Thursday, December 29, 2016

Have You Been Saved?

As you may have been able to discern via this blog over the last 3+ years, I have had a keen interest in the Protestant doctrine of “Salvation by Faith Alone” compared to the Catholic view of salvation.  The differences are found in answers to the question:  “Have you been saved?”  Devoted Protestants who have been “re-born” or who have “a personal relationship with Jesus” will say “yes” because they believe they have the lone requirement, which is the gift of faith in Jesus.  Devoted Catholics, on the other hand, would be perplexed by the question and would not be able to answer it “yes” or “no.”   That is because they believe that they will not know if they are saved until after they die and God renders His judgement on the state of their soul.   Why is it that these two Christian groups differ on this important question?  I would like to give you my perspective on this.

I believe that “Faith Alone” could be a legitimate doctrine if the word “faith” in this context is carefully and authentically defined.  Is it faith that is held deep in one’s heart, or is it faith that is only found on the tongue and lips?  Protestants will attach the word “works” to their argument.  In other words, they say that salvation does not depend on our doing good works.  Good works, such as visiting the sick and imprisoned, donating money to or raising money for charitable causes, and assisting the poor and homeless with their day-to-day needs are examples of things that may result from one having faith, but, in the Protestant view, they are not required for salvation.  In addition, “works of the law,” that is actions that we must perform by church law, are also not required because they might cause a person to boast about it, and such boasting is condemned in Scripture.  A Catholic would agree that such boasting is wrong.   

So where does that leave us?  What does it mean to have faith that is deep in one’s heart and not just on the tongue and the lips.  First, if one has such deep faith, then he/she would practice it with humility. i.e., no boasting.  Let God see it but don’t practice your faith so that you want it to be obvious to others.  The need for true humility is found all over Scripture.  Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  (Mat 6:3).  Second, in the Catholic Church, if one has deep faith, he/she will have a burning desire to receive the sacraments frequently, particularly Reconciliation and the Eucharist.  The Church recognizes this and has set absolute minimums as far as actions regarding these sacraments is concerned.  Catholics must go to Confession at least once a year and must go to Mass, presumably to receive the Eucharist, on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  The absolute minimum.  But do it with humility and not so that you can boast about it. 

These sacraments, Reconciliation and the Eucharist, are available in the Catholic Church every day.  I believe that true faith … faith held deep in one’s heart … would be evidenced by sincere and humble reception of these two sacraments as often as possible.  They were instituted by Christ Himself to give us grace … the sanctifying grace required for salvation.  Do it in secret.  Don’t do it in order to be able to say you did it.  And don’t let it be known.  Practice humility.  This is the personal relationship that Jesus wants with us.  "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."  (John 6:54).  Even if you do these things, a humble person will still not know if he/she will be saved until it is revealed to all by God on the day of judgement.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

That Beautiful Canticle

This week at Holy Mass the Gospel readings are from Luke, Chapters 1 and 2, beginning on Tuesday with the story of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38) and ending Sunday, the Christmas Mass at dawn, with the story of the shepherds’ visit to the Babe in the manger (Lk 2:15-20).  My personal favorite is the Gospel reading from today, Thursday, which is the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, specifically Mary’s canticle, which has come to be known as the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-56).  Let us consider this canticle, one or two sentences at a time.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For He as looked upon his lowly servant.” (Lk 1:46-47).  Why is her soul proclaiming the greatness of the Lord?  Why is she thinking how great the Lord is at this moment?  A few weeks earlier, she gave her consent to the angel Gabriel to become the mother of God and became pregnant with Jesus.  Now, after a long trek on foot to visit Elizabeth, she is plainly breathless with excitement.  The idea of becoming the mother of God had not been on her radar screen.  God is great because He chose her, a young, lowly servant.  Jesus was expected to be born into richness and perhaps royalty.  Mary hardly fit the bill.  Perhaps humility and lowliness was what God wanted for this role.  At any rate, she is excited beyond words!  She referred to God as her Savior.  Some question why she needed a savior if she was sinless according to the Catholic Church’s interpretation of Scripture.  Yes, God granted her an immaculate conception.  His act as Savior simply occurred sooner in her life than it did for the rest of us.

“From this day, all generations will call me blessed.  The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.  He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.”  (Lk 1:48-49).  Indeed, all generations have called her blessed:  Blessed Virgin, Blessed Mother, etc.  This prophecy came true.  Then, she recognized that what happened was a great thing, which indeed it was … God becoming man through her motherhood.  She also recognized that this God is also the God of all past and future generations.  He showed his mercy throughout the Old Testament and it is a pretty good prediction that his mercy will endure through all future generations.  She knew her God well.

“He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit.  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”  (Lk 1:51-53).  The conceited proud, the mighty on their thrones, and the rich … all sent away empty.  It’s simply unbelievable that he would lift up the lowly; someone who is poor … hungry much of the time, perhaps even destitute … but now filled with good things, filled with love, hope, joy, and the exhilaration at the prospect of living life as the Mother of the Redeemer!

“He has come to the help of His servant Israel, for He remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.” (Lk 1:54-55).  Mary recognizes this awesome gift as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, finally, after many centuries of time passed.  People may have thought that God forgot his promise of a Redeemer.  But, no, Mary is now prepared to shout out the world that He has not … He remembered his promise!

