want, and without the cloud of coercion hovering over them.  So the proponents of the bill are both pro-life and pro-choice. They want women to freely choose life.

On the other hand is an institution that's pro-abortion, seeking to quash a woman's free choice in favor of the bottom line.  That sounds conspiratorial, but it's not.  As the string of exposés established, Planned Parenthood will regularly perform abortions even on women who aren't truly willing participants.  When forced to choose between abortion and women, Planned Parenthood chooses abortion.

What's worth remembering is why it is that institutionally, Planned Parenthood is pro-abortion, not choice. It's a massive organization, whose 2008-2009 budget was over a billion dollars.  A huge amount of that comes from abortions. Forget that it's abortion that we're talking about for a moment, and it's obvious what's going on here.  They sell a product, and they don't want to let potential customers (pregnant women) know about  the negatives of that product, or the alternatives to the product.  

South Dakota is doing for abortion what the FDA does for candy.  And regardless of your views on abortion, it seems only sane that the decision to undergo an abortion be at least as informed as the decision to eat a Reese's Peanut Butter cup.

A Biblical Defense of Clerical Celibacy

An Evangelical pastor I've been talking to lately raised a number of questions about whether clerical celibacy was compatible with Scripture, since:
  • Peter and some of the Apostles were married (Mark 1:30; 1 Corinthians 9:5).
  • Paul, while single himself, called for bishops to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2). 
  • Paul called the doctrine of "forbidding to marry" a "doctrine of devils" (1 Timothy 4:3).
Here's my response:

The first thing I should probably mention is that, contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of married priests in the Catholic Church (something like 20% of Catholic priests worldwide are married). There are two reasons for this. First, the Eastern half of the Catholic Church permits married priests (but not monks, for obvious reasons – trying to raise a family in a monastery isn’t good for the family, or the monastery). The Western half of the Church does not permit married priests usually, but it makes exceptions – specifically, She permits married Anglican and Lutheran pastors, who convert to Catholicism, to become priests. I’m from Kansas City, and the Catholic priest at one of the churches I grew up near, Fr. Ernie Davis, is married with three kids. Widowers are also permitted to become priests in both East and West.

So what’s the Scriptural basis for the West’s general refusal to ordain married men? There are two points which need to be established.
  1. The Church has an important gate-keeping role. We see this throughout the New Testament. To give but a few examples, the Church chooses Matthias (Acts 1:14-26) and Titus (2 Cor. 8:19). Titus is then put in charge of ordaining presbyters in each town (Titus 1:5), the same role that Paul and Barnabas play throughout Lystra, Antioch, and Iconium (Acts 14:21-23). Even when the Twelve give permission to the rest of the disciples to choose men to be deacons, it isn’t made official until the Twelve lay hands upon them (Acts 6:1-6). So while there are different methods for choosing clergy within the Church, there’s no question that the Church chooses the clergy, rather than the other way around.

  2. Celibacy is viewed as even better than marriage. We hear from Scripture, “It is good for a man not to marry” (1 Corinthians 7:1), and Paul says of the unmarried and widows, “it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am” (1 Cor. 7:8). Paul’s depiction in this chapter is that celibacy is superior to marriage for those who can handle it, and even his rules regulating marriage are given “as a concession, not a command” (1 Cor. 7:7). When Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:2 that a bishop should be husband of one wife, then, he’s not encouraging them to be married (this would be contradictory to his teaching in 1 Corinthians 7, and hypocritical, given that he was an unmarried Apostle). Instead, he’s setting the max at one, so that divorced and remarried men are barred.
Beyond St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7, Our Lord Himself says the same thing in Matthew 19:12, where He praises those who are “eunuchs” “for the Kingdom of Heaven,” adding, “The one who can accept this should accept it.” I suspect we would both agree on what the Scriptures say. Marriage is good – a gift from God, even – but celibacy is even better, although not all men can achieve it, since it’s a true sacrifice. In saying this, we say nothing more than 1 Corinthians 7:38. So here’s where a question of prudential judgment comes in.

The Church has the ability to accept or reject men who desire the priesthood, and because of the Scriptures referenced above, one of the criteria that the West has opted for has been restricting the priesthood generally to only those “eunuchs for the Kingdom.” In other words, She’s not forbidding marriage, She’s forbidding certain men’s ordination to the priesthood, something which fits in perfectly with Her gate-keeping role. She would rather have just the cream of the crop, those ones who can accept Jesus’ teaching above, even if it means fewer priests. And of course, if a man has proven himself to be an able Lutheran or Anglican pastor, She’s not ironclad on the rule.

