Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St. Jude and the “Brothers” of Jesus

In the New Testament, certain men are described as the “brothers” of Jesus, including “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (Mark 6:3; and see Matthew 13:55). The Catholic position is that these men are simply male relatives: in the same way that Abraham calls Lot his “brother” (Genesis 13:8), even though he's actually his nephew (Gen. 12:5).

But the typical Protestant position is that these other men were literally Jesus' brothers, meaning that the Virgin Mary didn't remain a Virgin (despite prophesies like Ezekiel 44:2). I've handled this before more thoroughly, showing that two of Jesus' “brothers,” James and Joses, are the sons of another woman, Mary of Clopas (Mark 15:40; John 19:25), and thus, are obviously not His literal brothers.

But I noticed something recently. At the start of the Apostle Jude's epistle, he introduces himself as, “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1:1).  Jude means the James who is sometimes called “James the Lesser.”  We know he's not referring to James the Greater, because we know more about his family tree: he's the son of Zebedee, and his brother is the Apostle John  (see Mark 10:35, Luke 5:10, Mark 3:17).  [Even if he meant “brother” in a looser sense, it wouldn't make sense to call himself the “brother of James,” rather than the “brother of James and John.”  The Apostle John outlived his older brother (Acts 12:2), so it would make more sense to call himself the “brother of John.”]  And this James is prominent enough that the Apostle Jude identifies himself by calling himself this guy's brother.  So really, the only person he could be referring to is the other Apostle James, known as James the Lesser.

But this creates some problems for the Protestant interpretation, because James the Lesser is the Apostle called “the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19)  But if Jude is literally James' brother, and James is literally Jesus' brother, then Jude is also literally Jesus' brother.  How could Jude have failed to mention that fact?  Why in the world introduce himself as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,” instead of “Jude, a servant and brother of Jesus Christ”?  That is, if he's going to identify his brother who's an Apostle, why not his Brother who Is God?

Barnes' Notes on the Bible acknowledges it's James the Lesser, but tries to explain away this awkward omission with a couple of theories:
(1) that the right to do this did not rest on his mere "relationship" to the Lord Jesus, but on the fact that he had called certain persons to be his apostles, and had authorized them to do it; and,


(2) that a reference to this relationship, as a ground of authority, might have created jealousies among the apostles themselves. We may learn from the fact that Jude merely calls himself "the servant of the Lord Jesus," that is, a Christian,


(a) that this is a distinction more to be desired than, would be a mere natural relationship to the Saviour, and consequently.


(b) that it is a higher honor than any distinction arising from birth or family. Compare Matthew 12:46-50.
This is some weak exegesis.  Jude has no problem pointing out that he's the Apostle James' “brother,” even in the exact same breath that he's allegedly too meek to mention his family connections.  Plus, this would require believing that the other Apostles had such huge, sensitive egos that they couldn't handle the idea that Jude and James were Jesus' own brothers.  Better hope they never read Galatians 1:19.  And of course, it also requires believing that the Holy Spirit, in God-breathed Scripture, caters to these massive and vulnerable egos by omitting an important detail about Jude's connection to Christ.

Incredibly, it gets worse.  Acts 1:13 tells us that those present at the replacement of Judas were “Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” You should notice two things:
  • James and Judas don't have the same father;
  • Neither of them are sons of St. Joseph.
Obviously, Mary wasn't previously married (Luke 1:26-27), and St. Joseph is very much alive when Jesus is twelve (Luke 2:41-42).  Since Jesus is only about thirty when He starts His public ministry (Luke 3:23), that doesn't leave a lot of time for Mary to (1) remarry, (2) have another son, (3) have her second husband die, (4) marry a third time, (5) have another son, and (6) have both of these sons grow up to be Apostles.  Yet for these to literally be Jesus' half-brothers, that's what Protestants are claiming.  She would have had to have gone through two extra marriages in only a few years to have two adult sons by husbands besides St. Joseph (and this is excluding all of her other alleged children).  And this assumes that St. Joseph right away. Yet Scripture records exactly none of these events.

And that's not all.  Matthew 10:2-4 lists the Apostles, and notes which ones are related.  For example, he tells us that Simon Peter and Andrew are brothers, and also that James (the Greater) and John are brothers, and that their Zebedee is the father of the latter two sons. Yet while mentioning James the Lesser is the “son of Alphaeus,” St. Matthew fails to mention that he's the brother of another Apostle, or that he's the brother of Jesus.  And likewise for Jude, who Matthew calls Thaddaeus -- we're not informed of the fact that he and James are brothers, or that they're brothers with Jesus.  Likewise with the other Gospels: the only thing we're told is that these men have different fathers.

Finally, remember again that James the Lesser and Joses are listed as the sons of another woman as well, known as Mary of Clopas (Mark 15:40; John 19:25), who is not listed as Jude's mother.  That's important for two reasons.

Detail from Rogier van der Weyden's
Descent from the Cross (1435)
showing Mary of Clopas, the Apostle John, and Salome
(the Virgin Mary has collapsed in John's arms)
  • First, it shows that James the Lesser and Jesus weren't literally Brothers.  James the Lesser isn't Mary's son from a subsequent marriage, or Joseph's son from a previous marriage.  
  • Second, it shows that James the Lesser and Jude weren't literally brothers, either.  James the Lesser is the son of Alphaeus and Mary of Clopas.  Jude is the son of someone named James, and apparently not Mary of Clopas (or we'd see his name listed in Mark 15:40).
This is all good reason to believe that Jude is the “brother” of James in the same way that James is the “brother” of Jesus, or Lot is the “brother” of Abraham, in that they're male relatives. But it's clearly not a reference to brothers in the sense of multiple sons by the same parents.


Conclusions

If “brothers” is understood to be a generic term for male relatives, all of this works.  Jesus, James, Joses, and Jude are “brothers” in this broad sense.  Likewise, the Virgin Mary and the other Mary are “sisters” in this sense (John 19:25).  That is, the Catholic interpretation makes a lot of sense.