This is such an beautiful poem.  Going forward now, Mary is prepared to serve her Master as well as anyone could.  What a gift for her.  I would love to be a fly on the wall as she now returns to her life in Nazareth.  Imagine the broadest smile on her face as she begins the rest of her life knowing she and all future generations have been given the greatest gift anyone could ever hope for … the formula for eternal life.  And, yes, that means you and me.  Amen.

The photograph accompanying this post is of Mary's visit to Elizabeth.  I snapped it on the grounds of the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Impact of the Incarnation

One astounding impact that the Incarnation (God becoming man) has had on the history of the world is the fact that it split history in two.  The Incarnation divided all of history into two periods:  the time before the coming of Christ, BC, meaning "Before Christ," and the time after the coming of Christ, AD, meaning "Anno Domini," Latin for "In the Year of Our Lord."  The entire world, including Christians, Muslims Jews, atheists, Russians, Chinese, and any other group you can name uses the birth of Christ as the epoch point in time that divides history.  That is pretty mind-blowing if you ask me, given the different belief systems that  are out there and the apparent rivalries that exist between them, sometimes to the point of war.  

This division of history was one of three major impacts cited by archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book Life of Christ.  Archbishop Sheen was a Catholic archbishop who had a popular weekly television show back in the 1950's.  He is the foremost of all Catholic apologists.  Archbishop Sheen died in 1979 and is on track to be canonized a saint in the Catholic Church.  According to the synopsis on the back cover of the book, Life of Christ "has been hailed as the most eloquent of Sheen's writings (which are extensive) and the fruit of many years of dedication and research."

What are the other two major impacts according to Sheen?  They are 1) Jesus is the only religious leader in history who was pre-announced, whose very birth, life, and death were prophesied, and who validated those prophecies; and 2) Jesus is the only person who ever lived who came into the world specifically to die.  His death was first and His life was last.

Protestant David Limbaugh in his book Jesus on Trial:  A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel has this to say concerning Sheen's statements:  "Imbibing these truths caused me to look at Christ and Christianity in an entirely different way; it provided a new prism through which to understand the faith, one that infused salvation history with fuller meaning and helped me to understand Scripture with greater depth."

What other religious leader was prophesied, divided history, and came to die?  None!  All other religious leaders were not predicted to exist, did not have an epoch impact on the history of all humanity, and did not die to save mankind from sins.  That should be enough to convert even the worst of sinners.  Thank you, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, for your eloquence and brilliant scholarship.

The photo accompanying this post depicts the Incarnation.  It is a painting found inside the Pantheon in Rome.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Immaculate Reception in Football

Today, December 8, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  It is the day, we celebrate the fact that the Blessed Mother was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, free from original sin.  This momentous event occurred around 16 B.C.  So then, you might ask, what was the immaculate reception?

The immaculate reception was a football play that occurred on December 23, 1972 A.D. in a nationally televised NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders football teams.  A few days before, I was awarded a Masters Degree in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin and now was at home in Iowa preparing to celebrate Christmas with my family on the farm.  I was completely oblivious to what occurred that day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  You see, I was not particularly a fan of NFL football, though I did follow (and still do) college football.  How could I not, having just spent three football seasons on the campus of the Texas Longhorns, one of which was when they won the national championship (1970)?

But back to the subject.  It amazes me that a famous football play would be given a name that would, at the same time, conjure up thoughts of one of the most hallowed solemnities of Catholicism!  So what was the play?  Terry Bradshaw was the quarterback and his team, the Steelers, were losing, 7-6, in the closing seconds of the game when he threw a pass to his teammate, John Fuqua.  The ball bounced off the hands of Raiders defender Jack Tatum and, just before it would have touched the ground, Steelers fullback Franco Harris grabbed it and ran for a game-winning touchdown.  Steelers win, 13-7.  I suppose you had to actually see it to appreciate it, because it wasn't so immaculate.  In fact, it was a mistake.  Harris was not the intended receiver.  Besides, that kind of reception is not that uncommon.  But this one, for some reason was considered immaculate.

But now, what of the Immaculate Conception?  Well, it was no mistake.  Mary was selected by God to become the mother of the Redeemer before she was conceived.  She was the only human being besides Jesus Himself, who was conceived free from sin.  She remained "full of grace (Luke 1:26-38) throughout her life.  So her conception was truly immaculate.  Her "team" went on to give birth to the Savior of the human race, a singular event, and we are all feeling the effects 2000 years later and will continue to do so right up to the end of time.  Now if you are thinking that this dogma is not truly scriptural, you are correct.  However, Pope Pius IX, in 1854, declared it to be true, and since it is a matter of faith and morals, it is held to be true because of the pope's infallibility in these matters.  Besides, it was affirmed by the Blessed Mother herself twice since during the famous apparitions to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, in 1858, and to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris, France, in 1830.

