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Friday, May 22, 2015

One Mountain. Many Paths?

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

 “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus” --Pope Francis  (Evangelii Gaudium, #120)

I saw this on Facebook recently:  a meme which said "One Mountain.  Many Paths."

If this meme suggests that all religions are true, then we as Catholics cannot embrace this.  It supports a heresy called Syncretism, which attempts to accommodate all religious traditions as being equally true.  This is in contrast to the words of Jesus which state, "No one comes to the Father except through me"--John 14:6. There may indeed be many paths, but there is just ONE PATH in which God came DOWN to show us the way, the truth and the life. 

Truth matters. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says, "Love without truth is blind".

A corollary to the "One Mountain. Many Paths" concept is that "it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you are good, kind and happy."

However, what different religions proclaim matters.  It's simply not enough to embrace a belief that makes us good, kind and happy.  Imagine if an adult believed in Santa Claus, and this belief made her good, kind and happy.  We would not endorse this belief, even if it made her want to be a good person and served her happiness.  It calls to mind the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes.  His belief made him happy--he thought he was parading around in the finest vestments...but the truth was that he was buck nekkid!  

We can observe how untenable this "One Mountain.  Many Paths" position is when we see the various teachings which are proclaimed by differing religions.  Some are more obvious than others--for example, the Westboro Baptist Church pickets the funerals of US soldiers because of their belief that God hates homosexuals.  Clearly a vile and false doctrine.  Some are more subtle, such as the Buddhist belief that the cause of suffering is desire.  And while it may not seem to be such an inaccurate doctrine, this Buddhist belief necessarily denies the concept of Original Sin, which necessarily denies the concept of our need for salvation, which necessarily denies the concept of the atoning death of Christ, which is the central tenet of Christianity.  

To embrace one seemingly small thread of falsehood can sometimes unravel the entire garment of Truth.

Yet!  It is also important to stress that almost all religions express some truths, some teachings we can embrace and ponder and learn from.

As the Catechism states:  The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."
However, the "One Mountain.  Many Paths" paradigm can also ring true for Catholics.  There are many different spiritualities--Ignatian, Dominican, Franciscan, etc etc etc.  One may be right for me that doesn't appeal to you.  There are many different prayers, forms of music and worship, ways to celebrate the sacraments, various approaches to reading Scripture that are all different "paths" up to the Mountain.  

Thus, one ought not take a fundamentalist approach to the "One Mountain. Many Paths" concept and reject it outright.  There can be many paths.  But as Catholic Philosopher Peter Kreeft says, "There is no human way up the mountain.  Only a divine way down!"

"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

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Aren't Catholics not supposed to question anything the Church teaches?

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

 "Come now, and let us reason together," says the LORD,--Isaiah 1:18

Question:  Aren't Catholics not supposed to question anything the Church teaches?

Short answer:  No. That is incorrect. Catholics are, in fact, obligated to question that which is presented to us. Scripture commands us to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good"--1 Thessalonians 5:21

Longer answer:  The question implies that Catholics are supposed to "blindly follow anything that the Pope declares".  Catholics "don't think for themselves".  Catholics are "sheep being led to slaughter."

Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Blind faith, also known as Fideism, is a heresy in the Catholic Church. When we assent to a Catholic teaching, it ought to be because we have examined it, and found it to be consonant with the Truth, not simply because "The Church says it.  So I believe it.  I have faith and that's all I need!"

Faith AND Reason are what we use to come to the knowledge of Truth.

We must love the Lord with our hearts (that is, with great faith), as well as love the Lord with our....minds.  That is, using our human reason.  The proverbial Catholic both/and.

Catholicism holds our human intellect in the highest regard.  Use of our reason, logic, mind is paramount when we examine the doctrines put forth by the Church.  That is why there are Catholic theology departments and Catholic institutions of higher learning (also known as universities, which are a testimony to Catholic endorsement of intellectual pursuits. It is the Catholic Church which started the university system).  That is why in the earliest days of the Enlightenment, so many of the intellectuals, scientists, great thinkers....were Catholic.  That is why the Catholic Church elevates some of the greatest theological minds in the history of civilization to the  title of "Doctor of the Church"--examples of these theological giants include St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Robert Bellarmine.  All of them questioned the teachings of the Church.  All of them used the gift of their intellect to reason their way into understanding and apprehending the profound and sublime truths regarding the nature of God and what He has revealed.

The Catholic Church has always been a champion of the use of our intellect to know reality and our world.  As Pope John Paul II said in his magnificent encyclical, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason):  "Complex systems of thought have thus been built, yielding results in the different fields of knowledge and fostering the development of culture and history.  Anthropology, logic, the natural sciences, history, linguistics and so forth--the whole universe of knowledge has been involved in one way or another."

So, yes, we must never blindly accept what the Church teaches.  We must critically examine her teachings, and "yearn to know more and to know it ever more deeply" (Fides et Ratio).  

However, this is not to be interpreted as saying, "We are free to pick and choose what teachings we agree with and what teachings we can discard."

If our intellect is properly functioning, we will come to the same answer as given by the Church. "Once reason successfully intuits and formulates the first universal principles of being and correctly draws from them conclusions which are coherent both logically and ethically, then it may be called right reason or, as the ancients call it orthos logos, recta ratio" (Fides et Ratio)

So, like the math student who struggles to get the solution, we can accept that the Math Professor has the right answer--we simply need to conform our calculations to achieve the same answer. As Cardinal Henry Newman said:  "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, for a man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, without doubting that it admits an answer".  

So, "Come, let us reason together!"--Isaiah 1:18

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