It also comports with ancient Church Tradition that held that Mary was ever-Virgin, and that She fulfilled the prophesy of the Temple Gate (Ezekiel 44:2) -- that in giving birth to Christ, she was consecrated to Him in a radical way, and became a new Ark of the Covenant.  Under this view, the Apostle James was probably cousins with Jesus on one side of the family, and with the Apostle Jude on the other.


In contrast, you can't take the New Testament references to Jesus' “brothers” literally, without running into enormous exegetical problems.  The various “brothers” of Jesus have multiple fathers and multiple mothers, and are never listed as the Virgin Mary's children.

Novena Request for a Seminarian with Brain Cancer

From Fishing in the Tiber:


Bishop Burbidge Requests Novena for Seminarian Philip Johnson


Bishop Burbidge Requests Novena for Seminarian Philip Johnson


The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge has announced a novena to Our Holy Mother, patroness of the Diocese of Raleigh, on behalf of seminarian Philip Johnson. The novena will begin on Wednesday, November 30, 2011, and culminate on Thursday, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the second year Bishop Burbidge has called for a novena.


Philip has been receiving chemotherapy treatments for a brain tumor for several years. In a letter to Priests, Religious and the lay faithful of the Diocese, Bishop Burbidge notes the “growth of the brain tumor appears to have stabilized about the time of the conclusion of last year’s novena.” 
Philip continues to pursue his vocation and hopes to return to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary for on-campus studies. Currently he is assigned to St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wake Forest.
Links to both the Bishop’s letter and the Novena Prayer in English and Spanish are provided below so that you may forward this request to others who you may wish to invite to pray for a needed cure for Philip. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Understand Catholic Social Teaching: Solidarity and Subsidiarity

I've gotten questions in the past about how the Vatican views the international financial crisis, as well as what Catholics should think about a variety of economic and social issues.  I think that in addressing any of these questions, there are exactly two tools that we need to have at our disposal: solidarity and subsidiarity.  Both of them are aspects of the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves:

  • Solidarity is the notion that we're connected with our neighbors: down the street, throughout the country, and around the world. We can't, as Christians, just say “I'll take care of myself, I don't care about my poor next-door neighbor.” Likewise, we can't, as Christians, just say, “I'll take care of America, I don't care about the poor Third World.” The presence of international borders doesn't curb our need to love neighbor. If it did, then how do we explain the Good Samaritan, who wasn't from Israel?

  • Subsidiarity is equally important. It's the idea that problems should be solved at the smallest and most intimate level possible. For example, the federal government shouldn't be solving problems states can solve, states shouldn't be solving problems that communities can solve, and so on. This is another aspect of charity. Charity isn't a faceless international bureaucracy doling out tax dollars. It's a soul exhibiting the love of Christ. This also means that our moral obligations to tend for our family are higher than our moral obligation to care for our neighborhood, or community, or city, or state, or country, or planet. We have some degree of moral duty and responsibility towards each of these, but it's best understood as concentric circles.
These are the two things that the Church teaches: solidarity and subsidiarity are very important.  At this point, we're largely in the realm of prudence.  Church leaders may suggest a solution to economic or political issues, but in almost every case, Catholics are free to disagree.  So if you understand these two principles, you're 90% of the way towards being able to formulate a Catholic response to any of the world's problems.  And these two principles help balance one another out, as Pope Benedict XVI explained in Caritas in Veritate:
The principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need.
In that encyclical, he did a good job of laying out the role of both solidarity and subsidiarity.  Solidarity helps civilize the market, so we don't have the brutal excess of the sweatshop and the plantation:
Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State. While in the past it was possible to argue that justice had to come first and gratuitousness could follow afterwards, as a complement, today it is clear that without gratuitousness, there can be no justice in the first place. What is needed, therefore, is a market that permits the free operation, in conditions of equal opportunity, of enterprises in pursuit of different institutional ends. Alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and the various types of public enterprise, there must be room for commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends to take root and express themselves. It is from their reciprocal encounter in the marketplace that one may expect hybrid forms of commercial behaviour to emerge, and hence an attentiveness to ways of civilizing the economy. Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself.
One risk we can fall into is what Charles Dickens called “telescopic charity” (I’m indebted to Fr. Paul Scalia for this term). It's the idea that we're going to meddle in the affairs of complete strangers, while refusing to love our family or those people we see every day. He mentioned seeing it a lot among high-schoolers: they want to stop all the injustice in the world on a grand scale, but refuse to stop perpetrating injustices.  That's a cop out, and not the appropriate Christian solution.  It's even more of a cop out when we think that we can accomplish this charity simply by writing a check, or worse, by having the government write a check for us.


So note what Benedict said above, about how solidarity can't simply be delegated to the State.  That's critically important.  Yes, we have an obligation to love our neighbors around the country and across the globe.  But no, that's not an obligation that's met through your tax dollars. The federal government cannot love for you.  The State certainly has some role to play, but the assumption that only the State has a role to play isn't a Christian one.

Benedict's vision of the economy is refreshing, and I wish more politicians here and abroad would take these words to heart.  A free market is a good, but a truly free market should make it possible for individuals and businesses to work for profit, or work for the good of others.  I think that tax-exempt charitable organizations are one helpful way in which the State facilitates charity without getting too much in the way (but even here, only if the tax-exemption doesn't come with a lot of strings attached that destroy the independence of the charity).

About subsidiarity, which he called “an expression of inalienable human freedom,”  Pope Benedict has this to say:
Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others. By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state. It is able to take account both of the manifold articulation of plans — and therefore of the plurality of subjects — as well as the coordination of those plans.
So for example, you've got a friend who loses his job.  If the State takes care of him, he's treated impersonally, and he's at the risk of being treated as a helpless victim.  In contrast, if you and your other friends (or perhaps your local parish) help take care of him, it's personal and loving.  Plus, you're treating him as a friend with inherent dignity, not simply a victim.  Maybe your generosity will encourage him to help contribute in some way in return (either to you or others), something he's unlikely to have done in response to the welfare state.  That is, the more personal approach is the one more likely to cultivate respect and charity.