Along with these thoughts, I'm thinking of another "reception" that occurred just this past Saturday, December 3, 2016 A.D.  Six novices of the religious communitry called the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary were formally received into this community at an event called their Reception.  It is the equivalent to a wedding for these six young women.  This occurred at the American home base for this community in Waukesha, Wisconsin.  So I congratulate them, and their formation director, my daughter, Sister Emily, and pray for a long and holy life for them in the service of Christ and His Church.  Amen.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Andy, Pete, and Jesus

Yesterday, November 30, was the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle in the Catholic Church.  There are several places in Sacred Scripture where St. Andrew (let’s call him Andy) is mentioned.  One is in the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, where Andy is identified as one of two disciples of John the Baptist.  On this occasion, John the Baptist, who is talking to the two of them, points to Jesus and says to them: “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Andy and the other disciple (who is not identified) subsequently tell Simon, whom, we are told, is Andy’s brother, that they have found the Messiah.  Upon introducing Simon to Jesus, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Cephas, which is translated “Peter.”  (See John 1: 31-42.).  So we have brothers Andy and Pete who are, now, followers of Jesus. 
Andy is also mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Chapter 4, and Mark, Chapter 1, again identified as Simon’s brother in each case.  This time, both are recognized as fishermen.  Jesus happens by just as they are casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee to catch fish when Our Lord says to Andy and Pete “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men,” after which they drop everything and follow Him.  (See Matt 4:18-20.).  Matthew then mentions that Simon’s name has been changed to “Peter.”  Okay, so, yes … Andy and Pete, brothers (sons of Jonah).

I have often wondered how it could be that Andy and Pete, and then, a few steps later, John and James (Johnny and Jim?), sons of Zebedee, were so magically drawn to Jesus that they would “at once drop their nets” and “immediately” become followers of Jesus.  (See, for example, Matthew 4:20-22.).  But perhaps now I have the answer … simply, the scene in John 1 occurred before the one in Matthew 4!  So perhaps they were already familiar with the teachings of Jesus and just needed a little nudge.  Luke’s version of this is further reinforcement, although Andy’s name is not mentioned.  (See Luke 5:1-11.).  Here, Jesus works a miracle for Pete such that Pete, after a day of futility (i.e., no fish caught) on his boat, catches so many fish that his net is breaking.  He was awestruck. 

If this wasn’t enough for the two of them, there is a third scene in which Jesus works another miracle, this time curing Pete’s mother-in-law of a fever in the presence of both Andy and Pete.  (See, for example, Mark 1:29-31.). The chronology of these things, especially given the different versions given by the evangelists, is unclear.  But I think it can be said, without doubt, that once all of these things occurred, Andy and Pete were solidly in line behind Jesus, following him and experiencing many more miracles.  That is very clear after Jesus tells them that he will give them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink.  Jesus told the crowd that this will result in the reward of eternal life and that they will be raised up on the last day.  The promise of eternal life was not enough for many of his disciples at this point, and they returned to their former way of life.  But not Pete, Andy and the rest.  Pete stated what they all were thinking:  “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”  (See John 6:60-69.).

Andy is numbered among the twelve apostles later when the evangelists list their names (See, for example, Luke 6:12-16.).  He is also mentioned at the time of the multiplication of loaves and fish, informing Jesus of the presence of the boy with the five barley loaves and two fish that were subsequently multiplied.  So let us all rejoice in the life of St. Andy … uh … St. Andrew, and the gift of all the apostles who stuck with Jesus in spite of the suggestion that they will eat his flesh and drink his blood some day.  Today, of course, we rejoice because we can partake of this wonderful, one-of-a kind gift every day of our life in the celebration of the Eucharist at Mass.  Amen

The photograph accompanying this post was taken on my recent pilgrimage to Italy.  It depicts the Last Supper with Jesus and the apostles (and Judas heading out the door).  Too bad I don't know which one is Andy!  I found it hanging on the wall in a chapel on the grounds of Basilica of St Francis in Assisi.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Glory and Praise for God vs Help for the Poor

Thank you for your patience.  In the two weeks I was “gone,” I traveled to Italy with a pilgrimage group lead by Fr. Dan Guenther of Cherokee, Iowa.  While there, a bus took us to many Catholic sites (and other sites) in Italy in the cities of Venice, Padua, Florence, Assisi, Siena, Rome, Pompeii, and Sorento.  The sites included the magnificent Basilicas of St. Mark, St. Anthony, St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major, and St. John Lateran, among others.  In addition, we saw the famous artwork of Michelangelo in Florence and Rome.  The photograph accompanying this post is of the interior of the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museum) adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome where there are many such valuable treasures.

All of the famous artwork and ornate structures in these basilicas and other buildings reminded me the common complaint that the Catholic Church owns all of this and doesn’t pay enough attention to the poor.   Indeed Scripture is full of verses and stories that tell us how very important it is that we help the poor and share our wealth.  Jesus said this:  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a man who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God."  (Mat 19:24).  Jesus also told the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  The rich man refused to help a poor man (Lazarus) who lay begging at his door while on earth.  Upon the rich man’s death, he was refused entrance into heaven and lay in torment in the netherworld while Lazarus was seen by the side of Abraham in God’s Kingdom.

