Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Useful" vs "Sufficient"



Something that bothers me about the Catholic/Protestant debate is the confusion that results from different translations of Scripture and the different interpretations that result.  An example is the Scripture passage that Protestants use most often to support their doctrine of “Sola Scriptura,” i.e., that Scripture is the only real authority that we have in matters of faith.  Here is that passage, 2 Timothy 3:16, as found in the Saint Joseph edition of the New American Bible, which is the translation published for Catholics by the Catholic Book Publishing Company: 

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 

I’ve read that the issue is the word “useful.”   The Greek word that is translated as “useful” is “ophelimos.”  It can also be translated as “helpful” or “profitable.”  Okay, no real issue yet.  However, I’ve read that some Protestant apologists argue that the real meaning is the word “sufficient” and hence the opinion is that Scripture is the only authority we have because it is sufficient for teaching, refutation, correction, etc.  The Catholic claim is that certainly Scripture is important.  It is, after all, as both sides agree, the Word of God written down by inspired human authors.  But, first, this Word of God must be properly interpreted and, second, it is useful, but not sufficient, meaning that the unwritten Word of God, what Catholics refer to as Sacred Tradition, is also important. 

It seems to me that there is a whole slew of issues that divide Catholics and Protestants that hinge on this one passage and the proper translation and interpretation of Scripture.  Issues like Papal authority, Marian doctrine, the Eucharist, Confession, Sola Fide and the Priesthood, to name a few.  Even an authority on the ancient Greek language and its translation into modern languages doesn’t seem to help.

And what of proper interpretation?  Protestants encourage private interpretation, and this has resulted tens of thousands of Protestant denominations, each with a different slant on various Scripture passages.  Catholics maintain that there is truth to consider.  Scripture passages have one meaning that is the true meaning, and the Church, founded by Christ himself, is the guardian of this truth.

God’s people have been living with these issues now for 500 years.  Is it not time for resolution and agreement?  My prayer for today is this:  Lord, if it is your will, help us as a people to come together on these issues and, being true to your teaching, resolve them so that your mandate to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” can be done with the truth you intended.  Amen.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Five Powerful Evidences That God Exists


Some time ago, I purchased a book titled 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists by Boa and Bowman and published by River Oak Publishing in 2002.  The authors are Protestant Christians.  I was thinking about the premise of this book this morning and decided to challenge myself to come up with just five such evidences without re-reading this book to get ideas.  So here goes.

    1.)    There are many, many baffling facts about life that we take for granted without a second thought.  One that comes to mind is how vegetation springs forth from seed simply by placing the seed in the ground and supplying water and nutrition.  We place a small sunflower seed in the ground and before long, it cracks open and a green plant springs forth, lays down roots, and grows into a plant sometimes as tall as 12 feet.  Several large yellow flowers bud forth at the top that eventually transform into massive seed heads.  The seeds thus generated begin the process all over again the next year.  And it’s not just sunflowers, but thousands of other plant species do this.  We ask the questions how and why, but find it difficult to come up with answers, except to say that God exists and it is according to his will.
    2.)    There are many, many animal and bird species that exist in our universe.  The vast majority reproduce via the fertilization of an egg, often a very, very tiny egg.  This fertilization requires two sexes, one to create the egg and one to impregnate the egg.  The resulting bodies are not tethered to anything (like plants are), but are free to walk, crawl, or swim in environments apparently conducive to their existence, such as air, water, sunlight, etc.  The popular theory, based on scientific evidence, is that these species evolved over millions of years, beginning with inorganic elemental substances that have just the right properties that allow this to happen over this very long time via very slow chemical reactions.  Again, it is difficult to come up with answers, except to propose that God exists and it is all according to his will.
    3.)    One of the animal species mentioned in #2 is the super-intelligent animal we call human beings.  Humans are equipped with arms, hands, legs and feet that, together with their brains and their intelligence, allow this species to take material substances that are readily available on and in the earth and convert them into structures and other substances that support their advancement and continued existence.  Evolution, okay, but one is left to again to question how and why.  Just maybe it is according to the will of God.
    4.)    Some of the material substances mentioned in #3 seem to have properties that fit exactly into the scheme that keeps the machine we call the earth running and human beings advancing.  And these substances/properties have had nothing to do with evolution.  In other words, they are here, but played no role in the evolution process.  Examples are petroleum and electricity.  We cannot imagine what life would be like without these.  They seem to be simply gifts from God!
    5.)    People most often mention the cosmos, the Big Bang, etc., as obvious evidences that God exists.  And, indeed, it is very difficult to try to explain the why and how.  Yet, some scientists seem to think that the order that exists “out there” does not point to the existence of God.  Apparently the universe itself is their god.  They say that it quite possibly has always existed and is infinite.  Well, maybe, but it doesn’t take much thought in my feeble mind to come to the conclusion that many others have come to over the years.  That is that, yes, God does indeed exist.