Benedict then remarks on the role that subsidiary plays in globalization, while emphasizing the role for international authority as well:
Hence the principle of subsidiarity is particularly well-suited to managing globalization and directing it towards authentic human development. In order not to produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature, the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity, articulated into several layers and involving different levels that can work together. Globalization certainly requires authority, insofar as it poses the problem of a global common good that needs to be pursued. This authority, however, must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way, if it is not to infringe upon freedom and if it is to yield effective results in practice.
So the pope is endorsing some degree of international authority for regulating globalization, while emphasizing that we don't want a tyrannical world government.  We want as local a solution as is possible: it just happens that for certain things in international relations, the most local solution possible is international.

So what does this authority look like?  We've seen it manifested in multilateral treaties in the past.  For example, the 1912 International Opium Convention was an agreement in which 13 major nations agreed to outlaw opium.  It helped regulate an international problem (the drug trade) in a way that wouldn't have been as effective done more locally (as China discovered, when it tried to unilaterally outlaw opium).  So when we read this, it's easy to conjure up visions of a UN world-government, but that's not what's being talked about.

Finally, there is a healthy debate over whether the role played by the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the rest are helpful.  Should they exist?  Should they be reformed?  If they continue to exist, what should their institutional goals be, and what means should they use to achieve these goals?  These, and all of the related questions, are prudential.  Once you understand the importance of subsidiarity and solidarity, and are motivated by a true love of neighbor, it's largely up to you to decide how you think these things should best be handled.
Just couldn't resist adding this picture of Pope Benedict speaking to the UN.
Update: Fr. C.J. McCloskey, the former director of the Catholic Information Center here in D.C., wrote an article in May addressing some of these same issues.

Monday, November 28, 2011

“Did God Die For You?” (St. Paul and Unconditional Election)

That's the title of a tract I was handed on the street earlier this month. It's in the form of a series of questions and answers. One of the questions is, “How do I know if God has chosen me to be saved?” The answer begins (my emphasis added):
A. You may be one of God's chosen (elect) people or you may not -- only God knows those He intends to save; therefore we have to leave the question of “election” completely to the sovereign will of God.
And since Calvinists claim that, “Jesus died only for the elect,” the answer to the tract's title question seems to be, “We don't know.”  Christ may have died for you, He may not have -- there's no way to know for sure, and nothing you can do about it, anyways. That's the Good News?

But it gets worse. Arminians teach that God predestined those He knew would accept salvation. But Calvinists deny this. Instead, Article 9 of the first Chapter of the Canons of Dordt teaches:
This election was not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality of disposition in man, as the pre-requisite, cause or condition on which it depended; but men are chosen to faith and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc., therefore election is the fountain of every saving good; from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects, according to that of the apostle: "He hath chosen us (not because we were) but that we should be holy, and without blame, before him in love," Ephesians 1:4.
(Note that the only support Dordt supplies for this doctrine is by adding some words to Ephesians 1:4.)  This is what Calvinists mean by unconditional election.  If God chose the good over the bad, that would be a condition.  If He chose the faithful over the faithless, that would be a condition.  If He chose some and not others for coherent reasons known only to Himself, that would still be a condition (just one we don't know).  Calvinists deny that He had any reason.  Instead, He looks across all of Creation, and arbitrarily chooses some to go to Heaven, and some to go to Hell.   He could just as easily have sent everyone to Heaven, but decided not to.

I'm not exaggerating.  GotQuestions?, in defending unconditional election, says as much:
God could have chosen to save all men (He certainly has the power and authority to do so), and He could have chosen to save no one (He is under no obligation to save anyone). He instead chose to save some and leave others to the consequences of their sin (Exodus 33:19; Deuteronomy 7:6-7; Romans 9:10-24; Acts 13:48; 1 Peter 2:8).
There are a lot of things wrong with this vision of salvation.  For starters, it renders both faith and works irrelevant. That is, they have no place to play in our salvation at all. We're saved because of God's election, not because of our faith. We then have faith because we're already saved.

But what's most ironic about it is that, in defending this scheme of salvation, Calvinists rely heavily upon the ninth chapter of St. Paul's epistle to the Romans. I say “ironic,” because in this letter, St. Paul is opposing those who believe that God arbitrarily divided the world into two groups: the Jews and the Gentiles (“Greeks”), only one of whom He'd save. Paul writes in response to this, in Romans 2:6-11,
For He will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
My reaction is simple: if St. Paul was a Calvinist, would he have written these words?  Could he have?  It would be more accurate, were he a Calvinist, to say that God does show partiality, and does divide the world into two arbitrary and unchanging groups for purposes of salvation, but that the two groups are elect/reprobate, rather than Jew/Greek.

What then, to make of Romans 9, where Paul does seem to say that God divides the world between the saved and damned before the dawn of time?  If he changing course?  Of course not.  Paul is quick to note that membership in these groups changes, as those who weren't God's children can become His children (see Romans 9:25-26).  And Paul summarizes his argument from Romans 9 this way (Romans 9:30-33):
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 
Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Note his rhetorical question: why?  He doesn't say, “God arbitrarily decided it.”  He doesn't say “They lost the cosmic lottery before the dawn of time.”  He says,  instead, that they rejected Christ (the “Stumbling Stone”), and rejected faith, treating salvation as something that they could merit or earn through works of the Law.

So even here, St. Paul is quick to bring the question of salvation back to this: what do we believe, and how do we respond to that belief?  But if Paul believed in unconditional election, that question is irrelevant.  So St. Paul certainly doesn't appear to be a Calvinist.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jesus Makes the National Catholic Reporter Feel Like Losers?

The National Catholic Reporter appears to be claiming that Jesus makes them feel like losers.  This bizarre claim comes from their editorial against the new translation of the Mass texts. Here's what they said:
Because of our belief in one family in this big tent, we are loath to characterize disagreements as battles. Battles have winners and losers, and no one in the family should be known as a loser. (Historically, losers in church battles have been called schismatics and that is not a nice word to use among family.)