But also in Scripture, there is also story of the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfumed ointment contained in an alabaster jar (e.g., John 12:1-8).  This was one time when honor and glory for Jesus took precedence over help for the poor.  Responding to indignation from his disciples (because the ointment was expensive), while approving of the woman’s act, Jesus said this:  “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”  It seems clear to me that honor and glory for God is at least on equal footing with helping the poor.  The Catholic Church commissioned the artists to sculpt statues (e.g., statues of David, Moses, and the Pieta) or create beautiful paintings (the Sistine Chapel) and has been the caretaker of these for centuries.  They, of course, are priceless treasures that people of all religious stripes have been enjoying for years.  They give glory and honor to God and cannot be liquidated and sold on the world market for what they are worth.

People may also cite the use of golden vessels for chalices, ciboria, tabernacles, and the like.  These vessels also give glory and honor to God because they are used to contain the consecrated bread and wine during and outside of Mass.  The richest material on earth is quite an appropriate material for such a function because we are talking about the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord and Savior.

Jesus said we will always have the poor with us.  You know, I experienced this in Rome as well.  We encountered the homeless asleep under blankets in the corridor leading from the parking garage to to St. Peter’s Square early one morning.  And, yes, there was human waste on the floor and yes, the stench was awful.  Yes, the poor will always be with us and they will be all around us, even in the corridor leading to one of the most revered places on earth.  So, let us continue to give glory and praise to God, but let us not forget the poor.  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Future of our Country

What?  Two "My Thursday Thoughts" posts on the same day?  Yes.  This one is to inform my dedicated readers that I'm taking some time off from blog-writing.  I'll return on Thanksgiving Day, November 24.  In the meantime, I provide the accompanying photo to remind you of what is the most important consideration on election day, November 8.  In the name of unborn children everywhere ... PLEASE vote for pro-life candidates.  The lives of these future Americans, and indeed the very future of our country, depend on it.  Thank you!

The Saints in Heaven

On Tuesday of this week, November 1, Catholics celebrated the solemnity of All Saints, or “All Saints Day,” as it is traditionally called.  It is a “holy day of obligation,” which means that Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on that day and refrain from unnecessary servile work, if possible, just as on a Sunday.  What is the big deal about this special day?  It is a day set aside to commemorate and honor all the saints, both known and unknown.  November 1 was the day Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to “all the saints” back in the eighth century.

What do I mean, both known and unknown?  Saints are human beings who have died and gone to heaven.  It is that simple.  It is known that some human beings from our past are in heaven because it is known publicly that they have lived a virtuous life and died in the state of grace because miracles are known to have occurred as a result of their intercession.  Such holy persons have been declared to be saints by the Catholic Church through a process known as canonization.  There are numerous such persons who have been so recognized in recent years, including Saint Pope John Paul II, Saint Mother Teresa, and Saint Father Junipero Serra, not to mention thousands of others through the years since the dawn of the Catholic Church back in the time of Christ.  Presumably there are scores of others who have passed from this life and entered heaven who are not publicly known.  We often hear the phrase “My mother was a saint.” and it is possible that indeed she is!  It is just that it is not publicly known and she has not been formally canonized.  In any case, All Saints Day is that special day that honors all of them.

I recently googled the question “When was St. Paul canonized?” and learned that the process of canonization began in the Church in the year 993 and so he has never been formally canonized.  This also means that possibly hundreds of other saints, such as all the apostles, St. Augustine, etc., were never formally canonized.  Rather, they were declared saints by “popular acclaim” and not by canonization.  It is interesting to note that church structures are named after saints, both those who are saints by popular acclaim and those who are formally canonized, and both Catholic churches and Protestant churches.  This indicates that sainthood is not just a Catholic thing.

The Catholic Church honors saints in another way, and that is by venerating their relics.  I refer you to the following Web site for an explanation of this practice:  Relics come in three different classes, first-class, second-class, and third-class.   Besides items associated with the life of Christ (manger, cross, etc.) first-class relics are the physical remains of a saint’s body.  I am fortunate to have a first-class relic of St. Mother Teresa in my home – a strand of her hair (see accompanying photo under the words "your love").  I know it is authentic because it was given to me by a friend who knew some sisters from her community.  The question of authenticity is important, of course, and this is discussed in the above Web site.   Second-class relics are items that a saint owned or used.  Third-class relics are items that were touched to a first- or second-class relic.  I am fortunate to have a third-class relic of St. Maria Goretti in my home.  It is a crucifix that was touched to the reliquary containing her body when it toured the United States recently.

I pray today to all the saints mentioned in the post, Sts. Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Fr. Junipero Serra, Paul, all the apostles, Augustine, and Maria Goretti that they might pray to God for us as we navigate through our life on Earth, and especially for their intercession next Tuesday as we vote for our elected officials.  And I pray to your mother (if deceased) and mine for the same.  Amen.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Queen of Peace is Touring the USA

This year and next, 2016 and 2017, mark the 100th anniversary of the series of appearances of the “Angel of Peace” and the Blessed Virgin Mary to the three children in Fatima, Portugal.  The story is quite extraordinary, as you may know, and deserves much more than what I can provide in this short space.  Indeed, entire books have been written, and continue to be written, giving the full account of Our Lady of Fatima beginning with the appearances of the angel in 1916 and of the Blessed Mother in 1917.  Her message was one of prayer and conversion, saying that God is greatly offended by the “outrages, sacrileges, and indifferences” of people on earth.  She specifically asked that the children pray the rosary daily for peace on earth and the conversion of the sinners.

