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Thursday, November 17, 2016

If Jesus was the "firstborn" of Mary, wouldn't that indicate that there's at least a second born?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

This Sunday our 2nd reading proclaims:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent. Colossians 1

And the Gospel of Matthew, which we hear at Christmas Vigils, proclaims:

And he knew her not until she brought forth her firstborn son.

(note:  "until" in Biblical language does not indicate subsequent actions.  See 2 Sam 6:23, 1 Cor 15:25 and 1 Tim 4:13 for examples of "until" meaning only "up to a certain point".)

It would seem that the Bible does state that Jesus is the firstborn, thus there were second born children of Mary.  That is, Scripture attests to the fact that Mary was NOT ever-virgin and had other children.  

It does indeed seem reasonable to assume, if I introduce my child as "Here is my firstborn", that I have other children.  Otherwise, wouldn't I just say, "Here is my only child"?

The Catholic response: (source)

"This is another case where our modern understanding of terms interferes with understanding what the Bible meant at the time it was written. In biblical times, the term firstborn had great importance. The firstborn was to be consecrated to the Lord (Ex. 13:2); the parents were to redeem every firstborn son (Ex. 34:20). They weren’t supposed to wait until they had a second child to redeem the firstborn, and so the first son born to a woman was called the firstborn regardless of whether or not she had other children later on.

Exodus 13:1-2 provides an example of the understanding the ancient Israelites had regarding the term firstborn: "The Lord said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and beast, is mine.’"

The "firstborn" were not given the designation because there was a "second-born." They were called "firstborn" at birth. That is, Jesus being "firstborn" does not require that more siblings be born after him. The firstborn was "he who opened the womb."

OBJECTOR: I still don’t see why the Church requires Catholics to believe that Mary remained a virgin instead of allowing them to have their own opinions. Does it really matter if Mary had other children?

CATHOLIC: Actually, it does matter. Every doctrine about Mary tells us something about Christ or something about ourselves or the Church."  source

That is, the teaching on Mary, Ever-Virgin, tells us about the sovereign divinity and numinous quality of that which she carried in her womb--the Word of God made Flesh.  She did not carry just a holy teacher, a man who would be a great healer and miracle worker, butGod Incarnate.  

Again, can you imagine the womb which held God Incarnate later carrying anything else?  

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Friday, September 16, 2016

The "One Mediator" Objection to Catholicism

If you've ever been in a discussion with non-Catholic Christians about what they object to in Catholicism, chances are this verse will come up:  

There is also one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus,--1 Timothy 2

Criticism is raised that Catholics ignore the above verse when they 1) seek forgiveness through a priest 2) pray to saints.

We respond:  as the above verse is part of our 2nd reading this Sunday, clearly we don't "ignore" this verse.  We will proclaim it loudly and proudly this Sunday at all Roman Catholic churches throughout the world!

However, is it true that we don't really adhere to it?  Doesn't the fact that Jesus is our One Mediator mean that we
don't need to go to a priest to confess our sins, nor pray to dead saints in heaven?

I think the Catholic response is:  we always give a hearty "amen!" to everything the inspired writers profess.  The verse, however, just doesn't mean what some Protestants think it means.

Jesus is, indeed, our One Mediator, but ALL OF US are also mediators in and through our union with Jesus' One Mediatorship.

It's the ever present Catholic Both/And here at work.  Jesus is indeed our One Mediator, AND we are mediators.

A mediator is simply someone who "gets in the middle":

-Christ "got in the middle" of humanity and God.  

-We "get in the middle" of an unbeliever and God when we present God's word to him through evangelization.  

-The Church "gets in the middle" of its flock and God when it offers worship services.  

-A pastor "gets in the middle" of his congregation and God when he preaches a sermon.

-Protestants ask folks to "get in the middle" when they send out an email for their church's Prayer Chain, asking every church member to "get in the middle" of the hospitalized loved one and God.

So no Protestant should object to Christians mediating for others, and that would include a priest, mediating our reconciliation with God through the Sacrament of Confession, and saints, mediating our prayer requests through novenas, intercessory prayers to them, devotions to their holy lives.