Yet this Sunday, Nov. 27, the first Sunday in Advent, when we are gathered around the eucharistic table -- what should be the greatest sign of our unity -- many of us will feel depressed. We will feel like losers when we hear not the words that Jesus’ blood “will be shed for you and for all” but that Jesus’ blood “will be shed for you and for many.”
But this change in the English translation isn't just more faithful to the Latin text. It's what Jesus said, as reported in Scripture. Here's how His words are reported in Mark 14:23-25,
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
And from Matthew 26:27-29,
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.”
Now those translations come from the NAB, the Bible translation generally used in Mass. But you can look at the relevant verses in whatever translation you'd like: He clearly said His Blood was to be shed for many.  The Greek word in both passages is polys (πολύς), which meansmany, much, large.

See, the new translation (for which I thank God) wasn't about hurting the feelings of anyone at the Reporter, but about greater faithfulness to the Latin Rite, and greater faithfulness to the words of Jesus Christ.  As the Reporter admits in their editorial, “The English translation that we have used since 1973 was a rush job done in the first burst of enthusiasm after the Second Vatican Council.”  It was sloppy in many places, and was never intended to last even as long as it did.  Today marks the fulfillment of what was intended from the beginning: the implementation of a faithful translation of the Latin Mass, so that we can pray the same prayers of the universal Church, but each in our own tongue.  It's the spirit of Pentecost, not Babel.

Are their areas for improvement, even with the new translation?  Probably.  But those who are seeing this as some sort of partisan agenda reveal more about themselves than about the translation.  I think that the Reporter's editorial betrays this.  They portray their kvetch as against some cabal of bishops seeking to impose their personal whims on the laity.  But that's just not the case.  This isn't about the bishops, or even about the Church, but about Christ Himself.  And that's not a battle the Reporter will win, or even a battle that they should be fighting.

Last but not least, happy Advent!

(h/t to Fr. Andrew for pointing out the editorial)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A New Mass Translation Every Generation?

A brother priest pointed out a comment on the editorial over at National Catholic Reporter. My buddy's reply to the comment was: Everybody stop talking! This guy has said everything that needs to be said. Total win sir. Total win.

I agree. Sometimes caring about clarity and beauty helps. Alternatives are risky even if they are hilarious.

"Raised Eyebrow" wrote:

Here's a better translation of the Mass that I'm sure we can all support:

Priest: Uhm, like, hey guys, we need to, you know, get started, so let’s do the cross thingy. OK, so now we’re gonna say sorry and stuff to God because, you know
what? Nobody’s perfect.
All: I’m sorry if anything I did was offensive. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. My bad.
Priest: Ok, let’s, like, talk to God now and listen to the stories in the book.
Lector: [lector reads the day’s selection] This is from that book from God.
All: Thanks God.
Cantor: Now you all are gonna repeat after me, like row row row your boat and I’ll sing some stuff from the book.
Priest: Uhm, This next part is really important so let’s everybody stand up and do the cross thingy on our heads, mouths and chest.
Hey, peace y’all.
All: Right back atcha.
[the priest reads the Gospel of the day]
Priest: Jesus did this.
All: Thanks Jesus.
Priest: [gives pastoral, easily comprehensible homily]
Priest: Hey guys, now let’s say that long thing that talks about what we think about and stuff.
All: We like God. God is cool and really nice because He made me and this whole world – which by the way – we are totally polluting and it’s getting hot. Jesus was born in a little barn and every Christmas we have a play during church but then he died. But you know what? He loves me and wants me to be happy. There’s this spirit that talks to us in a book and he makes things live. I like my church because everyone here is so nice and the priest is nice and we sing nice songs about nice stuff and later when we get old and icky, after we die, we all get to go to heaven with Jesus. He’s really cool by the way. Amen.
Priest: Now let’s pray for a bunch of stuff.
[intentions are prayed]
Priest: hey you guys in the back? Can y’all carry that basket and pitcher up here? That’d help a lot. Thanks.
Priest: Hey y’all, be peaceful and stuff.
All: You too.
Priest: Let’s pray to God and, you know.
All: yeah, that’d be nice.
Priest: You know what? Angels and stuff sing to God so let’s sing along with them.
All: Hey God.
You are way bigger than us.
You make the world happy.
We love you big guy.
YAY!
Jesus liked you and he was cool.
YAY!
Priest: A long time ago, at dinner, Jesus gave His friend’s some bread and wine and stuff.
Because Jesus likes us, He wants us to have bread and wine too.
God wants us to have this snack also.
And you know what?
We really like snacks so let’s tell God and Jesus and that Spirit gal thanks.
All: Yeah…Thanks.
[all present themselves for communion]
Priest: (holding out a wicker basket) Uhm, like, here’s some bread for you from God.
Recipient: Yum, that’s good and nutty, is it whole grain by the way? I like it. Now where’s that dude with the vino?

[Note to Joe: consider "Raised Eyebrow" for co-blogger position]

Friday, November 25, 2011

Healing the Scandal of Denominationalism

Old Covenant Judaism, by the time of Christ, was riddled with various sects. For example, the Jewish historian Josephus, writing at the close of the first century, describes five major factions: the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots and Sicarii.  Other factions existed as well, like the Herodians, the mortal enemies of the Sicarii.  And of course, there are the Samaritans, who weren't recognized as Jews by most of the Jewish sects.  Again, these are just the divisions within ancient Judaism: it doesn't include the disunity between Jews and Gentiles.

Into this divided and disorganized world comes Christ, who forms a new and united Church.  In John 10:14-16, Jesus says,
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”
And a few chapters later, in John 17:20-23, He prays,
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.

Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.”
Passages like these suggest that the Church is to be One.  But Catholics and Protestants typically understand these passages differently.  Catholics understand that there's to be a single Church, and see the rise of denominationalism to be a gross scandal, and a grave wound to the Body of Christ.  In contrast, from what I can tell, most Protestants read these passages to simply mean that, whatever else may divide us, we're at least united by our shared love of Christ.