The appearances occurred when nations on earth were at war (World War I).  Our Lady prophesied that a second and worse world war would begin during the papacy of Pope Pius XI (He died in 1939) if people did not mend their ways.  She also prophesied that Russia would come to dominate world affairs and spread her errors until the Pope would formally consecrate Russia to her immaculate heart.  The deaths of the visionaries were also prophesied and came true.  Two of them died approximately a year after the visions, as had been predicted (and were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000).  The third (her name was Lucia) died in 2005 at the age of ninety-seven.  Our Lady had prophesied that she would live for many more years following the appearances.

To celebrate and to call people to prayer and penance for world peace and for the conversion of hearts, the world famous International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima (sculpted to the specifications given by the visionaries) is currently on a nationwide tour in the United States.  The objective is to call people to prayer and penance for peace in our nation and for the conversion of hearts.  The Winona, MN, Diocese, which includes Rochester, where I live, hosted this statue this week at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Rochester.  The accompanying photo shows the statue on display in the sanctuary of the church.  It continues to tour the midwest and will be displayed in Iowa in the weeks ahead, including at Our Lady of Fatima parish in Portsmouth, Iowa, which is near my hometown in southwest Iowa.  For the full schedule of the tour, visit this web site:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Using Scripture to Teach, Refute, Correct, and Train

 An Evangelical Protestant friend of mine once told me that anyone can read Scripture and learn for themselves what it says.  In other words, anyone can interpret Scripture in whatever way he wants.  This friend cited the following passage from St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy in support of his statement (2 Timothy 3:16):  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness .… .”  I’m thinking about this today because the second reading from last Sunday’s Holy Mass included this passage.  It is a problem because often someone will cite a single verse from Scripture and make his/her personal claim as to what it says and not consider the context.  My friend was contesting multiple statements from me that implied that there must be a respected authority so that error is not communicated when someone “teaches,” “refutes,” “corrects,” or “trains in righteousness.”  

My position is that the Catholic Church is that authority, which was something he did not want to hear.  I said that individuals may interpret Scripture to suit a particular false agenda.  He responded saying that the Catholic Church cannot be trusted to provide a “true” agenda, saying that the Catholic Church has an agenda created by its hierarchy and that their members follow its teachings like robots.  I followed this by saying that Jesus founded the Catholic Church and that the agenda is therefore God’s agenda and that I am happy to be His robot.  Jesus said “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  This, we believe, is enough to believe in this Catholic authority.

A case in point is the Bread of Life discourse in John’s Gospel, Chapter 6.  The Catholic Church interprets this chapter to say that the Eucharist in the Catholic Church is literally the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus.  The Catholic Church is the only religion that believes this.  Others say that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when He said “This is my body.” (referring to the bread at the Last Supper) and “This is my blood.” (referring to the wine).  But a careful read of the entire chapter is quite convincing that the Catholic teaching is the correct one.  It has been the Catholic teaching from the beginning, and it has been affirmed by St. Paul.  (See 1 Cor 11:23-29.)

So, is Scripture inspired by God?  Yes.  Is Scripture useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness?  Absolutely!  But, since the Reformation, this comes with a caveat … that the interpretation of Scripture must be derived from the proper authority, i.e., that it be the correct interpretation.  It cannot be an interpretation that is derived from an individual’s personal claim because that can only lead to confusion and argument.  Christ would not have wanted that.

The photo depicts Christ instructing his disciples about the kingdom of God.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Presidential Election: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

 As we inch closer and closer to the day of reckoning in American politics, where are my thoughts?  All of you, my faithful readers, are likely aware of the problem we face.  On the one hand, we have the candidate from the Democrat party who aspires to become the first woman president and who has a penchant for killing unborn children in all its heartless and cold-blooded brutality all in the name of a most despicable form of feminism.  On the other hand, we have a candidate from the Republican party who has been labeled an insult-prone and egotistical, power-hungry demagogue whose potty-mouth and alleged actions have recently horrified and repulsed all of us who like to think our civic leaders should be respectful, upstanding citizens especially where women are concerned.  All of this leaves most of us between the proverbial rock and hard place when it comes to voting.

I have opposed Hillary Clinton for a very long time.  Don’t get me wrong … feminism, in its proper context and purpose, is an important concept.  Equal pay for equal work, for example, is an obviously imperative and valuable idea for a civilized nation.  But the killing of unborn children is despicable and sinful beyond words.  I cannot, for the life of me, understand how the United States of America, or any other ostensibly civilized nation, has arrived at this point where our children can be killed for any reason up to the day they are to be delivered to the light of day and into their mother’s arms for the first time.  To me, there is no question that devoted motherhood should be a part of the conversation when considering feminist issues.  Abortion should be condemned as a shamefully wicked and contemptible act.  On top of this is Ms. Clinton’s apparent lack of comprehension all things religious.  Recently, I understand she made some comments indicating that Catholicism needs to change in order to conform to modern societal norms.  Well, societal norms are not always good and virtuous in their nature.  The role of the Catholic Church is to work to the eternal salvation of all on earth.  In this role, the Church cannot change in these matters.  Society must change!  Who does Clinton think she is anyway?

