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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. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

"This Is A Hard Saying"

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

In a few Sundays we will be celebrating the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  The Trinity, which is the central dogma of Christianity, is most easily expressed as:  3 Divine Persons in One God.

“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

It is a indeed a very difficult dogma to comprehend, and even more difficult, in my opinion, to articulate, especially to a non-Christian.  Whenever we try to express the teaching of the Trinity to a non-Christian, puzzled looks abound--"You are telling me that even though Christians worship One God, you preach that Jesus is God, and the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God?  Doesn't that make...3 gods?  That seems so obvious to me!"

It is, indeed, a "hard saying", and not a few religious groups have broken off from Christianity because of their inability to accept this "hard saying".  Instead of embracing the Trinity, groups such as the Unitarians, Oneness Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have created their own understandings of the Godhead, and presented new more palatable teachings on the divine nature of God.

That is, they found a teaching of the Church to be a "hard saying" and rather than trying to understand this teaching, they decided to leave the Church and create an innovation, a way of more easily embracing what sounds to be preposterous.
“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Where else do we find Jesus' disciples leaving Him because of a "hard saying"?

In John 6.

The Eucharistic Discourse.  

Jesus commands His disciples to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  That's preposterous!

And the Scriptures tell us they responded with: "When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”--John 6:60

And many left Him because of this.

Who can doubt that this is a "hard saying" to embrace.  And now most Christian denominations reject the Catholic teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  It's much easier to believe that Jesus was speaking only symbolically and we're not really commanded to "eat His flesh and drink His blood".

“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

And many have left His Body, the Catholic Church, over other "hard sayings":  the Church declares that you can lose your salvation, through mortally wounding your relationship with God through some very serious sins. Many folks find this a "hard saying"--"I want to know for sure that I'm going to heaven when I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior", so instead some folks created a very, very likable and easy to swallow doctrine of "Eternal Security", or "Once Saved Always Saved".  As long as I've been "saved", there is nothing I can do that will jeopardize my reward in heaven.  That's a lot nicer than the thought that I may not go to heaven as a Christian.

“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

The Church declares that it's a moral obligation to attend Mass every Sunday.

“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Doesn't it seem harsh to think that God demands that from us?

So some churches have removed the obligation to worship on Sundays.   Easy.  Likable.  Attractive.

The Church declares that we must take up our cross and deny ourselves.

“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

So some folks create the "Health and Wealth" gospel.  "God wants us to be wealthy.  God wants us to do what wewant and that will make God happy."  Easy.  Likable.

Some folks like to joke that the Lutheran or Episcopalian churches are "Catholic Lite"--that is, they've taken all the "hard to swallow" doctrines of Catholicism and thrown them into the disposal, keeping the sweet, likable parts of being a Christian.  

I just don't think that's a good paradigm for worship.

Again, as Pastor Tim Keller says:

Inline image

Rather than leaving a church when you disagree with its teachings to create a new church that's more palatable, attractive, easy-to-swallow, shouldn't we find the Church that Christ established and then conform our views to Christ's?

Incidentally, the concept of conforming our views to fit what has been declared and revealed by Christ, rather than what we'd like, is NOT a model for "blind obedience".  Rather, it is based on the model for what, say, Calculus students do when they get a different answer than the Professor--they re-work and re-formulate their computations, grappling and struggling, knowing that they are wrong and the Professor is right--until they get the same answer that the Professor offered.

Now, with all of that said, some comedian may counter with, "Oh?  You're saying that I shouldn't reject something on the grounds that it's a preposterous concept?  Ok.  Then I guess I should embrace the idea that Jesus is an alien. You may say that it sounds preposterous, but, remember, you also said that just because something is preposterous I can't reject it."

Well...not exactly. We don't accept or reject a concept simply because it's preposterous or absurd.  We accept most things based on...accepting the authority of the one who proposes the concept.  That is, we accept the Trinity based on the fact that we accept the authority of the Church.  And then we digest and study and review and reformulate, until we can intellectually accept the Truth. 

 Fides quaarens intellectum.  Faith seeking understanding.