This chart gets some of the details wrong,
but it helps show the scandal of denominationalism
While it's true that Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants are united in some way by our shared Baptism and our shared love of Christ, this particular reading of the passage strikes me as rather flat.  The Oneness of the New Testament Church described in Scripture certainly seems to include doctrinal unity.  In Acts 4:32, we're told that “All the believers were one in heart and mind.”  So they shared a common love for Christ and common beliefs. And in 2 Corinthians 13:11, St. Paul writes, “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Besides that, consider Galatians 2:11-14, in which St. Paul confronts St. Peter:
But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
In treating the Gentile Christians like they were unclean, and inferior to the Jewish Christians, St. Peter refused to eat dinner with them.  That was scandalous and sinful.  But how much larger of a scandal is it that Protestant and Catholic Christians can't share the sacred meal of Holy Communion together?

So no, denominationalism is a terrible scandal.  Jesus Christ calls us to more, and He's prayed for more.  It's a serious and ugly problem that needs to be solved.  I see essentially three ways that this scandal can be cured:

(1) We Can Sacrifice the Truth for the Sake of Unity.

This is the real danger of much of ecumenism.  Representatives of two (or more) denominations will sit down together, and squabble of how much of their statement of beliefs can be sacrificed for the sake of forced unity.    You'll give up your beliefs forbidding infant Baptism, and in exchange, we'll stop affirming that the pope is head of the Church on Earth -- that sort of thing.  That's a dishonest approach towards theology.  If Christianity is a religion of what's true, and what's revealed by God, we don't have the leeway to compromise some of His revelation for convenience.

Contrast this approach with St. Paul's instructions to his disciple Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5,
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.
The problem with this first approach is that it does the exact opposite: once the Truth is out of season, we stop preaching it, and stop rebuking error, sacrificing sound teaching for the sake of those myths and false teachings promulgated by the popular teachers sought out by the flock.  St. Paul's charge to Timothy invokes Christ, “who is to judge the living and the dead.”  We don't want to show up to the Last Judgment having violated this charge.

(2) We Can Pretend Everything is Okay.

This is another trap that much of the modern ecumenical effort risks falling  into.  In it, we try to put a band-aid over the wound in the Body of Christ, and pretend it's not there.  Maybe we'll want to offer open Communion to groups that we think are dangerously wrong with their theology, and who have a very different view of the Eucharist and the Church than we do. This is another form of dishonesty, and it's directly condemned in Scripture (Jeremiah 3:13-15):
“From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct?
No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,”
says the LORD.
So this second option is also condemned in some pretty strong language, this time by God Himself directly.

(3) We Can Become Truly United in One Faith and One Church.

This leaves one option, and it's not one that Protestants are going to want to hear.  The Scriptural evidence points to the idea that God Himself will lead the Church.  Consider the Scriptural evidence:

  1. Christ built the Church Himself (Matthew 16:17-19);
  2. The Church is the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23-32);
  3. The Body of Christ is to be without division (1 Corinthians 12:25);
  4. Christ gave Peter (individually) the power to bind and loosen, and the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16:17-19);
  5. He likewise gave the Church (collectively) the power to bind and loosen (Matthew 18:18), 
  6. Peter was given a special commission to care for the other Apostles (Luke 22:32), and was given a special commission in caring for all of Christ's flock (John 21:15-17);
  7. Peter later went to Rome, referred to by the Jews as "Babylon" (1 Peter 5:13);
  8. The Church established by Christ included hand-picked Apostles (Mark 3:14)
  9. The men picked by God then appointed another generation of Church leaders (e.g., Acts 1:23-25; Acts 6:3-6; Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).  
  10. The men they appointed were to continue this chain of Apostolic succession (2 Tim. 2:2)
  11. Christ protects the Church always (Matthew 28:20);
  12. Christ promised not to leave us orphans -- which precludes the possibility of an Apostasy wiping the true Church off the map (John 14:18);
  13. The Holy Spirit protects the Church always (John 14:16);
  14. The Holy Spirit leads the Church into all truth (John 16:13; John 14:26);
  15. We, the laity, aren't supposed to seek out whichever denomination suits us best (2 Timothy 4:3-4);
  16. Instead, we're supposed to obey Church leaders (Hebrews 13:17-18), and look to them for the truth (1 Timothy 3:15);
  17. This Church was prophesied in the Old Testament as starting in time of the Roman Empire, and lasting forever (Daniel 2:44-45).  It was also prophesied to include a sacrificial priesthood similar to the Levitical priesthood of old (Isaiah 66:18-21).
All of that points towards the Catholic Church.  Many more passages could be marshaled in support as well, as well as the testimony of the earliest Christians.

Now, if the Catholic Church is Who She claims to be (the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ, imparted with the ongoing protection of the Holy Spirit), the problem is solved quite neatly.  If all Christians unite under the Catholic Church, and listen to St. Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy 3:15, rather than acting like those he criticizes in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, we get both unity and Truth.

Conclusion

One of the points that Christians often make in Christian-Jewish dialogues is that if Christ isn't the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies, no one is.  The Tanakh contains a long list of Messianic prophesies that created a specific timeline.  For example, Daniel 2 is pretty clear that the Advent of the Messiah will occur three regime changes after the fall of the Babylonian Empire: that is, during the time of the Roman Empire.  Jesus Christ fits the timeline: no other contender does.  So it's Jesus or nobody.

We have a similar situation here.  If Jesus called for total adherence to the Truth and a Oneness of the Church, Protestantism can't be correct.  At its heart, it preaches that the Reformation was necessary: that Oneness of the Church had to be broken out of adherence to the Truth.  That's the inherent catch-22 of Protesantism in a nutshell.  It's Catholicism or nobody.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Four Quick Notes on Thanksgiving

1) First, a Thanksgiving hymn. I've mentioned this particular hymn before as one of the greatest of the twentieth century, but it seems particularly apt for today:


O God beyond all praising, we worship you today
and sing the love amazing that songs cannot repay;
for we can only wonder at every gift you send,
at blessings without number and mercies without end:
we lift our hearts before you and wait upon your word,
we honor and adore you, our great and mighty Lord.