If Clinton is the rock, what is the hard place like?  Donald Trump!  Up until he declared himself a candidate, most of us knew him as the rich business tycoon and reality television host who is known for indiscriminately firing people who are not of the same mold.  But the campaign has brought to the fore many other dishonorable and immoral traits that should make him disqualified at best.   He is driven to be famous and powerful.  What better position for fame and power would the presidency be for him?  Hence the reason he is running.  He likes to use the word “disaster” for all his opponents and adversaries (which doesn’t say too much for his vocabulary).  He has had experience running a business (with certainly some suspicious practices that give him tax breaks, etc.), but has absolutely no experience in any capacity whatsoever running a country like our beloved United States of America and has no business doing so.

Where does all of this leave me as far as my vote is concerned?  Father Frank Pavone, the Catholic priest who heads up the respectable organization “Priests for Life,” posted an essay on Facebook recently that is a powerful witness to what we face and what our thought process should be leading up to November 8.  You have probably guessed what his recommendation is, but will I follow it?   I’ve been praying for a long time now for our country and for an outcome that best conforms to the will of God.  I’ve thought that that outcome would be a third possibility emerging, such as Trump dropping out of the race and having a fabulous candidate take his place.  But alas, that is not happening.  So I continue to pray.  Prayer is powerful and I have every confidence that those distasteful societal norms will go away … some day.  I would ask all the Catholics in my devoted readership pray the rosary with me today … for our cherished United States of America.  Amen.    

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Authority in Matters of Faith

Today, I’m thinking about who has authority when it comes to matters of faith.  It is a problem in the modern world because it seems everyone has an opinion as to what the truth is and what should be believed.  Some say that the Bible, or Sacred Scripture, is the ultimate authority.  That is easy to say and easy to be believed.  But life is complicated, especially when one person’s interpretation of Scripture passages is different from another’s.  Life is further complicated when one considers that there are different translations that have been published over the years.  The languages used at the time of Christ and in the ensuing years when the Scriptures were written are very different from the languages used today.  My understanding is that two-thousand years ago in Palestine, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic were all used in speaking and writing. 

For example, most translations today have references to Christ’s brothers and sisters.  Some argue, then, that Jesus had brothers and sisters, that Mary was not a perpetual virgin and that she must have had other children with Joseph.  Others say that in the Greek language the one word that was used could also mean cousins.  They say that it would be incorrect to interpret brother and sister statements in the Bible to really mean brothers and sisters and not cousins. 

Disputes such as this arose in the early church and they were solved by convening worldwide “councils” of church leaders.  For example, around the year 325, there was a faction within the Church that claimed that Jesus was not equal to God, that he was not truly divine.  It was called the “Arian Heresy.”  The Council of Nicaea was convened and the outcome was that no, Christ indeed had a divine nature, that he was “consubstantial” with the God the Father.  Other councils have been convened over the years, the most recent being Vatican Council II back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. 

Disputes such as this, of course, were the cause of the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500’s.  I understand that Martin Luther wrote is own translation of the Bible and was accused, for example, of adding the word “alone” after the word “faith” in this translation.  Thus began the concept of “sola fide,” or “faith alone” which is the belief that our justification and salvation is based solely on our faith and not our “works.”  Unfortunately the rush to believe Luther and the other reformers in this and other areas is what led people away from the Catholic Church and into Protestantism.  They had to also believe that the Catholic Church became corrupt early on and got off track.  So it was time to get back on track.  Of course there are many other issues that we could think about here.

What is my take?  Yes, Scripture is an important authority.  But who is charged with interpreting Scripture?  Before he ascended in heaven, Christ told his disciples that he would give them the Holy Spirit to guide them in all truth (Luke 24:36-49 and Acts 1:1-5).  So did the Church become corrupt and lose all track of the truth?  No, the Holy Spirit was given to them a few days later (and not 1500 years later).  I realize a Protestant today would present arguments to support their perspective. But my authority is the Catholic Church and her teachings always seem to make perfect sense to me.  That is not going to change.  

The photograph is of the interior of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Are Angels For Real?

Today, September 29, in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, three archangels mentioned in Sacred Scripture.  And this coming Sunday, October 2, we celebrate the memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels.  So, today, I’m thinking about angels in general.  We have individual angels and archangels as well as groups of angels, including guardian angels, Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Principalities, and Powers.  All are pure spirits … except when they apparently take on human form, which is when they are sent to Earth for a particular purpose as mentioned in the gospels.  The three archangels we celebrate today are declared saints in the Catholic Church.

The most famous is probably the archangel Gabriel.  He was sent to earth to deliver a very important message – he announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the divine Savior (Luke 1:26-38).  Michael and Raphael are mentioned in the Old Testament.  Unnamed angels also appear in Scripture, such as to Zechariah (Luke 1:11-20) and Joseph (Matt 2:13 and Matt 2:19-20).  Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his work Summa Theologica,describes the groups of angels mentioned above based on Scripture, Seraphim and Cherubim in the Old Testament (Isai 6:2 and Gene 3:24) and the others in the New Testament (Colo 1:16 and Roma 8:38 for example).   