And when someone proposes that, say, Jesus was really an alien, we look at the source--someone named "Starbright Sparkles".  Does Ms Sparkles have any authority to speak on this?  Does the evidence lead us to believe this is true and reliable?

Then, clearly, we can reject preposterous and absurd claims.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Did God pour out His wrath on His Son at the crucifixion?

Question:  Did God pour out His wrath on His Son at the crucifixion?

Response:  No.

Catholicism, in general, doesn't speak of God as wrathful, or "pouring out His anger" on Jesus in our stead. 

One can search the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its entirety for the word "wrath", and the only thing that pops up is a reference to wrath as a human sin.

Wrath, as applied to God, never once appears in our Catechism. 

However, the Bible clearly speaks of God's wrath, so one cannot deny that there is a way of speaking of God's wrath that is, indeed, part of the Christian paradigm.

Catholics simply approach these Scriptural references to a "wrathful" God with the lens of the entirety of the Christian gospel.   This view that puts the wrath of God in a place of prominence was not part of Christianity from its inception. And this rejection of a "wrathful God" has been the consistent approach for 2000 years.

However, 500 years ago a novel interpretation of these Scriptures appeared.  During the Protestant Reformation there arose a way of interpreting the Scriptures that spoke of "God pouring out His wrath, full strength and undiluted, on Jesus on the cross".  One of the leaders this view was a French theologian named John Calvin.  Today, the fruit of this paradigm, referred to as "Calvinism", can be found in the Presbyterian churches, or "Reformed Christian" churches. But because there is no magisterium to speak for this type of theology, the borders of who identifies with Calvinism can be quite fluid.  There are Reformed Baptist churches, Reformed Anglican churches, Orthodox Reformed Presbyterian churches, Calvin Synod of the United Church of Christ, etc etc etc, which all promote the doctrines of John Calvin--he asserted that God's wrath was appeased when Jesus, His Divine Son, was put to death on the cross for our sins.  That is, God was pacified when Jesus was punished for the sins of humanity.

Calvin also asserted that man is totally depraved.  That is, we are evil. Calvinism professes that fallen man can do nothing good, and that our every action is sinful. Calvinists even proclaim that human nature, while originally created in the image and likeness of God, ceased to be in His image due to original sin. "On the other hand, when original sin took them once captive the image of God was entirety blotted out."--source

Catholicism rejects these teachings of Calvin.

God does not punish His Son for the sins of humanity.  This view that God was appeased by the torture of His Son is called "Penal Substitution Theory" and is rejected by the Catholic Church.

Rather, Christ offered His life in sacrifice out of love.  It is an atonement, but not a punishment.

"The Catholic view of atonement is called the Satisfaction view. Instead of taking our punishment on Himself, Christ offered up something else that God would accept instead: Himself, a holy, perfect, blameless sacrifice, freely offered for all sinners. This offering was worth so much more than our punishment, and in offering this sacrifice, Christ appeased God’s wrath.

Unlike penal substitution, satisfaction is certainly found in Scripture. One of the most obvious accounts comes from the incident of the golden calf at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32 / Deuteronomy 9:15-21). While Moses is with God on Mount Sinai, Aaron and the Israelites make a golden calf to worship. God sees this and is angry, intending to destroy them. Moses asks the Lord to have mercy, and goes down the mountain. After dealing with the situation, Moses says to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin” (Ex 32:30). Later, he says, “I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger” (Deut 9:18). Moses tried to make atonement, and was successful. Many died, but God did not destroy the nation of Israel.

There are other examples of this satisfaction, such as Phinehas (Psalm 106:29-30 / Numbers 25:1-13). Israel began to worship the false god Baal, again stirring the Lord’s wrath against Israel. Phinehas, in his zeal, killed an Israelite and his Midianite wife, and thereby “turned back” God’s wrath (Numbers 25:11). Though all Israel sinned, Israel was not destroyed. Like Phinehas and Moses, Jesus offered up something else to God so that we wouldn’t be punished. He offered Himself.