In fact, all Christians are called to mediate the Grace of God to the world!  And the human mediator par excellence is Mary, the Mother of God, who mediated to us the Divine Word Made Flesh through her cooperation with the Incarnation!

Short Video: 
Apologist Trent Horn -Isn't Christ the only mediator between God and man?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

What's the point of fasting before Communion?

Short answer:  to help Catholics understand the magnificent and sublime honor it is to receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.

It just doesn't seem appropriate to munch on a Big Mac, and then, minutes later, become One Flesh with Christ, in the most profound and intimate union with the Godhead this side of heaven.

Longer answer:  we have a foreshadowing of the Communion Fast in the Old Testament in the rituals performed by the High Priest of Israel. Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the high priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, which was the inner sanctuary of the Temple, and approach the Shekinah (the glory of the Divine Presence), which dwelt in the Tabernacle (Ark).  

But first he must scrupulously prepare himself for the awesome (yet terrifying) privilege of approaching the Holy Presence.

Seven days before Yom Kippur the High Priest would separate from his own household and take up residence inside the Temple, in order to perform a meticulous and rigorous ritual of preparation and purification.  He fasted, purifying his mind, and performed numerous ablutions (ritual bathings) in order to prepare and sanctify his body. He confessed his sins. He shaved his entire body.  He removed his old vestments and donned pristine white garments....all in preparation for entering the Tabernacle and being in the glory of the Divine Presence.

It thus seems appropriate that we, who now have the awesome (yet also terrifying) privilege of approaching the Holy Presence, actually becoming One Flesh with Him, should do even a little bit of what the High Priest was commanded to do.  We, too, should be pure--with no mortal sin on our souls--and mentally prepared to become One with the Son.

Fasting for one hour before Communion seems to be but a small expression of the preparation we should do before approaching the Tabernacle of the Lord.

In fact, our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Orthodox Churches must fast for the entire morning prior to receiving Him, so the one hour fast for us Catholics seems minute in comparison. 

"So that the Body and Blood of our Lord may be the first thing to pass our lips on the day of communion, we abstain from all food and drink from the time that we retire (or midnight, whichever comes first) the night before. Married couples should abstain from sexual relations the night before communion.

When communion is in the evening, as with Presanctified Liturgies during Lent, this fast should if possible be extended throughout the day until after communion. For those who cannot keep this discipline, a total fast beginning at noon is sometimes prescribed."  --
"The Fasting Rule of the Orthodox Church"

The Catholic Code of Canon Law, Canon 919 states that “one who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink*, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour** before Holy Communion.” 

(*This includes gum
**The one hour fast is measured from the time a person would receive Holy Communion at Mass rather than the actual time the celebration of Mass begins; and for those who are sick, the fast is shortened to 15 minutes if possible)

While not required, some other ways to prepare for the privilege of receiving the Eucharist would be to engage in these pious practices:

-turn off the radio on the way to Mass as a way of consciously transitioning from the secular to the sacred
-arrive early in order to mentally and spiritually "fast" from the distractions of the day
-read the Sunday readings in advance

It is true that in the past the Catholic Church mandated that Catholics fast from midnight until reception of Holy Communion, and this discipline was changed after Vatican II to fasting for only an hour before Communion.
This mandate is a discipline, which is a pastoral practice of the Church, and not a doctrine,which is a teaching of the Church; and the Church is empowered to change its disciplines or practices.  That is what is meant by the "power to bind and loose" that Jesus gave to the Church in Matthew 18:18
"whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Thus, a change in discipline is not to be interpreted as saying, "Oh, so the Catholic Church has changed its teaching on fasting, right?"   The teaching remains the same:  Catholics must fast before receiving the Eucharist.

Some other examples of disciplines in the Church which have changed via the power to "bind and loose" are:
-abstaining from meat on Fridays
-a celibate priesthood
-the ban on cremation

So, while mandates for different pastoral practices of the faithful can indeed change, the doctrines of the Church,"given once for all to the saints" (Jude 1:3),  have been the same for 2000 years and can never change.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Is it correct to say that our soul has always existed?

There have been some discussions in the Catholic world that assert something like, "Before you were born you were an angel in heaven, and then you chose Mommy and Daddy to come down and join us in our family!"