Then hear, O gracious Savior, accept the love we bring,
that we who know your favor may serve you as our king;
and whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
we'II triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.

2) Catholics sometimes have qualms about Thanksgiving, since it's a semi-religious holiday (sort of) begun by the Puritan pilgrims, who wanted to “purify” the Church of England of “Romanism.”  I think Taylor Marshall provides the antidote in a rather great post on Thanksgiving. In it, he talks about how Squanto was Catholic, how the first Thanksgiving celebrated in the US was Catholic (St. Augustine, Florida, 1565), and how the Catholics and Puritans shared common persecution under the Anglicans during this time.

3) One of the things that Taylor  mentions in his post is that “Eucharist” literally means “Thanksgiving” in Greek.  Of all the things we're thankful for in this year, let's not forget the most central one, the Eucharist Itself, the “source and summit of the Christian life.”  That Jesus Christ would deign to come stay with us sinful mortals, and that He should do so under such humble appearances, is one of those blessings without number, and mercies without end.

4) One of the many things I'm thankful for are all of you: the people who read, who comment, who e-mail, and who pray for me.  I keep you all in my prayers as well, and I've been richly blessed through this blog.

From the left, that's Cary (who posts as scredsoxfan2), David Bates (better known as Restless Pilgrim), and myself.  David was in town, and we'd never met; we had a great time, and passed about six hours before we knew it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fr. John Riccardo's Amazing Sermon on Knowing Jesus

Fr. John Riccardo, a priest from Plymouth, Michigan, was invited to speak at Kensington Community Church, a local Non-denominational church.  He gives an awesome 30 minute sermon on the importance of knowing Jesus, rather than just knowing about Jesus.  We need to hear this, whether we're Catholic or Protestant:


(I originally saw this on Ready with a Reason, but didn't sit down and watch it until Restless Pilgrim reposted it, so h/t to both)

Why Do Catholics Call Priests "Father"?

A common objection to Catholicism is that Catholics ignore the Bible in calling priests Father. After all, in Matthew 23:9, Jesus says, “call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

It seems, on the surface, that Catholics are just violating Scripture wantonly. And really, how hard is it to just call the priest Reverend?  But when you start to examine Scripture, you'll quickly discover that Matthew 23:9 is one of the most misunderstood passages in all of Scripture.

So let me do three things: first, show that men are called “father” throughout the New Testament; second, that “father” is used as an honorific throughout the New Testament; and finally, explain why this is compatible with what Christ is talking about in Matthew 23:9.

“Fathers” Throughout the New Testament

Let's start in an obvious place, the beginning of Matthew's Gospel.  The genealogy in Matthew 1 lists a lot of fathers: “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…” (Matthew 1:2).  Jesus talks about our fathers in Matthew 10:37 and Mark 10:29.  Ephesians 6:2 reminds children, “honor your father and mother.”  In fact, there are countless men referred to in the New Testament as fathers or father.

Protestants recognize this, and concede that it's okay to call a man “father” in the biological sense, just not in the spiritual sense.  Now, Matthew 23:9 doesn't actually say that, does it?  It says to call no man “father.” So my first point is that nobody takes Matthew 23:9 literally, including Mathew and Jesus.

Fathers In Faith

So what do we make of the idea that it's okay to call a man a biological father, but not a spiritual father?  That reading is also wrong, and contrary to the plain language of the Bible.

When Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, He has the rich man refer to Abraham by the title “Father Abraham” when praying to him (Luke 16:24; Luke 16:30).  There's not a hint anywhere in the passage that he's wrong to call him that, either.   James 2:21 likewise calls him “Abraham our father.”  That's the exact formulation that seems to be banned by Matthew 23:9.  Likewise, there's Acts 4:25, in which the Christians remind God of the words of “our father David Your servant.” Romans 9:10 refers to “our father Isaac.

But couldn't they just be calling them fathers, and meaning ancestors?  Nope.  Romans 4:11-18 explicitly tells us that Abraham is our father through faith:
He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. 
The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 
All Are Welcome.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants -- not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations" -- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, "So shall your descendants be."
In Matthew 3:9, John the Baptist makes the same point, saying to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  In other words, biological descent from Abraham doesn't cut it.  It's being his son in faith that matters.  And Jesus Himself makes the same point in John 8:39, telling the Pharisees, “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do what Abraham did.”  So clearly Abraham is called father (at least by Christians) because he's our spiritual father, rather than our biological ancestor.

We see this in plenty of other places.  St. Stephen, for example, uses it for the elders of the Jewish Council, beginning his speech, “Hear me, brethren and fathers!” (Acts 7:2).  Obviously, he's not claiming that the high priest and the elders he's speaking to are his physical ancestors: he's referring them as fathers in the same way we refer to priests as fathers today.

St. Paul even refers to himself as a spiritual father, saying, “in Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15).  And St. Peter refers to Mark as his (spiritual) son in 1 Peter 5:13 -- with the implication that Peter is his father in faith.  So basically everyone in the New Testament uses father as a spiritual title.  The Protestant formulation (that it's okay to call men father, but only if they're a biological ancestor) is clearly wrong.

Understanding Matthew 23:9

So we've covered two things that Matthew 23:9 doesn't mean.  It doesn't forbid the use of the word father, and it doesn't forbid the use of the title father for a spiritual leader.  So what does it mean? I explored this in some retreat notes that I posted at the dawn of this blog:
There Can Be Only One.
Jesus said, “call no man on Earth your Father,” (Matt. 23: 19), yet St. Paul says, “I became your father through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). St. Paul warns earlier in that epistle, though, that there is no Paul or Apollos, only Christ (1 Cor. 1:12-13). And this is the key that ties it all together.