My prayer for today:  Lord, if it is your will, give your graces and blessings to all your human beings on earth, regardless of their economic, social, and educational backgrounds, to come to know and worship you so that we can all be united in faith and love.  Amen.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Should All Religions Be Taught in Schools?



Recently, I saw this question posted on Facebook:  “So you think that religion should be taught in schools?  Would that be all religions, or just yours?”  The implication here is that, in modern society, people are biased toward their own religion and not open enough to allow the religion of others to be part of life.  So, as you might have expected, this got me thinking.

There are several quotes from Scripture that apply.  Jesus said:  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6).  Jesus also said:  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  (Matt 28:10).  Jesus claimed to be God’s Son and, as such, God himself.  Add to this Jesus’ founding of the Catholic Church, his institution of the sacraments, his establishment of papal authority, among many other things, it is easy to see why Catholics believe that the ideal life is when everyone is Catholic and practice Catholicism.  So, the answer to the question, “should religion be taught in schools?” is a resounding “yes”.  In that case, everyone can come to know Jesus, be baptized, “come to the Father,” and be saved just as Jesus himself wanted.

But, of course, there are other Christian religions.  What about them?  Each was founded at least 1500 years later, by men who took a different view of things, interpreted Scripture according to that view, and went their own way.  Some even claimed that they had messages from heaven (eg. Joseph Smith and Mormonism, around 1830), claimed additional revelations, wrote their own Scripture (the Book of Mormon), and assert that they now believe that they are the true Church of Christ.  In my view, it is very unfortunate that the reformation happened, that Christ’s established religion was splintered, and has not yet re-united.  Should Protestantism be taught in schools?  I think yes, but not to try to convert people but for students’ to be fully educated as to the historical record.

What about Islam?  Similar to Mormonism, the founder (Mohammed) claims to have had revelations from heaven around 600 AD.  These revelations resulted in the writing of yet another Scripture called the Quran.  Islam is not a Christian religion.  I know very little about it.  I don’t know if Mohammed made any claims as to whether they can “come to the Father” through him or whether members must “go and make disciples of all nations.”  I do know that Muslims (what members are called) believe Mohammed to be a prophet (not God or God’s son).  Should Islam be taught in schools?  I say “yes” again, but, like Protestantism, only for students’ education of the historical record and not for the purpose of conversion.

What about Judaism.  Jesus was born a Jew and practiced this religion most of his life.  Jews were the people chosen to receive God’s saving message.  The original Christians were converts from Judaism.  Their Scripture is the Old Testament, roughly the first half of the Christian Scripture, the Bible.  People that practice Judaism today don’t believe in Christ and did not accept his message.  To them, Christ is just another prophet.  I sympathize with them.  Christ’s message was radical.  It would be difficult, it seems to me, for a devout Jew to accept Christ’s message.  However, a saving prophet, the Messiah, was foretold in their Scripture.  It is very unfortunate for them that they did not recognize Christ as that Savior.  Should Judaism be taught in schools?  Yes, but again only for the sake of their education and the historical record.

So there you have my answers to the original question posed in that Facebook post.  I find it interesting that all the religions mentioned here believe that there is a God and it is the same God for all!  If that is true, why can we not agree on the particulars?  The Jewish God is the same as the Catholic God, which is the same as Islam’s God, which is the same as the Mormon God, and the same as the Protestant’s God!  Wow!  Why can’t we get together, if for no other reason than to eliminate hate crimes and promote love for all (as Christ did)?  Amen!  Alleluia!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

"The Bread That I Will Give is my Flesh."



Recently, I’ve given some serious thought and perhaps gained some personal insight into a religious doctrine that is believed by Catholics but disputed by Protestants.  It is the Catholic belief that Jesus intended the bread and wine consecrated at Mass to be transubstantiated into his body and blood.