This is not compatible with Catholic teaching.

Mormons, as well as some other religions (esp. those associated with New Age beliefs) profess that the human soul pre-exists our human body.  According to this Mormon website,  "Before you were born on the earth, you lived in the presence of your Heavenly Father as one of His spirit children."

However, Catholicism proclaims that at the moment of conception, a new immortal soul is created and...this is beautiful--the universe is changed forever!  When a new human person is created, a new soul comes into creation.

From the Catechism:  "The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God"

"The traditional philosophy of the Church holds that the rational soul is created at the moment when it is infused into the new organism."

And from the fifth ecumenical council of Constantinople in 553:  "If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema."

(Here, "fabulous" is an archaic way to say "mythical" or "relating to a fable".  And "anathema" is another word for "excommunicated".  It is a harsh term, to be sure, and perhaps if it were to be stated today the language would be gentler, but the take home message is clear:  we should not believe in the pre-existence of the soul.)

More on "anathema" and "excommunication" here:
"Does the Church condemn those who disagree with its teachings?"

Friday, June 24, 2016

How can Mary have never sinned yet have free will?

Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,     
                                            and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:   How can Mary have never sinned yet have free will?

There certainly seems to be a contradiction between 2 Church teachings:  free will and Mary's sinlessness.

If Mary never sinned, how is it that she had free will?  It seems as if she may have simply been "programmed" never to sin, and therefore couldn't really make a fully free act.

I think the answer lies with this beautiful analogy:

Imagine a woman living in a cabin in the woods on a hill. From her elevated position she can see the origin of a river. A town is dumping sewage into the river. Downstream there is a family living near the river. From their position they cannot see that a town is dumping sewage into the river, so they drink from that river.

However, the woman, from her vantage point, can see that the river is polluted--and while she certainly has the free will to drink from the river--has no desire to do so. 

That, I think, is a wonderful way to portray the fact that there is no contradiction between having free will and never sinning.

And to complete the analogy, it might be appropriate to say:  the family downstream has been informed that the stream is polluted (although it may appear invitingly clear), yet due to a "genetic" defect (Original Sin), wants to drink from it anyway.

That is, we as fallen human creatures know in our heads that a particular choice may be sinful, yet we choose to fully engage in that choice despite this knowledge.  After all, the stream (sin) LOOKS clean, and we're thirsty and hot!  Sin is alluring, and invitingly sexy and tempting and shiny and we think it will certainly quench our thirst!

We drink from the stream knowing it's got sewage in it because...well, because we want to.

Thankfully, we have a source, Jesus, the Eternal Logos, the Divine SignCarrier ("The stream is polluted!) that can knock us upside the head whenever we desire to drink from the stream.

And we have a source of strength--the sacraments--that can help us stay away from the stream despite our great thirst for this polluted water.

As a sidebar, I wanted to add a corollary to the above analogy: in some ways, all of us are, in fact, like this woman (Mary), for many types of sin. 

For example, we are certainly free to:  [fill in the blank with some mortal sin that we simply have no temptation to commit], yet we don't engage in that mortal sin, even with full access to our free will.  We simply don't have the desire to commit that particular mortal sin.  Just like Mary.  

The only difference is that Mary did this with ALL her choices.

We only choose not to sin with some of our choices.  Some times we have no desire to drink from the polluted waters.  

But, unfortunately, some times we stupidly still choose to drink from the stream.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Monday, May 30, 2016

Why do we get punished for the sins of Adam?

It's been said that the Catholic teaching on Original Sin is really, really unjust: guilt-less offspring are being punished for the actions of their parents.  

The question becomes:  how is it fair that we are guilty for what Adam and Eve did?  Why should Adam and Eve's descendants be found guilty for something they didn't do?


The question above, however, demonstrates a rather impoverished understanding of Original Sin.

We are NOT guilty of the sins of Adam and Eve. No one is guilty of anyone's sins except his own.

We simply are deprived of the grace that was given to Adam and Eve.  

They lost it because of their actions.

And because they didn't have it, they couldn't pass it on to their descendants.