Christ warns us not to call any man our father so as not to create an alternative to God, a figure to draw us away from God. If we are a Christian but also a Marxist, we find Marx and Christ pulling us in different directions. But to be a follower of St. Paul is to be a follower of Christ. Paul's fatherhood draws you in to the One Divine Father.
And from those same notes, “God is jealous of Baal, not Moses; of Mammon, not Peter. God's jealousy is of anything which draws us away from Him.”  That is, it's a jealousy of love.

Christ denounced the Pharisees for creating a separate set of allegiances, obedience to a rabbinical tradition that interfered with their ability to follow the Ten Commandments (Mark 7:9-13). In Catholicism, there is no separate allegiance.  Loyalty to the Bride of Christ, the Church, is loyalty to Christ Himself (Ephesians 5:25-32).

UPDATE: I'll be talking about this post on Son Rise Morning Show next week.  Interview is at 8:50 AM Monday morning, but I'm not sure when it's airing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Luke 2:2 and Historical Accuracy in the Gospels

Nick, the atheist I've been talking with about the historical accuracy of the Gospels, wants to know how Jesus' Nativity could have happened during the time of the first Census of Quirinius (Luke 2:1-2).  The NIV translates it as:  “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria,” and most other translations have something similar.  That's a problem, as critics of Christianity are quick to note.

The atheist argument in a nutshell is this: the Census of Quirinius wasn't until 6 A.D., about a decade after the death of King Herod, and about a decade after every other event that Matthew and Luke describe in their Infancy Narratives.  Therefore, Luke's either an incredibly unreliable historian, or is outright making up details.  Either way is a body blow to the credibility of his Gospel.  That's a strong-sounding argument, on the surface.  But if you dig down a little bit, you'll discover that as a critique, it suffers from some pretty glaring flaws.

There are three reasons that I don’t think Luke could possibly be saying what atheists (and most modern Bibles, including the NIV) depict him as saying:

The Division of Herod's Kingdom
First, Luke just said King Herod was in charge, not Quirinius. A bit of background here. Upon the death of King Herod (“Herod the Great”) in about 4 B.C., his kingdom was divided up between his sons. Judea and Samaria went to Herod Archelaus (light green in the map on the right), while Galilee went to Herod Antipas (“Herod” or “Herod the tetrarch” in the New Testament -- magenta) and Herod Phillip III got Iturea and Traconitis (orange). Ten years later, in 6 A.D., Herod Archelaus was banished, and the tetrarchy of Judea was placed under direct Roman control: specifically, under the control of Quirinius, governor of Syria (dark green).

Now, Luke has just said that King Herod is still alive (Luke 1:5 – and yes, this means that the traditional dating of Christ’s birth is probably off by a couple years). He can’t be saying that Judea is both under the control of King Herod and under the control of Quirinius. Not only would the chronology be off, but that doesn’t make any sense. It’d be like saying that King George III was in charge of the American colonies, and then that John Adams was president. Not only is there a decade in between those two events, and a major political shift, but they just can’t both be in charge. And Luke is writing propably in the 60s, much nearer the event than we are to the American Revolution.

Saint Luke
Second, Luke knows his history much too well to make that mistake. Regardless of your views on the inspiration of his writings, Luke just isn’t dumb enough to have made that mistake. He knows much too much about regional history and politics. Besides the thorough genealogy we discussed before, Luke knows of even the minor players in Herodian politics: for example, in Luke 3:19, he mentions the sister-in-law of Herod Antipas. And in Luke 8:3, he mentions “Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household."

So that’d be like making the John Adams mistake above, while knowing the name of Betsy Smith, John Adam’s sister-in-law. It’s just unlikely he couldn’t have known about the chronology following King Herod’s death.

In fact, Luke 3:1 makes it clear he knows all about that division, and when it happens. The chapter begins, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene...” So he’s pretty clearly well-informed about the division of Israel after the death of King Herod.

Mosaic of Mary and Joseph's enrollment for taxation before Quirinius
(Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Constantinople)
Finally, it doesn’t make sense to call the 6 A.D. Census the “first” census under Quirinius. The traditional translation (and the atheist interpretation of what Luke's saying) doesn’t make apparent sense, since there was only one census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  Christians have proposed three credible alternatives, all of which better account for the facts above:
  1. The Greek here is best read to mean that this was the census preceding Quirinius;
  2. The Greek here is best read to mean that this was the census that became important while Quirinius was governor;
  3. This Greek here is best read to mean that this was the first census taken by Governor Quirinius -- but that Luke is referring to a census taken before he became governor.
There's a fourth option, of course: that we're still missing important historical pieces.  But all of these options suggest that we're not talking about the 6 A.D. census, but an earlier one.  Any of these alternatives strike me as more plausible than the idea that Luke got the huge details wrong, while getting all of the same details correct.

Conclusion

So we all agree that Luke is clearly making a connection to Quirinius. Apparently, the Greek is ambiguous enough that it can also mean that this was the census preceding Quirinius, or the census that became important while Quirinius was governor.  It's also possible that it's a census taken by Quirinius before he became governor.  But what seems incredibly unlikely is that Luke is describing the 6 A.D. census, as atheists (and many modern Bibles) claim.

After all, for Luke to be describing the census of 6 A.D., he’d have to not only (1) get the date wrong by a decade or more, he’d also have to (2) think that Quirinius and King Herod were in charge at the same time, and (3) that Quirinius conducted more than one census during his stint as governor. All of this is resolved quite easily if we read Luke 2:2 as describing the census as the one that preceded the more famous census of 6 A.D. Which, of course, corresponds perfectly well with the rest of the Biblical evidence for the dating of the birth of Christ.

Friday, November 18, 2011

John Allen, Archbishop Dolan, and "Affirmative Orthodoxy"

Archbishop Timothy Dolan is one of the most important bishops in the Catholic Church by almost any measure.  He's been rector of the prominent North American College in Rome, and Vice-Rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, as well as an Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis and Archbishop of Milwaukee.  He's currently the Archbishop of New York, the president of the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, and was chosen by the pope to be the apostolic visitor to Irish seminaries to help repair the abuse crisis there. He's also on the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and is one of the few bishop bloggers.