The Catholic doctrine is based on the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, known as the Bread of Life Discourse.”  My recent “personal insight” has to do with the use of the word “flesh” in this discourse.  Here are some relevant passages:  1) “…. the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world, 2) “…. unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you,” 3) “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life ….,” 4) “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” and 5) ”Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

If Jesus was only speaking only metaphorically (the Protestant claim), why choose a word that is defined as the tissue and muscle of the human body?  And why did the Jews respond with “who can accept this?” And why did they “return to their former way of life” after hearing this despite previously witnessing many miracles and healings by Christ?  And why didn’t Christ explain his words as only being a metaphor when they turned and began to walk away?  And why did St. Paul defend the eating of Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood in his first letter to the Corinthians:  “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”  (1 Cor 11:29)?  No, it truly is transubstantiation!

The method used to provide his flesh and blood for us to eat and drink is disclosed in the account of the Last Supper and this account is given in all four gospels.  In the Gospel of Luke (Luke 22:19), he tells them to “do this in memory of me.”  Today we do this (change the bread and wine into his body and blood) at every Catholic Mass.

The  photo accompanying this post is of the tabernacle at Holy Family Catholic Church in Kasson, Minnesota.  A tabernacle is a "vault" in which the consecrated bread is stored between Masses.  Notice the perpetual candle surrounded by red glass hanging above.  This is the sign that the consecrated bread is present there.

My prayer for today:  Lord, I pray that all Christians will unite one day soon, and that Christ’s intention that we eat his flesh and drink his blood can be realized by all.  Amen.  Alleluia!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

How Pope Pius V Stopped Invaders in 1571


In October,  1571, a seemingly invincible barbaric enemy raged north out of the Middle East and closed in on continental Europe and threatened to viciously conquer all countries in its path.  These Turks (the Ottoman Empire) had just roared through the Middle East, overpowering the nations there, and confidently set their sights on the Christian kingdoms along the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, namely Italy and Spain, among others.  Pope Pius V, well aware of what was going on, called on all the Christian nations to come together to defend their beloved homelands from these brutal invaders.  They assembled a Christian fleet, but they were far less skilled and hopelessly outnumbered.  So what happened? 

First, rewind back to the thirteenth century.  Pope Pius V was a priest of the Dominican order.  The Dominicans, as they were called, were founded by Saint Dominic back in the twelfth century.  Early in the thirteenth century, it is said that the Blessed Mother appeared to him and gave him a rosary and asked him to modify the tradition of the rosary that had developed up to that time.  These modifications resulted in the rosary that we have today, and, of course, the rosary that Europe had at the time of Pius V two hundred years later.  Mary herself is said to have promised Saint Dominic that if the people prayed the rosary regularly that virtue and good works would flourish and that the abundant mercy of God would be bestowed.  She also promised that, through her intercession, all that we ask of her would be granted and the rosary would be a powerful armor against Hell; it would destroy vice, decrease sin, and defeat heresies.

So, fast forward now again to 1571 and the battle with the Turks.  Pius V called on the Christian leaders of the European continent to send their fleets into battle with the Turks, and at the same time, called on all Christians on the continent to pray the rosary for the success of the effort.  The truly miraculous result was a hugely astonishing victory for the Christian forces.  Thus began the use of a new title for the Blessed Mother (among the dozens of others that she has), that of “Our Lady of Victory,” which later became "Our Lady of the Rosary."

I don’t know how much of this story is true (check it out in Wikipedia -https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_the_Rosary), but it is certainly inspirational.  If true, imagine the power that this simple task, taking fifteen minutes out of every day to pray the rosary, would have for ending all that ails this world of ours.  Now, I, of course don’t have anywhere near the influence of a pope, but let’s try this.  Let’s all of us vow right now to pray the rosary every day.  Let’s see if the evils we encounter in this world will melt away.  Have faith!  I think we can make this work.  Amen!  Alleluia!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Good Occupation


Ever wonder what people in the time of Christ did for a living?  There are some clues in Scripture.  Let’s try to name a few.  There were fishermen; there were shepherds; there were tax collectors; there were soldiers; there were religious leaders; there were wheat farmers; there were grape farmers; there were wine makers; there were bread bakers; there were carpenters; there were builders.  There were many others, I’m sure.