There are also “bad angels” or “devils.”  Devils are led by Satan, also called Lucifer.  The book of Revelation states the following about the bad angels before man was created (Reve 12:7-12):  “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.  The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.  The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it."  These bad angels today, in the words of the Catholic prayer to St. Michael, “prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls” and this is a major problem for you and me.  Our temptation to sin, including adultery and the rejection of the Catholic teaching, which are so common, result from his “wickedness and snares” here on earth.

And what of “guardian angels?”  Their existence is supported by Sacred Scripture in the words of Jesus (Matt 18:10):  “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  The prayer to my guardian angel that I learned in elementary school and still use every now and then goes something like this:  “Angel of God, my guardian dear to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light, to guard, to rule and guide.  Amen.”  I believe I have seen the interventions of my guardian angel in my life.  Usually these take the form of a good Samaritan in human flesh, such as giving me directions when my travels take me completely off track.  They are strangers.  I do not learn their name.  They are here, and then they are gone.

The photograph shows the sanctuary of the chapel at the Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House near Waverly, Nebraska.  Notice the statues of the angels on either side of the tabernacle kneeling in adoration.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Physicists, Philosophers, and Me

Recently I purchased the movie “The Theory of Everything,” the story of the famous physicist, Stephen Hawking.  I had not seen it when it was in the theaters, so I was pleased when I happened upon it at my local Shopko store.  I watched it not once, but twice, in the last few days.  I had purchased and read Hawking’s book “A Brief History of Time” a few years ago.  At present, I am reading the book “There is a God” by former atheist Antony Flew.  So I think you know what is on my mind this morning!

It amazes me how physicists and philosophers seem to always be trying to prove, or disprove, the existence of God.  They are continuously seeking physical evidence (when it is right under their noses), or considering this or that theory (which seem to be mostly pure speculation).  It seems to me that they work too hard at it!  In the movie, the Hawking character states that he is working toward finding that one mathematical equation that proves God’s existence one way or the other.  A mathematical equation!!  That seems rather cute at best.  I like to think of God, who profoundly loves us without limit, is up there in heaven smiling down on us with the evidences and speculations that are uncovered, delighted when his people are on the right track while annoyed when they conclude that he does not exist. 

To Hawking’s credit, he concludes his book “A Brief History of Time” with the following (speaking of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist):  “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”  So, while he has atheistic tendencies, he leaves God’s existence as a rather open question.  He was 46 years old when the book was published.  He is now 72 years old.  I understand that his more recent pronouncement is his conclusion that God does not exist.  So God is annoyed and so am I!

While I have not yet finished the Flew book, I have found some tidbits there that give me hope.  For example, he quotes a historian of philosophy, Frederick Copleston:  “I do not think that it can be justifiably demanded of the human mind that it should be able to pin down God like a butterfly in a showcase.”  Amen to that!  I prefer to just look outside, or go for a hike in the mountains, or go to the edge of the Grand Canyon, or go to a botanical garden, or watch (with my camera) as a butterfly sucks the nectar from a flower, or to just lie in the tall grass on a warm summer night, to look up at the stars and imagine what is out there.  And, while I’m doing that, I prefer to imagine the human body with all its intricacies:  the brain, the eye, the ear, with light and sound and all that we have here on earth. 

A mathematical equation?  Speculation about the laws of physics and what might be?  No.  God exists all right.  The theory that makes the most sense to me is the theory that God revealed Himself to us through Christianity and Sacred Scripture.  I think that Man would do well to accept that as truth and live life accordingly.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Combating Moral Relativism with Virtue

I apologize to my faithful readers for being late this week.  It’s been a very busy week for me and here I am, on Friday morning, with some time on my hands.  That is not to say that Thursday passed me by without my having any thoughts.  That is impossible, of course.  So, here we go.

Have you noticed that there is a serious lack of virtue in our world today?  I’m talking about basic human virtues ... those qualities that commit a person to do the right things for the right reasons.  The Catholic Church defines cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) and theological virtues (faith, hope, and love).  All of these are qualities from which good habits flow.   Examples of the good habits are kindness, patience, compassion, and perseverance.  Why is there a serious lack of these things in today's world?  

Could it be the fact that the “moral worldview” of people has changed in recent years?  Could it be that people no longer believe in “moral truth?”  We now live in a world of what has come to be known as “moral relativism.”  We have become so accustomed to our freedoms that an “anything goes” attitude has taken over.  “I’m free to do anything I want whenever I want.”  In such a culture, there is no “real truth.”  There is only “my truth,” or “your truth.”  People are only accountable to whatever “truth” they are feeling at a given time.

I think first we must give a correct definition of “freedom” here.  True freedom is not simply the ability to make whatever choice we prefer when confronted by a particular issue, i.e., to do anything I want whenever I want.  Rather, it is the power to choose what is right and to then exercise that power.  We need to return to a value system in which certain moral standards are considered fundamental, imperative, and right.  In short, we need get back our faith in God, hope in Him and love Him (think theological virtues), and then we need to become “other-centered.”  The Book of Deuteronomy has this to say:  “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!  Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.  Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.  Drill them into your children.  Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.  Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut 6:4-9).  Sounds like this is important, doesn’t it? 