As you can imagine, he's got quite a lot to share, and he's not exactly an introvert.  Sitting down for a series of interviews with John Allen, one of the finest Catholic reporters by almost anyone's standards, the two men chatted about nearly everything under the Catholic sun.  The resulting book, A People of Hope:  Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John L. Allen, Jr(which Image Books provided me a copy of for free), is superb.  It's an engaging read with plenty of pearls of wisdom, regardless of how much you already know about the Catholic faith, or about Dolan personally.

What This Book is Like

The format of the book is worth mentioning. In both the introduction and conclusion, Allen explains that he hasn’t put together a “conventional journalistic profile of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, which would involve a careful reconstruction of his life and career, along with a variety of different points of view about what Dolan represents” (p. 221).

Instead, we’re invited into a series of conversations between two interesting and knowledgeable Catholics, and one of whom is the Archbishop of New York. Allen borrowed this format from The Ratzinger Reporter, the 1984 book of interviews between Vittorio Messori and another rising star within the Church, the man now known as Pope Benedict.

This format serves Dolan well, as it did Benedict. Both are well-equipped to handle questions on the spot, answering with a surprising degree of eloquence and thoughtfulness. It also plays to Dolan’s strengths: his answers are consistently optimistic, and they’re often quite colorful. He’s gregarious and funny to boot. As Allen notes, Abp. Dolan’s the kind of guy you’d like to sit down and have a beer with, and that’s why this book works so well: this is the conversation you’d be having over a beer, if you got to ask him everything on your mind.

Affirmative Orthodoxy in Action

One of the characteristics of Dolan’s answers is that he’s a natural story-teller. Another is that he’s a big believer in what Allen calls “affirmative orthodoxy” (pp. xxi-xxii). That is, Dolan’s faithful to the teachings of the Church, but he presents them in a positive way. Rather than describing Catholic teaching as a series of negative prohibitions, Dolan explains the positive truths being affirmed instead. In this, he models Jesus Christ well: look at the way that Christ summarizes the Law (full of “thou shalt not” prohibitions) in two positive commands -- to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40).

My favorite example of this comes when John Allen asks him about clerical celibacy, Dolan responds by telling the story of Sister Rosario, a nun he knew forty years ago, back in his days at Holy Infant parish in Ballwin, Missouri. Without recounting the entire story, Dolan explained that when Sister Rosario was teaching first grade, a student asked if she was married. When Sister said no, the girl replied, “Oh, good, you belong to all of us.” (pp. 73-74). That anecdote does a great job of laying out the positive reason for clerical celibacy, and there’s a lot to unpack.

We generally think of marriage as saying “yes” to one spouse, rather than “no” to all the fish in the sea, even though fidelity to that “yes” requires all of those other “no’s.” But with clerical celibacy, we often depict it as a “no” to women, rather than a “yes” to full-time faithful service to the Church. But that yes is much more accurate. The Church isn’t saying sex is bad (have you seen the size of traditional Catholic families?), but that to embrace celibacy in order to serve the Kingdom of God is good (Matthew 19:12). Abp. Dolan, in describing celibacy as something affirmative, rather than something negative, helps us to understand it for what it really is.

The Subject Matter

As I said above, these are the questions you might ask Abp. Dolan over a beer, if you were feeling particularly brave.  Throughout it all, John Allen earns his reputation as an excellent reporter, and one respected by Catholics of all stripes. It's not often you'll find anyone or anything embraced by both George Weigel and the National Catholic Reporter, but Allen's succeeded. This book should, too. It’s not a “fluff” piece, and Allen challenges Dolan on a couple of his answers, but it’s also not “gotcha” journalism, seeking to trap him with his words. He’s just asking great questions, and listening to Dolan’s answers.

Allen’s very first question is about the sex-abuse crisis, to which he devotes an entire chapter; and he asks about the usual hot-button issues, from gay marriage to women’s ordination to Communion for pro-choice politicians. But Dolan gets asked about those questions by the media constantly. Where Allen goes off the beaten track is when he starts asking about Dolan’s prayer life, about any struggles with his faith, and the like. It’s easy, in the modern age, to think of Catholic bishops in terms of their stances on those issues politicians care about. But Allen understands that the heart of Catholicism is in prayer, and that this is one area too shielded from the public. In the beginning to his chapter on “Prayer and the Sacraments,” he puts it like this(p. 172):

Whatever the motive, the irony is that unless one goes to a priests’ retreat or some other internal affair, it can actually be fairly rare to hear a bishop talking about his own experiences of daily prayer, or what the Mass means to him, or the kinds of experiences he’s had with the sacrament of penance, either as a confessor or as the one making the confession. It’s a bit akin to the CEO of the Dell Corporation rarely speaking in public about computer, or the manager of the Yankees only talking occasionally about baseball. In other words, the somewhat surreal situation facing the Catholic Church is that its most visible leaders are reluctant to promote, or even talk much about, the Church’s core products.

The format of the book gives some taste of this. After a chapter explaining “the Dolan story,” in which Allen fills us in on some basic biographical details, the two talk about: “The Sexual-Abuse Crisis,” “Women in the Church,” “Pelvic Issues” (homosexuality, abortion, contraception, etc.), “Faith and Politics,” “Authority and Dissent,” “Affirmative Orthodoxy,” “Beyond Purple Ecclesiology” (in which Dolan talks about the need to focus more on the laity than just on the bishops), “Tribalism and Its Discontents,” “Prayer and the Sacraments,” and “Why Be Catholic?”

Conclusion

The reason the format of this book works is largely to do with the two men involved. Allen’s commentary and his questions are excellent and thought-provoking; Dolan’s answers are equally so. It seems fitting to conclude a conversation related to Archbishop Dolan with an anecdote, so here goes. I had a copy of this book with me on a vacation to Austin. I had another book, too, one that I was already reading and enjoying very much. Yet I found myself continually setting the book I was in the middle of aside, in order to flip through various parts of People of Hope. It’s got that kind of draw.  I'd suggest it for just about anyone.