The occupation that I am thinking about today is shepherd.  Shepherds seem to be central to the story of salvation history.  Shepherds raised and tended sheep.  We hear about them early on in the gospels.  On that first Christmas morning, there were shepherds “tending their flocks by night.”  Angels appeared to them to announce the birth of the Savior.  They were guided to the “city of David” where they found this Savior “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  They subsequently “made known the message” of the angels and many people came to know that the Savior had, at long last, been born.  See Luke, Chapter 2.

In his public life, Jesus often made references to sheep and to shepherds.  One famous parable is that of the Good Shepherd.  Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd and as a gate for the sheep.  In this metaphor, we, the people, are the sheep.  Sheep are notorious followers.  They follow the shepherd because they recognize his voice.  If the shepherd guides one through a gate, the others follow.  The Good Shepherd is then a leader who guides his flock.  Christ is the Good Shepherd because he guides his flock of believers.  They follow him because they have come to know and to believe that he is the Savior of all mankind.  They know him and know his voice and they know he leads them on the path to righteousness and peace.   

Christ makes the claim that he is the Good Shepherd and will lay down his life for his sheep.  He knows his sheep and his sheep know him.  He then makes the claim that there shall be one fold and one shepherd.  He said:  “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never parish.  No one can take them out of my hand.”  See John 11:27-28.  One fold and one shepherd in the life to come.

This Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday.  How wonderful it is to know that, as a Christian, I am being led through the sheep gate to the Promised Land.  How wonderful it is to know that I am being led by this “Good Shepherd” and that no one can take me out of his hand.  I am so thankful for the Divine Providence that nurtures me, guides me, holds me in his hand, and has done so throughout my life.  I am convinced that if you give him the chance, he will do the same for you.  Jesus repeats the words of the Old Testament (See Mark 12:10-11):  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes.”  Thank you, Lord.  I am grateful that the builders rejected you and that you have become our cornerstone.  Indeed, it is truly wonderful in our eyes.  Amen.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Ordinary" Language



I have sometimes been confused about the use of the word “ordinary” in Catholic Church language, so I thought I would undertake a study of it for today’s MTT. 

I went to the Webster’s dictionary first.  I was fully expecting to find adjective-type synonyms, such as “customary” or “normal” or “commonplace.”  To my surprise, I found a full set of definitions that were nouns as well as a full set of definitions that were adjectives.  The nouns were given first, and, the #1 noun definition, again, to my surprise, is:  “An official having jurisdiction within a specified area by right of the office he or she holds, especially a bishop having such jurisdiction within his own diocese.”  Okay, so a Catholic bishop is called an “ordinary,” even in the secular world!  Then, the #4 noun definition is:  “(a) the form to be followed in a service; (b) the parts of the Mass that are fixed or relatively unvarying.”  Okay, so the unchanging prayers in the Mass, such as unchanging from day to day, week to week, etc., are called the “ordinary” of the Mass, even in the secular world!  For some reason, I thought that these were definitions used within the Catholic Church and not to be found in a secular dictionary!  Silly me!

Next, I went to my “Pocket Catholic Dictionary” and found that not only the bishops, but also the Pope (though I knew one of his titles is the “Bishop of Rome”), the vicars (substitutes, or deputies) of the Pope or bishops, administrators filling a vacancy in a diocese, as well as superiors and abbots in monasteries, or their representatives, are also called ordinaries.  This also fits the Webster’s definition.

What about such terms as “Ordinary Time” and “Extraordinary Minister,” both common terms in the Catholic Church.  I’ve always known that there was a season, or seasons, in the Church calendar that was (were) called Ordinary Time, but why?  Did the Webster’s adjective synonyms of “customary” or “normal” or “commonplace” apply here?  I found the answer in the book The Everything Guide to Catholiism by Fr. Richard Gribble.  It is the longest “season” of the liturgical year, which extends for a few weeks between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent, and for a much longer period from Pentecost to Advent.  Since this period of the Church year is not one of any special preparation, the name “Ordinary” applies. 

And Extraordinary Minister?  I found this definition in the Catholic Dictionary:  A person who, in case of necessity, is permitted or specially delegated to administer one of the sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, or the Eucharist).  The one most familiar to Catholics is the Eucharistic minister, a layperson who has been specially delegated to, out of necessity, help distribute Holy Communion at Mass or to the sick in a hospital or place of residence.  The word “extraordinary” is used in the title of such a person.  I note that “Eucharistic minister,” while descriptive, is not this person’s actual title.

So there you have it!  A surprise or two here for me, but perhaps not for you.