We are not held personally responsible for Adam's guilt.

Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.--Catechism of the Catholic Church

That is, because Adam and Eve wounded their human nature, this wounded/flawed human nature was passed on to us.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Revisitingthe Myth of Hitler's Pope

In 1999 a book was published called "Hitler's Pope" which chronicled the rise of Hitler and the alleged complicity of Pope Pius XII, who served as pontiff from 1939 to 1958, in Hitler's ascent to power. (Disclaimer:  I have not read this book).  According to the author, Hitler and Pope Pius were best buddies and the Pope served at the pleasure of the German chancellor.

The accusations against Pope Pius gained traction because of this book, and charges against him ranged from:  "he was indifferent to the Jewish genocide" to allegations of actual collaboration with Nazi leaders in the murder of millions of Jews.

According to anti-Catholic Dave Hunt:  "The Vatican had no excuse for its Nazi partnership or for its
continued commendation of Hitler on the one hand and its thunderous silence regarding the Jewish question on the other hand. As the evil mounted, the Roman Catholic Church continued to work with the Fuehrer and even to praise him."

Let me preface with this:  even if the above allegations were true, it in no way indicts the Catholic faith.  Many, many Catholics (including popes) have done some horrible things.  That doesn't make the teachings of Catholicism false.  Shouldn't we evaluate the truths of a particular religion based on what it professes, not on what its members do, especially if these actions defy the teachings of this religion?  There is no religion which one can join where we couldn't say, "But people in this religion did these monstrous things!"  

Nevertheless, it should be conceded that bad Catholics doing bad things does prompt a legitimate emotional response: "I really don't want to join that Church if that's what her members look like."

However, the above charges against the Pope, and the Catholic Church are myths borne from unsubstantiated rumors.

According to Ronald Rychlak , author of the books "Righteous Gentiles: How Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews From the Nazis" and  "Hitler, the War, and the Pope" (which I also have not read)  "During and after the war, Pius was known as a champion of the Jews and other victims. That reputation continued through his life and for several years thereafter."  It was only decades after the Holocaust did a reversal in his reputation commence.

In fact, after Pope Pius' death, Nahum Goldmann, President of the World Jewish Congress, said:“With special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods of their entire history.”  Rabbi Elio Toaff, who would later become Chief Rabbi of Rome,said:  “More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness, filled with compassion and magnanimity, that the Pope displayed during the terrible years of persecution and terror, when it seemed that there was no hope left for us.” 

The Israeli consul, Pinchas E. Lapide, in his book "Three Popes and the Jews" (which I also haven't read *~X( at wits' end) writes:  "The Catholic Church under Pius XII was instrumental in saving 860,000 Jews from Nazi death camps".

Finally, primarily due to the efforts of Pope Pius to save the Jewish people in Nazi Germany, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, converted to Catholicism.  And, he took as his baptismal name, Eugenio.

Can anyone guess what Pope Pius XII's birth name was?

Yep.  Eugenio.  Eugenio Pacelli.

The Chief Rabbi of Rome must have been so moved and impressed with the efforts of this pope to save his Jewish people, that he gave honor to this man by taking Pope Pius' birth name.

Now, a legitimate question ensues:   Could the Catholic Church have done MORE during the monstrous reign of Hitler to thwart his regime and the atrocities which followed?  Yes, of course the Church could have done more.  She can always do more to oppose evil.  But then, again, couldn't the same be said for us as individuals?  If we accuse the Church for standing by while evil flourishes, then couldn't the same charge be leveled at the accuser?

What are you doing to, say, thwart ISIS?  (Here, "YOU" stands for "The person who thinks the Catholic Church should have done more to stop the Holocaust", not the reader of this post  *:) happy).

Incidentally, there will be some accuser who offers evidence of Catholic Nazi sympathizers*:

No one disputes that there were individual Catholic Nazi sympathizers and Catholics who, horrifically, participated in this holocaust either directly or indirectly.  But to say that the Church and the Pope were cowardly silent on this slaughter or collaborated with the Nazis is unsupportable and baseless.

*NB:  the above photo is a generic example only.  No claim or judgement is being made about the views of the specific woman pictured here.