Also unlike penal substitution, satisfaction and forgiveness are compatible. Something that wasn’t owed to God was given so that what was owed would not be demanded (compared to penal substitution saying that something that was owed to God was given by someone else). Thus, God’s justice is satisfied, but forgiveness still occurs." source

Regarding John Calvin's "Total Depravity":  Catholicism professes that we are not evil and "totally depraved" but rather we are "flawed" and "weakened".  

While we will never become a "new creation", holy and fit for residing in the Presence of the Godhead, except through grace and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is a mistaken notion to declare us depraved and evil.

"We are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them"--Ephesians 2:10

Catholicism proclaims the essential goodness of human nature, despite our being weakened and harmed by original sin.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

Why so many rituals in the Catholic Church? Or "I want to join a church that's not so ritualistic!"

Question:  Why is the Catholic Church so ritualistic? There's just too many rituals!   I prefer a church that isn't so caught up in rituals and rules!

Response:  This objection prompts the response:  how many is the exact number of rituals that would be permissible?  3?  7?  21?

In fact, all churches have some form or ritual, so even if one leaves the "overly-ritualistic" Catholic Church and joins a different church, he's going to find some rituals there. The reading of Scripture, the sermon by the pastor, the greeting of the congregation, the praise and worship led by the music ministers, the closing song--all rituals. And the celebration of the Lord's Supper ("Do this in memory of me") is observed in some form by all Christian churches.

Scripture commands the observance of rituals.  God, especially in the Old Testament, actually designed and ordained His worship around rituals.  So it's impossible to be a member of a church and not participate in some sort of ritual.  

When we reject rituals, we reject our inheritance from those who have gone before us.

However, if we take a closer look at the question, I can see what prompts the dismissal of rituals.  There is, indeed, a valid objection to those who may observe Catholics doing rituals in a rote or meaningless manner.  

On the other hand, I think that the human person desires rituals--it is comforting to us to have some rituals in our lives--whether it is how we observe wedding ceremonies or how we celebrate birthdays or even how we brush our teeth every morning--rituals are comforting and familiar.  And, I think, necessary.  It is a basic human activity.

"Ritual often gives the laity an opportunity to participate in an authentic way in worship.  Ritual gives the opportunity to self-express reverence for the divine while uniting him with the larger Sacrifice.  For example, a simple genuflection is an authentic participation because it expresses reverence for the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle while uniting the Catholic to the sacrifice on the altar."--source

Our Catholic rituals enrich our experience of worship and unite us in a profound way to all of our Catholic brothers and sisters, past and present, throughout the planet.  Catholics in, say, the 15th century were devoted to some of the very same rituals we engage in today.  And Catholics in Benin, Bali, Botswana, Belize, Bulgaria are all united in participation in so many of the very same rituals we embrace.  

Inline image

As the Dalai Lama is purported to have said regarding (Jewish) tradition:  "[Ritual] at the same time links people through a shared set of practices and a language ... to a powerful lineage of memory and tradition."

"Of course, ritual is dead and meaningless if it is not an expression of love for Christ.  Love is the essence of what drives and perfects rituals.  Love is the very thing that gives them reason for existing in the first place.  The root of all Catholic ritual should be the authentic love of Christ.  The Catholic...embraces the opportunity ritual provides to show Christ reverence and in doing so provides an example to others."--ibid

Incidentally, I think most folks who claim to dislike the ritualistic Church would object vociferously were he to go to a Cardinals baseball game and it was a "free for all", with no order to the play, no repetition.  They like them their (sports) rituals.  And their family rituals. And their morning rituals.  But for some reason, liturgical rituals, not so much.

Finally, here is a wonderful quote from CS Lewis' Letters to Malcolm

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best--if you like, it "works" best--when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing, but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes or light or print or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping.

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste.

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. 

Already our liturgy is one of the very few remaining elements of unity in our hideously divided Church.

I love how insightful Lewis is:  when there is novelty in the service, our focus adverts to the activity, rather than to God.  "Wow!  What's he going to do next?", where "He" = the worship leader, rather than "He" being God.  

Rituals permit us to spotlight where our focus should be:  on God.  Not the activity.

So I think even the non-Catholic objector would agree:  there's nothing wrong with rituals.  We all have them.  It's just meaningless rituals, or rituals done thoughtlessly that we all should discard.