A comparison could be made between the Marines and the Army. The Marines have much tougher qualifications, and there are far fewer Marines. They consciously go for quality, not quantity. The Army’s qualifications are still tough, but less so than the Marines, and they’re willing to take men who aren’t as capable (at least on paper), and try to turn them into good soldiers anyway. The West takes the “Marine” approach, while the East takes the “Army” approach. The Bible does not require either choice, and the Church is never forced to accept a man as a priest simply because he wants it.

So what’s this bit about “forbidding to marry” in 1 Timothy 4:3? It’s simple. Certain heresies have arisen which taught that marriage was evil, and should be banned. Some Gnostics at the time of Paul were teaching this doctrine. Later, groups like the Manicheans would teach it (The Manicheans are a dead fit for what Paul was talking about in Timothy 4, since they taught that marriage was evil and that eating meat was evil). The Church that opposed them, the foe that insisted that marriage and sex were gifts from God, was the Catholic Church (The fact that the Catholic Church loves marriage, and marital sex, should be obvious from Her strong defense of traditional marriage, and the size of traditional Catholic families.). There’s no clearer example of this than St. Augustine’s Reply to Faustus the Manichean, Book XXX.:
You see, then, that there is a great difference between exhorting to virginity as the better of two good things, and forbidding to marry by denouncing the true purpose of marriage; between abstaining from food as a symbolic observance, or for the mortification of the body, and abstaining from food which God has created for the reason that God did not create it. In one case, we have the doctrine of the prophets and apostles; in the other, the doctrine of lying devils.
So the Manicheans taught the doctrines of lying devils, while the Catholics taught (and teach) the doctrines of the prophets and Apostles.

The Power of Prayer and the Agony in the Garden

This past Saturday, I went to the Arlington Diocese's second annual Men's Conference.  It was great, and one of my favorite priests, Fr. Arne Panula, spoke on the subject of "Building Your Prayer Life."  He gave an incredible example on the power of prayer from Scripture.

On the night of Holy Thursday, Jesus is physically and emotionally exhausted.  He's got good reason to be.  The people of Jerusalem who He loved in a special way, celebrated His entry into their city, but only because they thought He was going to be a military leader (Luke 19:28-44).  Jesus, seeing their misguided praise of Him, and knowing what would happen both to Him and to Jerusalem, actually begins to weep, and tries once more to warn them (Luke 19:41-44).  The Pharisees, meanwhile, are plotting to kill Him (Luke 19:47).  His own Disciples are pretty clueless, and spend the Last Supper arguing over who's the greatest (Luke 22:24), and on the Disciples, Judas, gets up to betray Jesus in the middle of the meal (John 13:30).  In short, those who He's trying to help either don't get it, or are trying to betray or kill Him, or both.  In addition to all of this, He knows with Divine certainty that the next day, He's going to be tortured and killed.

Matthew then describes the events after the meal, into the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-45):
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
St. Luke, a physician (Colossians 4:14), includes a medical detail that the other Gospels omit. Namely, that when Jesus goes to pray in the Garden that night, "being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (Luke 22:44).  This is a rare medical condition called hematohidrosis, brought about by extreme stress, and it speaks to the depth of our Lord's agony.

While the three Synoptic Gospels focus on the intensity of Jesus' agony and sorrow (something which must have been quite shocking to the Disciples), John's Gospel tells us what happens next (John 18:2-8):
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples. 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I AM HE,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I AM HE,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
7 Again He asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I AM HE. If you are looking for Me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words He had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those You gave Me.”
Fr. Arne describes Jesus here as a "Tower of Strength."  And rightly so.  Jesus speaks with such force that Judas, the Jewish officials, and the Roman soldiers all fall to the ground. Never mind that they're a mob with torches, lanterns and weapons! Not only that, but Jesus successfully negotiates the release of the other Apostles.  Remember that from a Roman perspective, these men are a band of revolutionaries who want to overthrow Caesar.  Yet instead of capturing and executing them as they were supposed to, the mob lets everyone but Jesus go.  Peter, wide awake now, is so emboldened by Jesus' strength here that he acts impulsively, cutting off a servant named Malchus' ear (John 18:10), which Jesus miraculously heals (Luke 22:51).  Peter then decides to follow Jesus and the mob at a distance (Matthew 26:58).