Once faith in God, hope in God, and love of God are restored, then comes love of neighbor, i.e., becoming “other-centered”:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Luke 10:27, Matt 22:39, Mark 12:31).  These commandments say it all.  If someone should argue a particular point, we should try hard not to get angry.  Be patient.  Be kind.  Be thoughtful.  Be compassionate.  Have courage.  Present arguments based on truth.  Work hard not to offend.  Be a light to the world.  Show the people with the opposing viewpoint that your worldview makes you extraordinarily happy (if it does).  Let your happiness shine through.  Do the right things for the right reasons, instead of for profit, fame, or esteem. 

Pray to God that you will have a proper disposition and demonstrate virtuous behavior in your life.  It may be that you don’t convert a particular person to your worldview.  But at least they will see how happy, patient, kind and compassionate you are, and some of that has to rub off.  

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Profound Love of God

Every now and then, I come upon a book that really moves me.  The latest is Love Unveiled:  The Catholic Faith Explained by Dr. Edward Sri.  I own four other books that Dr. Sri has authored and every time I read one, I marvel at the clarity of his writing.  This book is for you if you are someone whose Catholic faith has gone stale.  This book is for you if you are a Catholic who has left the faith for a Protestant faith because someone has convinced you that the Church Christ founded is no longer relevant.  This book is for you if you are of another faith but have has some skepticism about what the real truth is in the matter of our salvation.  It’s impossible to give a full review of the book in such as small space as this, but let me give one example of an issue he addresses:  the forgiveness of our sins through the death of Jesus on the cross.

This is a topic that I have wrestled with for several years now.  If God the Father wanted to forgive the sins of mankind and open the gates of heaven, why didn’t He simply snap his fingers and say “let it be so?”  Why did he choose to have the second person of the Trinity become one of us to accomplish this mission.  Why was it necessary for Christ to die the horrible death on the cross?  And how does it happen that this death takes away our sins?  Sri uses Scripture passages along with quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and the writings of St. John Paul II to answer these questions.  It all comes down to love.  “It is love ‘to the end’ (John 13:1) that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction” (CCC 616). 

John Paul II explains that what gives the cross “its redemptive value is not the material fact that an innocent person (Christ) has suffered the chastisement deserved by the guilty (us) and that justice has thus been in some way satisfied.”  Rather, it was He who was without sin who “could take upon himself that which is the effect of sin, namely, suffering and death, giving to the sacrifice of his life a real value and a perfect redemptive meaning.”  Sri says that “in uniting himself so fully to the human family, which had been estranged from God and had been suffering under the curse of death, Jesus could lift us out of the grave with him in his resurrection and restore us to unity with the Father.”  So, Sri says, “Christ, a divine person, did what no regular human being could do.  He offered God the Father a gift of love that corresponds to the infinite gravity of sin committed against him.  Jesus alone could reconcile us to the Father.  Jesus, being truly human, can represent humanity and offer an act of love on our behalf.

Wow!  Powerful stuff!  God’s love for us is indeed profound.  A snapping of the fingers?  No!  An awesome demonstration of the love of God through the slow death experienced in a shocking crucifixion followed by the victory over death through his Resurrection?  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  The witnesses became believers!  Our sins were taken away!  Amen!  Alleluia!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Jesus Did a Ton of Other Things

According to a commentary on the Gospels that I have read, the first Gospel that was written was that of St. Mark, about 70 AD, and the last Gospel that was written was that of St. John, around 100 AD.  So nothing was written for the early Christians (and for us) until at least some thirty-seven years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.  During these thirty-seven years, the teachings of Jesus were communicated orally by the apostles in their efforts to spread the good news as Jesus had commanded.

The first Christians appeared to believe that the second coming of Jesus would occur in their lifetime.  However, they seem to gradually come to the realization that that was not the case.  And so, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the four evangelists undertook the writing apparently to ensure that the oral traditions were not lost.

I am intrigued by two passages from the Gospel of St. John that seem to shed further light on the subject.  The first comes from Chapter 20, Verse 30:  “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.”  The other is in Chapter 21, Verse 25:  “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.”  The whole scene must have been so extraordinary.  Imagine thousands of people (five-thousand at the miracle of the loaves and fish) following Jesus around the countryside - no cars, no horses, a few donkeys perhaps, but thousands of barefoot people on foot following Jesus down the dusty roads and watching as the countless miracles and healings unfold.  There was no TV, no network news, no CNN ... only oral traditions being generated and shared.

Today, I’m thinking that the concept of “Sacred Tradition” should be considered here, as the Catholic Church teaches.  In other words, the word of God comes to us through both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and not through Scripture alone (“Sola Scriptura").  For the first thirty-seven years, Sacred Tradition is all we had.  Then, after all four Gospels were written, we have St. John telling us that there was a ton of other things that Jesus did that are not recorded in Scripture.  To me, it’s not a stretch to say that there are many things that come from this large “volume” of Sacred Tradition that should be believed.  I only wish I could have been one of the thousands.  My shoeless feet probably wouldn't have lasted long on the dusty roads.  But, hey, when the savior of all mankind is  leading the pack and giving us the good news of salvation, who cares about their feet!  Even the word "extraordinary" is woefully inadequate.