Fr. Arne asks, "What brought Jesus from where He was at the start of His time in the Garden, emotionally and physically exhausted, to the tower of strength that He was by the end of His few hours there?" The answer, of course, is prayer.  Jesus prayed, and was strengthened.  Even comparing His first (Mt. 26:39) and second and third prayer (Mt. 26:42-43), we see a difference.  Jesus already has transitioned towards total acceptance of the Crucifixion, and resolve in facing His Death. Compare this with the Disciples, particularly Peter.  Jesus warns Peter personally that it's important that he pray, lest he fall into temptation (Matthew 26:40-41).  Peter sleeps instead (Mt. 26:43).  Then, emboldened by Jesus' leadership, but without a foundation in prayer, Peter charges forward -- into temptation -- and crumples (Mt. 26:69-75).

Fr. Arne's point is clear.  It's great that we're inspired and passionate about Christ, but if we don't take the time to pray, we're not going to have the foundation needed to resist temptation.  At this point, he invoked Jesus' parable from Matthew 7:24-27,
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
As Father noted, both houses face the torrential storm: the pouring rains, the rising streams, and the winds beating against the houses.  A strong prayer life doesn't prevent us from being challenged, even battered, by life. But it does give us the necessary foundation to get through it.  And Jesus is a living testament to this fact even in His own life.

The Sign of Jonah

Wednesday, the Gospel at Mass was from Luke 11:29-32, in which Jesus speaks of the cryptic "Sign of Jonah":
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
What's He talking about? Two things: His Death and Resurrection, and the destruction of Jerusalem.

I. The Sign of Jonah in the Death and Resurrection of Christ

The first, and central, meaning of the Sign of Jonah is that Jesus will die and rise again.  In Matthew 12, we hear Matthew's parallel account (Matthew actually records two different occasions in which Jesus uses this same symbol, in Matthew 12 and Matthew 16).  In Mt. 12:39-40, Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” It's clear to us reading this now what Jesus is referring to: the period we Catholics celebrate as the Triduum, from Holy Thursday to the Easter Vigil, in which Jesus bore the weight of our sins, then descended to the dead, and then rose again.

That part's simple, but there are fascinating implications to it, which Matthew's second account of the Sign of Jonah touches on.  In Matthew 16:4, Jesus again warns that "wicked and adulterous generation" that the only sign they'd receive was the Sign of Jonah.  Very soon after this, we read in Matthew 16:13-19,
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Now, I've addressed the papal implications of this passage elsewhere, but my focus today is on the name "Simon, son of Jonah."  What's striking about this is that Simon isn't the son of a man named Jonah. In Jonh 1:42, Jesus says, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas.”  This is sort of baffling at first.  Some people think that Jonah is another name for John, or perhaps a nickname for the same man.  That's quite possible.  And certainly, there is a sense in which, in both John 1:42 and Matthew 16:17, Jesus is calling Peter specially by name.

But there's a theory I've heard for this passage that I find intriguing, and fairly convincing.  In John 8:31-47, Jesus acknowledges to a group of Jews He's dealing with, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word” (John 8:37).  As such, while they're the descendants of Abraham by blood, they're not his sons: “'If you were Abraham’s children,' said Jesus, 'then you would do what Abraham did.'” (John 8:39).  Likewise, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God” (John 8:42). Instead, they're behaving as sons of the Devil (John 8:44). So to be the "son" of Abraham means to follow his example, same with being a son of God or (conversely) a son of the devil.  In this sense, while Simon is, by birth, the son of a fisherman named John, he's the "son of Jonah" in becoming a fisher of men (Mark 1:17) by following Our Lord, who has just tied His own Death and Resurrection with the Sign of Jonah.

II. The Sign of Jonah as the Destruction of Jerusalem

There's another probable meaning to the "Sign of Jonah," one far more ominous.  Jonah's mission was to proclaim the coming wrath of God, averted by the people of Nineveh only because they changed their ways:
The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: "Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you." So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD'S bidding. Now Nineveh was an enormously large city; it took three days to go through it. 
Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day's walk announcing, "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. 
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles: "Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil way and from the violence he has in hand. Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish." 
When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
The story ends well for that generation. But Christ warns in Luke 11 and in Matthew 12 that it won't end as well for the generation alive in Jesus' day: It's for this reason that “At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it” (Luke 11:32), since Jonah's preaching was enough to convert them back to God, while Jesus' generation refused to believe in the face of the something greater Jesus promises (namely, His Death and Resurrection).

Remember what Jonah said would befall the people of Nineveh. If they had refused to change their ways, they would have lasted forty days, and then their city would be destroyed.  Since Jesus is saying that things will go less well for His generation than Jonah's, He might as well wear a sign saying, "Forty days more and Jerusalem will be destroyed." And if you're familiar with Scriptural prophesies, you might already know that a prophesy of "days" often symbolizes years: for example, Daniel 9:22-27's prophesy of the seventy weeks (literally "the seventy times seven") refers not to 490 days, but to the 490 years between Daniel and Jesus.  There are numerous interplays between the forty days and years in Scripture: both were used as the time of preparation.  But in addition to being symbolic of preparation, forty years are also symbolic of the length of a generation.  Numbers 32:13 says, "The LORD’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone" (see also Psalm 95:10). With that in mind, go back and look at the number of references to "this generation" in Luke 11:29-32. Within the space of 3 verses, Jesus reference "this generation" five times, and every time He mentions the Sign of Jonah (Luke 11:29-32, Matthew 12:38-42; and Matthew 16:4), He refers to "this generation" in the same breath -- something Jonah never did.  So Jesus seems to be saying that the fulfillment of Jonah's prophesy will be a prophetic forty years (the length of a generation) rather than a literal forty days.

Now look at history.  While the precise dating of the Crucifixion is disputed, it was probably right at or around 30 A.D.  If that's right, it's exactly forty years before the Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D.  It's stunning. Even non-Christians have to concede the basic facts here -- the Romans left the Wailing Wall as a perpetual reminder of what they'd done. So it's not like Christians are somehow doctoring the history. Believe He's the Messiah or not, it's pretty well established that (a) the Old Testament  Scriptures put a lot of emphasis on forty day and forty year time periods, (b) Jonah 3 ties the number forty to the destruction of an unrepentant and sinful city, (c) Jesus was Crucified about 30, and (d) the city of Jerusalem was annihilated in about 70.  And it ties the two halves of the Sign of Jonah together perfectly, as forty "days" separate Jesus being in the belly of the Earth from the destruction of the new "Nineveh."

III. The Incredible Details

What makes all of this more incredible is that the non-Christian historians on both sides of the war (Roman and Jewish) both reported celestial signs at the Destruction.  The famous Jewish historian Josephus, in his War of the Jews, Book VI, Chapter 5, recounts a number of terrifying omens that occurred at the time of the Destruction of the Temple. There's one he's even sheepish about admitting, because he thinks it sounds silly, but had so many witnesses he felt compelled to include it:
Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, "Let us remove hence."
So there are three things we see.  First, the signs of the Divine Army assembling in the sky. Second, the Lord withdrawing from the Temple of Jerusalem.  And third, God referring to Himself in the plural, as He does in Genesis 1:26 and elsewhere, and which suggests that He's a Trinity: after all, it isn't as if the angels dwelt with God in the Holy of Holies, so this can't be written off very easily.  From the Roman perspective, the Roman historian Tacitus, in Book V, Chapter 5 of his Histories, says that the Romans saw the same thing, and more:
Prodigies had occurred, which this nation, prone to superstition, but hating all religious rites, did not deem it lawful to expiate by offering and sacrifice. There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure. Some few put a fearful meaning on these events, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire. These mysterious prophecies had pointed to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, with the usual blindness of ambition, had interpreted these mighty destinies of themselves, and could not be brought even by disasters to believe the truth.
As Christians, we know what was going on.  It wasn't "the Gods," plural, departing, by the Trinitarian LORD leaving the Temple as God lifted His Hand of Protection.  The prophesy Tacitus is referring to may well be Daniel 2, which prophesies that Jesus will create a global Church that will replace the Roman Empire. Tacitus, of course, puts a pagan spin on it, a spin we now know was false.

In other words, no matter whether you look at this from a Christian, Jewish, or pagan perspective, it looks very much like God (or if you're pagan, the gods) permitted the Destruction of Jerusalem by departing, as punishment for their wickedness and faithlessness.  That is, the second part of the Sign of Jonah came to an epic and devastating fulfillment.

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